Sunday, June 29, 2008

Earth Gone Wild

Last week, European astronomers revealed their discovery of a remarkable set of planets.

Only the throw of a stone away in cosmic terms (42 light-years) lies HD 40307—which we now know has at least three planets not much larger than Earth, according to this article at

The experts have not found any signs of life, of course. Nevertheless, this discovery makes me wonder about how things in history might have played out on three different Earths:

Britney Spears

Earth #1: Like in our world, Britney marries K Fed, divorces him, and then goes all kooky.

Earth #2: Britney stays married to K Fed, popping out a baby once every year or so to compete with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt for the title of most-children-to-a-celebrity couple.

Earth #3: Britney stays with Justin Timberlake and lives happily ever after—leaving J.T.’s Earth #1 girlfriend, Jessica Biel, available for David Amulet.

The Roman Empire

Earth #1: Like in our world, Rome collapses in the middle of the first millennium C.E., leading to the Dark Ages.

Earth #2: The Roman Empire sticks around just long enough to colonize America before crumbling, leaving the U.S. full of city names like Julius City and New Napoli.

Earth #3: The Romans maintain their empire forever, making Latin the world’s only language and keeping the world from having to experience French.


Earth #1: Like in our world, Metallica follows … And Justice For All with the radio-friendly “Black Album,” gaining millions of new fans and pissing off die-hard fans of the band’s earlier music.

Earth #2: Metallica returns to its metal best, churning out album after album of the same music, prompting fans to bitch and moan that the group just plays the same old shit time and time again.

Earth #3: Metallica follows Justice with Master of Puppets II: Electric Boogaloo, which starts a fad in heavy metal breakdancing that eventually becomes the foundation of a harmonious and peaceful world society.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I'll Show You Mine

In the past few weeks, I’ve spent as much time overseas as I have at Chez Amulet. This offered me plenty of time at airports and on airplanes to engage in one of my favorite pastimes.

(No, all you dirty minds … what I’m referring to is reading.)

I’ve decided to tell you a bit about books I’ve just finished or find myself finishing up now. Here is what’s on David’s mind:

Deadly Departure
It’s an odd choice for long plane rides, I’ll admit. But I loved Christine Negroni’s tale of the TWA 800 crash in July 1996 and the subsequent investigation. She clearly did her homework, and the ensuing narrative should—but of course doesn’t—put to rest the conspiracy theories surrounding this horrible accident.

I Robot and The Caves of Steel
In my youth and my “later youth” (aka adulthood), I’ve read hundreds of science fiction novels. But until a couple of years ago, when I finally took in the Foundation series, I’d skipped books by Isaac Asimov—one of the genre’s giants. Now I’ve started his Robot series, and it’s a fantastic ride so far.

The Exceptional Presenter
Few books on giving presentations are worth the paper they are printed on. Timothy Koegel’s book makes the short list, offering useful advice to inexperienced public speakers and professional alike. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best book-length work I’ve yet found on delivering effective briefings.

Angel in Black
Although my reading appetite is quite diverse, I’d never read a solid mystery/ detective novel until I picked up this one, the first book in Bill Rapp’s “Suburban PI” series. I’m glad I did; it was a nice change of pace from my usual entertainment and a hell of a lot of fun, too.

The Demon-Haunted World
I have no excuse for not having read this book years ago. What can I say about Carl Sagan that smarter observers haven’t already expressed? The late host of Cosmos employs sharp analysis and an engaging style to make this book—which decries all varieties of irrational belief—essential for anyone claiming to have moved past the vestiges of medieval superstition.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these—or what you are reading these days.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Underappreciated ’80s: Blue Murder, Blue Murder

Pop metal bands multiplied like rabbits during the late ’80s.

Only a few years after the massive chart success of groups like Quiet Riot, Guns N’ Roses, and Bon Jovi, record labels signed anyone with hair and a guitar to meet the demand. It was easy for good bands to get lost in the background noise, especially when they paired quality music with pictures of themselves in ridiculous outfits.

Case in point: Blue Murder.

Guitarist John Sykes (ex-Thin Lizzy) founded Blue Murder after helping David Coverdale’s Whitesnake achieve its largest commercial success with 1987’s Whitesnake. Sykes’ new band, featuring bassist Tony Franklin (ex-The Firm) and drummer Carmine Appice (ex-Vanilla Fudge), came out of the gates strong in 1989 with its own self-titled album.

And what an album it is—apart from the pictures of the band. But let’s focus first on the music.

Sykes had the good sense to bring back the full, deep sound that so many run-of-the-mill hair metal groups had lost. The album cover, shown above, seems to reflect the cool rock vibe in Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple-influenced tracks like “Ptolemy” and “Valley of the Kings” which pair well with the bombastic drive of “Riot” and “Sex Child.” Credit producer Bob Rock—later to score big with albums like Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood and Metallica’s so-called Black Album—for weaving a rich tapestry of sound that made the album stand out among its contemporaries.

The back cover and the insert photograph (shown below), however, make Sykes and company look like gay pirates:

The image, to be fair, hints at several songs’ unusual mix of straightforward rock with folksy, Gypsy-like elements. For example, the album’s biggest single, “Jelly Roll,” merges a jaunty first half with a more typical, rock ballad-type closing section. And the opening of “Ptolemy” conjures up images of Mediterranean galleys and the docks that greeted them.

But did we really need to see the band members in period pieces?

Blue Murder is certainly better heard than seen. With yours eyes closed, you’ll find that it's another underappreciated ’80s treat.