Hello and good Friday, pop culture fans! This has been one hectic week in the lead-up to the last few days of school, but I have still managed to plough my way through a varied assortment of comics and more. Some of them have been…let’s be kind and say underwhelming, but I’m tossing those ones aside and hunkering down with some of the best things that floated through my consciousness. Submitted for your approval, here they are in no particular order.
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Comics: I finally caught up on my unread issues of Black Science by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, and Moreno Dinisio, and boy oh boy, is that a great book. Its the story of anarchist scientist Grant MacKay, who has created a device called The Pillar that opens rifts into other dimensions, and his team of dimensionauts as they explore these new worlds. However, the plot shifts in unexpected and dramatic ways as the story unfolds, and Remender himself has said that the book will change even more dramatically from the initial concept after the next few issues. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because for all the fantastic worlds and futuristic technology, Black Science is like life — there are unexpected deaths, plans going awry, and characters that continually make the wrong decisions every time they’re faced with a crisis. It might sound a little depressing, but it’s refreshing to read a story where things almost never go the way I expect them to. Scalera and Dinisio are a powerhouse art duo, a sci-fi fan’s dream team that can create new worlds and beings at seemingly the drop of a hat. It’s not a light, utopian sci-fi book. It’s called Black Science for a reason. But it’s powerful and it makes me think, and that’s the kind of art that really speaks to me.
Music: Last week I was obsessed with neo-soul and R&B; this week it’s a tour de force of pop rock strangeness. FFS is a supergroup formed of the members of indie rock band Franz Ferdinand and influential pop-rock duo Sparks. When I first heard about the collaboration I was skeptical, as the two groups make music I wouldn’t have thought would work well together. I should have known better. The self-titled album is 12 songs — pumped up to 16 on the deluxe version that I bought — and each one has a different ratio of rock riffs tro baroque pop noodling. FF’s Alex Kapranos and Sparks’ Russell Mael have fantastic vocal chemistry; when they trade off on verses they never stumble, and when they sing in unison they blend so well they almost sound like one voice. As a fan of each of the bands I can hear the different levels of their influences on each song; even a FF-heavy song like “Call Girl” has Sparks touches, and “Collaborations Don’t Work” could easily be on a Sparks album but I can still hear FF’s influence in some of vocal melodies. The best songs are the poppy and quirky “Piss Off” (about 65% FF/35% Sparks) and the heavy pop epic “Dictator’s Son” (which is more 25/75). It’s not a terribly straightforward album, one of my friends summed up his feelings on the opening track as sounding like Frank Zappa trying for a Tony Award. Which to me sounds pretty amazing.
Books: I read a lot of nonfiction science books, so I can be a little skeptical of those that skew towards the pop-science genre, where authors often oversimplify or talk down to their audience in the hopes that they will come off as set apart from those stuffy eggheads that actually did the research. So I was pleasantly surprised that I got a lot out of David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart, a book about self-delusion and how irrational we humans can be. McRaney summarizes research about nearly 50 different logical fallacies, failures in cognition, and poor reasoning, and each one serves to let a little hot air out of the balloon of human mental superiority. It can get a little repetitive at times — which makes sense because a number of the misconceptions are based on the same mental processes and shortcuts — but overall it’s an engaging, informal analysis of the ways we humans can delude ourselves. As a species we often put too much faith in our infallible perception and reasoning skills, and when those fail us the results can sometimes be amusing but other times can lead to personal or global catastrophe. Some of McRaney’s chapters first seemed like old hat to a former psychology major like me, but the way he presented them allowed me to see them through fresh eyes and really examine them instead of brushing it off because I’d heard it all before. Everyone would benefit from taking an uncompromisingly honest look at themselves from time to time, and for my money applying the information presented in You Are Not So Smart is a good way of doing that.
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That’ll do it for me this week, folks. Until next time, take a moment to open your eyes to the ugly, sloppy, fantastic complexity of the human condition, using whatever pop culture filter you prefer. I’ll see you in seven days.