“I really didn’t mean to steal it.” Mr. Williams shook his head. He scratched at his chin nervously. “Why not? That’s what they’re there for. Tunes belong to everybody. So do stories.” ―
I’ve been out on a long walk since just past dawn here on this lovely early Autumn morning. I left my lovely wife Catherine sleeping soundly, dressed and got several bacon and cheddar cheese rolls, a spiced apple muffin and a thermos of Lapsang Souchong tea with a splash of cream so I could have breakfast some distance out by the Standing Stones. Some of the Estate Irish Wolfhounds decided to join me, so off we went.
Now I’m back from that walk with the dogs settled near the fireplace in my Library workspace and I’ve moved on this week to reading Roadmarks by Zelazny, having finished off his Isle of The Dead novel, so the book awaits my attention shortly. No, not one of his better known works, nor arguably one of his best written ones, but an interesting one nonetheless, with its apparently ever branching road and constantly being created timelines.
Now let’s see what we’ve got for you. Do take note that I’ve compiled a number of Denise’s peanut butter and chocolate treat reviews fir you as I feel we all could use them in the lock-down era. And for your reading pleasure, I’ve stitched together an impressive number of reviews that we did of Warren Ellis scripted graphic novels.
Gary says ‘Alliance Rising is approximately the umpteenth book set in C. J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Universe, a space opera series that starts on near-future Earth and extends far into the future and a good way into our galactic neighborhood. It takes place, as the title implies, during the early stages of the building of the Alliance, which is a union of merchanter ships that form a key part of the economy of the widespread Stations, and especially of the Families that operate those ships.’
I was, perhaps not surprisingly, favorably impressed by a critical study of Patricia McKillip, Audrey Isabel Taylor‘s Patricia A. McKillip and the Art of Fantasy World-Building: ‘We’ve reviewed damn near every book that Patricia A. Mckillip has published over the many decades she’s been writing. Indeed the editing team is updating the special edition we did on her so that it can be republished this Autumn, as many of us here think of her as befitting the Autumn season. And so it is that I’m reviewing what I think is the first academic work devoted to her.’
Jennifer gets her paws on Daniel Pinkwater’s upcoming Adventures of a Dwergish Girl, at least as subversive as his Devil in the Drain but longer, and therefore funnier by volume. She fails to mention how much food is mentioned in this book. Thank goodness I can bring it up here. Lot of great food. He even makes parsnips sound yummy.
Are you looking for a good Autumnal read? Well Richard has one for you in Robert Holdstovk’s Ryhope Wood series: ‘Simply put, the Ryhope cycle is one of the most important fantasy series of the past two decades, at least. While other exemplars of the genre tell stories, Holdstock tells stories of storytelling, and yet manages to make them as exciting and engrossing as the most acrobatic bit of literary swordplay. His characters are multifaceted jewels, showing different aspects depending on whose tale they are cast in.’
One of my favourite literary treats with ghostly presences for Autumn evening nights is reviewed by Robert: ‘Peter S. Beagle’s Tamsin first saw the light of day as a story idea for a Disney animated feature. Disney never followed through. Beagle did, finally, for which I think we can all be grateful.’
Another book I think that’s Autumnal in nature gets reviewed by hI’m: ‘It seems somewhat odd, on reflection, to realize that in a genre that so often uses magic as a metaphor and/or device, so few writers actually evoke the qualities of magic in their writing. That observation is prompted by Patricia A. McKillip’s Solstice Wood. McKillip has always been a writer whose books can themselves be called “magical,” and it’s even more interesting to realize that she seldom uses magic as a thing of incantations and dire workings or as anything special in itself: it just is, a context rather than an event, and perhaps that’s the way it should be.’
He then takes us to an under-underworld, Hollywood style, courtesy of Tanith Lee’s Indigara: ‘The idea of Tanith Lee writing juvenile/young adult fiction is one that stopped me for a moment. Lee was the “crown princess of fantasy” who appeared on the scene in the 1970s with dark, moody, lunar works such as Anackire, Volkhavaar, and The Storm Lord, followed by such fevered masterpieces as Night’s Master. Hmm, I said to myself; this should be interesting.’
Warner brings us a science-fiction/techno thriller that looks like the beginning of something larger: ‘Nucleation by Kimberly Unger is a science fiction novel that attempts to deal with everything from possible first contact, to nanomachines, to corporate espionage and personal rivalries. This would make the book seem overpacked in other hands, yet is quite effective overall. Indeed, the iclusion of many scientific concepts in this book is impressive (although the plot lends itself perhaps a little too well to a sequel).’
Jennifer reviews Nordi by Fazer Finnish chocolate bars, and then, in keeping with her theme of more-fat-more-carbs-for-the-lockdown, feeds us Chorizo Empanadas, and shares a recipe modification that didn’t win. Don’t worry. You get the version of Chewy Grains and Sausage Casserole that works, as well as the blow-by-blow on what went wrong with the innovation.
Comfort food is very important in this time of lockdown and for many of us that means peanut butter cups. Denise has looked at Justin’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, Reece’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfingers of a Dark Chocolate nature (not quite peanut butter cups but close enough) and Reese’s Outrageous! Pieces bar. That should be enough peanut butter in a snapkin form to keep you going!
Cat looks at a film that he wasn’t sure about: ‘Marvel’s animation has in contrast to that of DC generally sucked. It’s been weak, both in overall design and in actually carrying the story. It often looks awful and feels dated. DC live films may be a mess but their animation efforts are usually second to none. However Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had been getting reviews that said its story was great and that its animation was stellar, so I figured I’d give it a go.’ Did he like it? Oh yes!
Michael looks at two Spider Man films. Of the first, he notes: ‘Spider-Man reinvents the classic comic book character for the big screen, remaining as faithful as possible to the source material. We follow the evolution and growth of Peter Parker from tormented geek to daring hero. All the classic elements are in here.’ And he follows up with Spider-Man 2.
And Robert takes a look at another version of the Spider-Man story: ‘So I had this coupon from Best Buy that allowed me to pick up a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man for half price. Another one of those films I’d heard of but didn’t really know much about, except that 1) it’s about Spider-Man, a character who has started to intrigue me, and 2) superhero.’
Warren Ellis is a very prolific writer and he’s done quite a number of graphic novels down the decades. So let’s take a look at some that we’ve reviewed.
Cat (the Cat also known as ‘The Chief’) has a look at Global Frequency, a comic series that starts to seem frighteningly real: ‘Global Frequency is a organisation devoted to combating those incidents that are too extreme, too weird, or just too dangerous for the usual first responders to handle. Funded by the mysterious Amanda Zero, it consists of exactly one thousand and one agents, all of whom are specialists in something, say, for example, bioweapons or taking out snipers.’
Desolation Jones has, says Richard, ‘The long shadow of John Constantine lingers over the figure of Desolation Jones. But whereas Constantine is a spiky-haired Brit occult operative who abuses his odd network of friends while intimidating people into giving him answers by sheer force of personality, Jones is a spiky-haired Brit ex-spook who abuses his odd network of friends while intimidating people into giving him answers by sheer force of personality.’
And it just so happens that Robert got his hands on another of his comics, Ignition City: ‘I promised myself, when I read Warren Ellis’ Planetary, that I was going to become more familiar with his work. Well, up popped the first volume of the collected Ignition City, and it’s just as good.’ Is that serendipity, or what?
Robert has a comics series that — well, let him explain: ‘Planetary is a comics series that ran from 1999 through 2009, with gaps. Created by writer Warren Ellis and artist John Cassaday, it’s what I can only call an archaeological thriller. Planetary is an organization that investigates “incidents” that don’t seem to have ready explanations. There is a field team composed of three members. The story opens as Jakita Wagner is recruiting Elijah Snow to become the new Third Man. The other member of the team is the Drummer — as he says, “First name ‘The,’ second name ‘Drummer.’’’
He finishes our reviews out with a look at Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street which takes us into territory that’s a bit beyond surreal: ‘Transmetropolitan is another of Warren Ellis’ spiky and superbly wrought stories that, in many important respects, turns comics on their head. Back on the Street incorporates the first three numbers in the series in the tale of Spider Jerusalem, journalist.’ Robert says, if you haven’t met Spider Jerusalem, you’re in for an experience.’
April has a choice recording for us: ‘As an integral part of the band Frifot (with Ale Moller and Per Gudmundson) and the Nordan project (with Ale Moller and others), as well as numerous other side projects, Lena Willemark has been a fixture on the Swedish folk scene since the late 1970s. Windogur, a set of ten original compositions commissioned by the city of Stockholm (in its role of Cultural Capital of Europe ’98), was first performed live as part of a series of concerts entitled “Ladies Next,” and only later translated to CD.’
Jay Ungar and Molly Mason’s Harvest Home: Music For All Seasons is to the liking of Brendan, who says, ‘With their 1999 release Harvest Home, they have given themselves a new challenge. Arranging a set of tunes from the broad variety of American rural music traditions, designed to celebrate the seasons and labor of farm life, they also decided to try their hand at incorporating these folk themes (both original and traditional) into an orchestral piece called “The Harvest Home Suite.” The result is a beautiful, surprising complex CD which showcases the many rural traditions of the United States while, just as Ungar and Mason hoped, giving all of these pieces a new energy.’
Our Editor Cat finds balm for the soul in The Quiet Room, a new release from Americana duo Jay Ungar & Molly Mason. The album, which came out of a time of personal hardship, contains both new material and some of the best of their extensive back-catalog. ‘Everything here, new and old, I hope will delight you as much as it does me,’ Cat says.
Gary reviews Guajira mas Guajira, an album of genre-skipping music by two of the top names in Cuban music, Eliades and Maria Ochoa. Eliades was a key player in the world-famous Buena Vista Social Club and has been a member of Cuarteto Patria for many years. Maria is a member of Alma Latina (“Latin soul”) and has sung with a host of Cuban acts. Together, Gary says, they make beautiful music.
Eric Brace & Peter Cooper have been recording together for several years, as well as making solo records and playing with other country and folk musicians on their Red Beet label. Their latest release, C&O Canal, which Gary reviewed, is an homage to the roots music clubs and musicians of Washington, D.C., where they grew up listening to the likes of The Seldom Scene.
If you’re familiar with the song “Gloomy Sunday” it’s probably from Billie Holiday’s version of it, which popularized it in the U.S. in 1941. Gary brings us a review of Hungarian Noir which collects a dozen versions of the song in many different styles. Will it drive you to thoughts of suicide, as urban legend has it? See if you dare.
Robert brings us a look at a recording from the other end of Europe: Boban Marković Orkestar’s Boban i Marko: ‘There seems to be, in the Gypsy tradition of Serbian music, an affinity for Western jazz. This does not mean that the music performed by the Boban Marković Orkestar is jazz, but simply that jazz wanders in and feels very much at home. What the music is, is lively, often exotic, and yet somehow familiar.’
And another album from an entirely different culture — would you believe Kurdish pop? Robert discusses Sivan Perwer’s self-titled album: ‘It may seem odd to make this statement about a recording by a Kurdish popular singer, but this album rocks.’
Vonnie finishes off with a rather choice album by June Tabor: ‘An Echo of Hooves has Tabor returning to what, in my mind, she does best, delivering ballads or songs that tell a tale. For this she has chosen eleven Medieval ballads. Some of them are very well-known, like “The Cruel Mother,” “Hughie Graeme,” “Sir Patrick Spens” and “Bonnie James Campbell”. Others are new to me.’
So our What Nots this edition are all Spider-being figures, all reviewed by Cat.
First up is a review of the masked Funko Rock Candy Spider-Gwen figure, out of the many figures in the Rock Candy line of Marvel characters. He says that ‘she was more than a bit difficult to find, as she was a Hot Topic exclusive but she had long since disappeared from those stores by the time I managed to track her down some months later. The non-masked version showing Gwen Stacy with blonde hair was available online just about everywhere — at the original price.‘
He purchased another Spider-Gwen, to wit the Marvel Femme Fatales Spider-Gwen Statue, he ‘went shopping for a decent representation of Spider-Gwen after repeated watchings of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse while I had my first of two lengthy stays in-hospital for treatment of a staphylococcal infection. She was definitely a highlight of the film — tough, intelligent and a match in every way for the Spider-Man of that universe, Miles Morales. Surprisingly there were very few available then, several years back, though there are many more now. Or rather there were lots sans her hood showing the face of Gwen Stacy.‘
The Miles Morales Spider-Man figure. is officially known as the Kotobukiya Marvel Ultimate Spider-Man Artfx+ Statue. a mouthful indeed. Ccat says ‘So I went hunting on the internet for a good Miles Morales Spider-Man figure. I liked that particular Spider-Man after seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse while I was in-hospital being treated for a staph infection that required not only that I have bone surgery but that I spend forty two days there having antibiotics three times a day.’
Summer is over, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, autumn started nearly two weeks ago. It’s the season when the earth readies itself for its winter sleep, but it’s also a time for festivals celebrating the harvest and summer’s bounty. So, to honor the season, here’s “Aumumn” from Antonion Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons:
And with that, dear friends, adieu until next time.