The most important thing in the universe, it turns out, is a complex of subjective and individual approximations. Of tries and fails. Of ideals, and things we do to try to get close to those ideals. It’s who we are when nobody is looking. — Elizabeth Bear’s Machine: A White Space Novel
Spring is upon us but the weather is cold today with snow steadily falling so that hearty food was warranted which is why that heavenly smell is coming from the Estate Kitchen sone distance away from the Pub. One smell is from the garlic and bacon jam infused challah baking off in the wood fired oven while the other smell is the smoked ham hocks slowly baking in the same oven for our eventide repast. It along with basmati rice with saffron served with steamed veggies along with apple tarts with fresh made vanilla ice cream for dessert is the rest of that delicious repast.
I’ve been re-reading Elizabeth Bear’s White Space series which so far consists of Ancestral Nights and its sequel Machine. Though set in the same universe, they’re delightfully different. They’re well worth the time to read again. Indeed I nominated Machine for a Hugo.
Carter starts off our review with a classic: ‘Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is a baklava of a book — rich, layered, so sweet it has to be enjoyed in small bits. This novel-that-is-not-a-novel rightfully remains a classic in the science fiction genre, and a classic example of Ray Bradbury’s genius with words. As with all of Bradbury’s work, don’t look for accurate or even consistent science. Look, instead, for tales well told, stories that seep into your mind and blood and become part of you forever.’
Cat has a neat work for us: ‘At a mere one hundred and three pages, this is one of the best Robert Heinlein works I’ve ever read. Oops, I meant Kage Baker works. Or did I? Ok, let me reconcile the contradiction I just created (somewhat). The Empress of Mars reads like the best of Heinlein’s short fiction from the golden period of the 1940s and 1950s. It is so good that I’ve no doubt John W. Campbell would’ve published it! It would sit very nicely alongside much of his short fiction such as ‘Blowups Happen’, ‘The Long Watch’, and ‘The Green Hills of Earth’, to name but three classic Heinlein tales. It’s that well-crafted. It’s that entertaining. And it’s that rarest of short works — one that is just the right length.’
(You can hear her narrating it here. It’s a splendid telling by her.)
I’ve got your late reading in one splendid volume. Let’s have Chris tell you about it: ‘Saga Press has released Ursula LeGuin’s collected Earthsea works, beautifully illustrated by Charles Vess. This collection includes the original trilogy: A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971 ) and The Farthest Shore (1972), as well as the novels in which LeGuin revisited the trilogy, Tehanu (1990) and The Other Wind (2001), which conclude the saga many years after the events of the originals. Also included are Tales from Earthsea, LeGuin’s 2001 collection, and four other stories, including the never before published “Daughter of Odren.” Her illuminating essay, “Earthsea Revisioned,” which she delivered as a lecture in Oxford in 1992, is also here, along with an introduction from the author. In short, this giant of a volume includes everything you need to know about Earthsea, and it’s a delight to see it all collected in one place.’
Craig notes ‘I figure this much: Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road starts with a green man crossing the desert, so this has to be the perfect book for Green Man Review. OK, the book calls him a “greenperson,” and the desert is on a Mars of the future, transformed by mankind’s effort, but you get the idea. Trailing this greenperson is Dr. Alimantando. He comes to a place along a railroad, where, almost accidentally, he settles and starts the community that he names Desolation Road. Soon after, more people begin arriving and, in short order, the community becomes a village, a city, a war zone and a ghost-town — all within 23 Martian years. That’s the story.’ You’ll need to read to read his review to see why this tale is so much more.
Gary tackles In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, a book of essays by Margaret Atwood about the fiction that she writes, which is hard to define. Is it fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction? ‘Actually, that is exactly the topic she tackles in this collection of some of her writings, mostly non-fiction, about the definition and meaning of science fiction.’
Richard looks at an Ian MacDonald novel set in the same world as Desolation Road and has a cautionary note as his first words: ‘You will know whether you will love or hate Ares Express long before you have finished the first chapter. The litmus test is very simple: what is your reaction to the name of the main character. If you find Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Assim Engineer 12th to be painfully twee or flat-out incomprehensible, then you will hate this book.’
Robert has a choice bit of non-fiction for us to consider: ‘Being the purist that I am, I wince when people talk about the evolution of this, the evolution of that – evolution has nothing to do with automobile design or cell phones or political systems. It is, however, a legitimate concept when discussing language: language does change over time, languages to descend from common ancestors, and there are exchanges and mutations of “genetic material” – words. Merritt Ruhlen, a prominent linguist, has, in The Origin of Language, given us a fascinating, hands-on investigation of that evolution. He also gives us a history of linguistics and in particular, brings us up to date on developments in historical linguistics over the past fifty years.’
He also looks at Hugo winning set of stitched together stories: ‘Old Earth Books has done us the signal service of reissuing two of Clifford Simak’s most memorable works in honor of the centennial of his birth in 1904, of which City is one. I confess that reading this book was an unsettling experience. It is, first off, one of the great “future histories” concocted by science fiction writers of the Golden Age. I remember vividly Poul Anderson’s version, and no less than Spider Robinson had reason to wax eloquent over Heinlein’s. Simak’s City is a series of connected stories, a series of legends, myths, and campfire stories told by Dogs about the end of human civilization, centering on the Webster family, who, among their other accomplishments, designed the ships that took Men to the stars and gave Dogs the gift of speech and robots to be their hands.’
Warner starts off with Elly Bangs’ Unity which he says ‘is a fascinating little novel, filled with unexpected turns and twists to a set of concepts that are extremely familiar to a scifi reader. The concepts explored here have been touched on before, however the writer’s style does a great deal to remind the reader that individual point of view is important, even when combined with others.’
He’s with an neat take off historical reality: ‘Loren D. Estleman’s The Eagle and The Viper looks at a set of attempts upon the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, and in no small part doing so from a contemporary police investigative point of view. Told in the style of a suspensful thriller, this historical novel moves fast enough some readers might just expect it to slip into the alternate reality.’
He next has a WW II mystery for us: ‘Overall The Consequences of Fear gives an excellent example of Jacqueline Winspear as a historical mystery author, and a good argument for picking up the Maisie Dobbs series. There might be better volumes to start with, however this one will work fine for the reader who happens to see it first.’
Robert watched a film courtesy of browsing a well known retailer one day: ‘I missed John Carter in the theaters, but ran across the DVD on one of my browsing trips through Amazon. I figured I’d probably enjoy it, and I found the DVD for half price. How could I say no?’ Read his review to see if it was worth his time.
Reece’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups doesn’t sound like the sort of roots and branches of our shared global culture that we’d bother to comment upon but our resident Summer Queen explains why we are doing so: ‘I have a confession to make. Yes, I have a problem. And that problem’s name is Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. I’m the person at Hallowe’en who looks at the bowl of candy designated for trick or treaters and asks, plaintively, “Could we hold the Reese’s in reserve? Or at least hide them on the bottom of the bowl?” and who will blatantly pilfer from the bowl throughout the evening. And if there’s any left over? Bliss!’
Sukkerfri Dent Duett: Berry + Licorice Pastilles found a fan in Denise: ‘ I’m an unabashed fan of black licorice. I’ve tasted (and reviewed) lots of different styles, from salty to sweet, and even covered in chocolate. (Don’t knock ’em ’til you’ve tried ’em y’all.) But licorice and berries? No, not berry flavored licorice. A mashup of black licorice and berry flavors. For those days when you can’t seem to make up your mind on what kind of taste you’re craving – which for me is just about every single day of my life – Duet has an equal amount of sweet and sweetly savory. And I’m a fan.’
Looking for a different taste to snack on or stir into your oatmeal? Gary has a recipe for Curried Cashew Trail Mix, which he used to buy in bulk but now makes himself to reduce the sodium content. ‘It’s probably 10 years that I’ve been putting this in my porridge (and occasionally snacking on it by itself), and I’m not tired of it yet.’
Jennifer knows that when you’ve been overdoing the tests and tasks of Spring, it’s time for hearty comfort food from Mexico: chilaquiles, the best and easiest breakfast in the world.
And because one good pepper deserves another, Jennifer provides a hearty beef stew with gobs of mushrooms and rich, complex, not-very-hot guajillo peppers.
David and Gary delve into late recordings of one of the greats of classic country and Americana music, Charlie Louvin. First up is his first comeback album, the self-titled Charlie Louvin. Gary says, ‘Now nearing his 80th birthday in July 2007, Charlie is still performing occasionally, and has put out this disc as a career overview, with assistance from a stable of Nashville regulars in the band and a gaggle of singing partners from among his peers and later generations of admirers.’
Next up, David tells us about the first album of all gospel songs Louvin released in his long career: ‘Steps to Heaven belongs on the shelf next to Johnny Cash’s My Mother’s Hymn Book as testament of the faith and devotion of a lifetime. Finally, David looks at Charlie Louvin’s Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs: ‘I waited a long time for this album. Not as long as Charlie Louvin did, though. The liner notes tell us that he’s been “singing about murder and disaster all his life.” And that’s 81 years.’
David also reviewed the re-release of two, two-disc sets of some of the best music from the “exotica” music craze of the 1950s and 1960s, Arthur Lyman’s Bwana Á & Bahia, and Isle of Enchantment & Polynesia. ‘You put these CDs on, and you are transported out of the city, out of this world and into another world. A fantasy world perhaps, but one where nature still has input — monkey sounds, bird calls, wind and waves, and the exotica of Arthur Lyman’s music.’
Donna got a lot of enjoyment out of a disc called Goodbye to the Madhouse, by McDermott’s Two Hours. ‘I can count on the fingers of one hand, with at least the thumb left over, the number of singer-songwriters whose work I tolerate, let alone enjoy. That puts Nick Burbridge, the powerhouse behind McDermott’s 2 Hours, in rare and precious company.’
Gary reviews a new album from Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli and his 10-piece ensemble, Avant Folk II. ‘The album’s four tracks explore folk themes in ways that reflect folk, jazz and avant garde idioms. And they’re clever, did I mention clever?’
Gary also delves into two collections of pianist Dave Brubeck’s music released in honor of his 90th birthday: Dave Brubeck’s Original Album Classics – Jazz Goes To College, Brubeck Plays Brubeck, Gone With The Wind, Brandenberg Gate: Revisited, Jazz Impressions Of New York; and The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Original Album Classics – Time Out, Time Further Out, Time Changes, Time In, Countdown – Time in Outer Space.
Gereg surprised himself by liking a Steeleye Span album that took a left turn in 1980: ‘Sails of Silver isn’t the sound I expect from Steeleye. For long-time listeners, that can’t be emphasised strongly enough. Because if you go in expecting electric folk, you’ll be disappointed. This is rock with folk roots. And yet those roots run deep. So if you can wrap your imagination around the incongruous concept of a rock with roots, then this might be the album for you.’
Scott had fun listening to Ljova and the Kontraband’s Mnemosyne: ‘Ljova displays some serious skill as both a composer and player throughout the disc, but he definitely has a playful side as well. Often this side manifests itself in the tune titles — my two favorite instrumentals on the disc are called “Love Potion, Expired” and “Crutchahoy Nign”– but the music itself often unpredictably bounces off on some fun tangents.’
Robert takes us on another adventure through Chicago’s Field Museum, this time the mysterious East — namely, the Cyrus Tang Hall of China: ‘No, I don’t know who Cyrus Tang is, or was, but I suspect this exhibition is named for him because a major portion came from his collection. That said, the exhibition itself gives an overview of the history of China from the Neolithic to the early 20th Century.’
Midnight Oil is one of the most politically active groups you’ll ever have the pleasure to encounter provided that you like their politics as I very much do. And bloody good rock and roll and as well. I’ve not encountered many great boots of them as most have really shitty sound but I did find one. But ‘Blue Sky Mine’ and ‘Earth And Sun And Moon’ from an aoustic set at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Boston on the 23rd of June, 24 years ago which is from a soundboard recording and sounds amazing.