Having access to knowledge didn’t always mean understanding things. I do not entirely understand people. ― CheshireCat the AI in
Just what the Internet needs: more cat pictures. Lots more. Or at least that’s what I’m getting from reading Naomi Kritzer’s Hugo Award winning “Cat Pictures Please” short story in her Hugo Award winning short story collection Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories which she later riffed off in her novels, Catfishing on CatNet (see our review below) and the just published Chaos on CatNet. Highly recommended.
Of course I’m playing music as I read this afternoon and I like string quartets quite a bit, be they playing compositions written in the present day such as the music of the Methera Quartet or groups such as Les Witches whose usual fare is the likes of John Playford, a composer active in the early Seventeenth Century.
The latter’s what I’m playing as I’ve got the Library to myself this afternoon as the warm weather has Gus, our Estate Gardener and Groundskeeper, using many of the Estate staff as possible including my Several Annies out helping him with needed work. So I’m now drinking masala tea with a splash of cream and writing up this Edition for you…
Simon R. Green’s The Dark Side of The Road was another fine outing according to Cat: ‘The story here of Ishmael Jones, the not human Very Secret Agent Solves Weird Problems is a bit science fiction, and with more than a dash of horror, and a lot of fantasy. And it’s a mystery as well though I don’t think that it’s really possible for the reader to solve the question of who the murderer is as Green doesn’t really play fair on the matter. Let’s just say that it’s a lot of fun and the first person narrative by Jones being highly entertaining, with the tone here similar in tone to his Ghost Finders series which I liked a lot.’
Chuck notes that ‘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.’
Gary reviews Machine, the second installment in Elizabeth Bear’s White Space series. This one features a doctor and rescue specialist named Brookllyn Jens, known as Llyn. ‘The story of Machine is several things — including murder mystery, police procedural, and utopian/dystopian novel – wrapped up in a space opera. Bear also is using sizable chunks of this book to continue to build her universe and the Synarche, explaining how they work and why. Core General is a big part of that; it’s a huge multi-species Clarkean ring of a habitat-hospital in the crowded region of the Galactic Core to which Llyn is highly devoted.’
Kit has a look at a book that has been praised widely: ‘Naomi Kritzer’s Catfishing on CatNet is one of those really kind, sweet, human novels where everyone except the villain is doing their best. They make mistakes — “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” could be this book’s subtitle — but they’re all trying.’
Matthew looks at a Kage Baker venture into children’s fiction: ‘In comparison to her other works,’ says he, ‘I would consider The Hotel under the Sand to be one of Kage Baker’s lesser works, but it is still highly enjoyable.’
Richard looks at an Ian MacDonald novel that is set in the same reality 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 brings us a collaboration that he could hardly wait to open: ‘In my view, a new novel by Steven Brust is something to be eagerly awaited. And when he collaborates with another writer, the results can be both unexpected and very rewarding. And so, I opened The Incrementalists with a large measure of anticipation.’
And there’s more: ‘Call it “slipstream”: it’s not exactly science fiction, although it could be; nor is it fantasy, although it has elements of that, in the gritty, contemporary, urban vein; and anything it takes from mainstream fiction is more from the realm of Pynchon than Hemingway. I’m referring, of course, to The Skill of Our Hands, the sequel to The Incrementalists from Steven Brust and Skyler White.’
Warner has a romance to start off his reviews: ‘Everina Maxwell’s Winter’s Orbit is a brilliant piece of writing. It features a well thought out world, compelling characters, and enjoyable romance, all fitted surprisingly comfortably into less than 450 pages. It is highly recommended, and Everina Maxwell is an author to watch out for; this first novel is a good running start.’
He next has an interesting SF book for us: ‘Bruce Sterling’s Robot Artists & Black Swans represents a fascinating concept. A set of science fiction stories told by a fictional Italian author from an Italian point of view. Coming from a classic master of cyberpunk, such a collection is bound to be of interest, and the variety of stories range from the near future sci-fi to fantasy in the distant past.’
He has a pulp mystery for us: ‘Donald E. Westlake’s Castle In the Air is another example of Hard Case Crime bringing relatively forgotten volumes back into print. Castle In the Air is a technically accurately titled book, and an intriguing example of the heist novel as well.’
April classifies her chocolate cravings in her look at three Amano Artisan Chocolate bars: ‘I can only speak for myself as a chocolate addict, but I loosely categorize chocolate into three general categories: cheap chocolate to be scarfed as needed, mid-grade chocolate that’s to be enjoyed more slowly . . . and then there’s the really good stuff, chocolate to be savored and hoarded and mourned when it is gone. My guilty pleasure, Reese’s, falls into the first category. Ritter Sport, Godiva and Ghirardelli fall into the second. And the third … well, it’s sparsely populated, but now includes, courtesy of Green Man Review, Amano dark chocolate bars.’
This edition, Denise digs into Lily’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups – 70% Cocoa, and seems to like what she’s found. ‘…this is about as guilt-free as you can get when you’re digging into a cheat day treat. Or an “I deserve this” treat. Or a “screw it I’m doing this” treat. You get the idea.’
Newman’s Own Organic Chocolates gets a review by Michael: ‘I find myself sitting and surveying some empty chocolate wrappers. Three of them, in fact; the product of Newman’s Own Organics. I’m not sure if these are available in my home country of Australia generally, as a view of their Web site seems to only show stock lists in the US and Canada. I’ve been well aware of Newman’s range of pasta sauces and the like for many years though, along with their reputation for quality. Of course, it is Paul Newman and family who were the instigators of the various food lines, though now the products are credited to “the second generation”.’
Robert has a very tasty chocolate bar for us to contemplate consuming: ‘The latest example of their craft to cross my desk is their “Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree.” It comes in a flat 3.5 oz (100g) bar divided into large squares. It also contains roasted almond bits (which has become a cliche in my estimation).’ Read his tasty review here.
David had mixed feelings about a DVD presentation called MusiCares Presents: A Tribute to Brian Wilson. ‘Just before the 2005 Grammy Awards a “star-studded gala took place in Los Angeles.” It was the MusiCares 2005 Person of the Year Awards, and the winner was Brian Wilson. Beach Boy extraordinaire, composer of the surf and hot-rod songs of my youth, and the “teenage symphony to God” that is Smile.’
Remember the food-and-football coming of age film Bend It Like Beckham? Nathan does. ‘Jes comes across as a girl who doesn’t want to reject her family or show disrespect for her culture, but is also desperate to pursue her own dreams. How this is resolved is a story of Indian cooking, cultural absurdity, family love, and an abiding desire to play what the English call “the beautiful game,” all done without ever becoming preachy or saccharine sweet.
Gary says the webcomic ‘Questionable Content is a “slice of life” comic set in an alternate universe that’s very much like ours except the AI Singularity has already taken place.’ The characters, mostly twenty-somethings in a fictionalized Northampton, Mass., interact with AI characters who are also learning to navigate life within human society. ‘Be warned, it is R rated. What’d you expect with a name like that? Jacques is a very humorous writer but also politically and socially progressive and deeply compassionate, and it’s reflected in his characters and story lines.’
‘Let’s get this straight right off the top. John Mayall has long been a problematic artist for me,’ David says. What brought this up? Well, he reviewed a couple of archival releases by Mayall, The Masters and Live at the Marquee 1969. So what did he think of these particular albums? Read his review and see.
‘Rolling Stones! What the heck are the Rolling Stones doing in Green Man Review!?!?’ So says David in this archival review of something called Forty Licks. ‘In fact Forty Licks is a two disc best-of set that was probably designed around a boardroom table by cigar smoking lawyers seeking to make a quick few million bucks on a Christmas release, the same way The Beatles 1 had done the previous year. The thing is, they got it right for a change!’
‘Okay, I’m in love. Electric sitar! Bliss!’ says Deborah of one of her favorite musical discoveries, The Strangelings‘ Season of the Witch. ‘Subtle touches, gorgeously layered vocals, a flying fiddle and wonderful musicians all the way round put this one into my heavy rotation.’
Music and fantasy cross paths in a new jazz release, Gary says. ‘Perhaps it was because I’d been editing some old GMR reviews of fantasy books by the likes of Kage Baker, Neil Gaiman, and Charles deLint, but I got a spooky sense of living oak trees dancing under a moonless sky when I first heard “Oak” as I was listening to Jason Branscum’s Beyond The Walls Of The World. It’s the kind of serendipity that adds enjoyment to both literature and music when they complement each other that way, and it happens more often than you might think.’
The Canadian indie folk group The Deep Dark Woods has a new album called Changing Faces, which Gary reviews approvingly. He says ‘[singer and songwriter Ryan] Boldt’s biggest accomplishment on Changing Faces may be the way he moves and shifts through styles including doo-wop, Celtic folk, Appalachian folk and more, while maintaining a continuity of sound and feel throughout. And that sound and feel is a folk version of the old “wall of sound” technique, this one made of layers of guitars, keyboards, percussion a string quartet and even some horns.’
For something a little different, Gary reports on The Marfa Tapes, a new CD of songs recorded in an informal setting in Marfa, Texas, by country music veterans (and good friends) Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert and Jon Randall. ‘Low fidelity rules the day, and highly emotional ballads rub up against heavenly harmonies and hijinks around the campfire.’
Michael raves (a bit) about a sprawling set of “Dark Brittanica” called John Barleycorn Reborn: ‘Brought to you by the people at the legal folk download service Woven Wheat Whispers, John Barleycorn Reborn‘s remit of dark traditional and tradition-based British music does not necessarily focus on negativity and gloom as the wording might suggest. It is more an exploration of the less “pretty” side of the genre, with no attempts at expurgation and a freedom for the musicians to express that side of the music and themselves. As a result, the set contains a great variety of arrangements from acoustic to folk rock to electronica and beyond, and a combination of ancient and newly written material that fits together easily.’
Just about everybody here at Green Man Review is a fan of the Swedish folk band Väsen. From the archives, here are some of the things we’ve published about this superb ensemble:
April starts us off with Väsen’s 1999 disc Gront. ‘Many of the tunes on Gront are a wild, wonderful ride. Not because they’re played fast and furious, but because of the many mood and tempo changes which the band springs on their unwary listeners.’
Barb reviewed Väsen’s Trio, and seems to have liked it a lot. ‘All of the cuts on this CD are wonderful. Just when I think I have a favorite, I change my mind. Each of the musicians contributes original material and there are two traditional pieces that round it out.’
After Väsen performed at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 2002 Barb noted: ‘These three musicians have obviously been playing together for a long time. They have that unspoken musical understanding that allows them to move through the music seemingly with little effort while at the same time expressing huge amounts of emotion. And their sense of humor put the audience at ease immediately – they are very funny fellows, especially when it comes to explaining to Americans the Swedish obsession with polskas … ‘
Barb also reviewed Keyed Up and attended a show on their 2004 tour behind that recording, this time in Portland, Maine. ‘This performance was toward the end of their very busy two weeks in the states, but you wouldn’t have guessed that they were operating on little sleep and lots of travel time. These men love what they do and they do it so well.’
A concept album by a Swedish instrumental folk group? That’s what Cat says their 2007 release Linnaeus Väsen is ‘The concept for this CD is centered around the renowned 18th century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, the founder of the system of scientific nomenclature used in modern biology. Described by biographers as having no ear at all for music even though he came from a family of musicians, Linnaeus was, though not a musician, a rather good dancer of polskas. It is worth stressing that the majority of the tunes performed here have at least a minor connection to him. Would he recognize these tunes? Most likely. Indeed “Carl Linnaeus Polonaise” which leads off the album was composed for him by his brother-in-law, Gabriel Höök.’
Gary reports on a CD/DVD set from Väsen, Live på Gamla Bion. ‘In a rarity for me, I actually prefer the DVD version of this concert program. The concert footage is nicely shot, using good angles and paying attention to the performers’ faces and bodies as well as their instruments.’
Finally (for now), Scott reviews two related discs, Väsen’s Väsen Street, and Mikael Marin and Mia Gustafsson’s Mot Hagsätra. Of Väsen Street, he says, ‘On Väsen Street, Väsen provide the usual assortment of self-composed and traditional polskas, schottishes, and waltzes. The schottishes – bouncy tunes in 3/4 or 2/4 time – get a bit more emphasis than usual, and “Garageschottis” is my favorite track on the CD. And he notes that Mot Hagsätra by the married duo of Marin and Gustafsson is more traditional than the usual Väsen program. ‘Fans of Väsen who are in the mood for something with a more purely traditional feel will like this recording a lot.’
Our What Not this week is another adventure at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, courtesy of Robert — and it’s a real adventure: ‘We tend to think of museums as places that display artifacts, sometimes on the walls, sometimes in cases, with descriptions of varying degrees of completeness on labels next to the objects. That is also true to a large extent of the Field Museum, although if you’ve read previous entries on the Museum, you know that’s not always the case. The Field Museum has gone beyond being a repository of objects, however, as evidenced by the exhibition “Restoring Earth”.’
So I’ve got some music for you that I think fits pretty much any season. It’s Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’from Rodeo from his Rodeo album. I sourced it off a Smithsonian Institution music archive which has no details where or when it was recorded which surprised me given how good they usually are at such things.