What’s New for the 17th of October: A Plethora of Neal Stephenson novels, Several Things of a Jethro Tull Nature, Elizabeth Bear on all things culinary, an ex-Beatle and an ex-Monkee and a bunch of Wicked Tinkers

Crop handle carved in bone,
sat high upon a throne of finest English leather.
The queen of all the pack;
this joker raised his hat and talked about the weather,
All should be warned about this high born Hunting Girl;
She took this simple man’s downfall in hand,
I raised the flag that she unfurled.

Jethro Tull’s ‘The Hunting Girl’

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What am I eating this fine afternoon? That’d be blueberry jam tarts with a sprinkle of chocolate  powder on them. Most delicious. I’m very fond of autumn weather coming upon us as it means lots of delicious warm food coming out of our Kitchen like these tarts. I’ve paired these tarts with an oversized mug of cocoa.

Here in this quite remote Scottish Estate where the nearest town’s a good thirty-five miles away, the group of thirty or so souls here year round forms a community that’s at its most cohesive when the weather turns decidedly cold and oftimes unfavourable to travel. This ‘hunkering down’ is a gradual process that starts in early Autumn and doesn’t really end ’til after lamb season in April as it’s hard to be a good host when you’re covered with blood, shit and other stuff that’s unpleasant in general.

Pumpkins are versatile food here, so you can help us harvest them now that our first light frost has passed; likewise apples and potatoes need harvesting and proper processing for the uses they’ll be put to. Gus, our Head Gardener, uses for staff anyone able to be properly picky at what they’ll be doing.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1So, one of the editors has been on a bit of a Neal Stephenson jag lately, so we’ve turned the book section over to our coverage of Stephenson’s books.

Christopher had some thoughts about a mid-2000s revival of an early Stephenson novel, Snow Crash. ‘What Stephenson does in Snow Crash is combine the better attributes of an action adventure SF page turner (cyber punk division) with some fairly dense and intriguing explorations into religion, language and socio-political history and theory. Depending on a given reader’s taste, some of this may seem too tangential, but various readers will no doubt find particular threads “tangential” that other readers find central to their enjoyment of the book.

Gary spent some time catching up with Stephenson’s 2015 hard-sf tome Seveneves. ‘Neal Stephenson starts his big books in one of two ways. Either slowly with a lot of character introductions and scene setting (Reamde) or with a bang, hurling you headlong into the action such that the first time you come up for air you’re on about page 100. Seveneves is that second kind.

Speaking of Reamde, Gary was quite pleased with that book, as he says in his review. ‘Stephenson is a straightforward writer with a good ear for dialogue and a good hand at action scenes. He engineers the story so plausibly that I willingly suspended my disbelief at the way all the surviving major characters came together for the climax. He doesn’t lard his prose with adjectives or similes, and he injects a good deal of wit into the proceedings.’

Kestrel had high praise for one of Stephenson’s most enigmatic (and also most popular) books: ‘How to describe Anathem? This is how I took to explaining it to my friends: if Gödel, Escher, Bach and The Name of the Rose had gotten together to produce literary offspring, the result could well have been Anathem, complete with wordplay and quirky dialogue.

Wes offers an enticing description of Stephenson’s feats in the writing of Crytonomicon: ‘He explores basic fundamentals of information theory through analogy to bicycle chains; tears through a brilliant and amusing synopsis of how Athena is the Greek goddess of hacking; and in between serves up a script of PERL that produces a nice little encryption program, which can also be duplicated with a pack of playing cards. Then end result is that this book reads like something Thomas Pynchon and Stephen J. Wolfram might have co-authored, were they to have vacationed together on Midway Island.’

Finally, Wes delved into a follow-up to Cryptonomicon, a hefty volume titled Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle, Volume One. ‘Those familiar with Neal Stephenson’s earlier novel Cryptonomicon will recognize the Shaftoes and Waterhouses, and the imaginary Qwghlm islands. Quicksilver, while exploring the state of alchemical study during the years of the Royal Society, focuses on the contributions of the ancestors of the protagonists of Cryptonomicon. Even so, you don’t need to have read Cryptonomicon to enjoy Quicksilver.

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Iain has a rather special treat for us as he interviews one of favorite authors: ‘We here at Green Man remember the winter afternoon that Elizabeth carefully tended a pot of turkey stock that many hours later would become one of the most tasty turkey veggie soups ever encountered by anyone ‘ere. Later that week, I got to interview her about all things culinarily that interested here ranging from her ideas picnic basket and what make a great winter hearty meal to the perfect brownie.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Kage and Kathleen say Jethro Tull’s Live at Montreux 2003 ended thusly: ‘After two hours of concert, Anderson’s voice expired, barely croaking out the last phrase of the encore’s snippet of “Cheerio”. He stood there waving at the audience, his shirt soaked with sweat. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. He had earned it. That anyone can still get a crowd on their feet after forty years of touring is proof of genius, in my book.’

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From the archives, a couple of graphic novels in the world of Hellblazer: John Constantine.

April was pleased with the book titled The Roots of Coincidence, which brings together several issues of the Hellblazer comic, with two stories, both written by Andy Diggle. ‘In “The Mortification of the Flesh,” Constantine teams up with an old friend to manipulate a very wayward priest into giving him a very old and powerful book in the Church’s possession, a lost Gospel. A very interesting lost Gospel at that! … “The Roots of Coincidence” finds Constantine getting to the heart of all the coincidences in his life.’

And Cat reviews Hellblazer: Lady Constantine, written by Andy Diggle with art by Goran Sudzuka. He found it to be ‘a delightful romp,’ and says that … ‘Lady Johanna Constantine herself is witty, sexy, and a truly kickass character? Though I will stress strongly that she shares the Constantine family trait of never, ever being someone you should trust not to stab you in the back if need be.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Gary has some decidedly mixed feelings about the totally remixed version of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass that was released to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. ‘George’s vocals have been pulled out front and mostly stripped of reverb, a lot of the solos or sonic accents have been lifted forward in the mix, and certain elements inside that wall of sound have been emphasized while others have been quieted. It is a great novelty to hear some of these songs and their component parts much more clearly – some for the first time, even. But I’d be unhappy if this album became the definitive version going forward.’

What else was Gary listening to in 1971 besides All Things Must Pass? A lot of Michael Nesmith, it turns out, and here he tells us about the three albums loosed upon the world by Nesmith and the First National Band, Magnetic South, Loose Salute, and Nevada Fighter. ‘I suspect I was not alone in 1970 and ’71 in being a fan of both classic country and modern rock, who discovered the joys of country rock through Nesmith & the First National Band’s records. These three albums were a brief flash in the pan of popular music of that era, but they’ve had a long legacy and remain in print, followed by faithful fans worldwide.’

Gary reviews Norman Blake’s Day By Day, the latest album from a living legend in American roots music. ‘Day By Day was recorded in a single afternoon at an Alabama studio just a half-hour from his home. It was recorded with loving attention to detail, which shows in the way Blake’s warmly worn voice comes through, the long fade-outs on final notes, and the lovely tones of his instruments.’

I went down a bit of a rabbit hole in the Music Archives (as usual) this time. It started with Michael’s impassioned omnibus review of an independent Celtic artist, which led to a whole series of releases and live appearances by a madcap Celtic pipe-and-drum outfit, and it all somehow led to Big Earl (which frequently happens, trust me) and a blues compilation:

Big Earl was almost totally thrilled by a reissue of music by “Mississippi” John Hurt. ‘Rediscovered (as if he was ever lost!) is a collection of Hurt’s 1960s output for Vanguard. Twenty-four tracks, one voice and one guitar. We should be grateful that no one opted to “fill out” his sound during recording with other instruments. Hurt’s music makes any listener smile; it’s so gentle, so comfortable, even when he deals with the darkest subjects. Part live, mainly studio, with some spoken parts, it’s a great overview of the man’s music and legacy.’

Michael’s review of three discs by Celtic fiddler and singer Heather Alexander awakened memories of his discovery of Celtic music via … I’ll let him tell you: ‘Through sheer random chance, I stumbled across Mercedes Lackey’s first book Arrows of the Queen. That in turn led me to discover the musical paradise that is Firebird Arts and Music, who at the time distributed a lot of Mercedes-related books, music, art, and god-knows-what-else. I found myself with this driving thirst for all things Celtic, especially music.’

Peter fell under the spell of the American band Wicked Tinkers when he listened to their third CD, aptly titled Loud. ‘On this album you have what the Wicked Tinkers call Gaelic bagpipe music, not the refined playing of a normal pipe band, but their own version of what the ancient tribal bands might have been like. It’s the sort of sound you might have heard at Scottish weddings, ceilidhs, or around the campfires of a highland raiding party.’

Cat reviewed two Wicked Tinkers albums, Wicked Tinkers and Hammered, and was quite enthusiastic. ‘Wicked Tinkers is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard — and after hearing literally thousands of Celtic CDs in the past twenty years, I’m more than a bit jaded. From the opening set of jigs titled “The Bird Set” (“The Hen’s March/The Seagull/The Geese in the Bog”) to the “Wallop The Cat” jig (“We do not advocate cruelty to cats, hares or any other creatures, for that matter. In fact, we hope this tune is about a cat named Wallop …”) with its gratuitous silly sound effects, to the closing jig/hornpipe combo of “The Man From Skye/The Judge’s Dilemma,” this is a damn near perfect album.

Mia had the time of her life at the Portland Scottish Highland Games, where she took in a few sets by the Wicked Tinkers. ‘The Wicked Tinkers are crazy in the way that only very, very good performers can be, with a nuttiness that is enticing rather than intimidating. Consummate performers, they work together like the proverbial well-oiled machine, albeit one oiled with mutton grease and lubricated with plenty of ale.’

Mia also reviewed a live CD from the same band, Wicked Tinkers’ Banger for Breakfast. ‘The recording is really well done for what must have been almost entirely outdoor, open air shows. Wayne Belger’s didgeridoo on “Those Marching O’Neill’s” from Hammered rumbles through the speakers like doom … you’ll want to turn up your bass when you listen to the Tinkers as their music is an incredibly visceral experience.’

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Denise really enjoyed her new puppet from Folkmanis, the Chipmunk in Watermelon. ‘This company makes the most adorable puppets, and this one’s no different. There’s wonderful attention to detail, and the colors on the melon have a lovely blended watercolors look. And don’t get me started on the “vine”; it’s twisty and sproing-y and had me stretching it out just so I could watch it snap right back into place. I’m one for the simpler pleasures in life.’ Is it perfect? Not quite, read her review for more on that.

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I personally have a keen liking for the Tull of the Sixties and early Seventies, which is why you’re getting a cut off their 1976 album, Songs from The Wood. The cut I’ve selected is ‘The Hunting Girl’, a fine pagan story about boy meets girl riding horse and … Oh just go give it a listen! It’s a soundboard recording done forty three years ago at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Reynard

I'm the Pub Manager for the Green Man Pub which is located at the KInrowan Estate. I'm married to Ingrid, our Steward who's also the Estate Buyer. If I'm off duty and in a mood for a drink, it'll be a single malt, either Irish or Scottish, no water or ice, or possibly an Estate ale or cider. I'm a concertina player, and unlike my wife who has a fine singing voice, I do not have anything of a singing voice anyone want to hear!

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About Reynard

I'm the Pub Manager for the Green Man Pub which is located at the KInrowan Estate. I'm married to Ingrid, our Steward who's also the Estate Buyer. If I'm off duty and in a mood for a drink, it'll be a single malt, either Irish or Scottish, no water or ice, or possibly an Estate ale or cider. I'm a concertina player, and unlike my wife who has a fine singing voice, I do not have anything of a singing voice anyone want to hear!
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