She had not won a clean victory. Tinkering with time and history offended her political sensibilities. History was written in the stones. It was not a numinous thing to be tossed sparkling in the air to lie where it fell. She did not like to think of her life and world as a mere mutability of potential
Ian MacDonald’s Desolation Road
If you’re looking for the residents of Kinrowan Estate, most have found somewhat valid reasons to be outside today, from planting the annual herbs in the Beatrix Potter kitchen garden to helping out with the scrubbing down of the slate patios, as the weather’s warm, somewhat muggy and blessed with full sun. I’ll be headed out as soon as I finish this GMR edition; we’re doing a whole lamb roast in the Courtyard, followed by a concert.
The visiting band’s Snow on the Mountain and they’re named after a plant that has green and white leaves that’s up as soon as the first Spring warmth arrives. They hailed they said from Big Foot County though I couldn’t find such a place in any gazetteer that we had, but that matters not. Voice, Appalachian dulcimer, fiddle and concertina are their instruments, which makes for a very sweet sound.
Their music is a happy merging of Celtic and bluegrass, something that might’ve been Appalachian Trad, and oh and more than a bit of upbeat Tex-Mex, so if you’ve heard and enjoyed The Mollys or Celexico, you’ll definitely like them. We’ve got them here for several contradances and this performance as well.
Now let’s see what we’ve got this edition…
Carter starts off our all Mars related reviews 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.’
He next goes sideways in time: ‘Ah, to visit John Carter and the inhabitants of Barsoom, Edger Rice Burrough’s richly imagined Mars. The characters in Robert Heinlein’s The Number of The Beast did in their travels across the multiverse, and now the protaganist of Rainbow Mars does it. Well, sort of. Maybe. Possibly. Let me explain the confusion that I may have intentionally generated… Larry Niven has stated many times that he firmly believes that time travel is logically impossible — an utter and complete fantasy. So when retrieval specialist Svetz heads back from polluted future Earth in search of extinct animals, he tends to sideslip into fantastic, fictional worlds. And delightfully so in these stories.’
Chuck reviews Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road: ‘I figure this much: It 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.’
Joel looks at another novel set on Mars, Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief: ‘I could make some surface comparisons to another critically-acclaimed debut from years past. Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon is also set some centuries hence, also takes place in a universe of heavy extra-terrestrial human colonization, and also features the altered social, legal, and economic dynamics of a humanity that’s bested mortality. But as excellent as Morgan’s post-cyberpunk whodunit is, comparing the two titles, even favourably, sells The Quantum Thief short.’
Richard looks at another 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 look at Edgar Pangborn’s A Mirror for Observers: ‘About 30,000 years ago, the Martians fled their dying planet for Earth, where they took up a hidden residence, waiting for humanity to progess to the point where it could accept them. They send their Observers out into the world, to report back to their superiors in their hidden cities and to guide, surreptitiously, those who might make a difference. Some Observers conclude that there is no hope, and abdicate their responsibilities, becoming outcasts. One such, the Abdicator Namir, has concluded that the only hope for the Martians is the elimination of humanity. He means to bring it about however he can.’
Warner finished off this themed reviews for us: ‘David Ebenbach’s How To Mars is a fascinating bit of comedy built from a series of shorter pieces into a novel. A group of people are on an ill-considered mission to chastely colonize Mars. One of them has gotten pregnant. As a premise goes, this certainly lends itself to comedic potential.’
Being a big fan of Led Zeppelin, Craig had to check out the DVD reissue of a program originally broadcast on MTV. It was called No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded. So what did Craig think? ‘As far as the Led Zep canon goes, this barely places, but it’s definitely one of the most consistently entertaining things either of them has done since the breakup. Your taste for rock and roll injected with world music will dictate whether you are a repeat viewer, but I can’t imagine any Page or Plant fan being without No Quarter.’
Craig also reviewed a cerebral horror film from director Bernard Rose called Paperhouse, which he says ‘… is a delightfully scary look at the blending of dreams and reality. Anna (Charlotte Burke) is an eleven-year-old girl who enjoys drawing. During a class one day, she produces a picture of an amorphic house with large, forbidding rocks (gravestones?) in the front yard. After an unfortunate incident, she dreams that she wakes up in the field in front of the house that she has drawn.’
David thoroughly enjoyed Paniolo O Hawaii, a documentary about a little known American subculture, the cowboys of Hawaii called paniolos. ‘This is an evocative and moving film about Hawaii, about love for the land, and about pride in a job well done. It shows a different attitude toward ownership of natural resources, ownership of property, community, and the clash of cultures that resulted in the development of the fiftieth state. Lee is rightly proud of the accomplishments of these men, and has made a wonderful tribute to their lives and calling.’
Care for some chocolate to nibble on at length? Then Robert has some very good stuff for you: ‘Among the latest goodies to cross my desk are two tins of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Wedges, Dark Chocolate Caramel and Extra Dark Chocolate. Since Trader Joe’s sells everything under its own label, there’s no way to know, without doing a lot more sleuthing than I care to, who actually makes their chocolates, but the quality is generally quite good, so it’s a moot point.’
Rebecca Scott reviewed the first two volumes of Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin series, The Night Things and The Coven of Mystics. Though the tale involves a lot of YA fantasy horror tropes, it’s better than most, she says. ‘The first thing that’s different is that Courtney Crumrin is a graphic novel series. Not that that automatically exempts it from being hackneyed, I know, but it isn’t. Because the second thing that’s different about Courtney Crumrin is Courtney. She’s cranky, rude, and misanthropic. She hates the stuck-up rich kids at school, can’t stand her parents’ aspirations, and finds she’s quite fond of her great uncle Aloysius. She takes up magic in order to get revenge. Courtney is my kind of girl.’
David was highly impressed with Ian Anderson’s solo album Rupi’s Dance: ‘When he released his first solo album Anderson was criticized that he had over-reached his abilities. It is only by over-reaching that we stretch ourselves far enough to touch those things out of our grasp. Rupi’s Dance shows an artist ready to grow again. Subtle and emotive, Ian Anderson is producing some of the best music of his career.’
Gary reviews Narrow Line, an album from Canadian Americana duo Mama’s Broke. ‘Pretty much every song and tune on this album contains at least one startling surprise, be it lyrical or musical or both, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything that’s rote or clichéd. Their unique blend of styles that includes Celtic, Appalachian and Eastern European arises organically from their experiences and enthusiasms rather than sounding cobbled together. Mama’s Broke’s Narrow Line is testimony that, if there is hope in these dark times, it’s through community and song.’
Gary reviewed Irish singer Denis McArdle’s debut album Untold. ‘McArdle has a strong, highly trained baritone that sometimes seems too pretty for his material, especially the folk-pop of songs like “Sick Day,” by the American indie group Fountains of Wayne, and the Massive Attack number, “Protection,” a rock song in a folk setting. His vocal style and the elaborate production also threaten to overwhelm a couple of traditional Scottish songs, the lullaby “Hush, Hush, Time to be Sleeping,” and the Robert Burns poem “Green Grow the Rushes,” set to the tune of “The Misty Covered Mountains,” as well as the atmospheric electronica version of the trad Irish “May Morning Dew.” ‘
Judith enjoyed a couple of Finnish dance music albums she picked up at a workshop in Vancouver, B.C., Spelarit’s Kalabaliikki and Tradivaara’s Kaikki Soitaa. ‘If I had a choice of bands, Spelarit would win hands down. The skill level is higher, the sound is richer, and they are more inventive. But Tradivaara has a stately charm all its own. In my life, there is way too little Finnish dance music, so comparing the albums is like comparing diamonds and gold.’
Matej Novak reviewed a couple of classical masterworks by a couple of modern virtuosos, Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma’s Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev Cello Sonatas. ‘Virtual contemporaries, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev demonstrate the best of Russian music from the end of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries. Featuring them together on one recording, then, is a perfect match, and the specific choice of pieces – Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 19, and Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C Major, Op. 119 – highlights their strengths as well as the unique qualities of their respective styles.’
Robert gives a mixed review to two recordings by the composers he calls ‘The Two Sergeis‘, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. Of the Rachmaninoff, he says, ‘I can’t say that I’m overwhelmingly impressed by this recording of the Symphony No. 3 by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra, and I don’t know where to lay the blame. Commentators have remarked on the “taughtness” of the form, its rhythmic vitality, its orchestration, and I have to confess that at this hearing, it strikes me as both formless and fairly colorless.’ He’s much more positive about Van Cliburn’s recording of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3: ‘This one has all the drive and passion – and the lyricism – we look for in the romantic repertoire. Some commentators have called Cliburn’s interpretation “confused,” but I really can’t hear that. Regrettably, the sound quality is not great, but even under the muddiness of the recording, one can sense the clarity of Cliburn’s approach and his deep involvement with the music.’
Scott interviewed Mari Kaasinen, singer and co-founder of the Finnish powerhouse Värttinä shortly after their album iki was released. ‘In this interview, Mari talks a little bit about the history of Värttinä, culminating with the recent release of their tenth album iki and some of the influences that have shaped the band’s output over the years. She also explains the meaning of the album title, and describes a couple of her own songwriting contributions to the album; “Syylinen Syli (Faithless Arms)” originated as a choral piece, and “Nahkarouska (Leather Whip)” tells the tale of a wife who takes a rather aggressive stand against her husband’s philandering. Finally, Mari talks about the new contributors to Värttinä’s music, and tries to explain how the band has successfully endured through all the personnel changes in its history.’ Read the whole interview here.
Robert brings us his comments on a Folkmanis hand puppet: it’s the Piglet: ‘ I have to confess, as I sat here looking at him reclining on my bed — he’s rather large, about 14 inches from nose to curly tail (not corkscrew curly, but it’s making a good start) — the first thought that came to my mind was the title of a Tony Hillerman mystery, The Sinister Pig. With his half-closed eyes and slightly open mouth, he looks — well, hungry.’ Hmm — maybe that’s not so different than cats after all.’
Speaking of Big Foot county, let’s go with something from the late Robert Hunter as I rather like ‘Brown-Eyed Women’ quite a bit but my favorite version isn’t the one with Garcia singing that the Dead did, but rather is one someone here found some years back. Hunter who wrote much of what they played including this song and my favourite version is done by him during a show at Biddy Mulligan’s in Chicago on the tenth of October some thirty years ago. So let’s now listen to him doing that song.