Was this what having an identity felt like? Was this being someone? Feeling like there was a core of who you were beyond which you could not be altered? Feeling . . . continuity. Feeling like you existed as a real, solid thing, apart from your trauma. ―
Autumn here with its promise of bonfires, pumpkins, cider on tap in the Pub, of blackberries fat and tart on their prickly bushes and pumpkins ripening on the vine, but it’s also the time of year that we get serious about getting ready for Winter. If you visit us on this Scottish Estate, someone will no doubt ask you to pitch in on some task that needs doing. So dress appropriately, have a good attitude, sturdy footware and you’ll be appreciated here quite nicely.
Now why don’t you give me a few minutes to finish up this Edition and we’ll head off to the Kitchen as the season’s upon us when the staff’s making babka, that exquisitely chocolate rich Eastern European sweet, leavened bread along with just as tasty rugelach, both a good treat as the weather cools…
First up is her not quite space operas, Ancestral Night and its not quite sequel Machine. Gary reviewed both. He says ‘Ancestral Night is the tale of Haimey Dz, a nominally lesbian engineer on a little salvage tug whose ship mind is named Singer and which is piloted by her friend Connla Kurucz. Both Haimey and Connla live nearly full time in zero gravity, so of course their bodies have been modified in many ways, including replacing their feet with “aft hands.” The three of them make their living in the vastness of interstellar space by going to the rips in spacetime caused by unsuccessful transfers out of white space back into Newtonian space, and salvaging the wrecks they find there … if there’s anything left or worth salvaging. ’
In the second novel, he says, she ‘is playing a long game in Machine, the second installment in her White Space series. The series is shaping up to be an exploration of those dark places – not to say dystopian spaces – that are always found around the edges of any apparent utopia. Via that path she’s casting her eye on some of the current ills facing humanity in the 21st century — and tossing out some thoughts about how we might resolve some of those issues before it’s too late.’
Cat has a look at two novellas in an interesting series: ‘As I write this review just before Election Day, there have been but two novellas released in the fascinating Sub-Inspector Ferron series “In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns” and “A Blessing of Unicorns”. I’m not sure how I came upon the first novella but it was a superb story, both in terms of the setting and in the characters that Bear has created here, including a parrot-cat called Chairman Miaow.’
Kestrell looks at a novel of decided Shakespearean tones: ‘Elizabeth Hand’s new novel Illyria follows in a long tradition of science fiction and fantasy stories which reference the works of Shakespeare, particularly the romances, and Hand’s lyrical writing style is a wonderful fit for the dark romance she sets out to tell. The romance tells of the relationship between two cousins, Maddy and Rogan, but like that of the twins Viola and Sebastian in “Twelfth Night” to which the title Illyria alludes, the relationship between Maddy and Rogan proves to be a powerful touchstone for drawing together all the “big ideas” of love, ambition, and conformity to family and social expectations.’
Richard has zeppelins for us in New Amsterdam: ‘ There is no more surefire signifier of the alternate history novel than the zeppelin. One giant commercial dirigible hanging in the background is all you need to say “This world is not our world. This is a place where things are/were different.” And, often enough, a signifier is all the zeppelin remains. They’re cool, they’re different, and they’re background.’
Without telling us a damn thing about the novel, Robert has high praise for high praise for one of her works: ‘Elizabeth Bear has started to scare me. All the Windwracked Stars packs a terrific wallop, and any artist who can achieve that level with any consistency is frightening indeed. There’s a degree of honesty that any artist has to achieve if they want us to pay attention beyond the moment: they can’t be afraid of the hard places. Bear’s there.’
Next is her Promethean Age novels. he begins his review wwith Blood and Iron this way: ‘Blood and Iron is the story of what turns out to be the latest battle in an ongoing and centuries-long war between the Courts of Faerie, whose power is of song and bindings and innate gifts, and the Magi of the Prometheus Club, whose magic is a thing of arcane knowledge and iron weapons, against which the Fae have little recourse. Both sides, of course, are fighting in self-defense, ‘
Of the second, Whiskey and Water, he notes: ‘The nice thing about reading the first volume to a really good new fantasy series is that when you reach the end, you know the story’s not over. The nice thing about getting your hands on the second volume is that now the waiting is over.’
Yes, it is currently available in the States on HBO Max as part of The Hunger series and Michael says it’s worth watching: ‘Adapted from the Charles de Lint short story of the same name, Sacred Fire was produced as an episode of the anthology television series, The Hunger, and first shown in 1999. A horror/dark fantasy series initially hosted by Terence Stamp and then David Bowie, The Hunger takes dark, twisted looks at the world around us.’ In an email, the author notes that one of his favourite things about it is ‘David Bowie dressed up as a mad scientist as he introduces it!’
The story is found in the Dreams Underfoot collection, which is available from what I call the usual suspects.
Jennifer reviews Nordi by Fazer Finnish chocolate bars, and then, in keeping with her theme of more-fat-more-carbs-for-is-good, 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.
Speaking of de Lint, Mia has a charming children’s book for us: ‘A Circle of Cats is intended to be the prequel to the de Lint/Vess collaboration Seven Wild Sisters. Since I’ve been thwarted in every attempt to procure a copy of Sisters, and haven’t had a chance to read the story sans Vess artwork in Tapping the Dream Tree collection, I have no idea how A Circle of Cats stands in relation to that rare release. In relation to de Lint’s body of work as a whole, and indeed to the field of modern fantasy and fairy tale overall, this piece is simply outstanding.’
Debbie had some thoughts about Peter Knight’s The Gemini Cadenza, a very different sort of recording by the Steeleye Span fiddler. ‘Knight’s high level of technical expertise, coupled with his willingness to step outside the boundaries of any particular genre, make him an artist of the highest caliber, in my opinion. You may not like all he has to offer, depending on your own tastes, but he is very much worth listening to, in whichever of his incarnations you choose to experience him.’
Gary was mesmerized by a contemporary raga recording, Purbayan Chatterjee and Rakesh Chaurasia’s Saath Saath. ‘It was recorded in March 2022, in a small chamber orchestra environment in one or sometimes two takes. We hear the introduction and a little chatter at the beginning of most tracks, and sometimes a bit of follow-up jamming as the musicians wind down from their intense focus. It’s all very charming. If you want a very beginner-friendly introduction to “Indian” music, or if you’re an old hand looking for a refreshingly informal take on it, Saath Saath is highly recommended.’
Gary also reviewed a various artists collection of field recordings, Traditional Fiddle Music of the Ozarks, Volume One: Along the Eastern Crescent. ‘This CD is the first of a three-volume set in Rounder’s excellent North American Traditions series, focusing on the old-time fiddle music of the Ozarks. It was clearly a labor of love for producers Gordon McCaan and Mark Wilson, as well as the 10 fiddlers, most of them well beyond 70 years of age. As Wilson says in his extensive liner notes, it’s important that these regional fiddle works be recorded, because the process of homogenization is well along. The advent of records, radio and TV, as well as the greater ease of traveling in the second half of the 20th century, all have conspired to nearly kill old-time dance music played by small string bands.’
John Benninghouse reviewed a collection of field recordings, Work & Pray: Historic Negro Spirituals and Work Songs From West Virginia. ‘This album is the fruit of the labors of Cortez Reece, who recorded these performances from 1949-53 as part of his doctoral thesis, “A Study of Selected Folk Songs Collected Mainly in Southern West Virginia.” It collects most of the religious pieces and songs sung by black workers as they laid railroad track. Aside from any academic trappings, the 38 tracks here stand on their own as wonderfully evocative performances.’
‘If you only buy one more CD this year (unlikely, I know!) and you love the sound of the fiddle, then this should be the one you choose,’ said Richard Barnes of a various artists disc called The Fiddle Collection (Volume 1). ‘It’s been a labour of love for Phil Beer (who better to coordinate such a project, fiddler extraordinaire that he is himself?), and well worth the effort.’
Richard Condon had high praise indeed for People On The Highway: A Bert Jansch Encomium. ‘If you are an admirer of Bert Jansch and his music or if you are a fan of the scene onto which he erupted, the London of the 1960s, you will find much to please you on these two discs. They demonstrate the love and admiration that BJ inspired in his own generation and also the influence and affection that can still be discovered in later and more widely scattered musicians. Many of the songs continue to hold their own, even if a few now seem lighter in weight in a changed world, and they are generally performed here with understanding and respect.’
Our What Nots are of a Dragonish manner, and let’s have Camille start off for us: ‘Like every Folkmanis puppet I’ve so far seen, the Baby Dragon Puppet is a marvel of workmanship for the price: carefully stitched seams, articulated wings, darts along the inside of the limbs and belly to allow for movement and keep shape. The tag tells us it’s made in China, so we know who to thank.’
Mia finishes off with a look at four of Folkmanis’s creations, to wit Blue Dragon, Green Dragon, Three Headed Dragon, and Phoenix and she says, ‘Oooooh, shiny! I have a box of dragons here! Folkmanis makes the best puppets ever, and their dragons are some of the finest of their puppets.’
Autumn for me is when I start craving the sound of certain performers, one of which is Kathryn Tickell. She to me is one of the more interesting sounding of the Northumberland performers that risen up in the past thirty years in the years since Billy Pigg was active.
So let’s listen in to her performing three tunes, ‘The Magpie’, ‘Rothbury Road‘ and ‘The Cold Shoulder’ which is from an outstanding soundboard recording of a performance at the Washington D.C. Irish Folk Fest from the 2nd of September, some twenty years ago.