I sipped my own coffee, heavy on the sugar and cream, trying to make up for the late work the night before. Caffeine and sugar, the two basic food groups. — Laurell K. Hamilton’s Cerulean Sins
It’s a little cooler than last week which touched thirty celsius, eighty to you Yanks, but still quite pleasant. Though it certainly wouldn’t hurt if we got a few days of rain now.
The Kitchen made sourdough waffles this morning, which of course require starting about ten or twelve hours beforehand, being yeast-raised. We top them with one of our favourite toppings, be it applesauce or preserves such as strawberry or blueberries. Even on rarer occasions, whipped cream from Riverrun Farm. And I had the twice-smoked applewood bacon as well.
The Estate wolfhounds were restless and in need of a good walk, as was I after that filling breakfast, so I packed a light lunch of some beef jerky for them, sourdough rolls, our own cheddar and an apple, with a thermos of tea, Earl Grey this time, and headed off for the Standing Stones. It made for a pleasant walk and my canine companions certainly enjoyed it as they chased a number of hares but never caught any.
Now it’s time to finish off this edition, so I suggest you have one of our Spring Peeper blonde ales and go out to the Courtyard to enjoy the warm weather. I’ll have this edition to you shortly …
Cat will openly admit that he found the televised Torchwood to be quite dodgy at times, but he has an excellent full cast audio Torchwood adventure for you: ‘Golden Age is the story of Torchwood India and what happened to it. It is my belief that the best of all the Torchwood were the audio dramas made by BBC during the run of the series. Please note that it was BBC and not Big Finish that produced these despite the fact that latter produces most of the Doctor Who and spinoff dramas. This is so because the new Doctor Who audio dramas was kept in-house and these productions were kept there as well.’
Deborah gave high marks to many of the stories in Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, edited by Ekateriina Sedia. ‘This is a fairly eclectic collection, bringing together semi-historical fantasy, mythpunk, cyberpunk, science fiction, YA fantasy, and even a hunting adventure about the one that got away. Of course, not all stories were created equal. While the quality of the writing in this collection is pretty consistent, the ideas and execution are not always as engaging.’
According to Denise, ‘Peter Dickinson takes the salamander of myth and gives it a new spin in The Tears of the Salamander. In 18th century Italy, young Alfredo is a promising singer in the church choir, and sings with the true love of one born to it. Soon though, he reaches the age where he must make a decision: to become a castrati and continue with the choir for his whole life, or to take his chances and hope his singing voice after puberty is as good as it had been before. As he weighs his decision, tragedy strikes. He is soon introduced to his Uncle Giorgio, a man whom he has never known and whom his father hated. Alfredo is whisked away to Sicily, where his uncle is the Master of the Mountain, a powerful man with the fire and fury of the mountain at his control.’
An Ian Macdonald novel garners this comment from Grey: ‘Today, I picked up King of Morning, Queen of Day again just to refresh my memory before writing this review. After all, it doesn’t do to refer to a book’s main character as Jennifer if her name is actually Jessica. But my quick brush-up turned into a day-long marathon of fully-engaged, all-out reading. I’ve been on the edge of my seat, I’ve been moved to tears, I’ve laughed, I’ve marked passages that I want to quote.’
Irene says of a slender volume by Dorothy Sayers on a subject dear to many of us: ‘These essays, as well as a transcription of an original radio play featuring a young Peter Death Bredon Wimsey and Sherlock Holmes, are reprinted in the slim volume by The Mythopoeic Press entitled Sayers on Holmes: Essays and Fiction on Sherlock Holmes. The essays are lovely examples of canonical scholarship and show Sayers’ skill as a detective and a scholar (for what is a true research scholar but a detective) as well as her undoubted skill as an entertaining author.’
We’ve come to expect nothing but the best from Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies, and Joselle says the Fifth Annual Collection did not disappoint. ‘Overall, the selections in the YBFH5 intrigued me, charmed me, frightened me and made me think. Ultimately, this collection (the first I have read cover to cover) has shown me why many readers and critics consider this year’s best anthology of genre work to be the best in the field. I highly recommend it not just to readers curious about what was hot in 1991, but readers who like their fantasy and horror edgy, daring and thoughtful.’
Lis starts off with a Trek review of a novel by Janet Kagan, Uhura’s Song: ‘Enterprise is sent to respond to a devastating plague on a Federation world inhabited by a cat-like species, the Eeiauoans. McCoy and Chapel are on the planet working with local medical personnel, the disease has jumped species and is infecting humans, too, and Uhura’s old friend, Sunfall, an Eeiauoan diplomat who shares her love of music and gift for it, is among the ill. There’s an acting Chief Medical Officer on Enterprise, Evan Wilson, who when sent had hoped she’d be working with McCoy, not filling in for him. And she’s…unusual. As both Uhura and Spock search through all the information they have that might be relevant, they start pooling their efforts using the ballads she learned from Sunfall, and what he can piece together from their history and biology. Soon they’re convincing Kirk they need to go looking for the Eeiauons’ original homeworld. The result has Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Checkov, and Evan Wilson trying to get medical information from people who are deeply ashamed of their ancestors having exiled the Eeiaoans, two millennia ago, and don’t want to talk about it. Oh, and the landing party has to figure out how to deal with a culture according to whose customs they’re not even adults. It’s a lot of fun.’
Next she has a review of a Revelation Space novel by Alasdair Reynolds: ‘Elysium Fire is the second adventure of Prefect Tom Dreyfus and his deputies, Thalia Ng and Sparver Bancal, confronting a new crisis. Or two crises. Or maybe the two crises are converging into one… They’re facing the new fragility of the Glitter Band, a seemingly inexplicable wave of deaths, and a very effective demagogue of murky backgroung and unknown motives.’
Remember Jack Vance? Robert’s been digging around in the Archives again and came up with something — well, it’s not by Jack Vance, it’s sort of about Jack Vance: a tribute volume, Songs of the Dying Earth, featuring a host of science fiction’s luminaries: ‘Anyone who doubts the pervasive and ongoing influence of Jack Vance need only look at the table of contents to this tribute volume. Many of the contributors are legends themselves (Glen Cook, Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Robert Silverberg); others are some of the clearest and strongest voices of newer generations (Kage Baker, Jeff VanderMeer); and the influence seems to span the English-speaking world, from Britain (Matthew Hughes, Liz Williams) to Australia (Terry Dowling). And that’s not even half of them.”
Robert has some thoughts on a book about another legendary figure in science fiction, not a writer but an editor: Gary Westfahl’s Hugo Gernsback and the Century of Science Fiction: ‘Hugo Gernsback occupies a unique role in the history of science fiction, but exactly what that role is at present has generated a fair amount of controversy. He has been depicted as the visionary creator of a new genre of forward-looking fiction, and equally as a high-handed editor who thought nothing of rewriting his contributors’ stories to fit his ideas.”
Rachel was positively horrified, in a good way, by 28 Days Later. ‘It’s not technically a zombie movie, for the infected are still alive, but it uses the conventions of one to great effect. The infected only come out at night, and any of the characters can, in the blink of an eye, become one of them. Like zombies, the infected are figures of fear and pathos, symbols of death and worse than death. But unlike traditional zombies, they move with terrifying speed. And they are motivated not by cannibalistic hunger, but by animalistic fury.’
Lis says of Blackout Cake Flavor Creme Oreos that ‘Oreo cookies proudly own their status as junk food, and have never let me down. Empty calories for the masses, which have become increasingly colorful over the years. The latest Limited Edition, though, doesn’t flaunt bright colors, but chocolate. Dark and milk chocolate.’
Harking back to our first couple of reviews (well, sort of), Robert takes a look at a graphic novel that’s not quite a fairy tale. In fact, it’s pretty firmly grounded in Greek mythology: ‘Mike Carey’s The Furies, illustrated by John Bolton, is another spin off from Neil Gaiman’s series The Sandman, and captures that same blend of myth and everyday life that was such a striking feature of Gaiman’s work.’With warmer weather returning in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re getting back into live outdoor music season. This time we have a bunch of mostly live music reviews for you.
David was enthusiastic about Verlon Thompson’s solo album everywhere … yet. ‘This little album, only 37 minutes long, is an example of real home-made music. All instruments and vocals by Verlon Thompson. I can hear bass, mandolin and guitars. It’s marvelous in its simplicity. Recorded “out at the barn” in a studio he built for his previous album, the sound is as cozy as an Pendleton blanket in front of a log fire. The title song is a list of the places they HAVE played, with a chorus that promises if you “book us a room, we’ll be in your town soon … we ain’t been everywhere but we’re tryin’ to get there.”
David also liked a live offering from Verlon Thompson, Live at the Iveys. ‘Now the Iveys is not a club somewhere in Nashville, no way. It’s the living room of his friends Randy and Barbara Ivey in South Carolina. And it’s every bit as relaxed and fun as you might think it would be. Verlon takes the stage (or the couch?), and welcomes everyone, because he needs to talk. It’s always good to have some folks to talk to. And talk he does, in between songs that provide a history lesson in country music.’
Gary reviewed L.A. Shit, a new studio recording by GracieHorse. ‘The musical bones of this release are very ’70s SoCal country rock – Harvest, Burritos, SHF Band, that sort of thing. But lyrically we’re closer to some blend of Guyville-era Liz Phair and especially Mary Prankster in her alt-country days in the early 2000s. I welcome any return of sassy, foul-mouthed, feminist twang-rock!
Gary also reviewed another new release, this one called Home Is Here, by Felipe Salles and his big band. ‘It’s a great album of heartfelt, powerful jazz featuring these eight soloists backed by the hefty Interconnections Ensemble. We’re talking five saxes and woodwinds, five trumpets and flugelhorns, four trombones, and a five-member rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion. Plus the soloists, including Salles himself on one number. The others run the gamut from old pros to young Turks, but all are excellent on their instruments and all have something to say.’
Gary overall enjoyed the music by various artists on Concerts for a Landmine Free World, organized by Emmylou Harris – particularly contributions by Harris, Steve Earle, Guy Clark and John Prine. ‘There are no revelations or surprises here, just a disc of solid country and folk in the service of a good cause.’
Gary got a kick out of Mary Prankster’s Lemonade: Live. ‘Mary Prankster, now in her “late 20s,” has an impish grin, a foul mouth and an ear for a catchy tune. She puts it all to work on Lemonade, laying down swinging, unplugged versions of tunes from her previous four recordings, plus three new numbers.’
Lars came to enjoy a couple of albums by The Whisky Priests, including their released called Bloody Well Live! ‘As a whole, the album is a lot of fun. But it should be played very loud, and I strongly recommend chewing it off bit by bit, unless you are already familiar with the group’s work. It must be a marvellous souvenir for fans and people who have seen them live, but it works for others as well, believe me. All in all these two albums have almost turned me into a fan and I feel like I have to explore this band further. They are certainly worth it.’
Michael quite enjoyed a live offering from one of his favorite singers. ‘This is such an innocuous title for a CD of such an important event! Let me elaborate a little. Live In Concert was recorded in Cheltenham, UK, on March 12, 2006, to celebrate Steve Ashley’s sixtieth year on the planet – and what better way than to gather together as many as possible of the musicians he has worked with over the decades and have one big on-stage party?’
Peter was quite complimentary about a live recording by Darrell Scott, Danny Thompson & Kenny Malone, Live in NC. ‘Make no mistake about it; Darrell Scott is a great singer and handles all the vocals, as well as playing some wicked accompaniments on his guitar. Indeed, he ranks among such artists as Richard Thompson, Albert Lee, and Eric Clapton, to name but a few. Danny Thompson stands alongside of him playing a spectacular upright bass and along with some superb drumming from Kenny Malone, they really gel together. It’s not folk music, more what I call funky country blues / acoustic rock. However, call it what you like, but it still makes damn good listening – and will be enjoyed by country or folk music fans alike.’
Peter also reviewed a very obscure recording by The Celebrated Renaissance Band, an old-time trio from Missouri. ‘The title of the album says REAL LIVE American Music and this is how it is. I enjoyed the real live sound and I suspect if you were lucky enough to have been at University in the early 70s, you may well have experienced something very similar in a student bar. As such you may want to search out this album for a trip down memory lane!’
Peter was busy, also reviewing Dropkick Murphys’ Live on St. Patrick’s Day. ‘The album was recorded live on a recent St Patrick’s Day at the Avalon Ballroom in Boston, Massachusetts. This surprised me a little, because the overall sound is that of an open-air festival type concert. The sound quality and mixing could have been a lot better, especially in a confined space like a ballroom. Having said that, with this type of music, I don’t suppose it matters much. Throughout the album, the band is obviously having a great time as are the audience, who are obviously up for it. I can only imagine that one or two glasses of sherbet have been consumed beforehand, with it being St. Patrick’s Day! And they are playing before their home crowd.’
Richard reviewed a real treat, a live solo recording of Dave Swarbrick, Live at Jacksons Lane. ‘Musikfolk has done fans of Dave Swarbrick a great service in issuing this CD. It showcases his effortless mastery of the folk violin in an extremely diverse collection of pieces and is highly recommended to lovers of this genre. He acquits himself well on the three songs too, and if you think that three songs don’t give you enough of the Swarb voice, be reassured. The instrumentals are punctuated by frequent grunts and interjections that make Glen Gould and even Steffi Graf sound like mutes by comparison.’
Our What Not is not unexpectedly of a Dragonish manner, and let’s have Camille explain 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.’
In Roger Zelazny’s To Die in Italbar, there’s a character frozen at the edge of death who has no heartbeat but instead always has music playing as a sort of substitute for the silence in his chest. If you visit me in the Estate Library, you’ll always find something playing and recently I’ve been listening to a lot of music by a Scottish neo-trad band called The Iron Horse who were active starting some twenty five years ago. I’ve got two cuts from them performing live at the Gosport Easter Festival, April of ’96, ‘The 8-Step Waltz’ and ‘The Sleeping Warrior’.