To the people who insist they really do have a great idea but they just can’t write, I’d say that given some of the books I’ve read, or at least started to read, it would appear that not being able to write is absolutely no obstacle whatsoever to writing a book and securing a publishing contract. Though becoming famous in some other field first may help. ― Iain Banks in Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram
If you’re looking for Iain, our Librarian, he’s off again on a vacation trip, errr, I meant another short concert tour with his wife, violinist and vocalist Catherine, in the Baltic nations. While he’s gone, Gus has the Library Apprentices, the Several Annies, assisting him with much needed gardening work, so I’m writing up What’s New this edition without their usual assistance as well.
I just remembered that I’ve got a tale of how Karen Wynn Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle-Earth came to be a learning lesson for a group of Several Annies which you can read here. For just how important Tolkien thought maps were to creating his world, go read our review of his epic work, The History of Middle-earth.
Cat looks at a classic SF novel: ‘Until the likes of Iain M. Banks with The Culture series and Neal Asher with the Polity series came along, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote In God’s Eye was quite possibly the best space opera of all time. This forty-year-old novel that took the space opera novels of the 1930s and 1940s and very, very nicely updated them.’
Speaking of Iain M. Banks’s Culture series, Gary read recent editions of the first and third books in that series, Consider Phlebas and Use of Weapons. It wasn’t the first time he’d read them, but he still found both gripping, as he says in his dual review.
Kathleen has the fortunate luck to review a work by an author who passed on far too soon: ‘Terry Pratchett began his series of Discworld stories for younger readers in 2003, with the marvelous Wee Free Men. There he introduced Tiffany Aching, shepherd’s daughter and witch-in-training. Her adventures continued in A Hat Full of Sky (2004), likewise excellent. These books are technically juveniles — the publisher recommends them for 6th grade and up — but they are as good or better than Pratchett’s adult novels. They are full of beauty and wisdom. They are hilariously funny. They have the characteristic Pratchett sense of justice, honor and wonder. Wintersmith is the third entry in Tiffany’s saga: and it is grand.’
(Steeleye Span’s Wintersmith is their musical take on this novel as Kathleen says here: ‘It would be easy to say that a collaboration between Steeleye Span and Terry Pratchett was always inevitable, given their respective histories and their proclaimed admiration of each other’s work. It may be an example of retrospective inevitability now that it has actually happened in the form of the Wintersmith CD, however. In any case, the end result is one that is overwhelmingly a credit to all concerned; worthy of the names involved and their reputations.’)
Michael looks at a centuries old opera: ‘First put on in 1728, The Beggar’s Opera set the stage for centuries to come, revitalizing the comedy genre, and recreating the musical comedy genre in a new light. John Gay’s work borrows from a variety of sources, starting life in the concept of “Quaker pastorals” or “a Newgate pastoral, naming the whores and thieves there.” Posing in various forms as social commentary, a satire on Italian opera, a ballad opera, and a musical comedy, there’s no doubt that The Beggar’s Opera has inspired playwrights and composers ever since, and its popularity has never been in doubt.’
Robert had to rethink his idea of “dark fantasy” after encountering William Schafer’s anthology Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2: ‘I don’t think I’m alone in thinking of “dark fantasy” as a sort of combination of urban fantasy and horror: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, and less pleasant creatures confronting more or less normal people who may have the resources, or just the dumb luck, to survive the encounter. Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2 is not that.’
Michelle starts off her look at American baseball films this way: ‘In the big inning, God created baseball. Or perhaps it was Loki, patron of athletics and other tricks; the origins are shrouded in antiquity. There is also debate about which mortal first received the divine inspiration. Abner Doubleday often gets credit, though some historians claim the game was played in England in the 1700s. What is known is that, in 1845, a team called the New York Knickerbockers adopted the rules of the game we know as baseball. In New Jersey that summer, they played the first organized baseball game, and America acquired its own pantheon.’ You can read her delightful essay here.
A guide by Hong kong based food writer Liza Chu gets an appreciative write-up by Richard: ‘Dim Sum: A Survival Guide is roughly half as useful as its author intended, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not useful. As a basic overview of popular dim sum dishes, bracketed with some supplementary historical and other content, it’s a great introduction to the topic. Where it falls down is in the commentary the author and a few of her friends provide on the dishes in question.’ This book was sent to us from the publisher in Hong King making it the longest a book travelled to get to us!
Robert takes a look at yet another comics reboot, Green Arrow: Year One: ‘To re-invent an ongoing character who has been in existence since 1941 is no small undertaking, although in the case of Green Arrow, a/k/a Ollie Queen, there was a lot of history to draw on — this is not the first time Green Arrow has been re-imagined, not to mention resurrected.’
And, as part of yet another reboot, Robert brings us his take on the distaff side in Gotham City Sirens: Union: ‘Gotham City Sirens is another installment of Batman Reborn and, like Batman and Robin, it seems to be marking time until something significant happens, somewhere.” Hmm — maybe you should read his whole commentary.
Scottish-born singer and cellist Robin Adams wrote a song called ‘The Devil’s War And God’s Own Deep Blue Sea’ in early 2015 when most people were barely aware of the Syrian refugee situation. It has now grown into an international crisis and Adams has turned his single into a compilation to benefit a refugee aid organization. Gary says Refugee is a mostly somber collection of songs, all new or unreleased, by musicians including Linda Thompson, Bonnie Prince Billy, Alasdair Roberts and more.
Michael in his review of C’Mon notes they broke up after recording a single album. Well the same is true of Mackeel, the band they came out of, as Jack notes here in reviewing Plaid: ‘You’ll never hear them live, so buy this CD to hear how good they were. Rumors are swirling on their list that the band is reforming with new personnel, but I doubt it will happen. And if it does, they won’t sound the same — even if a red-headed banshee of a fiddler replaces the present fiddling banshee!’
Michael states what he thinks of most Celtic music in his review of C’mon: ‘To my pleasant surprise, he was right. I didn’t just like Rook, I loved them. And coming from me, that’s high praise indeed. You see, I have a somewhat unfortunate flaw. I don’t like Celtic music on the whole. Oh, sure, I’ve been known to enjoy specific bands, or certain songs, or some styles. But on the whole, I’m not really a Celtic music fan. I don’t know why, but after a while, it all starts sounding the same to me.’ Sadly this would be the only disc from Rook as they too broke up shortly after releasing it.
Robert noticed Michael’s review of The Beggar’s Opera (the book), and thought we should run a review of the actual opera — which in this recording comes with highlights of Edward German’s Tom Jones: ‘According to Wadham Sutton’s commentary, we have Jonathan Swift to thank for Gay’s ballad opera – he had written to both Gay and Alexander Pope suggesting “a Newgate pastoral, among the whores and thieves,” opining that it “might make an odd, pretty sort of thing.”’
And guess what — as long as we’re doing ballad operas, how about a Singspiel? It just so happens we have a review of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte for you. Says Robert: ‘I love Mozart. His music is one of the things I’d insist on if I were going to be stranded on a desert island. Otherwise, I’d just refuse to be stranded. Among my favorite works by Mozart is The Magic Flute.’
Mavis Staples marked her 77th birthday a week ago on July 10. What better time to listen to a recent live performance in Canberra, Australia, in April 2015. And, for better or worse, what better time to hear her sing Stephen Stills’ landmark song about unrest in the streets, ‘For What It’s Worth‘?