What’s New for the 22nd of April: Disposable fountain pens, Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, two chocolate goodies, Space Opera and other matters

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

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Ahhh that heavenly aroma is coming from the Kitchen, which is making the coffee this fine late Spring morning with Komodo Dragon coffee beans that they roast themselves. It’s an Indonesia bean that Ingrid, my wife who kept her job of being the Estate Buying Agent when she become our Steward,  found several years back when we were in that country. It’s been a favourite around here ever since.

It’s  entirely possible that you’ve noted our fascination with all things consumable. Be it a British TV series such as Two Fat Ladies, an exploration of Scottish whisky distilleries, the perfect Scottish fry-up, a cracking good chocolate bar, preferably dark, or perhaps a look at bourbon, America’s whisky as it’s been called, we never pass up an opportunity to do a review wherever possible. So look for more such reviews here.

Lambing season is wrapping up here on the Kinrowan Estate, but I remember that Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter, had an article on the care and feeding of the tenders of the ewes. Let me see if I can find it while you read this edition…

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Cat looks at Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven’s The Mote in God’s Eye which he say of that ‘Until the likes of Iain M. Banks with The Culture series and Neal Asher with the Polity series came along, quite possibly the best Space Opera of all time was this forty year-old novel that took the Space Opera novels of the 1930s and 1940s and very, very nicely updated them.’

Gary reviews a book of literary criticism about Iain M. Banks Culture series. He says Simone Caroti’s The Culture Series ‘is valuable reading for anyone who wants to move into a deeper understanding of what that series is really about, where it stands in the history of SF and literature, and why it’s important.’

Gary also reviewed a recent SF anthology called The New Space Opera: ‘Of course, “space opera” is what all science fiction used to be, up until about the 1970s or so. Thrilling tales of adventure in outer space, usually featuring huge starships, weird aliens, strange planets and battles, either physical or of wits.’

Joel looks at Neal Asher’s Gridlinked, a space opera of sorts that’s a novel in The Polity series which has been running a lot longer than The Culture series did: ‘I’ve never been one for long series, and certainly the greater part of my reading time is spent on authors I’m encountering for the first time, rather than always going with the same old stand-bys, but what can I say? I get something new in the Polity universe and I know it will always be good. When it comes to escapist fiction, Neal Asher has become my most dependable travel guide. No surprise then I moved him to the top of my reading pile.’

Robert came up with a series that is quintessential space opera, with a twist: C. J. Cherryh’s The Chanur Saga, including Chanur’s Homecoming, and the sequel, Chanur’s Legacy: ‘C. J. Cherryh’s The Chanur Saga is an almost-omnibus edition of her tetralogy about Pyanfar Chanur and her ship, the interstellar trader The Pride of Chanur. Because of length, the “omnibus” volume contains the first three in the series . . . , and one would be well-advised to be sure that Chanur’s Homecoming, issued separately, is within easy reach, lest one be left hanging off a cliff.’

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It’s not a film but this novel is what happens when a series, no matter how short-lived, becomes beloved by legions of viewers. Firefly was a one-season space opera created by Joss Whedon that was brilliant. Unfortunately the network didn’t think the ratings were good enough, so they killed it after a single season, though they wrapped it up in a movie called Serenity. Stephen Brust, a writer many of you will know, wrote My Own Kind of Freedom and Cat says it’s quite true to the series.

And Robert, having been a Star Trek fan in his younger days, has a look at one of the reboot films, Star Trek: Into Darkness: ‘I’ve sort of lost track of Star Trek, after being glued to the TV every week in my younger days, as Gene Rodenberry’s original series was airing. Strangely enough, the last Star Trek movie I saw was The Wrath of Khan. (If that’s a spoiler, well, life is like that.) Let me say right off the bat that Star Trek: Into Darkness is not that.’

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Cat R. got the chance to sample a whole bunch of chocolate bars from Chuao Chocolatier: ‘Here in America we like our add-ins, ice cream and candy full of other candy, nuts, random sweets, and sometimes savories. Chuao (pronounced Chew-WOW) has a shelf-load of such, chocolate bars with all the goodies, created by Venezuelan chef Michael Antonorsi.’

Denise digs into a chocolate bar for this edition; someone’s got to do the dirty work, she explains. Her look at Godiva’s Dark Chocolate Almond bar may have you looking elsewhere though. ‘Good chocolate is good chocolate. Unfortunately for Godiva, this bar is only fair to middling.’

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Warren Ellis & J. H. Williams III’s Desolation Jones has, says Richard, ‘The long shadow of John Constantine lingers over the figure of Desolation Jones. But whereas Constantine is a spiky-haired Brit occult operative who abuses his odd network of friends while intimidating people into giving him answers by sheer force of personality, Jones is a spiky-haired Brit ex-spook who abuses his odd network of friends while intimidating people into giving him answers by sheer force of personality.’

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Gary reviews Absence by a jazz trio led by Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu. ‘The son of two classical pianists, born in Estonia but raised in Germany, [Randalu] grew up playing classical piano himself until he heard Chick Corea’s Inside Out when he was 13 years old.’

Gary had a lot of fun listening to the debut recording of The Turbans, a multi-cultural group whose music is a heady mix of European and Levantine styles and much more. ‘The Turbans bring a passionate spirit of adventure and an infectious liveliness to their music. Even if you can’t understand the lyrics – which are in up to a half-dozen languages – it’s impossible to not be captured by their joy.’

Ranarop — Call of the Sea Witch is a recording Iain really liked — ‘Gjallarhorn is a foursome from Ostrobothnia, the Swedish speaking area of Finland. They are tightly bound to both folk music traditions, and ancient mythology. Musically, the band is a mixture of fiddle, mandola, didgeridoo, and percussion, with vocals provided by Jenny Wilhelms. Ranarop is an amazing album, with a singular sound which makes the band appear to be larger than it is.’

Jayme looks at what I’d say is essential listening for Celtic music fans: ‘There’s no gloss and polish here like you’d find on, say, an Altan disc, no studio jiggery and double-tracked harmonies that are so commonplace on a Clannad release. Not that those are necessarily bad things, mind you, but every one of the 11 tracks on The Best of Silly Wizard sound like they were recorded in one take in the studio, with the entire band playing at once, rather than the more common practice of laying down each instrument separately and mixing later. Now, I don’t know if that’s actually the way Silly Wizard recorded the music here, but the end result is that the music has all the punch and immediacy of a live performance, with none of the drawbacks that the raw sound of live shows often suffer from.’

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Our What Not this week is one that should be dear to the heart of anyone who writes — or at least, anyone who is not tied to a keyboard. Cat R. brings us a look at a line of disposable fountain pens. Yes, that’s right: fountain pens.

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I’ll take your leave now with some music and  ‘A Tune For Mairéad And Anna’ is my choice for your listening pleasure as that was what Iain was playing in the Library when I psssed by earlier this afternoon. This was taken from a Altman performance listed as a Folkadelphia Session on the seventh of March just three years ago.

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I’m the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere.

I’m a violinist too, so you’ll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.

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