Is it more childish and foolish to insist that there is a conspiracy or that there is not? ― China Mieville’s The City & The City
A really great mystery that’s also an outstanding work of sf is rare indeed which is why is I read The City & The City every few years. That it also has great characters and a believable though fantastic setting are just added points in its favour. So I’ve got Finn covering the Pub on this warm, quiet evening as there’s a contradance outside on one of the stone patios that I knew my knees weren’t up to, so I’ve got that novel, a pint of our Two Ravens Stout to enjoy and I can hear the Neverending Session running through their tune list from the open windows near where I’m sitting.
But first, this edition. We’ve got a tasty recipe for scrapple, you Scots can think it of as Lorne sausage, a look at the Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse film, a composter (!), some neat recordings and, errr, unicorns. Yes unicorns.
Chuck says wonderingly of our first Ian McDonald novel review that ‘I figure this much: Desolation Road 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.’ Or is that the whole story ?
Richard looks at another Ian MacDonald Mars novel 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 some comments on a book about writing. In fact, that’s the title: About Writing, by Samuel R. Delany: ‘A bit of history: I don’t really remember when I started reading Samuel R. Delany’s novels. . . . I liked his novels: they were “good,” which at that point was the most precise description I had available. (Now that term falls somewhere between describing my evaluation of literary quality and my gut response as a reader.) Then Dhalgren happened, which led me to understand that there was much more going on in these books than I had bothered to think about.’
Speaking of Dhalgren, guess what: Robert has a review of that, too: ‘Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren was originally published in 1974. It was brash, it was overtly experimental, it was greeted with everything from wild hallelujahs to roars of outrage. It was in many ways the culmination of science fiction’s New Wave: where writers such as Aldiss, Ballard, Disch, Zelazny, and Delany himself had pushed the envelope, Dhalgren finally ripped it up and scattered the pieces. Mainstream critics, caught flat-footed, came up with the term “magical realism” in an attempt to link it to “respectable” if someone outré writers such as Borges and Garcia Marquez.’
Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman‘s The Unicorn Anthology gets a loving and detailed review by Warner: ‘As one who enjoys both older and newer fantasy works, a variety like this is appreciated, where many volumes would keep only to more recent fare, seeing previously anthologized pieces as less desirable. This is a brilliant little collection with a wonderful introduction and I recommend it wholeheartedly.’
Robert remembers a rather unusual zombie movie he saw some time ago: ‘I saw the trailer for Warm Bodies some while back, when I had gone to see something else, and thought “Cute, but probably not something I’ll want to see.” Well, I was looking to kill a couple of hours and discovered that it was at my favorite theater — 15 minutes away, cheap admission for early shows. So I went. Well, the Apocalypse has come, but it hasn’t been “the fire next time.” It was a virus, or something, that turned people into the living dead.’
And Cat was very enthusiastic about Marvel’s new animated feature, Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse: ‘I decided to watch Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse as a diversion while on an extended stay in the hospital. I expected it to be entertaining, and I was right!’
Jen reveals a recipe handed down to her mother from Appalachian cooks who specialized in corn and pork. Accept no substitutes from bowdlerized ‘country’ chain-restaurant menus. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, savory with roast pork and sage, sweet with sorghum syrup, scrapple is a food of the gods. And, since it’s country food, it’s cheap.
Robert takes us through a couple of what he calls ‘top-notch superhero comics’, The Authority: Vol. 1 and The Authority: Under New Management: ‘Looking for the beginnings of The Authority, I finally found Warren Ellis’ complete run, issued by DC as The Authority: Volume 1, which begins after the demise of Stormwatch.’
Cat says of Jay Ungar and Molly Mason’s The Quiet Room that ‘If you’re expecting a logical appraisal of this new recording — whose subtitle ‘Music to heal the heart and soothe the soul’ could be applied to every recording that this superb artistic couple has done over their long career — then you’re reading the wrong review. I like everything that they’ve done.’
Aaron Copland’s A Copland Celebration gets looked at by Gary who notes that ‘Sony Classical disgorged a cornucopia of Copland works. This three volume, six-CD set gives a good overview of the career of this quintessential American composer. It includes the best-known works — chamber, orchestral and choral — as well as a smattering of some of Copland’s lesser-known works, and some alternate versions and rarities previously unreleased on CD; and even a few never before released at all.’
Gary finishes off his look at Fade into Dawn with these words: ‘Field Medic’s music at first glance seems pretty far from the country, Americana and traditional folk music that typically hits my pleasure spot. But I’m totally won over by Kevin Patrick’s creative and subtle wordplay and blunt portrayal of his own emotional states inside catchy but minimal tunes.’ Now go read his stellar review to see how he came to that conclusion!
Robert rounds out this week’s music reviews with a look at yet another opera by one of our favorite contemporary composers: ‘Philip Glass’ Kepler is another of his “portrait operas,” this one of the seventeenth-century German mathematician and astronomer who developed the laws of planetary motion, which became the foundation, ultimately, of Newton’s theory of gravitation. It’s no mistake that the opera is set in the period of the Thirty Years’ War, — not only was that when Kepler lived, but it marked a transition point in the history of Western thought. Martina Winkel’s libretto, in German and Latin, contrasts Kepler’s words as he wrestles with the concepts he is developing with the words of one of his contemporaries, Andreas Gryphius, on the plight of Europe during the war.’
West Coast Cat is getting ready for her spring gardening and tries something new, a bokashi composter, a form of indoor composting that allows dairy and meat to be composted. She notes, “As far as tweaking one’s day to day life to be more eco-groovy, this is about a medium level effort in terms of work, set-up, and daily maintenance.”
So what’s that tasty piece of music Finn’s playing right now on the Pub sound system? Why it’s ‘Volunteered Slavery’ by Rahsaan Roland Kirk & His Vibration Society recorded forty six years at Fillmore East In New York City. Kirk was renowned for his lively presence onstage during which his improv of continuous banter, impassioned political speech making and the ability to play several instruments simultaneously.