All that anxiety and anger, those dubious good intentions, those tangled lives, that blood. I can tell about it or I can bury it. In the end, we’ll all become stories. Or else we’ll become entities. Maybe it’s the same. — Margaret Atwood’s Moral Disorder
Ahh, that coffee. Yes, it’s cardamom spiced, which I admit that you Yanks most likely haven’t encountered. The Kitchen staff here’s been making it for those of us addicted to it since, oh, I think Alexandra Margaret Quinn was Head Gardener here, and I usually drink it every day. Ours is Turkish in origin. Well, Ottoman really. Nibbles to go with it, of course, are good. I favour freshly baked chocolate rugelach which Kitchen staffer Rebekah from Israel gave us.
We like chocolate a lot here, as you can tell from our reviews of many things chocolate, and we’re always pleased to see a new way of appreciating it, but even I was surprised by the amazingly good dessert Mrs. Ware and her Kitchen staff served up this past eventide meal: dark chocolate bread pudding with cardamon flavored ice cream! Sounds weird but actually tasted great!
Robert here. In honor of Mike Resnick, one of the most awarded authors in the field of speculative fiction, who passed away on January 9, 2020, this week’s book section is devoted to reviews of several of his works.
If I remember correctly, the first of Resnick’s novels that I read was Santiago. Just to give you a taste of this one, here’s the opening: ‘They say his father was a comet and his mother a cosmic wind, that he juggles planets as if they were feathers and wrestles with black holes just to work up an appetite. They say he never sleeps, and that his eyes burn brighter than a nova, and that his shout can level mountains.’ It gets better.
Resnick’s imagination was — well, rich, I guess, is the best way to describe it. He wrote several novels set in the ‘Weird West,’ an American West, peopled by characters who are part of our folklore, with a distinct twist. Cat got dibs on the first in the series: ‘Though billed as steampunk, The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale is far more original than most of that genre, as it is tightly focused on a small set of characters and what they will do over a fairly short period of time, so the technology never overwhelms the characters in this tale.’
The first of this series that I ran across was The Doctor and the Kid: ‘Mike Resnick’s The Doctor and the Kid is an installment in his stories of the Weird West — an alternate universe in which the westward expansion of the United States has been halted at the Mississippi River by the magic of Indian medicine men. That doesn’t stop a few intrepid souls from making the journey to what would become the American West.’ I liked the series enough that I went to on read The Doctor and the Rough Rider and The Doctor and the Dinosaurs.
Resnick wasn’t finished with alternate history. Faith got to read and comment on The Other Teddy Roosevelts: ‘There are seven stories in the collection, all plausible (well, maybe except for the vampire and the extraterrestrials in Cuba), all nicely-researched to make them fit in with documented events in Roosevelt’s life, all fascinating. The eighth piece, “The Unsinkable Teddy Roosevelt,” consists of facts and anecdotes about Roosevelt.’
And yet again — Denise dove into Dragon America and emerged smiling: ‘I’d bet that early colonists were surprised, even frightened, by some of the strange new creatures America had to offer. But I’m sure nothing surprised them more than seeing dragons soaring overhead. Wait, you never heard about the dragons? Looks like schools just don’t seem to teach anything really important nowadays. Or maybe that’s because dragons don’t exist in the history we know. But what if they did? Well, they’d probably be pretty close to what Mike Resnick describes in Dragon America.’
Next in my adventures in the protean Mike Resnick was his series about John Justin Mallory, who — well, this, from my review of Stalking the Unicorn and Stalking the Vampire, should explain it: ‘“Protean” I say, because now Pyr has issued two of Resnick’s entries into the “fantasy noir detective” subgenre, tales of John Justin Mallory, a private investigator in a Manhattan that parallels our own and sometimes intrudes. Unless we’re intruding on it.’ And after that, of course, I had to go on to Stalking the Zombie.
Michael also had a go at the first volume in this series: ‘It’s supernatural investigation with a surreal twist, filled with sly humor, comic undertones, and pulp sensibilities. In short, it’s as though Ross MacDonald and Monty Python had gotten drunk with Lewis Carroll, and written a book together. Stalking the Unicorn is clever and funny, and one of those books I return to every so often just for the satisfaction of a familiar, well-told semi-urban fantasy.
Kilimanjaro could be considered a departure for Resnick, had he not already demonstrated a phenomenal range in his work. It’s a hard book to describe, so let me just give you this summation: ‘Kilimanjaro is a gentle book with a hopeful attitude and a somewhat dated moral, deeply concerned with good people in conflict for the best of reasons. For some readers, that may be enough, or it may be nothing at all.’
Dreamwish Beasts and Snarks is a collection of stories that, once again, is hard to describe, although there is a unifying theme: ‘The overriding metaphor of this collection is “on safari.” Take that in the widest sense: although there are a couple of stories that do deal directly with safaris (“Hunting the Snark” and “Safari 2103 A.D.”), the stories are about the hunt in a much wider sense.’
Resnick didn’t limit himself to fiction, as evidenced by a collaboration with Barry N. Malzberg. Faith lays it out for us: ‘The Business of $cience Fiction: Two Insiders Discuss Writing and Publishing is a collection of essays from “The Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues,” a regular feature of the SFWA Bulletin. (The SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.) It’s another excellent example of WYSIWYG in the area of titles, because this is exactly what you get, a discussion of the business of writing and publishing science fiction by two experts in the field, for other authors and would-be authors.’
Another example of Resnick’s forays into non-fiction is a collection of WorldCon Guest of Honor Speeches, co-edited with Joe Siclari. Kellly got to wade through this one: ‘The World Science Fiction Convention is the most venerable of all the various annual gatherings of SF fandom, and it’s arguably the most important of them all, as it is at each Worldcon that the highest awards in SF, the Hugos, are awarded. Since the first Worldcon in 1939, there have been 66 such gatherings, with the only non-Worldcon years coming during the final three years of World War II. At each Worldcon there has been a Guest of Honor, usually selected on the basis of lifetime achievement in contributions to the genre; much of the time the Guests of Honor are authors, but there have also been illustrators, publishers, and editors named as Guest of Honor. The position of Worldcon Guest of Honor carries with it a single requirement: the recipient must deliver a speech to the convention. This book, therefore, gathers more than thirty of these speeches.’
That’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the work of Mike Resnick. As you may have gathered, he’s worth looking into if you haven’t already.
And now, back to Reynard for the rest of this week’s edition.
Welcome welcome! Denise here, and I’ve got a beer for you that’ll warm up a cold January night. Oliver Brewing Co.’s Creator Destroyer is a lovely espresso brown ale, with lots of twists and turns. ‘As the name suggests, this brew is a mix of contradictions. Sweet nose, peppery bite. Smooth pour, saucy bubbles.’ Ah, but what did I really think? Read the review to find out all the info!
Cat looks at Doctor Who’s The Unicorn and The Wasp episode, a Tenth Doctor Story: ‘One of my favourite episodes of the newer episodes of this series was a country house mystery featuring a number of murders and, to add an aspect of metanarrative to the story, writer Agatha Christie at the beginning of her career. It would riff off her disappearance for ten days which occurred just after she found her husband in bed with another woman. Her disappearance is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily answered to this day.’
April has a look at the next two collections in Bill Willingham’s Fables: ‘Bill Willingham’s wonderfully developed series about fairy tales living among us today extends two more volumes with Homelands and Arabian Nights (And Days).’ Dive in and enjoy.
Barb exclaims that ‘If there are superstars to be named on the Swedish music scene, I would like this opportunity to nominate Lena Willemark (vocal, fiddle, viola, whistle, drone whistle), Per Gudmundson (fiddle, viola, bagpipes, vocal), and Ale Möller (octave mandola, overtone flute, cow’s horn, drone whistle, folk harp, shawm, harmonica, vocal), otherwise known as Frifot. The group’s CD Sluring is most certainly a masterpiece.’
The intersection of Finnish and Balkan folk music for women’s voices is where Gary found Finn Emmi Kujanpää’s new recording Nani. ‘On this project, Kujanpää combines her strong, clear soprano with voices of the Bulgarian group on songs that address women’s lives – their joys and longing and sorrows, as well as what are now known worldwide as #MeTo topics.’
Jayme says that ‘Clannad is quickly becoming one of the most compiled bands in Celtic music. Already boasting two “Best Of” collections and a soundtrack collections, Clannad now adds An Diolaim to the list. Fortunately, An Diolaim isn’t just another opportunistic knock-off, for it repackages the majority of songs from Clannad’s hard-to-find second and third albums, Clannad 2 and Dulaman, respectively
A number of years into their career Lunasa got a best of treatment in The Story So Far of which Robert says ‘It’s easy to be enthusiastic about this collection. Yes, there is solid tradition here, from the haunting, intricate pipes that begin “Eanáir” to the intense fiddling that opens “The Floating Crowbar,” but there is a lot of contemporary sensibility that leads new places, not so much a matter of “hey, look, we’re being modern” as an integral part of the approach – guitar passages that could have come from R.E.M. (“Morning Nightcap”), a hint of Fauré by way of new age, perhaps (“The Miller of Drohan”), a bit of a jazz riff from time to time, never obtrusive, never really calling attention to itself, but undeniably there.’
For this week’s What Not, Robert takes on a tour Inside Ancient Egypt, courtesy of the Field Museum of Natural History.
In Roger Zelazny’s Isle of Dead, 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 thirty years ago. I’ve got two cuts from them performing live at the Gosport Easter Festival early in their existence, ‘The 8-Step Waltz’ and ‘The Sleeping Warrior’.