After doing extensive research, I can definitely tell you that single malt whiskies are good to drink. — Iain Banks in Raw Spirit
Yes, that’s a very fine Laphroaig quarter-century-old, cask strength single malt. You can thank Reynard for it. One of the jobbers we deal with sent him a note about it. Yes, it is very costly, which is why I saw you wince when he quoted the single dram price to you. And as always, both of us strongly recommend the late Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram as we believe it’s simply the best look at single malts ever done.
Indeed, it is a fine whiskey on a winter’s night when it’s cold and there’s nowhere to go, so let’s look at what we’ve got for this edition for you. I know we’ve a bevy of interesting books, as always, and there’s great music too and we’ll just have to wait and see what else we got that will surprise you, as I’m sure there’ll be something else that will tickle your fancy. So let’s get started…
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.’
We’d be remiss not to direct you to one of his Culture reviews, so here’s his look at The Hydrogen Sonata which according to him is ‘a book of equal parts jaw-dropping wonder and world-shattering violence, relief is offered by the Ships: their names themselves and the droll and witty dialog between and among them as they go about debating their course of action and concocting rationalizations for once again meddling in the affairs of another civilization.’
Warner delves into a crime story that holds its own in the genre: ‘Blood Sugar is quite a good little crime story, and a very nice example of psychological horror. There are characters one wouldn’t expect, twists and turns in both narrative and development, and very clever stylistic developments. This is a very clever but extremely dark story, very well told and easy to recommend for a good quick read.’
Next, he goes further into pulp crime fiction with Max Allan Collins’ Killing Quarry: ‘There is something nice about seeing an old character, genre, or style revived. Killing Quarry by Max Allan Collins once again delivers an adventure of his ’70s pulp character Quarry, a Vietnam veteran who finds himself dealing with frequent strange criminal conflicts in his role as a hit man.’
Denise is back with yet another brew review – this go-round it’s Yuengling’s Hershey’s Chocolate Porter. ‘Yuengling knew what they were doing when they collaborated with Hershey’s. And the brewery definitely let the chocolatier take the wheel.’ Read the full review to find out exactly what she thought!
We’ve got two films reviewed this time, both of the Arthurian mythos, and both by the same reviewer it turns out.
A rather brutal take on the Arthurian mythos draws this comment by reviewer Asher: ‘Here is a tale of human folly — “Whatever the cost, do it”. Of a noble dream – “One land, one king!” Of magic – “Can’t you see all around you the Dragon’s breath?” Of its passing – “There are other worlds. This one is done with me.” And of memory – “For it is the doom of men that they forget.” Excalibur is arguably the most exciting film version of the myth of Arthur to date.’
He goes on to state forthrightly that Mists of Avalon which is based on the Marion Zimmer Bradley novel ‘is a revisionist Arthurian tale. The film opens much like Braveheart‘s “Historians in England will say I am a liar…” with an agonized and weary, almost crucified Morgaine narrating — “No one knows the real story. Most of what you know… is nothing but lies” — as her boat glides into the mists, a device that welded this viewer to his seat, not wanting to miss any of the necessary adjustments to the legend.’
India shaped the British Empire every bit as much the British shaped India over the centuries of ofttimes brutal occupation. Peter Milligan’s John Constantine: Hellblazer India, says Cat, ‘neatly plays off the British experience in India and what happens when that experience takes a horrible turn into the supernatural world that Constantine knows all too well.’
Gary reviews aloha a new album by Son Little, whose stage name sounds like a Delta blues singer. ‘But although there’s a component of acoustic blues to his music, and some bluesy distorted electric guitar on a couple of tracks, what he’s making is old-school soul and R&B, liberally mixed with elements of classic rock and dare I say garage rock, and much more.’
Eclectic is the name of the game with Joe Russo’s phér•bŏney, which Gary says is a mostly instrumental album of electronic and analog music. ‘Not much like the majority of music I listen to, but it’s good to stray out of the comfort zone. These are some serious musicians having a bit of fun, which almost always results in something worth listening to.’
Finally, Gary brings us up to speed with music from the enigmatically named Squirrel Flower, ‘the stage name of the Boston-based singer-songwriter Ella O’Connor Williams, making her recording debut with the beautifully realized I Was Born Swimming … In an alternate universe I could hear a young Patsy Cline singing some of these numbers, which orbit around themes of movement and stasis, travel and home.’
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.’
Our What Not this edition is the matter of Arthur and the various tellings of his myth which are writ both deep and wide upon the British folklore. (Robert Holdstock makes good use of that folklore in his Ryhope Wood cycle.) So let me offer you up A Gazetteer of Arthurian Onomastic and Topographic Folklore. Caitlin R. Green in her dense nineteen page article in Arthurian Notes & Queries lays out an argument for where Arthur fits in British folklore. It’s the usually dense academic prose but still worth reading if you got a keen interest in this subject.
So let’s have some Nordic music to see us off on this not very pleasant Winter afternoon. ‘Vedergällningen’ by Garmarna, a Swedish band That has Emma Hardelin as their vocalist. The cut itself is of unknown origin but likely is at least twenty years old.