I’ll be just a story in your head, but that’s okay, because we’re all stories in the end. ― The Eleventh Doctor in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’
We’ve been isolated from the rest of the world here on this remote Scottish estate ever since that virus first happened. We were lucky enough that all staff members were here and not travelling, so we just ceased allowing any visitors what-so-ever and no one’s been going anywhere since the crisis started. Fortunately that’s not as much of a hardship as it might be, as this is a working farm and pretty sufficient unto itself with the trade with other estates nearby making up for what we don’t produce ourselves.
It’s going to make for a very different Summer season here, as we’ll obviously will not be hosting out usual festival and other money makers as we expect gathering and travel restrictions to stay in place through next year. Fortunately we can dip deep into our slush fund if need be. Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, is already planning a long list of projects using staff that usually have hosting duties and Mrs. Ware, our Head Cook, is adjusting radically down what she needs to lay in for the Summer. I expect the Pub to be a quietly pleasant place.
Even the number of actual printed books from publishers being seen here is way down, a grumble echoed across many a review publication. Digital copies, fortunately, are common but it does shows how much the pandemic is affecting every aspect of our global culture. And let’s not forget it’s deadly — be it here or in the States, it kills. So stay safe by wearing your mask and practicing safe distancing please!
Cat takes a look at Roger Zelazny’s To Die in Italbar, which Zelazny didn’t like (although Cat did): ‘What if you could cure any disease with but a touch? And what if that same touch could turn an entire city into a charnel house? Mr. H, who needs only to touch someone to heal or kill them, is that man.’
Cat also had some thoughts about a work by one of science fiction’s legends: ‘As a general rule, I find Poul Anderson’s writing to be stilted and not very fluent, so that I can’t really enjoy the story as I should. But that is not so with Orion Shall Rise, which is a lively and complex story that shows how good he could be at his very best.’
Robert has a volume that he considers essential reading: In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action, by Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy: ‘In light of the increasing number of assaults on our basic freedoms in recent years, including attempts to mandate the teaching of religious doctrine in public school classrooms, attempts by the federal government to strip away basic rights of American citizens under the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments with no judicial oversight and no probable cause, it is well to remember the words of Floyd Abrams, an attorney involved in a landmark First Amendment case: “The Bill of Rights assumes a government that will misbehave without specific limitations on its behavior.”’
Warner examines a mystery novel built around a classic trope: ‘A late Victorian murder is a classic framing for a mystery novel, and Victoria Thompson has made a career of providing interesting variations on the formula. Her Murder on Pleasant Avenue is the latest in the author’s “A Gaslight Mystery” series. It also gives something of the game away in the title. Specifically, that there is a murder. While that is common enough in mystery novels, the first crimes the reader learns about, and that the investigators focus on, are something else entirely.
It’s ‘chocolate covered’ time again. This time, Robert has a go at Chocolate Espresso Beans from Dean’s Sweets: ‘Dean’s Sweets is a chocolatier and confectioner based in Maine, owned by Dean and Kristen Bingham. One of their selling points is that they use local ingredients whenever possible, in addition to imported chocolate. Given that the sample of their artistry sitting on my desk right now is Chocolate Espresso Beans, I doubt that the ingredients came from Maine — although, as it turns out, the beans were roasted there.’
Cat has some thoughts on making changes to a long-running, very popular television series — in this case, the very popular English detective series Midsomer Murders: ‘This essay will allow me to express some thoughts about what happens when the lead actor in a long-running series leaves and the production company has a popular series that they don’t want to cease producing. And bringing in a new lead is always a trick proposition, so how do you do it for something that’s had the same lead this long?’
Warner takes a look at a crossover comic that may surprise some readers: ‘Crossovers are a common occurrence in comics, involving both characters owned by a particular publisher and those with more varied origins. Indeed, comics may be the one format where such crossovers are downright celebrated. Transformers/Ghostbusters: Ghosts of Cybertron by Eric Burnham and Dan Schoening represents one of the most recent examples of this, giving a crossover that would be unlikely in any other format.’
Gary’s going to tell us about some music by a jazz trio from Vienna. ‘Vienna-based PRIM isn’t the first or only ensemble to challenge the expectations of the piano trio format. But they’re doing it with a lot of wit and intelligence, as we see on their latest release Garnet Tales.’
The idea of four Finnish cellists playing Metallica didn’t appeal initially to Mia: ‘How often is an album of cover tunes the most original, creative, and enjoyable CD imaginable? Well, how about when the self-styled “Four Bowmen of the Apocalypse” released Apocalyptica Plays Metallica By Four Cellos? Yes, that’s right, four classically trained cellists playing music by one of the loudest, angriest bands in the heavy metal universe. Sound strange? Not being a big fan of Metallica to begin with, I wasn’t overwhelmed with any great desire to listen to Apocalyptica. Then I heard the first track, and discovered my mistake. Apocalyptica is amazing.’ As good as that album was, she also reviews a second album by them, Inquisition Symphony, which she says is even better!
Steeleye Span’s Storm Force Ten and Live At Last! garners this intro from Michael: ‘ It’s hard to remember so long ago, but back in 1978 eight years must have seemed like a pretty decent lifetime for a band. Nowadays, it’s becoming increasingly common for groups to have anniversaries marking several decades of existence; indeed Steeleye Span themselves recently celebrated their fortieth year. But in the late 70s, such a timeline wasn’t possible for any sort of rock band and Steeleye had decided that after nearly a decade, they had achieved all they wanted to in the realm of folk rock and so called it quits.’ Now read his review to see why he’s glad they didn’t stay quit.
And Robert finishes off our music offerings with chamber music — but not what you might expect: ‘Cokekan is a collection of traditional central Javanese works designated in this recording as “chamber music.” The selections make use of the traditional gamelan in either slendro (seven-tone) or pelog (five-tone) tuning, and range from works usually performed to open a shadow-puppet performance to components of Javanese dance-dramas.’
A hearty congratulations to our colleague Cat Rambo, who carried home a Nebula award last weekend for her 2019 novellette Carpe Glitter. Cat’s been reviewing for us since 2018, especially things literary and comestible (chocolate in particular!). Cat, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, is the past president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She writes, teaches and edits extensively with more than 200 fiction titles to her credit in addition to plenty of nonfiction, and has previously been nominated for the Nebula as well as Endeavour and World Fantasy awards. You can learn lots more about her and what she does on her website, kittywumpus.net. And the Seattle Times interviewed her here.
So how about something from Aaron Copland this time? It’s quintessential Americana, and it’s summery in feel. It’s Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing his ‘Hoe Down’ which was originally recorded on his Rodeo album. I sourced it off a Smithsonian Institution music archive which has no details where or when it was recorded which surprised me given how good they usually are at such things.