What’s New for the 29th of January: fantastic fiction set in London, music from Nightnoise, an audio songbook for Utah Phillips, Deborah Grabien’s comfort food and other cool things

It’s hardly a wonder that they call London the most elusive city in the world. Its character changes from one street to the next. There’s no rhyme or reason, no pattern to the place. You could take six people at random from the centre of town, ask them to write down all the places they visit regularly and find that their circles of movement don’t overlap at more than one or two points. Each of them would see a different city. ― Christopher Fowler’s Roofworld

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It’s been snowing steadily for the past several days, resulting (as it’s also blistering cold) in even the grounds staff being unable to clear the paths for any length of time. The livestock’s being tended by a crew staying in a yurt we built next to the main barn. That yurt has, like all the yurts, a fireplace and power as well for lights and such.

I’ve got the Several Annies doing a full inventory of the main Library which is keeping them occupied quite nicely. Despite a geis on the more valuable items, things do wander away that shouldn’t and this task should give me a list of what needs finding. No, this time no Librarians have gone missing as happened one time, but books, usually fiction but sometimes the more odd non-fiction gets borrowed but not signed out, especially by, ahem, my fellow musicians, say the chapbook ‘Some tunes considered as exemplars of the merging of Appalachian music with Elven music, particularly the evolved Elizabethan Court tradition’.

Meanwhile I’m putting together this edition, so why don’t you have a pint of our Celebration Ale down in our Pub while I do this so you can read it? Good, I’ll see you shortly with the new edition.

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Our book reviews  this time are mostly  about the fantastic side of London, a theme in fiction going back a very long time, one that even Charles Dickens and JK Rowling indulged in.

Un Lun Dun, a fantastic look at a London that is just out of sight, gets a very detailed review by Kathleen: ‘China Mieville (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, The Iron Council) is renowned for the world he has created around the great, multi-species, many-storied city of New Crobuzon. Those are adult works, beyond a doubt: ferocious and frightening, full of the incandescent mysteries and fatal sins of maturity. At the same time, one of the conundrums of Mieville’s style has been the sense of a small boy peeking through his writing; the kind of little boy who delights in snot and crawly bugs, who chases his sister with a frog and forgets to take that interesting dead bird out of his lunch box. Sometimes this gleeful grossness amuses the reader in turn. Sometimes it seems unnecessarily provoking. But it has always reminded me of how young Mieville is.”

Another fantastic look at London is reviewed by Kestrall: ‘Don’t let the tentacles fool you — yes, China Miéville’s Kraken takes as its starting point a tentacular god of the deep reminiscent of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, but then Miéville adds to it the baroque psychogeographies of Moore and Moorcock, the whimsy of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and American Gods, the surreal imagery of a Tim Powers novel, and a dizzying barrage of geeky pop culture references, not to mention what is probably the best use of a James T. Kirk action figure ever.’

Richard looks at the Neil Gaiman novel that largely created urban fantasy as a genre: ‘Neverwhere is the story of a not-quite-nebbish named Richard, who is a perfectly archetypal young executive. He’s got a suitably generic job, a suitably socially climbing fiancee and a suitably mundane existence being harried along by the demands of each. Richard’s is exactly the sort of life that could do with a swift kick of magic, and that’s exactly what he gets. On the way to dinner with his fiancee (who, honestly, doesn’t become a fully fleshed-out character until much later in the book, but manages to do so with the aid of the Monkees) and her conglomerate-creating boss, Richard stumbles across a young woman, bleeding on the sidewalk. Forced to chose between carrying on with the demands of his life and tending to the injured girl (whose name, oddly enough, is Door), Richard turns his back on society as he knows it, and takes the girl home to tend to her. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s turning his back on reality as he knows it as well. By letting Door into his life, Richard has entered her world: a world of Ratspeakers, foppish immortal assassins, angels who get wistful over Atlantis and other, more surreal entities.’

Richard finds another excellent book in that genre: ‘Hidden, magical London is all the rage these days. First there was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, then China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun. And now there’s Mind the Gap, a collaborative effort between American novelist and comics writer Christopher Golden and British horror novelist Tim Lebbon. To be sure, that’s fast company for any book to be in, but Mind the Gap manages it more than respectably, and is an enjoyable, engrossing read that delivers plenty of thrills while deftly avoiding the numerous clichés lurking in wait for it.’

Speaking of Lebbon, this reviewer looks at his recently released Relics novel: ‘Vince and Angela are just your average happy couple living in London. She’s a grad student, he works for a real estate company, and they have a cozy apartment and a great sex life. Except, of course, for the fact that Vince is living a double life as a collector of magical artifacts for one of the local crime bosses, and by “magical artifacts” I mean “pieces of magical creatures”. Angela is blissfully unaware of this state of affairs until Vince suddenly goes missing, leaving behind only a couple of cryptic messages and the faintest of trails, one which Angela is determined to pursue no matter what.’

Robert came across several books that take place in or around a London that might have been. First, he says of Elizabeth Bear’s The Stratford Man: ‘Where others are writing mythic fiction, Bear has written mythic history: it may not be history as it happened (as much as we can know what happened), but it is history that rings true in a much deeper way than a mere relation of events could ever accomplish.’

And then he finishes out these reviews with a look at several works by the inestimable Connie Willis, starting with Blackout: ‘Connie Willis has written some brilliant satires. She has a real gift for taking the routines and the personalities we encounter in daily life and, with just a tweak here and there, holding them up to sometimes merciless and often hysterically funny scrutiny.’

He goes on with a look at some of Willis’ short fiction: ‘What can I say about Connie Willis, except that she is one of the most consistently engaging writers I’ve ever run across? The Winds of Marble Arch and D.A. reinforce that opinion: they are, in a word, terrific.’

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We asked a number of folk we know this question; Is it a bowl of your mother’s fish chowder Or a warm doughnut dusted with powdered sugar? Comfort food is as individual as each of us. We here at Green Man Review in your story! And here is Deborah Grabien‘s reply:

Well, it’s an odd thing: as a cook, I think all food is comfort food.

No, I’m not being difficult. It’s just that I love to cook, and I don’t cook anything I don’t also love to eat, unless I’m cooking for a large crowd. The whole thing about food is that — like air and water — it’s one of the great imperatives. Sex is brilliant, but you can go without it your entire life with no ill effects, and in fact, many do. Try going without food, air or water, though, and you’re in serious trouble.

We seem to be in an age when everything is based on competition. I used to watch the Food Network for a chance at recipes I didn’t have, ideas, fusion for things I hadn’t come across. Now it’s all about pitting cooks against each other. And that, for me, is 180 degrees from what cookery is supposed to be for. I can’t watch it anymore. “Challenge” this, “Worst” that, “Best” whatever. What are these people talking about? It’s food.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big pot of bolognese bubbling away on the 150 BTU simmer burner, or a bowl of warm peas straight from the garden drizzled with butter and sea salt, or a slab of cinnamon savarin, or fresh pineapple carved off the heart and chilled in its own juice. A bowl of cereal, a cup of cocoa, an apple, a burrito: it’s all comfort food. Why would I cook it, or eat it, if it did anything other than please me?

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Neverwhere started out as a BBC television series, and has had an interesting existence then. It quickly became a novel but the text of that novel was changed by Gaiman until it has become the Author’s Preferred Text. Then it became an audiobook, which I know there are at least three version of — a straightforward reading, a not-so-straightforward affair by Gaiman and, not ‘tall surprisingly, a full cast adaptation by the Beeb. (Rumours of a Jim Henson film were sadly just that– rumours.) And it became a play done in Chicago. And that bring brings us to the Graphic Novel which Vertigo, home of Gaiman’s Sandman and many other works of a similar nature by him, did over the years.

Our resident Summer Queen, April, has a look at this incarnation: ‘Over a decade after the original televised mini-series and the novel it spawned, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere has found new life in comic form — but not scripted by Gaiman himself. That honor has gone to Mike Carey, writer for the Vertigo series Lucifer and Crossing Midnight, with Glenn Fabry (PreacherHellblazer) providing the artwork. Gaiman did serve as consultant for the project. In his introduction, Carey remarks on the difficulty of adapting a novel to comic format, noting that some scenes have been moved around, some cut, dialogue changed to accommodate both, and the omission of a character. His hope is that fans of the original will appreciate the decisions that were made and the final result.’ Read her full review to see what she thought of this version.

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The Carthy Chronicles garners this from David:  ‘Martin Carthy is a legend in English folk music. As a solo performer, in duets with Swarbrick and others, as part of various groups, or as a session player he has left an indelible mark on the history of his nation’s music. Last year the Queen recognized him for his services to the culture of the nation by placing him on her birthday list. The elfin guitar player I met in Brantford Ontario [after a gig with Waterson-Carthy] gave no impression that this recognition had gone to his head. He engaged me in a conversation about Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, and happily signed autographs for his fans. How do you celebrate a career which has lasted for 40 years? Free Reed Music, has compiled a collection of his recordings which is at once representative and in depth, and at the same time makes the listener yearn to hear more!’

Gary found the Colin Vallon Trio’s Danse a joy to listen to. Most of the Swiss piano trio’s music on this album, he says, consists of ‘intricate miniature gems of composition and improvisation.’

Rayna Gellert’s short album Workin’s Too Hard showcases the playing and singing of this American roots musician who formerly played with the band Uncle Earl. Gary found a lot to like in this CD: ‘This is a short album of just seven songs, but they’re all songs of some moment and they beg to be listened to closely.’

Patrick likes Changeling’s The Hidden World: ‘This married duo’s music is nothing short of — sorry, Batman and Robin — dynamic. It’s an old approach, if you will, to old and new music. But that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s what sets this album apart from the countless other Celtic CDs released this year. Changeling has found a way to dig down into the roots of folk and unearth some old treasures that likely haven’t been heard in generations.’

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Our What Not this time’s a look at an iconic American folksinger…  ‘Growing Up with Utah Phillips: Nevada City, Erica Haskell, and Utah’s West Coast Legacy’ is a certainly intriguing title for the interview which Devon Leger, publisher of  Kithfolk, has with Erica Haskell, Professor of Ethnomusicology at University of New Haven in West Haven, CT, who put together this project with John Smith. They talked about a four-CD set Starlight on the Rails which was conceived of by renowned folk singer U. Utah Phillips as a kind of audio songbook.

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So let’s finish off with some seasonally apt music from Nightnoise, to wit ‘White Snow’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain, on the 23rd of April ’91. For more on this superb sort of Celtic band, go read our career retrospective here. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.

 

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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