There is a similarity, if I may be permitted an excursion into tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chilly breeze and the feel of a knife’s blade, as either is laid across the back of the neck. I can call up memories of both, if I work at it. The chilly breeze is invariably going to be the more pleasant memory. — Vlad Taltos, from Steven Brust’s Jhereg
Chilly breezes are still with us, but we’ve hit that time of year when the outside temperatures may be anywhere on the scale — spring’s not quite here, but winter is starting to let go, so we’re in a thaw-and-freeze time.
All of which makes walking a bit of a gamble — one needn’t wade through snow drifts (the paths are clear), but it’s always a question of whether a puddle is actually a puddle or a sheet of ice. It pays to have fast reflexes, just in case.
And on mild days, everything drips, so walking under the trees may very well mean icy water down the back of your neck. A broad-brimmed hat is very useful.
The birds don’t seem to mind — the crows actually seem very happy, now that some of the snow cover is gone and they can poke around in hopes of something tasty. The sparrows, as well, are foraging around the clear places, looking for any seeds or buds they’ve missed before.
The squirrels are starting to nip the ends off of twigs: they’ll wait for the sap to start dripping out, and lick it off, as a nice side to the flower and leaf buds that are just starting to swell. The rabbits are still hunting down the last of last year’s dried grasses and herbs — it’s still a bit early for tender new shoots, but they remain hopeful.
And although there’s a lot going on outside, right now it’s a bit raw and blustery, so I’m just as happy to be curled up next to the fire putting this edition together. But, given the mood — well, we have to be prepared for anything.
Cat looks at Lucifer’s Dragon, which, ‘as the Max Headroom series used to say, is set twenty minutes in the future. It set a century from now with flashbacks to a future not that far from our present. Though marketed as cyberpunk, it’s not really as hacking and computer networks in general don’t really play that much of a role. And it really does reflect that Grimwood was early in his career as it’s less well-crafted than his later work, which is extremely well-crafted.’
Cat was delighted to listen to Ken Macleod’s Star Fraction as he has a liking for near future dystopias, that it ‘was set in a Britain that has severely fractured, has suffered at least one revolution and apparently a counter-revolution, and is now a Republic under a restored House of Hanover to the Throne. (Queen Victoria was the last in that line which ruled Britain from 1714 to 1901!) But it’s even more fractured than that makes it apparent as there’s a reference to North London being an area free from the security apparatus of the US / UN which bans certain lines of research by anyone to the point of banning knowledge of what those lines are. This makes it similar to Europe in David Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn novel in terms of fractured nation-states.’
David brings us something that we might not have been expecting: Lew Freedman’s Baseball’s Funnymen: ‘When most people think of the history of baseball, they think of it in terms of a Ken Burns documentary – soaring music, sepia tones, and a certain reverence for the deeds of players engaged in noble competition. But there are other sides of the game, not the least of which is humor. From the bungling, prank-playing Brooklyn Dodgers of old to the modern day, there have always been jokesters, pranksters and clowns both on and off the field.’
Michael looks as a book about possibilities, Alma Alexander’s 2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens: ‘December 20th, 2012. The end of the world, some might say. Five friends meet up twenty years after college, at Spanish Gardens, an old and favorite gathering spot. Olivia. John. Quincey. Ellen. Simon. Over Irish Coffees, they’ll hash out old memories and catch up on twenty years’ worth of happenings.’
Rebecca has some thoughts on one of the less classifiable works we’ve run across, Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire: ‘A leg is wounded. A boy, or a hog, or a man, or a woman, is offered in burnt sacrifice. An enormous black dog which is not a dog points the way. A severed head watches. A fire burns on a hilltop. The images whirl, kaleidoscopic, through a dozen stories, through the landscape of Northampton. They fill me, and the words fill me, and I feel pregnant with them. Not, perhaps, a conventional way to discuss a book I’m reviewing. But it’s not a conventional book.’
Robert takes a look at a most unusual book by one of science fictions most iconoclastic writers, Thomas M. Disch’s The Word of God, or, Holy Writ Rewritten: ‘It’s hard to know how to typify this book. Memoir, in some respects. Satire, most certainly. Polemic, but we expect no less from Disch, no matter what his mode of the moment.’
Robert has some remarks on a couple of manga series in the genre known as “boys’ love” (BL) or “yaoi”. First is Isaku Natsume’s Dash!: ‘The main story in Dash! is about the relationship between Akimoto and Saitou. At the story’s beginning, Akimoto is a freshman member of the judo club who announces on his first day that he enrolled in that school because he admired Saitou, the school’s judo star. However, as Akimoto points out, Saitou “wasn’t all that good a guy.” He makes Akimoto his servant, running his errands, fetching lunch and drinks, and in general serving as his personal gofer.’
Next is Hyouta Fujiyama’s Ordinary Crush: ‘Hyouta Fujiyama has become one of my favorite mangaka doing BL, mostly because of her strong, clean graphics and charming stories. . . . In Ordinary Crush we have the core of a complex of stories portraying the students of Kinsei High, a highly regarded all-boys’ school that is rumored to be 90% gay.’
We have a couple of TV series that Robert thinks fall within the rubric “be prepared for anything”. The first is Grimm” ‘If I had to place the series in a genre, it would come out as dark fantasy/supernatural police procedural, which at one point would have sounded weird, but given the direction television has taken since Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit the screen, maybe not so much these days.’
The second is Haven: ‘Haven is a small town on the coast of Maine that is generally unremarkable, except that some of the inhabitants have what we might call “special abilities.” These are mostly not an issue, but it seems that every twenty-seven years, what the residents (those in the know, at least) call “The Troubles” start cropping up: for some reason, these abilities become active, and can have unforeseen and often dire consequences.’
Gary brings us a fascinating look at the history of the tomato — at least, part of it — in Andrew F. Smith’s The Tomato in America: ‘The tomato is one of the most popular “vegetables” in America, where thousands of tons of them are consumed every year. They’re similarly popular around the world. They’re also the subject of a small mountain of folklore. And like all folklore, some of it’s true, and some isn’t.’
Cat starts off our music reviews with a look at something a little bit out of the ordinary — Theodore Bikel’s Treasury of Yiddish Folk & Theatre Songs: ‘But most of us are less aware that [Bikel] is both an accomplished musician and a supporter of folk music, including being the founder of the Newport Folk Festival. And he has recorded twenty record albums, mostly for the Elektra label, in addition to a few releases on other labels.’
The music on Nuit Blanche by the Tarkovsky Quartet, Gary says, ‘is a heady blend of classical, jazz, cabaret and more, and it’s all very cinematic.’ That’s fitting, he adds, because the quartet is named for Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky.
Robert has some comments on another group whose music is a blend of — well, let him describe it: ‘The German pop scene has got to be the one to watch. I’ve run across albums from Nubian drummers and medieval electro-pop duos who are big in the Berlin club scene, and now I’m listening to Corvus Corax, a group of street minstrels originally from East Germany who do a heady mix of medieval and contemporary world-beat/rock music.”
In keeping with our sort-of theme, Robert comments on another volume in the monumental series Gamelan of Central Java. This is Volume XIV: Ritual Sounds of Sekaten: ‘Ritual Sounds of Sekaten is a pendant to Volume II in the series Gamelan of Central Java, presenting three more examples of the music played for the Islamic religious festival of Sekaten in Java. The first two tracks are the same piece filtered through the performance traditions of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, the two main centers of classical Javanese music.’
Word comes from our friends at Hearth PR that The Transatlantic Sessions tour will be part of the 30th anniversary MerleFest in April. If you don’t know what The Transatlantic Sessions or MerleFest are, Gary has more about it here.
Our coda today is from a young musician I ran across recently who’s really quite fascinating. Someone said his voice sounds like a pint of whiskey ate a pack of Marlboros. And he looks like he might be all of seventeen. This is from the soundtrack of the film Hell or High Water; the song itself is titled Sleeping on the Blacktop; and the artist is Colter Wall. You can watch him perform it here.