But you must stop playing among his ghosts — it’s stupid and dangerous and completely pointless. He’s trying to lay them to rest here, not stir them up, and you seem eager to drag out all the sad old bones of his history and make them dance again. It’s not nice, and it’s not fair. — Patricia McKillip’s Winter Rose
So what was the best book you’ve read this year? Or the best recording you’ve had a listen to? Do you have a favourite dark chocolate? Mine’s the Ritter dark chocolate with hazelnuts which is the perfect size for an afternoon snack while walking out and back to our Standing Stones.
Everything we like is unique to us as I noticed when Cat asked Deborah, author of the Haunted Ballad Series and the JP Kinkaid Chronicles, what her favourite Grateful Dead was and she replied, ‘I’m an old school Dead woman. Give me Aoxomoxoa, Anthem Of The Sun, Live Dead, Workingman’s Dead, and American Beauty. I helped Annette Flowers and Eileen Law stuff cartons of Europe ’72. After Pigpen died, they started losing me for good and never really got me back. But that was my period of Dead.’
To me, one of the joys of this enterprise we are doing is reading what other staffers, both now and going back decades, has found that they really appreciate (and what they sometimes really, really don’t appreciate) as they’re often things I’d not a clue existed such as gremlins made physical from Roald Dahl’s The Gremlins: The Lost Walt Disney Production!
So let’s see what we found for you this time.
Not all that uncommon is the tendency of one of our reviews to be linked to other reviews we’ve done down the decades. Such is the case this edition as everything Robert looks at is connected to other reviews by him…
Robert has a review of Winter Rose: ‘The story is told in McKillip’s characteristically elliptical style, kicked up an order of magnitude. Sometimes, in fact, it is almost too poetic, the narrative turning crystalline then shattering under the weight of visions, images, things left unsaid as Rois and Corbet are drawn into another world, or come and go, perhaps, at will or maybe at the behest of a mysterious woman of immense power who seems to have no fixed identity but who is, at the same time, all that is coldest and most pitiless of winter.’
He also looks at Solstice Wood, a sequel of sorts to Winter Rose: ‘McKillip has always been a writer whose books can themselves be called ‘magical,’ and it’s even more interesting to realize that she seldom uses magic as a thing of incantations and dire workings, or as anything special in itself. It just is, a context rather than an event, and perhaps that’s the way it should be.’
Robert also found something that Solstice Wood has in common with Jane Lindskold’s Child of a Rainless Year — although that one can certainly stand on its own: ‘Jane Lindskold is one of the more adventurous authors working in the mode of speculative fiction. From her transparent contributions to Roger Zelazny’s last two books through the contemporary urban fantasy of the athanor novels through the more-or-less “classic” fantasy world of Through Wolf’s Eyes, she has shown not only great ease in moving among subgenres, but a remarkable proficiency in pushing the envelope stylistically without becoming precious, an affliction suffered by many in the field.’
And would you believe that Orson Scott Card’s Magic Street shares a –what? An image? A metaphor? — with those two novels? ‘Mack is nobody’s and everybody’s — he wanders the neighborhood and, eventually, is welcome wherever he happens to be. And then one day, when in his early teens, he sees a house that isn’t there, and goes in.’
While the warmer temps have us gearing up for Summer, Denise’s review of Oliver Brewing Company’s Cherry Blossom Cherry Wheat Ale has us dreaming of Spring. But don’t assume it’s just a Spring beer; this is one that jumps seasons nicely. ‘Grab ’em while you can, or you’ll have to wait ’til next year. And you won’t want to wait.’ See why she’s a fan in her review!
Robert has a look at a rather unusual graphic novel, Alex Woolfson’s Artifice: ‘The basic premise here is a science-fiction trope that goes all the way back to Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories — how smart does an artificial intelligence have to be to be considered human?’
Chuck looks at an offering from a well-known Nordic musician: ‘Mats Eden is a founder and the only original member of the Swedish contemporary folk group, Groupa. With Lackerbiten (which, I believe, translates to “Little Bits”), Eden goes solo and traditional, performing thirty — yes, thirty — tunes originating in the Varmland region, straddling the border of Sweden and Norway.’
Gary took a shine to a new recording from Canadian singer-songwriter Dana Sipos. ‘If like me you appreciate deeply rooted folk music that’s recorded with the sort of post-modern studio wizardry that enhances that music’s moods and meanings, then you owe it to yourself to check out Dana Sipos’ Trick of the Light.’
Lars was favorably impressed with Strata by the Scottish singer Siobhan Miller. ‘I have played Strata continuously for more than a week and it still grows on me with every new listening. A good selection of songs, very well sung and nice, varied arrangements; what more could you ask for?’
Michael looks at an album from Maddy Prior: ‘An icon of English folk rock, Prior knows how to set her impressive vocal talents among supportive instrumental accompaniment. I won’t repeat the history of her career with Steeleye Span and Carnival, because Lahri Bond has already done that in his retrospective review which gives a great summary of personnel changes and albums, while Naomi de Bruyn covered her decision to leave the band after 28 years in her review of Prior’s compilation album Memento. Known and loved for her sweet, clear voice, Prior continues the tradition of fine vocal delivery with Ravenchild.’
Our What Not this week is another treat from Folkmanis. Says Robert: ‘I seem to have another Folkmanis puppet lurking around, this one the Rat In a Tin Can. The Folkmanis website describes him as being ready for a playful picnic (note the napkin in one paw). However, it seemed to me that he might just as easily be a waiter in an upscale rat restaurant: his black-and-white pattern might almost be taken for formal wear.’
I think a bit of rather lively music in the form of ‘Red Barn Stomp’ to show us out this edition will do very nicely. Recorded sometime in June of 1990 in Minneapolis by the Oysterband with June Tabor joining them there as well. The lads were on tour in support of their Little Rock to Leipzig album where you can find another version of this tune.
Ian Tefler, a band member, tells us that the name of this piece was chosen to sound trad. It features John Tefler calling the tune and very neatly incorporates the actually trad tune, ‘The Cornish Six-Hand Reel’ in it as well.