We're doing an all book edition as Kim Bates, our Music Editor, is under the weather right now. We have reviews of a terrific collection of horror tales, the legend and reality of John Henry, a superb British mystery and a not so superb one as well, space opera done right, the end of a truly classic sf series, a Springsteen bio even a non fan can like, Victorian consumer culture in Britain, the audiobook version of Cassandra Clare's City of Bones, a Mike Mignola graphic novel, ainme on film, and much, much more!

But first, a story about The Old Man and the matter of looking over his shoulder for Fimbulwinter...

I'm tired of winter. It's gone on far too long this year, and the satisfaction of watching storms through a secure window has faded. I'm an old man -- when snow keeps on into March, I start feeling my age, and feeling sorry for myself; when there's still ice on a fine May morning, I start looking over my shoulder for Fimbulwinter.

Oh, I know -- technically it's spring, and the days are undeniably getting longer, and there's a noticeable amount of green in the gardens. But it's poking through frost, for gods' sake!

The courtyards were white with hoarfrost yesterday morn, and then a thunderstorm rolled over us in the afternoon. Got up to a tropical 60 degrees out there. I'd chance the road right now, but for the rains that keep washing it out. A good storm is fine, but I don't like mud. And my ravens hate to get wet. Try strolling through a storm that doesn't know if it wants to rain, snow, or strike you with lighting, with a wet whining bird pressed to each ear: I dare you.

Ah, you must bear with me. As I said, I'm an old man, and we get set in our ways and cranky when those ways are disturbed. Here it is, half past May, and I'm still living indoors -- I should be out in the wild, listening to the wind and watching the oak trees stretch. But the seasons can't make up their minds whose turn it is this year; winter and spring are circling like a pair of drunken Morris Men (drunker than normal, that is) and I am still pent here in the Pub. McKenzie is beginning to hint I could file the back copies of Alchemists Quarterly. My boots are clean! My beard is combed! My clothes smell of old parchment and toasted muffins!

Blue sky, that's what I want, with clouds spread out like a feather cloak or a beach in the sky. Or a storm that knows its business, and has the decency to stick to one season. Lately, just when we get a good cracking thunderstorm and some rain so you think summer's here, the damn stuff turns into sleet. And stars! No stars this winter, just the false glitter of ice: which is fair enough in its proper season, but not enough to keep a man's eyes clear. I want a night so full of light that the sky is dark blue between the stars, and you can taste their fire on your lips, like dew.

I need to be out on a green hillside, where the air smells of wet stone and warm earth, and there are moths with wings as green as moonlight flitting in the flowers of the oak. I need to watch the patterns of young light shifting through the branches of a budding ash tree, through every hour of one day. I need the perfume of fresh-broken earth, and the spice-bread scent of wild oats, and the swooning embrace of roses and gillyflowers where some garden sighs out its breath on a warm breeze. I need to feel the cold wind that is born of shadowed boughs, not ice; and the hot wind that is the exhalation of the desert.

I need another akvavit, that's what I need. Ice mother's milk, we used to call it, Reynard! Another glass here -- the Aalborg, that's distilled from ice and amber. If we drink Her health, maybe the old hag will finally relent and let the spring come home!

A good sf trilogy is a rare thing indeed but Kathleen Bartholomew found a good one indeed: 'Richard K. Morgan won the Philip K. Dick Award with his first novel, Altered Carbon. Del Rey Books published it, and its sequel Broken Angels, as mass market paperbacks; the third installment, Woken Furies, comes out in the same format this month. They chronicle the career of Takeshi Kovacs, ex-soldier, ex-patriot, ex-son and lover and innocent man. Technically, these books fall into the sub-genre of cyperpunk: heavily technological, dystopic futures, where humanity is so intimately involved and mixed with its machines that the question of post-humanity has become moot. A certain noir tone and mordantly flippant voice has become standard for cyperpunk, as well, with varying success. Here it succeeds completely. In Takeshi Kovacs' story, Morgan has transcended the narrowness of that approach and harks back successfully to its immediate ancestor: the good old-fashioned hard-boiled stories of Hammett, Chandler and Spillane. Takeshi's first-person narrative is intimate and immediate. His ruminations on society reveal both the man and his world, lithely and naturally, with no massive infodumps. It's a conversational narrative reminiscent of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Mike Hammer. And like those gentlemen, Takeshi Kovacs is essentially noble, no matter what violence he commits or endures: the classic tarnished knight, the good man in the mean streets.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review here!

Jimmy Guterman has written a Springsteen bio even a non fan such as John Benninghouse can appreciate: 'Before having read Runaway American Dream, I didn't care all that much for Bruce Springsteen's music. Now that I've finished it, I can't say that the situation has changed. However, when the final page was turned, I was tempted to download some Springsteen songs from the 'Net. But it was late at night and lethargy got the better of me. Still, Guterman's book was an engaging read from cover to cover despite my lack of interest in the subject and I would recommend it to fans of rock music regardless of their feelings towards The Boss.'

High hopes were dashed for Donna Bird in this novel: 'In the last year, I've read and reviewed two excellent books about London during World War II -- The Night Watch and Blitz. I've also watched two equally excellent video series on DVD set in the same place-time period -- Foyle's War and Danger: UXB. So I was pleased to find Forests of the Night on my desk at Green Man a few weeks ago. Author David Stuart Davies certainly comes with excellent credentials. According to his dust-jacket bio, he is an expert on Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In fact, Davies has a non-fiction book about portrayals of the great late Victorian detective in film and video (titled Starring Sherlock Holmes) coming out in October 2007. So I had every reason to believe the dust-jacket blurb that described Forests of the Night as 'atmospheric.' I must confess, I was disappointed.' Read her review to see why this novel simply wasn't up to snuff!

She also looks at a novel by James Fleming (yes, a "relative of that Fleming!): 'We requested a review copy of White Blood from the publisher (a Simon and Schuster imprint) after finding it on the new book table at Borders during a recent foray. It looked interesting, and indeed it is. But, I warn you, stay away if you have a delicate sensibility. This book is chock full of violence, crude language (first novel I ever read that uses the c-word -- in both its descriptive and derogatory senses), and situations that press the limits of grossness. As I read it, I couldn't help but think of Bartle Bull, especially Shanghai Station and maybe a bit of Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin series. Read on and you'll see why these comparisons are so apt.'

Ahhhh, the wretched existence of an academic without portfolio. Let's have Donna, a Ph.D. holder, tell the tale of Brent Shannon and his work, The Cut of His Coat: Men, Dress, and Consumer Culture in Britain, 1860-1914: 'On the Web site for Transylvania University (that's in Kentucky, not Romania), Brent Shannon is listed as a visiting assistant professor of English. He co-authored a column in The Chronicle of Higher Education (dated July 18, 2003 but only accessible to subscribers) with his wife, then doctoral student Margaret Marquis, in which they express legitimate frustration at their inability to find a tenure-track job between them, despite their academic credentials. That was before the publication of The Cut of His Coat, a very nice book-length re-working of Shannon's doctoral dissertation. Alas, even this noteworthy piece of scholarship and what now amounts to four years of teaching experience doesn't seem to have gotten Dr. Shannon into a tenure-track position. Let this serve as an object lesson to those of you slaving away on advanced degrees in the humanities. It's a cold, cruel world in academe.'

J.J.S. Boyce shows us that a great anthology is always a truly joyful reading experience: 'Kelly Link's second collection, Magic for Beginners, is undeniably quirky, and sometimes very creepy, and yet I found I was able to wrap myself up in her stories as comfortably as I would a favourite blanket. The title, taken from one of the collected short stories, is appropriate for another reason. These stories really are about the feeling of magic in the air, of anything being possible, the feeling we experienced when it was all new, when we were beginning scholars of fairy tales and ghost stories, and initiates to the wide world itself.' Read his delightful review thisaway.

Craig Clarke found a terrific collection: of horror tales: 'As good as his novels are, author Joe R. Lansdale's talents shine best in his shorter works. A collection like The Shadows, Kith and Kin, his latest from Subterranean Press, offers the casual reader a terrific introduction to the breadth and depth of his range, including a chance to read a rarely reprinted gem. The title story is a psychological portrait of a clock-tower shooter (patterned on Charles Whitman) that was especially affecting when read in the weeks following the Virgina Tech shootings.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review thisaway!

A graphic novel in the horror genre catches the eye of Craig: 'As a companion to the film, 28 Weeks Later (the sequel to the hit zombie thriller 28 Days Later), Fox Atomic's comic division (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) has released a graphic novel intended to span the time between. 28 Days Later: The Aftermath covers the development and discovery of the Rage Virus and takes us through the next six weeks.' Read his review to see how it lives up to the film!

Richard Dansky was not pleased by this YA novel: 'The one cardinal sin that a young adult novel absolutely cannot commit is to be unexciting. That, unfortunately, is the single recurring flaw of Doctor Illuminatus, from Booker Prize shortlist author Martin Booth. While the book's subject matter is interesting enough, too much of it is conveyed in the form of lengthy bits of expository dialogue that test the reader's patience more than they bother the characters.' Ouch!

Dan Jolley's Alex Unlimited: The Vosarak Code is a Tokyo Pop novel that gets the once-over from Richard. Read his review to see why a multiplicitiy of Alexes is a good idea!

Cat Eldridge looks at a new novel from Jasper Fforde: 'Thursday Next: First Among Sequels is the fourth of the Thursday Next novels. It is also quite possibly the silliest (in a good way) of all this series so far! How silly is it, you ask? Let's just say that the sudden giggle rate herein is way, way high . . . [And] Heinlein would be very understanding of what Fforde has undertaken here as the multiple versions of Thursday, and Friday, her son in various points in his history, are a logical riff off the later novels Heinlein did. Watch for how the characters here solve their bootstrap problem! And see how the falling readership of books -- watch for his depiction on a megabookstore with scarcely any books in it but lots of coffeeshops! -- is dealt with. Oh, did I mention a demon or two up to no good? And lethal cheese? Really lethal cheese?' Not making much sense to you? Read his review and you might get even more perplexed!

Writers Mike Mignola and John Archer and Illustrator Guy David have created a superb graphic novel in B.P.R.D. -- The Universal Machine says Cat: '[I]magine how rich a universe this premise is for telling tales. Like Stross' The Laundry where Bob Howard, our very reluctant warrior against Really Nasty Beings from Elsewhere, becomes involved a plot involving Nazis, secret societies, terrorists and those Really Nasty Beings from Elsewhere bent on destroying the Earth, Hellboy and his fellow Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense agents are not really all that interested in kicking the ass of beings with nasty powers and even nastier tempers, but they will if need be. And they will definitely need to kick ass in B.P.R.D. -- The Universal Machine as There's a number of truly evil beings intent on doing, well, evil.' Now read his review to see why he says 'a graphic novel's more akin to a movie than it is to a novel in that both text and illustrations are used to tell the tale.'

Our anime expert, April Gutierrez, tackles a difficult book to sum up: 'As anime -- Japanese animation -- as become more popular the world 'round, discussion of it has moved from the realm of fandom more to that of academia., a sign, perhaps, that it has achieved a degree of legitimacy as both an art form and as a commodity. I think Steven Brown would agree on both those points. In Cinema Anime, he's gathered eight diverse essays about anime -- and animation (the last essay deals in animation of a very different sort) -- which he's divided into three clearly delineated sections. The collection's premise, Brown says, is not so much to discuss what anime is, since by now we should know the answer to that, but where anime is. He's referring to the "cinema" in which an increasingly international audience views its anime, whether that be on the big screen, first run on a Tokyo TV, or downloaded on a PC, since that space has certain implications for how the viewer references the material. I'm not entirely certain the essays directly deal with that thesis (I happen to straddle that full continuum, as a viewer, just for idle reference), but make for interesting reading, nonetheless.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review here!

Scott Reynolds Nelson's Steel Drivin' Man, John Henry: the untold story of an American legend gets high praise from our reviewer as David Kidney says Nelson talks 'about the dependability of history, and even original documents, and yet all these documents of questionable veracity led him inexorably to the next step, and the next. And they continued to point to John Henry! Nelson was led through dozens of John Henry songs, or songs about hammers and railroad men They led him to a convict, imprisoned for putting a musketball into a lieutenant's brain. There is even a photo of a young black servant of the 3rd Army, name of John Henry. Of course, nothing links this photo with the John Henry of legend. But Nelson went on!' Read his review here.

Jack Merry loves a good British mystery which is why the first novel by historian Rebecca Stott pleased him quite a a bit: 'We get immense numbers of advance reading copies here at Green Man including a fair number of mysteries. Unless it's something that gets snapped up by a staffer with shouts of 'mine, it's mine', it ends up in the slush pile. The slush pile usually holds hundreds of these ARCs which can be quite entertaining to browse on a day when one's looking for something interesting to read. And that's how I found Ghostwalk, a English mystery of a decidedly unusual nature. Grabbing a pint of cider, I sat down in the pub to read it . . . Some hours later, I finished it and was rather pleased with what I read.'

Our Editor has a personally signed copy of Cassandra Clare's City of Bones -- that's how much he was impressed by it. Was Kestrell Rath as impressed with the audiobook version? Let's have her voice her opinion: 'Even before a previous issue of Green Man gave Cassandra Clare's City of Bones an outstanding review, I had been reading Holly Black's glowing descriptions of the book. Since I consider Holly to be one of the best writers of young adult fantasy, I was excited when an audio book edition of the book came up for review. Still, despite the rave reviews, I know myself to be the literary equivalent of a picky eater, and I was a bit dubious as to whether I would be able to give the book the same level of praise that reviewers such as Cat and Holly are giving the book. Therefore, I was as surprised as anyone to find that, while my praise for the mastery of Clare's writing is not quite as unconditional as that of other reviewers, I enjoyed the book immensely, and it definitely passed my ultimate test: when I got to the end, I immediately went back and began to reread it. More than that, I will be impatiently awaiting the publication of the next two books in this trilogy.'

Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm's The Gypsy has, as Robert M. Tilendis put its in his excellent review, 'been in my peripheral vision for some time, and was brought front and center by Boiled in Lead's CD Songs from The Gypsy. I've sort of put off Brust's collaborations, of which this is one, although I can see that I've got to catch up on them . . . Strangely enough, I was reminded very strongly of Charles de Lint's Greenmantle. There is a similar sense of darkness, and the same sense of magic loose in the mundane world.' Read his review for a look at a most odd novel.

A note of caution from Robert: 'If you, like I, have more or less stumbled onto Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen, you are still going to be unprepared for The Lees of Laughter's End. I say this because Malazan is among the darkest of the noir fantasy tradition, and although this novella occupies the same universe, I can only call it slapstick comedy of a particularly ghoulish sort.' Read his review to see why he says this!

A well-deserved Grinch Award goes to this reviewer for his look at a tome by Laura Shamas: 'Forest, trees: there is a certain brand of scholarship that tends to focus on minute examinations of trees in the attempt to discover a forest. I am the last to decry the idea of analyzing parts in the hope of understanding the whole, but there are limits, particularly if the need for clear relationships between the parts falls by the wayside. In the case of Laura Shamas' We Three: The Mythology of Shakespeare's Weird Sisters, I have to confess that by the end, I felt as though I had been buried in a pile of kindling.' Too mnay branches apparently obscure this tree of knowledge -- a failing he details nicely in his review!

Kage Baker's The Company series of immortal cyborgs time traveling for their masters at Dr. Zeus reaches its finale in The Sons of Heaven which Gary Turner got the honour of reading and reviewing: 'It's a bit strange that I'm writing a review on the last book of a series, as I typically avoid series like the plague. I have a child's impatience about knowing how a story ends; I just do not like to wait years, sometimes decades, to find out (predictably) that the good guys won. Kage Baker tricked me into this Company series, by getting me hooked on it via her short stories. Having read them, I just had to see who or what Alec Checkerfield was, did the ever-lonely and ever-lovely Mendoza find happiness, how the hell did chocolate get banned, how it all wound up. Her stories draw you into her characters, and you take a vested interest in how they will overcome all of their trials and tribulations.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review here for why this is the best series he's ever read, period.

Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan had edited an anthology that really pleased Gary Whitehouse: 'It's been a long time since I read a science fiction anthology. Which is weird, because I've always liked reading them. In fact, I discovered sci-fi with a little paperback anthology, The Ninth Galaxy Reader, edited by Frederik Pohl, in 1967. I still have it, and several similar volumes. But lately, when I read science fiction, I've been going for massive tomes and big series of novels. Plowing through the back catalog of Iain M. Banks, for instance, or waiting for another release from Dan Simmons. So this hefty anthology, The New Space Opera was a welcome change of pace, or return to form, or something like that.'

We must note a very sad passing this week:

Henry Holt Books For Young Readers is saddened to announce the passing of one of the greats of literature and the father of modern children's fantasy, Lloyd Alexander. Mr. Alexander passed away at home in this morning at the age of 83 after a battle with cancer, two weeks after the death of his wife of sixty-two years. Mr. Alexander was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1924. He decided he wanted to be a writer at age 15 while at Upper Darby High School. Mr. Alexander joined the US Army at the start of World War II, looking for authentic adventure, and eventually rose to be a staff sergeant in intelligence and counterintelligence. Much of Mr. Alexander's military training happened in Wales, a country's whose mythic traditions and bold landscape would inspire many of his books.

Mr. Alexander then attended the University of Paris, where he met Janine Denni. They were married in 1946. In 1964, Lloyd Alexander began his most famous work, The Chronicles of Prydain with the publication of the first book in the series, The Book of Three. More than 40 years later, the series remains one of the most widely read in the history of fantasy.

Mr. Alexander's books have captivated the imaginations of people as well as garnered numerous accolades including two Newbery medals for The Black Cauldron and The High King and an animated feature adaptation from Disney. Mr. Alexander also won the National Book Award for The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian and Westmark. He also wrote many novels for adults. His final novel, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, an adventure in the tradition of Aladdin and other Middle Eastern folk-tales, will be published by Holt in August of 2007. His tremendous written legacy will inspire readers and writers for years to come.

The official Chronicles of Prydain website is here.

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Uploaded by MacKenzie who's off to the Pub now for a Redhook
Piper's Ale and to listen to the Neverending Session play Breton tunes.

 
 

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