You would not understand, this is not how I am...

Yes, that's Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb' that's playing. It was preceded, as you heard coming up the stairs to my office, by Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' -- yes, depressing music for a decidedly grey day weather-wise here. Come in and warm up by the fireplace with some freshly brewed Lapsang Souchong tea while I finish writing these notes up.

Oh, I would be remiss not to point out the reading of Peter S. Beagle's 'Come Lady Death' by Paul S. Jenkins which can be found here. It's a quite splendid tale that's well-worth hearing!

Our tale this week concerns one long-time practitioner of the honourable art of Commedia dell'Arte and his thoughts on that trade and life itself. It too fits the music I'm playing this afternoon!

After reading his tale, do turn to our reviews this edition. Recommended in this all book review edition are the look by Cat Eldridge at Rock and Roll Never Forgets which is the start of a new series from Deborah Grabien, a collection of tales for children by Charles de Lint that Zina Lee enjoyed quite a bit, J.S.S. Boyce's insightful review of a DC Universe miniseries, Identity Crisis, and also Richard Dansky's take on Alan Moore’s Exit Interview. That should get you started while I brew some more tea...

There, my friend. I am not good company tonight, but if you can stand the long face, I'll buy the rounds, all right? Here, Reynard -- a pint for this compassionate one, the poor bastard...

No, sure it will be all right. Surely. It is just know they say that the world is a stage, yes? Vesti la giubba, vesti la giubba! The sad fruit of hate, the agonies of grief, the cries of rage, the bitter laughter. We breathe the air of this lonely world along with everyone else, and we hold up a mirror -- but which is the reflection?

The stage and the world. As Signor Shakespeare said -- are they not the same thing? We think, no! they are not, surely they cannot be...yet disaster strikes in a mockery of our mockeries, like mirrors reflecting mirrors over and over again, until you cannot tell where life starts and then art continues on, or perhaps it's the other way around. Which is art? Which is life? Reynard, give me another? No, it's all right, you know I can hold my drink, I've been drinking since before you were whelped! Another for you, my friend?

Ah, don't look so worried, you. Surely it will be all right. Our company...we follow the grand tradition, the great art, yes...we are one of the few companies left of the Commedia dell'Arte, we are! Each performance different, the story the same, but everything fresh, each night new... We each have our roles, our specialty, each of us has studied long and hard.

Yes, I am Arlecchino, sometimes I am Truffeldino. Someday when I am a bit older I will master Pedrolino as well, or perhaps he will master me -- but Arlecchino, he is my favorite and always has been. Troublemaker, servant, go-between, clever boots...that's me! Your servant, my master!

Ah, my master. Well, he is our director, he is a great clown, a subtle actor, a genius of improvisation! And a good businessman as well; he owns our company. Ah, my friend, I am worried. We came to this great city, was it years ago now? Surely not...but now, they shout for us as the kings and queens of the stage!

Tragedy and comedy, both the mirror image of the other... He has a terrible temper, but he is honest, my master is, you can trust him.

She is beautiful, you know, my master's wife. She is much admired. Much admired. She is sometimes my Columbina, sometimes she is Isabella. She is very clever as Columbina, her improvisations are very good.

Look at the time. I will have to be at the theatre soon. Reynard, one last one for the night. Perhaps just a bit of that whiskey. A sniff of water.

Yes, I am worried. It is this damned city, it turns everything around. Do we become our roles, or do they become us?

But surely it will be all right.

Come down later to see the performance tonight, the? For some reason, I'm actually dreading tonight, I don't know why. I will feel better if you are there in the audience, my friend. I must go, for, as they say, the show must go on, no matter how we feel, the?

Ridi, Pagliaccio!

T. A. Pratt's new novel really pleased Camille Alexa: 'Why do I say the series is bound for success? I do have only the one to go on, not having read Blood Engines; but in some ways I think that makes more credible my assertion that Poison Sleep can be read as a stand-alone novel, without difficulty and without commitment. Without difficulty because it's an easy one-sitting read: Marla Mason exists in a fast-paced world of action and action and more action, with funny stuff and a bit of pathos in between. Without commitment because even if you never read another, or never go back and read the first; even if Marla Mason and Mr. Pratt sell the umpteen books in this series I'm confident they can and you read every one out of order or backwards, each one will probably be as tasty and as ephemeral as a plate of delicious cheese fries or an afternoon quickie.'

Cat Eldridge found another great novel: 'Rock and Roll Never Forgets -- A JP Kinkaid Mystery is the very first novel in what I hope will be a very long series. If this novel is a fair indication, we're in for a lot of very good reading for years to come! Certainly this novel is as good as the first in her previous series, The Haunted Ballads. It has both the setting and the characters to be as kick ass as that exemplary series is; the primary difference being that this series is firmly set within the milieu of contemporary rock 'n' roll instead of the traditional music scene of The Haunted Ballads.'

Ahhh, every issue of Tomb Raider as collected in The Tomb Raider Compendium got reviewed by Cat who says ' My, that was a great deal of truly fun reading! All fifty issues of the series, (1,248 pages!) including the covers for each individual issue, have been collected in a trade paper edition. Oh, did I mention the superb color? Or the fact that it is one of the sturdiest trade papers of this size I've encountered? Or that for a mere sixty dollars you will get hours and hours of really entertaining reading? What more can I say?' Lots more it turned out. Go read his detailed review here!

Fairies in ripped kilts who played the Ramones on their fiddles? How could Deborah J. Brannon resist this Martin Millar novel? Not very well: 'As I began reading The Good Fairies of New York (thanks to friends' recommendations and Neil Gaiman's introduction), I thought 'Whoa! It is Vonnegut with fairies thrown in!' Now, I like Kurt Vonnegut. I like his direct way of speech, his cutting summary of events and people; he uses just the right phrase to throw the scene into relief against your mind's eye, with just enough suggestion to make you eagerly layer in the details. Martin Millar subscribes to this theory as well and he makes the prose style his.'

David Kidney has an eye for a great graphic novel and found a good one for us: 'Palestine was first published as a series of nine comic books, some 15 years ago. These newsprint and staple versions received reviews that described them as 'superior to most newspapers' in the way they told the story. The Montreal Gazette said that [Joe] Sacco was 'building an indispensable body of work that testifies most disturbingly to the ongoing cruelties humans can inflict on each other.' The artist and writer was also declared to be 'destined for international fame,' 'a pioneer;' his drawings 'brilliant,' 'poignant' and 'simply wonderful.' Just before Christmas in 2007 this Special Edition hardcover was released, and this extraordinary work was given a format it richly deserved.'

Donna Bird looks at more modern Arabic literature in translation: 'I have read and reviewed quite a few modern Arabic novels from the American University in Cairo Press, including Zayni Barakat, Birds of Amber, and No One Sleeps in Alexandria. Although I've never reviewed it, I've read and greatly enjoyed Naguib Mahfouz's magnificent Cairo Trilogy, which initially piqued my interest in modern Egyptian culture and history. So when Karnak Cafe and Morning and Evening Talk showed up in the International Publishers Marketing catalog, I asked our editor to order review copies for me. Naguib Mahfouz, who died in 2006, was a prolific and highly regarded novelist and essayist, born in Egypt in 1911, when that country was still a 'protectorate' of the United Kingdom. ...That period's just not my cuppa tea, if you know what I mean.'

Donna says 'For reasons I certainly can't explain to you or to myself, I have been reading a lot of espionage novels lately. So I was happy to adopt this fictionalized memoir of one of the most notorious spies of the early twentieth century when it arrived in the Green Man mailroom. Although I recognized the name Mata Hari, I knew very little about the person behind the name before I read this book.' So did reading the novel help her understand this complex historic figure? Go read her review of Yannick Murphy's work to see the answer.

Elizabeth Vail has tale to tell us: 'Liz Williams' Snake Agent, like any good detective novel, all starts with a dame. Detective Investigator Chen, a paranormal investigator for the futuristic South China city of Singapore Three, is visited by a wealthy society wife whose recently-deceased daughter, Pearl Tang, has not arrived in Heaven as scheduled. Naturally, Chen's investigation turns up more than a simple missing ghost story -- a quick probing determines that Pearl's industrialist father, who may very well have murdered her himself, has disturbing contacts with a powerful Ministry in the bureaucracy of Hell. Virtuous spirits bound for Heaven are being kidnapped to provide brothels in Hell with unique attractions - but the implications could be even more sinister. On top of that, Chen discovers that a demon investigator from Hell's precinct, Seneschal Tsuh Irzh, has also been assigned to Pearl Tang's case by his superiors, and possibly with a very different agenda in mind.'

David Drake's Balefires: Tales of the Weird and Fantastic is, according to Faith J. Cormier, 'a collection of horror and fantasy short stories spanning David Drake's career from 1967 to 2005...If you want a potpourri of interesting, well-crafted stories, go for it.' Read her review here.

Iain Nicholas Mackenzie was pleased by the eye candy of The Artist Within: 'For fifteen years, photographer Greg Preston captured cartoonists and graphic artists stunning in their natural habitats, the studios in which they work. Now I know this is not the first time this has been done as we've reviewed other nooks that featured views of work spaces of the truly creative such as The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy, and I'm sure that a search of the myriad online databases we have access to in the Library that are devoted to art would pop up a lot of references, but I must admit I think that Dark Horse has really set the gold standard with this book in this admittedly specialized genre. And the 'eye candy' aspect of this book should not go unnoted either!'

Now a story from J.J.S. Boyce: 'Every year on my dad's birthday, I include in his gift a completed comic mini-series, in graphic novel form, of some old favourite of his from either the DC or Marvel universes. Like me, (and most men, who were once boys) there's a permanent appreciation for the comic art form: a certain un-tarnished fondness for particular characters, which will endure through numberless revisits and re-imaginings. He and I are not hard-core comic aficionados; neither of us spends enough time in comic stores to keep up with a series that may take years to complete, one monthly issue at a time. So I'm a fan of these collections, even if I don't read more than one or two in a given year: because I might not otherwise read any comics at all.' Now go read his insightful review of a DC Universe miniseries, Identity Crisis, to see why it's a must read!

Jeff Smith's SHAZAM! -- The Monster Society of Evil hit the sweet spot for Kelly Sedinger: 'Historically, Captain Marvel is one of the oldest of all super heroes, with a labyrinthine publication history. First appearing in 1939, the Big Red Cheese was the flagship character for Fawcett Comics. For a time Captain Marvel was the nation's sales leader, outselling even the DC Comics titles featuring Superman. However, a copyright infringement lawsuit soon resulted in the removal of Captain Marvel from publication (DC alleged that Marvel was based on Superman). Later, DC itself licensed Captain Marvel and much later bought the character outright.' The rest of this fascinating story can be found thisaway.

Not everything is as good as it might be as Lory Hess discovered in reading a Nathalie Mallet novel: 'The Princes of the Golden Cage really looked promising; it had an attractive cover painting, laudatory blurb from Locus, and a plot outline that sounded fun, if not terribly intellectual. Prince Amir of the vaguely Ottoman-Empire kingdom of Telfar must battle evil sorcery, the temptations of forbidden love, and his jealous brothers -- over a hundred of them -- all while locked up in an opulent palace he may be doomed never to leave. Who -- if anyone -- will survive to be the next Sultan?'

Richard Dansky apparently likes a wee dram from time to time as his review of Brian Lumley's Hagopian and Other Stories makes clear: 'Lovecraft is a lot like single malt whiskey. There are purists who take it neat, and there are those who just like a good belt and like to fizz it up, ice it down, or otherwise add various things that would horrify any true follower of the Sixteen Men of Tain.' Read his review to see why he thinks this 'will keep any fan of Lumley's Cthulhu mythos work well satisfied for a good long while.'

Dansky says that '21 Down: The Conduit collects the first seven issues of the grittier than your average-Wildstorm Universe comic by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Jesus Saiz. The central premise is intriguing. Essentially, a mysterious figure named Herod has been giving low-level superpowers to kids. The kids grow up, learn to use their powers, and then uniformly drop dead on their twenty-first birthday.' Piques your interest? If so, read his review here.

A piece of choice interviewing also came his way: 'The main draw of Alan Moore’s Exit Interview comes from the fact that Moore dishes, at great length, on where exactly his relationship with DC Comics went sour. To a lesser extent, Moore talks about upcoming projects, the origins of British comics fandom, and his take on the mainstream comics industry, but the sensational stuff is likely what’s going to draw the most readers. That's as should be, as Moore provides a fascinating look into the inner workings of big-time comics publishing, and how the creative talent can get mangled in the gears of the machine once Hollywood gets involved.'

Robert M. Tilendis was not disappointed by this novel: 'Jon Courtenay Grimwood, to my mind, is one of a handful of contemporary writers to have successfully made the whole concept of 'genre' moot. I might point out that there are many who are working at it, but Grimwood just does it. End of the World Blues, his latest book, is a good case in point: the narrative moves between two universes, that of Kit Nouveau, former soldier, bar owner, petty criminal, and general screw-up, and that of Lady Neku, who may be a runaway street kid from Tokyo who just stole fifteen million dollars, or the scion of an unimaginably ancient family from the far future. We're never quite sure whether we're reading a detective story or a science-fiction story.'

Jack Vance's The Kragen, Thomas M. Disch's The Voyage of the Proteus -- A Eyewitness Account of the End of the World, and Cat Rambo and Jeff VanderMeer's The Surgeon's Tale and Other Stories all tickled Robert's fancy, though all for different reasons: 'You may recall that we here at GMR are extraordinarily fond of the small presses that publish so many of the things we discuss. We are fond of them because they bring us all-but-forgotten classics, exciting new works from important writers, and challenging new voices, all in attractive new editions -- as witness the group of chapbooks that I have on my desk right now, representing successive 'waves' in the history of speculative fiction.' Read his delightfully knowledgeable review here.

What the Mouse Found and Other Stories is our final review this edition and Zina Lee really loved it: 'Ah -- two of my favorite things, paired in one slim volume. (Sorry, I've always wanted to use the phrase 'slim volume' somewhere.) Fairy tales and Charles de Lint. The postman dropped the package through the door this afternoon. Just a bit later, here I am at my computer; I couldn't not read it right away, could I?' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review thisaway!

Deborah Grabien tells us that she has 'a short story up in the new November 3rd Club Journal. It's a vignette on poverty in America, inspired byRichard Thompson's wonderful song 'Oh I Swear', about a couple who don't much like each other anymore, but are too broke to split up. The story is called 'The Ties That Bind', from a line in the song lyric that goes 'Cruel poverty is the tie that binds / but we'll get by.' Mine's a little happier than the song, or at least a little more hopeful. Enjoy!

Do look in our second edition in May for Donna Bird and Cat Eldridge's in-depth review of a performance at the Portland, Maine Museum of Art by Merasi on their Hearts with Hope 2 Tour which is presented by Folk Arts Rajasthan. The Merasi are a community of impoverished, marginalized lower caste musicians who live in Rajasthan, a sprawling desert state in northwestern India. They descend from a 37-generation-old Rajasthan Royal Court musical legacy that is on the verge of extinction due to India's rapid modernization.

Words alone can't do justice to this group of superb musicians so we've provided you with a link to a short documentary on the group which is here. I'll make us mango lassi drinks while you go experience it... Cool, eh? I'm looking forward to seeing them in a city near me and you can check out their tour schedule thisaway.

Befitting our narrative this edition, we're providing a link to an article on Endicott Studio as introduced by Terri Windling...

Midori Snyder is the author of six magical novels for adults, one book for children, and numerous short stories published in a variety of anthologies and magazines. In 1994, after recently completing her fifth novel, The Flight of Michael McBride, Midori's interest in theater and mask-making led to a creative obsession with the Commedia dell arte tradition in Renaissance Italy... and this led, in turn, to ideas that she would shape into her next major work of fiction, The Innamorati..

The essay, 'Into the Labyrinth -- A Writer's Journey', can be found here. The new Endicott Studio Redux is well-worth checking out with the archives of the old version here.

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