'Maybe it is the way he tells them, the Grand Vizier thought more than once, for King Pelles always had a special voice at those times, different than the way he spoke in the fields or at evening table. It was a low voice, with a calmness in it that ó as the Vizier knew ó had grown directly from suffering and remorse, and seemed to draw the childrenís confidence whether or not the words were understood.'
This passage is from 'King Pelles the Sure,' by Peter S. Beagle, due out in a chapbook collection entitled Strange Roads (DreamHaven Books, 2008). Itís not what Mr. Beagle will reading in the Pub this spring; as far as I know, there are no plans for its performance anywhere. But it nonetheless contains the perfect description of how Mr. Beagle reads aloud. And what it does to the audience. And maybe an explanation of Why, as well.
Mr. Beagle is, of course, His Most Puissant Majesty, Lord of Horn and Shield, Master of the Weald (look it up!), our own, our very own Oak King. This year he is gracing us with four readings, to be podcast from right here in the Pub, celebrating the four seasons of his regnal year. The first reading, Springtime's nod to the theme, is 'The Stickball Witch,' and it premieres right here — no one had read or heard it before Mr. Beagle decided to enrich the atmosphere of the Pub with its debut. (It will be published this Fall, in a Tachyon collection entitled We Never Talk About My Brother, and perhaps elsewhere as well.) The story's name alone is a grand evocation of spring. It waves a banner for childhood, for pick-up games in the streets, for all the frenzied activity that is at least half imagination in the head of a small boy. Life at half-height but twice the strength of the adult world: what could be more appropriate for a Spring reading, when the stones out in the courtyard are being forced apart by the tender renegade shoots of the daffodils?
We here in the Green Man are pretty frantic ourselves, anticipating this. Reynard is trying to figure out a schedule of serving, so no one actually moves around while His Majesty reads; Annie and the other barmaids are simply contemplating a general strike for the occasion. Cats are relegated to laps and table tops, so every chair has a bum in it. Portions of the floor are already marked out in rather threatening chalked runes, as some of our more eccentric members reserve their seats. And rumour has it Jack is trying to train Maggie as a tape recorder....
Mr. Beagle is a legendary storyteller, of course — and heís also a grand musician and singer, no stranger to holding an audience. The chance to settle down in the Pub, with our favourite drinks in our hands, and then to completely forget those drinks as Mr. Beagleís voice breaks over us like a wave: no wonder the Staff is already reserving their seats! Anyone who links to the 'cast will hear him, of course, and he does have the most kingly voice. But we lucky ones in the Pub will be watching the firelight on his face; the dark gleam of his eyes; the glitter of his silver hair and beard as he moves. Those blunt clever artisanís hands, shaping the tale in the silence...imagine that, as you listen to him speak.
Because you will be listening. Itís Peter S. Beagle, and heís the Oak King.
Not that the Oak King's largesse stops with just this spoken tale, of course. Oh no! Spring is a time of abundance. To prove that, Mr. Beagle is also gracing the Green Man with opening selections from two utterly different novels he is publishing this year, I'm Afraid You've Got Dragons and Summerlong. Just click on the titles when you feel like reading. We're honored to have them here.
If you think that last title is a sideways nod to his next reading, well...you may be right and you mayn't, all the same, and you'll not get any clues from me, for that would be telling. All I'm set to say is that Mr. Beagle's Summer podcast will go live on June 15th, his Autumn podcast will unfurl on September 21st (in a special Peter S. Beagle edition), and his very own Winter's Tale will come sliding down the hill to a pubside landing on December 14th. We hope you'll bring your ears to them all.
Well. That's that, then: the decorations are in place and every stein polished to gleaming. Time to open the doors.
Do come in! Let me turn down 'Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow' off the Jethro Tull Christmas album so we can talk...
Has anyone ever shown you the slush pile? As one staffer noted in a review, '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.' Yes, our definition of slush pile is much broader than the Wiki one as we include bloody near anything printed in it.
Yet another staffer once noted that 'It won't surprise you, dear readers, that we get a fair amount of our review material without asking for it. Some of it is bloody awful, but much of it is very good. At any given time, the Green Man 'slush pile' has dozens of compact discs and more than an overflow stack of books awaitin' review. Some of the reviewers here have been heard to darkly mutter that there must be some other less choosy folks we can foist some of this shite off on, but then they spot something good and ramble off like greedy dragons to their private offices to hoard the goodies they just found...'
The books reviewed below escaped the fate of being pulped and recycled as newsprint as the reviewer for each of them saw some worth reading in them. So keep in mind as you read these reviews that no reviewer starts off thinking any book will be anything less than a good read! S.'ome do no doubt will find good reason to change their minds as our reviews this edition of Charles de Lint's Dingo will show very, very nicely. No, it's not nearly as bad as the pirate novel one book group member described in the Pub as, and I quote, 'maggot-infested cheese'. Ouch!
So have you ever watched one of us grab a collection or anthology from the slush pile to read over an imperial pint of Guinness in the Pub? Or to hide away with in a very cozy corner where we can just barely hear the Neverending Session? Hell, even I do it. Short stories are like eating really great evil dark chocolate, or a good, fast sweaty horizontal bop on a hot summer afternoon -- really, really fun!
Camille Alexa leads off our reviewing with a truly tasty piece of swag --'Those of us too young to have read -- or so unfortunate as to have missed -- Steven Utley's short fiction first published in the '70s and '80s are in luck. Wheatland Press has put out a wonderful collection of this prolific and under-appreciated author's short stories under the title The Beasts of Love. It's a testament to the power, the quality of Utley's writing that not a single story feels dated or out of place, even decades after their crafting. The diversity of the stories represented make this a difficult collection to describe in short, quick strokes. The original venues in which this fiction appeared include the likes of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Pulphouse, Mystery Monthly, P.I. Magazine, and The Daily Texan.'
The Green Man Library has an impressive collection of artwork, art commentary and fiction done by nineteenth century Orientalists including an entire room devoted to A Thousand and One Nights. So it's no surprise to me that two books by Prisse d'Avennes get a look-see by Donna Bird -- Islamic Art in Cairo from the Seventh to the Eighteenth Centuries and The Atlas of Egyptian Art -- 'Both books represent collections of artwork done by nineteenth century Orientalist Achille-Constant-Theodore Emile Prisse d'Avennes, or Prisse d'Avennes for short. Born in France in 1807, Prisse d'Avennes made his first trip to Alexandria in 1827 after fighting on the other side in the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Turks. He became a comrade of Ibrahim Pasha and earned the early regard of Ibrahim's father Muhammad Ali Pasha, then the ruler of Ottoman Egypt.' Read the rest of her insightful review here.
David Wakefield's The French Romantics -- Literature and the Visual Arts, 1800-1840 also got looked at by Donna; 'The French Romantics is an interesting cross between a scholarly monograph and a coffee table ornament. In content, it is definitely the former. It's heavy on narrative, written in a formal style with careful attention to detail, full of allusions to cultural works that the author evidently assumes will be familiar to his readers. Although much of the creative force of this period derives from its underlying political turmoil (post French Revolution, the Napoleonic Period, the Bourbon Restoration), this book provides very little in the way of political context. It is very explicitly focused on Romantic art and literature.'
Deborah J. Brannon found more great short fiction to read and review -- 'Paper Cities is a collection of urban fantasy in the truest sense of the term -- stories of the fantastic from or about the city and all the wonderment and horror that entails. I imagine most people would prefer to think of cities as dumb beasts, mere collections of brick and mortar, marble and steel, men and women, children and the dead. Yet people who think of society not as a collective organism but as a loose gathering of people only peripherally affected by each other would be under a mistaken impression. Cities are alive --they breathe, they think, and they dream. They are the loom that knits together past and present and future, weaving the living and the dead, the animate and the inanimate into a sum much bigger than the total of its parts. The writers here collected by Senses Five Press and Ekaterina Sedia understand that. Not only have they channeled intoxicating and surprising places into these paper-and-ink windows, but some of the stories will put the feet of anyone who reads them on the road to understanding that cities are alive.'
Ramsey Campbell's The Darkest Part of the Woods is, according to Richard Dansky, not a pastiche -- 'There are two ways to write Lovecraftiana. The first is the pastiche route popularized by August Derleth, heavy on long apostrophe-spangled names of Elder Critters, the naming of nameless tomes, and fulsomely purple prose in order to disguise the fact that narrator is, in all probability, something of a wet fish. Then there's the approach taken by a select few, one that begins with an understanding of Lovecraft's unmoral cosmicism and the recognition that the beasties that dwell in the dark places are not Evil, but Other. Thomas Ligotti understands this, as do a few others, and so does Ramsey Campbell.' Read his completely spoiler free review here.
Warren Ellis and J. H. Williams III's Desolation Jones is a graphic novel on the darker side of the DC reality, the Wildstorm Universe. According to Richard, it bears an uncanny resemblance to another series DC has done -- 'The long shadow of John Constantine lingers over the figure of Desolation Jones. But whereas Constantine is a spiky-haired Brit occult operative who abuses his odd network of friends while intimidating people into giving him answers by sheer force of personality, Jones is a spiky-haired Brit ex-spook who abuses his odd network of friends while intimidating people into giving him answers by sheer force of personality. Also, Constantine wears a brown trench coat and smokes. Jones wears an orange trench coat and goggles, and does a lot of drugs.' Desolation Jones is reviewed here.
A John Ridley and Georges Jeanty's undertaking is the other Wildstorm graphic novel that Richard read and reviewed --'There's a little bit of Watchmen in The American Way, in which a hidden conspiracy uses superheroes and manufactured threats to manipulate public opinion for the 'greater good.' There's a bit of Marvels, with a regular joe type (in this case, a PR rep, as opposed to a newspaper reporter) commenting on and becoming part of the super-powered action. And there's bits and pieces of Marvel's Civil War, some Superman --The Movie, and a few others, all tied up in a historical package that's honestly the most interesting part of the book.' Hmmm... That might be tasty or just awful -- read his review to see which it is.
Dansky wraps up his reviewing this edition with a Spider Robinson novel which he has a cautionary note about -- 'The back cover text for Very Bad Deaths does the book an immense disservice. Going by the blurb, the book is a taut psychological thriller wherein a suicidal writer and a cop track down a brilliant serial killer with the help of the world's only psychic. It all sounds very James North Patterson, or maybe more Preston and Child, and taking it at face value means the reader expects a taut psychological thriller where the Oppenheimer of Agony (as the villain might be described) staying one step ahead of a man who can read his mind. Except, of course, this is a Spider Robinson novel, which means you can pretty much throw all of that right out the window. Without spoiling too much, I can safely say that the hard-bitten detecting doesn't detect much, the suspense of the chase gets short-circuited just as it's getting rolling, and any similarities to anything Jeffrey Deaver might have written end up purely coincidental. One almost gets the impression that Robinson was out to deconstruct all of the by-now-hoary genius serial killer tropes, starting with the killer's M.O. offering mysterious and taunting clues that can be painstakingly tracked down.' Hmmm... I'd say it's worth checking out!
Heeee, Dansky just slipped our Book Editor, April, another review which leads off in this manner -- 'The Jack Vance Reader is as good a name as any for this book, which collects three of legendary science fantasist Vance's short science fiction novels under one cover. In order of decreasing accessibility, the three are Emphyrio, The Languages of Pao, and The Domains of Koryphon. To readers who know Vance primarily through The Dying Earth these may come as a bit of a surprise, as they're pure science fantasy, novels of the far-flung future where the ideas and setting are more important than the cold, hard science underneath man's expansion out into the stars.' See? More great short fiction!
Clive Barker's Mister B. Gone concerns, as Denise Dutton notes in her review, 'Jakabok Botch -- 'everybody calls me Mister B.' -- is a demon, and a pretty crappy one at that, if his parents have anything to say about it. Or his schoolmates. Or even his neighbors. But fate leads him on a journey up to the World Above, a trip that ultimately lands him in a predicament that requires the help of the individual reading his story. Poor Mister B. is trapped in the book, you see. Quite literally too; the demon has become the actual book. And a cute little book it is, too. A relatively small (248 pages), black, copper-ink embossed book that would seem to get lost among a stack of heavier books in a bibliophile's bookshelf. The sort that would have you pick it up just because it seems like Goldilocks; not too big, not too short, but just right. Then you open the pages and realize that was all a part of the plan.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review for a look at a most unusual demon!
Lots of graphic novels got reviewed this edition and Denise was very fortunate to get the review of a Joss Whedon project thatt was eagerly anticipated -- 'If you're a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer like I am, Buffy the Vampire Slayer --Volume One --The Long Way Home is something you've been looking forward to for a few years now. If you're only generally aware of this series --or only know the title from the so-so practically unrelated movie that preceded it -- this collection of the first five comic books that takes Buffy's story past the ending of the TV series is a good place to get into the mix. Also called 'Buffy Season Eight' (and officially subtitled 'Joss Whedon's Season Eight' starting with comic book #6), it's intended to be the official follow-up to the series. The first collection of this Dark Horse collection serves as evidence that Joss still has it in spades.' Oh, tasty! You can read the rest of her review here while I'm off looking for this tasty swag.
Let's have our Editor, Cat Eldridge, explain why he read George Khoury's Image Comics -- The Road To Independence --'For the past few months, I've been reading almost exclusively in the Wildstorm universe -- a darker, more edgy version of the DC Universe where characters die and heroes can't be counted on to be either ethical or trustworthy... ...So when the mailroom here at Green Man told me that Image Comics -- The Road To Independence had arrived, I put aside the WildC.A.T.s/X-Men cross-over I was reading and started reading this 'history' of Image Comics.'
April Gutierrez had the honour of reading Maria Tatar's Annotated Hans Christian Anderson: 'Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales are well-known, even to those who've never heard his name. His stories have entered our cultural consciousness (who doesn't know of 'The Little Mermaid,' even if it's only through Disney's version) and verbal lexicon ('The Emperor's New Clothes') and are here to stay. Maria Tatar's The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen offers a glimpse at the man behind the tales, the subtle nuances of his art and language and renders the stories all the more powerful.'
She also had a bloody good time reading Neil Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants --'This slim, whimsical YA novel is Neil Gaiman's contribution to World Book Day 2008, one of nine £1.00 children's books made available for this event. Though written for a younger audience, Odd and the Frost Giants is an entertaining read for adults as well, as it's intelligent and clever.' Did I mention that it has a mythological link to his American Gods stories? Intrigued? Go read her review to see what the connection is!
As of late, Charles de Lint, a favourite among the staff here, has done some YA novels. Dingo is the latest and Robert M. Tilendis thinks it lacks a certain element that makes for a great novel by him -- 'Miguel is a distanced narrator, which leads to what is, I think, the most serious problem with Dingo -- there is a distinct lack of engagement here, a flatness to the narrative that is surprising for de Lint. One thing that I've long treasured about de Lint's writing, reinforced recently while rereading some of the early Newford stories, is the immediacy of his narrative, which more than anything else brings home the mythic quality of his story telling, the sense of magic hovering just in the corner of your eye. Sadly, that's missing from Dingo.'
Yet more short fiction is the subject of his other review this edition, to be precise that in Michael Moorcock's The Metatemporal Detective linked tales -- 'These are light fare compared to the bulk of Moorcock's work, although the connections are certainly there for those who are concerned with such things. They are, however, for those who appreciate things like Flash Gordon, a lot of fun.'
Andrew Wheeler recently dissed rather royally Neil Gaiman's Beowulf film, but Elizabeth Vail says Beowulf -- The Complete Story is quite good and well-worth your listening to -- 'In this complete three-CD set, the timeless classic of Beowulf gets another shot at a dramatic adaptation. While it lacks the cinematic razzle-dazzle of Robert Zemeckis‚ recent version (and the CGI-scrubbed facades of Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie), it possesses a few dramatic chops of its own.'
Care to join me in the Pub for a Guinness? I understand that there's lively discussion of Neil Gaiman's literary and film efforts going on right now as April's been lending Odd and the Frost Giants out to be read. Here, read the Library copy before we go down while I go see what came in the later afternoon post. Ahhhh, there's that copy of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version I've been looking for that we loaned out to The School of the Imagination...
Donna Bird reviews a disc she's had on hand for many years, Rhythm & Reds by a supergroup of sorts called Band of Hope. Says Donna, 'Band of Hope represents a collaboration of five splendid UK musicians aimed at preserving, disseminating, and celebrating songs that challenge the political status quo. Roy Bailey convened the group and provides the primary vocals in a passionate, distinctive style. Martin Carthy plays guitar and provides supporting vocals on some of the tracks. John Kirkpatrick contributes his unforgettable button accordion sound and also offers occasional vocals. Dave Swarbrick (of Fairport Convention fame) plays fiddle and mandolin. Steafan Hannigan adds both percussion and pipes to the mix.' How does it sound? 'The overall effect is one of liveliness and rich texture, with a nice rough edge that works well with the musical themes.' Read her review for more details.
Donna also reviews a recent release by the Swedish folk-jazz ensemble Frifot. Of Flyt, she says in her review, 'It's a very nice treat, from a group that never fails to satisfy.'
Turbonegro? What's the latest word on this Norwegian death punk band, you say? Glad you asked. Craig Clarke has the update you've been waiting for, on Turbonegro's CD Retox, here.
Christopher Condor found that a CD titled Wired by Michael McGoldrick fell short of his expectations. 'Much of Wired just sounds dated, bland and overly tasteful,' Christopher says. He explains here.
Scott Gianelli offers up a comprehensive history of the recordings by the Celtic New Age group Nightnoise. He reminds us, 'Although three quarters of the band came from Ireland, the group was based in Portland, Oregon. Despite backgrounds in traditional Irish music, classical, and jazz, the band's style has most frequently been categorized, for better or worse, as New Age.' For much, much more about this seminal group, see Scott's Excellence In Writing Award winning review.
Michael Hunter, in an Excellence In Writing Award-winning review, waxes enthusiastic about a new set of traditional and tradition-based English folk music titled John Barleycorn Reborn. Michael says that the set 'does not necessarily focus on negativity and gloom as the wording might suggest. It is more an exploration of the less 'pretty' side of the genre, with no attempts at expurgation and a freedom for the musicians to express that side of the music and themselves. As a result, the set contains a great variety of arrangements from acoustic to folk rock to electronica and beyond, and a combination of ancient and newly written material that fits together easily.' Sounds like you're talking meat and potatoes (or is it bangers and mash?) to us here at the Green Man, Michael. Head over this way to learn much more about this intriguing project.
David Kidney found himself re-listening to a disc he had previously reviewed, now part of a two-CD package that includes a live disc. The musician is Michael Jerome Browne, and the package is appropriately titled Double. Of the live disc, David says, 'This is a cookin' li'l album, and it comes attached to Michael Jerome Browne's first album... This package doubles your pleasure...doubles your fun.' David has plenty more to say in his review, here.
David also reviews a couple of discs by Maury Muehleisen. Maury who? 'He was Jim Croce's guitar-playing accompanist, and the guy who made Big Bad Jim sound the way he did,' David 'splains. 'He was killed in the same plane crash that killed Croce, on September 20, 1973. His music lives on. Until just recently though, his music did not live on.' These two discs represent a reissue of the one album Maury recorded. David has more about the whole situation here.
Next, David reviews The Blood, an album by Kevin Max, which is subtitled 'journey into the world of gospel music, past, present and future.' He covers artists as diverse as Blind Willie Johnson and Stevie Wonder. See what else David has to say about it in his review.
David also has an entertaining look at three obscure CDs reissued by a label named Noble Rot. What else can be said about groups called Beatnik Beatch and Surf Punks? Find out in David's review.
He also earns an Excellence In Writing Award for his review of a recording with the fascinating title, howls, raps & roars. It's a collection of readings by the Beat poets of their own works. Ferlinghetti, Rexroth, Corso and of course Ginsberg, 'reading their existential stream of consciousness rants, raves, raps and roars linking thoughts and concepts, with little thought to vocal interest, expression and tone,' David says. There's much more in that vein in his review.
Robert M. Tilendis also merits an Excellence In Writing Award for his masterful omnibus review of three albums of Welsh music: The Best of Ar Log, Meic Stevens' Icarus and Steve Eaves' Moelyci. Says Robert, after spending some time with these recordings, 'it turns out I've not been listening to 'Welsh music' so much as music by Welsh artists, and getting a peek at a very lively and energetic music scene (no big surprise there), courtesy of some amazing musicians who have left themselves open to many traditions.' You should definitely read his review for more.
Gary Whitehouse reviews four recent CDs of American roots rock. First, he takes a look at The Whipsaws' 60 Watt Avenue and Michael Dean Damron and Thee Loyal Bastards' Bad Days Ahead. 'The Whipsaws are a few notches above your typical bar band, writing and performing their own strong material, and with good taste in mentors,' Gary says. And of Damron, 'This is powerful music from a guy who knows what he believes in and isn't shy about saying it.' Gary of course has more to say in his review, here.
Next up, Gary enlightens us about new releases from Macon Greyson and Scotland Barr & The Slow Drags. He summarizes Macon Greyson's 20th Century Accidents, 'Big guitars, plenty of twang, a strong rhythm section, hook-laden choruses, tight harmonies, and lyrics that make you think...' Scotland Barr, he says, 'shows some promise, but doesn't quite fill an entire album with strong material.' You can compare and contrast these two releases with Gary here.
Mike Wilson was disappointed with a two-year-old release by The McCalmans, Scots Abroad. 'Overall, I found Scots Abroad disappointing, with little to engage or excite,' Mike says. Of course he has some solid reasons for his call on this CD, which you'll find in his review.