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I was taught that believing in the Illusion would lead to great sorrow, and that joy and pleasure were not real -- things meant only to trap us in an endless cycle of rebirth into the world of Illusion... Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach... -- Sean Russell's Gatherer of Clouds

Come in -- don't mind all of the goodies spread out on the table... We're looking at the contents of the amazing Winter Holiday hamper that arrived this past week. But what's in it is a story for later as right now it is time for an edition of reviews that were all done by Master Reviewer Robert M. Tilendis! So sit back, grab a cup of tea, and see what Robert thinks is worth reviewing...

Oh, hullo. Yes, it's me, Robert. What's that? Well, I don't doubt at all that I look a bit confused -- I am confused. I've lost my reading room, you see. I was sure it was right down here somewhere, but I think I may have given myself the same directions twice, and you know that never works. I really don't know how I could have managed that -- I was being especially careful.

Do you happen to know what year it is? Really? Oh.

Mmm -- what calendar do you use? There are so many of them, I can never quite keep them straight in my head, and they all have different years that start at different times and have different numbers of days for everything -- it's quite confusing, even without keeping track of Great Years and Years of Years and all that. And that's on this side of the Border. It's even worse over there -- time isn't all the same length there, you know.

Hmm -- I wonder if I messed up... You do understand, don't you, that the instructions must include at least four of the eleven directions, and I think I included yesterday in this set again, when it probably should have been tomorrow. Bother! I knew I shouldn't have done it while I was in the Wood. I bet I was across the Border, and that throws everything off. The problem is, it keeps moving -- the Border, I mean -- so you can never really be sure.

Well, at least it's only June, so I have time. What? Oh, dear -- when did that happen? I've missed the entire summer? And Samhain as well? What's that? You saw me here at Mabon? Here? In the Pub? But . . . oh, my. I thought that was next year.

I suppose I could just go to the Library, but my books are all in my reading room right where I put them, and finding the duplicates is always such a fuss. Iain gets quite put out with me -- he says I should just pick a time and stay in it, and it's not that I mean to wander around like that, but I get distracted, you see, and it's so easy to get lost. And then we have to go through all the books that someone is thinking about writing, and all the ones that are going to be written, and the ones that might be written, and maybe the ones that no one wants to write, and sometimes even the ones that most definitely should not have been written, to find the advance copies of the ones that actually have been written so I can get copies of the ones I need.

And it's so quiet in there I really can't concentrate.

I suppose I'll just have to find a Cat to follow. That's the only thing I can think of, because I don't have a minute to come up with some new directions. I really need to get caught up on my reading and find some time to do some writing.

Well, I'll see you later. Whenever that is.

Robert here again...

I periodically find myself confronting the question of exactly what it is I'm doing here as a reviewer. I don't want to call myself a 'critic' because that means, to me at least, that there is some 'theory' involved, and I've found most critical theory to be lacking. Coming from a critical stance also implies preconceptions, and I really do try to leave those behind: I'd rather work from what the artist is actually doing than figure out whether the artist is doing what I think he/she should be doing. Sometimes I'm challenged by a reader, which is generally fun, but usually I'm scratching my head wondering just how I get myself into these fixes.

I think I can safely say that I share with my colleagues here at GMR a certain degree of experience, even expertise, in a field or two, and also a propensity for analysis. These are useless, however, unless you are in command of the basic tools of the craft. I think the most important is vocabulary, which is why I find books such as Wood and Fels' The Natures of Maps so useful. 'Vocabulary' is simply shorthand for 'articulating basic concepts,' and while such discussions may introduce new concepts to go with the terminology, more often they provide a handle for something that was in the back of your head already, formless and waiting for a name. Wood and Fels talk about creating realities, which is what just about everything we deal with at GMR does, whether it be fantasy, science fiction, mainstream fiction, music, what have you.

We focus on genre here, in music and literature, at least. My own stance is that everything is genre, which is to say part of a particular tradition with its own expectations and conventions -- its own definitions of acceptable reality. I, and I'm sure my fellows here, attempt to build a context for each individual work, once we've figured out what the work is really about. Thanks to my well-worn degree in psychology, I can say that this is a necessity, because we, meaning humans as a group, understand something better, and remember it better, if we can relate it to something we have already learned. The context is also important because we feel, quite rightly, that we have to be able to justify our remarks. I was challenged by a reader not so long ago about a review that was uncomplimentary toward her favorite fantasy trilogy. I had apparently said something unforgivable. (Actually, as it turned out, pretty much everything I said was unforgivable. She eventually forgave me, though, either because I write charming e-mails or because I refrained from turning her into a newt.) She asked at one point if I expected people to just take my word for it. Well, no, of course not: I don't take anyone's word for anything, so why would I expect anyone to take mine?

And so we need reasons for our opinions.

I'll quite often go for an historical approach: it's quick, easy, and most people get it pretty readily. I'll read something like Robert E. Howard's 'Kull' stories and immediately tie them to Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion. I'm on solid ground there because Moorcock recognizes Howard as an influence. You've seen me do that too often to bear repeating, especially in the area of fantasy noir.

I'm even more likely to do that with science fiction -- after all, we grew up together. Isaac Asimov's robot stories, for example, are a good type specimen of the post-War Golden Age, while Robert Silverberg, who actually started publishing during the Golden Age in the 1950s, settled comfortably into the New Wave, although I don't think he identified very much with that generation. But then, you have someone like Gene Wolfe, very definitely one of the New Wave generation, and one of those who moved science fiction out of 'genre' and made it a literary form, who also fits comfortably into history -- it is, after all, a process of reactions.

With something such as genre, which is always in danger of coming unglued anyway, you reach a point where it all falls apart, because although genre (with due apologies to Ursula K. Leguin) is something more than a marketing device -- it has a sort of structural integrity to it -- it's also an attempt to define what is, as often as not, undefinable. I mean, how do you explain a novel like Elizabeth Bear's And All the Windwracked Stars? 'Mythic fiction' -- i.e., fantasy -- sure. Plus science fiction. Plus a couple of other things, if you stop to think about it. You start to get into the slipstream/interfictions/spec fic territory there, where writers are deliberately trying to trash the genre boundaries, such as the stories of Leslie What.

This sort of thing points up one of the problems with 'genre' as a concept. I've even found it in graphic novels and manga -- and note that we call those genres as well, which I think is perfectly legitimate: there are conventions here. However, something like Matt Wagner's Batman/Grendel or Joss Whedon's Fray uses elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror within the graphic novel framework. It's even more marked if you take a look at some of the manga available, in what I've called 'stories about things that go bump in the night' as well as heroic fantasy and those that are more or less firmly science fiction.

Or look at something like Saiyuki manga/graphic novel, but also heroic fantasy, with an aesthetic basis that grounds itself in yaoi (another genre that spans both graphic novels and narrative fiction), while what I call the 'required anachronisms' are pretty extreme, along with the attitude, which is another blast at the 'heroic fantasy' paradigm. The conventions get really stretched and everything starts to run together, which is the way I think it should be -- it's marvelous fun.

I think this whole issue is obvious in music, if cast in slightly different terms. I tend to call it the tension between vernacular and high culture, or alternatively, between tradition and innovation, but we're really talking about genre and how tightly an artist is going to be bound by it. You have as obvious an example as the music of Leonard Bernstein, which is all about that synergy, about the feedback loop between popular and high art, and between the conventions of the concert hall and the Broadway stage. You can also see it in another form in the career of Igor Stravinsky, from the strong folk music influence on his earlier works to the late examples of post-Schoenberg serialism: a long sequence of tradition and innovation combining and recombining, with influences from wherever Stravinsky wanted to find them.

It's somewhat more subtle in something like Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, but it's still there. I mean, combining the poems of Wilfrid Owen with the traditional requiem mass would be a stretch for a lot of people, but it makes sense once you hear it. This translation back and forth between idioms makes it possible for a composer such as John Corigliano to take elements of a film score and turn them into a violin concerto -- a concert piece, with all that implies. And so I make use of those obvious commonalities myself, and discuss a post-grunge/country-blues rock band such as Nickelback within the same framework that I use with an 'historically informed' recording of Beethoven's symphonies.

So there you have it. It's not just my reaction to something, but how it fits into the framework I've put together to enable me to write about it, which I think you'll see in the work of the writers on this site as a whole.

But don't take my word for it.

An Important (and Meaningful) Annoucement

On November 14th, beloved member of the Bay Area music community Michelle McFee underwent radical cancer surgery in San Francisco. From her early days as a Pegasus poet through her years working with the New Riders of the Purple Sage and into today, Michelle has been a constant in Bay Area music for over forty years.

To help defray her expenses, Blacklight Productions, in conjunction with the Kinkaid Foundation, has organized Words & Music: The Michelle McFee Benefit Concert. There is also a silent auction of unique items from the worlds of music, literature, and beyond. Both concert and auction are completely non-profit events; proceeds will go to defray Michelle's expenses.

Possibly no one else could have inspired the extraordinary lineup of talent who will take the stage on December 19th, at the Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Boulevard, Santa Rosa. Doors open at 7:00. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door:

David Nelson and Special Guests, with David Nelson, Mark Karan, Pete Sears, Jimmy Sanchez, Peter Albin and Dave Getz, Rubber Souldiers, with Chris Rowan, Lorin Rowan (contingent on his availability), David Gans, Jimmy Sanchez and Robin Sylvester, Bill Cutler & Friends, with Bill Cutler, Patrick Campbell, Dave Perper, Steve Shufton and Peter Harris

Details about the show, auction, donations, and ticket presales can be found here.

We hope that, as a member of the Bay Area music and media world, you'll join us in getting the word out about a fantastic show for a remarkable member of our community.

I should remind you about our special editions which are our way of looking at specific writers and other subjects worthy of exploring in-depth. Of course, we've done several edition on master storyteller Peter S. Beagle which you can find thisaway and over 'ere; a great edition on Charles de Lint who's now beginning to set his tales in the desert Southwest; one on the ever fascinting trio of Brian, Toby, and Wendy Froud; naturally we did one on master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien who is much loved by our staff; and one on a fantastic new storyteller, Catherynne M. Valente who is always worth reading.

Oh, we should mention that every year that we do both best books and best music in which many of the wonderful folks we review 'ere pick their choices of what they liked for that year. And our Editor just reminded me that we did (as if I could 'ave forgotten!) an edition devoted to the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology.

For our main page, please go here; to search the roots, branches, and leaves of This Tree, use the Google search engine; every past edition of our fortnightly What's New can be found here; for a detailed look at Green Man Review, go thisaway; and lastly, you report errors over here. Still have questions? Email our Editor here. Provided he's not in the Green Man Pub savouring a properly poured pint of Guinness whie lsitening to Peter Beagle tell a tale, he'll try to answer your question!

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Archived St. Lucy's Day 2008 LLS