So have you ever been to a bloody Highland Games in the States? One of my bands, Dead Heroes of Culloden, played a few well-payin' gigs at some a ways back. Several of our lads being Scottish were both amused and disgusted by what they saw. Haggis on a stick? Pipers who knew but three Scottish tunes -- all very badly played? Really fat people, both male and female, wearing tartans with not a fucking clue what clan the tartans are for? Bollocks! And the language that Iain Nicholas Mackenzie, our Librarian, used later when I described the Games to him was decidedly even more earthy than what I used here.
Now there is one truly great novel on the Highland Games -- Highland Laddie Gone, a novel by Sharyn McCrumb. As I said in my review, 'Will you enjoy this novel? Sure. Just don't think too closely about how silly this whole idea is -- I can tell you that the reality is even worse'. If you enjoy this novel, do check out her Ballad series, as those too are set in the Southern Appalachian Mountains and are quite interesting. If you don't want to read the entire series, you should still read Ghost Riders (the review is by Andrea S. Garrett), the last so far in the series, as it is a very cool riff on The Wild Hunt and is by far the novel in this series most explicitly dealing with magic realism!
There's lots of tasty reviews this edition -- Our favourites this time include out not one but three Jack Vance related reviews that Robert M. Tilendis did, Cat Eldridge's look at the forthcoming Christopher Golden collection, The Secret Backs of Things, Donna Bird's thoughtful examination of the Whitechapel teleseries where the legacy of Ripper Jack is now having bloody results in modern day London, and Craig Clarke's review of the 40th anniversary re-release of Isaac Hayes' early album, Hot Buttered Soul.
And our story this edition is about a different kind of Highlands...
Highlands! The only 'Highlands' I've ever spent time in we just called 'the mountains,' but you have to say it a particular way, sort of like 'ma'untns' -- that's close, anyway, even if not quite there. There's a certain lilt in your voice that you've got to have if you're going to sound like you belong there.
I can't really claim to be from there, you understand, although I have family there -- lots of family, aunts and uncles and cousins (so many cousins, I'm not sure I've found them all yet), and of course, at the time I'm talking about, there were my grandparents.
Mama (she was actually my grandmother, but everyone called her 'Mama') lived alone (except for my oldest uncle, the moonshiner) in an old farmhouse tucked away in a valley that my grandfather owned. Papa (same deal as 'Mama' -- and just for the record, my own parents were 'Mom' and 'Dad') spent most of his time at his sister's place, since Mama would allow him to visit -- if we were visiting, since we were the relatives from farthest away -- but if he stayed, he had to sleep on the couch in the living room. I think I got the idea fairly quickly that if we weren't visiting, he was persona non grata -- they didn't get along all that well.
People in the city have a hard time believing me when I talk about Mama's house. There were a living room, three bedrooms (hers, my uncle's, and everyone else's, with three big beds and lots of quilts), and a lean-to kitchen and dining room. The heat came from a fireplace in the living room and a wood burning stove in the kitchen, and light was from kerosene lamps. Water was piped into the yard from the spring up the hill above the 'convenience' -- which wasn't really all that convenient if the weather was bad. I used to joke that of course my grandmother had running water -- if she needed water, one of us ran out to the cistern in front with a bucket and got some. (And I've never tasted better water anywhere.) Imagine a tiny tow-headed five-year-old staggering out the door with a bucket almost as big as he was and coming back with about a pint of water inside -- that was all I could manage at that point. I wasn't a large child, by any means.
Anyway, when I was young we'd spend fairly lengthy periods at Mama's, usually in spring and summer, just living there. There were me and a bunch of cousins who lived nearby ('nearby' in this case meaning my uncle's house, about a twenty-minute walk up the road) and were all within a year or two of my age, plus my younger sister and their younger sister who always, as is the case with younger siblings, tagged along. I didn't wear shoes unless we were going into town (none of us did), which itself was a major event. When we went into town, everyone got dressed up. That's just the way it was.
But mostly we just ran loose in the woods, scaring the bejesus out of whatever lived there. And getting scared in our turn -- there was one time I remember very clearly, when I was about ten, when we were up the hill in a particularly thick patch of rhododendron, and suddenly there was a shadow and a rustle moving away, and then dead silence. The silence was from us -- we were paralyzed. To this day, there's no way you're going to convince any of us that it wasn't a bear.
And since it was summer, we went swimming. Our usual place was the Round Hole, which was just what it claimed to be -- a place where the creek widened out into a bowl of calm water, shielded by a big boat-shaped rock at the head, way off through the orchard and down a short trail. Mom sent an older cousin to yell at us once for making so much noise -- they could hear us at the house, maybe a mile away. We were a rambunctious bunch.
There were others -- the Long Hole, up the road a bit, not as much fun except that it had fish. And one place just above the turn-off to my uncle's house, at the bottom of a hill. (The road was actually cut into the hill about halfway up.) It didn't have a name that I know of, but it was like a place out of a fantasy novel -- cool, shady, quiet, and faintly mysterious, surrounded by tall pines. That's if you could get to it without killing yourself -- that hill was steep.
I should explain about that road -- a gravel road that got graded every couple of years. Papa owned the valley, except for the few acres my uncle owned at the head, and there was a national forest beyond that. If a car came by, which happened maybe three times a week at the most, it was probably someone we knew coming to visit (or the ranger looking for my uncle -- he'd always stop to talk). And we could always hear them coming, the way we could sit on the front porch and watch the afternoon rains coming up the valley. If we didn't know them, we figured they were city people going camping in the national forest. No matter -- you always waved.
That's my 'highlands,' or a little bit of them. You'd call them 'southern Appalachia.' It's where I spent a chunk of my growing up time -- learned to pitch in, to do for myself, climb the side of a road cut, handle a gun (rifle and handgun, and I'm a very good shot), split firewood without cutting my foot off, avoid packs of feral dogs and snakes (there were a lot more snakes than dogs). And I spent a lot of time just rambling, with the cousins and alone, looking at what was there. That was the best part.
John D. Benninghouse provides us with our featured music review this time around with the latest studio album by The Ukrainians. John reports that 'the album has a Janus-like feel to it with the songs that lean most heavily on punk concentrated on the first half while the second is generally more contemplative, indulging more in the aforementioned nostalgia.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review for more about a band he describes as 'the unruly child of rock'n'roll and Ukrainian folk music.'
Donna Bird has a look at a three part mystery series based on the legendary villain Jack the Ripper. Donna says 'Ben Court and Caroline Ip did a bang-up job with this mini-series, which is fast-paced, dark (much of the action takes place at night) and suspenseful. They and the actors deserve considerable recognition for portraying some very convincing developments in all three of the main characters and for bringing the Ripper story painfully into the present.' Read her enthusiastic review to find out more about this thrilling show.
Our featured book review is by Cat Eldridge who takes a close look at the new offering by Christopher Golden, The Secret Backs of Things. What does Cat think? 'Quite good indeed, which is amazing, given that he really hasn't done all that much short form writing during his career.' Christopher Golden will be our Oak King with the entire first of November edition devoted to him and his literary works!
Craig Clarke starts things off with his look at three mystery novels by the venerable Ray Bradbury, as collected in an omnibus. See for yourself why Craig says, Where Everything Ends is a trio of fine detective novels (together with the short story that provided the starting point) from Bradbury in his inimitable style. He plays with the conventions, but since he so obviously loves the genre, this is easily forgiven -- embraced, even -- because the end results are, simply put, fine additions to the canon. This series is also dear to fans because it is likely the closest thing to an autobiography we will receive from this man who has brought so much joy to so many people for so many years.
Next up, our very own guiding light and signer-of-imaginary-paychecks (drawn on faery gold no less) Cat Eldridge examines Christopher Fowler's new mystery, Bryant & May On The Loose, which is, according to Cat, 'a very good mystery told well that advances both the story of Peculiar Crimes Unit and the individuals. Some staff will find love at long last, some staff will find tragedy and some will find that they are indeed stronger than they think they are.'
We locked Michelle Erica Green in the basement with a stack of musty tomes and some chalk, and came back to find she'd unearthed the ancient Green Man Vault of Secrets, in which we hide all the juicy office gossip. That's how we knew she was perfect for reviewing the new Dan Brown. What does she think of The Lost Symbol?
Well, according to her, 'It's clear that Dan Brown wanted to be an author of ideas before he realized he could be an author of bestsellers.' Also, 'In a funny way, the ethics of The Lost Symbol remind me of those of Harry Potter. People are permanently stuck with the personalities they had as teenagers, and can't break out of those molds, to such an extent that one almost starts to sympathize with the villain.' She has a whole lot more to say as well, if you'll just follow this link.
The esteemed April Gutierrez took some time out from moonlighting as an evil henchperson to review two books.
First, she examined James Morrow's The Cat's Pajamas and Other Stories of which she said, 'Morrow's writing is intelligent, challenging and highly entertaining. The provocative ideas he tosses out can't just be dismissed; they demand that readers think, and consider the concepts being presented, even if they don't agree. Every story's undeniably worth the effort, though.'
April really dug her teeth into another offering from James Morrow, The Last Witchfinder, finding it a satisfying source of thought-provoking fodder -- 'The Last Witchfinder is a novel filled to the brim with ideas -- some of them presented as laudable, such as those of rational science, and others lamentable, such as those that fueled the witch hunts that killed several hundred thousand Europeans and Americans. There's little doubt which side Morrow falls on, but far from being preachy or didactic, this novel is bursting with larger than life characters and adventure.'
Then April cracked open a side-venture in the Hellblazer series, Chas -- The Knowledge, the collected form of a comic book miniseries in which John Constantine's faithful cab-driving companion gets some time in the sun. See why April says, 'Poor Chas, even in his own series he can't get any respect!'
David Kidney takes a few minutes to grace us with his review of Homer and Langley, by E.L. Doctorow. See here why David summed it up with, 'A quiet little book, about two very interesting men, Homer and Langley kept me entranced. I was sorry when it ended.'
Kestrell Rath looks into the future to review John Langan's House of Windows. What does Kestrell have to say of this work of literary horror? Well, this might help -- 'House of Windows can be read on many levels -- as a modern updating of the old-fashioned ghost story, as a commentary on the psychological 'ghosts' created by physical and emotional abuse, and as a perceptive reading of the overlapping of classic literature with supernatural fiction. Beneath all of these, however, runs the ongoing questions of why we read at all, why do words and stories possess such an irresistible attraction for us, and what these stories can reveal -- or tragically fail to reveal-to us about our own lives and experiences.'
It doesn't seem as though Robert M. Tilendis has been sleeping well of late. His reviews were written in longhand and wrapped around a brick, delivered through the window. Luckily, they were still legible, so we figured, 'what the heck.' His first offering is a novel based on a comic book -- in this case, it's Alex Irvine's The Ultimates -- Against All Enemies. Though acknowledging that it's not a perfect book, Robert does say, ' Irvine is certainly a fluent writer, and the story itself is fast-paced and easily holds the reader's attention...'
Next, Robert activated his own personal WayBack Machine to review a classic, long overdue for a reading. Did he like Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are? Why yes he did.
Then Robert hit a Jack Vance streak. First, he read Tales of the Dying Earth, an omnibus of works centered round the Dying Earth setting, which inspired Robert to declare, quite poetically, 'One element that seems to have departed the area of the literature of the fantastic in recent years, as the field has become more popular and its practitioners (or their publishers) more formulaic (or perhaps merely less optimistic and/or romantic), is a sense of vision, the attitude that the universe is a place of marvels and wonders and if we stretch far enough, we can reach them. Vance was certainly one who touched them regularly. We are lucky enough to be able to tag along.'
Next, Robert gave Jack Vance's autobiography, This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or More Properly, This Is I) two thumbs up, saying, 'I think maybe that's the word I would use to describe This is Me -- a voyage. So hop aboard.'
To finish it off, Robert tackled a new anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Duzois. Songs of the Dying Earth -- Stories in Honor of Jack Vance is exactly what the title suggests. Robert sums it up with a short, but sweet, '...I told you the stories were all good...' and none of us dared disagree.
Finally, Matthew Scott Winslow turns the clock back to review a pair of Hellboy novels by Christopher Golden, in the form of The Lost Army and The Bones of Giants. Though Matthew was worried, as well he should be, that these media tie-ins might not be up to snuff, he's now telling all who'll listen, 'Don't let the fact that these are media tie-ins stop you from going out and reading them. If you enjoy Hellboy, they are a great addition to the Hellboy canon. If you're new to Hellboy, they are a great way to start an acquaintance with the occult detective.'
Craig Clarke leads us out this time with a review of the 40th anniversary re-release of Isaac Hayes' early album, Hot Buttered Soul. Craig wins an Excellence in Writing Award for his review of an album that 'still astounds and mesmerizes to this day.'
David Kidney brings a review of two new albums by Greg Wright. The first, Waiting to Catch the Light, 'sounds like the soundtrack to an unmade film.' The second is The Light of a Million Stars, an E.P. recorded with his son Dorian. David reports that 'the sound is full and rich, the synthesizers and harmonies perfect. Is that a Michael Jackson sample?' Sounds interesting.
We have a number of omnibus reviews for this issue and David gives us the first with a look at four albums from Chicago-based independent blues label, Earwig.
Next -- also by David -- is a review of two albums of acoustic roots music. The first is by American/Scandinavian J. Shogren that is so good 'it doesn't even have to grow on you...it sounds good from the get go.' The other is Hal Ketchum's ninth album, Father Time, which has a 'raw and gorgeous sound.'
David tells us about an album that is 'more rootsy noise on another collection of originals and covers.' Who is David referring to, and is this a good thing or not? You'll have to read his review to find out!
Not to be outdone by David, Gary Whitehouse has been busy and has five reviews of a total of 11 new albums! First in his marathon of reviews is an omnibus review of four new country albums by 'four very different discs by four very different artists, all of a certain age.' Gary sums up these albums and their artists by telling us that 'there's a lot to be said for experience -- both the artistic kind and the life kind.'
Next is another omnibus review of four albums that, Gary tells us, 'seem to have very little of a common thread.' He challenges us to figure out what it is! Here's a clue: the artists are Buckwheat Zydeco, Genticorum, Le Vent du Nord, and KGB. Do you know what it is? Read his review to find out.
Frank Turner, Gary reports, is a 'quick-witted, silver-tongued Brit who combines the social conscience and wit of Woody Guthrie, the wry populism of Billy Bragg and the anthemic melodies and fist-pumping choruses of the Waterboys.' Gary got the opportunity to listen to his latest album, Love, Ire & Song, and turned in this review for your enjoyment.
The prolific Mr. Whitheouse has also sent us a review of this generation's equivalent of the Travelling Wilburys: The Monsters of Folk. The self-titled album is a loving homage to the music of the Baby Boomers' which is 'an entertaining exercise in collaboration by four young men who are at the top of their game.'
Finally, Gary wraps up our Recorded Music section of this issue with a look at Exene Cervenka's latest effort, Somewhere Gone. 'This is not your run-of-the-mill country album,' Gary tells us. 'This album is a lot of fun.' But we won't spoil it any more for you, instead directing you to his review.
We 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 editions on master storyteller Peter S. Beagle which you can find thisaway and over 'ere. Needless to say, we're very proud of the great edition on Charles de Lint we did.
We did one on the ever fascinating 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; not to mention ones on Kage Baker, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente, Patricia McKillip, and Elizabeth Bear
Oh, our Editor just reminded me that we did (as if I could 'ave forgotten!) an edition devoted to the now departed and much missed Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology.
We pulled together a look at the Bordetown series that Terri Windling created -- go here for that article.
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 some kick ass metheglin while listening to Blodeuwedd tell her tale, he'll try to answer your question!
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