Analysing The Breeders may be as useful as deconstructing a good fuck, or for those less carnally inclined, a strawberry shortcake. When it works, you really don't have to discuss it. If it doesn't, you just signal for mâs café por favor and slosh away. -- Deborah Frost in The Village Voice
Summer is in its last waning weeks as you're reading this edition, but we started putting it together when the weather was still seasonably hot, which is why we did a feature piece in Le hérisson desommeil (The Sleeping Hedgehog), our staff newsletter, on what staff and guests 'ere like for summer libations. You can read the fascinating choices thisaway.
According to the tote board, we do have reviews for you this edition, quite a few in fact. For book reviews (to name but a few), China Mieville's quirky mystery gets a look-see as does Kage Baker's first YA novel, The Hotel Under The Sand, not to mention two early reprinted SF novels by Ian Banks, and even Exit Music, the very last Inspector Rebus novel by Ian Rankin gets its due this edition.
On the recorded music side (again to name but a few), I see a Greek music twofer that is decidedly worth looking at, a trio of Nordic recordings including the new Vasen get written up, and the latest Childsplay recording garners a rave review from one of our fussiest reviewers. Oh, and Charles de Lint, the noted writer / poet / musician has his first in-depth CD reviews since the Eighties!
But first, we've a look at the Several Annies, the Library assistants 'ere, and how they came to be known collectively by that name. And pay attention to just who's knitting as this story unfolds over this and the next edition...
It was a dark and stormy night. More precisely, it was a dark and stormy Wednesday night and I'd escaped to the weekly Chix with Stix gathering in the room behind the Library. Most of the time it's the domain of the Several Annies who spend a year and a day here, assisting our Librarian, Iain Nicholas Mackenzie, and our Archivist, Liath ó Laighin, when she isn't off on one of her voyages. On Wednesday nights, however, it welcomes anyone who wants to come and knit.
On this particular night one of the newer Annies, the one with the blue hair extensions, couldn't seem to sit to her knitting. Finally she threw down her needles and got up to pace. (Well, she tried to pace. It's hard to pace when you're in stocking feet and you know there's an invisible hedgehog around.)
'Will you please sit down, Young Annie!' snapped Iain Nicholas. 'You're making me drop stitches!'
'Let her be, Iain,' said Liath softly from her stool to the left of the hearth. 'She's reminding me of another night like this, long ago.'
Everyone's heads swiveled to look at Liath. She seldom speaks at these gatherings, just knits away on those impossibly tiny needles, but when she does speak her stories are always worth listening to.
'Yes, indeed,' she said, as if to herself. We all strained to hear her, even the brownies stringing crystal beads on silk for her in the far corner. 'It was a dark and stormy night like this one. The Building was much younger then, and even more on my side of the Border than on yours, if you get my drift.' Indeed, no one who has ever dared look into Liath's eyes can ever forget she is one of the Fey.
'I had only recently taken up the position of Archivist here. The Librarian, Rónán Mac Airt, was by way of being a cousin of mine on my mother's side. I had just returned from a voyage to Alexandria to visit the Great Library there, and I brought back with me three apprentices. 'Interns' you call yourselves now, but back then any trade worth having was learned through apprenticeships. At any rate, Annipe, Ana and Hannah all agreed to come for a year and a day to work with me and Rónán and learn what they could about libraries, and about our Library.'
Liath paused to check the tension on her work. 'That cousin of mine wasn't at all pleased that I brought them back, you know. He didn't think he needed the help, for one thing. As if a few hundred thousand scrolls were a mere trifle for one man, human or Fey. For another, he wasn't fond of humans. They were fewer in the Building then, and he avoided them as much as he could. And Annipe, Ana and Hannah were young, young in a way he'd never been or never could be. They laughed, you see, and they scattered hairpins all over the place, and some evenings they stayed too late listening to the Neverending Session and were hard to awaken the next day.'
The Annie with the extensions said, 'But the Great Library of Alexandria has been destroyed for nearly two thousand years.'
'And your point is?' Iain Nicholas said frostily. She subsided back to the hearthrug where she'd been sitting since Liath began her tale.
'Shortly after I brought Annipe, Ana and Hannah here, I was summoned on business by the King and Queen. When I returned a month or so later, I was shocked by the changes. No more laughter. No more scattered hairpins. No more time to listen to music. Rónán was working those three to death.' She sighed angrily.
'Every day, another impossible task. ''Catalogue all the hieroglyphic documents in alphabetical order.'' ''Dust down the Akkadian tablets with a damp rag.'' Such foolishness! And he'd taken away their individual identities, too, or tried to. He pretended he couldn't tell them apart -- even though Ana was a blonde Greek, Annipe a Nubian and Hannah a raven-haired Alexandrian Jew with the biggest brown eyes I've ever seen on a mortal -- or pronounce any of their names. Just called them all ''Annie''. I was horrified. I also knew that if I said anything right away the situation would only get worse. I needed a plan.
'Two evenings after my return, the girls furtively entered the Pub. We didn't call it a pub back then, of course, but it was located where the Green Man Pub is now. At any rate, they knew they'd find me there, listening to the Session's panpipes. I beckoned them to a table in the corner. When they joined me they all started talking at once. I signaled for some honey beer and let them rave.
'When they wore down, two rounds later, I told them what we were going to do.'
Liath paused to do something complicated with the needles. Before she had finished, the brass carriage clock on the left of the mantle chimed. She looked up.
'Sweet Mab, is it that late? I'm sorry, I'll have to go. Did I not mention, Iain Nicholas, that I would be leaving early? A summons to Court.' She gracefully swept her knitting into another of her tiny bags (and how it all fit in I have no idea) and was gone.
Late on Friday Maggie Pye, the resident corvid, did something odd -- she brought a shiny bauble to the Library instead of appropriating one. Iain Nicholas accepted it from her calmly, turned it thrice widdershins and said, 'Ah, a message from Liath. She has been detained on the Queen's business, and will return when she can.'
Our newest reviewer, Charles de Lint, took a listen to a group of Bob Dylan reissues and wasn't completely happy. 'I'm a big fan of the remastered series of Dylan's catalogue that Columbia's been piecing out to us over the years. I don't think they sound as good as pristine copies of the original vinyl, but for digital versions, they're very warm and rich, with lots of detail. But I'm not one hundred percent delighted with this new batch. I suppose it's not really Columbia's fault. They've pretty much released everything by this point and now they're just filling holes. But still.' See his review for the full story!
Charles also had some comments on Dylan's latest release -- 'There's a funny thing that happens whenever Dylan releases an album that the critics like (I think it averages out every three releases). When they fall all over themselves praising an album as they did 2006's Modern Times, you know it doesn't matter what the next album is like, they're not going to like it.' See what Charles thought about Together Through Life here.
Our featured book review, Eyes Like Leaves, was written in the days of de Lint's high fantasy novels such as The Harp of the Grey Rose, The Riddle of the Wren, and Moonheart -- A Romance. The story is just being published now because he recently chose to revisit (and revise) this short novel which reviewer Michael Jones says of this novel that 'Eyes Like Leaves is very much a historical artifact, a 'lost novel' from the earliest days of de Lint's career....With the recent interest in his older works, as collected in previous Subterranean volumes, he decided that now was as good a time as any to unearth this long-lost work and let it see the light of day. But have the better part of thirty years been kind to this particular book.' Read his full Excellence in Writing Award-winning review thisaway.
Donna Bird was intrigued enough by the art of Rob Gonsalves to track down the children's books he has illustrated -- 'I initially encountered the contemporary magic realism paintings of Canadian Rob Gonsalves in a wall calendar last fall. I found them so striking that I decided it was worth tracking down copies of the three children's picture books that provide the source material for the calendar.' You can read Donna's Omnibus review here.
She then reviews Dolores Gordon-Smith's Jack Haldane series, which she describes as 'a murder mystery series set in England just a few years after the end of World War I.' Go here to read her review.
J.S.S. Boyce starts us off with a review of China Miêville's The City and the City. As Boyce states, 'Miéville . . . has shown himself to be quite adept at city-building,' and that his particular talents are put to good use creating a murder mystery involving two mysteriously intertwined city-states.
Next, Boyce takes on Exit Music, by Ian Rankin, the very last book featuring his detective John Rebus. 'What makes this story special is not the crime, but the inspector himself,' as he has to finish his last crime. Is this a fitting end to Rankin's series? Read the review to find out!
Craig Clarke takes a look at Crimson Shadows, The Best of Robert E. Howard -- Volume One, a new story collection of Robert E. Howard -- 'Howard wrote in various genres, but he is now best known for his stories popularizing the fantasy subgenre ''sword and sorcery,'' and especially the Cimmerian hero popularly known as Conan the Barbarian. His range of talent, however, is becoming better known as pulp-era fiction regains a modern readership. Subterranean Press and Del Rey Books are doing their part to keep Howard's name in front of book-buyers with, respectively, their limited-edition hardcover and affordable trade-paperback collections of his work. Crimson Shadows -- The Best of Robert E. Howard, Volume One is the first of two ''best of'"; retrospectives'. You can read Craig's in-depth and Excellence in Writing Award-winning review here
We follow Faith Cormier next as she reviews J. Ardian Lee's Sword trilogy -- Outlaw Sword, Sword of King James, and Sword of the White Rose. Cormier gleefully relates, 'All in all, these are fascinating books on several levels. They're history, told from the losers' point of view. They're romance, adventure, fantasy -- what more could you want?' What, indeed?
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith is next on Cormier's list, a story about Women Airforce Service Pilots (or WASPs) and how they were mistreated during WWII. While the novel deals with heavy topics (particularly since the female narrator is a light-skinned black woman pretending to be white so that she can fly planes), according to Cormier, the 'heavy topics aren't treated in a heavy manner. We are inside [protagonist] Ida Mae's head all the way, and she's a pretty normal young woman in her early twenties, trying to figure out who she is, what life is all about, whether or not she will ever fall in love, where she fits in the universe -- all the same stuff as everyone else has to deal with at her age.' Faith earns an Excellence in Writing Awardfor this review.
Denise Dutton is up next with S.J. Day's Eve of Destruction, an Urban Fantasy novel about a woman charged by the Man Upstairs to protect the world from the minions of the Man Downstairs. 'With Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance gaining popularity by leaps and bounds,' says Dutton, 'there are a lot of half-baked, rushed to publication books out there. It almost makes taking a chance on a new author in the genre a bit like playing Russian Roulette with your hard-earned cash and precious time. With a storyline and mythology this entertaining, Eve of Destruction is worth a spin.
Michael Jones is quite enthusiastic in his review of The Turning Tide by Diana Pharaoh Francis -- 'Diana Pharaoh Francis really kicks over the apple cart in this, the third book of the Crosspointe series.' Read his review thisaway!
First, David Kidney has a musical treat -- 'Fans of guitarist Ry Cooder are familiar with his ability to evoke a time and a place in his music. In his new book, Los Angeles Stories, Ry Cooder does the same with prose.' Go here for David Kidney's review.
Next, he tackles Jason Schneider's Whispering Pines -- The Northern Roots of American Music From Hank Snow to The Band, a history of how Canadian music influenced the tunes of their southern neighbours. Canadians, according to Kidney, are 'usually pretty quiet about it, but Schneider reminds us [Canadians] that we have something to cheer about. American Music does have northern roots. And branches. When he gets to it, perhaps Jason Schneider will take on the next generation of Canadian songwriters.'
Patrick O'Donnell is quite positive in his review of Amber Benson and Christopher Golden's Ghost of Albion series -- 'Amber Benson and Christopher Golden's Ghosts of Albion series -- which first saw life as a series of BBC computer-animated Web films -- has developed a cult following, and it's easy to see why. The tales of William and Tamara Swift are witty, fun, sexy, scary and enormously entertaining'. Go here to read the review.
Next, Matthew Scott Winslow reviews Kage Baker's The Hotel Under the Sand, her first venture into children's fiction. 'In comparison to her other works,' says Winslow, 'I would consider The Hotel under the Sand to be one of Kage Baker's lesser works, but it is still highly enjoyable.' Intrigued? Read on.
Robert M Tilendis reviews Alexander C. Irvine's new novel Buyout -- 'I was at a loss on how to place this book -- everything needs some kind of context -- but I eventually remembered one of the classics of science fiction's Golden Age, The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, two of the period's great satirists. Buyout is the same order of beast, bitter, Swiftian satire, loaded and pointed right at us.' Robert garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this review.
He also handles Michael Moorcock's Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melnibone, volumes 1 through 4. A collection of Moorcock's stories centered around one of his most popular and enduring characters, albino champion Elric, Tilendis says, 'Michael Moorcock took the boundaries of postmodern heroic fantasy a step farther than either Robert E. Howard or Fritz Leiber, creators of the genre as we recognize it today, had done with their heroes -- the drug-ridden, demon-haunted, neurasthenic albino sorcerer-king was beyond what even Leiber could have envisioned as a hero. Elric is not only an anti-hero, but in a very real sense a tragic hero as well.' Interested? Read on!
Elizabeth Vail is next on the docket with her review of Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold, about a mercenary on a quest for vengeance. According to Vail, i's ' nauseatingly violent, overwhelmingly bleak, relentlessly depressing, while coming this close to being utterly pointless.' Huh, so she didn't like it, then? Apparently not, but she still earns an Excellence in Writing Award for this review.
After that comes Gary Whitehouse with his review of Iain M. Banks's Consider Phlebas and Use of Weapons, both older works recently reprinted by Orbit. According to Whitehouse, the power of Banks's writing has not diminished with time -- 'Tour de force is a terrible reviewing cliché, but it's a pretty apt description of Banks's books. If something like Consider Phlebas doesn't turn you on, you probably don't like science fiction at all and shouldn't be reading it.'
He also reviews M. Keith Booker and Anne Marie Thomas' The Science Fiction Handbook, a study of the themes and history of the science fiction genre. So -- how does it do? 'Science fiction has been an important force in English-language literature and publishing for well over one hundred years. The task of adequately summarizing it -- as a whole and in its component parts -- would seem daunting. Doing it adequately and in a manner that is both understandable to the lay reader and even at times entertaining might seem an impossibility. And doing all that in fewer than 350 pages . . . forget it. But Booker and Thomas have succeeded. Bravo.'
In her review of The Book of Dreams by O. R. Melling, Leona Wisoker explains -- 'So I began to read, and . . . well, let's just say I didn't get much sleep for a couple of nights. I intended to read a chapter at a time, really I did. block quote end Go thisaway to read Leona's review of this hard-to-resist book!
Yes, we do have music this time around -- a small selection, but choice.
Donna Bird found an irresistible opportunity in two releases of music of the Balkans -- 'These two CDs arrived in the Green Man mailroom within days of each other. They presented some opportunities for comparison and contrasting that I just couldn't allow to go untapp/ed!' See what came of it in her review.
Craig Clarke brings us a look at an updated recording of a classic album by jazz great Art Tatum -- 'Jazz pianist Art Tatum, more than 50 years after his death, still has the power to impress new listeners and wow even the most accomplished pianists. Largely self-taught, Tatum's style was so original and his improvisational ability so seemingly boundless that few have even attempted to follow in his footsteps.' Craig also has some comments about the process used in updating this classic.
Charles de Lint also shares his reaction to the music of the late Kate Wolf in a review of five -- count 'em, five -- reissues of her albums. 'Kate Wolf was only 44 when she passed away in 1986, but that isn't the only tragedy associated with her. Except for other musicians and a die-hard fan base, she appears to be largely forgotten otherwise. And that's an utter shame. She was gifted songwriter and interpreter of other people's material (check out her sublime take on Sandy Denny's 'Who Knows Where the Time Goes' on Give Yourself to Love, which also has a version of The Eagles 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' that she so makes her own it'll take you a moment or two to place the song in its original context).'
The Chief (which is what we call Cat Eldridge when he's not looking) brings us some insights into The Men They Couldn't Hang by way of their new release -- 'So what's really good on Devil on the Wind which is their first album in over six years and was released on the eve of their twenty-fifth anniversary? Well, everything of course, but I really need to listen to it three or four more times before I can pick out my favorites.' See why he's so enthusiastic about this band here.
David Kidney brings us a re-evaluation of David Bromberg -- 'I remember David Bromberg from years ago... In memory he was one of those flash acoustic guitar players, but a pretty lousy singer.' After listening to Bromberg's Live, New York City 1982, David says -- 'I'm looking forward to some new recordings from David Bromberg, and I'm sorry I never paid that much attention to him before!' How that for contrition?
David also had a go at some reissues of music from the 1970s by Isaac Hayes, who passed away last year. 'Now we can celebrate. The rejuvenated Stax Records has just reissued a couple of Hayes's albums from the '70s in deluxe packages, and they are great to look at and listen to.' Look thisaway to see what got David so excited.
David latched on to some more oldies this time. 'Jan & Dean and Jay & the Americans. What do these two acts have in common?... [T]he two groups are linked by a very successful run of hit singles between 1961 and 1971... Neither group was a cutting edge band, but both made significant records that are still instantly hummable.' As always, details are here.
It's not all oldies for David this time, though. He got a lot of pleasure from Lonely Street from Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. 'But wherever the source, Lawson and the boys claim ownership from the first note. The picking is great and those 'high lonesome' harmonies are sensational.'
And David was enthusiastic, if somewhat rueful, over MaryAnne Marino's a little something. 'It arrived just as I was leaving the country, and on my return, it was buried under a pile of other CDs that I've been slowly working through. As soon as I slipped a little something into the CD player, I regretted not trying it out sooner... Five good songs can be much better simply presented than surrounded by another half-dozen weaker tunes. MaryAnne has put her best foot forward.'
Our Librarian Iain Nicholas Mackenzie took a listen to Childsplay's Waiting for the Dawn, and found it worthy, in spite of a couple of touch-and-go moments -- 'Suffice it to say that setting aside of the completely unnecessary inclusion of Elvis Presley's 'Love Me Tender' and Steve Earle's 'Christmas In Washington', Waiting For The Dawn is a joy for any lover of great fiddle centered music.'
Robert M. Tilendis wraps things up for us with a look at three 'traditional' Nordic albums -- 'I suspect I'm never going to resolve the question of just what constitutes 'traditional' music, and after listening to these three albums, I think I'm probably not going to worry about it overmuch. It's too much fun just to kick back and listen.'
That's it until next time.
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 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.
Lastly, we have put together a Recommended Series Reading List covering many genres from fantasy to mystery and (of course) sf for your reading pleasure. You can find that list thisaway.
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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Archived 19th September LLS