Ain’t it just the way? I had just decided to start picking my own reading material and writing about it in this blog when two fantastic review options punched their way through the swinging door of my Personal Possibility Saloon. Fear not–many write-ups will still happen here, of course! This will be especially true when I’m talking about history books or other non-fiction. That said, it looks like a few of my SF and fantasy book reviews are going to end up on Tor.com: as soon as one’s actually up, I’ll let you know.
I have also been invited to join the unabashed squeefest that is Favorite Thing Ever! My first entry, which should probably be entitled “After this, I swear I’ll shut up about Tana French for at least a month,” should be appearing today. Have a look. Then, while you’re there, do yourselves a real favor and check out Kelly‘s entries on William Shatner’s album Has Been, Michael Bishop’s Brittle Innings, and DD Barant’s Dying Bites. Seriously. What she says about Shatner will make you snort chocolate milk through your nose.
Though most of the raves on Favorite Thing Ever (who also have a Twitter feed, of course!) are about books, films, TV or music, there’s also a piece called “I love potatoes so much, you guys” by one of its founders, the lovable and witty Kormantic.
These are not measured or balanced critiques. They are, in fact, expressions of passionate delight, a sincere wish to share the best stuff going with fellow fans while skimming the occasional kickback from Amazon. Ultimately they all boil down to: “I love this! Here’s why you might love it too!” Ever had a friend sell you on something you’ve come to worship for the rest of your life? That’s all we’re doing here.
Here on my site, tomorrow will bring another Journey interview, this one with author M.K. Hobson, whose brilliant first novel The Native Star will be out in a few short days.
Continuing the theme of fragmented Alyx vacation posts, I’d like to note that Skagway has about 900 people.
Our ship had nine hundred staff and more than two thousand guests. And when we ambled out into the town that day, there were two comparable ships and a piker at the dock. Six thousand plus tourists at once. I think that qualifies as an invasion. I certainly wanted to run away from us all, and I was part of the hoard.
Juneau, by contrast, is home to a cozy 30,000 souls. You could actually look around and see people there who looked like they might not be tourists or those pandering to same. Our look-around had a couple of highlights–local bookstores with prominently-displayed posters of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Sarah Palin memorabilia, and a store with some lovely prints by local artists, of whom my fave quickly became David W. Riccio. There were also non-human residents, who found us boring:
After we checked out downtown, the cousins and I caught the Mount Roberts Tramway up, way up, eighteen hundred feet, I believe, enough so our mammoth home of a Carnival Spirit looked tiny!
The mountaintop had some nice trails, the usual restaurant/gift shop/bathroom configuration, and the Juneau Raptor Center’s resident Bald Eagle, a bird whose name I didn’t catch but who’s there for good, since someone shot her through the beak, which also took out one of her eyes, which in turn caused her early, permanent retirement from the hunting grounds:
We did a short hike (time wasn’t quite as abundant as it was in Skagway), took some shots, yakked and yakked some more, and generally enjoyed the scenic walk, the sunshine, and the glorious fresh air. It was sunny and temperate (I gather that it was sweltering in Vancouver and Seattle). The ship’s crew had made a point of telling us, repeatedly, that we’d had the best weather of the season. When you get a gift like good weather and this kind of scenery, you just get out and appreciate it.
A couple years ago, I went with friends to see The Magic Flute, as directed by Julie Taymar, via The Met in HD, which is–as you may guess–a satellite broadcast of a Metropolitan Opera show to a local movie screen. We walked into the theater, and they had a live feed from the house–the curtain, the stage, the people filing into their places, chattering with anticipation. The sound was perfect, the crowd infectious. I started to get excited. Then weirdness set in. The gorgeous red ranks of the seats, rising to the balconies, up, up, up, were not merely lovely. They were also familiar.
I stopped dead. “I’ve been here,” I said. But I hadn’t. This was before our New York trip.
“Me too!” Kelly agreed.
(Irrelevant pictorial interlude.)
We looked more closely. The memory sharpened. Flames. People burning… what the hell? Then, one of us, I’m not sure who, said: “Parasite Eve.”
Parasite Eve is a horror video game we owned back in our pre-Wii days. It opens with a beautifully animated sequence (which of course can be had on Youtube, Chaos but I loves me my Intrawebs) set at the Met. After the carnage, you scramble around the theater, killing monsters and hunting for clues backstage. That’s right: cartoon memories of a virtual experience were intruding on… well, another virtual experience. I was still in Vancouver, after all, experiencing the opera at a remove.
Constructions of reality. Fake memories of real places, formed in one’s living room. Real memories of simulated real places? Untangle that knot for me, Gordian.
Later, after Parasite Eve, there were MMORPGs. Asheron’s Call, first and most–I played so much I was in game when I learned about the 9/11 attacks.
I am the kind of player who sets their character to running and then bumbles around the landscape, checking the map a lot and hoping I’m not too lost. In the real world, I build up landmarks and figure out where I’m going… if not easily, at an acceptable rate. Computer worlds have a little too much repetition, I suppose. Anyway, I learn the fake contours of these game landscapes quite slowly.
Maps, on the other hand? Can barely read ’em. I can use one to navigate from place from place once I have a route worked out, but I essentially lack the gift for looking at a map and being able to imagine the terrain in 3d. Or any other d, for that matter.
What does this have to do with our recent cruise stop at Skagway? (Mmmm, Skagway. Check out their Tourist Info Center.)
Nice, huh? Okay, here comes my point: Google Street View rocks the universe.
GSV looks to my gamer brain like a slower, more varied, disappointingly monster-free version of Worlds of Warcraft. You can tool around in the real world from the comfort of your couch, using your iPod. How cool is that? In the past month, I’ve spent just enough time in virtual Skagway that I knew what it looked like before I ever got there. I was able to tell where a few key things were located before we ever landed. I knew we would be able to walk off the ship and straight into the funky smalltown cool.
Street View doesn’t take all the fun out of exploring, at least not for me. It doesn’t go into buildings or down the various little wooded paths. We and one set of cousins hiked off their grid pretty quickly on our way out to the Klondike Cemetery, where I got my favorite shot of the day:
Behind the cemetery was the waterfall. I did in fact shoot the waterfall, but the thing I found really compelling was the colony of Daddy Long Legs on this bunch of Devil’s Club berries (sorry, arachnophobes):
Finally, as we reach the end of a very rambly post, here’s a tourist tip for the caffeine-addicted: if Chowhound says an Alaska coffeeshop has the real goods in 2009, there’s no guarantee the same place will exist a year later. However, the Ketchikan Coffee Company looks like it’s there year-round, and they brew very well indeed.
To be an up and coming soprano with a contract to sing Donna Anna–in Milan, at La Scala, no less!–is already to be extraordinary. Octavia Voss is even more singular than that. Born in Italy centuries before the present day, she left home as a teen to pursue the dream of becoming a singer. Talent and determination get her into an opera company, but there she learns that her voice is perhaps less special than she imagined; her career prospects may be limited.
Then a depraved-seeming Countess lures Octavia and the company’s composer into a tryst. After the encounter, Octavia has been utterly transformed. She craves blood, for one thing. For another, she, the Countess and the composer all share each others’ memories… a powerful thing, considering that the composer is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!
Lifetimes later, Octavia still lives to sing. Her vampiric lifestyle, and her intimate exposure to Mozart’s genius, have given her endless years to perfect her craft and enjoy a bit of the limelight. But to maintain her secret, she must also endure painful periods of forced retirement. At present, happily, she is out of hiding and building a new career. Her partner in life is Ugo, a creature even more ancient than she, who acts as her personal assistant and ensures she has safe access to the blood she needs to survive. The two are very close, and when Ugo disappears just as Olivia reaches Italy to sing in Don Giovanni, she very nearly falls apart. She has become dependent upon him, perhaps to a dangerous degree, and as rehearsals go on and the usual backstage power struggles play out, the thirst–with which she’s made a terrible sort of peace–is on the rise.
Soon she will have to go out and hunt, for the first time in a long time, risking exposure. And with Ugo missing, it’s a safe bet that somebody’s after her, too.
As some of you may have read in my interview with Louise Marley earlier this summer, Mozart’s Blood is her twelfth novel. Marley’s background as a professional singer lends a satisfying richness to the behind-the-scenes action; the reader is immersed in the clique-y subculture of a professional opera company going about its work. She also offers an interesting twist on vampirism–Olivia and Mozart’s telepathic bonding when they ‘share the tooth’ is the rule, not the exception.
Vampires absorb the memories of all their victims, often to the detriment of their mental health. It is Olivia’s ability to compartmentalize these memories, focusing only on Mozart’s genius, that allows her to survive… at least until Ugo comes onto the scene with a better solution. Survivors of vampire attacks are always turned, and the rule–a sort of rebirth control, enforced by the Countess with ruthless absolutism–is that if Octavia feeds from someone, she must always kill them.
A cold-blooded creature she may be, but Olivia is a fundamentally caring woman, and it is this quality of hers that gives the book its warmth: her affection for Ugo, her sexual interest in one of the other singers, and above all her passion for opera offset the cruel realities of her condition. Mozart’s Blood tells us her life’s story, and Ugo’s (which is every bit as intriguing) in flashback, and both histories are impeccably researched.
I always enjoy Marley’s books, and this novel was no exception. Somehow, though, I found myself wanting an ephemeral ‘something more’ from it; as I read, I had a sense that I’d been more fully drawn into her previous novels. As I wrestled with the question of whether this was just nostalgia for past delights, my first thought was that perhaps those books felt more relevant, politically and socially. But Mozart’s Blood has plenty of political heft: Ugo in particular is born poor in a era where the financially vulnerable have no options at all, and Marley never sugar-coats such topics.
I also wasn’t entirely happy with how the person behind Ugo’s disappearance fit into the story–it had the feel, at times, of a puzzle piece jammed into the wrong spot. But that person’s eventual fate was delicious to behold. I was finally left to conclude that I’d loved Ugo, liked Octavia pretty well, but that they’d both paled a bit, for me, next to the protagonists of other Marley novels: Zahra of The Terrorist of Irustan, and the incredible Magdalene priest, Mother Isabel Burke, from The Child Goddess. And all that means is I may prefer Marley’s SF to her fantasy.
Science fiction Mozart’s Blood may not be, but it is an entertaining vampire novel–original, intriguing, with good historical content, and one that offers a believable vision of how chasing an artistic dream would be even more complicated for an immortal.
Just a quick post, for virtually no reason except to prove that I do occasionally look at something other than birds.