Altan at The Iron Horse

February 22nd, 2008 at 8:24 pm by Michael

Back on Sunday, Jenn and I made the trip up to The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA to see Altan perform. It was my first time seeing them play for a few years, and I’m glad to report that I think they may have been even better this time around than they were then.

Ever since I first started going to see Altan shows back in 1994 or so, I’ve always thought that their live performances were a better representation of the “real” Altan than their later albums have been. The polish of the albums is replaced by enormous energy, and the lack of production makes the talent of the various band members even more apparent. This time around the lineup consisted of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (fiddle/vocals), Dáithí Sproule (guitar/vocals), Ciarán Tourish (fiddle), Dermot Byrne (button accordion) and Ciarán Curran (bouzouki), and all were in excellent form. It was our good fortune that the Iron Horse show was only the fourth on their current U.S. tour, which meant they hadn’t yet been tired out by too much time on the road. The appreciative audience got two long sets filled with a few songs and plenty of Altan’s take on Donegal fiddle music, with both tunes from their earlier albums and some newer material. The between song banter was entertaining too. All in all, it was a great show, and I’ll be looking forward to Altan’s next pass through the area.

My 2007 books (finally)

February 9th, 2008 at 11:01 am by Michael

Since I haven’t posted about books since the second day of 2007 [yikes!], I thought it was probably worth posting something about the books I read last year. This list includes only the published stuff, and so to some extent it underrepresents the time I actually spent, and the order is roughly the order I read them in, though I’m a bit hazy on the exact sequence.

Cursor’s Fury by Jim Butcher [4/5]
This series keeps getting better.
The Knight by Gene Wolfe [3/5]
I liked the writing, but I hated the protagonist.
Dogs In The Moonlight by Jay Lake [5/5]
An excellent collection of Jay’s stuff, and it includes “The Goat Cutter!”
Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was by Barry Hughart [4/5]
Richly imagined and amusing.
Dread Empire’s Fall : The Praxis by Walter Jon Williams [4/5]
A great take on space opera, and not as serious about it as some.
All Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories edited by David Moles & Jay Lake [4/5]
A fun bunch of stories built around a fine theme.
A Sundial in a Grave: 1610 by Mary Gentle [3.5/5]
It was just too long for the amount of story it was telling.
Carnival by Elizabeth Bear [4/5]
A well-crafted SF novel with lots to say.
In The Forest Of Forgetting by Theodora Goss [5/5]
Wow. I spent a long time reading this because I wanted to savor every story. Goss’ writing is extraordinary.
Ink: The Book of All Hours by Hal Duncan [4/5]
Not quite as good as Vellum, but still great.
Grey by Jon Armstrong [4/5]
Weird, strange, and good.
The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner [3.5/5]
I liked it, but I think my expectations were too high going in.
Toast by Charles Stross [3.5/5]
Some of the stories were excellent, but some were less so.
Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan [4/5]
I didn’t like switch from noir SF detective novel (Altered Carbon) to military SF, but it was still good.
Spook Country by William Gibson [4/5]
I think I liked Pattern Recognition better, but this was still darned good.
The First Betrayal (The Chronicles of Josan, Book 1) by Patricia Bray [3.5/5]
A nice start to her newer series.
Un Lun Dun by China Miéville [3.5/5]
I was disappointed with this one, in part because I think the language was toned down too far from what I expect from Miéville.
Undertow by Elizabeth Bear [4/5]
Assassins and froggies and quantum entanglement, oh my!
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle [4/5]
A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle [3.5/5]
A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle [3.5/5]
I hadn’t read these when I was younger, and I think perhaps I’m too old and jaded to properly appreciate them now.
Spaceman Blues: A Love Song by Brian Francis Slattery [5/5]
This just blew me away with its energy, its characters, and its mad love for NYC.
The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia [4/5]
I’d heard good things about this, and it lived up to the raves.
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link [5/5]
She’s a genius. Great stuff.
The Bone Doll’s Twin (Tamir Trilogy, Book 1) by Lynn Flewelling [4/5]
A nicely done fantasy adventure.
Nekropolis by Maureen McHugh [4/5]
Moving, in a quiet sort of way, and unlike most anything else I’ve read.
Brasyl by Ian McDonald [4.5/5]
I didn’t like the storyline set in the past as well as I did the other two, but overall this was an excellent novel.

Maybe in 2008 I’ll manage to comment on books in a more timely manner, and have more than a sentence to say about them.

January books

February 4th, 2008 at 8:03 pm by Jennifer

The Bookman’s Wake (Cliff Janeway Novels) by John Dunning – The lure for this book for me was the extensive information in the world of book-collecting. In that, I was not disappointed. A 1995 New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

The Templar Legacy: A Novel by Steve Berry – I partially bought this because I know the agent who represented it. I think if I had known less about the Templar history myself, this would have been more engrossing, but I have to admit I found myself skimming that exposition and didn’t get as caught up as I wanted to be. Still, the writing was pretty sharp and the characterization nicely done, so I will probably try the other Berry I have in my TBR pile: The Alexandria Link: A Novel.

Glasshouse by Charles Stross – I didn’t like this quite as much as Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise. Partially this may have been because the author’s own biases seemed to be more of a strong undercurrent than previously. I think everyone certainly has a right to express their beliefs, whether through art or otherwise, but I appreciate a slightly subtler approach. It didn’t even have that much to do with whether I agreed with the ideology or not, but more with the fact that I felt the message was overwhelming the story. Still, in terms of is SFnal concepts, it was a compelling read. He sure has one heck of an imagination.

Movies from January

January 28th, 2008 at 9:06 pm by Michael

This year I thought I’d try something different and post about the movies I’ve recently seen on a monthly basis, rather than doing one big list at the end of the year. I guess we’ll see how it works out.

Eastern Promises [4/5] [Amazon]

David Cronenberg’s latest, Eastern Promises is a complex morality tale disguised as a bloody Russian Gangster movie. I don’t think I liked it as much as A History of Violence, but it’s still an excellent film with fine performances from Viggo Mortensen, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Naomi Watts.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End [4/5] [Amazon]

I’d seen this in the theater last year , and I loved it just as much this time as I did then. It’s sort of an ungainly mess at times, and unlikely to appeal to those who didn’t like the first two movies in the series, but I thought it was filled with enough great moments for me to recommend it. Plus Johnny Depp is once again brilliant in the role of Captain Jack Sparrow, Keira Knightley is great, and there’s Chow Yun-Fat as a pirate. This was a whole lot of fun.

Waitress [4/5] [Amazon]

A charming film about waitresses, pies and life. Kerry Russell is very good, as is Nathan Fillion, but see it for a great performance by Andy Griffith.

Sunshine [4/5] [Amazon]

Danny Boyle does space-travelling science fiction, and for the most part I thought it was very good. The visuals are just stunning, and the psychological stresses on the astronauts are well done….right up until the point where there’s a horror/slasher flick stuck into the final third of the movie. Still, I think it’s well worth seeing for any SF fan.

The Devil Wears Prada [3/5] [Amazon]

An adaptation of the best-selling novel, it’s more or less exactly what you expect it will be, but Meryl Streep gives a fun performance that pretty much made the movie for me (and I’m not usually a fan of her work).

3:10 to Yuma [4/5] [Amazon]

I haven’t yet seen the original 1957 film, but I thought this version was quite good, with great performances from both Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. If you’re at all a fan of Westerns, you oughta see this one.

December books

January 4th, 2008 at 8:25 pm by Jennifer

The Bone Doll’s Twin (Tamir Trilogy, Book 1) by Lynn Flewelling: I’ve owned this book since it was first published in October of 2001. Finally, I read it. I’m sorry I waited so long and I only hope I can find time to fit the rest of the trilogy in soon. The characterization and world-building in this were spot-on.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (Gallagher Girls) by Ally Carter: Last month I decided to start reading up on some of the popular YA titles, and my pal Kristin sent me a copy of this. This was a great deal of fun and an interesting spin on the pseudo-sub-genre of prep school stories that I have been wont to read of late. I got caught up in this and will very likely read the sequel, now a New York Times best-selling title.

Nekropolis by Maureen F. McHugh: This is another book that I’ve owned for a little while. I guess I’m trying to put a dent in my backlog of older things. The cultural aspects of this story are extremely intriguing. The development of the Second Koran and its implications in the story were fascinating. The characters were exquisitely flawed, and the doomed relationships heartbreakingly compelling. All the same, it felt a little like it was a fragment of something larger, and the ending seemed abrupt and not as conclusive as I wanted.

According to my records, I read only 35 published books in 2007. If I included manuscripts, both client and non-client, published and unpublished, that would certainly bump up the number considerably. In college, I used to read 3-4 books a month, plus schoolwork, so I hope this year I can increase the amount of time spent reading.