Ms Moles has spent lockdown partly doing deep dives on artists – listening to one artists albums on repeat until she is confident she knows their work well. Having done Radiohead the logical next step is of course….Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. But where (via Spotify) to start? Suggestions for essential albums, compilations or playlists please. She tells me ‘maybe ten hours worth’ is what we’re aiming for.
I think that the new Nick Cave album deserves a little more than ‘there’s a new one out, it’s really good’. Just listened and it is. If you count the two Birthday Party albums (or swap these out for Grinderman 1 and 2) it is his twentieth studio album, over a forty-one year career. Time perhaps to take stock.
Firstly, as a singer-songwriter the company he is keeping now is surely the very first rank: Dylan, Young, Bowie, Prince, Cohen, Mitchell, Morrison, Springsteen, King. He might only sell a fraction of the records these folk did (and Cohen was hardly a radio-friendly unit shifter) but since when has that mattered? Personally, as a post-punk child, I would place his twenty albums above Cohen and King, and though very different the equal of Mitchell, Morrison and Springsteen. I am aware these are some of the Aword’s holiest sites, but hey hear me out.
Secondly, the consistency. Twenty albums in and has he made a genuinely bad album? A few tread water definitely – Henry’s Dream and Nocturama are perhaps the first that come to mind. The Lyre of Orpheus/Abbatoir Dreams is certainly divisive. Some opt for the Cave descending into » Continue Reading.
Adam Roberts’ work often has a big concept upfront: Snow (what the snow just keeps falling); By Light Alone (what if people could photosynthesise through their hair); Gradisil (what would orbital habitats be like if they organised as a country). So…this opens on a generation starship. Fantastic, Roberts’ take on this trope. Then they arrive at their destination pretty damn quickly, and there’s a Big Dumb Object waiting. Great, Roberts’ take on the inscrutable alien BDO. Hold that coffee. We’re winding back from the far future to around ten years from now.
The story-within-a-story takes place in a US where the worst 2020 predictions of the death of democracy, informal warfare, and gun-nuttery have progressed ten-fold. Which is in many ways a shame as the elements of Roberts’ post-Trump apocalypse feel less original than the first far future section of this novel. Weaponised neonicotinoids, iphones plugging directly into people, artificial intelligence, shadowy and paranoid government agencies, malware, VPNs…it’s a convincing mix of horrors, but not quite on the level of On (idea: what if gravity operated at 90 degrees).
This is not to say that the central section of Purgatory Mount is not a satisfying read. It » Continue Reading.
After the January prices outage I’ve kept the list under review, and these appear to be stable discounts…so at 99p until the end of February here are your 99p Kindle deals.
NON-FICTION Louise Wener – Just For One Day. The Inbetweener hitmaker and novelist recalls her life as a B-grade Britpop legend. Rachel Deloache – My Friend Anna. Loved the podcast on the Fake Heiress © this is her rich friend’s side of the story Pete Paphides – Broken Greek – much loved pop writer’s backstory Jon Ronson – The Psychopath Test – a journey through the madness backstory
SCIFI Sue Burke – Semiosis – have this on my to-read list. Peter F Hamilton – Pandora’s Star. If you are wondering where to start with Hamilton this is less daunting (slightly) than the Nights Dawn trilogy, being one of two. The world of Ozzie and Nigel, the relentless Paula and the truly alien MorningLightMountain may be my favourite of his.
Arkady Martine – A Memory of Empire – big award-winner, have this on my to read list.
FICTION Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook. Forbidding. Would appreciate someone pitching on its behalf. Michael Chabon – Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and » Continue Reading.
Courttia Newman has written a novel in which lots goes on. It’s an alternative future history of London and by implication the UK and Africa too. There’s family history, romance and revolution, multiverses and astral projection. At times there’s so much going on that you wonder whether Newman can keep a hold on all the strands he’s set in motion.
We start in a dystopian future London – in which the city is divided into two. Makriss is a talented student whose excellence buys him a Golden Ticket from the outer lands into the Ark, the city within a city populated by the elite. Fast forward a few years and Makriss is a journalist writing puff pieces, playing up the ferocity of protesters in the lowest ranks of the Ark and writing pieces supporting the regime. Gradually, through a combination of wanting to impress girls, and political debate, he is sucked into an underground uprising.
If this sounds so dystopia so normal Newman throws in some pretty unique themes into the mix. The first is a complete decolonisation of Britain and Africa: in this London African culture, cosmology and religion are as natural as Christianity. So complete is » Continue Reading.
Ok something is happening with Kindle deals. I had a bumper monthly list, as per normal, ready to go when 48 hours ago almost all the prices reverted to normal levels. What’s left is this:
Puckoon – Prime Spike. The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga. Booker Prize winner and shortly to get the Netflix treatment. An Ice-Cream War – William Boyd. Frequent author on this list, one of his better-known novels. Count of Monte Cristo – Dumas. Penguin Classic Translation.
Also yesterday’s daily deal looked very like todays. Something is shifting in the world of Amazon. Gather these 99ps while ye may.
Kicked by the kind concern of @jaygee, I must admit that the pickings were somewhat thin this month I was not hugely motivated. Some of these have also been on the Monthly Deal within the last 12 months. But here we go, all at 99p until 2022:
THRILLERS Archangel by Robert Harris. Big fan of Fatherland, never read anything else of his. Siberian Dilemma by Martin Cruz-Smith. Renko is regularly on these lists, this is number 9 which may mean diminishing returns. A Delicate Truth by John Le Carre – on my Kindle from the last time, not yet read.
NOVELS Stars and Bars by William Boyd – an early novel, probably a good thing. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth – perfect on the Kindle, unless you want to give up a good chunk of your shelves.
CLASSICS (only Penguin Classics = decent translation/edition) War and Peace – as A Suitable Boy Letters from a Stoic – Seneca
SCIFI This is how you lose the time war – Gladstone and El-Mohtar – lauded queer epistolatory scifi romance novella. I will probably give this a go. Cage of Souls – Adrian Tchiakovsky. I won’t, but he » Continue Reading.
Or How We Got Along After The Wifi Went Down. The Arrest is an ambiguous utopia/dystopia in which advanced technology – from the internet to cars and guns – has all stopped working. At its simplest this is Lethem’s entry into the crowded canon of The Road, Station Eleven, Oryx and Crake and so on. As an avowed scifi reader Lethem also gives strong callbacks to post-apocalyptic classics such as Philip K. Dick’s Dr Bloodmoney and Walter M. Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz.
Unlike the irradiated hellholes, biological swamps or fascist regimes of many of these, Lethem’s post-tech life – seen through the eyes of unreliable narrator Journeyman AKA former Hollywood screenwriter Sandy – is not so bad. Shorn of distractions such as Netflix and international travel, a small community in Maine ekes out a pretty sweet existence in which piles of sausages and hearty soups round the fire are the chief joys of life. Just as he was a journeyman writer Before The Fall – a polisher and fixer-upper of scripts – so he is now the Journeyman, assisting the butcher (bank manager pre-Arrest) and delivering parcels across the peninsula. The farmers – led by Sandy’s sister Maddie, » Continue Reading.
Your Amazon monthly deals for November. I should have more time as there is now literally nothing to do outside except running, cycling and Sainsburys. All on at 99p except the superb Davidson which will set you back £2.49p.
Thrillers and Detective Barbera Vine – The Birthday Party – AKA Ruth Rendell, in her psychological thriller mode. Lionel Davidson – Kolymnsky Heights – breaking my 99p price point for this, quite simply one of the best straight thrillers written, the equal of the best of Deighton or Forsyth. A writer now quite forgotten, but this is just brilliant. Philip Kerr – Metropolis – another from the author and a prequel to the Gunther novels, set in 1928 Germany. His last sadly.
Non-Fiction Paul Hilburn – Paul Simon Joan Didion – Year of Magical Thinking. Not an easy read, but she is incapable of writing a bad sentence. Her story of the year after her husband died suddenly.
Classics Boccacio – The Decameron – in a Penguin Classics. Big commitment. Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle – never read this and now will. JG Farrell – Troubles – a left-field choice for the ITV Sunday 9pm costume drama slot recently.
Inspired by a few comments in the latest blogger takeover, and some homethoughts here on how to get through Lockdown II: the confused one, can we have your mammoth quests. To kick you off here are two of mine: get through every Prince studio album that I’ve not listened to – at least 27, possibly as many as 33. So far have done the four he did prior to 1999. By album two you could absolutely hear what a star he was going to be. Ahead lies Graffiti Bridge, Crystal Ball, Batman…
The second I started before, but am steaming ahead and on track to finish. The Guardian’s classical music critic of a decade ago, Tom Service, wrote a guide to the 50 Essential Symphonies. While Mahler, Beethoven and Sibelius aren’t new on these ears I have made some fabulous discoveries including Nielsen, Bruckner John Adams and William Walton. Some turkeys: Elliot Carter is a step to far for me, and Rachmaninov and Tchiakovsky I am prepared to leave for another time. So, your grand listening projects please.
Now this is American – the question for us is the UK is do we import our ice-cream music boxes from Nichols or is their a similar cottage industry in the UK?
So I was playing up The Junction (early singles purchase – purple vinyl) for the umpteenth time when it hit me like a bolt from the blue….it’s the British River. Or rather, as it predates the title track of Bruce’s, The River is the American Up the Junction. What? I hear you say. Are you crazy. What can those amiable sarf Lundun rockers possibly have in the common with the Born in the USA hitmaker. Well…
Working-class kid hooks up with teenage sweetheart…..
Me and Mary we met in high school When she was just seventeen
I never thought it would happen With me and the girl from Clapham
Brief bliss brings unintended consequences…..
Then I got Mary pregnant And man that was all she wrote
She said she’d seen a doctor And nothing now could stop her
Faced with imminent fatherhood our narrator has to grow up fast and earn some money:
I got a job working construction For the Johnstown company
I got a job with Stanley He said I’d come in handy
But dreams of married and family happiness are shattered as the two grow inexorably apart:
Now I just act like I don’t remember Mary acts » Continue Reading.
After a few lean months it is bumper Monthly Deals month, with good choices in all my usual reporting areas. As ever a personal and partial selection of stuff I am keen to read, or have read and can recommend. On until the end of October, apologies for the delay.
Classics The Masque of the Red Death and other stories – reliable Penguin classics edition Barry Hines – A Kestrel for a Knave – adapted for the classic film Anthony Powell – A Dance to the Music of Time novels 1-3. I am now on book 10 of this unmatched 12-volume sequence. The first three volumes lay the groundwork for 4-9 which are just brilliant. They are not for everyone and always teeter on the edge of parody, but I would urge anyone to give them a go. The Penguin book of Ghost Stories Robert Graves – The Greek Myths
Non-fiction Ben Folds – A Dream of Lightning Bugs – mmmm Afterword catnip Stewart Lee – March of the Lemmings – mmmm Afterword catnip
Sci-fi Temi Oh – Do You Dream of Terra Two? Marina J. Lostetter – Noumenon These are two well-reviewed novels I am very happy are on » Continue Reading.
Author:Kim Stanley Robinson
The future history novel is a very specific type of science fiction: relying on a narrative rather than a plot. It’s desperately unfashionable and since Wells and Stapledon novelists have made their histories implicit and revealed through action and plot rather than attempting to write a ‘history of the future’. Kim Stanley Robinson’s work, especially his Mars series, might be seen as tiptoing into this arena. Now with The Ministry of the Future he’s dived straight in. The ecological and political themes that have always driven his work are now front and centre as he tracks the history of the earth over the next thirty years.
The novel starts with an apocalyptic event: an extreme heat event in India that kills millions. Virtually the only survivor is Frank, an American aid worker. He is one of only two characters who have what could be called a storyline. The other is Mary, an Irish politician who is chosen to head the titular Ministry, brought into being in Switzerland to advocate for the generations not yet born in decision-making that affects the planet’s sustainability. Their paths cross when Frank, radicalised by his experience, kidnaps Mary to impress upon her » Continue Reading.
CD Swap is now go: this is the official kick-off post for this autumn’s edition. Thanks to @mike-h myself and @kid-dynamite are back in the saddle as your genial hosts. So what’s the theme you ask? The future. Take it any which way you like. For those new to the ways of the swap here are those rules in full:
1 Sign up by the closing date by just letting us know in the comments to this post. Sign up for CD swapThe Future closes on October 18th. 2 We will then pair everyone up with two other people – you compile a CD (more later) and post it to two others. So post two out, get two back. You swap your addresses via DMs so no-one except your pairs need know you live at Platform 8 1/2. 3 Your CD: one CD only. 12 tracks only. Theme: The Future. Please rip your files without track or artist names so your partners can listen without prejudice. Artwork is up to you. MP3 tag is a free PC programme that allows you to strip all the artwork and info from your MP3 file. 4 DM us your » Continue Reading.
Here’s my highly personal selection of what’s on on at 99p or thereabouts during September:
Literary Fiction A Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin – cult short story writer recently rediscovered, in the Carver/Ford/Munro/Oates vein Empire Falls – Richard Russo – not sure I am up for 800 pages but it won the Pulitzer…doesn’t help I confuse him with SF writer Richard Paul Russo. What a Carve Up! Jonathan Coe – justly celebrated dissection of Thatcherite England, which Coe keeps returning to with diminishing returns Milkman – Anna Burns – breaking my 99p rule for this, recent Booker winner is £2.49 and one of the best novels written over the last 20 years. For the first 30 pages you wonder what is going on and how you can read on, for the next 200 it has you by the short and curlies.
Classics Very slim pickings. The Master and Margarita – Bulgakov – lots of his at 99p. I find this one quite hard going, but really enjoyed Heart of a Dog.
Non Fiction The Pigeon Tunnel – Le Carre – his autobiography A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush – Eric Newby – classic travel writing Wishful Drinking » Continue Reading.
Author:James Tiptree Jnr.
James Tiptree Junior – real name Alice Sheldon, had such an extraordinary life, working for Army Intelligence and the CIA; careers in both painting and writing; that who she was and how she wrote is in danger of overshadowing what she wrote. This collection is a great reminder of her unique tone, and her pivotal place in sci-fi history, linking the fifties magazine style with the new wave of the sixties. Which is a way of saying that the stories here are quite diverse, and while some still pack an almighty punch others have dated.
The ones that work least successfully are a group of stories in which hard-bitten but whip-smart professionals deal with alien invasions, fixes on the galaxy’s gambling world, and the travails of trans galactic parcel deliveries. ‘Birth of A Salesman’ and ‘Faithful to Thee…’ projects a fifties world of club cars, trilbys, FedEx and PanAm into the far future. These aim for satire but too often descend into whimsy.
Then there’s a group of stories where she much more successfully flips the conventions: Beam Us Home takes the stranger in a strange land story and – as Michael Faber’s Under the Skin would » Continue Reading.
A little later than usual due to a family holiday, here’s my personal selection from this month’s kindle offers, with the emphasis on Fiction, Scifi, Classics and a bit of nonfiction. All 99p or thereabouts.
FICTION Decent month for lit fic. My Secret History – Paul Theroux I may have read this 20 years ago, have forgotten everything about it Oreo – Fran Ross – I loved The Sellout by Paul Beatty and this is referenced in several reviews, though written in 1974. Brazzaville Beach – William Boyd Girl – Edna O’Brien May be too dark for me as it’s O’Brien’s take on the Boko Harum schoolgirl abductions.
SCIFI Again, strong lineup Dark Eden – Chrs Beckett – first of a trilogy, very well reviewed. Autonomous – Annalee Newitz Read this a few weeks ago. Excellent on AI and genetic engineering. Aurora – Kim Stanley Robinson – KSR’s take on the generation starship novel. Always worth reading him. The Dark Forest – Cixin Liu OK you should but#y this but not read it. It’s part two of a trilogy and I have just read part one – The Three Body Problem and it is fantastic. The Cultural Revolution, » Continue Reading.
Niche post here, one for the cataloguers and tic merchants. I’m midway (R-S at the moment) through an alphabetical listen through of the CDs. While most artists I listen to in release order, there are some who beg to be listened to in reverse order, as the quality steadily climbs until the sunlit uplands of the debut is released. Two cases:
Oasis. The exemplar. Start with the desperate Dig out…, then onto the Will This Do of Don’t Believe and Heathen Chemistry…the flashes of the old in the rubble of Standing On…the overlong badly produced but at the core there’s a half-decent album of Be Here Now, then What’s the Story and Definitely Maybe. From the swamps to the summit, ever upwards.
Sisters of Mercy: Vision Thing (has Tony James), Floodland (some great tracks) First And Last (awesome) and Some Girls Wander… ok I slightly cheatred as SGWBM is a compilation, but the arrow-like ascent holds true.
There. I’ve shared. Minimum 4 albums, arbitrarily. Or if you want to start at the top, artists whose catalogue showed a straightline descent from glory to gruesome.
The love that dare not speak it’s name, yes we have come to this. Motorbikes, loud music and up all night must in time be tempered with more tranquil pleasures. Along with Roger Eno it’s a thread dedicated to the joy of growing veg. And salad. And Fruit. With fellow allotmenteers @smudger and @hubert-rawlinson I give you the allotments thread. So tbis is not about flowers. Or lawns. Or gardens. It could be about pots, and beds, providing they’re veg beds. From blackfly to slugs it can feel like a never-ending war on nature, but it also gives. We have oodles of chard in the fridge, some end-of-season rhubarb and raspberry cookies waiting for attention. You’ve lost the plot I hear you say! Well the plot details are in the comments.
The Hair Carpet Weavers starts with the story of just that: a hair-carpet weaver – a man spending his entire life, as his predecessors did, weaving one spectacular carpet from the hair of his wives, as an offering to the Emperor. In a series of short chapters, each from the perspective of a different character, we build up a collective picture of a planet-wide society bound together by the bizarre collective endeavour of the carpet makers . The carpets themselves are sent away on completion on spaceships to the Emperor’s Palace, and their purchasing is paid for by taxes collected by the Empire, in a form of circular economy. Worship of the Emperor, who though not seen as a God, does enjoy eternal life and unlimited power, is complete and heretics are dealt with severely. Society is governed by rigid castes and education is seen as a dangerous enterprise – though in a wicked aside an Imperial Tax Collector observes that cities who kill their teachers generally see taxable revenues fall over the long term.
The frame continually widens, as a spaceship bearing researchers from the Empire itself arrives. We learn that the Emperor himself, for whom weavers » Continue Reading.
The answer is the recently departed Rupert Hine. A life well lived as they say. I could go on but Adam Sweeting has written a brilliant obit. I’m sure he appears in the ‘departed’ thread but this is such a lovely piece of writing about a life filled to the brim with music.
Hine discovered the world’s longest word, in Maori, which he used at the start of Lone Ranger by Quantum Leap ‘sitting on the loo reading the Guinness Book of Records’
The latest in an occasional series mining the British Book of Hit Singles for obscure gold, crazy covers and brickbats. Not much text and lots of vintage Youtube clips. This week’s gold is from some Belgian producers producing a dance classic. Ah yes the 90s and 00s. No, the early 70s and here is frankly filthy Jungle Fever from the early 70s, years before Donna Summer and Lil Louis made moaning on the radio an art form. See how you get on, I think it’s fab. In the comments an earworm to ruin/make your day, two amazing vocal performances, a wikipedia dubious claim and of course the sound of a barrel being scraped (nothing as bad as supermodel week).
The start of the month means there’s a new set of Monthly Deals for the Kindle. If you still hanker for some reading matter in between your marathon bouts of pub and restaurant visits, these are on at 99p for July. As ever, personal recommendations rather than authoritative list and mainly fiction. The Panzer Drivers memoirs (see other recent posts) are no doubt there but someone else will have to rate them. Also lots of books for more than 99p, but I have my rules (ok the Wandering Stars is 1.69 but he’s a very hot writer).
CLASSICS Uber-depressing and angry French working man classic Germinal by Zole. Read this a few years and really like it. Metamorphosis by Ovid. Never read. The Trial by Kafka. Nothing more to say – a book everyone should read at least once. Not long. All Penguin Classics so the translations and print will be good.
LITERATURE Cloud Street by Tim Winton – apparently the modern Australian classic novel. Our Antipodean correspondents please comment, looking forward to this. The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing. Forbidding. The Colour Purple – Alice Walker. Very of the moment. Disobedient by Naomi Alderman. Liked The Power, v zeitgeisty » Continue Reading.
The list of novels written by musicians is not long, perhaps because writing one seems like quite hard work. Nick Cave, Louise Wener, Laughing Len on the credit side …and er Morrissey and even Bruce Dickinson on the definitely debit side. Jenny Hval, Norwegian avant-garde popist, has an entry in this short canon as strong as anyone. Paradise Rot was written in 2009 before her music career really got going and has recently been translated into English (Norwegian title Perlebryggeriet which translates literally as Pearl Brewery).
It clocks in at a slim 150 pages in large type and a couple of nights reading will see you through. The story is told by Norwegian student Jo who turns up at a British seaside university town (Aberystwyth? Southend?) to study biology. Struggling to get to grips with ‘Aybourne’ and her fellow students she finds lodgings and human contact in a barely-converted former brewery with flat-mate Carrel. Carrel and Jo become increasingly close in the claustrophobic flat, until the entry of neighbour Pym provokes a crisis. What Hval’s really concerned with is the physicality of desire. This is a book full of rot and decay – apples that decay into compost, » Continue Reading.