Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms, the second book in N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy, is, simply put, wonderful. Jemisin has crafted an intelligent, entertaining and, ultimately, heartbreaking sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

It begins ten years after the events in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The Arameri family still rules the palace of Sky and all of the hundred thousand kingdoms of the world; however, a giant tree grows through the middle of the palace, and the city that hus sprung up at the foot of the Tree is called Shadow. Bright Itempas - once the only god worshipped of the Three - must contend with the worship of other gods, particularly two new ones, the Lord of Shadows and the Gray Lady. It is a time of change in the world.

Oree Shoth, a blind artist with a gift for painting who sells her trinkets and baubles in a market in Shadow, one day finds what appears to be a godling - one of the many children of the Three - in a muckbin. Oree has two gifts, really: painting, and the gift of sight through use of magic. She can follow godling footsteps, make outlines of them in the darkness of her world - when magic is used around her, Oree can see. Here is how Jemisin describes Oree seeing the godling, whom she's nicknamed "Shiny", one morning: "...he turned his gaze outward again, his hair and shoulders beginning to shimmer. Next I saw his arms, as muscled as any soldier's, folded across his chest. His long legs, braced slightly apart; his posture relaxed, yet proud. Dignified. I had noticed from the first that he carried himself like a king."

Shiny does not speak  - not at first. Oree and he carry on a muted existence with Shiny constantly unaware of the dangers of his mortal-like body. Oree must clean up the blood of one of his fatal accidents more than once, but always, Shiny resurrects, emotionless and distant to his surroundings. It is not until Oree finds a godling murdered - a thing thought impossible - in an alley near her market that Shiny shows any outward sign of emotion. From here, The Broken Kingdoms spirals into the world of Shadow: against heretical and non-heretical priests of the Order of Itempas, down through godlings (one of whom was once Oree's lover), into the palace of Sky where Oree is burdened with a heavy revelation about herself, into darkness where one of the weirdest conglamarations of a demon ever written awaits.

It is the relationship between Shiny and Oree, however, that is at the heart of The Broken Kingdoms: how Shiny's disdain for mortalkind becomes begrudging respect and then, perhaps, something more; how Oree's initial dislike of Shiny's carelessness with his own body and his arrogance changes as she changes, discovering more about herself and the mystery of who and what Shiny really is. Jemisin seems very interested in understanding the differences and similarities of love and hate, and where the two collide.

There is also a lot of action in The Broken Kingdoms, yet Jemisin retains a meditative-like tone throughout. Her prose is clean and cool and, though she is working on a large canvas, her world-building rings true and nothing is unclear by novel's end. The voice of the story, however, really belongs to Oree. She is a strong, sympathetic character and Jemisin endears her to us. Though blind, she sees more than a person with perfect sight; yet, she is also flawed, blind to her own past. The aforementioned "heavy revelation" only adds to her complicated, interesting personality.

It's often said that the middle book of a trilogy is the least cohesive, it having to tie up loose ends from the first book while also threading new plot twists to be tied up in the concluding book. Jemisin avoids these pitfalls by letting the books stand alone, though reading them in order (her third, The Kingdom of Gods is due out later this year from Orbit) one can see her deft world-building and carry-over threads working gloriously. Recommended.

(Also recommended, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first book in the Inheritance Trilogy.)

-Dustin Monk

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


For those of what haven't been watching facebook the past few days, my sister's EP, seasecrets!fossils!fictions!: the dragon tree, is available now from her bandcamp page. That link will take you there where you can download the record for free right now. Pretty soon, it will be available at Prospero Records, if you'd like a hard copy.

Mandy recorded this in her garden apartment with Justin Turner, Lindsay Southern, and myself. A couple of things about this record: these are Mandy's finest songs to date (and she had some excellent songs in our former band, Root Shoot Leaf); "Backyard" has my favorite bassline that I've written for a song; though the dragon tree is only 5 songs, the songs flow together seamlessly, and even tell a story of sorts.

In Root Shoot Leaf, Mandy and I collaborated on a lot of songs and a lot of records in a short period of time (something like 5 full-lengths and 3 EPs in 4 years), but this is Mandy's first release since Root Shoot Leaf's demise in 2008. It was worth the wait.

Above and below is the awesome artwork (also by Mandy) for the record. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

10 Records That Shaped My Youth: End of Days

There's no way to tell what records I'm listening to right now I'll be listening to in ten years, or five years, or two. But, as far as it goes, here are ten records that have really shaped my musical experience over the last two years.

1. Real Estate - Real Estate
I was talking to Dave from the Nothingheads last night about this band. We both agreed that Real Estate relaxes the listener. So many gorgeous guitar riffs.

2. Woods - Songs of Shame
"To Clean," the first track on Songs of Shame, reminded me of my old band, Root Shoot Leaf, so much that I had to hear the rest of the record. I'm glad I did. It's a lo-fi jam classic. Supposedly, their follow-up, At Echo Lake, is even better, but I have yet to hear it. Anyway, what's not to love about messy songs and falsetto voices?

3. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
It took me a long time - A. Long. Time. - to get into this record. I've always loved Noah Lennox's melodies, but this record is 50+ minutes of repetition and samples. Of course, that isn't true - deeper listenings reveal  a lot of really cool stuff happening in these songs. It also works greatly as a record to just sort of get lost in.

4. Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
God, I love Bill Callahan. Listen to that crooning bass; he's almost never faster than mid-tempo and, you know what? I'm okay with that. When he sings, "If I could only stop my heart beat for one heart beat," staggering the words out over two minutes, I'm there with him, all the way.

5. Radiohead - In Rainbows
A casual reader might've noticed the lack of Radiohead as youthshaper. Well, let me say that I liked Radiohead. Kid A almost made the list from ages 21-25 (it's also the only CD I've never pawned for beer money, so that must mean something, right?), but I just never listened to it. Sadly, Ok Computer was released during my Beatles-only phase and, though I owned it and had listened to it a few times, well, all I can say is: it wasn't the Beatles, man! Now, In Rainbows is the record that got me back into Radiohead. Over the course of its ten songs, I run the gambit of emoto-meter. I am spent by the time Thom Yorke sings, "Today has been the most perfect day I've ever seen."

6. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
Each consecutive TVOTR release I've loved more than the last. This is a band, as my friend Leah pointed out, that stays consistent. You can always count on Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone and David Sitek for some seriously good songs. Dear Science is the peak of this band and what a peak it was. This is another of those "perfect" records. It seethes with life and energy and enthusiasm.

7. Kurt Vile - Childish Prodigy
I've been saying for awhile now that Kurt Vile is one of the last, great true songwriters. His lyrics are ethereal and weird; they float around the edges of the songs, almost never landing. But when they do land it's with the power of a oncoming train. "Flopping and flipping around like a fish on a ship!" Vile screams. Damn straight.

8. Deerhunter - Microcastle
There's a lot to love and a lot to hate about Bradford Cox, lead singer and songwriter of Deerhunter. His musical output is staggering, sometimes releasing a song a day on his blog. Some of those songs, however, are pure garbage - Cox doesn't care, he just loves making music. Microcastle is Deerhunter on a good day. It's honest, it's dark, it's cool, it's weird, it's fun, it's heartbreaking.

9. Distractions - Dark Green Sea
Distractions are a local Chicago band fronted by one-time keyboardist for Tin Tin Can, Tom Owens. Owens might be the epitome of everything I currently love about music. Here is his low baritone, there is the washed-out vocals, here are beautiful major seventh chords, there are frequent meter changes, here is that vintage organ sound, oooh, and there is some tremolo. There's no losing when it comes to listening to Distractions.

10. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
I actually started listening to and loving Jens Lekman in 2007. Oh You're So Silent, Jens - compilation of songs he'd released in his native Sweden - caught my attention, so that when I heard he had a new record coming out, I bought it immediately, and fell deeper in love with this crooning heartthrob. I'll be honest, it probably should've made the list last week, but I still listen to this record almost weekly, so it counts now if it counts anywhere.

Honorable Mentions (over the entirety of this series):

MC Hammer - 2 Legit 2 Quit
Radiohead - Ok Computer/Kid A
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Sigur Ros - ()
Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News
Okkervil River - The Stage Names/The Stand-ins
Paul Simon - Graceland
The Kinks - Arthur
The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free
Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
Beat Happening - You Turn Me On
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
James Blak - James Blake

I'll leave you with a question and an answer. What's your favorite record, right now? Mine is Cass McComb's Wit's End.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

The first book in Daniel Abraham's new fantasy series, The Dagger and the Coin, does not turn tropes on their heads or reinvent the genre; instead, what Abraham is concerned with is engaging fantasy - including its strengths and weaknesses - on its own terms. Indeed, in the "Extras" section at the end of The Dragon's Path, Abraham discusses having "permission to be part of a greater body of literature." Where his first fantasy series, the critically acclaimed and excellent Long Price Quartet, gave readers an interesting and new take on magic and placed it outside the traditional Medieval European setting, The Dragon's Path travels the rutted road of many epic fantastists - yet, it has all of Abraham's charm and wit, making The Dragon's Path an entertaining and engaging read.

Part of what Abraham does so well is write compelling characters. This is epic fantasy, to be sure, but the important players in The Dragon's Path are not great warriors or sorcerers or sorceresses (though, each of these certainly make appearances). There is Cithrin, an orphan and ward of the Medean Bank, who must smuggle the free city of Vanai's wealth across the countryside after her city is sacked. And Geder Palliako, the "lone scion of a noble house" who is more interested in speculative essays than swordplay, and is constantly made fun of for it. Marcus Wester is the closest Abraham gets to a great warrior; however, Marcus's glory days (tinged with tragedy though they are) are well behind him and he has become a mercenary and caravan guard. Dawson Kalliam, childhood friend of the king of Antea, is a man of tradition, whether right or wrong, and will do anything to keep the kingdom from falling. His wife, Clara, also plays into the action near the end of the novel - she is certainly more intelligent than Dawson and has a better grasp of court politics and the great changes sweeping through the kingdom.

The most interesting characters in The Dragon's Path are Cithrin and Geder, however, because their actions, at the best times, are morally ambiguous, deeply affecting, and, most important, truly human. When Geder is forced into a position of power, his conclusion of Vanai sets in motion various other power plays in the kingdom of Antea, where Geder hails from, and eventually sets him out on a journey unlike anything he's known. As dangers coalesce around Cithrin, her decision concerning the wealth of Vanai will potentially make her a very powerful woman - as war hits the continent, many nations may depend on loans from her branch. Both Geder and Cithrin make good and bad choices. Geder's naivete and near-sociopathic tendenies will have you cursing him at some points in the book; yet, in the end, you want Geder to win or, at least, do something right. Cithrin, too, is a complex character: her growth from a frightened girl in a world of unknowns to a confident banker is marvelous, though she is still fueled by the folly of youth.

The world Abraham's built is based around the end of the reign of dragons and the creation of the thirteen races of man. He spends most of the novel with the Firstbloods, glossing over the other twelve races with superficial detail - "tall-eared Tralgu, chitinous Timzinae, tusked Yemmu...The Dartinae had small braziers in their eyeholes...a Kurtadam with clicking beads." If there is a weakness in The Dragon's Path, it's here; however, this being the first book in a series of an expected five, it's possible Abraham well get more in depth with these races as they become important to the tale. Part of the first book in a series of this magnitude is setting up the world, letting the reader know the rules, and Abraham succeeds in that.

Beyond the political intrigues and banking contracts, Abraham has constructed an interesting if familiar back story concerning the age of dragons (who are now extinct, but left jade roads called "dragon roads" in their wake), and a temple of priests who can tell whether or not a person is lying and are concerned with the End of All Doubt and a very nasty spider. The revelation of the "End of All Doubt" is Abraham's intriguing spin on the "looming darkness" or "freeing of the great evil lord" common to commercial epic fantasy; it'll be exciting where he leads us.

Though The Dragon's Path shares similarities with past epic fantasy series', Abraham knows his strengths as a writer and, what might come off as cliche in a lesser writer's pen, here reads excitingly fresh. Recommended.

-Dustin Monk

Thursday, April 21, 2011

News of the Day: Recording Update

After a break in recording to work on new songs, Tin Tin Can is ready to go at it again. We're setting up dates to record in Detroit with our friend Mark. We recorded initial tracking for our previous EP, The Devil & the Mockingbird, with Mark and it was so much fun we wanted to do it again. We're very excited to be recording on analog tape, too!

We've got a batch of songs - some of which we've played at recent shows, some that we haven't - that we feel really good about and hope you do too. I don't have any specific dates for release of the record yet, but we're definitely looking at late summer.

Here are a few of the songs we'll be recording with Mark. These are working titles, though, and not in any particular order.

1. Wrecking Ball
2. Friends & Family
3. City Lights
4. What Fireworks
5. Abducted by Aliens

In the meantime, you can get by with the new Nothingheads EP as well as my sister's project, seasecrets!fossils!fictions, which will be released very soon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

10 Records That Shaped My Youth: Ages 26-29

I lied. It doesn't get that weird. It actually gets a little hipster-ish. I'm not sorry. I still love all of this music. In fact, we're coming to an end (only one more post left in this series), so most of the music contained in this post I still listen to, sometimes on a daily basis. I've also decided that I don't know when "youth" ends which is why it's gone this far. Is 29 still young? Sure, why not.

1. Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Like Weezer's Pinkerton, Neutral Milk Hotel's second record is a masterpiece, as near to perfect as a series of songs placed in just such an order gets. That Jeff Mangum, singer/songwriter of NMH, has released almost nothing new since this record has only increased Aeroplane's mysteriousness and wonder.

2. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
It's long, it's fluffy, it's bloated, it's totally over the top in every possible way, it's full of enthusiasm and heart, horns, choirs, xylophones, trills, gorgeous melodies, polyphony, weirdness, pretty much everything. What's not to like?

3. Xiu Xiu - La Foret
Where the above Sufjan record is everything everywhere all of the time, Xiu Xiu's La Foret is a study in understatement and silence. Here, Jamie Stewar barely rises above whisper when singing though the songs do at times "rock" - in the totally avant garde way Xiu Xiu rocks out. I saw Jamie Stewart and his band perform at Intonation Fest in '05 (now it's called Pitchfork Festival, heh) and was blown away by their live performance. Stewart believes every weird thing he says.

4 & 5 & 6. Animal Collective - Feels/Strawberry Jam/Merriweather Post Pavilion
My friend Leo introduced me to Animal Collective. He and I met via myspace (remember myspace?) and a mutual respect of each other's music. (Later one, we'd both be members of each other's bands, but that's another story.) Of course, there was a lot of overlap in music that we listened to, but every now and again, we came across something that one of us hadn't heard (for instance, I introduced Leo to Xiu Xiu). "Grass" was the first song that I loved by Animal Collective and I think I listened to Feel in its entirety every single day while working for the Jewish United Fund. Strawberry Jam is a cold and distant record, closer to a snowy gray day than anything else, but I listened to it over the summer and so when I hear songs like "Fireworks" or "For Reverend Green" I am reminded of the tall grasses of Carbondale and drunkenly playing video games in Andy's trailer. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a Chicago night record, for me. It's all about sweating beer in the practice space, our only light a string of christmas lights, a cigarette butt-filled floor, and the Green Line.

7. Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
In 2007 I recorded Dustin Monk & the Dirty Priests which, in its weird way, was in response to Highway 61 Revisited. I wanted to do something as lyrically psychedelic as "Desolation Row" and as rolling as the title track. I don't know that I succeeded but it was a fun experiment and led me to a deeper understanding of the awesomeness that is Dylan.

8. Bruce Springsteen - Darkness at the Edge of Town
Around the same time that I was rediscovering Dylan, I was also discovering (for the first time) the Boss. Born to Run is certainly a great record, though I find fault with three of its eight tracks and therefore couldn't include it here. Instead, I give you Darkness - ten songs of pure 70s rock, perfect and implacable. From start to finish, Darkness is absolutely the most blustery, dark, and hot summer night you have ever experienced.

9. The Hold Steady - Boys & Girls in America
In keeping with the theme of bar rock awesome, The Hold Steady's Boys & Girls in America really hit me. Craig Finn's lyrics, the guitar riffs, the anthemic, ahem, fist-pumping. Whatever they've become now (Jimmy Eat World wannabes?), this record and its predecessor, Separation Sunday, are great retro rock records full of the kind of hyper-literary lyrics I'm apparently so fond of.

10. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Of Montreal, in my opinion, is really really really hit or miss. Their earlier records sound like weird Beatles stuff. The stuff Kevin Barnes is doing now is funky and, yeah, weird, and not that good. But he had a moment. Hissing Fauna is, like Pinkerton and Aeroplane, perfect from start to finish. By the time you get to the eleven minute opus, "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," you are in; and, if you're not in by then, you never will be. Get it?

So. Hipster Beach Boys, bar rock, avant garde, stream-of-consciousness folkrock? I guess that pretty much summed me up from 2006-2009. Next week: where do we go from here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington

For readers expecting more gruesomeness, grotesquerie, and vulgarity from the author of The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, Jesse Bullington's second novel, The Enterprise of Death, will not disappoint. Cannibalism, necrophilia, venereal diseases, the walking dead (sometimes all at once!): Enterprise has these - and more! - in spades. "Pity Boabdil," Enterprise begins, and pity the reader with a weak stomach, for Bullington is a master at gritty, harrowing and awe-inspiringly macabre detail.

Enterprise follows Awa - lesbian African slave and reluctant necromancer - on her strange journey to find the book that may (or may not) break the curse her master put upon her through a Europe in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition. Along the way Awa encounters fictional and nonfictional characters alike - from the pistol-toting mercenary Monique to the real-life Reformationist and artist, Niklaus Manuel of Bern. Some of these people help her, others seek to destroy her and name her for what she is; throughout, however, is Awa's perserving spirit.

If Enterprise's humor is sometimes darker and smattered less generously than its predecessor, it's because, at is heart, Enterprise is a more serious and deeper investigation into our humanity. Bullington isn't afraid to tackle questions of morality, particularly whether the performance of necromancy is good or evil, because Awa - for all that she is a witch and raises the dead with or without their permission - is trying to live the best possible life a black homosexual woman with supernatural powers can live during the Inquisition.

Bullington utilizes his writing strengths - clever, gritty prose and witty asides - much as he did in his debut. The difference is, instead of the heretical graverobbing murdering bastards at the heart of Grossbart, Enterprise has characters - despite their many sins - you can root for. Manuel and Monique, and especially Awa, all strive for genuine goodness. But, as Awa surmises, "The problem with telling tales about real people [is] no summary can convey every truth, every facet, and what is good for the hare is not good for the fox."

Enterprise skillfully continues the macabre niche Bullington is carving out for himself, but also brings something new to his table.

-Dustin J Monk

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

10 Records That Shaped My Youth: Ages 21-25

It seems to me that, up to this point, I fell in love with styles of music and bands that sort of epitomized that particular style (i.e. hair metal and Warrant; grunge and Nirvana; pop and The Beatles), burning the bridge to whatever previous style of music I'd been interested in. From age 21 and on, however, you'll notice that I don't so much "burn a bridge" or "slough a skin," but, instead, sort of layer skins and bridges atop one another, which is kind of gross.

Though I'd been performing in bands since high school, this period also saw the formation of Root Shoot Leaf, my first "real" band, as I call it. Looking back, it was a pretty naive, but I certainly hinged alot on the success of this band. It was also the peak of my musical output: Root Shoot Leaf released 5 full-lengths and 3 EPs between 2004-2007.

Anyway, here's what I was listening to.

1. John Coltrane - Giant Steps
Larry Harms, one of my music instructors as Illinois Central College, really got me hooked on this record. The title track and "Naima" are two of the best songs, of any style, I've ever heard. There used to be a bar in downtown Peoria where every Friday Larry and a group of friends would play good jazz. I remember sitting in the dark with my sweating glass of whiskey and coke, letting all those notes in my ears. I wonder if they still do that.

2. Thelonious Monk - Monk's Blues
What drew me to Thelonious wasn't that we shared the same last name (as so many people have wondered) but the disjointed melodies, the unpredictable nature of his songs. Thelonious was a jazz rock star. And Monk's Blues, more than any other record, really embodied Thelonious' own character.

3. Bela Bartok - The Six String Quartets
I found this vinyl in a record store in Peoria. I'd heard a few pieces from Bartok before and really enjoyed them, but nothing prepared for the beauty and the strangeness of his quartets. I fell in love immediately.

4. Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica
There were a few years where I didn't write "rock songs" as it were (as I was more focused on composing string quartets and little chamber pieces), but I always said, once I heard Moon & Antarctica, that if I wrote rock songs these would be the kind of songs I would write. I don't know that I kept that promise, but Modest Mouse might be credited with getting me back into rock and roll.

5 & 6. Brigh Eyes - Lifted, or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground & Fevers & Mirrors
My sister, Mandy, made me a mixtape (okay, a mix CD) because I'd asked her for some good music that wasn't on the radio. One of the songs she put on the tape (CD) was "Haligh Haligh A Lie Haligh" off of Bright Eyes' Fevers & Mirrors. I had to have more of this guy. These records tend toward the melodramatic when I listen to them nowadays, but both still hold a special place in my heart.

7. The Strokes - Is This It?
I jumped on The Strokes bandwagon a little late. I didn't get into Is This It? until their second lp, Room on Fire, was already out. But from the opening guitar riff of the title track all the way down to the last, Is This It? is a near-perfect record, fun and rough around the edges.

8 & 9. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells & Elephant
The kid who handed me White Blood Cells and said, "Listen to this record!" also listened to bands like Stain'd and Creed. I did not have high hopes for The White Stripes. Then I put the record on, and discovered even Stain'd fans aren't wrong all of the time. Both of these records sound as fresh and as hyper-active as they did when they were released. It's a shame The White Stripes are over, but they left behind a near-flawless legacy.

10. Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head
Say what you will about Coldplay these days, but this record (and their debut) is solid. The melodies and guitar lines are interesting and the songs hold up. I still get a little vaklempt when "Warning Sign" comes on.

Next time, I get weird. Real weird.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: Welcome to the Greenhouse, edited by Gordon van Gelder

With the recent successes of novels like Ian McDonald's River of Gods and, particularly, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Wind-up Girl and the YA novel, Ship Breaker, environmental issues have garnered a lot of attention from the science fiction community. It's small wonder, then, that an anthology like Welcome to the Greenhouse: New Science Fiction on Climate Change would crop up . That it's edited by Gordon van Gelder, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and features some of the top names in the industry - well, that's just icing on the cake.

The sixteen stories contained in Greenhouse are as varied and as hard to pin down as the causes and effects of climate change on the Earth. There are ruminations and mood pieces (such as opener "Benkoelen" by Brian W. Aldiss and "Sundown" by Chris Lawson); twisted, dark comedies on the aftereffects of global warming ("That Creeping Sensation" by Alan Dean Foster and "Not A Problem" by Matthew Hughes); strange godlike humans ("Damned When You Do" by Jeff Carlson and "Come Again Some Other Day" by Michael Alexander); and those wherein climate change is present but less central to the story ("The Men of Summer" by David Prill and "Fish Cakes" by Ray Vukcevich).
Highlights in this anthology include Judith Moffett's "The Middle of Somewhere," about the disparity between modern technology and living "off the grid." In this story, set not in a near- or far-future but a time happening right now, a teenage girl researching nesting birds in the Kentucky wilderness is suddenly faced with survival and a lack of modern technological luxuries after a devastating tornado strikes the home of the woman she's staying with.

Gregory Benford's "Eagle" is another standout. Benford imbues his story with the ironic and a sense of moral ambiguity. As eco-terrorists try to stop the re-freezing of the arctic, a village of Inuit plan to finally return home. A fantastically dubious ending leaves the reader with a mouthful of ash on the question of right and wrong.

"FarmEarth" by Paul di Filippo is wildly innovative and lively, even if it's premise is a bit implausible. In di Filippo's future, cleanup from the effects of climate change is handled through the virtual world - essentially, like playing app off Facebook. A boy about to turn thirteen (the age you can "download the FarmEarth app") is about to get the chance of a lifetime - and that's when everything goes wrong.

Yet, it is Bruce Sterling's "The Master of the Aviary," that is perhaps the best of the stories presented in Greenhouse. It is also the hardest to classify: "Aviary" is part survival story, Socratic meditation, cautionary tale, and all alien. Selder, the sustainable community "Aviary" is set in, has laws and practices common to the present, but that have been skewed enough to feel a Sterling's distant prose only reinforces that feeling of disconnect. Regardless, the characters' plights are as human as ever, and the last line is as heartbreaking as it is disconcerting.

In handling a controversial topic such as climate change, there is sometimes a propensity toward heavy-handedness and preachy scare tactics. Thankfully, van Gelder has picked writers without such propensities; Greenhouse never strays too close to either pro- or anti- sentiments on climate change. Instead, the stories and characters here seethe with life and wonder. Sometimes that life is bleak and terrible and sometimes it has become so alien as to be unrecognizable. Throughout each of them, however, remains that which is impossible to suppress: humanity and the will to survive.

Buy now it from Or Books or from Amazon.

--Dustin J Monk

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Not Really a Review: "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss

As part of my ongoing mission to read my heroic fantasy this year, I finished The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss about a week ago and I've spent that time reflecting on the story. For those of you what haven't read it yet, Wind is the first book of a planned three in the Kingkiller Chronicles and is the story of Kvothe - hero, magician, innkeeper - as told through his own eyes. The books (the second book, Wise Man's Fear, is out now from DAW) have been likened to "Harry Potter for adults," and I suppose the comparison is an apt one, at least for Wind; though Rothfuss' awareness of fantasy tropes and pitfalls saves him from rehashing well-worn territory.

In this first installment, we journey with Kvothe from his small beginnings in a traveling theater company and finally to the University where he studies magic (or "sympathy" as Rothfuss as reimagined it), with some hard times between. Rothfuss' aforementioned knowledge of fantasy fiction lets him outmaneuver - or, at least, make light of - old cliches. He's a crafty fellow and just when you think you know what's coming...well, you don't.

Kvothe is, at times, a self-deprecating narrator and quite humorous. It's rare a book makes me laugh out loud, but this did on several occasions - in particular, there is a scene with a "wizened but half-mad Master" at the university who requires Kvothe to do something dangerous in order for him to be taught by this Master and, let's just say, the results are hilarious.

What really struck me in Wind wasn't the avoidance of cliches (though it truly is a breath of fresh air) or the humor, but it was the depth, the closeness, of character. I've read a lof of epic fantasy in the past and, too many times, either the characters were not developed enough or secondary characters were so utterly rendered that I didn't know why the story wasn't about them. Rothfuss, however, knows every one of the people that populate the story inside and out - I felt like I knew Wyl and Sim and Denna, as if we were all old chums - but masterfully lets us know only what we need to know, at the moment. For a story on as grand a scale as Wind is, this is no easy feat.

In March I had the opportunity to see Rothfuss read at the Borders in Oak Park. I was too timid to ask question (but next time I swear I'll ask if he really is in a beard-off with George RR Martin), but several other folks asked some great questions concerning language and dialogue, specifically about the characters in the books. A lot of Wind's character descriptions are through dialogue - in that, how they speak and what they say when they do gives the reader a mental picture of what they character looks like. Old Cob is a perfect example of this: I don't remember a single line about what Cob looks like except that he's "old" but through his dialogue I know exactly what he looks like. It's pretty cool when a book can do that.

I highly recommend The Name of the Wind for everyone. You don't have to like epic fantasy to like this book. Though I've got a few other books lined up to read before I get to the second book of the Kingkiller Chronicles, I'm eager to read it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

10 Records That Shaped My Youth: Ages 17-20

If I began listening to grunge because my voice broke and I could no longer belt out those wondrously high-pitched melodies hair metal singers seem to love, favoring instead the scratchier, lower-register melodies of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, then I chucked off my green cardigan and flannel shirts for ties and suit coats and, yep, Beatle boots. That's right: I was heading straight into candyland: pop music. Specifically, pop music from the 50s and 60s. The stuff my, gulp, mom and dad listened to!

This list could easily have been 10 Beatles records; however, I've tried to broaden it a little.

1 - 4. The Beatles - Rubber Soul/Revolver/Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/Abbey Road
Honestly, I feel like I'm cheating you a little here with The Beatles taking up four slots, but this is simply the truth. In fact, I really had to think about which Beatles records I listened to the most and which ones I liked the most. Do I go with the first CD I ever purchased - The White Album, the record that got me into the Beatles in the first place - or do I go with what the records I still find fresh and absorbing today? I went with the latter. When the remastered versions came out a couple years ago I was thrown for a loop. The songs actually sounded different: cleaner, crisper, wider. It took me a little while to get used to everything in stereo, especially the early records, but now I'm glad George Martin and his son took the time to remaster The Beatles. The four lads from Liverpool really are the greatest band in rock history. I dare you to disagree.

5. Bob Dylan - Freewheelin'
This was the first record I heard from the nasally troubadour and, though I like his mid-60s (the era, not the age) stuff more, this record has stuck it out. Songs like "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," and "Girl from the North Country," and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," still get me through the night.

6. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica
I will admit that the first time (or hundred times) I heard Captain Beefheart I couldn't stop laughing. My friend Kevin (who is making quite a few appearances in these posts of late) showed me a clip of Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) performing on Saturday Night Live and it was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever seen. Of course we bought his records. Of course we imitated him. Of course we created a boardgame called "Sue Egypt" after a song on Doc at the Radar Station for our high school English class. Point is, while the Beef and I got off on the wrong foot, the affair lasted and grew and became something akin to respect and love.

7 & 8. Igor Stravinsky - The Rite of Spring/Firebird Suite
I attended community college studying music. My instructors there, in particular, Larry Harms and Prince Dorough, greatly influenced what I was listening to. I opened up to classical and jazz. The first composer to really strike me was Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring is a piece I never tire of. Firebird Suite is just as haunting and amazing.

9. Weezer - Pinkerton
Rivers Cuomo's finest moment. The pinnacle of Weezer. On Tin Tin Can's way to Arkansas last year we listened to this record and every one of us commented that this may be one of the few perfect records ever made. There is not one note out of place. It's magical.

10. Simon & Garfunkel - Bookends
My friend John (who occasionally posts here with basketball news) lived in China for four years. One summer he returned to the states singing "The Sound of Silence" and "Kathy's Song." I was already mining folk music, listening to Dylan and Cohen and others, so Simon & Garfunkel was no stretch. Yet, my favorite record from the duo is the hardest, rockingest - and possibly weirdest - record. "Save the Life of My Child" still makes me uncomfortable; and "Overs" is one of the best breakup songs ever written.

There you have it. I'm not old enough to drink legally yet, but just you wait. It's coming and when it does, oh dear, the floodgates are opened because, for whatever reason (and lots of others), beer and music make good company.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Story Wants Your Eyes: Prime Mincer Update

Just a reminder for those what want good stories to read (and those what don't: for shame!), Prime Mincer's Spring Issue, with my story "Shiny Things," is now available from their website and Amazon and Smashwords (for those what like ebooks).

The issue features many other wonderful writers and I'm proud to be included in the magazine's premiere issue. The lovely cover photo on your left comes courtesy of Eric Robinson.

"Shiny Things" was written during the final week of Clarion and I'll always associate a certain melancholia with it because of this. I intend to write several more short stories concerning the main character in "Shiny Things," as his voice is one of my favorites to write in.

Anyway, I think it's raining outside wherever you are and that always makes for a fine reading time, don't you think? Oh, and so does sunshine, or overcast, cold or hot or...well, you get the picture.

Monday, April 4, 2011

10 Records That Shaped My Youth: Ages 13-16

Thus begins our second installment of the records that shaped my youth. Last time, if you'll recall, I was knee-deep in hair metal and pretty much loving every moment. At some point, however, my tastes shifted. I went grunge. See that kid wearing a flannel shirt on Tuesdays and a green "grandpa" cardigan on Friday? No...that's not Kurt Cobain. That's me.

My friend Kevin and I used to sing Nirvana's "Territorial Pissings" at the top of our lungs during school recess and then we would jump down the small grassy hill, rolling down it, scraping up your elbows and knees. Why? Because it was how we felt, man.

1 & 2. Nirvana - Nevermind/In Utero
Nirvana gets two spots because, really, almost everything I listened to during this period was Kurt Cobain's scratchy voice.

3. Weezer - The Blue Album
Still great. Almost - almost - as good as Pinkerton, but not quite. Regardless, Weezer's self-titled debut was the poppiest, catchiest thing I'd heard that was also cool. Dude played Dungeons & Dragons and admitted it!

4. Sonic Youth - Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star
My friend Kevin (the same one mentioned above) got me into Sonic Youth. It was a short-lived affair, but this record is still pretty awesome. And, more recently, I've been digging them once again.

5 & 6. The Doors - The Doors/Strange Days
It was always a toss-up between Nirvana and The Doors. I loved Jim Morrison's slow, slightly flat baritone as much as I loved Cobain's scratchiness. The first time I heard "Crystal Ship" I was in love. When I heard "Moonlight Drive," I knew there was no going back.

7. Leonard Cohen - Songs of Love & Hate
My dad had this vinyl record laying around with this half-smiling, half-smirking guy on the front cover. I thought it looked cool so I put it on the player and really dug the poetry of the lyrics.

8. Pearl Jam - Ten
You know. Some things just happen by accident.

9. Soundgarden - Superunknown
I listened to this record the other day and you know what? It's pretty good. A shame Chris Cornell had to do all of that Audioslave nonsense. Gross.

10. Beck - Mellow Gold
Beck's last couple of records have been less than stellar, but this one and its follow-up still...I was going to say "rock" but that isn't quite right...they do whatever it is Beck does and they do it well.

Friday, April 1, 2011

10 Records That Shaped My Youth: Ages 9-12

At the risk of dating myself, dinosaur that I am, the next few posts on this blog will feature records that shaped my youth, early teen years, and into my twenties. Although I obviously listened to music before age nine, the idea of a "record" - a set of songs in a certain order played from track one to track twelve or whatever - hadn't really affected me in any cognizant way. I mostly listened to top 40 hits, Casey Kasem on Saturday mornings, and Ray Lynch's Deep Breakfast cassette tapes my mother and father owned. I admit there was a small, miniscule, infinitesimal Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer phase too.

Anyway. Here are 10 records that shaped my youth from ages nine to twelve (not in chronological order). Remember: I was young. Trust me, it gets better. Depending on your definition of "better."

1. Metallica - Metallica
I've lost a lot of fanboyishness for Metallica in the ensuing years, but even now, occasionally, when "Sad But True" comes on the radio, I turn the volume up and rock.

2. Steelheart - Steelheart
The first of many hair-metal bands that I loved. Steelheart, you stole my heart and how I longed to sing as high as Miljenko Matjevic.

3. Warrant - Cherry Pie
How many times did I listen to the title track, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and "I Saw Red?" Enough to wear our the cassette tape Yeah, the cassette tape.

4. Garth Brooks - No Fences
My only foray into modern country. A friend lent me this and, though at first I hated it, I grew to like that "thunder rolls" song and the "friends in low places" thing.

5. Boston - Boston
I still love this record and I think it's up there with classic rock records, proving that not everything I listened to when I was ten or eleven was absolutely hilarious.

6. Faith No More - The Real Thing
Again, "Epic" is still a great song, mainly for how ridiculous it is. "You want it all but you can't have it," is still relevant today...Sorry, I can barely control my own laughter.

7. Mr. Big - Lean Into It
And here it is. One of the lowest of the lowlights. I wore this cassette tape out too. My cousin once asked me what I was listening to and I told her it was Mr. Big and she said have I ever heard of Danzig.

8. Roxette - Look Sharp!
Pure fun. My sister and I danced like crazy kids to this record. Eventually we put sticky tape over where the tabs had been and recorded our own songs over the record.

9. Jon Bon Jovi - Blaze of Glory
Huge Billy the Kid fan growing up. So, of course, I loved this record. Cowboys, outlaws, shootouts, lawlessness, bombastic guitar solos.

10. Guns N Roses - Appetite for Destruction
I still secretly like this record, but I guess that's not a secret anymore. Whatever. This record is cool and you know it.

Though I no longer listen to or even own most of these records, at the time, these were the songs that coursed through my veins and poured out my eyes. I knew all the words, I knew some of the chords, I wore out the tapes, I imagined myself on stage playing these songs.

What records did you listen to at this age and how embarrassing is it now?