If you'll remember in Part One of Recently, I discussed some of the most recent books and music I've read and listened to. And now the conclusion...
The Thackery T. Lambshead's Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
This anthology is a sequel-of-sorts to the Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, but is more involved, not just in creating the mythos surrounding Dr. Lambshead, but in the use of images and bigger, broader stories. Both anthologies are great examples of metafiction, but Curiosities succeeds in truly blurring the lines between "reality" and "fiction," including various artifacts discovered in Lambshead's home after his death (of which contained two Clarion classmates' - Tom Underberg and Kali Wallace - microstories). There's a great interview conducted by Cat Rambo on the SFWA site, discussing the anthology and many other things with the Vandermeers, here, here, and here. Some of my favorite stories/artifacts in this collection are Rachel Swirsky's "1943: A Brief Note Pertaining to the Absence of One Olivaceous Cormorant, Stuffed," Amal El-Mohtar's "The Singing Fish," Michael Cisco's "The Thing in the Jar," China Mieville's "Pulvadmonitor: The Dust's Warning," Naomi Novik's "Lord Dunsany's Teapot," and Ted Chiang's "Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny." The titles alone should get your heart racing!
Black Fortys' Voodoo Moon feels like a lost Stones record (if Mick Jagger had a huskier voice, anyway). Josh Murphy - singer/songwriter of the band - and I go way back. All the way to dirty, dimly lit open mics before the Hangar was destroyed by a tornado. We've watched each other grow as songwriters and musicians and I can say without a doubt that this is his most definitive statement - so far. Heartbreak is all over Voodoo Moon. Heartbreak and rugged country, the kind of twisted shapes only moonlight can make.
Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun, Volume I & II, are considered classics of the "dying Earth" stories. Each of these volumes is made up two books, The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of Conciliator, and The Sword of the Lichtor and The Citadel of the Autarch, respectively. Severian is our highly unreliable narrator - a torturer exiled from his guild for showing mercy to a prisoner - and it is through his eyes we (mis)understand his world. I enjoyed a lot of the descriptions and future technology (Father Inire's mirrors, the botanical gardens, etc), but a few problematic issues arose for me: Sword of the Lichtor tended to ramble aimlessly, which led to more aimlessness in Citadel. And the female characters - of which there were four, I think, in the whole series - were set pieces more than characters, there only for Severian to desire.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's Hysterical is another of my favorite "remember 2004?" bands that has released one of the more mediocre records of the year. There's nothing bad about these songs at all - in fact, they're put together well in a very clean, concise order; the problem is is that there is nothing remotely ear-worthy about any of it. Hysterical is so inoffensive and diffused of life it's kind of like the light brown paint on your office walls: you only notice every now and again and not as a work of art but as a revelation of "Oh, the walls are light brown. That's nice."