Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Recommendations: Bartok, Wolfe, Dixon, Huss

A few cultural artifacts I've been enjoying lately. The first is Bartok's music for the 1924 ballet "The Magnificent Mandarin". Here's the synopsis from wikipedia:

After an orchestral introduction depicting the chaos of the big city, the action begins in a room belonging to three tramps. They search their pockets and drawers for money, but find none. They then force a girl to stand by the window and attract passing men into the room. The girl begins a lockspiel — a "decoy game", or saucy dance. She first attracts a shabby old rake, who makes comical romantic gestures. The girl asks, "Got any money?" He replies, "Who needs money? All that matters is love." He begins to pursue the girl, growing more and more insistent until the tramps seize him and throw him out.  
The girl goes back to the window and performs a second lockspiel. This time she attracts a shy young man, who also has no money. He begins to dance with the girl. The dance grows more passionate, then the tramps jump him and throw him out too.  
The girl goes to the window again and begins her dance. The tramps and girl see a bizarre figure in the street, soon heard coming up the stairs. The tramps hide, and the figure, a Mandarin (wealthy Chinese man), stands immobile in the doorway. The tramps urge the girl to lure him closer. She begins another saucy dance, the Mandarin's passions slowly rising. Suddenly, he leaps up and embraces the girl. They struggle and she escapes; he begins to chase her. The tramps leap on him, strip him of his valuables, and attempt to suffocate him under pillows and blankets. However, he continues to stare at the girl. They stab him three times with a rusty sword; he almost falls, but throws himself again at the girl. The tramps grab him again and hang him from a lamp hook. The lamp falls, plunging the room into darkness, and the Mandarin's body begins to glow with an eerie blue-green light. The tramps and girl are terrified. Suddenly, the girl knows what they must do. She tells the tramps to release the Mandarin; they do. He leaps at the girl again, and this time she does not resist and they embrace. With the Mandarin's longing fulfilled, his wounds begin to bleed and he dies.

LIKE. Here's a rendition with the score:



The second is Gene Wolfe's Soldier of Arete. I can't remember who it was who recommended these books to me in the comments to a post on this blog, but whoever it was - thank you. Soldier of the Mist was one of the best fantasy books I had read in years. Soldier of Arete is even better. I would scarcely have thought that could be possible. I could also have scarcely have thought it possible that I could respect Wolfe's work more than I did already, but this, to me, is next-level stuff: in fact, I'm just going to go straight ahead and right now give him the coveted Noisms Award for Best Current Living Writer. It's him. Don't disagree. You're wrong.

The third is Judson Huss. Somebody shared some of his work on G+. It is so far up my alley it is practically right at the end of it, with the biggest, fattest rats, oldest piles of rotting waste, and most well-stowed mob hits. I mean, look at this stuff. It's like Dali, Bruegel, Bosch and Escher put in a blender and given the slightest hint of essence of Larry Elmore:







The fourth and final is Dougal Dixon's After Man: A Zoology of the Future. I must declare an interest: Breakdown Press, who are publishing it, are people I am working with and I've gamed with one of the people who run it. That may colour my appreciation for the book, but I doubt it. I was a fan of Dougal Dixon's work anyway - his Complete Book of Dinousaurs and Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures are a huge inspiration for Behind Gently Smiling Jaws - but again, this is sort of next-level stuff: what do you get when an expert on evolution and paleontology gets to speculate about the future of evolution? Well, stuff like this:


Goes up there with Mythago Wood, Jin Ping Mei and Herodotus's Histories in the list of "Books I want to make into campaign settings".

8 comments:

  1. I'll admit, I found the Latro books disappointing, but still cool. After Man, however, has been a favorite sine the early '80s, and more than a number of those critters have shown up in my D&D and Star Frontiers games over the years.

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    1. Yeah, have seen a lot of alternate evolution critters that go: "let's imagine a critter in a familiar ecological niche with a familiar body shape but descended from something random and different." Some cool stuff but a lot seems paint by numbers, don't think I've seen this particular one before IIRC.

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  2. I like all four of Dixon's evolution books (and the Omni article) and I hope a hardcover version of After Man comes out sooner than later as it is the only one I have in soft.

    If anyone is looking for a similar book, you may want to try The Snouters. It is a monograph and can be technical here and there, but the inventiveness of the author for this adaptive radiation is simply amazing.

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    1. Follow the link to Breakdown Press's website in the entry. It's available to pre-order (coming out in a few days I think) and it's in hardback!

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    2. Great news, read this in high school. I wonder when it will be available in the US?

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  3. I still need to go back to Soldier of Sidon. As I recall, it did not flow quite as smoothly as Mist/Arete.

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    1. To be honest, I think that nothing Wolfe has done since Wizard/Knight has flowed as smoothly as his earlier stuff did.

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    2. I loved "Wizard" but found "Knight" a bit hard going. "The Land Across" is a great read from his more recent work.

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