Lucky for some

Around the Sun is REM’s 13th album, and the third (following Up and Reveal) without drummer Bill Berry. Who thought the drummer actually mattered? I mean, I was never that convinced that Led Zeppelin couldn’t have continued without John Bonham. After all, The Who went on without Keith Moon. A drummer, I always figured, was great, but he was just some guy whacking something really hard. Right? Right?

Well, REM have conclusively proven, in the space of just 39 tracks, that the drummer matters, and is often the critical element in the architecture of a band and their sound. When Berry left he took discipline, melody and drive with him, and left behind an aural wash that tended to be a bit dark and a bit down, but not terribly interesting. Sure there have been outstanding tracks along the way – “Daysleeper” for example – but there haven’t been any outstanding albums, and it doesn’t seem like there will be. Compare, if you want to see what I mean, New Adventures in Hi Fi with Around the Sun. It’s not pretty. The latest issue of Mojo reviews the album and asks if we can’t go back to Rockville, after all. I agree. Bill Berry come home. We need you.

Reducing the impact

I’ve already nailed my colors to the mast when it comes to Gene Wolfe’s The Wizard Knight. I think it’s a marvellous book, and one that should be considered as a single volume. Reading Charles Stross’s The Merchant Princes and looking back at John Wright’s The Golden Age and Scott Westerfeld’s Succession – all long novels cut up and published as shorter books – it becomes very clear that the real casualty is the opportunity for these books to make a major impact, to potentially break out their authors.

As singleton volumes containing parts of longer stories these books lose the chance to real knock out their audience. As long books containing all of the story involved, though, they often are knockouts. Kudos, therefore, to the Science Fiction Book Club, who have published the definitive versions of the Wright and Westerfeld books, and seem likely to do the same for the Wolfe. I will stress here, though, that I’m not particularly criticising the publishers who suggest cutting books up like this. There are sound business reasons for doing so, and I certainly understand it. But, there is a cost.

Stephenson’s system

I have not, I confess here and now, made it from first page to last of the tome – set of tomes actually – that Andrew Leonard refers to as Mt Stephenson in his review of Neal Stephenson’s latest novel. In fact, although I was knocked out by Cryptonomicon, I was frozen, motionless, by about page 100 of Quicksilver, unable to proceed and not sure how interested I was in the attempt. I think, to a point, I was like a rabbit stuck in the middle of the road, transfixed by the sheer mass of paper headed my way. Given the way my time is, I know I’ll now never read the three books, but I was interested to compare Leonard’s Salon piece with John Clute’s views on the monumental blockhead obdurate wrongness of the book. I don’t know who’s right, but the difference of opinion is interesting, and Clute is pretty clever guy.

The other favorite

You can’t link to it, but my favorite fantasy short story was probably Kelly Link’s “The Faery Handbag”. You need to buy a book to read it, but as it’s in my favorite fantasy anthology of the year, and possibly my favorite anthology of the year period, it’s not much of a hardship. Actually, stopping to think about it, I have to buy a copy of that book. Read it as a print out from some email, so that’ll go on the next amazon order.


I’ve switched back to the old comments set-up, at least for the moment. The blogger comments are nicely integrated into pages, but seems to want to either force you to sign-up or post as ‘anonymous’. Not ideal, and the old system has been working well enough for some time, so…