Recent reading

I’ve been trying to keep up with the pile of ‘to read’ books, and struggling. The pile never seems to go down! But here’s some recent ones I’ve ticked off:

I finally got to Magic Dirt, a collection of shorts from over-achieving Australian Sean Williams. There are a bunch of lovely stories here, most with a preface from the author about how they came to be. Two of my favourites are ‘Passing the Bone’, a gorgeous take on the zombie story, and ‘White Christmas’, a very different approach to the apocalypse. There a goodly number of SF stories, some concerned with Williams’ ongoing fascination with the idea of just how humanity might cope with the distances of space, and other post-human conundrums, and one that isn’t spec fic at all.

Note: There is also a superb Aussie rock band called Magic Dirt.

And for something completely different, I rolled Rant, by Chuck Palahniuk. This was a delightfully quick read, the story of the eponymous Rant being told through the accounts of those around him, documentary style. It’s cleverly done and the characters are drawn with considerable relish and appeal, and I much enjoyed the dystopia that the alternative history provides with all its Ballard-lite car crashing and diurnal/nocturnal divide. I didn’t quite go for the final conceit of just what was happening here (it belongs to a certain plot device that I always have trouble getting my head around), but didn’t mind so much, the ride had been so enjoyable.

  • Check out Chuck’s writing tips
  • Over on the non-fiction shelf, there’s A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits, by Carol and Dinah Mack. This survey of, well, the title says it all, really, was going pretty well as it discussed fey folk of water, mountain, forest and soforth. It sets out each entity by description, then a little story about them, and then a section on disarming and dispelling them: identify, case study, coping technique. But the guide loses traction with a few of its inclusions, the spirits being so specific (such as St Anthony’s demons) and so powerful (such as Kabhanda and several deities) that the guide’s ‘disarming and dispelling’ section is rendered irrelevant, there being neither disarming nor dispelling available (it might as well have been renamed ‘put your head between your legs and kiss your arse goodbye’). The inclusion of psychological entities such as Freud’s Id and Jung’s Shadow seemed a step too far. Still, as an introductory guide to mythology, not bad, and the introduction to the role of spirits within each domain gave cause for reflection.

    On a similar theme, there’s Anthony Finlay’s Demons: The Devil, Possession and Exorcism, the author being a former Catholic priest who offers up a history of Christianity’s relationship with Satan and his minions and the Church’s changing attitude to possession and Satan. It’s a good starting point for an overview of how Satan came to his position within Christian dogma, Finlay showing a lovely balance between logic and faith as he charts the course in conversational, approachable prose. There’s some discussion of the role of evil in the world and Christianity’s loss of ground to materialism and atheism and other alternative viewpoints. Finlay cites historic cases of possession, introduces pop culture portrayals through the likes of The Exorcist, but doesn’t reveal too much detail about his own experiences. I suspect this book is aimed at readers from within the Church, but I found the basic history and information to be thought-provoking.<p
    Here's a fitting sign-off:

    Zola Jesus — what happens when you listen to too much Siouxsie Sioux!

    Oh nom, nom, nom… and how good is the clip from Future Primitive Films? Find out more about Zola at her MySpace. There’s more discordance in store! (Good gracious, check out her version of Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love for starters … yipes!)

    And in other recent net musical explorations to raise an eyebrow if not an ear:

  • Iron Maiden blast off to the Final Frontier ahead of a new album!
  • Girls put out, ahem, two versions of their spunky Lust For Life (no Iggy was harmed in the making of this tune) — one for work and one for home. Meh.

  • A comfortable little noodle is offered by English outfit XX (or is that xx?) with a touch of unassuming synth. Mostly harmless?

  • And finally,Brisbane plays host to this really cool film clip for a catchy Megan Washington pop song (with an uber-cool support cast!)

    Meanwhile, still waiting for those Concrete Blonde Australian tour tix to go on sale… not that I’m impatient or anything, no not me!

    Footnote: I only found out today that Tim Burton (now on show in Melbourne, will get there I swear!) is teaming up with Johnny Depp to shoot a new Dark Shadows. Could be/should be wicked cool! (If you’re asking wassit, check out the original soapie and the remake with Ben Cross. Neither of which should be confused with Australia’s Dark Shadows, a rockin’ Sydney band!)

  • Yarra Valley wine tasting

    yering station restaurant

    There is much to like about the Yarra Valley. It is only an hour from Melbourne City, for starters, and offers spectacular rural scenery once you break out of the urban sprawl at Lilydale: a gorgeous blue-mountain horizon, lush paddocks of sheep and cattle, and vineyards. The vineyards are the main attraction, offering a huge selection all within close driving distance.

    My first venture into the region took in six vineyards in one day of easy driving.

    The first stop was Yering Station, a delightful property where we pulled up chairs by the wood fire in the lounge and enjoyed pastries and coffee over the morning paper. The staff were a joy. By comparison, the wine tasting in the timber-beamed barn seemed a tad tame. The cellar door was complemented by a range of foodstuffs and branded merch and the balcony bar looked tempting but not that early in the day. By afternoon our splendid winter’s morning had clouded over to cold’n’crappy so the bar remains untested. The complex has a superb restaurant that not only is architecturally interesting thanks to raw stone and water features, but offers a sensational view of the fields and mountains.

    Coldstream Hills, small but shiny with a hillside outlook, had a definite professional flourish to its tastings, with an emphasis on quality and a $5 per glass fee on the reserves (waived with every bottle purchase).

    We drove into Healesville to hit Giant Steps-Innocent Bystander, where the crowded restaurant offered a fine view of the winery on the other side of a glass wall, and was also offering tastings from the next-door brewery as well as their own wine. Very friendly staff made this visit a delight, with a cheeky pink moscato proving tempting. We had a chat with winemaker Steve (a fellow Joy Division fan!) who recommended two other vineyards, and very fine recommendations they were, too.

    Oakridge and Maddens Rise are veritable neighboures on the Maroondah Highway. Oakridge boasted an intimate cafe and friendly staff and a very tasty 854 shiraz (sadly, at $60, it wasn’t THAT tasty). Maddens Rise was a comparatively new kid on the block, with the cellar door in a superbly fitted out but small shed with only a couple of varieties on offer. The cab sauv was my pick of the day, and staffer Emma was an absolute gem. I was particularly taken by the shed’s panoramic windows: a clever way to enhance the view.

    We broke our tastings with a filling lunch at Rochford Wines, a vineyard known for its concert events. One of its standout features was an iron, circular stairway to a first-floor art gallery and second-floor viewing platform. Another was its fudge bar!

    Before heading back to the big smoke, we popped into Yarra Valley Dairy for coffee and picked up some of their cheese after a tasting session — a spreadable herb and chilli called Hot Cow and an ashed creamy blue called Black Savourine, both of which were decimated over a Coldstream Hills shiraz that night. I was taken with the shop’s unlined corrugate iron roof and the view from the loo — a very contented dairy cow up to its belly in green grass. Now that’s local produce!

    The thing I like about the Yarra vineyards is that the ones I’ve seen all offer a point of distinction, and there seems an effort is being made to put their own stamp on their product. Except for poor old Giant Steps, stuck in an urban surround, they all have a pleasant outlook, too, which certainly adds to the experience.

    With more than 50 cellar doors on offer, the exploration has only just begun…
    More pictures here.

    Best screen vampires

    Another day, another list … this one of the Ten Best Screen Vampires at the Guardian was winning me hands down until the very end, where once again the confusion about popular equating to good kicked in. Honestly, if you want a vampire struggling with their nature and trying to practise restraint, wouldn’t you go for one that actually makes you feel the true weight of that struggle rather than just mooching about – at best a cad, at worst a dirty old man? Like, say, Louis in Interview, or eponymous Angel, or even Nick Knight (probably more the TV show than the movie)? Still, nine out of 10 ain’t bad (even if I’d probably have plumbed for Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia in Interview as my child representative).

    ‘Goth looking but genius’ – WTF?

    pauley perrette as abby in ncis

    I was reading this article about a mummy exhibition, sadly in the US so I can only admire from afar, when I was struck by an assinine comment, in relation to the wundertabulous forensic tech Abby (played by Pauley Perrette) in NCIS. A mummy expert is saying how she loves the character, a positive role model for women seeking careers in science. And the journalist added this note of explanation:

    “Perrette plays the Goth-looking but genius Abby Sciuto on the top-rated television drama.”

    “Goth-looking but genius”.

    Why BUT. Why not AND? Why is it even relevant to this piece about mummies that Abby’s gothic? But it’s the ‘but’ that gets me. As if goths can’t be clever.

    Phooey to your but.

    Wolf Parade and other unknown pleasures

    A tip-toe through MySpace revealed these nuggets:

    Wolf Parade, based in Quebec, synths meet guitars, akin to She Wants Revenge blinded by a disco ball. Infectious beat but there’s more to them than that, methinks.

    Still not sure about Semi Precious Weapons: once you get past the bang factor of their potty-mouthed eponymous track, I think they might be just another garage band (albeit quite a good one).

    I thought I should’ve liked Pendulum (heading our way), what, with all that black and a single called Witchcraft, but alas, despite some promising moments, it was all just too slick and ran off the ears.

    And I still haven’t caught up with the latest long-player from The Dead Weather, whose previous, debut, album gave the ears a grand old workout (thanks, Jack).

    Which leaves me contemplating the forthcoming tour of Peter Hook “and friends”, the Joy Division and New Order bassist playing JD’s Unknown Pleasures album in full, with other choice morsels from the catalogue. I’m struggling: it might be sensational, or it might just be a tribute band that happens to include an original band member. The presence of a resurrected Wreckery as support spices the deal, but still …

    Speaking of JD, I’ve been listening to a lot of them lately, through headphones, and been surprised to hear yet more nuances I hadn’t detected previously. Martin Hannett, you were a genius working with very clever young men.

    And finally, two new releases to cause impolite degrees of salivation: a new album from Android Lust, and a re-release of Concrete Blonde’s Bloodletting with tasty, remastered extras.