New year; new projects. And thoughts on Fading Suns

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Has it really been an entire year since my last post? Well, no John Scalzi am I! I plan to remedy the lack of communication issue in 2014, especially since I’m working on some projects this year that I can’t wait to talk about.

On the novel front, I’ve switched my focus. I had been working much of last year on my epic SF/fantasy trilogy. Some good research, some good outlining, and a decent amount of narrative written. But I reached a stopping point at the same time that thoughts of finally getting that sequel to Singularity Deferred out of my head started to peak. So, I’ve shelved the trilogy for now and picked up the sequel–which should make 6 people on Amazon and a couple on Smashwords happy.

Now, some truly awesome news: I just started working with FASA on one of my mostest favoritest role-playing games evar! Fading Suns. (Some additional info.) I’ve been into this system since the late 90s, ever since I got the “Emperor of the Fading Suns” strategy PC game, and then checked out the RPG it was based on. (That game has a truly amazing soundtrack that could be ripped off the CD! I’ve used it for years as part of my writing soundtrack.)

So they released a newly revised edition of the core rules about a year and a half ago, and a new game master’s guide this last December (with much old, revised material). Now, they’re working on redoing the supplemental source books. And that’s where I come in!

I can’t say much, but I’m working right now on a source book that’s going to contain a pretty big ratio of new content! It’s very exciting! And the fact that I get to have a role in the creation process really is like a dream come true.

As for the game itself, I’m quite pleased where it’s going. I won’t get into the messy details, but the original creators of the game were supposedly working on an entirely new 3rd edition of the game before Crazy Stuff Happened, and the line changed hands and people left…. And what happened instead was the Revised Edition was released. And as much as I was really looking forward to a new version, I think this is better. I mean, at the core of Fading Suns is a very good rules system that really did only need some fixing and enhancing. Which they did. It’s a much better system now.

Though, I’m still unsure about the physical copy of the new book. It’s a nice, portable size now, but it doesn’t lie open on the table anymore. Which is a shame. But I think I’ll live. :) I’m excited to see what the source books end up looking like.

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Agyar… oh my god! Also, I’m irked at Jo Walton

agyarI said, oh, just a post ago, that Steven Brust is my favorite fantasy author. I come to this assessment primarily because of his 1st-person Vlad Taltos novels, and the Alexandre Dumas homage Dragaeran novels. They take place in the same world, but where the Taltos novels are a combination of Raymond Chandler and Robert Block while the so-called “Khaavren Romances” are some of the most clever and fun novels as if written in the style of Dumas. Then there’s the hard-to-get Brokedown Palace, which also sort of takes place in the same world, but takes on yet another completely different style.

But, oddly, I’ve hardly read anything else by him. His “Firefly” fanfic was pretty fun (and I hate fanfic, even by successful authors), and Freedom & Necessity, written with Emma Bull, was intriguing. So, when Nebula-winning Jo Walton wrote an article a few months ago extolling and wonder and glory of one of Brust’s older stand-alone books, Agyar, and primarily focused on the fact the there’s a huge spoiler involved that changes the entire way the book read when you know it, well, I just had to finally read it before I got spoiled, right? Amazed that all these years of being a Brust fan, I hadn’t yet been ruined.

I hadn’t read it yet, hadn’t even bought it yet (I have a couple others of his I’ve bought and hadn’t read yet) because well, it’s a vampire story and I hate vampire stories. They have been so over-done, and honestly, Anne Rice (despite the brilliant Interview With a Vampire), completely ruined me on them with her horrible later novels. I just could never bear to try to read another, especially from my favorite author. I didn’t want to have that bad taste in my brain and taint on my fandom. But, Jo Walton was so  over-the-moon with it, and her spoiler-focused article made me really wonder if maybe it really even is a vampire novel (perhaps it’s about a guy who thinks he is), I was convinced.

standing alone, kind of an odd cover. But when you read the novel, you discover this is the best cover for a novel, evah!

standing alone, kind of an odd cover. But when you read the novel, you discover this is the best cover for a novel, evah!

The next week I bought it, and devoured in in 36 hours (darn work days). And now, it is easily my favorite Brust novel, and one of my all-time favorite novels. It has some issues, it’s a little plodding in places, and, very similar to his Vlad novels in many ways, has a mystery that needs solving that doesn’t really get much attention until it kind of solves itself around the anti-hero protagonist. But the writing is beautiful and compelling, and the sense of danger and drama Brust creates around the eponymous character, is strong and brutal.

So, what’s up with Jo? Why am I upset? Because I think she unintentionally sold me false expectations. I think she is implying in her article, that the fact that Agyar is a vampire, is the spoiler. This is so absurd of an idea that I have no problem mentioning the vampire issue in this blog because it’s referred to not just on the book’s back and jacket, but it’s obvious within the first chapter.

But here’s the absolute cool thing about what Brust does: Agyar is the narrator. So never once in the entire book is the word vampire mentioned. Now, it’s not like how zombie films act like there aren’t such things as zombie films so you get zombies being called “walkers” and stuff. Vampires and their representation likely exist in the world of Agyar, but there’s ever any reason for the character to ever say the word. And when he describes vampire-like things he does, like mind control/hypnotism and blood drinking, it’s described in the same manner anything normal is described, by focusing on outcomes and reactions, not the act itself.

Like this, it sounds like Brust is being opaque and annoyingly obscure, but when you read it… well, it’s just brilliant and skillful writing. And why I’m afraid Jo might be implying that the vampire thing is the spoiler, when it’s so not. It’s obviously Brust does not intend Agyar being a vampire to be secret and surprising — what he is doing, at worst, is playing a game with the reader (in a good way) in seeing if the reader can grok what’s going on when Agyar describes something with spare and careful description.

Now, there is one actual spoiler, that actually isn’t revealed until the end, and it does affect the early reading of the book. And it is brilliant and incredibly emotion-wrenching. So, why do I think Jo wasn’t referring to this spoiler? Well, yes, she could have been. But as impactful and emotional as it is, it’s still not that significant and mind-altering as to claim it changes the way the entire book is read, like say “Sixth Sense” of “Fight Club” did.

Well, if you’re a light horror fan, an anti-hero story fan, a vampire fan, or even fantasy/drama/romance fan at all, you must read this novel! In a way, I’m glad I did wait so long to read it, so that my life of experience and emotion could help Agyar make as strong of an impact on me as it did.

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Steven Brust, on blacklisting Orson Scott Card, has somewhat changed my mind

steven brustI’ve made no secret of the fact that Steven Brust is my favorite fantasy author. (In fact, I’ll be making another post shortly regarding his novel Agyar, which I actually only recently read for the first time! Wow.) He’s made a couple of blog posts recently about the kerfuffle regarding the raving homophobe Orson Scott Card’s stint writing some Superman for DC comics, and whether the calls for boycott and forcing DC to refuse to have him is ethical or effective, especially for those of us who identify as liberal or politically left.

Allow me to break in for a moment with some dreaded metablog stuff: This here lil blog of mine, I’ve set up and desire to keep in the style of John Scalzi’s (one of my favorite SF writers). That is, keep it reasonably politics-free and avoid controversial issues too much. I get all controversally elsewhere, and I want to keep this blog focused primarily and nice ol’ writing and craft-related issues. But, well, when you have something like my favorite writer talking about one of my most disliked writers, regarding an issue that I find personally important–well, I guess I have to take a moment to risk controversy.

So, Brust’s latest post, “Free Speech, Blacklisting, and Tactics,” provokes thoughts and challenges many ingrained liberal reactions to go beyond protesting a perceived injustice to boycotting and preventing someone from work and expression of their opinions. In very brief, he essentially says that limiting the free speech of someone whose purpose is to actively harm the rights and liberties of another group, is right and just. However, what possibly outweighs that lesser evil, is the greater evil that the tactics of boycott and censorship and limiting people’s speech and right to free enterprise, is far too easily turned on to and used against the usual minority that fights for rights and liberties of the oppressed. In other words: because we leftists and liberals are the usual victims of fascist oppression, we should not use the same tools of oppression that those in power use on us, regardless of the rightness of the intent.

It’s a very compelling argument, and, naturally, better presented and explained in Brust’s own words. That said, while, I may no longer support efforts to keep Card from getting work or speaking his bigoted opinions, you can be sure as shootin’ that none of my money will ever be going to him and his works. (Seeing the upcoming “Ender’s Game” film, a book I loved before I realized what a d-bag Card was, is problematic. Maybe I’ll see it when it hits the second-run theater where it’s less likely much of my money will end up in his pocket. Even .001 cent is too much.)

mccarthyI want to copy here a follow-up quote that Brust posted on his blog later:

This brief excerpt is from The Mayor of MacDougal Street, the memoirs of Dave Van Ronk (one of my heroes) page 75:

“Years later, I was talking with him [Oscar Brandt] and expressed my disgust that that he, or maybe someone else, had put on a show with Burl Ives, who had outraged us all by naming a string of names in front of HUAC. Oscar just quietly said, ‘Dave, we on the left do not blacklist.’ Put me right in my place.”

 

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What I’ve been doing while not blogging; and good novel news

Ugh, I hate having to get meta on the blog. Which usually only happens because I haven’t been on for a great long time. So, why? Some good, some bad–none of it a good excuse.

First of all, there’s my day job. I won’t get into it because I hate talking about my day job (here, at least. It’s a good job, but I hate the fact that I have a day job that’s not writing or the business of writing). Anyway, it’s been killing me lately with this big-ass project that I’m in charge of. Even though it’s not too many more actual hours at work, it’s been more brain-killing lately.

Then there’s the pencil-and-dice role-playing games. Now this is a good one! In the last few months I have been planning and prepping and running several games: A new regular Eclipse Phase campaign, a short-run Spycraft (converted to Savage Worlds rules) campaign, and the return of my 1st edition AD&D campaign. Oh, and a couple of convention games of EP I ran at Visioncon. Writing and prepping RPG games is a lot of hard work, but it’s so very much a labor of love! I adore game mastering RPGs! Given the choice between being a player and GMing, well, I like playing now and then, especially under certain GMs, but I pick GMing over playing by default any ol’ day. I love the world-building, creating plot and stories and characters, and then the facilitation of crating a shared experience where players get to play with these elements and create their own story with the tools I provide. Love it love it love it!

Writing, you say? Have I been doing any of it? Well, not much, I’m afraid. Once the day job project is essentially over in early April, and the Spycraft game is done, I should have more time and brain-power to spare to doing writing. I got well into my next novel before time and energy got away from me, and I need to get chugging on that. Especially since there’s been more call for a sequel to Singularity Deferred.

Speaking of my first novel, I got some good news there. I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel competition, and mine has advanced to the second-round judging. If it doesn’t move on from there, I at least get an Amazon review out of it and can claim “third prize” (along with 399 other sf/fantasy novels). So that’s neat. (It doesn’t help the competition any; but, if you would be so kind, maybe buy and/or review the novel on Amazon?) :)

Okay, that’s as much of an update as I’m going to do now. I have the gumption I’m going to post, I think, two more posts after this on something not meta. Thanks for reading. :)

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Print is dead; long live Apex

Okay, speaking of magazines, let’s be honest about something here: Sure, despite the rise of e-books, print novels will stick around for a very long time. But when it comes to short fiction, print is dead. It’s drawing its last gasps. People just aren’t buying magazines and digests and journals. Yeah, ASIMOV and SF & FANTASY are still around, but they’re published super-cheap and have an old, die-hard readership. REALMS of FANTASY, a slick and popular genre magazine, was saved two or three times before it finally gave up the ghost, and there just isn’t anything waiting in the sidelines.

Conversely, short fiction, especially genre fiction, is as popular as ever! This is where e-publishing has really found a niche. People are reading much more short fiction on devices and the Web, where it’s easy, and even more comfortable, to digest a single serving of fiction on an electronic device than in a cumbersome magazine. The weekly online SF e-magazine, STRANGE HORIZONS, has become quite popular over the last few years. They’re great! But even they have a limit of convenience and enjoyment — they’re still published as a go-and-visit Web page without any of the special features one gets from an e-book device.

Which bring me to APEX MAGAZINE. Sure, you can read them on the Web if you like. But what I love is the fact you can subscribe to them and get them on your e-reader, where you can make notes, add bookmarks, change settings, close and come back . . . all the great things that make reading e-books so convenient! (It’s available as a monthly download in EPUB (Nook and other readers), MOBI (Kindle), and PDF (the dreaded computer screen). But you can also get it as a pushed subscription through Amazon direct to your Kindle… and even if you don’t have an actual Kindle, I bet you have the Kindle reader on your phone and tablet!)

Anyway, each issue of APEX has short fiction — often from award-winning authors — poetry, non-fiction, and fascinating cover art.

So, they’re doing a subscription drive right now because they are a pro ‘zine (meaning: they actually pay their contributors! What an idea, artists getting pay for their work. You can support that, right?) and want to make sure they can continue to provide award-winning material from award-winning authors and writers. It’s like $18 for a year until November 15 (then the price goes back up to normal if you subscribe after that) or $2 an issue through Amazon. That is a great deal! But save $4 and get it by the year.

Here, again, is the link to their subscription drive; at least check it out and consider supporting great genre fiction!

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An Omnibus of OMNI!

Just learned today something I should have known for a very long time but for some reason has completely escaped my radar. Every edition of OMNI Magazine is available for free on the Internet Archive! How has that missed me completely? Thank you Io9 and Patrick. (When you click on the Internet Archive link, you need to scroll down and click “more” to get to the full magazine archive.)

I started reading OMNI when I was about twelve, around 1983. I remember taking the long road trip from Colorado to Missouri to visit family, and the parents allowing us kids to get a magazine. The cover of this OMNI magazine in the rack was compelling and promised SF fiction and science news, so I convinced her to get this somewhat pricey glossy mag for me. I was hooked! I begged for copies every month after until finally I was gifted a subscription. It was probably the longest subscription to a magazine I ever had (mainly because until I was old enough to have a job, it was paid for by someone else) and I think I was getting them right up until about 1989.

I don’t really recall OMNI being on shelves much after that. But those formative six years entrenched OMNI as being an integral part of who I am. Yeah, weird, huh? But it’s from OMNI that I learned about William Gibson’s fiction and started me on cyberpunk, made me familiar with the name Ellen Datlow and made a teenager a fan of an editor, of all things. (Wow, I was and am such a nerd!) …and I’m still a huge fan. The magazine was a slick, stylish, almost exploitative companion to the SF genre and exploding science culture. I believe it was a forward-thinking contribution, years ahead of its time, to the cool-making of geekness. Back then, in the 80s, it was still a social stigma to be geeky or nerdy, to be too into computers and genre fiction, and know more about the space program than what was mentioned in weekly readers regarding the shuttles. If you read SF and liked Carl Sagan, you were pariah as a kid.

But little did we know that in 15 or 20 years, geek would be chic, and OMNI helped lay the groundwork for that! Loving looking through these very familiar past issues that I’d read and reread so many times as a young nerd.

 

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NaNoWriMo 2012

Time to play NaNoWriMo once again! I give it a go every other year or so. In the past I’ve not participated because, oh, I was busy writing my thesis or editing the novel I’d finished… things like that. I have a friend who recently lamented that he couldn’t play NaNoWriMo this year because he was busy with a freelance writing project. I found it tres amusing that he should feel bad about not participating in an arbitrary get-people-to-write gimmick because he was already writing productively–for pay.

Well, I have writing I’m working on, but it’s always good (great, actually) to have set goals, to write every day, to give yourself rewards and social punishment for being productive or being lazy about writing. So, I like NaNoWriMo and what it does for me (at least for the first couple of weeks before I realize that trying to write for two hours lat at night, after a day of work, doing cooking and cleaning and laundry, makes being productive writer on a forced writing march, very emotionally draining and leads to poor output). But in the meantime, here I go….

Though, I must say, preparing for NaNoWriMo this year (what? You don’t prepare?) gave me a massive epiphany! I have a handful of story ideas percolating in my noodle at a time, sometimes for days before I start writing them down, sometimes years. My first novel, the seeds of that one I’d been playing around with for four or more years before I finally started it. Well, among others, I’ve had the bits-n-pieces of three different novels working around for a very long time. Except one of them, the young adult novel I started thinking about a couple years ago and started writing a couple of months ago — that one’s the newest. Well, I decided I’d take one of the other ones and work on that fro NaNoWriMo, and as I started to outline the events and thumbnail the setting, something amazing came to me! These three particular, separate novels, are part of one giant epic that spans centuries! And the ways and reasons why the three settings are different, but similar, give me some really fun effects of time and social evolution to play with. But, there’s a distinct connecting line through them. Each novel can be read separately (and in the case of the young adult one, which sits as the middle book, it really must be distinctly separate because I want to keep that young adult while the other two are certainly for more mature readers), but the experience is much richer for having read the one(s) preceding it. Anyway, it’s been real fun working on the nuts and bolts of this more expanded universe that just opened up for me.

 

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Redshirts and Year Zero

I recently finished reading, well, listening, to a couple of fantastic novels on Audible. (I had a lot of car-driving time this last week.) I want to spend a little more on the absolutely amazing, beautiful, crazy novel, Redshirts, so I’ll discuss Year Zero first.

Year Zero is about the wacky hijinks of aliens, and their human copyright lawyer, trying to deal with the recently discovery that they owe the Earth literally the entire universe’s wealth in music licensing fees for all the music they’ve been pirating for the last 40 years. It was written by Rob Reid who is no stranger to the world of music and copyright law. The very, very absurd and ridiculous world of music and copyright law. This farcical and comedic novel is a perfect foil to point up just how comedic (in a black comedy sort of way) the reality of the subject is. In fact, the slowest parts of this fast-paced novel is where copyright law and licensing are discussed. But the thing is, the real subject — the revolving-door lobbying, the absurd legal penalties, the paranoid and spiteful barriers to licensing improvement — is so absurd that it actually doesn’t take away from the farcical fiction of the story.

One of the ups and downs of the book is just how much it tries, tries hard, to emulate Douglas Adams. Maybe not quite a “Hitchhiker’s Guide” novel, but at least a “Dirk Gently” novel. At times Reid handles it quite well and I laughed aloud at the pun or slapstick or wacky description, but much of the time, I listened with a small smirk the occasional eye-roll and groan. The novel bounces around from clever to silly to clever quite a bit, and the number of times aliens are depicted saying, “Well, duh!” got a little tired. …and then, like a Family Guy gag, it was to over-used that it almost became funny again.

In any case, it was a fun read, well written despite the groan-worthy puns. I hate puns!

And then there’s John Scalzi’s Redshirts. This was a huge surprise of a book! John Scalzi is a favorite author of mine, and an inspiration to my own writing. And based on the description of the novel and much of what I’d been hearing about it, I thought this was going to be a purely fun, action-packed, quirky romp. And, indeed, the first two-thirds certainly had a lot of that! But then, starting at the end of the main story and carrying through into the three codas, the book takes a very serious turn that left me both inspired and emotionally wracked. The codas are, from what I’ve read of his, the most sentimental (in the good way, not the sentimentality-bad way) stuff he’s written.

What’s funny (not in the ha-ha way), is that I did read some reviews of the novel before hand, to get an idea of the book before I bought it, trying to not spoil myself. And, I read a lot of comments saying that, “This is a great book! Until the stupid codas. They’re pointless and totally don’t fit.” A lot of those kind of comments. So, I was prepared to enjoy the satirical and fun first two-thirds of the main story, and then just kinda gloss over the rest. Whoa, was I wrong! No… boy are those comments absolutely wrong! See, despite the fact that most of the book is the story of a bunch or “red shirts” on a space shift figuring out newbies on the ship tend to die on away missions and figuring out how to overcome this apparent curse, that’s not the real story. In fact, I see that as the preface for the real story, which is the three codas! The sci-fi action story is a necessary setup for the themes and conflict that are dealt with in the codas which investigate the nature of finding yourself. Discovering who you are, what you want to be and do, and how you deal with the life you’re “given.”

I really can’t say more without spoilering the book. And this is a book that I highly and heavily recommend reading! It’s a short book, and very fast — you could probably read it all in a day and evening. I would recommend listening to the audiobook as Wil Wheaton (also no stranger to star ships and red shirts), does a fine job! Although, I don’t agree with some of his inflection and tone choices. Until He gets to the codas. Then, I can’t imagine anyone else reading it. He’s absolutely brilliant, and I’d recommend anyone listening through the first part in order to hear Wil Wheaton read the codas. He’s an actor, so very possibly the emotion I hear in his voice toward the end of the last coda is acting… but I don’t think so. I think, considering what and how he talks about his own life in his blogs, he’s truly feeling the emotion of that last coda, and it’s bringing tears to my eyes right now as I remember it.

Read Redshirts. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, even if you don’t think you’ll get the satire and the in-jokes. That’s okay. Remember, the main action story is just a prelude for some of the best contemporary literary fiction that is the core of the book.

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Looper

I just got done seeing the new film, “Looper.” Wow! That’s good cinema! An original film (not a sequel, not a remake — although I do not have anything against remakes) that takes you on a ride both emotionally and viscerally. It’s from the same writer and director who made “Brick,” one of my all-time favorite films. A film that also starred one of my increasingly favorite actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As I write, briefly, about this film, I will avoid spoilers that aren’t evident from the commercials and trailers.

Now, you certainly know, it is a time travel film. (Huh, Bruce Willis is good in those — see: “Twelve Monkeys.”) And yes, if you’re the kind of person who demands that your time travel films make complete and logical sense without any paradoxes, this film is going to totally P. you O. There are some potential problems with the laws of causality in this film. But, to badly paraphrase one of the characters: “I’m not gonna sit here and discuss time travel paradoxes with you! We’d be here all night and end up diagramming shit with napkins and straws.” This is obviously the filmmaker telling the audience, yes, he’s well aware some stuff doesn’t makes sense, thank you. Deal with it. He’s letting you know that time travel is, in a sense, a narrative macguffin, something you just have to accept as necessary and watch the film for everything that the film ultimately is about.

Now, I do have a fictional theory as how this fictional notion of time travel could work in this fictional world and have the kind of cause and effect it presents, and would be happy to discuss it with anyone curious — but I’m not going to spend time detailing it here, not without risking sounding like a pedantic hypernerd, (in Simpson’s Comic Book Store Guy’s voice) “They clearly established in episode 46, ‘Rise of the Regalitrons,’ that deck 12 only has 20 rooms as the phasematter converter controls are there. So, obviously, there can’t be a ‘room 14′ on that deck, unless it is 30 meters outside the starboard side of the ship. And I think not. Obviously, what would the crew even breathe?! Sheesh.” Sorry… back to “Looper.”

The film has a wonderful balance of dark pathos as well as moments of fun, and necessary, humor. There’s one moment that Gordon-Levitt’s character is seen examining his hairline in the mirror which makes fun of the fact that the prematurely balded Bruce Willis is in his future. There’s also some moments that, without giving much away, is difficult to watch as a parent. So, fair warning. But the script is clever, the acting just great, and the story engaging!

An element I found interesting: most of the film takes place in Kansas City or thereabouts in 2042 — thirty years from now. The world that’s created feels, sadly, extremely believable. There’s rampant poverty in the streets, mentions of “vagrant wars” (or “vagrant riots,” I can’t remember), and realistic appropriation and adaptation of technology, like solar panels everywhere and hydrogen fuel recycling systems fitted to early 21st century trucks. The only bit of tech that had be raising an eyebrow was the jet cycles that had hover capability. Eh, no, not buying that. Oh, and there’s one other major story element that I won’t spoiler because I don’t believe it’s revealed in any trailers, that, for me, is far less believable than time travel paradoxes and had me thinking outside the film a bit much.

It was nice to be able to get out and see a fun, dark, actiony, humorous film. Oh, and I saw a goose-bump-raising trailer for the upcoming film, “The Cloud Atlas.” Can’t wait! And a trailer for some Abraham Lincoln film that oddly had nothing to do with vampires. Pfft. Leave it to Hollywood to toe the line and perpetuate the lie about the truth about Lincoln all these years. *grin*

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The Tea Party returns for another round, and I rejoice!

image from http://maytherockbewithyou.com/mtrbwy/2012/07/jeff-martin-stuart-chatwood-of-the-tea-party/

No, not that Tea Party. Allow me to be political for a couple sentences as, on this subject, it almost begs for a comment: My mostest favoritest rock band of all time is Canadian trio The Tea Party. They’ve been around since the early 90s. They are so utterly not affiliated in any way with the “political” party, the Tea Party, that when they broke up for a bit, they were thinking of selling, or even giving their Web domain, to Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, or George Soros or Arianna Huffington, with the goal of their critiquing the lies and misinformation put out by the political movement (principally about Canadian healthcare which, like most Canadians, the band The Tea Party love). That aside….

So, not only did The Tea Party come back together last year, but they’ve been doing a reunion tour and recorded their Sydney, Australia concert for a double-size album. They pre-released the album through Pledge Music (with proceeds going to help the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto which does cancer research). I got myself a copy of the album… and I have not listened to an album with as much joy, excitement, air-drum-playing, as I have this one, since I first listened to their second album, Edges of Twilight, in 1995. Allow me to reminisce a bit.

It was the summer of 1994 when I was working at a brand new Hastings entertainment store while getting my BAs. The store hadn’t opened yet, we hired staff were in the process of constructing the displays and stocking the place, and the music department manager was playing CDs for us while we worked. And one of those days, this amazing sound came on the system. It was a melange of Led Zepplin, the Doors, some middle eastern flavor. Hard rock with a splash of mysticism. One could, fairly I’ll admit, make the criticism that they were trying too hard to be a reinvention of Led Zepplin. Even so, the raw, amazing musical talent of this group was certainly not a gimmick. The album was Splendor Solis, and I fell in love with a band like I hadn’t since I discovered Pink Floyd in high school. I believe the very day that Hastings store opened, before I put my employee apron and name tag on, I bought that CD, and if one can wear a CD out, I about did.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long for more. Not long after graduating undergrad, we moved to a different town, my wife and I, and settled in to life, and I heard The Tea Party was releasing a second album. Excited, giddy, doesn’t come close to the feeling I had as I waited for release day. When I got the album and brought it home, I made sure everything was right: the stereo settings, the lighting, the drink in hand, and I hit “play.” The experience of listening to that new album for the first time was nearly a religious experience. It did not in any way let down. Every song was as good as from their previous album, with new instant classics that rivaled anything on Splendor Solis, such as “Sister Awake,” “The Bazaar,” and “Inanna.” If asked, at that time, which album was better, I’d be hard pressed to answer.

Then came their third, and nearly equally amazing, album, Transmission. It was an even harder, more techno album, moving a bit away from the blues and middle eastern influences of their first two albums. While not every song is among my favorite, like the previous two albums, it’s still filled with mind-blowing works like “Temptation,” “Transmission,” and the heartbreaking “Release.” You would never see me in a more than 5 minute car trip without that album.

With their next album, Triptych, things started slowing down a bit in my They Can Do No Wrong passion for them. While still a great album with beautiful and technically amazing songs like “Heaven Coming Down” and “Samsara” and “Halcyon Days,” I wasn’t in as much love with each track like I was for everything prior. Then again with the album, Interzone Mantras. There are again songs that alone would make them better than 90% of the bands out there, like “Lullaby” and “Requiem.” But it almost started sounding like they were trying to hard to be mainstream at that point. (In point of fact, come to find out, they indeed were being pressed by their label to indeed become more mainstream.)

This discomfort with what they were starting to sound like extended into their final studio album, Seven Circles. While still a fine album, I have a hard time recalling off the top of my head any particular tracks I love. “Wishing You Would Stay” comes to mind because of how beautiful it is, and also because it’s their only song with a female guest vocalist. And evidently, the label pressure (and, *sigh*, drug issues, of course) came to a head in regards to interpersonal differences among the band’s three members, and singer/guitarist Jeff Martin left for a solo career, breaking the band. (And actually, his first solo Exile and the Kingdom, is really good. It felt like an attempt to return to Tea Party’s pure rock and blues roots. Sadly, his next band, The Armada, album, felt closer to Interzone Mantras.

image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Martin _(Canadian_musician)

And during this time I’d been waiting anxiously for the remaining members, Stuart and the other Jeff, to do something with The Art Decay. Where Jeff Martin is an undeniable guitar god, the reincarnation of the still living Jimmy Page, Stuart Chatwood is a musical genius. His skill and versatility at nearly every instrument he touches (primarily keyboards, bass, middle eastern percussion) is… well, “impressive” is a lame adjective. Alas, they never got anything together. But Stuart went on to do all the music for the Prince of Persia video games at least.

Despite the slow decline of my unholy love for The Tea Party over the last couple albums, when I heard they broke up, I was devastated. My hopes and dreams for hearing That One Next Great Album, or ever seeing them in concert, were dashed. Well, I thought, maybe I could catch Jeff Martin at least… should I ever find myself in Ireland or Australia.

Then, a few years later, the news that would make my heart swell with great, but cautious, joy: Their reunion for a Canadian music festival. The fact that they got back in the same room was pretty amazing–could it last? And, O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! When they declared they were going on a reunion tour, I think I literally jumped for joy! When they later said they’d be working on a new album, well, I think I’m still recovering from palpitations and vapors.

Back to the present, I got the recording of their Sydney reunion concert. I didn’t take as much care setting the mood to listen to it as I had for Edges of Twilight, because I was excited, but still thinking, “Eh, it’s a concert album. I’ve heard it all before.” Boy, was I wrong! They do not simply play copies of their studio performances for their live shows. They freakin’ bring it! Bring. It! “Temptation” becomes even more brain-smyooshingly hard and edgy, they break “Save Me” down and jam in the middle of it like Led Zepplin would’ve, Jeff Martin’s familiarity and banter with the crowd, and letting them sing key passages (like the ending chorus phrases in “The Bazaar”) is intoxicating and exciting!

Well, it’s just an amazing album, and I listened to it the first time in shock and wonder, and a youthful excitement I’d not felt in some time. Over the last several years, I’ve come to love some bands, like Arcade Fire and Silversun Pickups and The Decemberists, and I really enjoy their music. But nothing has ever quite grabbed ahold of me and never let me go like The Tea Party. And no matter how much I greatly enjoy listening to Neon Bible or Picaresque, no experience has ever matched listening to Edges of Twilight that first time, nor Live in Australia this weekend. The Tea Party is back, and life is good!

(PS: The band is hugely active in The White Ribbon Campaign, “the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. In over fifty-five countries, campaigns are led by both men and women, even though the focus is on educating men and boys. In some countries it is a general public education effort focused on ending violence against women.” Yay!)

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