Mike Carey Writes Well

Aard super-regular Birger Johansson very kindly sent me a bunch of supernatural detective novels by Mike Carey, the Felix Castor series. I’m on the second one now (from 2006) and enjoying it a lot. The stories are a bit too long and meandering for my taste, but I love Carey’s dry wit and fine grasp of the language. I’m pretty sure he’s studied Raymond Chandler carefully. Have a look at these bits as a sample:

“Meanwhile, three miles away at the Scrubs, Saint Michael’s church was invaded by some entity so powerful that just being close to it poisoned the minds and souls of everyone in the goddamn building, sending them off on murderous trajectories that had sliced through the city like so many loops of piano wire through a ripe cheese.” Vicious Circle, p. 294

“The sky was darkening fast: too fast for spring. It was like a night that should have drained away a long time ago but had clogged the sinkholes of eternity and now was backing up into the daylight. Either that, or I’d just slept for longer than I thought.” Vicious Circle, p. 302

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Birthday Party Speech

For forty years I’ve been one of the most fortunate people I’ve ever heard of.

Starting from the global perspective, there is of course hardly a single country on Earth where people live under such good conditions as in Sweden. This goes for all of us here tonight. If we had ended up somewhere else, ourselves and our loved ones would in all likelihood have had to endure illiteracy, slavery, tyranny, torture, famine, war, severe illness and a very early demise.

With my slightly odd professional perspective I’m also acutely aware of how lucky I am to have plopped down not just where I am, but when. From an archaeological perspective there is no other period in time when people have been able to live so well as we do now. And you don’t have to be very pessimistic to believe that this is as good as it will ever get. Our great grand-children will in all likelihood see even worse environmental troubles than we do, even greater overpopulation – and they will have no fossil fuels to keep the wheels turning.

But OK, let’s ignore this greater perspective and pretend that Sweden today is a completely normal historical environment for people to live in. Then I am still one of the most fortunate people I’ve ever heard of. One of the luckiest of the lucky, as it were.

I have good health and a healthy family. I have a nice house in a verdant area. I have almost never had to do anything boring or exhausting to support myself. I have almost never had to obey orders from a boss. Since my mandatory schooling ended, when I was 15, I have told society, “This is what I want to do”. And with very few exceptions, society has replied, “OK, go ahead, here’s your livelihood, do what you want”.

With such an hedonist and individualist attitude, you might think that I would be a pretty lonely person. But I am lucky on that account as well. For all of my life I have been swimming in love and friendship. I am thinking particularly about my wife and kids. And you, dear people around me, have happily accepted my love and my friendship.

A flattersome listener might interrupt me here and say that my good relationships with people and my comparative professional success are due to good characteristics in me. But I haven’t earned those characteristics. I’m the way I am because I pulled a series of winning lottery tickets from the urn. I was born with a friendly and energetic disposition and found myself with loving parents who commanded rather ample and varied resources. Dumb luck.

If I live as long as my maternal grandfather did, then I have come almost half-way now. Living half a life the way I have is extremely lucky. But I’m optimistic about my future as well. People are commonly divided into those who see their glass as half full and those who see it as half empty. I belong to neither group. I tend to see my glass as 75% full. And so I raise this glass, dear friends, and suggest a toast to good luck, lots of fun and lots of love for us all as we travel on into the future.

Esoteric Order of Sherman

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I’ve written before about the prolific and many-talented Norm Sherman: a podcaster, multi-instrumentalist, song writer, singer and comedian with a truly unique voice. Several unique voices actually, thanks to his ear for accents. He occupies a position in geek-orientated on-line music and podcasting similar to that of George Hrab, another one of my favourites. But while Hrab has six albums to his name, the younger Sherman has two so far: his eponymous 2007 début and now the new The Esoteric Order of Sherman.

Both of Sherman’s albums are musical comedy, but where the first one is mostly bluegrass, the new one ranges widely in musical style: there’s rap, soul, punk rock, US folk, tearful ballads, AC/DC rock and a country number. All written and performed by Sherman himself, all recorded on a slim budget supported by a Kickstarter campaign. This is also the first time I’ve seen an album where the tunes are dedicated to individual patrons who have “commissioned” them and apparently requested themes. Most (all?) of the songs have been featured on Sherman’s short-fiction podcast The Drabblecast, one by one as they were originally recorded, prior to being collected on this album. This is a return to the original mid-20th century meaning of “album”, where for instance my dad collected Elvis singles in his physical Elvis album when he was a teen.

It’s an excellent record! The lyrics are hugely witty and the performances quite masterful regardless of genre. Don’t miss the pitch-perfect Bob Dylan pastiche “75 Lines”. (Its apparently surreal lyrics are brief summaries of the first 75 short stories read on The Drabblecast.) My only complaints are that the vocals are too low in the mix for me to make out the lyrics on the opening Beastie Boys pastiche “Babylon Battle of the Bands”, and that Sherman has left out his hilarious soul crooner paean to 3rd world breasts, “National Geographic Boobs” – obviously for legal reasons.

The lyrics are firmly planted in geek culture, dealing with Bronze Age rock & roll, giant Japanese monsters, H.P. Lovecraft, zombies, science fiction, fan conventions, cryptozoology and space tech. And perhaps incredibly, Sherman sings his heart out on the ballads in a truly touching way, although the objects of his unrequited love and endless longing are a giant mutated turtle, a Lovecraftian deep-sea devil hybrid and the fabled Mongolian death worm.

Norm Sherman lovingly and effortlessly appropriates the musical idioms of his eclectic favourites and makes them his own, to support weird and funny lyrics that really nobody else could write. Check him out!