Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: canada (page 1 of 2)

Matthew Hughes – The Other

The OtherThe Other by Matthew Hughes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ah, judging books by their covers, what folly. You know, from the sly and self-serving smirk on Luff Imbry’s face, I expected this to be a tale about deception, intrigue, derring-do, skulduggery and the like. No, what we have here is an adventure tale cum quest fantasy where Mr Imbry is not really in much of a position to play scoundrel, rogue or rascal. In fact, he spends much of his time figuring out how to escape from the world of inbred religious loonies he’s been stranded upon.

In fact, I feel a little cheated, though I shouldn’t be. The novel’s blurb states quite unequivocally that Imbry is a rascal and a crook and I guess in the other stories he features in, he may well be precisely those things. In this book, his implied talent for cleverness and deception is put aside by a need for self-preservation and some mystery solving.

All that aside, the novel could be best described as pleasantly serviceable. From what little I know of this author, I believe he writes in the Jack Vance vein, which is something I’ve always thought to be fraught with deceptive danger. Vance had a style that is seductive to an author – you want to imbue your every sentence with whimsical poesy and colourful verbiage. He’s easy to imitate – I’ve done it too, but he’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) to master. Underneath the “big words” and the dash and the colour lies a scintillating internal logic that only Vance understood. I don’t think anyone will master his voice, only approximate it.

While there are echoes of Vance’s work in the beginning and end sections of this book, it’s too matter of factly constructed to be Vance. It’s also decidedly nastier than anything Vance ever wrote. Vance liked to throw the odd barb at religion and those who adhered to it like glue, but this book all but names religions the playground of the weak-minded and pliable. Doesn’t disguise itself in any way.

Also, I felt like I was reading one novel and portions of another. The beginning and the ending seem to come from outside the central narrative – there’s things going on before and after this story that are alluded to, but I’m not seeing anywhere in the book that this is part of a series. Goodreads isn’t listing it as one. And only about two thirds through the novel does Imbry actually list who may have led him to the forsaken planet he ended up on. Almost an afterthought.

A couple of quibbles that other reviewers have pointed out. Hughes overuses the word “ineffable” a lot. And why call Imbry a fat man throughout? Does Imbry being fat have any significance above and beyond the fact he likes his dinners? Is it part of some characteristic or notoriety he gained in another story? Without knowing this, I wasn’t sure what the point of it all was.

Anyhow, I like enough of what I saw in this book to seek out more of Hughes’ work.

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Ed Greenwood – Hand of Fire

Hand Of Fire (Forgotten Realms: Shandril's Saga, #3)Hand Of Fire by Ed Greenwood
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Wow…I struggled to finish this. It’s just that bad. Which is a shame as you don’t want your Forgotten Realms books to be bad – you want them to kick ass (even if it’s all popcorn). But when the milieu’s creator writes an execrably bad book, then what can you say?

Basically the protagonist and her whiny husband nuke, obliterate, annihilate, incinerate, deep fry, fricassee, broil, roast, scorch, blast and excoriate every one of the legion of over-confident bad guys that contend with her. Just endless waves of them. It’s like the literary version of Serious Sam 3.

That’s it. That’s what happens in this concluding tome. There’s zero character development at all, no suspense, and the marvellous world the author created barely gets a mention. Every dangerous encounter is swept aside by Shandril’s super-powers or the timely arrival of her equally faceless Harper allies.

Oh, Shandril dies at the end but she’ll come back as a ghost to keep a watch on Narm, who gets sent off to find himself another wife. Narm…urgh, through the course of these three poorly written adventures, he’s the common denominator that weighs them down. What a nobody! His single purpose is to provide a pillow and a shoulder for Shandril to cry on after she’s finished vaporising the opposition for the day. He’s an ineffectual and annoying cipher.

Summary: a godawful book. On to fresh woods and pastures, etc.

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Ed Greenwood – Crown of Fire

Crown of Fire (Forgotten Realms: The Harpers, #9; Shandril's Saga, #2)Crown of Fire by Ed Greenwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More of a 2.75 out of 5. It’s better than its predecessor, but not by much. Arguably stronger writing, more focus in the storytelling and the narrative doesn’t drift as much. None of the characters within escape their cardboard boxes though, and there are too many deus ex machina elements for my liking as Gandalf Elminster saves the day once too often. Still, Ed Greenwood is having fun in the world that Ed Greenwood made and I can relate to his enthusiasm.

All taken, this book is slightly above average popcorn fiction.

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Ed Greenwood – Spellfire

Spellfire (Shandril's Saga #1)Spellfire by Ed Greenwood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What a likeable silly book. I think this was Greenwood’s first outing as a novelist and to say it shows is superfluous. But unneeded or not, I have to say it anyway. It’s written with such an overwhelmingly amateurish exuberance that almost glows with its own light. I’m sure this is Greenwood’s home D&D campaign transcribed into fiction, particularly from the way some of the action and set pieces are staged.

It’s lacking in many departments – the occasionally poor phrasing, the reliance upon coincidences, the minimal characterisations, the poorly disguised Gandalf in Elminster…but it’s fun and withal, it’s a quick and dirty read that won’t tax your intelligence. The author invented the milieu this book is set in, so there’s that. Ed Greenwood having fun in his own playground.

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Rush – Hemispheres

This record is the culmination of Rush’s adventures into side-long progressive rock songs. Mind you, they only wrote these kinds of seventies icons for four albums, so when you consider their discography as a whole, it’s a somewhat small part of their sonic output. With that aside, Hemispheres on its own merits is a wonderful album, and stands up well against other luminaries in Rush’s corpus.

For those who don’t know, this record is prog rock/hard rock, with equal shares of either, and most of the time the two genres are blended perfectly. It’s certainly harder than its softer and spacier predecessor A Farewell to Kings.

There are only four songs on this record and Circumstances is the arguable weak link of the quartet. Compared to the sonic boom majesty of the other three, it’s fairly Rush-by-numbers. In saying that, Rush-by-numbers usually exceeds the better efforts of many lesser artists. Such is the power of this band.

There’s signs of things to come too. Both Circumstances and the far superior The Trees have a precision and concision about them that reached a brilliant apex on their next studio record, Permanent Waves. But generally, one Rush album usually foreshadows the next, so – at least to a fan – there’s no surprises here.

Progressive hard music reached its apex with album opener, the six-part Cygnus X-1 Book II – Hemispheres, a titanic musical battle between the heart and the mind (signified by the figures on the album cover). Eighteen minutes of mind-bending to-and-fro. It’s Book II, as Book I (The Voyage) ended out A Farewell to Kings. We’ve reached the destination that song was journeying too and the resolution? Listen to it, that’s all I can say further.

Of course, this album contains the first in a long line of Rush epic instrumentals – the marvellous La Villa Strangiato, which went some way to cement the band’s reputation in technical excellence.

As said before, Hemispheres is the peak of Rush’s prog rock phase. It’s also the last album to genuinely feature long, thematic songs usually associated with the genre. Sure, Permanent Waves had Natural Science, but it never felt like a prog rock song. It doesn’t have that same quality – whatever that may be. I can’t put my finger on it. In any case, Hemispheres is a superb record, taken on its own merits or part of the progressive rock oeuvre.

rush hemispheres

Rush – Presto

After Rush’s decade-long voyage through synth-ville, they end the 80s with this superb record. The keyboards are still here, but they’re not front and centre like they were on Power Windows and especially Hold Your Fire.

This record was a return to form for Rush for some. Guitars and drums are up front, and the songs are far more direct in their structure. Lyrically, it delves into the personal with a mystical bent theme that has carried through from Hold Your Fire. In saying so, things do get a lot deeper on this record. Rush directly addresses suicide on The Pass, unwanted and cloying fame on Superconductor and seems to mention infidelity on Anagram (For Mongo). This is in addition to the now-typical musings on things environmental and the trope of getting older.

For the first time arguably since Permanent Waves, Rush has crafted an album where the music slots together seamlessly. A cynic could argue a lot of the music sounds the same, and sure it does, but it’s one of those somewhat rare instances where a “sameyness” works in favour of the record. Alex Lifeson has rediscovered the power chord and a few of the tracks grind with gorgeous power, particularly album highlight Superconductor and close to second-best War Paint. There’s even a bit of pseudo-reggae with Scars and some critics have deemed Red Tide to be homage to The Police. What it all means is that Rush has moved away from the more progressive nature of their earlier material and are maturing into a thinking man’s hard rock band. Something they’ve carried on to this era.

Hey, nothing wrong with that. And Presto, like most of their stuff, is unlikely to win any new fans over. Much like all Rush records, this platter is an acquired listen but what a listen it is. It’s damned close to their best record. A superb return to heavier form.

rush - presto

Rush – Hold Your Fire

This is the successor to Power Windows and you could argue it’s more of the same. At least on first listen.

Synths are definitely more front and centre and on a few tracks, they dominate so strongly, you wonder if Alex Lifeson is on the record at all. Particularly on tracks like Tai Shan which veers heavily into synth-pop/New Wave territory. The band later admitted the song was a mistake. I don’t mind it personally, but it’s not Rush, that’s for sure.

While I said this album is more of the same compared to Power Windows, it’s not the unity that album was. It took me a lot longer to warm to Hold Your Fire. Where the songs on Power Windows individually felt like one eighth of a whole, there’s none of that rhythm. No space and power together here. Lots of either, but not both. The guitars sound short and sharp and are often buried under all the 80s synths. For the first (and only time) Rush use a female vocalist, on Time Stand Still. That’s indicative of the direction they went here and some fans may have wondered where their favourite hard rock/prog rock band went, me included.

That being said, there are some glorious rockers here, namely Force Ten and Turn The Page. Neil Peart’s lyrics are at their preachiest on any record they’ve made and in a way I’m glad they retreated from the overall vibe of their “synth period” that started with Moving Pictures. It reaches an apex here and the next album, Presto is a far harder, guitar-heavy record.

hold your fire

Rush – Power Windows

Studio album number eleven. This was the second record of Rush’s I ever bought and frankly, I was bitterly appalled when I first listened to it. You see, Permanent Waves was the first and you could not find two albums that differ so much. At least at first appearances. I even remember telling a friend at the time that Rush had turned into Foreigner.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, repeated listens are the key with Rush, and Power Windows really does take off with each groove. Keyboards are prominent here, though they reached their apex on Hold Your Fire, the next record. But guitars are prominent too. In fact, everything is upfront.

Nothing here truly rocks, but it’s all grand stuff. It’s over the top synth heavy hard rock, and tracks like Territories and Grand Design rate amongst Rush’s best. Atmospheric power. In fact, the album’s title encapsulates this record perfectly. There’s power here, but there’s also an opening to the vast and thundering world beyond.

Through the eight cuts on this record, you get the sense that Rush is trying to address the common yearning of people struggling to break free of suburban mediocrity, a transcending from the average and everyday. Whatever the case may be, this is the midpoint of their 80s synth records and rates amongst their best in my book.

They never did an album this expansive again.

power windows

Rush – Signals

Album number nine and here are eight songs. As any Rush aficionado knows, this was the last they made with producer Terry Brown. It’s the last of an era too, before they embarked on a synth-heavy voyage through the 80s that ended with Presto. Synths are prominent here, but traces of the short and sharp hard rock they introduced on Permanent Waves remain.

Like nearly every record of theirs, this one probably won’t seize your fancy upon first listen. It took me a while to warm to it, and I since have obviously. I’d rate it as one of their better records, definitely better than the ones either side of it, Moving Pictures and Grace Under Pressure.

But, it’s not without an issue. I state “issue” in the singular, but it’s big enough that it’s almost a show-stopper. Alex Lifeson’s guitar is way back in the mix. I mean way back. Even on tracks that call for a churning, rocking guitar like The Analog Kid and New World Man, it’s so far back it almost ruins the song. About the only track where it’s at the fore is The Weapon. And to be perfectly frank, the live version they did for the Grace Under Pressure tour is so much better.

Buried guitar or not, the eight tracks on this record are wonderful. The Weapon is the standout, and album closer Countdown comes close. I’d like to say there’s not a weak track, but I’d argue that Subdivisions and Chemistry falter a little.

signalsBut not by much.

Rush – Permanent Waves

This is album number seven for Rush. It’s different from everything that came before it and very different from everything that came after. Gone are the long prog-rock pieces, replaced by sharp and heavy precise songs. Guitars are front and centre here and it’s all glorious. From the opening (and famous) riff of The Spirit of Radio right to the glittering end of Natural Science, you’re in classic album land.

Fans and critics cite their next record, Moving Pictures as Rush’s best. Negative. This is their best. That other LP is a little too wide-ranging, a touch too non-cohesive to be considered a classic in my eyes. It’s good, but not that great.

This LP, on the other hand, is great. As I said, guitars are up the front on this LP and they crunch, especially on cuts like Entre Nous and Freewill. Even the soft, gentle Different Strings doesn’t sound out of place here.

Of course, the musicianship is what you’d expect of Rush and there’s exquisite playing everywhere.

This was the first Rush LP I ever listened to and it remains my favourite. They were never quite this hard or heavy again and it’s definitely the pivot album of their career. All that came before was mystic progressive rock, long winding and complex pieces, and all after (up to Test For Echo anyway) was generally softer with far more prominent keyboard work.

This is the Canadian trio’s magnum opus. And they never did an LP cover quite as awesome ever again!

permanent waves

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