Mar 022016
 

Liquorature #077 – “Under Heaven” (Guy Gavriel Kay)guy-gavriel-kay-la-rinascita-di-shen-tai-L-85P79x[1]

Date:  October 30, 2015

Host:  Curt

Whisky:  Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt, Nikka From The Barrel, Kavalan Solist Bourbon, Chichibu Port Pipe

 

A few years back Lance gifted me a copy of ‘The Fionavar Tapestry’.  The whys of this gift are a little elusive, even in reflection, as fantasy is/was far from my preferred genre of fiction.  Previous escapades being limited to mostly a dozen or so ‘Dragonlance’ books in my teens, earlier Liquorature selection ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ and one or two others (and no…not even ‘Lord Of The Rings’ at that time).  I’m not sure if he thought he could win me over or if there was an even grander design.  Either way, I came away from it after turning the last weighty pages with a great appreciation of the work, but an even more profound appreciation for the man himself.  Kay that is, not Lance.  I already loved that old chap.

I’ll not share details here, but several factors went into my choosing ‘Under Heaven’ for the Liquorature crew.  First off…a few scenes in ‘Fionavar’ simply blew me away.  Battle scenes in particular.  I wanted to revisit that magic.  A while later, and after many a word shared with GGK himself, another one of his works, ‘Ysabel’, knocked my socks off.  Kay’s mix of fantasy (very lightly and deftly applied in the case of ‘Under Heaven’ and ‘Ysabel’) and history is extremely appealing.  And in the case of the latter, Kay’s tossing in some brilliant weavings of Celtic mythology had me turning pages through the wee hours.  Finally…Mr. Kay is himself a malt lover.  The more he and I conversed on the subject, the more I came to see how sprawling his knowledge and interests really are.  Sports, literature, art, travel, politics, people, Canadiana, and much, much more.  In many instances, the points of intersection were key enough to make me aware how blessed we are to have someone like this share of their thoughts via the written – and timeless – word.

That becomes paramount when diving into a book like ‘Under Heaven’, where most of us readers will be largely unfamiliar with the time and place captured in its pages.  More importantly, the customs and beliefs of an empire (or dynasty?) as depicted herein, become a challenge for us in terms of relatability from our distant vantage.  It’s how Kay handles this and empathetically leads us into this unfamiliar terrain that is a gift from his pen to our minds.  His insights and talent for evoking vivid imagery make Tang Dynasty era China (‘Kitai’, in this fictionalized telling) not only relatable, but uniquely appealing.  And did I mention it is set against a backdrop of actual Chinese history?  I’ll say no more, lest I spoil the tale for anyone.

The lads in the club had a favorable, if mixed, reaction to it.  When I say ‘mixed’ I refer mostly to preferences for certain pieces and characters in the story.  The writing was unanimously lauded and appreciated.  The unfolding of the tale itself left some with conflicting opinions.  No one, however, contested the magnitude of the work, and a couple are, in fact, going to move on to Kay’s follow-up work ‘River Of Stars’.  Says something, aye?

In terms of playing into the theme and all that we do here in Liquorature, well…suffice it to say there really is no such thing as a Chinese whisky (locally anyway), and what I could source as a distilled Chinese beverage tasted like sweatsocks and ramen noodles.  Yep.  We had to try it, of course, and I simply have to say…not awesome.  Having said that, I branched out a bit for this one and went with a general ‘Asian’ theme.  Some Japanese and Taiwanese malts from a couple of consistently great distilleries.  The Kavalan was a favorite, but the Nikkas we sipped surprised a couple of the lads.  Seems the collective has a sweet spot for Asian malts.

Dinner was sweet Thai chili chicken over jasmine rice, bringing a mix of heat and sweet, followed by rich vanilla ice cream and lychee fruit.  All paired surprisingly well with big single malts.

There is more I could share here, but some has not fully played out yet (sorry, can’t tell), and some is simply reserved for those that were there at the time.  All in all, a special night made moreso by some help I received from the author.  Thanks for that, Guy.  Appreciate it.

Until next…

Random notes:  Lychee cocktails … Chu Yeh Ching Chiew … Danny sat in … tried the DI cask … a wee gift … sweet Thai chili chicken … ice cream with lychee …”The French of Asia” … “He yin’d her yang” … “I’m just gonna roll a a twenty-sider”

 

– Curt

Jun 162015
 

A few years back I recall reading a line in Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ in which he said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

Truer words were never spoken, and this little tidbit is arguably the crux of the book.  Please don’t assume that is all you need from the book (trust me…’On Writing’ is essential reading), but it is an incredibly sweeping statement that speaks to the age old belief in ‘practice makes perfect’.  If you’re not constantly honing your craft – studying and doing – you will never master it (as much as any of us ever master anything).

A lot of my own free time lately is spent working on whisky reviews for my other site (www.allthingswhisky.com) or beating the hell out of my keyboard working on a mixed bag of original fiction pieces.  I keep promising that one or two will end up posted here, but I haven’t yet got ’round to it.  Soon.  I promise.

But no matter how much I write, that is only half of the equation.  The other half  is, as Mr. King mentions, reading.  The pace at which we work our way through these Liquorature selections is never enough to fill the hole in me.  I generally plow through a few books in the interim periods between finishing off club picks.  Thought maybe I’d share a few that have kept me turning pages in the two weeks since our last meeting.

 

Patterson_Along-Came-a-Spider‘Along Came A Spider’ (James Patterson) – Let me start by saying I outright detest this man’s MO.  I think it’s appalling that he leeches disgusting amounts of profit off the blood, sweat and tears of not-yet-established writers.  If you’re unsure as to what I mean, let me give you the gist:  Mr. Patterson comes up with the concept for his books, drafts up an outline and does a little plotting before finally finishing up with the odd bit of editing and such after someone else writes them for him.  Yep.  The book itself is entirely composed by another author whose name ends up in small print on the book cover (and not published on the spine at all, from what I have seen) under the big, bold JAMES PATTERSON.  Hmmm…can you guess who reaps the financial rewards and accolades as one of the world’s bestselling author?  Gimme a break.  As for Patterson’s own literary talents, well…marginal, in my humble opinion.  This book is one of his better ones that I’ve checked out, and is actually written by Patterson himself.  Stepping off the soapbox now.

‘Along Came A Spider’ is an interesting enough story that unravels well and in a few unexpected ways.  It could have gone in several different – and possibly more interesting – directions (and I think I personally would have done something a little darker with it myself), but ultimately it’s a page turner and a quick disposable l’il yarn for beach or plane fare.

 

‘The Loch’ (Steve Alten) – Alten is an interesting cat with a soft spot for the big beasties.  His ‘Meg’ series gives us a look at the the lochlong extinct megalodon, arguably one of nature’s all time scariest creations.  I read the first in that series a long time back, but have subsequently picked up the others and shelved them for future reading.  I’ll dig into them sooner than later, I imagine.  Meg was a fun read on a subject that interests me greatly and Alten gave it a plausible enough delivery overall.  I find him to be a little bit like Crichton in some ways, but he does have his own voice.

‘The Loch’ takes us exactly where you’d suspect.  Into the highlands of Scotland to tackle the mystery of just what the fuck – if anything – lives in the depths of this murky and foreboding little puddle.  Alten’s answer is unique enough and the story definitely takes a few left turns en route to the finale.  I shan’t spill the beans here, but I can see this tale having rather broad appeal.  Great film fodder in the summer blockbuster vein too.

The dialogue, written in ‘Scottish’, if you will, was a bit of a warp to wrap the mind around at first, but it quickly became fun and very unique to this tale.  Can’t wait to dig into ‘Vostok’, Alten’s crossover sequel.

 

cover_ysabel‘Ysabel’ (Guy Gavriel Kay) – Liquorature mate, and currently exiled rum junkie, Lance introduced me (and us) to Kay by way of ‘The Fionavar Tapestry’.  Not being a huge fantasy guy myself I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it, and how resonant some of the scenes were.  Not long after, fortune favoured us by revealing that Mr. Kay is a malt fan too.  We’ve shared a few conversations and more than a few drams (by way of creative shipping practices), and I can unequivocally state that I’m a fan of Kay himself even moreso than Kay the author.  At once an everyman and renaissance man.  Adept at taking conversation from sport to politics, from art to music, from current events to historical insight.  Enough of the bromance you say?  So be it.  Check out his Twitter feed for endlessly entertaining and insightful 140 character nuggets.

‘Ysabel’ is a wonderful tale that paints a beautiful and evocative sense of Provence from the age of the Celts to the workings of our modern day.  It brings an element of fantasy (though played closer in style to Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ than to the trappings of high fantasy), but grounds it with a contemporary relatability.  Some stunningly engaging characters and a poignant little twist to a couple of the characters’ relationships right near the end left me hungry for more.  Another book I hated putting down.

 

‘Finders Keepers’ (Stephen King) – Part two in a planned trilogy related to King’s Hodges character (et al) first met infinders keepers ‘Mr. Mercedes’.  I found this one maybe a little more engaging than that one.  Perhaps it was the literary spin to this story, relating back to a Salinger-esque character, or perhaps it was just the delicious pacing.  Either way it was a fun read, typical of King with incredibly believable characters and dialogue, and hard to put down.  The ending was chilling, and definitely one his best closing acts in recent memory (excluding the stunning and gutting last few pages of ‘Revival’, which knocked me flat on my ass).  Believe me when I say we are set up for a humdinger of a finale in ‘End of Watch’.  Don’t wanna spoil it, but from these first two ‘detective’ sort of stories it looks like we’ll be diving right back into vintage King.

Oh, yeah…and later this year we’ll be privy to another collection of King’s short stories, ‘The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams’.  Those collections are always worth the price of admission.

 

troop‘The Troop’ (Nick Cutter, aka Craig Davidson) – An absolutely repulsive piece of work.  And I mean that as a compliment.  It’s blatantly obvious that Cutter wanted to grab us by the balls and squeeze to the point of either rupture or blackout.  This book has the ability to take you to the very knife-edge of your endurance for squeamish scenes and let’s-change-the-subject passages.  I will often read over the lunch hour, but I literally couldn’t do it with this book.  I’ve read a few others’ perspectives on what sort of mash-up this tale is, but here’s my take: part ‘Lord of the Flies’, part ‘The Ruins’, a little bit of ‘Prey’, a healthy dollop of Stephen King and all of it basted in the gore and nastiness of Jay Bonansinga’s work on ‘The Walking Dead’ novels with Robert Kirkman.  Not the best book I’ve read, by a country mile, but effective.

 

And there you have it.  Still over two weeks until we meet to discuss Daniel Suarez’s ‘Daemon’.  Pretty sure we can squeeze one or two more in before that one.

 

– Curt