Sunday, June 26, 2016

Reading Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (June 2016)

As a short story writer who frequently submits to magazines like the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Asimov's Science Fiction, I've been making an effort to read these magazines. This gives me a better understanding of what the editors there like as well as a better understanding of modern science fiction and fantasy. After reading the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, as well as listening to podcasts like EscapePod and Podcastle, I decided to try reading Asimov's for the first time. It's easy to find at Barnes and Noble, though you can also get copies from Asimov's website or via Amazon. Like most of the scifi/fantasy magazines I've found, it's very affordable, only $4.99 at B&N.

I enjoyed most of the stories in this issue of Asimov's, and surprisingly, I loved the poetry. I don't usually associate poetry and scifi, but I found the ones here quite interesting, especially Geoffrey Landis' "A Robot Grows Old." Even the short-form poems had vivid images I liked. Among the short stories, Sarah Pinsker's "Clearance" was a fascinating example of slipstream, one that moved between parallel worlds yet felt so grounded in mundane reality that she still managed to tell a powerful story of love and estrangement. I loved Rick Wilbur's "Rambunctious" as well. The relationships between the characters felt beautifully warm and well-developed, and the setting as lush as the Florida Keys themselves.

If I felt that Rivera's "Unreeled" covered similar plot points as many other works of scifi, I do think he did a good job of creating tension and unsettling dread. "Rats Dream of the Future" had a fascinating premise, but somehow the story felt rushed--I think it would have worked better if the main character had delved more deeply into her rival's experiments, perhaps even seen one in action. Instead, it felt like the major plot points occurred "off-camera."

"What We Hold Onto" is this issue's novella, and it was an interesting story. I liked the world the author created and the characters he developed. The idea of "Nomads," the ultimate freelancers, felt fascinating and perhaps even prescient. Yet, for me the story's pacing felt inconsistent, while the author did a good job of making the romance feel passionate, I had a hard time believing the two characters knew each other well enough for the ending to quite make sense. Likewise, "Project Symmetry," the novelette, had a great main character and a good premise, but the ending didn't feel earned--it kind of came out of nowhere. I felt the story could have used more foreshadowing and groundwork before the ultimate confrontation between the main character and her family.

Overall, I'd highly recommend Asimov's to anyone who likes science fiction. The stories were fascinating and unique, and the small size of the magazine made it easy for me to carry it around (even inside my purse) to read whenever I felt like it. The wide variety of stories made each one feel unique and reflected the breadth and depth of modern science fiction writing.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Parents of Musicians

Originally published by Polonius Sheet Music
In honor of Father's Day, I'd like to write about musician's parents. Parents have had a huge impact on many musical geniuses, often giving their children crucial support and training. I've written before about the huge influence J.S. Bach had on his talented crop of children, and many other parents have likewise shaped their children's careers. Shinichi Suzuki, among other great pedagogues, considered parents' engagement in students' lessons critical to their success.

Many talented musicians grew up in homes where music was considered a necessary part of their education. Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn's parents paid for extensive musical training, especially once it became clear how talented they were, and their father helped Felix publish his first pieces. If Fanny was discouraged by her father from pursuing music professionally, he did still see to it that she had training and opportunities to learn it, and her mother encouraged her to compose when she was depressed. Wolfgang and Nannerl Mozart's father, while a difficult and manipulative man, also invested significant time and energy into training his talented offspring. He took them on grand tours of Europe and introducing them to potential royal patrons and the finest musicians of their time. Likewise, Franz Liszt's father was a musician in the court of Prince Nikolaus II Esterhazy. He knew Hadyn and Beethoven personally, and began teaching his son piano at the age of seven. His father's support earned Liszt a prestigious musical education and helped to support his first tour.

Johan Strauss I, on the other hand, was a mixed blessing for his son. He bequeath his son, Johan Strauss II, a prestigious family name and extensive musical contacts, and when he died the young Strauss took over his father's famous and beloved touring orchestra. But the older Strauss did not want his son in the family business, perhaps because he wished for him a quiet, stable, respectable life. He famously punished his son when he found him playing music. But young Strauss' mother supported her son and nurtured his talent, giving him training and support while the older Strauss was on tour and later after he left his family for his mistress.

Few young musicians have the ability to develop their craft without support from one or both of their parents (or at the very least, a generous uncle). Parents can play a crucial role in nurturing genius, by providing their children with lessons and encouragement. So this Father's Day, let's consider the role that supportive parents have played in musical history!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Review: The Providence of Fire

My husband first heard about Brian Staveley's first book, The Emperor's Blades. He got it on audible, and we listened to it (I heard enough to get the gist of the story, but not quite the whole thing. We've actually picked up a copy of the book, so I'm reading it now). I enjoyed the story so much that when my husband suggested we buy a physical copy of the second book, I really wanted to read it, even out of order (sort of).

I really enjoyed this book. It has a gripping plot and fascinating characters. I loved the fact that characters like Adare and Kaden were faced with decisions where there wasn't really a right or wrong answer, and that major characters could legitimately disagree about the right course of action. The conflict between Valyn and Adare's conflict is as heart-breaking as it is inevitable, as the siblings struggle to understand and trust one another. But if they don't unite, how can they defeat the powerful enemies that surround them all? Their enemies, Longfist and Ran il Tornja, are as fully realized as his main characters, yet they remain mysterious and unknowable, their ultimate motivations as elusive as the unhewn throne itself. Staveley's prose is at once spare and evocative, making his world feel viscerally real even in its more fantastical moments.

Overal, I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in epic fantasy. The tight plot and well-drawn characters make it such a pleasurable read I actually find read the whole book (476 pages) in less than a week. I'm definitely going to read the other books in the series, the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, too!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Hillary Hahn's Encores: 27 New Pieces for Violin and Piano

I've been thinking about listening and playing new music lately, so when I saw Hillary Hahn's CD, In 27 Pieces: The Hillary Hahn Encores, I had to buy it. I was mesmerized. These pieces represent such a wide range of expressive voices from composers of different cultures and backgrounds, each one a tiny jewel.

One of the best parts of the CD is how it introduced me to a wide array of living composers whose music I hadn't heard before. There are too many for me to talk about in a single post, but here are a few of the composers who stood out to me:

1. Christos Hatzis

Hatzis wrote "Coming To" for In 27 Pieces. It's a haunting, ethereal piece of music that I listened to twice the first time I heard it. I loved how it brought out the beautiful tonal colors and purity of Hahn's playing. The music is bewitching and eerie, modern without being harsh. Hatzis describes himself as influenced by his Byzantine Heritage, and something in this music feels almost spiritual, like modern plainchant for the violin. 

2.  Kala Ramnath

Ramnath is an Indian classical violinist who has incorporated aspects of Western classical music and other genres into her work. Her piece, "Aalap and Tarana," reflects her background in Hindustani music, with sliding glissandos and Indian tonalities. What I loved about this piece was its gentle, loving expression. Hahn never overplays the music, but lets it unfold into a beautiful moment. I'd love to get the score for this once it becomes available--I have many students interested in Indian classical violin, and this piece feels like it would be a great bridge between Western and Eastern music.

3. Lera Auerbach

Auberbach's piece "Speak, Memory," had the wistful elegance of a bygone era. One of the more "traditional" sounding pieces on the CD, it had gorgeous melodies well-suited to Hahn's rich, lovely tone. Auerbach herself has a fascinating life story, and I'm eager to listen to her other music, which includes several operas, a ballet based on the story of the Little Mermaid, and a wide variety of chamber music. 

When I'm looking for new authors to read, one of the things I like to do is read anthologies of short stories. They give me a sense of different author's voices and styles of writing, then I can look up my favorite writers from the anthology to see if they have any novels I can read as well. Hahn's In Twenty Seven Pieces is an anthology of music, one that gives the listener a chance to hear short pieces by a wide variety of composers. I'd encourage anyone interested in new music to give it a listen. You might discover a composer whose works speak to you, the way some of them spoke to me.