If anyone out there is still reading this blog, you may have noticed that it’s been pretty dormant lately. Life has been busy, and just haven’t had time for the sort of recreational writing that I’ve been able to do in the past. But, I’ve just launched a new professional site for myself at davidawells.com, and I’ll be moving all of my music-related blogging activities over there. I’ve already got a few posts up, go check ‘em out! I’ll probably resurrect this blog at some point as a place for my photographs and book reviews, but I have no idea when that’ll be.
One of the projects that’s keeping me busy these days is the Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition. The competition, founded in 2004, is for young women bassoon players who are either from or in school anywhere in the Americas. The repertoire changes for every competition, but always includes a Vivaldi concerto, an unaccompanied work, and a new piece by a living woman composer. The competition happens every two years, and since the 2010 competition, has been accompanied by the MQVC Bassoon Symposium — three days of masterclasses, recitals, and other activities open to all bassoonists.
The 2012 Competition and Symposium are happening at the University of the Pacific, where Veronica is now the music librarian. Nicolasa Kuster is the bassoon prof. at Pacific, and also the co-founder of MQVC (along with UT-Austin’s Kristin Wolfe Jensen). She invited me to join the organization as Operations Coordinator, and I will also serve as co-host for the 2012 Competition and Symposium.
I created a brand new web site for MQVC, which launched today. Check it out at mqvc.org. The launch marks the announcement of the repertoire, guidelines, and dates for the 2012 Competition. This year’s new piece is Sortilege by Margi Griebling-Haigh, which Barrick Stees will premiere at this summer’s International Double Reed Society Conference. Besides the web site, I’m also managing MQVC’s mailing list, Facebook page and Twitter account (@MQVCBassoon).
As January 2012 approaches, I’ll probably post more here about organizing the event, who will be serving as judges, etc. But, all that information will definitely show up at mqvc.org first.
Most of the stories in this collection are explicitly tied together by the presence of an apparently immortal narrator named Qfwfq. Many of the stories involve space, but they take place in many times and many settings — with Qfwfq in many different incarnations. In one, he describes life before the Big Bang, with everyone and everything coexisting in a single point. In another, he and another young friend play games with atoms and fly around on galaxies. In yet another, he is a third-generation land dweller with an embarrassing still-aquatic great uncle. Even within these fantastical narratives, Calvino often manages to add a further level of surreality: a dinosaur catches the first train and gets lost in the crowd, cosmic beings transmute into ordinary humans, playmates get locked in an endless spatial loop. These stories are quite good, although they’re not my favorites among Calvino’s works. My only real objection is to his use of intentionally unpronounceable names. Qfwfq is actually a relatively tame example; other characters have names like (k)yK, Granny Bb’b, and Rwzfs.
Paleontologist Robert Bakker has written a number of books, but Raptor Red is his first (and so far as I can tell his only) novel. His characters are all Cretaceous dinosaurs, with a female Utahraptor (Raptor Red) as the protagonist. The story follows Red as she loses one prospective mate and finds another; encounters various other species of dinosaurs and other animals, many already known to her but some not; and meets up with her sister and her two chicks. Aside from other animals of various sorts, Red and her fellow raptors also must deal with strange new plants, bugs, weather, and natural disasters as they travel through present-day North America in search of food.
Throughout, Bakker provides a wealth of information about the anatomy and behavior of the dinosaurs and other animals in his story. The behavior is, of course, educated guesswork. He makes the Utahraptors very social creatures, which he argues for based on their relatively large brains and close ties to birds. As Bakker wrote this book in the mid-1990s, I’d be interested to know if any new discoveries have been made in the intervening years that might change his characterizations.
One quote from a review printed on the back cover of the paperback edition proclaims that “Michael Crichton may be a good storyteller, but even he wouldn’t have the nerve to write a dinosaur novel from the dino’s point of view.” I might counter by saying “Robert Bakker may know an awful lot about dinosaurs, but he’s no master storyteller.” Not that the novel is the worst I’ve read — far from it. But, it’s far more interesting for its dinosaur information than for its narrative arc.
Journalist Bill Smithback, a recurring Preston/Child character, is killed in a brutal attack in his Manhattan apartment (this happens on page 7, so it’s not really a spoiler). Eyewitnesses and building security footage make identifying his killer easy, but a bigger problem appears almost immediately: the man is thought to have committed suicide ten days earlier. There seem to be connections between Smithback’s murder and a story he’d been working on about a strange religious sect at the northern tip of Manhattan that has been accused of practicing animal sacrifice. The deeper FBI Agent Pendergast, NYPD Lieutenant D’Agosta, and Smithback’s wife Nora Kelly get in their investigation, the more it seems that the cult is not only sacrificing animals, but also turning people into zombiis.
Sigh… yet another Pendergast novel. I was hoping that Preston and Child would give their eccentric FBI agent a rest after six books in a row, the last four of which were increasingly Pendergast-centric. I long for a return to their earlier unconnected (or at least only tenuously connected) novels, like Thunderhead and Riptide. But, this book does bear some similarities to the authors’ first collaboration, Relic: it takes place in New York, involves the Museum of Natural History (about which Douglas Preston knows a great deal), and for the most part doesn’t involve Pendergast’s personal life or family history. For me, Cemetery Dance ranks not among Preston and Child’s top five books, but I liked it better than that last few they’ve written.