Finished "Cloud Atlas" a few days ago. It ended up with more of an overt social message than I had expected; I thought it would be all metaphysical and science fiction, but it closes with an urgent call for people to just generally behave better. I can see why my pastor sister-in-law liked it. And the futuristic image at the center of the book is very chilling: a hologram figure projected from an ancient device delivers a vital message that nobody understands. Very highly recommended. If you're one of those people who likes "Lost," you might like this. (I was one of those people until this season. Blech! But this is not a TV blog.)
Finishing up my lovely new edition of "At the Mountains of Madness," which I bought in a Joseph-Beth spree before leaving Cincinnati. It's a lovely edition with a surprisingly lucid introduction by China Mieville (I really hated his "Perdido Street Station"). He makes the interesting point that the shoggoth is Lovecraft's ultimate monster because it represents the seething mass of degenerate humanity that he saw on the streets & subway platforms of New York, and that he instinctively recoiled from. Mieville addresses Lovecraft's racism pretty intelligently, too. (The shoggoth is certainly not lily-white!) Anyway, the book itself is nice to reread; Lovecraft outlines his Elder Things mythos very clearly. I had agreed with biographer & ubernerd S.T. Joshi that what Lovecraft was creating was an anti-mythos, but after rereading this I'm not so sure. I can't say it's a favorite of mine, partly because reading it makes me cold (it's like watching "Dr. Zhivago") and partly because the Arctic explorer heroes are just SO scholarly. I can't deal with them tramping through this ancient city, in constant peril of their lives, discussing how the quality of the carvings here seems to be more decadent than the ones over here, and furthermore these seem to date from the Pleistocene, and blah blah. Certainly it is a Tale of Cosmic Horror rather than an action story, but you just want to yell at them to quit measuring the arches and RUN!
A better action story, also involving cosmic monsters, is Robert A. Heinlein's young-adult book "Have Space Suit, Will Travel." I picked this up at the library this week mostly because it was paperback and I had a long walk ahead. The Santa Monica Public Library is just stunningly gorgeous. Its front entrance hall is full of glass and is partly open to the element on nice days (which this was). I thought it would be a good book to read over lunch and it was. He's so sexist, and Lovecraft is so racist, but what are you going to do.
LaLa sent me a couple of CDs this week: the Broadway soundtrack of "Chess" and R.E.M.'s "Out of Time." I will defend "Out of Time" against that other album with the Andy Kaufman song to the death. The second side beginning with "Belong" is some of their best work. And the album overall has some great Mike Mills vocals, which is good for Mike fans like me. Sure, the first half is blah, but nothing on it is as offensive as "Sweetness Follows." (And it has "Losing My Religion," which was good until we all got so we never, ever need to hear it again.) I had a tape of it for a long time and am very happy to have "Half a World Away" and "Me in Honey" back in my life. LaLa is great for these kinds of CDs that you kind of want but don't want to buy at full price (or on iTunes or whatever the hell the kids do).
As far as "Chess" goes, well, it's nice to have "Someone Else's Story." And it's interesting to listen to the Broadway adaptation. It's the version we saw in Cincinnati - it's the only version you can see in the United States, for byzantine legal reasons. Tim Rice was very unhappy with the changes that were made and it sounds like he just refused to cooperate in places. "One Night in Bangkok," for example, has a couple lines that needed to be changed to fit the new plot, but instead of new lines there's just a pause in the song. It's nowhere near as good as the original cast recording, but I really do like Judy Kuhn. She's no Elaine Paige, of course, but her version of "Heaven Help My Heart" is much sweeter and more intimate. And "How Many Women?" is an interesting little number. The main reason I got this was for "Someone Else's Story," though. It's my favorite song to sing in the shower, although once I came out and Art Boy was looking miserable. "Are you going to leave me?" he asked.
Phew! That feels good.