The Road Beneath My Feet by Frank Turner (Overlook Press, 2015)
I’m avoiding politics this week for the nonfiction book review (kind of… more on that in a bit.) The reason is that this column is designed both to give people an idea about books they might like to read, and about books they might like to give as gifts… and as we’ve all seen, politics can be divisive, not always ideal gift material.
So, the book:
The Road Beneath My Feet is an autobiographical travelogue, following a segment of the career of a touring musician. It follows him from his final show with his punk band, Milllion Dead, on September 23, 2005 through his headlining at Wembley Arena on April 13, 2012. He breaks everything down by shows… the Wembley set is show #1216.
Time for a little math. 365 days in a year, 6 full years between, one leap year day, 99 remaining days in September 2005, 104 days in 2012… that’s 2394 days. 1216 shows in 2394 days is just over one show every other day for almost seven years, amidst which six albums were produced. There isn’t much room left on a schedule like that, and it shows; the reader gets to see Turner challenged by issues with friends and family back home, the craziness of trying to book venues, financial problems, internal industry issues, and what it’s like for a musician on stage from the days of a handful of people showing up to a bar to where there’s a sea of faces out as far as the eye can see.
It’s presented in journal fashion, but it isn’t a journal, it was written by Turner amidst his next two years of touring (he’s maintained his frenetic schedule) but his education as a history major served him well in his efforts. He used documentation, as well as his memory, to establish timelines for the book, going back over old e-mail messages, letters, tour notes and more. There’s a lot of drinking, some drugs, some sex, some foul language… and a lot of love, camaraderie, dedication to the art and appreciation of listeners.
Whether you like his music or loathe it, it’s a fantastic insight into a performer’s life on the road.
Oh, and about that lack of politics? Remember that Turner’s a history major. His latest album reflects that; there is one love song about his fiancee, but outside of that it’s a very political album, and the message for the other songs is simply that we need to talk to each other and remember simple decency. Even the song he expected to create controversy, “Make America Great Again”, didn’t… because it’s an anti-racism song, and most people – Republicans and Democrats and Independents alike – dislike racists, even if they don’t always share the same views on what racism is.
Wild Cards edited by George R.R. Martin (Bantam, 1986)
This is arguably the most divisive series in science fiction. This is not a statement about the quality of the stories… far from it… but rather a recognition of outside events.
Wild Cards was spawned from two events: the success of the “shared world anthology” pioneered by Robert Asprin with his fantasy-setting “Thieves’ World” books, and a weekly RPG night run by George R.R. Martin and a number of his professional author friends, including Roger Zelazny and Victor Milan. Shared World is a style of book in which a single setting is produced in which all stories are written – nothing new – and then the authors are encouraged to include the characters from other writers’ stories in their own work, creating a sense of continuity between the tales.
The group realized their superhero game was creating story arcs which could be used for a book, but as all of them had a hand in it, it was a nonstarter as written fiction. Then the shared world notion was considered, and Wild Cards was born.
The first few books are background stories written by the authors, during which they introduce their individual characters. As such, there is some interaction with the other writers’ creations, but it’s typically not integral to the plot of any individual work. From there, later books shift to novels in which authors write a chapters focused primarily on their character, then hand the book off to the next author in line, all of them working from the same story arc and notes. Eventually some authors have solo books, designed to cap off the storylines of their characters.
The books are expertly written and edited, and are strongly recommended to any fan of superhero fiction, whether in prose, movies, or comics. It continues to this day, with an initial 12 book cycle, another 3 book cycle, and now an ongoing series of anthologies with mostly new authors.
The editor, however, has caused mild controversy.
George R.R. Martin, after decades of relative anonymity despite numerous writing awards, hit it big with A Game of Thrones. The intricately written series languished, though, as he recognized the spotlight on him and works to get every sentence perfect, and not leave any plothole in the books. Their pace of release has slowed to a crawl as the five books which were due to complete more than a decade ago got pushed to seven books which are likely to complete soon. During that time, Martin has had a creative vent in the Wild Cards series, which has had the additional benefit of drawing attention to some of his friends’ writing. But there are many who hate the Wild Cards series, not because of any flaw within it but only because of the perceived delay it’s caused in the completion of his Westeros saga.
They need to get past that. Wild Cards is a strong series on its own, and they’re better for having more good books on the shelves than for having a frustrated writer not just taking a long time to get specific work done right, but producing no significant material outside of that series.