Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Third Honeymoon's A Charm

A trip to Sedona to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary seemed like the perfect time to review hikes and burger joints from Roger Naylor's new book, Boots & Burgers: An Arizona Handbook for Hungry Hikers, so I marked a few hikes and Google-mapped a couple of restaurants, and we set out on a Wednesday evening.  Thursday morning we rose with every intention of doing the Hiline Trail (after a hardy breakfast at Coffee Pot Restaurant). But to get to the trailhead, you have to drive up a rugged section of Schnebly Hill Road, and that's when we ran into a snag.

Our little Toyota truck probably could have navigated that road, but I wasn't 100% per cent sure, and the warranty on our tires is expired. So after a brief foray about 20 feet in, where we immediately began to wallow, I turned the truck around and parked it in the paved lot next to Marg's Draw. That trail was tempting, but being unable to drive up Schnebly Hill made me feel very curious about the road, itself.

Schnebly Hill is a very old trail. Martha Summerhayes and her party used it to get to Sedona in the 1870s (Vanished Arizona). I wondered if it would make a good hiking trail in its own right. So Ernie and I decided to hike up the road to the trail head (we figured it was about 2.5 miles), and then we would decide if we could slog any further up the Hiline Trail, or if we should just turn around and hike back. Our other option was to hike Marg's Draw, which looked very alluring from the trailhead. We decided to do that one the next time we return to Sedona, and set off up good ol' Schnebly Hill.

I'm glad we did, because I learned a few things I hadn't known before. For one thing, I realized I'd like to buy a two-seater ATV some day. Several of them passed us on the way, and I admired the way they navigated the rugged rocks and soft sand/silt that challenge any kind of wheels on that road. I also saw something I hadn't seen before.

If you've read Wayne Ranney's book, Sedona Through Time, you know about the Hickey Formation and the Plateau Basalts – but those layers have eroded away in the Sedona area, and it's hard to tell where they were. You see basalt rocks and boulders along Oak Creek (some of them gigantic), but I hadn't seen them along the HWY 179 trails until I spotted them poking up out of the middle of Schnebly Hill Road. I have no idea just how large those rocks are, since they're almost completely buried by sand and silt from the Hermit Shale and Schnebly Hill Formations – for all I know, they may be as big as houses.

There was a wash alongside the road with some standing water in pools and the sort of slickrock you can find at Slide Rock State Park, Bell Rock, Red Rock State Park, etc. Recent running water had left beautiful ripples in the fine sand/silt. We were careful not to stick our gallumphy footprints in it. Overhead, on all sides, red rock formations stared down at us. We made it all the way up to the trail head – but decided to hike back down again, since our day was turning toward afternoon. Four to five hours hiking is plenty for me.

So down we went again. We didn't accomplish my goal of hiking either of those trails (this time around), but we succeeded at the burger end of things beyond my wildest dreams. For our honeymoon supper, we visited Cowboy Club in uptown Sedona. We both ordered the Cowboy Up burger, which is adorned with bacon, cheddar cheese, crispy onions, and BBQ sauce. The burger is ground sirloin, and we asked for ours to be cooked well-done, yet they were still juicy and tasty. They were served on a buttery pretzel roll (just as Roger described it). From the way the burger was described, I thought it might be a bit sloppy, but the ratio of toppings to meat and bun was just right. I had the sweet potato fries with mine, and my husband had the beans. We didn't need appetizers or desert, because the combo was quite filling.

Friday, on our drive back to Phoenix, we decided to take the scenic route and go south on HWY 89A, through Cottonwood, Jerome, and Prescott. This is one of the most beautiful drives you can do in AZ. It's interesting if you're driving south to north, but I particularly enjoy it in the other direction, climbing into Jerome instead of descending through it. If you're the driver, you will have to remind yourself to watch the road, because it twists and turns while continually revealing breathtaking scenery.

By the time we reached Prescott, I was ready to try another burger joint from Roger's book, Bill's Grill. It doesn't seem to be on the main drag through town, but it actually is. It's an innocuous little place on a stretch of the highway at the southern end of town. Hwy 89 is called South Montezuma Street for that stretch, so don't let it throw you.

We chose to sit in the enclosed porch, mostly because we didn't realize it was a porch, it was so cozy and well-protected from the elements. This proved important, because on that particular day a storm was passing through Arizona, bringing colder temps and lots of wind and rain. We felt snug and comfy as we ordered the Southwest BBQ Burger (I just can't resist the bacon). It doesn't come with a side – you have to order that extra, but you may find you don't need it. The burger is pretty big, and I couldn't make much of a dent in the sweet potato fries I ordered (though they were perfect). It had a couple of things in common with the burger I got at Cowboy Club. One was that it also was not overwhelmed by its condiments. And the other was that they use locally raised beef. These burgers were so tasty, I think I've been spoiled for life.

So there you have it – another foray into the hiking & burger heaven of Roger Naylor's new book. I am convinced. I shall continue my Naylor-guided explorations. Watch this space for further developments . . .

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Nero's Lyre" Featured In "No Lander"

It had to happen! Michael Levy's music has been used in a ballet. Click on the links below to feast your eyes and ears!

My Lyre Music Featured in a Ballet Production!

I was delighted to stumble upon a video of a new ballet production in progress, by Riccardo Buscarini, entitled "No Lander", which features my composition "Nero's Lyre"!

Here are some details about the production from the video description:

"In an endless space, five dancers play sailors lost at sea... nothing to hang on to, no roots, no light, no land... just a never-ending horizon of waves. A melancholic and subtle meditation on the themes of Homer’s Odyssey, No Lander reflects upon longing and belonging. No Lander was initially developed as part of Middlesex University/ResCen research project ‘ArtsCross London 2013: Leaving Home, Being Elsewhere’ in August 2013 where a 10 minute version of the work was created"

The video of this fascinating ballet production can be viewed and freely downloaded here.

The splendid choreography certainly adds an entirely new dimension to my composition!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

High Hopes for the End of the World

How would you prefer the world to end? That was a question that would have struck me as odd a few years ago, before I realized there was a sub-genre in science fiction called Post Apocalypse.

I knew there was a sub-genre in horror – zombie novels – and they also qualify as Post Apocalypse. I figured zombie stories entertained people because they liked the idea of being able to kill droves of enemies without feeling guilty about it. After all, those enemies are already dead. Plus they want to eat you. If that AMC show, The Walking Dead, is any indication, those zombies can be quite a nuisance in large groups, so I agree it's wise to shoot as many of them in the head as you can, just to be safe.

But zombies alone can't hold our attention for very long. In large doses, you just get sick of them – you want the heroes to blow them up already, and get on with the real story. And what is the real story? It's about how things come unraveled.

The why of it isn't as important. We can all think of reasons for everything to go to Hell in a hand basket. We've been watching that happen throughout recorded history. There's a plague, a world war, a Kristallnacht. Afterward, the experts have plenty to say about what went wrong and why it all happened. But the people who survived are much more interesting, because they tell us the details of how it happened: the food supply was interrupted, the currency collapsed, water stopped coming out of taps, no fuel was available for cars, trains, and buses – a thousand details about the things we take for granted until they're not working anymore.

It's not that we're indifferent. The world comes to an end in all sorts of smaller ways, for all of us, all the time. It's tempting to point a finger at society in general and say What a bunch of clueless, spoiled fools we are! We deserve to be overrun by zombies. But we don't deserve it. We're just fascinated by it. Because finding out how things come apart teaches us how things work in the first place.

That's why Alan Weisman's book, The World Without Us, is so engrossing. He doesn't attempt to tell us why the theoretical End of the World occurs in his book, he just illustrates what happens when our infrastructure isn't being maintained on a daily basis. National Geographic's World Without Humans follows the same premise. Each episode shows us how various cities would fall apart: buildings, roads, bridges, dams, and vehicles. It proves that we don't take things for granted, because we're maintaining all this stuff every day. It shows us a big picture that we can't see on our own.

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” (At least according to facebook, but it sounds like something he could have said.) I think you could say the same thing about the Apocalypse. The anxiety that things will fall apart nibbles at us every day (especially those of us who are homeowners). But anxiety isn't the only thing we feel when we contemplate the End Of All We Know. There's some anticipation in there too. When old worlds die, new ones are born. Creation and destruction are bound together. In books and movies, that principle is usually exemplified by a virus.

The virus is what kills people. But often that wasn't its original intention – it may have been engineered to do the opposite, to preserve life by prolonging it. That's why those dead people got up and started walking again; something is keeping them from rotting completely away. It turns out that viruses are good delivery systems for genetic information, so theoretically you could use one to tweak human DNA. Or to cure people, or make them stronger, allow them to live longer. If you're a writer, you can't help imagining how all of that could go wrong – hence the zombies and cannibalistic mutants that pervade popular culture these days. Maybe they could be seen as symbols of our hubris.

But they may be symbols of evolution, as well. Climate drives change, but so does mutation. When the dinosaur-killing asteroid struck Earth about 60 million years ago, it killed a lot of dinosaurs. Only – it didn't. The change in climate killed a lot of species, and the ones that survived evolved. Dinosaurs became birds, and early mammals diversified. Natural selection and mutation worked paw in claw to create new creatures.

In our own way, we also become new creatures when our world comes to an end. And as much as we hate and fear it, that may be part of the appeal.

The illustrations on this post are by Ernest Hogan, whose drawings are always at least a little apocalyptic.