A town in British Columbia, Canada. Summerland is located in the Okanagan Valley, it is just north of Penticton, and South of Kelowna.

Summerland is the home of the George Ryga Centre, and was his home during the last years of his life. It is also the title of his collected essays and poetry written while he lived there.

Summerland was the realm of the recently dead in Spiritualist theory -- in it, the dear departed are loosed from their physical infirmities, and given bodies that resemble themselves at the age of about 25 or so. (What happened to child or infant souls was actively debated.) Reunited with their dearest dead relatives, they spend an undetermined amount of time in a place very much like the forest-and-field sections of the temperate zones of Earth, but more pleasant and spiritual -- a land of endless warm, sunny days and star-spangled nights, where rain storms only occur to end with rainbows, only gentle breezes blow, and everyone does what they were happiest at in life.

Ideal as this state seems, it is only a precursor to an even more exalted state, when one leaves Summerland to an even more happy and spiritual state, the beginning of an endless journey upwards....

by Michael Chabon
Publisher: Miramax
1st edition (October 1, 2002)
ISBN: 0786808772

A fantasy novel written for children (or so it claims, although I would judge it to be more appropriate for 'young adults'). It's heavy on the Americana and nostalgia, a little darker than most children's fiction (lots of evil, suffering, and death), and it seems a bit more literary than one expects, or wants, in children's fiction. Lots of baseball, Native American lore, and tragically lost family members.

Mild Spoilers

Ethan Feld and his father moved to Clam Island, Washington, after Ethan's mother died. It's a peaceful, rainy, small town sort of place. Perfect for his father's mini-dirigible workshop. Life is quiet, although there's a bit too much baseball being played for Ethan's tastes. There is one corner of the island, called Summerland, where it never rains. This is also where the baseball field is located. (Baseball plays a very big part in this story). It emerges that Summerland is a place where two worlds come together, making it easier for magical people to hop across.

Ethan starts seeing a strange little fox-like creature (who gives him an otherworldly book on catching); an old man starts giving him cryptic messages; and before long, he starts slipping into the other world himself -- and into the middle of the local creatures battles with Coyote. Shortly thereafter he and his friends go on a long quest to stop the ultimate evil.

The world tree, he learns, consists of four branches, formed by Coyote at the beginning of the world(s). One of these branches has been forever sealed off (by one of Coyote's tricks), but the other three are the Summerlands (adventure, fairies, giants, etc.), the Winterlands (cold and foreboding), and the Middling (our world). And now Coyote is trying to end the worlds... Ethan and a ragtag group of adventures set off to find the well at the base of the tree, meeting many strange creatures, and playing lots of baseball with them, along the way.

Book Review

Not a bad adventure story. Nothing special, unless you're into quasi-Native American lore and baseball. It's not as silly as you might be thinking. It takes the whole baseball aspect seriously, and it works. The fairies (called ferishers) aren't fairy-taily type fairies, the giants are evil enough that you can forgive them for the ridiculousness of their existence, and even the tall tales brought to life (Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, etc.) are forgivable.

Summerland is a little slow to read -- only 500 pages, but I could have read two or three Harry Potters in the time it took to finish it. Not a bad thing.

This book reminds me of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy more than anything else. It has been a long time since I've read the HDMT, so I can't make a real comparison, but the dark mood and dire magical battles seem in the same style. I would say that Summerland is probably a little lighter in mood.

Summerland is the fourth studio album by Australian Hip Hop group The Herd, released on May 24, 2008 (this writeup is long overdue). The liner notes say that the title is taken from the name of a house or property where the album was 'conceived', but I think that it is their name for Australia itself. The Elefant Traks website's description of the album says that Summerland is "a mythical place where the term ‘relaxed and comfortable’ thinly veils something sinister, something complex – in which a bright joyous celebration is tempered with a threat." Pretentious much?

So The Herd has been known for being a great experimental band, and this album is another eclectic mix of sounds from around the world, refracted through a Hip Hop lens and played with gusto, but something is missing. Listening to their first album again, it is clear that they were just a bunch of guys who loved messing around with instruments and making interesting beats. Still, this had the downside of making the album a bit inconsistent and it all didn't quite fit together. Then, with An Elefant Never Forgets and the addition of Jane Tyrrell, they had matured and seemed to have a greater sense of purpose; the album worked much better a whole, rather than a collection of bits and pieces. They still had a flair for musical surprises and weren't out to make hits. The Sun Never Sets was aiming high, but it hit the mark and was a work of brilliance. Still, one couldn't shake the feeling that they were just ticking the boxes on their checklist of subject matter; anti-globalisation song, check, broken homes ballad, check, soldier's anthem, check, alcoholic's diary, check, a bit of boasting, check. They were trying a lot harder than before, so the album lacked that effortless quality. All this time their songs were becoming more and more structured, and their lyrics more and more focused, so to me it felt like quite a formal album.

Next, there's Summerland.

Track List:

  1. 2020
  2. Freedom Samba
  3. The King is Dead
  4. Time to Face the Truth
  5. Kids Learn Quick
  6. A Few Things
  7. Pearl
  8. My Home
  9. Zug Zug
  10. Emergency
  11. Toorali
  12. Black & Blue
  13. When You Escape (Music v. Fashion)
  14. The Next Movement

The album débuted at #7 on the ARIA Album charts and reached #2 on the Top 40 Urban Album charts. It won the 2008 'Best Independent Urban/Hip Hop Album' from the Australian Independent Record Labels Association Awards. The King is Dead, their celebratory anthem to the end of John Howard's rule as Prime Minister, was the first single. 2020 was the second. The 2020 music video was directed by Mike Daly; it was made to look like a newspaper being written, and the band members appeared within the stories, at times hanging from a precipitous y or dancing atop a huge T. The video won the inaugural J Award for 'Best Music Video' in 2008.

All of these songs have such a pressing agenda, you can see it right in the track titles. The only one that doesn't seem to have one is Zug Zug, a beach rock-esque chronicling of touring adventures they've had, following on from their previous song, Mischief. It's really the one bit of fun in the whole album. Their older songs talked about city life and experiences that we all know, but they're not interested in such lowly matters any more. Every song is an essay a manifesto or an indictment, it's a didactic album that feels rather like a lecture. With the sole exception of Zug Zug, they've stopped making fun songs altogether, and it doesn't feel like they're having any more fun with making the music than we are with listening to it. Like most bands eventually do, they've started taking themselves too seriously.

Another issue I have with this album is that it is close to being over-produced. The dirty, energetic sense of spontaneity is gone, and everything is polished until it sounds somewhat bland. Not all of the songs are like this, but most notably My Home, The King is Dead, 2020 and Emergency are somewhat generic, and generic is definitely not how I would have described The Herd before this album. It lacks that great spark of creativity and energy that came through in all of their older songs.

They still have a great talent for complex and skilful lyrics, no doubt about it. A Few Things creates a very powerful atmosphere of nostalgia and disenchantment, Kids Learn Quick feels brutal and strong without a wall of sound, and Pearl is thought-provoking about the past and what is to come. All of the musical atmosphere and intelligent, unexpected rhymes are still there, but it really pushes the limits of the musical fourth wall at times. Where they used to send the listener a message without forcing it, they'll now push it straight in your face. They were once a light-stepping collection of musicians who could joke around without being vacuous or shallow, and now they're Rage Against the Machine with an accordionist.

I don't know if or when they're planning to make their next album, but I'll buy it anyway, I still have faith in them.

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