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The Dust Jacket Flap

Change Comes From Within


The Agony Column for March 7, 2002

Commentary by Rick Kleffel




Even browsing for this book can be a recipe for trouble.

Sometimes, the books I read group themselves naturally. I do read books of a certain sort, though it is difficult for even me to say what exactly that sort is. If it's a genre, it's an awfully indistinct one. For just about any rule to my reading that I might care to come up with, I will immediately seek out several exceptions. I buy books weirdly as well. I'd like to say that I buy religiously from all small independent bookstores and my various favorite online vendors and that's largely true. But I don't always buy wisely. Sometimes I'll hit on the big online vendor, and as it happens, it sometimes turns out to be a regrettable experience.

Show me the Internet browsing human who has not heard of Stephen King and Peter Straub's latest novel, 'Black House'.

I love the Buffy TV series, and I'm sure the books are good as well, but both authors of this book are great all by their own bad selves.

Stephen Laws' Macabre is a masterful book that hasn't even made it to the US. What's up with that?

Phil Rickman's latest Merrily Watkins 'The Cure of Souls' is eminently recommendable to all book reading humans!

I sort of like, but they commit a fair number of crimes in what they feature. Their 'Horror' section, for example, seems to specialize in Stephen King and Buffy books. Now, I like Stephen King, I like the TV series 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', and I like the authors who write those books -- Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder. But with the absolute surfeit of great British horror writers -- Stephen Laws, Simon Clark, Phil Rickman to name a few -- it seems foolish to trumpet the titles that everyone already knows about anyway. Why not trumpet the British greats? Yes, it's another item for the "If I were in charge of things" file.


Thanks for introducing me to Christopher Brookmyre. What a find!

But sometimes they point out a book that nobody else seems to know about. For me, that book was Christopher Brookmyre's 'Boiling A Frog'. It was featured in their 'Crime and Thrillers' section and between the title and the description, I was sold. I bought the hardcover, discovered it was third in a series, and bought trade paperbacks of his other titles, also from It's a pretty cool deal. Order, then a week or so later, they show up on the doorstep in one of those funky tear'n'toss boxes. Eventually (here's the demonstration of my "don't always buy wisely"), I ended up going to a couple of different specialty shops on the Internet for the same titles in hardcover. So, having devoured all his work, I'm waiting, just waiting for his newest title, checking out weekly. Eventually, it appears. Alas, they're no longer carrying the hardcovers! I grumble, groan, check out and see if any of my various vendors have 'A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away' in hardcover, but they don't, so I just decide to buy the trade PB from and find the hardcover when I can. I placed my order on October 11, 2001.

Warning: Buying this book can be hazardous to the security clearance you did not know you had.

As usual, it took just over week for delivery of a book in stock from Fortunately, I was home when the delivery is made. In fact, I walked out the front door, and who was there but the lady from the Post Office, parked in front of my mailbox. She had the package in hand. She also had a chit for me to sign.

Sign? What's all this, then? I've never had to sign for something from before. But sign I did, letting anyone and everyone in the US government know that I, Rick Kleffel took delivery of a trade paperback book from the UK on October Whatever, 2001. In case someone wanted to know. Apparently, someone did want to know. And they found out.

Maybe you can guess what's coming next. Rick has hardcover first editions of the rest of Brookmyre's books, and chances are he's not going to stop now. Well, I didn't. I immediately started contacting even more vendors, looking for the desired item. Soon enough of course -- this is a world enraptured by capitalism, as A. D. Nauman points out so clearly in 'Scorch' -- I find that a fine bookseller with whom I've had previous dealings has the requested item in stock. Now I find this out by contacting the vendor over the internet, conducting book searches over the internet, placing the order over the internet. My bits were positively rotten with Brookmyre's take on International Terrorism. A couple of weeks later, the book arrived -- dropped on my front porch with nothing so much as a "feet back and spread 'em" for my trouble.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other. But they share a lot. Yes, there is lots of sharing going on here. The books were just about the same; one hardcover, one a trade paperback. The contents and presentation were as much the same as the differences in format would permit. Both books were ordered over the Internet. Rotten bits were sent coursing through a hodgepodge of wires. In one case, they ended up in a small shop somewhere in the UK. In the other case, they ended up in a data warehouse -- somewhere.

Now that same data warehouse can show me the last 20 books I viewed. But it can also show anyone who has the keys to the warehouse the last 20 books I viewed. Still, there are a lot books out there. Nobody really cares who ordered the latest Stephen King and Peter Straub collaboration. Nobody really cares who ordered the latest John Grisham opus. But somebody somewhere cared, cared deeply about who ordered Christopher Brookmyre's fictional take on International Terrorism. They cared enough to ask for my signature. That's not free. Somebody paid for it -- probably me. What's implied by all this? -- and by a reasonable extrapolation, all the Amazon entities -- store your purchasing and browsing data. These entities not only store what you look at, they have it categorized by content. That means that each and every book that they stock has at least one binary designation; this A) IS a book that concerns terrorism, or might be of interest to potential terrorists, or B) IS NOT a book that concerns terrorism, or might be of interest to potential terrorists. There's a lot of books out there. That's a lot of data. But we KNOW that the Amazon Company has the IT (that's Information Technology, not International Terrorism) infrastructure to parse, store -- and sell or give away -- that data. Especially when it's for the greater good.

I guess that makes me part of the "lesser bad".

And I think I'm OK with that.



The Dust Jacket Flap


Amongst the many admissions I have made, I suppose it will come as no surprise that I have some very strong opinions on dust jackets. There are actually a few things better than a good looking book. And an effectively written dust jacket summary can sell a vast number of books. It can even help the readers familiarize themselves with the contents enough to make actually reading the book a better, more entertaining experience. But like many experienced readers, I glance at DJ summaries with Great Fear. I've read more than a few DJ's that have made books I've bought seem like something they weren't. What was supposed to be a terrifying novel of monsterific horror turns out to be a Scooby Doo mystery. What is supposed to be a thrilling wonder story of inventive science fiction turns out to be an Army Recruitment Brochure. I've learned to leery, and to check out publisher, editor, vendor, the whole nine yards. I have a pretty good sense of what I like when choosing books by an author I have not read. There's a matrix of factors that support the "Buy it" decision. There's also a fair degree of psychic activity.

I still get a good vibe from this book cover and the DJ verbiage is intriguing but not more than I want to know.

Apparently, I know an injustice about to be done when I see it, or sometimes even before I see it. Back on February 5, 2002, I whinged about the US version of the DJ for Peter F. Hamilton's 'Fallen Dragon'. It was pretty much the usual Rick Kleffel whine, and I tried to back off and not be overly strident about it. After all, it's what's in side that matters, right?

I was just checking to see if this was a Jim Burns painting (it is) when I glanced at the jacket flap verbiage and found out it gave away key elements of the story.

Well folks, let me tell it IS what's inside that matters -- what's inside the dust jacket that is. Browsing the new releases at my local independent, Bookshop Santa Cruz yesterday, I came upon the US version of this fantastic novel. Out of curiosity, I picked it up and glanced at the DJ spiel. You won't need to imagine my horror. I'm telling you flat out, I was horrified. There on Tor's flap were three character sketches of the three main characters in the novel. So far, so good. But within those sketches there were major, major spoilers, that tell the reader enough to ruin much of wonderful buildup that Hamilton effects in this novel. If you've bought the US version, please, whatever you do, DON'T READ THE DJ! 'Fallen Dragon' is a fantastic novel, best experienced with a minimal amount of foreknowledge. Now, Tor Books is a fantastic publisher and they bring the mouth-breathers on this side of the pond a wealth of fantastic books. But the DJ for 'Fallen Dragon' without doubt shoots this novel through the heart. Yes, it survives. The experience of reading the 600 plus pages is still a fantastic experience. But Tor should know better than this.


Change Comes From Within

This is the book that Mark Ziesing recommended and that Penguin Putnam sent me. Thanks!

Here's the novel that Andy Fairclough thought I'd like.

Sometimes a book comes recommended. Sometimes it comes recommended twice. But it's not very often that it comes recommended twice and then is sent to you in case you forget. It seems like our friends at Penguin Putnam have a potential big winner on their hands with Simon R. Green's 'Drinking Midnight Wine'. Not only did the wise and just Andy Fairclough from HorrorWorld recommend it to me. That in itself is about as big a thumbs-up as one could want or need. The man has been offering up sage advice for years now. I also got a call from Mark Ziesing. He told me there was a book he had that I might like. Then, Penguin sent it to me. Yes, I am occasionally dim. I missed the first round of Ken Macleod. 'House of Leaves' by Mark Z. Danielewski whispered in my ear and I turned away. I read 'Nailed by the Heart' and was underwhelmed when I should have been hunting every successive hardcover. So, having been knocked upside the head once again, this time I will elect to listen, grasshopper, and learn.

I heard all about this book, and it sounded very cool, yet I didn't move myself to go buy it on the first round. What was I thinking?

I should have known that with a cheesy cover like this, I'd end up liking the book, whether I liked it or not!

'Drinking Midnight Wine' is a classic setup -- an ordinary bloke finds himself pulled through door into a world of fantasy and terror. It's a reasonably priced trade paperback, slim and easy to read. It got my attention. Really! I'm listening! If anyone has anything else to tell me, do so now, and if I don't listen, tell me again. I can change, really I can change!



Rick Kleffel