Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

The Agony Column 01-25-2002


In the Bullpen This Week

commentary by Rick Kleffel

© Rick Kleffel 2002


This week, we've got a nice new load of follow-up novels to read, and, a couple of movies to look forward to. I'm currently reading Peter Watts 'Maelstrom', his follow up novel to last year's 'Starfish'. I have to admit that I didn't cotton up to 'Starfish' all that much when I first read it. I found the characters to be a little too off-putting, the setting overly claustrophobic, and the ending seemed rather unresolved. To be fair, the characters and setting were deliberately created to be off-putting and claustrophobic, and perhaps a bit too well. Not billed as horror, 'Starfish' included many unexpected elements of horror. It might take the average SF fan by surprise. Well, 'Maelstrom', solves the resolution part of the problem, as it takes up where 'Starfish' left off. The characters here are still for the most part unpleasant, but the setting is the whole wide world. Hey, guess what? It's pretty unpleasant as well. With the first as background -- and the author's excellent web site (, I'm finding 'Maelstrom' to be a compelling read. I'll reserve the rest of my judgement until I finish the book, however.

Peter Watts First novel, Starfish, in paperback
Peter Watts Second novel, in hardcover

Also in the 'second novel in a sci-fi series' category is Ken Macleod's 'Dark Light'. I enjoyed the heck out of 'Cosmonaut Keep' and Macleod's previous series. They're a very peculiar mix of Scottish socialist System administrators and unknowable aliens. They also tend be a bit hard to grok. Macleod sketches the edges with precision but he leaves the creamy center more than a little nebulous. My plan is to re-read 'Cosmonaut Keep' and then launch into 'Dark Light', his latest. You'll get all the details as it happens.


Ken Macleod's first 'Engines of Light' novel,Cosmonaut Keep, UK Hardcover

Ken Macleod's second 'Engines of Light' novel,Dark Light, UK Hardcover

I just finished the fabulous, fabulous 'Carter Beats the Devil' by Glen David Gold. The review is forthcoming, as is, I hope, the movie, or more properly, the Showtime mini-series. Since Gold is ostensibly a screenwriter, it must have occurred to someone to put this onscreen. It behooves one to remember however, that art is art, and business is business, and movies are really, really big business, the kind of big that squashes art. And speaking of art, note the difference in cover art between the UK and the US editions -- atmospheric versus garish. Not unusual in my book.

Carter beats the Devil, UK style -- you don't need to hide the book.

Carter Beats the Devil US- style. Harry Knowles loved this cover.

The latest Merrily Watkins novel from Phil Rickman -- atmospheric, suprnaturally-tinged mystery.

Also in the bullpen is 'The Cure of Souls', the newest Merrily Watkins novel from Phil Rickman. His novels don/'t even make it out in hardcover in the US, which is a shame. The Merrily Watkins novels are particularly enjoyable and rather unique in any genre. They combine Rickman's skilled atmospheric evocations of otherworldly manifestations with knitty-gritty procedural details of 'spiritual deliverance' (read: exorcism) from the perspective of the Anglican Church. Rickman's annual novels are certainly something to look forward to.

Brotherhood of the Wolf delivers beauty and supernatural action.

Looking a lot like Fox Mulder, Richard Gere learns to fear his telephone

I've also been looking forward to seeing Brotherhood of the Wolf, and though it was supposed to open 'wide' today, that apparently does not include our little sealed off backwater. Reviews have been middling, but I can tell they don't exactly apply to my taste. When Edward Guthman of the San Francisco Chronicle says: 'Just when you had gotten tired of asking "Where are the gory, overwrought costume dramas about marauding wolves?" ', I know that it's a movie I'll enjoy. I'm, sure that there are some people who can use my reviews this way as well; if I like it, they hate, and vice versa.

And finally, the long-awaited 'The Mothman Prophecies' movie opens today. The advance word is all pretty good. But, to my mind, it sounds rather different from the book; If you haven't read John Keel's 'The Mothman Prophecies', you should. From all reports, you should also see the movie, but they've jettisoned the period aspect of the book (which took place in the mid-sevenities, as did the incidents) and they've jettisoned Keel's somewhat sunny approach for a darker, more ominous feel. Not that this is exactly a bad thing,. but it's not a precise reflection of the book 'The Mothman Prophecies'.

Illuminated Illuminet Press Version -- tres cool!

Oh well, at least it's in print again!

Loren Coleman takes up the torch.

It's NOT a novel. It's more like what you might have expected had Phil Dick, in one of his more hallucinatory months, decided to investigate some nebulous monster sightings in the suburban/rural northeast. Keel goes all over the place; the movie does not. Still, it does seem to be an honest effort to capture some of Keel's thoughts on Our Haunted Planet. And, as usual, you can notice the Decline of Western Civilization is evident in the corporate re-write of the fine Illuminet Press Cover into the usual supermarket slicker. And don't forget the latest Loren Coleman exploration -- it's sure to be exciting and well researched. The more light, the better when it comes to Mothman. Coleman is one of the best-known and most repected crytozoologists around. His study is clearly a different take on the matter -- to my mind obviously a good thing.


Dan Simmons 'Summer of Night' was an atmospheric entry in the horror genre.

'Hardcase' is a bullet-hard noir that will shock reader of Simmons' SF.

Simmons returns to horror with a Mobius twist in 'A WInter Haunting'.

This just in: Dan Simmons' 'A Winter Haunting'. Per the jacket flap, the latest entry in his sometime-'Summer of Night' series. Slimmer than the usual Simmons' tome, but when combined with the recent 'Hardcase', it just about measures up. 'Hardcase' itself measures up to its own advertised hardboiled-deluxe flap flap. Well, this effort is a day late, and I'm more than a dollar short. Until next week...




Rick Kleffel