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 This Just in..News from the Agony Column

00-00-04: The Mother Nightshade Lode, The New Yorker Earns it's Keep

Kage Baker's Stories Collected in 'Mother Aegypt'

I'm guessing she took the belly-dancing lessons offered in the arts and entertainment weekly.
Kage Baker has gone from being a well-regarded but little known author to being a mainstay heavy hitter of the science fiction genre. Between her fantasy novel 'The Anvil of the World' and her series about 'The Company' a group of time and space traveling cyborgs who collect from the past to serve unknown and perhaps unknowable needs in the future, she's acquired a following the old fashioned way; she's earned it. Her fantasy and science fiction fans will have NightShade Books to thank for her latest, a collection of short stories that includes work set in both the Anvil universe and her Company worlds -- and a lot more.

The settings here are wildly varied; from America of the 50's and 60's to Victorian England to realms of pure fantasy. Many of the short stories have appeared in the usual suspects; Asimov's and Realms of Fantasy, while a good chunk have appeared only online at One is wisely inspired to take the time to check out this venue, to see what else they have of interest. The writers I've talked to have been quite happy with their experience.

What's really tantalizing is the title novella -- 65 pages of new material. If you, like me, haven't managed to fit Baker into your queue, here's an easy way to read a big chunk of unadulterated prose, to sample from her many worlds -- and to find yourself with yet another author on your auto-buy list.

Lethem Strikes a Goat Man Pose in the Oh-So-Literary New Yorker

Hornier than your average superhero.
Evidently, speculation that the New Yorker is dead is a bit premature, at least based on the evidence of the latest issue. Jonathan Lethem, whose novel 'The Fortress of Solitude' was surely the Great American Novel of 2003, makes an appearance in the latest issue that's not to be missed. Well spotted Terry; ours had not yet arrived!

Working the superheroes-in-Brooklyn beat he used so well in his novel, he tells of the narrator's encounter with Super Goat Man, who in the comics, battles "dull villains like Vest Man and False Dave." Humor, charm, even poignancy -- from one of America's top writers -- finally justify our subscription. Once a year, that's all we ask.

04-01-04: Back in the Saddle with Joe R. Lansdale, A Cold Call

Sunset and Sawdust and Book Tours and Publishers

Hot damn, another new Lansdale novel.
Joe R. Lansdale has a new book and a new publisher. I've been reading Lansdale's work for about as long as he's been writing -- some 20 years or so. Yes, I have the original first edition hardcover of 'Razored Saddles', which I reviewed for 'Midnight Graffiti' back when dinosaurs roamed the earth -- at least in Joe's novels 'The Drive In' and 'The Drive In 2'. To my mind the sequel has what is arguably one of the funniest, truest, best beginnings to any book ever written. Really. I can’t tell you how many times I've read that opening page aloud to all manner of folks who generally laugh nervously; with me or at me, I don't care. I've got all these musty UK editions of his paperbacks and a more than a few paperback originals.

But Lansdale is so prolific, even I couldn't quite keep up with his output. But I'm definitely looking forward to reading his latest, 'Sunset and Sawdust', from Knopf. He's writing once again in his acclaimed and award winning 1930's Texan setting. The Sunset of this novel is Sunset Jones, a fiery and beat upon Texan gal who finally shoots her husband as he beats and rapes her in the opening segments of the novel. And here, in the first few paragraphs, Lansdale shows his chops (not his karate chops, but he has those too). He writes about situations that would be repugnant, horrific and terribly off-putting in a manner that simply struts past the ugliness with a curt nod and clever line -- well, lots of clever lines. Lansdale's skills have been getting finely honed and all I want to know is where the hell the next Hap & Leonard novel is.

The good news -- at least in the publishing world -- not being in a habit of stopping, just rolls on and you can look here for a list of Lansdale's upcoming appearances. He's on tour for this new book, but there are about a dozen other recent releases from Sub Press, and others to keep your page-turning fingers busy. I've never heard him read, but I will and will faithfully report back to you. My hope is to finally hear him read the opening of 'The Drive In 2'. I've just got to know if that nervous laughter is the result of the writing -- or the reader.

Ash Tree Sale

One of the greats.
If you've got a couple thousand extra pounds to spare -- that's UK pounds sterling, not wraparound pounds of lard -- then you can score the entire 96-item Ash Tree Catalogue from Cold Tonnage. If I was wealthy, instead of a sort of negative image of wealth, then hell, I'd be responding to the ad instead of writing the article. The Ash Tree M. R. James collection 'A Pleasing Terror' ranks as one of the greatest books of the year it came out -- or any other -- with incredible scholarship, beautiful production and first-rate material. While it kinda kills me to do this, I'm hoping one of my readers will squeak this past their spouse, and score a solid block of the finest that small press publishing has to offer. I'm not going to call him. I'm not going to call him. Maybe if I say it enough, I'll believe it.

03-31-04: Our Subterranean Rulers

News From the Underground Lair

The UK coounterpart to the cover the Silverberg I read, I believe.
Is Subterranean Press secretly ruling the world from an underground lair? To look at their upcoming releases, you'd think so. I've got proofs for three utterly delectable titles on my desk and I have to say that I'm really excited. I'm also somewhat amazed. To my mind, Subterranean is far beyond a small press publisher. They're clearly outdoing major New York Publishers.

June 7, 2004 is going to be a big day. On that day, Sub is releasing two hugely important titles by two diverse writers. I can't for the life of me understand why some NY monolith is not doing these titles; but I can be thankful. So, how do you say thanks to Sub for publishing a 630 page hardcover collection covering sixty years of the short fiction of Robert Silverberg? For only $40.00? If the fiction doesn't boggle your mind -- and it will repeatedly, this is after all, Robert Silverberg -- then the collection itself will.

I don’t know about you, but Robert Silverberg is one of the first science fiction authors I ever read. I have strong and poignant memories of reading my paperback collection of 'Nightwings'. The books were part of a series, if I recall correctly, and I collected them rabidly. Reading Silverberg is like hotwiring myself to the past and future simultaneously. It slays me to think that Silverberg lived to write in the future he wrote about, and in that future, that he still writes of the future. Time doesn't heal; it congeals.

Edward Miller's proposed cover for the Morrell collection from Sub.
Another Miller cover for this Crowther collection.

Not content to rule past and future, Sub is working in the present as well. David Morrell, best known for writing 'First Blood', the book that created John Rambo, is a much better writer than this legacy would lead you to believe. And June 7 sees the release of a selection of his short fiction in 'Nightscape', with a cover by Agony Column favorite Edward Miller. The collection includes an introduction that's much more of a personal essay than a 'what these stories are about', five stories, two novellas and a script for the syndicated TV series 'Monsters'. Don't knock it; Dan Simmons wrote for 'Monsters' as well. Disease-watching readers will particularly take to 'If I should Die Before I Wake', a story set during the 1918 flu pandemic that killed more people than all recent World Wars.

And finally, publisher Peter Crowther, not content to have changed the publishing landscape with his PS Publishing, is the author of a collection of science fiction stories being published by Sub. With an introduction by Adam Roberts, this collection focuses on Crowther's contributions to theme anthologies like 'Alien Pets', and includes work published in obscure British magazines; quite a range. Moreover, it too looks like it's got an Edward Miller cover. One of the stories in here deals with a theme that is clearly close to Crowther's heart; according to the ARC back cover, "An undercover patron of literature restores hope in a bookless society." It's too bad Rod Serling's no longer with us to offer us glimpses into The Twilight Zone. In his day, he made some great TV -- well, film, really -- by adapting the work of great writers, including Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson and Richard Matheson. These days, it's my intuition that Peter Crowther would be perfectly in the pocket for Twilight Zone adaptation. And what higher praise could one give?

03-30-04: Fire Down Below! Dragons Above!

Benjamin Markovits on 'The Syme Papers'

Now The Agony Column is Serving video!
I got my copy of 'The Syme Papers' from *.uk last week, and I have to admit -- it's a big book. At 495 full-size pages, the trade paperback from Faber is beautifully packaged. It comes with a full wrap-around dust jacket and a gorgeous cover illustration by Neil Gower. Though it is a book about obsession, one must believe that's it took more than a little obsession to write the novel.

Fortunately for me, one of my friends and readers over in the UK, Mathew, knows the publisher and managed to get me this wonderful video clip of Markovits talking about the book. I'll let him do the speaking. But let me assure my readers that this W*s movie is well worth the download, and that 'The Syme Papers' is very likely your cuppa. Let's see; hollow-earth theorists, check, obsessed academics, check, fiction about the development of scientific theories that go against commonly held perceptions, check. In other words, something for science fiction readers, Fortean fictional fans, and the purely literary. All by one of the UK's top book reviewers. And I hope my readers all know the allure of fiction written by book reviewers! If not, hie thee hence and pick up one of the endangered copies of 'The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases', and enjoy the unpleasant sensations of Third Eye Infection.

So sit back, download and enjoy as the The Agony Column boldly moves into yet another media arena. And let me assure you that we've got some great stuff to come.

Market the Dragon

Buy my book!

Heeee-Ya! Having a hard time finding a publisher for your novel? Well, you can karate-chop your way to the top with the aid of a rubber dragon. Don't believe me? Well, did you, like me, believe the story in the Evening Standard, about the guy who claimed to have found a dragon-in-a-jar in his garage? The story went that the dragon had been given to UK scientists "back in the 1890's" by German scientists, ostensibly to embarrass them if the UK scientists were to be so bold as to pronounce the dragon real. One "David Hart" found the jar in his garage when "I was having a clear-out." He asked his friend, Allistair Mitchell "to help him investigate the dragon's background."

Now while I didn't think the dragon was real, I must admit, I wanted it to be real. Who wouldn't? And at any rate, as a fake it was a beautiful creation.

It just wasn't the creation of German scientists shortly before the turn of the century.
Enter the contract.
It was instead, the creation of Crawley Creatures, the model makers for TV's 'Walking With Dinosaurs' one of those stop'n'drool creations for aging adolescents who wished you could jettison the perfunctory plots of the various 'Jurassic Park' movies and just get on to the good bits with the monsters.

So, Allistair Mitchell was a writer who was collecting numerous rejections for his thriller that involved finding a, uh, dragon. Presumably, he ponied up the fairly big bucks required to have such a model made, then additional big bucks to have the huge glass jar created. Then, writing under the name of Moredun, he managed to squeak past the fact checkers over at the Standard, and get his dragon in the face of millions. Now his book has been picked up by Waterstone's and is due in uh, Waterstone's bookstores, along with the author and his dragon. The novel is titled 'Unearthly History'. He got that right! One hopes that the writer is as creative in his writing as he in his marketing. According to another article on the always-believable BBC "A Waterstone's spokesman said: 'This is a very refreshing approach to book publishing.'" Uh huh.

Oh yes indeed. And since this is an occasion made for bringing out this phrase, let me say that Allistair Mitchell is one cheeky blighter. It also goes to show that no matter how hard we try to stray here at The Agony Column, it always ends up being about books.


03-29-04: Tor UK's Faces of Space and Time, Column & Site Notes

Cover Art for Jon George

The big Swirly strikes again! Click on image to see full-size image.
Tor UK is going to give a lot of SF publishers a run for their money. It's only fitting, really. With the UK in the midst of a Big Bang of space opera, ranging from sheer entertainment to densely intellectual, it seems the British arm of the US heavyweight is set to unleash a new wave of new authors this year. If last year's schedule seemed a little tentative, then they're certainly going to make up for it this year. It looks to me like they're capitalizing on the talented Steve Rawlings, who has done such a nice job on the Asher covers. But I must say one also suspects that someone must have said they liked the color green.

I've been writing about 'Faces of Mist and Flame' for a while now, but at last I can put a face on the novel itself. Beyond that, I can't tell you more than I've been told; the publisher wants us to think it's like Richard Morgan and Neal Asher, and that it involves time travel and corporate warfare. I'm certainly interested and impressed that Tor UK have done their homework, targeting a fairly significant and specific book-buying audience. Neal seems to know Jon, which is certainly a good sign.

Gary Gibson Embarks from Angel Stations

Starring Kiefer Sutherland. Click on image to see full-size image.
But coming in August is something that looks equally delectable; 'Angel Stations' by Gary Gibson. Here we have unadulterated fat space opera, that, from what I get via skimming and reading the blurbs, sounds quite appropriately compared to Hamilton, with more than a nod to Morgan as well. 'Angel Stations' works from the tried-and-true premise that an ancient and now-absent "super-scientific" (as opposed to "kind of scientific") culture left relics scattered about the universe. The "Stations" came handily equipped with the ever-popular jump technology, which enables humans in their lumbering old-style zombie-like spacecraft to uh, jump from one part of the galaxy to another. Presumably these handy gates also eliminate any pesky space-time discontinuities that Ol' Einstein might suggest would result from such shenanigans. So there we are. Phew!

There's only one species outside of the humankind in these friendly cosmos, inching their way of up the civilization ladder on the planet of Kaspar. But when the cosmos turns not-so-friendly, Kaspar becomes a key to stopping this "fast-moving" (as opposed to "leisurely paced") threat. Humans are likely going to have to get in the faces of some aliens who are not prepared for the Human Invasion, which is what will be called for in order to save Life As We Hope To Know It.

The format of the ARC I hold in my hands suggests a trade paperback first edition; it looks and feels finished. Skimming for good parts, I found them aplenty. The prose seems on the order of Peter F. Hamilton; sturdy and straightforward. The aliens seem, well, pretty damn alien, which, of course, makes me pretty damn happy. The book looks meaty enough to keep you entranced for a few days but not awesomely daunting. It's got a release date of August, which means you'll likely be able to score it in late July. I'm going to post a missive to Tor and Cold Tonnage, suggesting that a few signed copies make their way hence. It's always a nice incentive to read, buy and sell. And in the interim, I'll be reading this along with a huge batch of other SF. I'm hanging back on the interviews and focusing on my beloved genre. Bring on the cheese!

Promises, Promises

A lucky reader has this and more coming their way.
By the way, I'll be sending out a fairly nice batch of books to the readers who wrote me from my last News column. Look for more of these giveaways to come. Both the brand-new bookshelves I bought are already mostly full. I've got to clear out some backlog and repeat books, and I'll be happy to send these to my readers in the coming weeks.

I'm contemplating a books-by-the-pound sale; you pay for a pound of postage and get a pound of books. If there's interest in this let me know. And finally, on a personal note, I've just been through a long spate of personal affairs that have finally come to closure.

As such, expect to see more regular columns and an outpouring of reviews to catch up with the huge backlog. Look for more fiction excerpts and a batch of new audio interviews as well. The readers' patience with the site is greatly appreciated. Don't worry; we'll be making those book towers of yours grow at an exponential, alarming-to-your-spouses rate.