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05-07-04: Used Book of the Week; H. P. Lovecraft's Miscellaneous Writings

The Great Amateur Revealed

Click note for full-size image.
Click cover for full-size pop-up of entire cover.
On Wednesday I was dispatched downtown to obtain some tea -- and was forced, forced I tell you! -- by circumstances to take a peek at Logos Books and see if whoever turns in the books I love had turned in something new. That proved to be the case as a 1995 Arkham House collection titled 'Miscellaneous Writings' by H. P. Lovecraft, curated by the inimitable Lovecraft scholar, S. T. Joshi turned up on the shelves, in Demco cover, for a mere $20. No, it's not a great financial find, but as a collector of Lovecraft from way back, it's a beautiful book by the standard-bearing publisher of Lovecraft.

The cover of the book is worthy of attention itself. On the back cover, there's what appears to be a page from Lovecraft's diary. In fact, that page may be one of the single most important pieces of handwritten paper in the history of horror fiction. It's a 'History of the Necronomicon'. And from that one page sprung so many of the appliances, the appurtenances and the specifics of horror fiction today. The meta-fictional creation of a text precedes Borges, so you get a nice chunk of literary fiction birthed on this page as well. (Though I'm fairly certain others had done so before, the influence of the Necronomicon is overpowering.)

"Howard P. Lovecraft, First Vice President U. A. P. A."
The book also includes number of photos, original illustrations from the stories, and covers from small publications. The picture of a shirtless Robert E. Howard (who created Conan the Barbarian) is to die for. But I liked the picture of Lovecraft from the United Amateur. It's important to remember that Lovecraft never really achieved much more than amateur success in his lifetime. Like Philip K. Dick, His greatest successes came after his death.

The book is divided into nine major sections; 'Dreams and Fancies', which includes material that made it into some of the paperbacks of the 1970's, 'The Weird Fantasists' (perhaps a read by the many "new weird" writers is in order?), 'Mechanistic Materialist, Literary Critic, Political Theorist (where I assume things get pretty dicey), 'Antiquarian Travels', 'Amateur Journalist', 'Epistolarian ' (I'll never forgive myself for passing by a complete set of the collected letters I saw once in a Monterey used bookstore) and 'Personal'. But then, it's all person, isn't it? In any event, this is surely not a book I'd let myself pass by this time around.

05-06-04: Ms Found in a Radio Station, Locus 520

Davy Rothbart's First Book of Found Stuff

Another "I wish I had that idea" website. But face it -- you didn't have that idea and neither did I. It was Davy Rothbart. The least you can do is pay him for it.
While most of my readers have probably already found Found Magazine via their wonderful website, if you haven’t, now's your chance. Just follow that there link and figure on flushing an hour* -- if you're lucky, if you have willpower, which, given the stacks of books around your (my) house(s), you probably don't. But that's one of the great things about books. They're bona fide, verified good for you. You cannot have too many books. Someday, you might no longer be able to purchase books. Then you'll have time to read the ones you did manage to purchase before Apocalypse. Just you and Burgess Meredith, looking for your reading specs and reading by the glow of a radioactive fire.

And jeez, think of what kind of stuff you'll be able to Find then. Davy Rothbart and Jason Bitner may be a glowing cinders, or they may be hunkered in the bunker, scanning, scanning, posting, beavering away at the pile of submissions that will threaten to subsume what's left of civilization. And what's left of civilization is well represented in the 'Found' book.

Since you'll want to enjoy your memories of life before the big bang, you'll want to ensure that you have at least one and probably two copies of the Found book. Why buy the book -- twice -- when the website's for free? Because the book includes a lot of stuff that you can't find on the website that wouldn't really work on the website, elaborately typed notes and messages from bottles that would turn the eyes into little globes of grape jelly were they to try to focus on a pixilated version. Because you need to have something to keep your copy of the Onion's 'The Dumb Century' company in the bathroom, don't you?

There's a lot of fascinating reading and viewing in 'Found', but don't expect it to be one of those books you sit down and read from cover to cover. Put one copy in the can and another on your coffee table (or, if your coffee table was holding Jimmy Hoffa too, then put it on your nightstand). Read it by dribs and drabs and bits and bytes. Savor a long piece some morning when news of the impending Apocalyptic battle is a little overwhelming. Those seers at Medjugorjo and in Kibeho seem pretty darn certain that it's all going to come down real soon now.

I just hope, for the sake of his fans, that George R. R. Martin gets the next book in that 'Songs of Ice and Fire' series out first. In the interim, you can page through Rothbart's thoroughly engaging 'Found'.

*In that sense they should call it Lost magazine.

Pratchett, Williams and The Mystery of the Absent Gloss Seen in Locus

Only in the SF world would Pratchett get the big picture and Williams the little one.
The new Locus is out on the stands, with some intriguing interviews and the usual rounds of reviews and news. Terry Pratchett and Liz Williams highlight the interview section. I'm a fan of both authors and both interviews proved to be worth reading, even to one who interviewed Pratchett. But it's a misnomer to say that these are interviews, really. They're not conversations with a critic or reader. They're actually just long essays by the authors themselves on Stuff They Want To Write About. It's a two-edged sword. You do get the author without intermediary, but you also get the author without intermediary. Of course, the opportunity to read a screed by Terry Pratchett is always welcome. Williams offers some passionate and personal insights into death and her next novel. It's good reading.

To me, the most interesting news was the disappearance of the smooth glossy pages and their replacement with less smooth, less glossy pages, giving the color section something of an inkjet look. But if it keeps the venerable monthly solvent, then hell, I'm all for it. I guess I can truthfully say that I don't buy Locus for the pictures. This issue also includes a passel of awards this and awards that. To my mind, I'd give the Award award to the Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke awards, just because they're quite concise. You look at some of these ballots and your brain blurs. Not that it isn’t necessary to hand out these awards to all the categories, but but -- my brain is shrinking on a daily basis. Disk space may be cheap, but it ain't free. It's limited. That old saw about goes in one ear and out the other is not about paying attention, it's about storage capacity. Still, always wise to give every ballot the once-over. You never know who or where something that turns out to rock your world might first pop up.

05-05-04: Gardens of the Moon in June, Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Tor to Release US Hardcover of the First of Steve Erikson's Epic Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen

Oh baby...I like it when you wear that leather!
You have to hand it to Tor; they're really catching up. But then, they've got a cash and carry reason to do so. We live in an SF&F age that's dominated by movies. And the Lord of those movies is 'Lord of the Rings', based on a fantasy trilogy that, despite being rather tough sledding and some seventy years old is selling as briskly as anything else out there. There's an urgent need for great fantasy, something that can hold a candle to Tolkien's work.

Unfortunately for Tor, otherwise arguably the leading publisher of speculative fiction, both Tolkien and the best-known runner-up, George R. R. Martin are published elsewhere. Martin in particular commands the kind of attention that gets him his own *.com store, his own newsfroup (, his own line of tanning lotions and beachwear -- no wait, not yet. The saliva produced by those waiting for his next novel could fill the dry lakes of Los Angeles. But please don't try to do that. Just wait. Wait patiently.

In the interim, there's fantastic news. Steven Erikson, who, I think, offers some of the stylings that I enjoy so much in China Mieville and has criminally, unaccountably gone unpublished in the US is now getting the first novel in his (supposed -- we'll see) ten volume epic published here by Tor. That's right, look for the moon in June -- 'Gardens of the Moon', that is. I'm really stoked about this because I enjoyed Erikson's 'Blood Follows' from PS Publishing so much. It was quite superb. I've been salivating myself, over the impending release of 'The Healthy Dead'. In fact, 'Blood Follows' was so popular that they're re-printing later this year in an unsigned trade paperback.

Erikson is often mentioned in the same breath as Martin in terms of providing complex, fully-fleshed characters and a huge, well-imagined world and scope. Having read the PS Publishing title, I can attest to the quality of his prose. I can also attest to the quality of his world. It's mysterious and dense, filled with supernatural creatures and races that seem as natural in that world as skunks and possums seem in ours. It has the detailed texture that makes the best fantasy fiction so good.

Now I've looked and I have not been able to lay hands on or even see hard evidence of a hardcover edition of 'Gardens of the Moon'. I believe that the first edition was a trade paperback published under the author name of Steve Lundin, probably because of the other Steve Erikson. So this forthcoming volume from Tor will be an authentic first hardcover edition, with nice big print and easy to read. Moreover, the following four titles are already published in the UK, which means that Tor can release them promptly in the US at a nice once-a-year pace to keep readers happy. Those who are utterly compulsive can buy ahead (or like myself who already have bought ahead) and enjoy Tor's fine print quality. It's one of those rare situations where it's good news for everyone involved.

Edits, Shoots & Leaves

I heard about this book on NPR this weekend, and was getting ready to write about it, but Terry beat me to it. She'll likely get the review as well…According to Terry:

Oh those cute widdle pandas! Wif guns!

"'Eats, Shoots & Leaves' is a terribly cute little book about punctuation from across the pond. With two pandas on the cover, one carrying a gun, you might think this was a children's crime thriller. But a closer look shows one panda climbing a ladder with white-out trying to remove the offending comma between "eats" and "shoots", while the other panda is carrying the gun out of harm's way to safety with clear disgust. Since it's a book from the UK, where they often spell things differently, one must wonder whether they punctuate things differently as well. Therein lies the tension.

I reserve the option to write more once I read it!"

05-04-04: Rushes Round the Lake

Jay Lake's 'Green Grow the Rushes-Oh'

The damn thing just wouldn't lie down straight on my scanner!
Jay Lake is certainly one of the most prolific and most inventive writers in spec-fic today. His publication stats are incredible, and in the far future, it's going to frustrate the hell out of completist collectors who try to get first editions and versions of everything he does -- and there will be those people, I guarantee it. But as of today, I can barely comprehend how he manages to find the time to submit all the stuff, let alone write it.

If you think you might be one of those people, then here's a good place to start. 'Green Grow the Rushes-Oh' started out as a series of flash fiction pieces for Strange Horizons magazine. Based on an old English counting song in the manner of the 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', there are twelve verses, each verse adding a new number at the top of the heap. There are twelve short pieces in 'Green Grow the Rushes-Oh', each illustrated by Keith Boulger, who also, of course, did the cover. He has a nice style, simple and effective given the printing considerations that have gone into the chapbook.

While this is a chapbook, it's a nice one. The print is big, the design is stylish and it looks classy, not cheap. The publisher for this book is Fairwood Press, who also published the wonderful little chapbook by Trey Barker, 'Where the Southern Cross the Dog'. Their work is trending towards the experimental and the poetic, but somehow seems to simultaneously keep a strong focus on stories that entertain the reader. It's a great combination. I'll be whipping through this shortly and have, of course, a full review for you. But it's my intuition that if you’re at all intrigued, you'll want to be in on this from the beginning. You should already have 'Lake Wu' on order, if not in your hands. Add this to your list. It's quite beautiful, as a prose piece and as a small-press publication. Think: Jonathan Carroll's early chapbooks. There aren’t any, but if there were, don't you think they'd be pretty pricey -- and more importantly, desirable -- right about now?

05-03-04: A Hat Full of Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's Muse Grabs Him by the Err…

Terry, let's hope the sale of this proof to me actually nets you some money.
Now, looking at the scan of the cover of this Terry Pratchett proof, readers are going to think (with good reason) that I just fired off an email to one of my friends over at Gollancz or HarperCollins -- or maybe even to Terry himself, since he's a really nice guy -- and asked, well, nicely for a copy of Pratchett's latest.

But like everyone else's, my life constantly seems to be stretching the seams. There's so much to do, I can barely keep track of what's to be done, and I have precious little time for begging, even when I know something great is coming out. Plus, I try to put what little money I have where my mouth is and actually buy books as often as possible. Trust me, when you buy a book it means a hell of a lot to you --- but then, you don't have to trust, you just have to trust yourself. And I'm sure you do.

But if you put enough coins into the well, then that ol' well will often cough up some goodies. So there I am -- once again lounging at Logos Books. I think I'm there to check out the mystery shelves and see if there are any more lucky finds for Terry. But scanning the SF shelves, what do I see but the spine of this book. It didn't really register at first, but I grabbed it anyway by reflex. Funny how that works, eh?

The upshot of this is that I managed to nab Pratchett's latest title in time to review it before it comes out in the US; it has a street date of 5/25/04 on the back. But the best thing is the very front page wherein Pratchett tells the reader that he had to write this book. It just wouldn't go away. There were scenes and characters, he writes, that he had to follow up. I have to admit that I didn't know what to expect when I picked up 'The Wee Free Men', but what I got was one finely written novel. It doesn't matter whether it's meant for children or adults, because it's just one hell of a good book.

Now that a certain schoolteacher has taken up Pratchett's job of single-handedly holding up the British publishing world, you might think that he'd take a vacation or something. The funny thing, you get the feeling that in writing this book, he was taking a vacation. This book was fun for him to write. That can only mean good thing, no great things, for the readers.