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03-18-05: 'The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines' by John Crowley; Martin Sketchley 'The Destiny Mask'

From Conjunctions to Hardcover

Gahan Wilson rules OK.
Conjunctions, like Argosy, is one of those magazines that to me looks a lot like, "The future of mumble-mumble."

Yes, I said that. You can quote me: The future of mumble-mumble.

I submitted this article to Time magazine, but they havent got back to me yet, so I'm running it here. Go figure.

I've got Conjunctions:39 sitting on my table at the moment, and I can hardly draw my eyes away. A to-die-for author/editor/illustrator list, gorgeous, generous trade paperback production. As soon as a bit of money comes in, I'm subscribing. In the interim, readers can annihilate a day or two over at their website. It's gorgeously designed, and excellently executed. And best yet, none of that gets in the way of the oodles and oodles of content they have, including audio content. All hail Editor Bradford Morrow, managing editor Michael Bergstein, a huge crew of guest-editors, and life itself for offering such great bounties.

And Conjunctions:39 marked the actual first appearance of John Crowley's 'The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines'. For those of us who love the novella format in hardcover copies, this is the kind of boon we have to depend on small publishers for, and Subterranean Press is one of the best. Getting John Crowley, acclaimed author of such genre icons as 'Aegypt' and 'Little, Big' into a signed, limited edition hardcover novella is a brilliant idea that has not come soon enough. One hopes that down the line, Sub, Crowley and JK Potter are working on illustrated versions of the classics. Yes, this is purely speculation, but since this website features a good chunk of writing about speculative fiction, I'm allowed to speculate. I've written about speculative non-fiction before; just add this article to that batch of writing.

I'm guessing this is not reflective of the cover design.
'The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines' tells the story of a short-lived Shakespeare festival in the imaginary town of Avon, Indiana, in 1959. The never-named narrator looks back on the events of that festival from the advantageous perspective of adulthood. It seems he managed to grow up after all. Crowley weaves together a story of first encounters with sex, stagecraft and the competing eccentric theories as to who actually wrote Shakespeare's plays. Memory, theory, emotion and performance combine to weave a gorgeously so-real portrait of the time, the place and the traumatic events that alter lives forever. It's 92 large print pages of pure prose joy.

It also demonstrates that Conjunctions is indeed the future; or that at least, within Conjunctions one will find future standalones in their first blush. It's nice to have Conjunctions and it's nicer to have the Subterranean Press version of this story. One need only look at the current issue to wonder what lies in the future of Conjunctions.

Mumble-mumble. <-- QUOTABLE!

The Structure Grows in Trade Paperback

Nice cover art again by Larry Rostant.
Just a little bit over a month ago, I wrote about the first book in Martin Sketchley's Structure series. In general, series science fiction kind of gives me the heebies, unless it's a series I like, of course. And there's a self-serving opinionated statement you can quote with "mumble-mumble" above for a double play. Still, this Sketchley stuff looks pretty damn good, good enough so that the forthcoming appearance of 'The Destiny Mask' (Simon & Schuster UK ; April 1, 2004 ; £10.99) seems definitely worth celebrating, opr at least throwing some money at. Or at least, using as an excuse to get the trade paperback version of the first book in the series, 'The Affinity Trap'. And with the introduction of third-sex scenes taken care of in book one, book two looks as if it will get on to more important matters, like time travel, threats, wormholes, you know -- the stuff of space opera science fiction.

What we love.

The twin sons of Vourniass Lycern from 'The Affinity Trap' have grown up under rather different circumstances. One has been reared under the not-so-tender auspices of General William Myson, the other brought up in a terrorist cell. So we've got a family with some family issues. I'm telling you a lot less here than you'll find out on the back of the book. Trust me, just hide it from yourself when it arrives in the mail, with the trade paperback version of the first book. Sketchley appears to combine all the ooey-gooey tropes of science fiction in reasonably sized, nicely published books. I think that somewhere down the line, someone will hit themselves on the head and wonder why they didn't put them out in hardcover, but, we all know that hardcover speculative fiction by relatively unknown authors -- like That Book -- does not sell. Unless of course it sells so well you have to wade through copies being foisted on you by every person you know who doesn't have a stack of books taller than themselves waiting to be read. Here's a good idea; pick up the trade paperback version of 'The Affinity Trap', and then keep your mass-market paperback version handy to foist back on those who would foist first. Alternate it with the MMPB of Neal Asher's 'Gridlinked', and maybe you'll be able to not only avoid That Book, but better, offers the readers of TB a glimpse of the hope that there are other books in the speculative fiction world beyond TB. Of course, Sketchley's writing Space Opera, not Chase Opera. So there are some differences.

Readers on the US side of the Atlantic who are averse to flying books about can rest easy knowing that the ever talented Lou Anders over at Pyr books is going to publish these in the US. We know that there are at least three books, though Sketchley's website doesn't tell us anything about the third. Still, they are coming out at a rapid clip, so we can certainly plunge ahead and read them as the come, confident that the next title will be along before too long. Though it's likely to take more than a month.


03-17-05: 'The Greenstone Grail' by Amanda Hemingway, 'Dead of Night' by Randy Wayne White, and 'Leaving the Saints' by Martha Beck

Three Glossy NY Publisher Books

Senator Scorpion has the floor.
You know, it's tough writing about books that look, well -- pretty good. I mean, I guess I should be thankful that theyre not sending me Danielle Steele and Tom Clancy books, but sometimes, you just want to let the bile flow freely. So today, I stacked up two likely looking bile-inspiring candidates with one book I thought looked pretty good, and now, having given them a good look-see, I have to admit that they all look worthy. Problem is, I'm going to have to cut back a lot on writing about books in order to have time to read all of them. But for you, the readers, I make the sacrifice.

The book on the altar is Randy Wayne White's 'Dead of Night' (Putnam / Penguin Putnam ; March 17, 2005 ; $24.95), his latest Doc Ford adventure. White's written seven previous novels featuring Doc Ford, a marine biologist with (as the DJ writers like to say) a penchant for trouble. That former covert-ops agent gig probably has something to do with the penchant. This is no small penchant then, and this time around the buildup is spreading beyond his usual Floridian environs.

Notice how I brought in the word "environs"? Well that was no accident, mind you. Just as in the Doc Ford novels, accidents here in The Agony Column are few and far between. When an old friend asks Doc to check on her brother, you know that she might as well start writing his obituary. It's just about as safe to be acquainted with Doc Ford as it is to go visit ol' Jessica Fletcher in Cabot Cove. However, even Doc doesn't expect to find remains so thrashed that he doesn't want to burden anyone with the details. Before you can say "Mystery Swamp," Doc is up to his chestnuts in trouble, big trouble and five-kinds-of-trouble. Asperger's syndrome, a sugar conglomerate and water samples from where else -- the Everglades.

By now, you know the drill. There's more I can say -- deadly exotic species are showing up in compatible habitats across the country. Piranhas in a Houston lake. Well, they even let the politicians go swimming, so maybe that doesn't count as non-native. And parasitic worms in the wilds surrounding Disney World? I thought Disney was a parasitic worm. Silly me. Of course, I wouldnt want to find a five-pound poisonous toad from Central America anywhere except Pet Emporium in Capitola. So in the swamps of New Orleans? Well, again, maybe it's a matter of scale. I mean, how far are we going to let our sort-of-elected officials roam? Dont they have some toadying to do in DC?

They must, if they're putting together a plan to destroy Florida's fragile wetlands, the sort of plan we really do want Doc to stop. No doubt it's an "Environmental Protection Initiative". But Doc's a stopper, all right. And this Doc Ford book, with exotic species run amuck, is the kind of book I might stop and read on my newly new-ified back porch. Assuming it isnt subsumed by some exotic wood-eating capybaras let loose by eco-terrorists. Who can resist a mystery that combines covert ops with copepods?

The latest soda advertising scheme.
I have to admit that I was working up a bit of a head of steam before I took a sip from Amanda Hemingway's 'The Greenstone Grail' (Del Rey / Random House ; March 1, 2005 ; $16.95). That's no sticker on the cover there -- it's a big ol' white spot, put on by a New York Publisher who can apparently manage to sell a full-size, 360-page novel for what you might expect to pay for a trade paperback. I felt the tears flowing, as I leafed through what appeared to be yet another spin on the Harry Potter saga. Yes, who wouldnt think that given the title?

But when you get a gander at what's inside, you get something more like Stephen King crossed with Robert Heinlein. Annie Ward is on the run, and takes her child Nathan to the English village of Thornyhill. They end up on Barthemy's doorstep. He's the guy who has been in the village forever, been in the forest forever, and maybe a few years beyond that. As Nathan grows up, he knows that there's something out in the woods, something dark that is of the dark, but not the dark itself. Then there's the greenish stone cup that shows up in his dreams and in reality. It looks like we're in for the ol' "Thing of Destiny" plot that supernatural thrillers love so much.

But before I could roll my eyes in the general direction of ten gazillion Harry Potter books, I started noticing some rather disparate elements, things that one does not expect to find in your average HP rip-off. Holograms and neural probes amidst all the spells and destiny. A future hinted at if the past and present work out as planned. And suddenly if proves that 'The Greenstone Grail' may be just as much a book for SF fans as it might for HP fans. And in SF, the juvenile is a well-respected art-form and sub-genre. So readers who like that nice price and a bit of Juvie SF, might want to give this one the Look. If it Looks Back, bill it! Then buy it. You didn't need that lunch money, anyway, did you?

Calling all faithful. And anyone with $24.95 to spare.
For me, of course, the star of this stack was Martha Beck's compelling-looking 'Leaving the Saints' (Crown Publishers / Random House ; March 1, 2005 ; $24.95). Here I'm on firm ground with the second non-fiction book about a woman who was in the Mormon royalty, but left, eventually winding up in Harvard. When she discovered while still pregnant with her second son that he had Down's Syndrome, she left Harvard, and wrote her first book, 'Expecting Adam'. She returned to the fold.

'Leaving the Saints' finds her facing not only her complex Mormon heritage, but the Church as it is today -- ruthless, as it silences dissidents and deals with those outside. For those of us who find an interest in the beliefs of humans and the organizations they inspire, 'Leaving the Saints' offers a look at one of the most peculiar Churches one can find.

Now, I myself used to work with a gent who was Mormon royalty, one of those folks could trace his lineage back to the Smith clan itself. If this book offers insight into the lives of Mormon Royalty, it's got some fascinating stories to tell. The company we worked for, the [mumble-mumble] Factory, was owned by the Church. I heard some things I thought were pretty strange, and a fair number of them make their way into this memoir, even as it works itself up to be about yearning for faith. Beck tried to silence her own doubts about Mormonism and didn't succeed. Readers who yearn for a book about faith -- if not faith itself -- might find this one offers the right combination of skepticism and belief. No, they're not mutually exclusive. They just have different sets of friends. Some of them, apparently in the publishing business. As to which books end up on which altar, I'll let the readers guess. But I will assert that I'm not from royalty, Mormon, publishing or otherwise.


03-16-05: Steve Aylett on Jeff Lint

A Science Fictional Biography

Lint's hits and Aylett's bio.
For the most part, science fiction writers are a pretty calm bunch. Yes, you've got a Harlan Ellison here and Philip K. Dick there, but in general, science fiction writers are not what you'd call flamboyant personalities. This is not to say theyre boring, but not everyone can be a Philip K. Dick or a Jeff Lint.

We've recently had our riveting Philip K. Dick biography by Emmanuel Carrère, 'I Am Alive And You Are Dead' (also author of 'The Adversary'), and it got noticed pretty far and wide, well beyond these realms. So as the publishers look about for a follow-up, who better to chronicle the strange life of Jeff Lint than Steve Aylett, science fiction's current High Trickster?

Aylett has, after all, been a finalist for the Philip K. Dick award. He's been pushing the limits of science fiction with his very bizarre 'Accomplice' series, and titles like 'Slaughtermatic'. Now, in 'Lint' (Thunder's Mouth Press / Avalon Publishing ; June 2005 ; $14.95), Aylett comes to earth -- well as much as it is possible for Steve Aylett to come to earth -- with a biography of Jeff Lint, author of such cult SF titles as 'Jelly Result' and 'The Stupid Conversation'. And, as many have suggested, the biography of some science fiction writers can be more entertaining than most science fiction.

You'll never teach braille in this town again!
Like Philip K. Dick, Jeff Lint was an old-school writer who lived through the turbulent 1960's in America and came out a bit worse for the wear. In his bio, Aylett follows Lint through his Beat days, his pulp SF work, his involvement in psychedelia, his unfortunate scripts for 'Star Trek' and even 'Patton', and his short but belated success in the 1990's. Like any great biographer, Aylett tells the story of novelist Lint as if his life itself were a novel, with compelling scenes from the writer's life. He talks about Lint's interest in and involvement in the JFK assassination, which resulted in 'Rigor Mortis'.

We can thank Thunder's Mouth for the fine version of this book they're delivering, a nicely sized illustrated trade paperback complete with 8 pages of color photos of Lint's book covers, some of which are on display here, courtesy Aylett himself. As Aylett's book moves from Lint's childhood to the rumors of his death to his actual death -- after which the rumors persisted -- towards the stunning conclusion of Lint's life, readers who have grown up with science fiction in the years of Lint's life will see themselves raiding the rotating paperback cages at Zody's Department stores in Covina California, riding their bicycles 15 miles through a layer of Southern California smog to one of the first malls in Pomona to find obscure copies of Lint's paperbacks at the then-rare B. Dalton Booksellers, haunting the sales tables at suburban cons in New Jersey in the 1980's, picking through browned copies of F&SF, hoping to find the rare Lint stories.

Catty and Major, another comix effort.
Aylett's bio is not just about one entertaining personality, but all the entertaining personalities that make up the science fiction genre, all the proto-literati who gazed into the abyss, and then took Lint's advice: "When the abyss gazes into you, bill it." Whether your impression of Lint comes from the photo of him as a serious young man holding a protest sign that reads "I'm growing fins" or from an encounter with an addled aging adolescent at a 1980's science fiction convention, 'Lint' is sure to bring back memories you might not remember you ever had. What could be a more science fictional experience than that?

Readers who can't wait for the Linto bio -- and that should be everybody -- can get a gander at more covers, and a glance at his other work on his official website at And though this will only whet your appetite, rest assured that the bio may raise more questions than it answers.


03-15-05: Jeff VanderMeer 'Shriek: An Afterword'; John Burdett 'Bangkok Tattoo'

The Shriek Heard 'Round the World

You can't have it -- yet. But you will want it!
One of the great pleasures of running this column is seeing writers develop, book by book. Jeff VanderMeer's a special case, because he started out at a higher level than many authors ever achieve. But if possible, it looks to me like he's going to take another step up with his latest novel, 'Shriek: An Afterword' (Pan Macmillan UK ; Tor Books / Tom Doherty Associates ; 2006 ; $?).

This is the newest entry in his series of works about Ambergris, and it's his latest novel as well. I've managed to get a very-much in advance copy through the kindness of Jeff himself, who has given me what I am instructed to call: "bound galleys produced for VanderMeer's foreign agent only." It may be bound galleys, it may be his newest Ambergris, but it's a lot of other things besides, things that are strange, even for Jeff VanderMeer.

Or perhaps especially for Jeff VanderMeer.

That's because Jeff's work thus far has been a monument to the exceptional. He wrote a fantasy novel -- 'City of Saints and Madmen' that, for readers of say George R. R. Martin or J. R. R. Tolkien probably looks neither like fantasy or a novel. His science fiction novel, 'Veniss Underground' is the type of science fiction novel that makes the reader wonder if the pages were laced with some sort of psychotropic drug. It's a couple of years old and still seems bracingly, almost confrontationally new. It sort of gets in your face, what with decapitated meerkats and city-sized organisms.

Think how long it was before 'Neuromancer' left the bleeding edge. It'll probably take that long for 'Veniss Underground' to enter a more conventional science fiction dialogue. Only 'Secret Life', his short story collection, pretty much resembles other short story collections. Of course, short story collections in the science fiction world in general have a lot of leeway; VanderMeer uses that and then some.

So what readers are probably not prepared for in his latest novel is the fact that it looks as if it will be a fairly straightforward novel-reading experience -- albeit one that will run from the power he's developed out in the hinterlands of experimental fiction. VanderMeer's hunkered down and given not only his fans but those who -- know it or not -- would like to be his fans -- a not-too-big slice of life in good old Ambergris.

'Shriek: An Afterword' is the story of Duncan Shriek -- and the city of Ambergris -- as told by Duncan's sister, ex-society maven Janice Shriek. Duncan is an historian with obsessions that may save him or bring him to ruin. Fraught with success, suicide, failure and the details of everyday life subtly transformed by the setting of Ambergris, the Family Shriek story promises to be fatally fascinating. The city of Ambergris is caught in a war between two publishing houses, while the downtrodden gray caps plot a fungal revenge. Janice finds herself in circumstances she'd prefer to avoid as she tells a story spanning decades of life in the Big City According to Ambergris. VanderMeer promises humor, horror, the surreal and the so-real emotional lives of characters caught up in one day after another -- in a city like no other.

Given his already ample track record, it's incredible to think that this is Jeff's first novel for a New Yawk publisher. For my readers, Jeff VanderMeer is already a household word, but he's about to become a household word for a whole world of readers who have never encountered his world. This 'Shriek' will indeed be heard 'round the world. What we have to look forward to with 'Shriek: An Afterword' is nothing less than the first normal Ambergris novel. Yes, I realize that this is an oxymoron. You should expect no less from VanderMeer.


Needles in the Book Stack

Burdett's first novel.
The new Sonchai Jitpleecheep novel. I dare you to memorize that name!
Some books sneak out of left field, so uncommon, so oddball and unexpected that their very strangeness makes them noteworthy. John Burdett's 'Bangkok 8' was certainly one of those books, a police procedural narrated by a hardheaded Buddhist cop and set in an exotic locale rendered in neon and the supernatural. As much as I loved this novel, I also feared that it might be a one-off. Its appearance and delightful content were so unexpected that a sequel just seemed statistically unlikely, like lightning striking twice.

I'm happy to report to readers that Sonchai Jitpleecheep is back again in 'Bangkok Tattoo' (Alfred A. Knopf / Random House ; May 10, 2005 ; $24.00), and once again, he's going to be faced with some very difficult choices. He's still a detective in District 8, so he's still scuttling amidst the dregs and bottom-feeders of a notoriously corrupt underbelly in Bangkok, itself notoriously corrupt.

So the mutilated dead body whose killer he's supposed to discern is not unexpected. That it might be a CIA agent is unexpected. And that the killer might be associated with Sonchai certainly is unexpected. And that excuses involving Al Qaeda might worm their way into a rapidly blossoming mess -- well, this is after all Thailand. And the newest Sonchai Jitpleecheep mystery.

That alone would make it an auto-buy selection. But with art direction by Chip Kidd and the kind of surprises that Burdett manages at every turn, this turns into the kind of novel that makes you look at Burdett's back-catalogue, which includes 'The Last Six Million Seconds' and 'A Personal History of Thirst', his first novel. The latter unravels a deadly love triangle across the vagaries of the British class system, while the former is a thriller set in 'The Last Six Million Seconds' before the handover of Hong Kong.

They're both still sort-of findable in used hardcover first editions, but look for that to change in the coming months. Burdett is touring this spring to promote the book, so look for the profile to climb. Readers who have yet to enjoy 'Bangkok 8' might want to sort through the remainder pile at their local independent bookstore. I saw it both in hardcover and in trade paperback. Try this. Buy the trade paperback, read it, and try not to go looking for a hardcover first. Be glad that theyre still reasonably priced. It's not often I sneak a reasonably priced book out of left field and into your bookshelf, now is it?

03-14-05: Three Disparate Books: Dan Chernenko 'The Scepter's Return', Caroline Kraus 'Borderlines', 'Nebula Awards Showcase 2005' Edited by Jack Dann

An Absence of Toasters

Who's cleaning up after all those horses?
Today's book selections have one thing in common; well two, come to think about it. Theyre books. And theyre trade paperbacks. Beyond that, folks, well, youre on your own -- no, in fact, I'm here as your guide. I can confidently say that this is one of the few sites where you're going to find someone writing about these three, though, to be honest, only one really, really skews the selection.

So who is going to read Dan Chernenko's 'The Scepter's Return': Book Three of 'The Scepter of Mercy' (Roc Fantasy / Penguin Putnam ; March 2005 ; $14.95)? Presumably, there's a built-in audience from the first two books in this series, 'The Bastard King' and 'The Chernagor Pirates'. Chernenko has carefully brought out his books on the annual installment schedule, and his readers will certainly thank him for promptly finishing up a series started a mere two years ago. Of course, with this fast and very regular pace, one might well suspect that some two years ago Chernenko turned in a completed 1,500 page doorstop and said: "Here you go!" And thus are series born.

No, sorry, getting all paranoid on you here. It's just that when the rear-view mirrors I have mounted on my shoulders get out of adjustment, well, I tend to get a little nervous.

As with most contemporary heroic fantasy, 'The Scepter of Mercy' looks a little bit like another series you may have heard something about or even seen in a filmed version. Essentially, the Scepter of Mercy is in the hands of those who neither know nor care of its potential. The Banished One wants to get his hands on it. With that moniker, you can guess he's not a nice guy. On the other side, King Lanius and King Grus have a foolproof plan to get the Scepter and set matters right. Foolproof, but not, apparently, Banished-One-proof.

Chernenko's trilogy appears to offer all the comforts of home, if home for you is a meaty fantasy trilogy about daring-do and dating don'ts ("Don't date an acolyte of the Banished One"). We'll note for posterity here that the cover image is by Steve Stone, who did the cover image for Tor's and Bantam UK's 'Deadhouse Gates, the second entry in Steven Erikson's 'Gardens of the Moon' series. And I've got to say that it certainly succeeds at giving this book an Erickson vibe, and making it attractive to this reader, were this reader able to spin himself off into a parallel universe and / or read about ten times as fast he currently does.

For what fantasy fiction offers these days is a one-two punch of comfort and the familiar imagination. Fantasy offers comfort because the choices are clear. Good is over here, polishing up armor and plowing the earth to feed the poor. Evil is over there, cackling insanely, gorging itself on food purloined from who-knows-where and leering at scantily clad women and/or men. None of reality's confusing we're going-to-kill-you-to-save-you moments. Better yet, nobody even has to bother to vote. Either youre with the former, and just have to ride it out, or you're under the latter, and had best enjoy things while you can, 'cause there's a comeuppance on the way. And while each author offers an imaginative vision, those visions tend to rest on the bedrock of a world where weaponry is mainly just sharp things, and where magical spells, which are sort of like computer programming for reality, are the only technology. No complicated toasters allowed!

In this world, there are apparently droves of people who read really, really fast and really, really enjoy a reality break. Who can blame them? Not I, who happen to be enjoying a permanent reality break. The fast readers are buying up fantasies like this as fast as they can and whether they know it or not, helping fight the good fight to see that other, edgier writers get a chance as well. It's a very complicated economic ecology that keeps a brittle layer of weird stuff floating atop a sea of predictably entertaining fantasy.

And, of course, unreasonably complicated toasters. I'm just hoping that someone need not be forced to kill me in order to save me from my complicated toaster. The only spell I know is spell-check, even then, well, it works just about as well as computer programming -- or magic.

Playing Catch-Up In Style

I hate to mention this, but books don't really have pulses. Could the NYT be tryuing to tell us something?
Science fiction awards mean big money in the publishing world. Or at least a budget big enough to put "Nominated for Nebulous Award" on the cover. But as anyone who reads this column knows, there are a boat-load of books out there deserving of some kind of award, and keeping up with them is a problem. Hoping to cash in on the good consciences of those voting for the SFWA's Nebula awards -- and perform a public service for overloaded readers -- each year Penguin Putnam, under its Roc Imprint, puts out an anthology. This year, 'Nebula Awards Showcase 2005' (Roc /Penguin Putnam ; March 2005 ; $14.95) is edited by the rightly revered Jack Dann, and as usual, features a combination of novel excerpts, short stories and essays that are meant to help. Really.

Look into my eyes.

We're here to help.

I like the cover design by Ray Lundgren, and I like plenty of the fiction within as well. You've got 'The Empire of Ice Cream' by Jeff Ford, 'OWNZORED' by Cory Doctorow, Carol Emshwiller's 'Grandma', and Harlan Ellison's 'Goodbye to All That' complete with one of his patented introductions, in this case, his tale of submitting the work to 'Zoetrope All Story'. Given the story found a home in McSweeney's, well, you can imagine his anecdote, and this one is as funny as the story itself.

One of the real reasons to buy this anthology is the fact that it offers the printed versions of stories that first show up online, on super-duper respected sites like Scifiction at and Strange Horizons. Until smart paper shows up, this will be the best way for us to read this fiction while eating shrimp tacos for lunch on the Santa Cruz Wharf.

The other big value add-on is the space given over to actual criticism of the genre. This time around you get the views of Paul McAuley, China Miéville, Lucius Shepard and Bruce Sterling. But even better is the inclusion of Jeff VanderMeer's standout 'The Romantic Underground: An Exploration of a Nonexistent and Self-Denying Movement.' It's a hilarious look at the proliferation of subgenres that goes on in SF&F. And it demonstrates that yes, we can laugh at ourselves.

We can, really.

Look into my eyes.

We're here to help.

Psycho Memoir

Look -- something pretty. Something bright. A scalpel.
One of these things is not like the other. Well, you got that pink cover for one thing. Sure, that's sort-of a giveaway. And the title font, that girly script. Maybe that's another. But dont let either of those fool you into thinking that 'Borderlines' by Caroline Kraus (Broadway Books / Doubleday / Random House ; March 2005 ; $12.95) is a girly guide to girly life. Yes, it might start that way. Reeling with grief from the death of her mother, twenty-three year old Caroline Kraus moved far away from home to San Francisco and apparently into a terrorizing novel of psychological horror.

Her first friend upon arriving was a charismatic beauty named Jane. Jane and Caroline were perfect for one another. Jane offers Caroline a free-spirited friendship, supportive, intuitive and understanding. The two soon become inseparable.

And that soon becomes a problem.

Caroline has just unknowingly landed herself on one of the slippery slopes of San Francisco, a human San Andreas Fault with tremors aplenty and problems that reach right to the center of her soul.

Jane, it happens, is the kind of gal who slices herself with razors. Who has maybe a couple of identities on the side, and a financial record that's the girly, personal version of Enron. What unfolds in 'Borderlines' is a tale of broken identity, of horrific manipulation, of financial ruin and physical aggression. Everybody might look pretty on the cover, but underneath, readers are going to find an even more pleasing look at ugliness. For anyone who has ever had a psycho-friend, or known someone who had a psycho-friend, 'Borderlines' is required, if uncomfortable reading.

And that "uncomfortable reading" tag may make it perfect fodder for a whole host of readers who like their horror light-of-day realistic. It doesn't get much more real than this memoir, but then, this is a reality that most of us would greatly prefer to encounter as a reading experience, not a life experience. And oddly enough, that's what makes it such a compelling reading experience.

Come to think of it, what you have here is a typical monster book where the monster not only pursues the pretty girl, the monster is a pretty girl. Of course, in many life experiences that is often the case. And if one of these girls is not like the other -- or anyone you know, for that matter -- count yourself lucky.