Review Archive


This Just In...News From The Agony Column


06-08-07: A Review of 'All Together Dead' by Charlaine Harris; Preview for Podcast of Monday, June 11, 2007

Speed of Life

Here's an MP3 preview of the Monday June 11, 2007 podcast for The Agony Column. Enjoy!

Dissonant Delights

The seventh Sookie Stackhouse southern vampire novel, 'All Together Dead', is chock-a-block with contradictions. Silly romance shenanigans rub up against the devastating consequences of Hurricane Katrina. Contemplations of the implications of telepathy give way to satires of the Kitchen Soup books. Unsubtle jabs at certain segments of society unwilling to tolerate homosexuality take a round on the dance floor with slapstick scenes and terrorist threats.

Buoyed by the controversial issues she's interested in eviscerating, Harris has a lot of fun with the latest entry in this series. This is a series book, and only a series book. If you've not read Harris yet, go back to square one, 'Dead Until Dark'. And with an HBO Series in production at this very moment, directed by Six Feet Under's Alan Ball, now is the time to go back and get the written version. Harris told me that they were starting at book one, chapter one. So you have plenty of time and plenty of reasons to get caught up. Whether or not you're immersed in the series, you'll want take a look at my review of 'All Together Dead', just to get a bead on where you'll be headed. And yes, I think Anna Paquin is certainly enough of a stone fox to play Sookie Stackhouse. One just trusts that she's not a telepath as well; or perhaps she is. That's a talent that would certainly make the movie business more manageable. So long as, unlike Sookie Stackhouse, she could read the minds of the sort of vampires who need not drink blood.


06-07-07: A Review of Jeremy C. Shipp's 'Vacation'

What a Long, Bad Trip It’s Been

Jeremy C. Shipp's 'Vacation' is anything but. Shipp's first novel is a snarling rant that rubs your face in the evils of the world, a surreal tour of force and everything that results when it is deployed. For all the anger that is manifested in the narrative, the book is really rather enjoyable to read, even if it does seem like the literary equivalent of a bad acid trip. And 'Vacation' is literary, with references to Woolfe and T. S. Eliot and writing that often lives up to those references. This is a powerful, visionary work, and you can read my review here.

In one of those weird coincidences that seem to haunt this website, I point my readers back to the podcast interview of Susan Straight by Jenn Ramage from last year. Straight's novel, 'A Million Nightingales' is a surreal but otherwise mainstream novel that is set in the southern plantations. Straight provides the top blurb on the back of Shipp's novel, and I must say that her presence amidst the more genre-oriented accolades is well-deserved. Shipp's novel will appeal particularly to those who enjoy Chuck Palahniuk. Shipp gets in your face, but in a minimalist manner and has many of the same interests and concerns as Palahniuk. If you read 'Rant', I'd seriously suggest giving yourself a 'Vacation'. I apologize in advance for the flashbacks.


06-06-07: Gary Gibson is 'Stealing Light ; A Review of John Marks' 'Fangland'

Machine Head

They're pushing the cover art, and it's pretty decent.
It's always about the money. Humanity drags itself into space, only to find another race has got the goods, and we're just waiting for our order to show up at the counter. Gary Gibson's debut novel was 'Angel Stations', and it was a effective and enjoyable planetary romance with space opera shadings. He's back to space opera in a big way with 'Stealing Light' (Tor UK / Pan Macmillan ; October 5, 2007 ; £16.99), and let me say immediately that this is another standalone novel. I'm going to throw my usual cautions with spoilers to the winds and tell you precisely how this novel ends: THE END.

Not, "End of Book One in the Shoal Sequence".

Not, "Dakota Merrick's adventures will continue in 'Shoplifting Light'".


Powerful words, those are. Now, I'm just as enamored of a good series as the next guy, but there is no shortage of good space opera series out there. A standalone book over the certainty of conclusion, and if the writing is good, satisfaction. Gibson has already proved himself with 'Angel Stations' and 'Against Gravity'. Now he gets to take off.

It's a nice setup. Coming up some day, four hundred years from now, humanity is roaming amidst the stars. But only because an alien race that calls itself The Shoal have got the secret to FTL. This is a monopoly they exercise with vigor. Think Micro$oft of space travel. Dakota Merrick is well-versed in how The Shoal keep the grip on their monopoly. They blow stuff up. They kill. Heck, they’re not above genocide. Merrick is a metalhead. They're currently on everybody's shit list because their software was recently subverted. But someone on the skids is especially vulnerable. So Merrick is the gal who gets to lead the Hyperion to some BFN solar system to salvage the remains of a spaceship that has an FTL drive that does not originate with the Shoal. The Shoal, of course are not going to be happy about this.

Sure, Gibson wears his influences on his sleeve; you've got a spaceship named for one the greatest SF novels of the 1980's. But Gibson has his own style, and room enough to roam about his new universe. Plus he has some magic words for readers of space opera, words we don’t get to see often enough. THE END.

A Rusty Bucket

Continuing to catch up on my reviews, I today present my review of 'Fangland'. Marks' novel is a really interesting take on the vampire and frankly, it was more consistently chilling than any book I've read for quite some time. He managed this not with really great gore, though there is a bit of that, and not with monsters. Marks works in atmosphere but manages to maintain an energetic plot pacing. Yes, the "collection of odds and ends" format contributes to the readability. I love collage fiction, but Marks' work has something else going for it. 'Fangland' displays a remarkable imagination in the service of a low-key writer.

Marks does provide some spectacular set-pieces in 'Fangland', but there's a sort of nauseous, disturbing undercurrent to other scenes that simply gets under the skin. It's not just depression, though he works that as well. 'Fangland' is about the dead, and you know, there are lots of dead. Lots of them. More than you can imagine. Now what might happen to your mind should you be forced to face each death, forced to relive centuries of death every time you just looked around? Don’t you think you might go a little loopy as well? Why bother with a love bite on the neck when you can examine the individual rotting faces of the great majority? How much time do we have do we have to suffer? Our entire life. Worse still–an eternity of death.


06-05-07: A Review of 'Soon I Will Be Invincible' by Austin Grossman; Raw Dog Screaming Press Wants to Alter Your Mind

Soon I Shall Remember the Title Correctly

OK, I've gotta cop to this. I have to think, really think about the title of Austin Grossman's 'Soon I Will Be Invincible' (reviewed here) because my brain wants the title to be 'Soon I Shall Be Invincible'. That phrase just trips off the tongue more mellifluously. That said, I enjoyed the hell out of this book, and would heartily recommend it to just about anyone who picked up the book in the bookstore and enjoyed the first portions. It's truly inspired and to my mind is easily the prose-only equivalent of those properties it will inevitably be compared to. I had to restrain myself from reading much of 'Soon I Shall Be Invincible' aloud to whomever was in my immediate vicinity. If you buy this book, and you should, then prep your reading voice. And iron your cape.

Reading is the Drug

Lookit them choppers. Yikes.
Readers will recall that I just swallowed Steve Aylett's 'And Your Point Is?', practically on the day it arrived. I was impressed by Steve Aylett's ability to create prose that is truly psychedelic. Typically, when one refers to books as "psychedelic", one is alluding to content. That is, the author is writing about experiences of surreal visions that resemble the visions reported by users of hallucinogenic drugs. Philip K. Dick is often put in this category, and often his visions are hallucinatory. Recently I read 'Divergence' by Tony Ballantyne, and I'd have to say that portions of that novel are precisely what readers refer to when they use the word "psychedelic".

But what Aylett does with his prose in 'And Your Point Is?' is different. The book looks like turgid academic criticism of the work of a quirky, weird science fiction writer, Jeff Lint. But as readers of this column well know, 'Lint' is the creation of Steve Aylett, as is almost everything written about him. And the words, both in 'Lint' and in 'And Your Point Is?' are simply arranged in such a fashion that they seem to make perfect sense, they seem grammatical, and yet they systematically pry you farther and farther away from reality in a manner quite reminiscent of what happens when you ingest any one of a number of substances that are deemed psychoactive. That Aylett can manage this with language alone suggests not only his skill (or perhaps his curse) as a writer, but also the innate power of language to tweak the brain. Aylett, though he's not for everyone, is an example of the pure power of literature.

Up till now, I thought he was pretty much alone. But I finally got a chance to crack the other title that Raw Dog Screaming Press sent me, namely, 'Vacation' (Raw Dog Screaming Press ; March 28, 2007 ; 13.95 TPB, $27.95 HC) by Jeremy C. Shipp and I believe that I am beginning to sense a theme here. Yes, Shipp's novel is much more in the traditionally psychedelic realm with weirdness sprouting up at every opportunity. It's extremely disturbing. It is not fictional literary criticism by any means, in fact, it's almost the polar opposite – straightforward, hyperbolic cultural criticism masked as fiction. Yet, like Aylett, Shipp is capable of writing prose that effectively dislocates the reader from reality. In Shipp's work, you're disarmed and prepped for his cultural criticism. Not a fair tactic, but then, these aren't fair times.

Production-wise, Raw Dog Screaming makes absolutely outstanding books, at least in trade paperback format. They're generous with space on the pages, and it just feels like you've got a quality piece of literature in your hand. I have to say that while I understand the impulse, I'm not a big fan of the artwork on the Shipp novel. It's a bit too effective in giving me the creeps and scaring me away. But then, it only approximates the effect of the prose, so it's all for the best. Raw Dog sent me a title list and there are a number of works that are of interest to me. Chances are there are some of interest to readers here, and they can be assured that in terms of format and printing quality they’re top-notch. This is a link to their website, where you can buy direct and help keep them healthy. The content readers will have to judge on an individual basis. From the two titles I've seen, I'd say they've named themselves well and that they should come with a "Do not operate heavy equipment or drive while reading these books" warning.


06-04-07: A 2007 Interview with John Scalzi plus a review of 'The Last Colony'

"I'm very, very unromantic about's my job."

Scalzi's biopic from his website, stolen shamelessly by YT. His latest novel.
...and he's doing one hell of a job. On that point, I believe we can agree. The appeal of John Scalzi is perfectly clear. He writes novels with not an ounce of fat in them, novels that kick down the door, and, as he notes, "blow up stuff real good". They're funny and smart. So is his blog. Yes it is true, you can rely on Scalzi to provide ample and entertaining destruction. But you can also count on Scalzi to provide a more pertinent to your life subtext as well. Whether it's how we treat the aged ('Old Man's War'), babies ('The Ghost Brigades') or family ('The Last Colony'), there's always an emotional core to the Scalzi's work.

Plus, he blows stuff up real good.

Especially in his latest novel, 'The Last Colony', reviewed here.

In the interview, we cover a lot of ground, and it was only when I was editing it that I realized we must have been in the studio for an hour and half, though the final product comes in at a little over an hour. I didn't even notice time floating by when we spoke. Scalzi and I had a lot of fascinating ground to cover, from this work as a newspaper columnist to his famous blog to ... whatever!

You can download the MP3 here. You can download the RealAudio file here. Prepare to be dazzled and entertained by John Scalzi. Even if you don’t read science fiction, if you write – anything – here’s a man who makes his living writing. You'd be well advised to listen to what he has to say. Then read his books about blowing stuff up and cuddly happiness.


Agony Column Review Archive