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From The Agony Column
06-08-07: A Review of 'All Together Dead' by Charlaine Harris; Preview for Podcast of Monday, June 11, 2007
Here's an MP3 preview
of the Monday June 11, 2007 podcast for The Agony Column. Enjoy!
Speed of Life
The seventh Sookie Stackhouse southern vampire novel, 'All
Together Dead', is chock-a-block with contradictions. Silly romance shenanigans
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
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
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
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
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
to show up at the counter. Gary Gibson's debut novel was 'Angel
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
(Tor UK / Pan Macmillan ; October 5, 2007 ; £16.99), and let
me say immediately that this is another standalone novel. I'm going
my usual cautions with spoilers to the winds and tell you precisely
how this novel ends: THE END.
pushing the cover art, and it's pretty decent.
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
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
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
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
with the Shoal. The Shoal, of course are not going to be happy about
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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".
them choppers. Yikes.
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
'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
it's almost the polar opposite – straightforward, hyperbolic
cultural criticism masked as fiction. Yet, like Aylett, Shipp is capable
prose that effectively dislocates the reader from reality. In Shipp's
work, you're disarmed and prepped for his cultural criticism. Not a
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
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
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'
very unromantic about writing...it's my job."
...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
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.
biopic from his website, stolen shamelessly by YT. His latest
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
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