This Just In...News
From The Agony Column
09-02-07: Preview for Podcast of Monday, September 3, 2007 : "Self-censorship is profound as a Chinese author, and I donít think anyone like to admit that."
Here's an MP3
preview of the Monday September 3, 2007 podcast for The Agony
08-31-07: A Review of 'Spook Country' by William Gibson
; Agony Column Podcast News : Alan Beatts, Borderlands Books
Locating Locative Art
I hope a few long-time
readers noticed that I uploaded this review earlier this week, saving
for a rainy day, so to speak. And here’s that rainy
day, having rained down two interviews before I had much chance to touch
in the concrete canyons.
It's an interesting challenge to review a book that most
readers already know about and probably have some well-thought out opinion.
But as Gibson's been all over the map of late, moving from the science
fiction of 'Idoru' and 'All Tomorrow's Parties' to the recent past settings
of 'Pattern Recognition' and 'Spook
Country', I can at least give them
the gist of what's what with his latest. Here's
a link to the review and in case you missed it, my
recent interview with Gibson. I suggest
the book and get ready to be surprised by Gibson's subtle, dry humor.
As the summer dies, here's a book to read while watching the dust blow
Sunset Boulevard at dawn.
Agony Column Podcast News : Alan Beatts, Borderlands Books
: From Law Enforcement to Litcrawl
If you don’t
know about Borderlands Books, now is your chance to get to know them
erudite owner and manager, Alan Beatts. After
a morning at KQED in San Francisco, I navigated the seven blocks and
seven SFPD cops to actually find a parking space smack dab in front
of the not-yet
open icon of science fiction books in San Francisco. We talked about
how he got into bookselling and what you can expect if decide to try.
Not for the greedy. We talked about the Litcrawl, a reading equivalent
of a pub crawl that will take place during the next LitQuake in San Francisco.
And Alan gave me two book picks that are well worth listening for from
file or your own subscription. Stay tuned for next week's
Agony Column Podcast. Please subscribe and
the podcast at iTunes. They're only vaguely evil over there.
08-30-07: Vincent Lam Offers 'Bloodletting & Miraculous
Cures' ; Agony Column Podcast News: A Short Interview with Xiaolu Guo
Be Still, My Beating Heart
We like to stay alive.
No, really we do. It's just not that easy; moreover it seems to be getting
harder rather than easier. You’d think that
high-tech and spreading wealth – well, high-tech, at least – would
result in better health care, but the horrible mess of our current system
is, if nothing else, at least the talk of the town.
could resist this cover? Not I!
It's funny that so much medical fiction seems to live in the potboiler
zone. Gut a mystery, set it in a hospital and wait for the tear-stained
/ prideful confession. What's odd is that hospitals are so human. They're
chock-a-block with flawed patients and flawed professionals just trying
to make it through another day. We like to stay alive.
With all the raw humanity on display in these settings, you’d think
somebody would take a more literary focus. Just look at the people and
say, "Well, that's a hell of a mess." The trick is to mine all
that "oh, the humanity" without diving into bathetic blahs, to
find the drama as well as the drama queens and kings. One might even have
to take an unusual approach.
Vincent Lam takes that unusual approach in 'Bloodletting & Miraculous
Cures' (Weinstein Books ; September 4, 2007 ; $23.95). Rather than offering
up a novel that attempts to cram all the disparate bits of drama into one
over-arching (and over-reaching) plot, Lam offers up a collection of short
stories that focus on four characters as they make their way into and out
of Med school and into a hospital. There is no single, simple answer to
be found here, but instead four complicated characters playing out the
little dramas that add up to the big picture.
Lam's four characters are not composites. Fitz is most obviously flawed;
impulsive, a drinker, a young man changing radically as he becomes a doctor.
Ming, the only woman, is smart but chilly, more of a scientist than a healer.
Sri is the kind of guy who hesitates to carve through a corpse's tattoo,
while Chen attempts to balance compassion and ambition. In the course of
twelve stories, they manage med school, badly-planned relationships, and,
of course: death. Drama, yes, but pixilated, sliced and diced and dissected
the way that life dissects us, a motley horde of problems nibbling us to
Lam is a practicing emergency room physician in Canada who brings his own
experience with SARS into the picture in the story "Contact Tracing".
That sense of authority permeates the collection, but not in the usual
sense. It's not that Lam slings jargon about so much as it is his unflinching
view of life in those linoleum hallways. Anyone who has spent any time
in a hospital knows what the vibe is like. It's not good, and it's NEVER
like what is written about or seen in movies. There's a drone of hopelessness,
a pulse of despair and boredom from waiting. Just waiting.
'Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures' won the 2006 Giller Prize, "Canada's
richest literary award for fiction," according
to the website. Alice
Munro (who has a story in this year's 'The O. Henry Prize Stories') had
a hand in creating the award. We definitely need an award scorecard, it
seems. Whatever the case, the Giller caught the eyes of the Hollywood's
Weinstein Brothers, who have just launched their literary venture, Weinstein
Books – distributed by Hachette – with Lam's collection. That's
a pretty interesting debut selection. It shows a lot of confidence in any
writer to publish a collection of short stories. Alas, there is no information
on previous publications of any of the selections on the colophon page.
One might presume that to mean this is an original collection, in which
case it becomes even more significant. Of course, the forthcoming multi-generational
first novel set in Sagon during the Vietnam War, might have aught to do
with that. I'll look forward to it. Assuming of course, I manage to stay
out of the hospital.
is a character in this novel.
Agony Column Podcast News : Looking Up 'A Concise Chinese-English
Dictionary for Lovers', A Short Interview with Xiaolu Guo
You're going to hear a lot about 'A
Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers' by Xiaolu Guo in the coming month. The
book is fascinating and extremely well written, with the sort of conceit
that either flies
magnificently or fails abysmally. I'm here to tell you it’s the
former rather than the latter, unless you read Ursula
K. LeGuin's review for the
Guardian or Boyd
Tonkin's review in the Independent first. I called up Guo Xiaolu in London and spoke to her for
more than twenty minutes. She is every bit as intelligent and fascinating
you might hope. Here's link to the MP3 and here's a link to subscribe
to the podcast. This is a wonderful conversation, and I hope to talk
her at length about this wonderful book.
08-29-07: 'The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1: Crimson
Shadows' ; Pirate Women, Bookshop Santa Cruz and Seana Graham, Contributor
to Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet: Agony Column Podcast News
Start Them With the Classics
Last week, for the Agony
Column Podcast News, I talked with Mark V. Ziesing about bookselling and
what’s to replace the gap left by J. K. Rowling.
He told me that he always felt good suggesting the classics; Robert
E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Those were among my early favorites
and they remain a favorite. So I'm quite happy to see that Ballantine
Books and Del Rey are continuing their re-issues of the classic works
of Robert E. Howard. The latest, 'The Best of Robert E. Howard, Volume
1: Crimson Shadows (Del Rey / Ballantine Books / Random House ; August
14, 2007 ; $16.95) is a handsome trade paperback, amply illustrated by
Jim and Ruth Keegan. It's the kind of book that could damage a young
mind for life.
minds one word at a time.
At least, that's what happened to me. Once I started down the path of Howard,
Burroughs, and Lovecraft, I was pretty much a goner, until, I'd gone through
their available published catalogue. I must say that wish I'd started out
reading books as nice as this one, though. I got my Howard addiction through
ratty paperbacks, albeit with classic Frazetta covers. And one thing I
surely didn't get in the editions I read was the variety offered here.
Like me, you might expect that Howard equals Conan, with a side order of
King Kull and Bran Mak Morn followed by a chaser of Red Sonja. But what
you've got in 'Crimson Shadows' is not just "The Shadow Kingdom",
the classic Kull story that arguably started the now-burgeoning genre of
sword and sorcery fiction. Nope, you get "The Fightin'est Pair" featuring
Steve Costigan. You get poetry of the sort that makes younger hearts sail
and literary critics roll their eyes. You get illustrations, lots of them.
Bran Mak Morn is here, and Solomon Kane. Hand this to an impressionable
say – ten, eleven year-old slightly precocious reader, probably male – and
you've branded them.
first sword and sorcery story, ever.
'The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1: Crimson Shadows' is, we are told,
the first of a three volume set. Now in my day, I loved to collect serial
paperbacks, and had all the Burroughs / Frazettas, all the Howard / Frazettas,
all the Lin Carter edited Adult fantasy series. I still have some of them.
Imagine this. Thirty, forty years hence. Books are gone. Books are dust.
We're reading smart paper. Your child hands you a book you gave him so
long ago. A real book. A manly book. You'll remember that moment for the
rest of your life, which when they upload you, may be considerably longer
than you expect.
Agony Column Podcast News : Pirate Women, Bookshop Santa
Cruz and Seana Graham, Contributor to Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet
Today's Agony Column
Podcast News is a twelve-minute interview with literary and weird fiction
author Seana Graham. Here
is a link to the MP3, or you can subscribe
to the podcast. She's a contributor to 'The Best of Lady Churchill's
Rosebud Wristlet' and
Santa Cruz. I've been seeing her for years, and it was fantastic to finally
formally meet her. She talks about sending out her submission to a variety
of small literary and weird fiction presses and how working in a bookstore
affects her writing. Gripping, stuff this. I'm asking my listeners to
help the podcast by reviewing it for iTunes. If you enjoy this podcast
new incarnation, do let me know. And if you have any suggestions or requests
for interviews, article or reports, also let me know via email. Thanks!
08-28-07: 'Rewired: The Post Cyberpunk Anthology' Edited
by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel ; Mario Guslandi Reviews 'Dark
Delicacies 2' ; Agony Column Podcast News: Adrianne Ahern Wants You to
'Snap Out of It NOW'
Tachyon Rides Again
Was it really last year when James
Patrick Kelly and John Kessel were 'Feeling
Very Strange'? I just looked it up and it was more than a year ago, though
the anthology still seems fresh in my mind. Apparently enough time to
scare up a new anthology for Tachyon Books, this time the forthcoming
'Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology' (Tachyon Publications ; October
15, 2007 ; $14.95). Once again, expect a genre fiction literary moment
to be captured in amber. Prepare to part with fifteen or so bucks.
The idea behind this anthology seems obvious once you see it in print,
though nobody has spoken directly to the core concept until now. Back
in '85, Bruce Sterling decided to stir up some shit, so to speak
by executive fiat a literary "movement" – cyberpunk – and "move
some units" as William Gibson recently put it by throwing together
some disparate writers in a landmark anthology, 'Mirrorshades'. As soon
as it was defined, cyberpunk was by definition dead. That's an interesting
tack for a literary "movement", but over the last quarter century,
that dead movement has flung a lot of weight around as the world it seemed
to long for and fear in the same breath came into being around us. Now
we're living that cyber-paradise / hellhole and lookit that – another
bunch of science fiction writers have decided to throw out the rule
book. Or at least amend it into extinction.
As Kessel and Kelly point out in their must-read introduction, some
of the writers who are leading the way now were, "struggling to parse
the subtleties of Green Eggs and Ham when Mirrorshades first appeared in
the book store." Yes, they do want to remind us all just how old we
are. But in said introduction, they do quite a bit more. No, it ain't no
stinkin' manifesto. You know of course that these days, we don’t
need no stinkin' manifesto to start a revolution because we're smack dab
in the middle of one that just won’t give up the goddamned ghost.
I for one am sick to death of it. Of course, that's why I read science
fiction. Just so I can begin to wrap my brain around what’s going
on in the real friggin' world, which, thank you very much, is just
chock full of science so bizarre and complicated it might as well be
and indeed, when it comes to stuff like cold fusion, often turns out
to be just that!
But back to 'Mirrorshades 2' er no 'Rewired'. After the erudite, must-read
intro by Messers K & K, you've got sixteen stories by these sixteen
writers: Bruce Sterling ("Bicycle Repairman"), Gwyneth Jones
("Red Sonja and Lessingham in Dreamland"), Jonathan Lethem
We Got In Town and Out Again"), Greg Egan ("Yeyuka"),
Pat Cadigan ("The Final Remake of 'The Return of Little Latin
William Gibson ("Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City"), David
Marusek ("The Wedding Album"), Walter Jon Williams ("Daddy's
World"), Michael Swanwick ("The Dog Said Bow Wow"),
Charles Stross ("Lobsters"), Paul DiFilippo ("What's
Up Tiger Lily?"),
Christopher Rowe ("The Voluntary State"), Elizabeth Bear
Dreams on Trains"), Paolo Bacigalupi ("The Calorie Man"),
Mary Rosenblum ("Search Engine") and finally Cory Doctorow
Sysadmins Ruled the Earth"). I've listed the titles in the order
in which you'll find them in the book.
Chances are you've read some of these, and own them as either parts
of single-author collections (Doctorow, "When Sysadmins Ruled
the Earth" is
and Marusek, "The Wedding Album" is part of 'Getting to Know
You'*) or novels in which they were included (Stross, "Lobsters" is
part of 'Accelerando But
this is not an original anthology; it's a collection that gathers apparently
diverse authors between the same set of covers
to see if readers can discover the similarities, the fault lines these
writers are mapping for us. As with 'Feeling Very Strange', 'Rewired'
does this very well. Not that it hasn't been done before – Lou
Anders' 'Live Without a Net' has some of the same vibe – but
the not-a-manifesto call to attention that fires this
one off suggests that the editors have a pretty specific not-a-manifesto goal
*(Thanks to PH)
As a reader, if you sit down and read these stories again, out of their
original context and in the context of this anthology, you'll find
precisely why this is important. The continuum from Bruce Sterling
to David Marusek
is pretty amazing and not really obvious unless you experience it in
print. And that's ultimately what this anthology is about – a
reading experience, putting all those words in your brain, the old-fashioned
way, one word
at a time. Someday, we're often told, we'll just upload them. When
that starts, then you can rest assured that these will be The Good
Rule Out Monotony
That's what Mario Guslandi says in his
review of 'Dark Delicacies 2'.
No single-author slump, just a second collection with lots of outstanding
stories, including Joe R. Lansdale, one of my old favorites, Barbara
Hambly (I LOVED 'Those Who Hunt the Night'), Ray Garton, Glen Hirshberg – I'll
let Mario do the honors.
Dr. Ahern has snapped out of it.
Agony Column Podcast News: Adrianne Ahern Wants You to 'Snap
Out of It NOW'
As I've noted before, I'm usually pretty suspicious of self-help books,
but I really liked both author Adrianne
Ahern and her slim book 'Snap
Out of It NOW', so I took myself to our local metaphysical bookstore,
Books and Gifts to see what she had to say about her book and what
her presentation was like. Here's a
link to the MP3 file, or just subscribe
to the podcast.
08-27-07: A 2007 Interview with Kaui Hart Hemmings + Review of Hemmings' 'The Descendants'
The Truth Hurts School of Humor
Kaui Hart Hemmings has
such a sunny voice and personality that her sense of humor comes as a
bit of a shock. Her first novel, 'The Descendants'
is hilarious. It's not slapstick and it's not really dark humor, though
she did admit to loving The Smiths' "Girlfriend in a Coma" ("It's
very serious"), a song that will inevitably come to mind as you
read. The novel fires off with a scene of protagonist Matt King and his
ten-year-old daughter in the hospital room with his comatose wife, and
Hemmings gets a good line and laugh coming out of the gate. It gets better
and better: you
can read my in-depth review here.
how happy she is!
And you can hear my in-depth interview here
as an MP3 or here
as a RealAudio file, or subscribe
to the podcast. Hemmings is every bit as smart and witty in an interview as she
is on the printed page. We spoke over the phone late last week, and she
told me about the trouble with paradise, which is that all that beauty
sort of puts the kibosh of pouting. We also talked about the challenges
of raising children, a subject she'll return to in an upcoming collection
of stories and essays about brings up kids in San Francisco. I can already
feel the cringe setting in.
Hemmings is the newest writer to join the
Grotto, which has housed such
Agony Column favorites as Mary
Roach. I admit that I did not get round
to asking about the commute from Hawaii to SF. I suspect that it is every
bit as enjoyable, as challenging, as human as the journey Matt King makes
in searching for his comatose wife's lover. The truth may hurt and it
may set you free. But in Kaui Hart Hemmings' hands, it's funny, poignant
and above all entertaining reading. And Hemmings is an entertaining speaker.
Don’t worry. Hemmings is not too sunny. In both Hawaii and San
Francisco, the sun can be pretty swiftly pre-empted by fog, rain, inclement
weather. Bring a raincoat.