This Just In...News
From The Agony Column
11-02-07: Tezuka & Satrapi Graphic Novels ; Agony Column
Podcast News Report : A Conversation With Jeff Ayers, Manager of Forbidden
Planet, NY : Monster of the Id
"Public understanding must be gained on biological
weapons"–"Or, they would be executed"
It's not all this grim. But neither of these graphic novels shies away
from the graphic. Both 'MW' by Ozamu Tezuka (Vertical ; October 15, 2007
; $24.95) and 'The Complete Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon /
Random House ; October 30, 2007 ; $24.95) offer more than glimpses of the
tragedy and horrors that surround us. Both are strong political statements,
and both are adult-oriented fiction that will compel your attention at
ever level. And while they're both the same price, I must hasten to add
that 'Persepolis' is a trade paperback, while 'MW' is a hardcover. Go figure
the economics of the printing press in this topsy-turvy world.
than you think – than you want to think.
Or instead let yourself go into these rather disturbing worlds. Well, 'MW'
is pretty much thoroughly disturbing and that's something of a surprise.
Tezuka made his name and the manga world with 'Astro Boy' and 'Kimba'.
Big eyes and bigger hearts. That makes 'MW', originally serialized in Japan
between 1976 and 1978 even more surprising. 'MW' took on the stuff of today's
headlines some thirty years ago. In it, a young boy is exposed to a toxic
gas leftover from US experiments. The gas kills everyone on an island except
for the boy and one other, and the government decides that the event is
best left unchronicled. IE, whitewashed. The boy is transformed by the
event into a conscienceless serial killer who becomes the women he kills
and sleeps with a priest who does have a conscience, one that is tortured
by the knowledge of what the now-grown boy is doing. And the toxic gas
is still out there. Waiting.
You can imagine that
this is not a happy story for happy people, and by the time you finish
it you might be ready for Satrapi's sweeter but
serious tale of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. There
could hardly be a more timely tale, and the timing is such that you’d
better read it quickly. The book is a sort-of tie-in for the movie, co-written
by Satrapi, which has already gathered up awards and acclaim. It's slated
to open here on Christmas.
As books, both of these volumes are quite nice. Pantheon has made a science
of the turning graphic novels into beautiful trade paperbacks, and given
its flagship status, 'The Complete Persepolis' is no exception. Nice printing,
deep blacks and jacket flaps take this a cut above the average trade paperback.
Meanwhile, the folks over at Vertical are in comparison giving you a huge
value. 'MW' is 585 pages, equally well-printed and comes in a form factor
that is quite desirable. I figure that between them, these two books should
take care of all your serious graphic novel needs for the rest of the year.
But I might suggest finding some lighter reading to split them up. Between
the poison gas and the executed, you might wish to find a breath of fresh
Agony Column Podcast News Report : A Conversation With Jeff Ayers, Manager of Forbidden Planet, NY : Monster of the Id
Today's Agony Column
Podcast is a conversation with Jeff Ayers, the manager of New York's
version of 'Forbidden Planet'. I visited the
where I found some things I thought I’d never see again; interestingly
enough, American books. You
can listen to the MP3 of my conversation with Jeff and wish you were there. He's an energetic, entertaining
guy who will bring you back to the bookstore.
11-01-07: Michael Jasper 'The Wannoshay Cycle' ; Agony Column
Podcast News Report : Talking Food With Mollie Katzen
For Your Own Protection
pyramids keep falling on my head!
It's an American tradition – I hope – to distrust those who
tell you that they’re doing something "For your own protection." We
typically understand this to mean that those who speak the words are imposing
a burden which will inconvenience us and benefit them. Furthermore, we're
not to question either the request itself or the motive behind the request.
It's "For your own protection."
In the science fiction genre, we know this as "To Serve Man."
To serve readers, on the other hand is a taller order, calling for literary
instead of culinary skills. Both are in short supply. So we're happy to
find Michael Jasper working a very American science fiction tradition with
'The Wannoshay Cycle' (Five Star / Thomson – The Gale Group / Tekno
Books ; January 2008 ; $25.95). Jasper grew up in Iowa and now lives in
Raleigh, North Carolina. Though I first encountered his work in Interzone,
a UK publication that brought us the likes Alastair Reynolds, Jasper's
work has none of the feel or the trademarks of the current UK SF genre.
There's no sense of icky, sticky complexity, no hyper-detailed exotica.
Jasper writes a meat-and-potatoes novel that is dense and complex, but
his settings and characters pretty straightforward, as are his concerns.
We live in a world of scapegoats, all very human. What happens when aliens
arrive? No matter what their actual nature may be, their status as scapegoat
is pretty much assured.
In Jasper's novel, the aliens don't land so much as fall. In the midst
of a winter blizzard, in the midst of terrorist attacks on American soil,
black pyramids tumble and crash. Inside are the Wannoshay, humanoid-ish
aliens who only want to get along. Good luck with that; even humans can't
get along. But we like a good alien because they look really different
from us. That makes 'em easy to blame when shit gets blowed up, and even
easier to round up for placement in internment camps. "For their protection
To serve man – on in this case Wannoshay. Let's just call 'em Wantas.
Because that sounds much more demeaning.
Jasper's cast of characters and their concerns are all front-and-center
middle American. A priest, a drug addict, a single mother, a day laborer – there
are not the typical hero types you'll find in American SF, not the trong-jawed,
dead-certain against-all-odds-outsiders. Nope, Jasper refreshingly looks
at the sort of people you might see at the grocery store, or in front of
it with sign in their hands, and then try to look away from. This is America,
folks, land of the justifiably paranoid and home of the paycheck-to-paycheck
lifestyle. Aliens, mysterious diseases, terrorists, government crackdowns
on every damn thing and suspicious minds as the new norm. We're terrorized
all right, but by one another. Aliens? Hell, somebody in the next county
is an alien so far as I'm concerned.
The tone and tack of Jasper's novel are much more akin to Ray Bradbury,
or even Stephen King, than Peter F. Hamilton, Neal Asher or Richard Morgan.
There's a peculiarly American fullness that underlies his prose and his
approach. His spiritual interests are somehow still down-to-earth even
if his aliens are not of the earth. The Wannoshay are as vulnerable as
the homeless, as pliable as the ne'er-do-wells who haunt fast food restaurants
and run-down bars. They're pragmatic, not romantic. And they're as easily
sidelined, dismissed and converted into scapegoats for all of our ills,
for all of our sins. We live in the century of the pointing finger, and
would do well to remember that it can easily swing in our direction.
Agony Column Podcast News Report : Talking Food With Mollie Katzen : Call
I have that Frank Zappa song stuck in my head.
... and the vegetable
will respond to you! sYou can hope. Monday, I had the privilege of
speaking with Mollie Katzen, author of 'Moosewood
and 'The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without'. Readers will recall
that I had great luck with the two recipes I cooked from the latter,
so that I bought 'Moosewood Cookbook' when I was at the Capitola Book
I had a delightful, if somewhat clueless on my part, conversation with
can hear the MP3, wherein she explains how she became interested
in vegetarian cooking and just what sort of vegetarian she is. We also
talked tools, oh so important. And let me mention that last night,
my wife picked a recipe from 'Moosewood Cookbook', which I prepared,
and it was
superb. Polenta Pie, really easy, quick, actually sort of fun to make.
Having a recipe takes the tension out of food making, so you can just
bop merrily along to the prerecorded beat, so to speak. Tonight it
again. What's on your plate?
10-31-07: The Senses of 'The Surgeon's Tale' ; Agony Column
Podcast News Report : Janet and Chris Atwood Take 'The Passion Test'
Jeff VanderMeer, Cat Rambo, M. F. Korn and D. F. Lewis Preserve
precision not required.
I'm glad to find
out that neither "Cat Rambo" nor "M.
F. Korn" is imaginary. Whenever you see the name D.
F. Lewis or Jeff
VanderMeer attached to anything, it's best to question reality. You never
know what they'll get up to. In this case, it's 'The Surgeon's Tale and
Other Stories' (Two Free Lancers Press ; December 15, 2007 ; $9.99), a
beautifully printed and produced little booklet that includes six stories
and some delightful illustrations. There's no colophon page, nothing beyond
the words on the covers and between them to tell the story of the book
itself. Only I am left to tell the tale.
And the tale is this:
Quit your job in the IT world.
Start life anew as a writer. Starve the finances and the mind will quicken.
It worked for VanderMeer and Rambo, at least. In times recent, both Rambo
and VanderMeer made a hasty exit from the workaday world of code-cracking,
tech-writing terminal boredom, the better to focus their minds on that
which does not exist, should not exist and yet is brought to life in vibrant
prose in these brief pages. Rambo and VanderMeer collaborate on the sensual
title story. "Sensual" in that they overwhelm the reader with
tastes and smells. It's a brave and effective effort that enslaves the
reader with chemical memories in order to create a world where magic and
science are crossing in decline and rise. In such a world preservation
is indeed possible, but as ever, the desirability is mediated by one's
(in)ability to predict the outcome of one's efforts. No matter what reality
we inhabit, look long enough, look hard enough and you shall find a monkey's
paw. "The Surgeon's Tale" is gorgeous, funny, surreal entry into
urban fantasy. Take a walk through the smallish town center of the suburb
nearest you after reading it and you'll not see the same town you've seen
before. The world is shot through with magic, and the results of this are
not always beneficent to all involved.
The book is illustrated by Kris Dikeman (with one piccie that will speak
directly to those who enjoyed the movie "Oldboy"), and the cover
design is by James "Argosy" Owen, he of Coppervale Studios. As
100-page paperback shows go, it's very, very nice, especially for ten bucks.
Other works by both Rambo and VanderMeer are more reminiscent of Clark
Ashton Smith, who is not so far off the mark of the first one, either.
But "The Dead Girl's Wedding March" (a solo effort by Cat Rambo), "The
Farmer's Cat" (a solo effort from VanderMeer), "Key Decides Its
Destiny" and "Three Sons" (both by Rambo) are more removed
from the world within which we live; they strike a more mythic, fairy-tale
tone. And it is a remarkably even tone, in that there are no jarring shifts
as you read. It all feels cut from the same cloth.
The final story is "The Strange Case of the Lovecraft Café",
written by M. F. Korn, D. F. Lewis and VanderMeer. While the writing and
tone start out in a similar vein, the story takes more of a goofy left
turn as we get Crawford Tillinghast's take on an eatery where one might
find "Deep Fried Ones" on the menu. If you do not get the picture,
proceed immediately to the nearest bookstore and pick up "H. P. Lovecraft:
Tales" from the Library of America. The literary look and cover design
will fool all but the best-informed into thinking you're just getting the
back story on a lost literary legend. Which you are, in a sense. But. Again,
if you need the background to the jokes in the story, this is the place
I know; you don't need no stinkin' background. You just need your local
bookery to stock "The Surgeon's Tale". Good luck with that, unless
your local bookery is like, Borderlands, or Forbidden Planet, or one of
say, two dozen specialty shops that dot this blighted, benighted globe,
circling a dying ember in the vacuum vault of stygian emptiness. If you're
not next door to the abyss, you can visit Cat
Rambo's website to order
a personalized copy, but black scratches on a piece of paper, made as if
the writer were being pursued by agents of eternal damnation, suggest you’d
best hope that the apocalypse arrives after December 15, 2007. I guess
they're serious about that date. Maybe they know something we don’t.
Probably they know something we don't. Thoughts come into my mind and I
wish to unthink them. If it does happen, if I am able to unthink those
gibbering screeches that echo even now, I just hope that none shall be
there to consume what is left, none shall partake of the essence of my
venal, meaningless existence.
Podcast News Report : Janet and Chris Atwood Take 'The Passion
Test' : Make a List, Check it Monthly
Attwood, Janet Attwood and their book 'The Passion Test".
Once again, into
the breech of Gateways
Books goeth I, this time to speak
with Janet and Chris Atwood about their book, 'The
Passion Test'. No, it's
not that kind of book. It's about figuring out what your passion is; IE,
what you really give a shit about ; and then making the hard choices required
to follow your passion and pursue what matters to you. This is not unlike
what VanderMeer and Rambo have done. One guesses that their lists were
a bit shorter and easier than most of ours, really. The Atwood's have a
on-target message that's worth
your valuable time in this MP3. That is,
presuming that you are worth your own valuable time. Alas, on this benighted
mindlessly into the aching, hungry void, that's not a given.
10-30-07: Molly Katzen Offers 'The Vegetable Dishes I Can't
Live Without' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Kage Baker Reads at
SF in SF
Gracias for the Gratin
format, great cookbook.
I knew it would come
to this, sooner or later. I knew I would start writing about cookbooks;
I just had to find the right one to wrap my brain around.
That proves to be Mollie Katzen's 'The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live
Without' (Hyperion Books / ABC ; October 9, 2007 ; $22.95). I've looked
at a few other cookbooks as they came into KUSP, but they were a little
complex for my tastes. When I see a recipe with a long list of ingredients,
most of which I don’t have on hand, I tend to flick past it quickly.
That's not necessary with Katzen's admirably simple cookbook. But don’t
take that to mean the recipes aren't top-notch.
Here's what happened. Since I'm now podcasting on a daily basis, I look
for authors who are swinging into town to give things a bit of audio variety
and help my phone bills. (Oh the misery the month I spoke to Peter F. Hamilton
and Xiaolu Guo in the UK.) I noticed Katzen was going to be at Capitola
Book Café on Monday, October 29, and set up an interview, which
you'll hear later this week. But first, I wanted to report my unfiltered
thoughts on the cookbook before I talked to the author.
It is, in a word, totally outstanding. Now, look. I'm a guy who thinks
some of the best food on this planet can be found at the Central Texas
Barbecue in Castroville, California. I am told that only I could find
CTB in the home of the artichoke. (Remember that vegetable! Or as Frank
would say, "Call any vegetable!") The meats they serve there
are like dessert, they’re so flavorful. I mention this to help
readers understand that I'm not necessarily inclined to jump up and down
vegetarian cookbook. Now, I know that Katzen's 'Moosewood Cookbook' is
a big deal, but frankly, I've never seen it. Heathen am I. But Katzen's
new book has a lot of things going for it beyond the great recipes. I'll
I do have
to throw in some book geek stats.
First off, this is a book with no DJ, a nicely printed cover and it's only
144 pages. It's 8 1/2" by 11", a nice comfortable familiar format.
It's easy to take it with you to the grocery store – I did so, in
fact. Katzen illustrates her own book and it’s printed in one of
those handwriting-like fonts. The latter could prove to be precious or
annoying, but it's neither because it's easy to read. The illustrations
are nice, and the effect is that you've got some mom-with-nice-handwriting's
notebook. It easily lays open with you're cooking or shopping. As a piece
of book tech for cooking, it's just dandy.
Which would not mean doodely-ooodely if the recipes weren't both make-able
and edible. Or frankly, beyond edible, that is totally delicious. Again,
the recounting. So, I'm signed up to interview the cookbook author and
I decide to make some of the recipes, to find out if they're any good,
frankly. I've never interviewed a cookbook author before. When I interview
a literary author, I read the book, in an attempt to "use" as
it is supposed to be used. So I tried the same thing here, and made one
recipe that sounded good to me: Stir-fried carrots, red peppers and red
onions with roasted cashews, and one that my wife liked, the one that lead
off the book, Artichoke Heart and Spinach gratin. The latter didn't sound
so hot to me, but like the former it involved ingredients that I had or
were readily available at the local (1 mile away) grocery store, Deluxe
Foods of Aptos. (It's a locally owned store.) So, first I go to the store.
I ended up spending $26.66. For two dishes, that's a lot. But it included
raw cashew pieces ($4.99) that I used like, 1/4 of, and fresh parmesan
cheese ($6.48) that I used only part of and 2 quarts of milk @$1.59. The
only expensive part of the meal that was entirely consumed was the frozen
box of artichoke hearts, which clocked in at $3.99. Overall, that made
the whole deal not so fiscally painful.
I tend to cook way in advance, so I started early. The directions called
for chopping, etc, and the prep was utterly painless. I first put together
the gratin, then popped it in the oven while I prepared the stir fry.
Oh wait, first, before that I roasted the cashews. But still, pretty
only 40 minutes to put the two dishes together, and damn. Just following
the recipe like a chemistry experiment (well, I did add a lot more garlic
than called for, tablespoons instead of teaspoons, and I threw in some
cooking sherry into both recipes), but still largely, say following the
recipe word for word, the results were stellar. It really tasted like
restaurant food and we ate every damn bit. Both dishes were easy,
exotic foods – and came out exactly as described. I did put in all optional
ingredients (pineapple and ginger in the stir fry). We didn't heave a
meat entrée for dinner and we didn't miss it. So, my totally unscientific
experiment informs me that two recipes chosen at random from "just
under 100" are outstanding. If you wanted to buy a cookbook you
might use, even if you are a dedicated meatatarian, this cookbook will
CTB takeout required, damnit. Stay tuned and you'll hear my conversation
with the author. We'll see how this cookbook-author interview biz goes.
Agony Column Podcast News Report : Kage Baker Reads at SF
in SF : Welcome to Sutro Park
the most important SF novel of the year.
I'm privileged to have a brand new company story by Kage
Baker for today's
podcast. And even more privileged to have her introduction to the story.
This is why you want to find SF in SF, or your local equivalent. Listen
to this MP3: new story, author insights. Saturday evening in San Francisco
with the science fiction literary set. It doesn't get much better than
this. (But the gratin is really, really good.)
10-29-07: SF in SF Podcast
A Panel Discussion With Kage Baker and Eliot Fintushel Moderated by Terry Bisson
As the headline describes the content of the podcast so concisely
and correctly, I'm going to try to get out of my own way quickly. Suffice
it to say that if you enjoy literature and especially science fiction
literature and you live in the Bay Area, then you owe it to yourself
to get to these events. Parking is neither as tragic or as comedic as
I have expected, and the forums are a great place to meet and chat about
books you love with the folks who write them. You'll hear original readings
and be able to panel discussions. This panel will give you an idea, and
tomorrow you'll hear on this podcast a reading of a NEW KAGE BAKER COMPANY
STORY, never printed or released. Yet. And better still, you'll hear
her discuss how she came to write the story; it's a fascinating insight
into the artist at work. It's the reason why you should bee there next
month when Molly Gloss and Karen Joy Fowler appear. Here's
a link to the MP3; here's
a link to the RealAudio. Here's a link
to the pertinent details
of next month's gig. I'll be trying once again to up the quality
of the audio. Join me!