Review Archive


This Just In...News From The Agony Column


03-07-08: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Toby Barlow's 'Sharp Teeth' Book Review

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Toby Barlow's 'Sharp Teeth' Book Review : Let's Sing

Toby Barlow at KQED.

Today's podcast is an audio version of yesterday's book review of Toby Barlow's 'Sharp Teeth' – well, sort of. I'm deviating quite a bit, including sound clips from the author and his editor over at Harper Collins, Jennifer Barth, from what I wrote to give a better flavor of the book itself, and just to keep things up in the air a bit. Here's a link to the MP3 of the audio book review. I suppose I can't claim to be surprised that it's a deviant review.

03-06-08: A Review of 'Sharp Teeth' by Toby Barlow ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : A Conversation with Seana Graham

Sharp Writing

Not a book about electronics.

I just finished writing my review of 'Sharp Teeth' and I'm still not sure if I've managed to capture just how cool this book is, so let me just go plain speaking and say, "You should read this book, you'll love it – not just like, love it." The free verse aspect proves to be a strength, and after a page or so stops seeming unusual. And let me mention here that I first heard about this book from none other than Charlie Huston – buy some of hius books when you buy this one. It makes the book a lot easier to read, because Barlow taps into a breezy vibe that lets him tell a complicated story easily and briefly. Damn, if I just gave that last bit line breaks, I'd be tapping into a Barlow vibe. Here's a link to my long-form review.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A Conversation with Seana Graham : Report from the Writing Life

Today's podcast is my conversation with Seana Graham, who had a story in 'The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet'. She's just come back from The Association for Writers and Writing Programs Conference in New York, and you can hear our conversation about how she fared in this excursion from this link to the MP3. There seem to be literally hundreds of these affairs going on across the nation – are they worth your valuable time and money? This is your chance to hear from an attendee who has been published in one of the most prestigious New Weird journals you can hope to find. She found that fantasy was getting a surprisingly good reaction.


03-05-08: Christopher Conlon Marks 'Midnight on Mourn Street' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Paolo Bacigalupi Reads 'The People of Sand and Slag' at SF in SF

Secrets and Revelations

Very similar to another effective Miller cover for a Lucius Shepard novella.

Christopher Conlon is a busy guy, and even though you (like me) might think you havent heard of him before, you indeed have. He's a poet, with three books of verse, including 'The Weeping Time,' 'Gilbert and Garbo in Love' and 'Mary Falls: Requiem for Mrs. Surratt' – but wait, there's more. He has two collections of short stories, 'Thundershowers at Dusk: Gothic Stories' and 'Saying Secrets: American Stories.' (Note that last title.)

But you've all heard him mentioned here, in the Agony Column Podcast, by John Shirley, as the editor of 'Poe's Lighthouse', an anthology with many versions of the same story, a fragment from Poe finished by Shirley and others. So when the prestigious Earthling Publications releases 'Midnight on Mourn Street' (Earthling Publications ; June 15, 2008 ; $16), you might suspect it would be worth your valuable time. What you might not expect is that the publisher would dispense a blurb from the creator of The Waltons to promote the book.

There's a reason for that blurb, the same reason that you'll find a note from William F. Nolan. Conlon has, a bit of a history with television writers, having done two books on / with Jerry Sohl, who wrote some iconic episodes for The Twilight Zone, a single mention of which can disperse the doubts of the most incorrigible crank. (Me.) Having dispersed said doubts, one can move on to the text itself, which offer readers two unpleasant characters watched over by a third. Reed Waters is the middle-aged man, Mauri Dyson, the teenaged runaway. Nobody's come clean as the book begins and few will feel clean as it unspools. Conlon has a way of getting to the grit that makes us actually empathize with his characters, even those who in other writers' hands might turn out to be south of Deplorable, headed for the Despicable offramp.

I'll warn readers that there are scenes in here that might be on the disturbing side, knowing full well that more than few will find that a plus, not a minus. Conlon resists the temptation to make his first novel about, well, everything, and keeps the focus tight and sordid. I'd recommend a judicious reading rate to ensure that you dont just gobble this one up in one gulp; at 219 pages, there might be real temptation to do so. But 'Midnight on Mourn Street' offers readers the kind of novel that lives in memory long after you finish it; scenes will stay and play again and again on the movie screen of your mind. So take it slow. Let the secrets herein reveal themselves in the fullness of time. One time. Midnight.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Paolo Bacigalupi Reads 'The People of Sand and Slag' at SF in SF : Table-Turning the Upside-Down Classics

Night Shade Books HC, very nice.

So here's the final act from the last SF in SF; Paolo Bacigalupi reading 'The People of Sand and Slag,' in a convenient MP3 file that should just about do for any single commute. I trust that all readers will hear the echo of a very famous SF story from my youth, a story that turned the genre in a direction it had never faced. In fact, it ended up being made into a film, and one can see that fate for this story as well, directed by an actor famous for playing villains in Peckinpah masterpieces – oh so appropriate and coincidentally, also appearing in SF this weekend. But dont worry readers, I'll stay home, writing about the books you'll read (or want to be reading) next week. As often as I try to make myself go to the movies, I just fail again and again; weighed against reading a book, the movies always come in second place.


03-04-08: Alan Campbell Wishes for an 'Iron Angel' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : A Brief Conversation With Paolo Bacigalupi At SF in SF

Deepgate Codex II

An impressive (and uncredited in the ARC) US ed cover.

What more could you ask for than a book where you might find a scene in which a character's emotions change the surroundings? That's just one snippet from 'Iron Angel' (Tor UK / Pan Macmillan ; May 2, 2008 ; £17.99 ; Bantam Spectra / Bantam / Random House ; May 6, 2008 ; $25) by Alan Campbell, the sequel to 'Scar Night' and 'Lye Street'. Campbell is one of those guys who bursts out of nowhere with some seemingly towering edifice of prose already complete in his mind. The world of Deepgate is vivid, complicated and filled with the sort of details I love best as a reader; grotesque monsters, distorted human and animal forms bent by forces that suggest the twisting states of mind one is able to achieve just trying to live in the real world. Deepgate offers us angels and devils, hunters and prey, the pitiable and the enviable, everything we love and hate within our own self-image.

Nice UK cover as well. Different vibe.
All this and a ripping yarn that follows on directly from the aftermath of 'Scar Night', which I'm loathe to divulge here. Suffice it to say that things have gone from bad – assuming you consider a city suspended over the pits of Hell bad – to worse. But whats stayed the same is Campbell's intensity of vision, his willingness to use every damn tool in the speculative fiction writer's toolkit and his ingenuity in making all of this hang together. Having just chatted with the VanderMeers about 'The New Weird' again, I wish I had seen this novel before the conversation, because to my mind, this is the best evidence there is that The New Weird is more than a marketing category. Here's a novel that sports all the influences of the New Weird, with a bottom line of steam, scum, monsters and characters you care about.

The last bit there is the main key in this very complicated equation of a novel. It's not hard to summon the slime and grime, but it is incredibly difficult to make us like the bearer of this and even more bad news. The angel and the assassin – and Dill and Rachel Hael, respectively – whose journeys we follow in 'Iron Angel' offer the right combination of tenderness and terror, not a bad feat since one of them isnt even human. And Campbell's milieu is so vividly realized that their all-too-human reactions can register off the scale for us while seeming matter-of-fact to them. There's a duality aspect of the New Weird that allows us to see our own world in the perfervid light of Deepgate.

This presumes that you dont feel that the world you live in is suspended over the pits of Hell and being run by powerful psychopaths. And that Hell is not shy about flinging ghosts into our world to haunt us. Of course if you do feel that way, join the crowd; and maybe read this book, for a glimpse of what's going on behind the scenes.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A Brief Conversation With Paolo Bacigalupi At SF in SF : "A Bit Like A Homecoming"

Publicity shot!

Yes, I'll confess, this is an entirely all-too-brief conversation with Paolo Bacigalupi at SF in SF on February 23, 2008, and the reason is quite simple; he and his publisher Jeremy Lassen had driven down to Santa Cruz earlier that day, where we did a straight-up interview over at KUSP. I'll get that out as soon as possible, but in the interim this little bit of off-the-cuff should intrigue you enough to get you looking at Bacigalupi's excellent collection, 'Pump Six' (Night Shade Books ; February 1, 2008 ; $24.95). Here's a link to the MP3 of our conversation, and for your convenience, Night Shade Books, because, of course you'll want to buy it and of course, you'll want to do so direct from the publisher.


03-03-08: SF in SF Panel Discussion from February 23, 2008

"Science fiction is for real"

Maybe I'm just getting used to this, but to my mind the SF in SF shows and panels are getting better and better. That's good, because as I noted last week, getting to the February 23 show was remarkably difficult. My wife and I had planned on meeting up with friends for dinner near the theater before the show, but all the problems attendant with the parade, the rain, the parking forced us to scuttle that plan. We'd actually refrained earlier, so we found ourselves on the verge of passing out and starvation on our way home at 10:30 PM. But on the plus side, we did get some great audio. I've got a new portable mic mixer, the mixer, I am told used by POTUS for those abominable press conferences. I also picked up some extra mics, so I can get a consistent sound and I hope it shows. Now all I have to do is to figure out a way to mic the audience effectively, and I think this involves mainly remembering to bring my boom mic. That said, here's the MP3 of the Panel discussion with Terry Bisson, Carter Scholz and Paolo Bacigalupi.

In the next couple of days, I'll finish off the podcast from this delightful event, gathering new audio while I do so. I've just checked, and last Friday's podcast completed six straight months of podcasting five days a week, with all new material each and every day, including holidays, even the big ones. Of course, it's in part due to the support of listeners like you – so email the powers that be at and request a book show from them hosted by Yours Truly. OK, craven beg break over, now let's get back to the great reading and audio.


Agony Column Review Archive