Review Archive


This Just In...News From The Agony Column


05-30-08: Tanya Huff Adjudicates 'Valor's Trial'; Agony Column Podcast News Report : SF in SF Panel Discussion 05-17-08

Confederation 4

Smokin' hot model and world.

Well, we're all big Tanya Huff fans here chez Kleffel, for a couple of reasons, so the release of 'Valor's Trial' (DAW / Penguin Group ; June 3, 2008 ; $24.95) grabs my attention. Let me be brief and to the point here. My wife and I are hooked on the Lifetime series 'Blood Ties', which is based on her Henry Fitzroy / Vicky Nelson novels. The people putting this series together have got enough brains to pull the essentials of character and story from the novels, so the episodes have like, characters and story. This is rather unusual for television. Plus, there are occasionally monsters, which will certainly grab my attention. Monsters, story characters, we're good. I have never experienced a single rational thought while watching these TV shows. What more can I ask?

As my wife speeds through the novels, in come this fourth entry in an entirely different series from the ever prolific Huff. The Confederation novels (SF writers seem to love confederacies, see Peter F. Hamilton) by Huff are straightforward mil-sf. The gist is that humans a few other war-like races have been allowed into the Galactic Fun Club to protect races that aren't inclined to blow the living shit out of anything that annoys them. Torin Kerr gets captured by those who ostensibly take no prisoners, and if the cover illustration is any indication, looks like a runway model while in captivity. I dont know boo about the rest of the novels in this series, but given the new interest chez moi in Huff, well, I'm going back to find the MMPBs and supply them one at a time on a book drip for my wife who is reading the 'Blood Ties' novels at a perilously fast rate.

But that's not the only point via which Huff has entered our lives. Thursday, I talked to Cory Doctorow, and he told me that if was Huff, working at Bakka, the famous Canadian Bookstore, who introduced a young lad named Cory to the work of H. Beam Piper. Fortunately, I only need to be hit over the head once or twice to get it. Huff is worth my valuable time and I believe yours as well.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : SF in SF Panel Discussion 05-17-08 : John Shirley, Daniel Marcus and Terry Bisson Mix It Up

Well, I hemmed and hawed and fussed and fidgeted and finally decided to finish out this week with the final entry from the SF in SF show of May 17, the panel discussion between guests John Shirley and Daniel Marcus moderated – not really the right word, as he's anything but moderate – by the incomparable Terry Bisson. Bisson is really a pro at finding the commonalities between the writers he's hosting and turning them into a springboard for intelligent discussion. With writers like Shirley and Marcus, that means a lot of smart, spiky, entertaining talk. Get ready to hear words used you will not hear on regular radio. Here's the link to the MP3.


05-29-08: NPR: Nine First Books for Summer ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Agony Column Podcast News Report : John Shirley Reads at SF in SF

Starting Right in All Senses of the Word

Today, my article written for the website goes live, and readers are invited to enjoy and email it early and often. As the creator of the NPR First Books series, I was asked by the Digital Media Group to develop a web-only list of first books for summer and do a brief article about each one, a classic roundup that I love to write. Some of these books readers will have seen, others not. I tried to keep the list varied and the quality high, of course, but I also wanted to stretch the NPR paradigm just a bit. There are some titles you might expect to find in an NPR article, and some you certainly wouldn't. As with anything I do for NPR, I'm hoping that readers will be willing to use the Email this story button to send the article along to friends. I had a blast developing this list and writing the article. As a bonus, all the books include excerpts. That leaves us to do what we do best and like most: read on!

Agony Column Podcast News Report : John Shirley Reads at SF in SF : "You Blundering Idiot, You Fucking Failed to Kill Me Again"

John Shirley is one of the writers who is something of a chameleon. With today's podcast, he takes on the aspects of a writer who contributes to an anthology titled "The Vault of Punk Horror" and mentions in his intro Stanislaw Lem and Harlan Ellison while delivering a story that would truly delight the fans of Chuck Palahniuk. This story is crude, violent, and totally hilarious. Here's a link to the MP3 file. You will hear the word "Fuck" used many times, so if you find this offensive, please be sure to listen, then write the New York Times Editorial page to complain about this website.


05-28-08: "Welcome to Your Brain" on All Things Considered ; Ekaterina Sedia Reveals 'The Alchemy of Stone' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : John Shirley Interviewed at SF in SF

"Head bonk is bad"

Today my story on 'Welcome to Your Brain' by neuroscientists Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang will air during the last part of the second hour of All Things Considered. These two writers were as funny as they were smart. Be sure to go to the NPR website and use the Email this Story link early and often. And once you've heard that, give the full interview a listen, as it is chock-a-block with actually useful information, and more head-bonk data than youre likely to find anywhere else!

Steampunk Politics

Nice cover.

Ekaterina Sedia first appeared here about a year ago with 'The Secret History of Moscow'. This was precisely the sort of book we specialize in at The Agony Column. Writing of the highest caliber, sort-of in a genre, but actually just good, if a bit odd, mainstream literature, published by, in this case, Prime Books, who are actively bringing some of the best writers out there to your doorstep. Now she's back with 'The Alchemy of Stone' (Prime Books ; July 2008 ; $12.95), a solid entry into the Steampunk genre that should grab a larger section of the genre fiction audience, while retaining readers of her previous book.

'The Alchemy of Stone' is set in the city of Ayona, where the balance of power between Mechanics and Alchemists can shift without notice. Mattie is an automaton who is skilled in alchemy and thus caught in the middle. Her creator literally has the key to her heart, and as the politics of power play out, Mattie will entertain the living hell out of anyone who likes to see relevant politics recast into a well-imagined surreal version of our own tormented world.

"Tense silence filled the room, palpable, broken only by the ticking of Mattie's heart and the ragged breath of the prisoner who watched Mattie with almost religious hope on his face, mixed with open-mouthed wonder."

Sedia has a knack for writing well about our world while setting her story within something entirely different. 'The Alchemy of Stone' may be ostensibly more rooted in genre fiction and indeed be quite appealing to the genre fiction audience. But such is the alchemy of literary invention that it's quite clear 'The Alchemy of Stone' explores our world within the confines of a world created with language alone.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : John Shirley Interviewed at SF in SF : From the "Podcast" to the "Web-O-Net"

I hope you can hear the quote marks when John Shirley speaks in my interview with him at SF in SF on May 17. He was in such a fine, funny mood that it was difficult to keep a straight face while he spoke, let alone a straight brain. I'd just heard his utterly, totally, hilarious story, which you will as well, on tomorrow's pod-o-cast. But for today, you'll have the pleasure of hearing Shirley discourse on the power of the web-o-net during my brief interview with him. Here's the link, with only the warning that if you follow, it will lead you down a rabbit hole from whence escape shall be difficult, if not impossible. Oh, the joy of the interweb!


05-27-08: Thomas M. Disch Hands Down 'The Word of God' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Daniel Marcus Reads 'Binding Energy' at SF in SF

An American Deity

The marble wings of angels.
Sure, lots of us might think that Thomas M. Disch is a literary god. He's the author of 'Camp Concentration', 'The MD' and 'Fun With Your New Head'. But we generally would not expect him to share our own opinion of him. Literary gods are generally supposed to be humble. They're supposed to think of themselves as "just folks" or one of the people they write about so well. Not like, well, the Supreme Being.

But that's precisely what Thomas Disch thinks of himself, at least if you take his word – and after all, you sort of have to take 'The Word of God' (Tachyon Publications ; July 2008 ; $14.95) as the Word of God. Just dont expect the usual "Good News," because although Disch himself may have ascended, the rest of us are still Deep In It, and Disch is not leery of joining us and offering a skewed deistic perspective on matters of Earth as seen from the vantage point of On High.

So what precisely is 'The Word of God'? Is it fiction, or religious drivel, or something rather more rare than either? I'm thinking the latter, but it really depends on your ability to enjoy vitriolic discourse of the highest caliber. What this book is more than anything else is a surreally hilarious examination of our beliefs, how they shape us and we them, and how just totally friggin' surreal the whole shebang actually is, when you get right down to it. And make no mistake; nobody gets down like Thomas M. Dish. Tachyon has really nailed down an elegant format for this wonderfully uncategorizable work; their trade paperback printing and designs are nonpareil. I suppose that's de rigeur for a holy work like this.

Youre going to spend the summer flooded with light reading and thrilling froth. I'm a fan of thrilling froth, so long as it effectively prevents all rational thought. I must suggest to the unwary reader that when reading 'The Word of God', rational thoughts may indeed occur simultaneously with sputtering, choking hilarity and eye-watering outrage among a certain set. Get over it. This is God talking. He doesn't write a lot of books. And Thomas M. Disch is a much better mouthpiece than L. Rob Hubbard, though if you suggest that he's a dangerous cult, he may elect to stroke you with lightning, or the closest British bobby, whichever is more convenient.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Daniel Marcus Reads 'Binding Energy' at SF in SF : The Teller View

Today's podcast is from SF in SF on May 17; it's Daniel Marcus reading 'Binding Energy'. I found the story to be toe-tappingly hilarious and compelling, but then, as you might have heard in my interview with Marcus, I have friends who have worked in that pressure cooker Aerospace Corporation environment. But you know what? Even when the gods-damned Russies were threatening to nuke us till we glowed, there really wasn't all that much, er, urgency to the whole Cold Warrior gang, at least that I knew. They were partying hard at the Jet Strip, guzzling $8 beers, chomping on $2 roast beef sandwiches and shoving $20 bills where the sun generally dont shine. Hot neon lights, maybe, but not the sun. It was the days the Doom Patrol. Here's a link to Daniel Marcus reading 'Binding Energy' a lovely reminder of what waits us as we hold out for another fine Cold War. I suppose it beats a hot war.


05-26-08: A 2008 Interview with Jeffrey Alford

Twenty Years of Culture and Cuisine in the Unseen China

Thank you Capitol Book Cafe!

Jeffrey Alford told me that he started his newest book with Naomi Duguid – 'Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China' (Artisan / Workman ; May 1, 2008 ; $40) more than twenty years ago, in 1981, as he traveled through those parts of China generally not found on the culinary map. It has the heft; it has the history. This is not a simple cookbook, nor is it a glossy bit of travel writing. It's a tome, a large book, in every sense. Yes, you'll find lots of recipes that are easy-to-make (I'll explain why a bit further on); yes, you'll find gorgeous photographs and recountings of wild adventures on bicycles and being driven about by those with a seeming lack of regard for physics and life. But 'Beyond the Great Wall' does more than either genre might. It captures a country, and not just one people, but variety of peoples, lifestyles that may no longer exist even as you read this article. This book is a part of the world between hardcovers.

After an introduction that explains what parts of China we'll be seeing in the pages that follow, Alford and Duguid simply go through a list of food types and use them as a springboard to explore a China we might no believe to exist. Its a China that is as much Middle East as Far East, a China where the food is simple for us Westerners to prepare because the lives being lived are (or were), as Jeffrey told me, largely pre-industrial. I made the Beef Sauced Hot Lettuce Salad last night; it took me about 20 minutes from start to serving, and I used mostly ingredients I already had. And damn it was fantastic; sort of Middle Eastern cuisine more than what I would generally think of as Chinese cuisine. But that only goes to show how much I know about much of China, at least until I tuck into this book further.

Gorgeous photos of the places, the people and the food , a giant format and lots of easy recipes will make this a book you will want to read and share. This might be one of the best gift books you could possibly find. Here's a link to my interview with Jeffrey Alford. Salut!


Agony Column Review Archive