Review Archive


This Just In...News From The Agony Column


06-13-08: 'The Autopsy and Other Tales' by Michael Shea from Centipede Press ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Chuck Palahniuk Reads "Loser" at the Sundance Kabuki Theater on May 22, 2008

Insectile Delight

Eye of the fly.

One of the most influential books in my reading development was 'Polyphemus' by Michael Shea, an Arkham House hardcover from 1987 with wonderful line illustrations by John Stewart. The stories in 'Polyphemus' are all over the map, from the cosmic-critter SF of the title tale to the supernatural horror-fantasy of 'Pearls of the Vampire Queen' to the gritty, intense science fiction horror of 'The Autopsy'. This latter story in particular was and remains one of the most memorable and intense reading experiences I've ever had. Shea's creation for this story is certainly a high-point in horror-creature fiction. Sure, there's lots of gore in the story, but what really stands out is the conceptual back-story of the monster. On an intellectual level, this is as horrible as it can possibly get, and Shea's writing is a big reason why.

Of course, the Arkham first is out of print, and a used copy will set you back some 80 bucks. Which is why 'The Autopsy and Other Tales' (Centipede Press; Fall 2008 ; $95) proves to be a pretty good bet. This book collects all the material in 'Polyphemus', including the great illustrations. Plus it adds a lot of new stuff, including 'I, said the Fly' (Which I have rattling around somewhere in a fifty-dollar limited edition) and Shea's Lovecraftian novel, 'The Color Our of Time'. It's an oversized volume, with, we are told, "a host of scientific color artwork". Recall from our interview that publisher Jerad Walters is a fan of Scream / Press and their gorgeous designs; check out the cover of the ARC, and you can see why I'm stoked about this forthcoming collection. I think the look and feel will match the quality of the content. But then do the math; 500 signed, limited editions at $95 a pop. Given the current cost of 'Polyphemus' (some 3,000+ copies printed and sold out), this seems like a great deal. But the real deal is that reading this book can seriously damage your mind, and that's a service worth more than money. Maybe more than life, or what follows – on a good day.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Chuck Palahniuk Reads "Loser" at the Sundance Kabuki Theater on May 22, 2008 : "Maybe it's the Hello Kitty."

Autograph hound and actual dog.

According to my count, which is quite possibly off, today's podcast is episode 400, and if were going to cross a Rubicon, what better way than to podcast a live reading of an unpublished story by Chuck Palahniuk? Once again, this comes from the live show with Chuck, so here's what you get; "Loser", then some Q&A with the audience then more contest and a wrap. Now you might not hear this in the audio, but what we were throwing about were Chuck's "autograph hounds". You'll need to read 'Snuff' to figure out why this is so funny or horrific, depending on your perspective, but these doggies were really damned cute!


06-12-08: Mario Guslandi Reviews 'The Land at the End of the Working Day' by Peter Crowther ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Chuck Palahniuk Interviewed Live at the Sundance Kabuki Theater, May 22, 2008

The Well-Told Tale from the Well

Where everybody knows your game...
Today, I'm featuring Mario Guslandi's review of 'The Land at the End of the Working Day' by Peter Crowther, which he evidently quite enjoyed. Crowther is clearly one of the most important figures in genre publishing today. He created PS Publishing, a press that I've enthusiastically collected to the limits of my financial ability. Were I to be firmly ensconced in the world of corporate IT, my walls would be lined with duplicates of every PS Publishing title. You can't go wrong with their books.

The upshot is that it's easy to think of Crowther as an editor, and forget that he's one hell of a writer as well. But I first encountered Crowther as a collaborator with James Lovegrove when I picked up a delightful little paperback horror novel titled 'Escardy Gap'. Since then I've read lots of Crowther's work, including 'Darkness, Darkness' (from Cemetery Dance Publications) and 'Songs of Leaving' (from Subterranean Press). Crowther's latest is a visit to a style of fiction that I've long loved. One of the first science fiction paperbacks I ever bought was Arthur C. Clarke's 'Tales from the White Hart', a collection of stories overheard in a genteel pub. Pubs may not be so genteel these days, nor are the stories that transpire there. Here's Mario's review of Peter Crowther's 'The Land at the End of the Working Day'. I threw in the additional link in case you were busy sipping your brew when the first one came.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Chuck Palahniuk Interviewed Live at the Sundance Kabuki Theater, May 22, 2008: Hosted by The Booksmith

Today's podcast is the first half of the Chuck Palahniuk show at the Sundance Kabuki Theater, on May 22, 2008. I acted as sort of an emcee and interviewed Chuck on stage. The event was hosted by the wonderful folks at The Booksmith, a venerable san Francisco Bookstore that has helped Chuck nurutre his career from the get-go.

Our conversation took a very different turn from the one we had in the studio podcast earlier this week. As an official First Book enthusiast, I asked Chuck about the circumstances and parts of his life that led to his first book, 'Fight Club'. As ever, Chuck manages to be both informative and entertaining. He does use some language that would make this interview unbroadcastable on my NPR affiliate, so be warned, or (more likely) look forward to enjoying his ability to use R-rated language in an entertaining manner. Here's the link to the MP3. I did try to leave the audio pretty much untouched, so you'll hear a good deal more besides. The show starts with Chuck explaining what will happen, then a giveaway of some books, then our interview about his First Book, 'Fight Club'. Chuck was in fine form and we all had a blast; now its your turn!


06-11-08: Robert Scheer Examines 'The Pornography of Power' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : William Gibson Phone-In Interview on KUSP

Obscene Authority

Guys just wanna have fun.

Every Wednesday, I have something to look forward to. I'm a subscriber to the San Francisco Chronicle. It's something of a sentimental link; when I was a kid, my parents lived in the Bay area and they used to subscribe. When I first relocated up here some mumble years ago, I wrote for their book review section under the talented and busy Pat Holt. These days, I look forward to their editorial pages because they're highlighted by David Sirota (interview, 'Hostile Takeover' review) and Robert Scheer, creator of and one of the mainstays of KCRW's Left, Right and Center. Scheer is an extraordinary talent, a man who can write one rant after another, never froth, always stay on target and deliver a killing blow to those whose truths he elects to expose.

So I was quite thrilled to snag the copy of 'The Pornography of Power' (Twelve Books / Hachette Book Group ; June 9, 2008 ; $24.99). Your 25 bucks gets you 237 pages of non-stop, high-tension, heartache-inducing political commentary. Whether or not you agree with his stance – I think he's really right-on, for the most part – you have to admire the power of his prose. Political commentary of this type has no real backstop beyond the lilt and the muscle of the language. Scheer knows how to the burn a sentence at both ends.

'The Pornography of Power' starts with words you'd never expect from Scheer; "It was odd to be with Richard Nixon alone. Odder that what he had to say made so much sense, more than the four other presidents I have interviewed." Now, Scheer, can't, as he says, "quite bring myself to dedicate this book to Nixon," but he does allow that Nixon had some ideas that inspired this book. I suppose that I'm one of the "younger readers" that Scheer talks about, because frankly it's not in my living political memory that Nixon was the veep for a true hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Indeed, it's Eisenhower's warning about the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex that inform the backdrop of Scheer's examination of its consequences here in the 21st century. From "The Gift of 9/11" to "$75 Billion Under the Sea" (because nuclear subs are really going to work in the so-called War on Terror) to "The Humbling of Pax America," Scheer lays out a vision of a national policy driven by corporate greed with results that are not felicitous to the not-so Silent Majority.

You may think that your interest in this book would entirely depend upon whether or not your political views are aligned with Scheer's, but that's not necessarily the case. Scheer is an inspired writer, and his anger is highly entertaining no matter where its directed. Passionate, well-crafted prose is always worth reading, especially if it doesn't match up with your understanding of the world. We read to have our opinions challenged, not confirmed. And even if you think you're going to agree with Scheer going in, the chances are that he's going to say something that grates. You don't read a book titled 'The Pornography of Power' for comfort. This is dis-comfort reading at its finest. Turn a page and grumble – then get out and do something about it. The difference between anger and inspiration is merely a matter of perspective.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : William Gibson Phone-In Interview on KUSP : Dialing In the Future

Today's podcast is a recording of the in-studio Q&A with William Gibson, featuring Lyle Troxell and Sean Cleveland of Geek Speak and questions, at least via email, from points as distant as Japan and New Zealand. I have to thank my producer at KUSP, JD Hillard, for board-opping and smart support, and KUSP itself. Give them money please, and maybe they'll let me do this sort of thing in the future. Rest assured that it will be a future in part described by William Gibson, in part via this MP3 link. One trusts that Mr. Gibson is becoming more utopian than dystopian in his outlook. If I'm going to live there, I want a felicitous future!


06-10-08: A 2008 Interview with Chuck Palahniuk; William Gibson Phone-In Interview Live on KUSP Tuesday, June 10, 10-11 AM PDT (TODAY!)

"It's shameful and dirty and disgusting"

Smile, you're on candid camera.

I've got a lot of Chuck Palahniuk coverage in the coming days, including video of the live interview I did on stage. The first interview I have to podcast is our studio interview that includes a reading of Chapter 14 from 'Snuff', which he explained to me later – on stage – was part of his very first novel. Palahniuk's latest novel is both everything you expect it to be – graphically sexual and quite disturbing, weird and creepy on an invasive, interpersonal level – and not at all like you expect, as it rounds out with a rather sweet and innocent love story. No matter how you shake it, its a compelling page-turner, though, clearly, not for all tastes. As is this interview. The material contained herein is quite inflammatory and may offend some listeners, particularly the reading. Of course, I hope that's why youre here, to have your brain stirred by the experts, and nobody is better at discomfiting your brain than Chuck Palahniuk. Needless to say, I dont think this interview is going to air very soon on any radio station, though I may try to see if I can edit around that ... racy stuff. But if you want to race without edits, then listen up, there's more and more different stuff to come.

William Gibson Phone-In Interview Live on KUSP Tuesday, June 10, 10-11 AM PDT (TODAY!) : Dial Direct Into Cyberspace

Since I post these articles the afternoon before the actual day for my UK audience, I'm taking another opportunity to remind readers to call in with their questions for William Gibson. I'll be interviewing him with Geek Speak's Lyle Troxell and Sean Cleveland live on KUSP this morning, Tuesday, June 10, from 10-11 AM (with some NPR headlines worked at the top of the hour). You can hear us (and yourself) on 88.9 FM in Central California, or at on the Internet. Call 1-800-655-5877, or for local callers, 831-476-2800. If you can't call, email me your questions, and hear the answers on the following day's podcast. Live radio on the web with William Gibson, the inventor of cyberspace in cyberspace. Reality catches up with science fiction – for a moment.


06-09-08: A 2008 Conversation with Karen Joy Fowler ; William Gibson Phone-In Interview Live on KUSP Tuesday, June 10, 10-11 AM PDT

"I wanted a book about survivors"

Springtime for Karen Joy Fowler in Santa Cruz.

Karen Joy Fowler is the storybook example of writer who just can't be pinned down. She's one of the most eloquent speakers on the power of genre fiction, but what she writes is truly in the eye of the beholder; her work is the Sarah Canary of the literary world. The Science Fiction Writers of America gave her the 2008 Nebula Award for her short story 'Always' , which is a perfect tie-in to her latest mainstream (sort of) novel 'Wit's End'. 'The Jane Austen Book Club' was a major bestseller and a hit movie, but she's often talked about the similarities of Austen fans and science fiction fans. She doesn't deliberately blur the boundaries like some writers; for Fowler, the difference comes from within, from her perceptions of the world around her. Those perceptions are unusual, intelligent and highly entertaining when they rise up in words from the printed page to unfold in readers' imaginations; anything she writes is both unique and universally appealing.

Fowler was kind enough o speak to me recently in a gorgeous early-spring day in Santa Cruz. You can hear the birds chirping and even one low-flying plane, some hotshot trying to get a good view of the California coast. Here's the link to the MP3 file of our interview.

We talked quite a bit about 'Wit's End', a magnificent, complicated and very sweetly funny novel about a young woman who ends up staying in the house of a Santa Cruz-based mystery writer. Fowler's story is an absorbing mystery about characters and place, exploring how writers create places that are super-imposed upon the places we actually live in, overlaid on our lives in their words. She's all about the power of language to enchant, to show us ourselves in a manner informing, a little alarming, and poignant. 'Wit's End' has so much the power of place, of the people who make a place, that it can't help but sweep you away. Use the bird chirping as your soundtrack.

William Gibson Phone-In Interview Live on KUSP Tuesday, June 10, 10-11 AM PDT: Dial Direct Into Cyberspace

On Tuesday, June 10, from 10:06 until 11:00 AM PDT (six minutes for NPR headlines), I'll be interviewing William Gibson with Geek Speak's Lyle Troxell and Sean Cleveland live on my station, NPR affiliate KUSP, 88.9 FM in central California, on the Internet. You can call in ask him questions at 1-800-655-5877, or for local callers, 831-476-2800. If you can't call in at that time, email me your questions; I'll podcast the show for the next day's (that is Wednesday's) podcast. This is your chance to talk with William Gibson – dont let it pass by.


Agony Column Review Archive