This Just In...News
From The Agony Column
06-20-08: Daniel Wilson, Anna C. Long and Daniel Heard Want to Induct
You Into 'The Mad Scientist Hall of Fame' ; Agony Column Podcast News
Report : Bookseller Interview With With Praveen Madan : The Booksmith
Luthor Versus Lysenko
same thing we do every day...try and take over the world!
That headline above;
it's no flip comment, it's in the book. Both of 'em, in fact. I really
enjoy Daniel Wilson's work, have from the get-go. He's
one of those authors who has just found a vibe and is running with it,
sprinting really, given the frequency of new books. But that's OK, because
these books are VERY peculiar, combining satires of pop fantasy and science
fiction with actual hard science in a manner that's fun and appealing.
'The Mad Scientist Hall of Fame' (Citadel Press / Kensington Publishing
; August, 2008 ; $14.95) continues Wilson's streak, with help from collaborator
Anna C. Long and a new illustrator, Daniel
Now, OK, I was leery at first. I mean, we all know the movie cliché
"mad scientists." A book about them might be amusing, but not,
well, necessary. Leave it to Wilson to put just he right spin on this.
He and Long have created a book that follows Wilson's original vibe, mixing
bios of pop-culture mad science with bios of actual scientists who were,
shall we say in the kindest possible manner, a bit outside the world of
mainstream scientists. This book is full of laughs; but you know, lots
of them will be nervous, because I'm guessing that more than one reader
will come across a name and say, "Hell, is this guy, like, for reals?"
And whether or not said name is, just the fact that you didn't know is
bound to be bothersome on all sorts of levels.
Wilson likes a good, clear format, and he carries that on in this book.
Each entry has a series of subsections ("Portrait of a Scientist",
"Psychopathology", a Genius and Madness level bar graph) that
are repeated with variations appropriate to the subject in question. The
book itself is divided into sections, ranging from "Bent on World
Domination" to "Not Mad, Just Angry". And within each section,
you get a handful of fun-to-read entries that mix the real and the fictional
in a manner that is likely to make your head spin. I mean, what are you
to think finding real-life figure Stanley Milgram ("How much pain
will a person inflict on another human being if someone in authority tells
them to?") wedged in between Doctor Moreau and Viktor Frankenstein?
The resonance between the three is positively frightening. Yes, it's sort
of nice to find out the details about such figures as Milgram, or Trofim
Lysenko. But frankly, it would be nicer to pop them into the fictional
column. The fact that we can't says something about us, about how we do
science, and about our science fiction and fantasy. It's not a compliment
by any means.
In a sign that the world may indeed be brought to a halt without the help
of mad scientists, Wilson's book takes a page from the Internet and concludes
with a USENET-style "Are You a Mad Scientist?" test. I shan't
reveal my score. Nor shall I laugh in the "Mad Scientist" approved
manner. Suffice it to say that Wilson's cackling call for recruitment
is a fitting end for a very strangely disturbing book.
Nonetheless, it makes for totally entertaining and thought-provoking reading,
as well as offering readers the perfect opportunity to nail down the essentials
on figures as diverse as Nikola Tesla (I never knew he thought he was
communicating with aliens) to Philo Farnsworth, who was arguably "mad
enough" to invent the television. And for all the cackling crazy
men and women real and fictional who have vowed to destroy the world,
it's really Farnsworth who has come closest. If Wilson ever ventures into
the world of television, he may be signing up for second place. I wonder
what his test score was?
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : Bookseller Interview With With Praveen Madan : The Booksmith
OK, so I just got off
the phone with Praveen Madan of The
Booksmith and here's what I have to report; there is not just hope,
but a sensible plan! Praveen's new to the business. Booksmith is a venerable
bookstore that's been in biz in the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco
since 1976. They've hosted Alan Ginsburg in the past and they sponsored
the Chuck Palahniuk event that I recently emceed for. And Praveen is full
of lots of good ideas about bookselling, as well as the willingness to
explore, experiment, stick with what works and punt the rest. He talked
to me about the "browsing experience"; I've interviewed a lot
of booksellers and nobody else has come up with that phrase, which I really
like. It's a critical part of why we go to the bookstore. If you care
about buying books and want to be able to buy books from great booksellers
like those at The Booksmith in the future, you owe it to yourself to a)
listen to this interview, b) visit your local bookstore and browse; c)
visit the Booksmith's website and see if anything tickles your fancy.
The bottom line for everything we do on this site has always been that
we've got to be willing and inspired to buy books to ensure that we'll
be able to continue to buy them in the future. The booksellers you hear
from the podcasts on this site, like Praveen of The Booksmith, are reasons
to hope that we'll have the freedom to read; from whence we derive our
freedom of speech and thought – for a very long time indeed. Here'S
06-19-08: Three Juvies ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Three Juvies
Fiction Worthy of Adult Consideration
Monday morning and I'm just used to doing stuff for my website at this
point in the day, and yet, I should be prepping for Salman Rushdie. Well,
just a bit later in the day. For now, I'm going to format up and offer
you this little bit of prose and audio. Check out the cover illo for the
Heinlein, how can you lose with that? And now, Three Books (and
on NPR), and Three
Books audio podcast for today.
Science fiction literature is often quite rightly accused of being juvenile.
It is a young genre. It should come as no surprise that some of the best
science fiction is intended for a juvenile or adolescent audience. Forced
to reign in their excesses, science fiction writers seem to find liberation
in the limitations of young adult fiction. Classic and current writers
have done their best work when trying to capture the attention of restless,
rebellious teenagers. Stripped down to the basics, science fiction is
a can-do form of literature – as critic John Clute put it, the message
is, "We can fix it." Three novels – one classic, two recent
– exemplify the can-do spirit of empowerment that engages not only
teenaged minds but adults as well.
think my PB version has the best cover. Monsters!
Robert A. Heinlein began his career writing for the pulps,
but he didn't want to confine himself to that low-paying market. After
his return from civilian service for the Navy in WWII, he decided to follow
the model of his literary mentor, Mark Twain, and write stories for boys
and girls, starting with Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) through Podkayne
of Mars (1962). The resulting books are some of his best writing;
favorites vary, but Have Spacesuit Will Travel (1958) still holds
up well fifty years later, in a 21st century that has left the science
of last century far behind. Kip Russell, a senior in high school, enters
a contest and fails to win a trip to the moon, but gets the consolation
prize instead, a working spacesuit. When he uses the technology he literally
surrounds himself with, he finds out that he's able to communicate with
aliens and soon ends up headed to the moon and beyond. Heinlein's science
is often past its expiration date, but his sense of adventure is timeless.
Kip is confronted with problems and solves them with ingenuity and persistence.
Readers are afforded a glimpse of the spirit that literally inspired America's
space program of the 1960's and 1970's, even through today's Space Shuttle.
Heinlein is still able to tap into our latent ability to look up in wonder,
no matter what our age.
taps into a different spirit in his latest novel, Little Brother.
Marcus Yallow, who calls himself "w1n5ton," uses his computer
geek tech savvy to avoid the omnipresent surveillance at his day-after-tomorrow
Northern California high school. Unfortunately for Marcus and his three
friends, they're at liberty when terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge. In
the ensuing chaos, one of the kids is hurt and they mistakenly flag down
a Homeland Security truck, which whisks them away to a Gitmo-by-the-Bay
where they're tortured and warned not to talk about it on release. Doctorow
then unleashes a healthy strain of "stick it to the man" teen
rebellion informed by the erosion of civil liberties and high-tech How-To's.
Adults and rebellious teens will actually find themselves enthralled by
a novel that uses The Declaration of Independence and cryptography as
plot points. Doctorow goes for the throat of those who purport to offer
security in lieu of liberty but are so inept that their security measures
can be undermined by a flash mob of wily teenagers. Revenge is served
up red-hot and proves to be entirely satisfying in the ripping techno-yarn.
classic 70's look.
Girls dont just want to have fun; they want to be more than the
Holy Grail for a race of alien creatures. That's just one of the problems
confronting Zoë Boutin Perry in Zoe's Tale by John
Scalzi, which is being marketed for adults but is appropriate
for young adults as well. Scalzi's novel is told from the perspective
of an adolescent girl who finds herself plopped down on an alien world
as part of a rough-and-tumble colonization effort by humans under siege
from a variety of aliens who hope to stake a claim on the same real estate.
Her sense of righteous indignation is involving and invigorating; "'I'm
tired. Every morning I wake up and I have to run or do strength exercises
or something that tires me out...Then an entire afternoon of getting physically
beat up in order to learn how to defend myself, on the chance that some
aliens want to come down here and kill us all." Scalzi keeps the
action in the foreground and the anger on a hot simmer; "'It's not
abstract, Dad...You're talking to the girl whose life is a treaty point.
I know what it means to be valued for what I am rather than who I am."
As Scalzi sets up the targets, Zoë takes them out with the ruthless
vigor of a motivated teenaged girl. She truly comes to life – and
readers will feel invigorated as well.
Sure, science fiction has grown up and provided some mature works in the
decades since Heinlein first fitted Kip Russell with a spacesuit. But
it's refined as well as retained that spirit of youthful joy, the idea
that yes indeed we can fix it.
06-18-08: Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett 'Havemercy' ; Agony Column
Podcast News Report : Jeremy Lassen on Local Literary Events and Genre
and an Active Voice
was steampunk, right?
The first thing youre
going to notice about 'Havemercy' (Spectra / Bantam Dell / Random House
; July 1, 2008 ; $22) by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
is the outstanding embossed cover art credited, as you might expect, to
Stephen Youll ("Jacket art") and Jamie S. Warren ("Jacket
design"). Mission accomplished, they got you to pick up the book
with a nice nod to the super-duper-ultra-mega-trendy "Steampunk"
vibe. Having recently spoken with William Gibson, who is correctly credited
with creating both cyberpunk and steampunk, one is reminded of what he's
said not just to me, but many times in interviews. That is, the moment
a journalist ("I'm the slime oozin' out from your TV set") slapped
the label of "cyberpunk" on four or five guys writing in a similar
style, that movement was dead dot dead dot dead. So how buried must "streampunk"
be when you can get "steampunk" fashion items and computer accessories.
Talk about buried! The grass done growed over the dirt on that there grave.
But I come to praise 'Havemercy', not bury it. Us hacky journalists, well
we're given to like things for pretty specific reasons, and cover art
makes a difference (heck, even Salman Rushdie does a great riff on SF
cover art in his latest novel), but you know, it's the words that count.
So as much as trend-hopping steampunk might incline one to dismiss the
latest fantasy potboiler chock-a-block with cover blurbs from writers
I respect (I hope podcast subscribers noticed that James D. Houston mentioned
Peter S. Beagle in that interview with Tom Killion), you know, I actually
opened the damn book and read it. Somebody's got to! In fact, it's my
belief that a lot of people should. The bottom line is that 'Havemercy'
is written in an engaging voice that grabs you from the first page and
keeps your attention until the timely close. Jones & Bennett have
enough smarts not to go on too long on their first outing, a bit of wisdom
that goes a long way.
'Havemercy' is set in the country of Volstov, a charming combination of
old, new and in-between. Mostly the latter, as it's protected by magicians
who provide mechanical dragons, the largest of which is the titular (us
"journalists" love that scholarly term) Havemercy. Of course,
the whole mechanical dragon tech, you know its got to have vulnerabilities
that can be exploited. And when those are discovered, Volstov will have
to hope the four delightful storytellers of this novel have more to offer
than good voices. Readers who crack the cover will discover that they
do indeed have a ripping yarn, and entertainingly different voices. 'Havemercy'
has the smarts to be funny, the wits to be smart and is inventive where
required but not so much so that any head-scratching will be involved.
"Steampunk" may have passed its expiration date without even
knowing it. But the mechanics of this particular beast may be robust enough
to keep growing good stories on that neat little patch of peat with stone
marker. Steampunk is dead. Long live the aftermath.
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : Jeremy Lassen on Local Literary Events and Genre Fiction
Readers : Pros and Con-Ventions
Today, I talk to Jeremy
Lassen of Night Shade
Books about the intersection of local literary events and genre fiction
readers and bookstores. The subject came to mind because I'll be podcasting
the SF in SF version of Litquake,
and moreover, because I recall Alan Beatts of Borderlands Books, one of
my first book store interviews, talking about Litquake at his store. When
Jeremy's not turning the publishing world upside down, he spends a bit
of time at Borderlands, so we talked about how Litquake compare to *cons,
and how genre fiction fans can transfer some of that fannish energy to
the literary sphere – or just go out and find it at events like
it's over to Jeremy Lassen in this MP3 link.
06-17-08: A 2008 Interview With Whitley Strieber, Part 2
two people standing at the foot of the bed"
Well, wait five minutes
and the weather changes; heres that rainy day. Or at least a nice
cloudy, foggy summer day here in Aptos, but the sun is shining in my tiny,
tiny brain, because I just got through editing Whitley Strieber's
timeless treat of an interview. In part two, we talk more about the reception
of and events behind 'Communion', and I get him to talk about his personal
connection with the Roswell crash and John Von Neumann's secret fears
with regards to what was found therein. Strieber has a real gift for taking
listeners into territory that is truly frightening and then pulling effortlessly
back into a sort of playful mirth that is just delightful. He does this
without ever really undercutting his point, and you can see why his website
and radio program should be on the airwaves currently being polluted by
the likes of [names elided because none of these yo-yo's deserve any mention
down, get in the slow lane, and get ready to enjoy the MP3 file of part
2 of my conversation with Whitley Strieber. There's a chance you might
not end up in the reality you thought you inhabited when you began listening.
I hope you enjoy the new universe around you – and that it's not
based on one of Strieber's horror novels.
We haven't even got five years! It's four and change....
06-16-08: A 2008 Interview With Whitley Strieber, Part 1; Salman Rushdie
Live Interview on Stage Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz California, 7:30 PM
June 17, 2008 : 'The Enchantress of Florence'
"I have a
tendency to get into trouble"
It's been chilly but
particularly sunny out, so I can't really claim that I was saving this
interview for a rainy day; or rather, that I managed to do so. But. But.
Here's why I do what I do, because damn if I dont get to talk to
the most interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking, hilarious people,
and Whitley Strieber is right at the forefront of all
of those and more. I made a trip down to LA back in the before-time to
do an interview that actually fell through, but in retrospect, I was the
luckiest guy on earth – and perhaps as you'll hear in the interview,
on more than one earth. Several, hundreds, on earths where novels are
fact and what we call fiction is concrete reality, in quantum time-shifts
where Whitley Strieber is feeding the Whitley Strieber I spoke with ideas
and plot lines and total malarkey that nonetheless is diamond-hard, undeniable
Strieber is totally entertaining on all levels and I can't wait to talk
to him after his forthcoming book hits the streets, if they let it do
so. You never know, the Greys, the Bush administration, the lizard that
calls herself the Queen of England, any of them might put a stop to it.
Strieber is super smart, but doesn't take himself too seriously, except
when he does, but even then there's an undercurrent of hilarity running
through his narratives. We talked for over an hour, so I've split the
interview into two halves, each chock-a-block with sound bytes to keep
your mind expanding for hours on end. Trust me, it does not matter what
your interests are, you will be engrossed by this fascinating and entertaining
raconteur. Physics, spirituality, the soul, practical jokes, how 'The
Wolfen' came to be, everything is here but the kitchen sink; no in fact,
I think you may hear a couple of clinks from the kitchen sink
as well. Here's
the MP3; laugh while you can. Lizards are going to eat your brain any
Live Interview on Stage Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz California, 7:30 PM
June 17, 2008 : 'The Enchantress of Florence'
If you happen to be
in Santa Cruz on June 17, you can find me interviewing Salman
Rushdie on stage at the Rio
Theatre at 7:30 PM. I'll be taking readers back through his work and
speaking with him about his latest novel, 'The Enchantress of Florence',
a glorious historical fantasy that features no less than Niccolò
Machiavelli as a major character. This is easily the best fantasy or historical
novel you could hope to find this year, a joyous, bawdy adult fairy tale
that is a complex literary construct and a compelling page-turner. It's
dense with invention and research; obviously, I'll have more to say about
it after the interview. If you're in town, you can get tickets from Capitola
Book Café; call them at 831-462-4415 for details. If Rushdie
comes your way, dont miss him, and dont miss this novel.
It's a surreal delight that will take you so surely into its world that
you may not be certain you've returned.