Review Archive


This Just In...News From The Agony Column


10-03-08: "It's all just a little bit of history repeating" KUSP 88.9 FM / 10-05-08 6-7 PM PDT; Agony Column Podcast News Report : The Agony Column Digest Radio Broadcast: September 21, 2008

James D. Houston, Karen Joy Fowler and Laurie R. King Discuss Politics and Literature Live on The Agony Column KUSP Broadcast

Realpolitik unfolds.
I'm a lucky guy when it comes to local writers, and this week I'm pulling out all the stops. It started when I had lunch with James D. Houston a couple of weeks ago, and he told me that he was headed off to Sacramento to address some of the Political Beings who inhabit this fantasy netherworld. Houston, as anyone who has read his books or even heard his voice would know, is a down-to-earth guy. I asked him if he'd be willing to come back and chat with me live on the air about his personal Mr. Smith Goes to Washington adventures where literature meets politics, and he agreed. Then as I was editing some old audio, I noticed that both Karen Joy Fowler and Laurie R. King have some pretty bold political literature that manages to pack a punch without seeming cringe-worthy.

Look, I'll be the first to admit that art in general and literature in specific mixed with politics generally turn me right off. That said, there are a lot of great writers who can make a point that is of literary value with a political perspective. I'm talking to three writers who can do just that on varying level and in varying manners.

Look, but don't ...
King's latest novel offers us a sympathetic terrorist; I just don't think you can get more relevant than 'Touchstone' on a number of levels. Fowler's latest, 'Wit's End' features a delightfully-obsessed author who spends way too much time on the Internet and not enough time on her writing. And finally, Houston's latest – beyond his Mr. Smith adventures – is 'Bird of Another Heaven', and it directly addresses a very successful example of American expansion and imperialism, our gunpoint-takeover of Hawaii.

I have no idea what will happen when I mix these three ingredients and stir gently. I hope readers will feel free to email me questions, either before the show or even during. But I do think we're going to have quite a bit of fun this Sunday.

The Agony Column Digest Radio Broadcast airs Sundays, from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM in California on Central Coast Public Radio, KUSP, 88.9 FM and over the web at Listen up and demand your own Agony Column from your own NPR affiliate. The voice of the collective seems to be strangely audible now. In order to be heard, one must first speak aloud.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : The Agony Column Digest Radio Broadcast: September 21, 2008 : Robert Scheer and Julie Rose

And continuing my catch-up podcasts, I'm closing out the week with The Agony Column Digest Radio Broadcast: September 14, 2008, featuring (edited) Robert Scheer and Julie Rose. Just for fun, I've put a teaser for this Sunday's live show – described above – in front of the podcast. You can download the MP3 file from this link.

And here is what you get:

Eno Lanois Eno 1 1:01
Robert Scheer 1 12:05
Eno Lanois Eno 2 0:46
Robert Scheer 2 13:23
Eno Lanois Eno 3 0:47
LitCal 2:58
Eno Lanois Eno 4 1:01
Julie Rose 1 10:24
Eno Lanois Eno 5 0:49
Julie Rose 2 6:16
Eno Lanois Eno 6 1:00


10-02-08: Dustin Kenall Reviews 'Brasyl' by Ian McDonald ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : The Agony Column Digest Radio Broadcast: September 14, 2008

"There are many sights to see in Brasyl."

Murky, dark – and dangerous. Hey that caption works here too!
Ian McDonald is a phenomenal talent, a writer who lives in his worlds with raw, image-driven power. Once you enter his prose, the visions arise around you, clangorous, clashing, fully of shiny bits and muddy grit. His books are beyond immersive; the reading experience is dense, because McDonald doesn't just want to show you what he sees. He makes you live it, with words. If you ever get a chance to see him or meet, dont hesitate. You'll find that he's much like his writing. He achieves his powerful effects, both in prose and in person, not by brute force, but with a quiet, steady assurance that is grounded in life lived at a street level, in details, not digressions.

McDonald's latest novel, from Victor Gollancz in the UK and Pyr in the US, is 'Brasyl'. I'm happy to offer readers a finely-written review from Dustin Kenall, who has written reviews for SF Site and will have more reviews coming up for The Agony Column. I think readers will find that his selections reflect the sort of variety that you've found in the past and will continue to find in the future; unless my evil doppelganger shows up and turns this site into an commercial-laden, roll-over-flash ad pop-up window nightmare. Funny how that works, no? Nightmares apparently are quite profitable.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : The Agony Column Digest Radio Broadcast: September 14, 2008 : Stella Rimington and Ping Pong Release Party

Stella Rimington Left; Ping Pong Banner top right, Ping Pong's Dan Linehan, managing editor, and Jessica Breheny, fiction editor.

I'm still catching up with myself as regards The Agony Column Digest Radio Broadcast. I meant to get this going a couple of weeks ago, but had so much material in the pipeline, I just couldnt fit it in. Be assured that there is lots of meaty word stuff to come, as I accumulate a plethora of material in what proves to be the very literary month of October. Today's episode of The Agony Column Digest Radio Broadcast Podcast from NPR affiliate KUSP includes the interview with Stella Rimington, and interviews with editors of and contributors to 'Ping Pong', the literary journal from the Henry Miller Library. This is a radio-formatted, one hour show. Here's the link.

Here is the program:

Michael Brook Intro 0:53
Rev Organdrum 1 0:45
Stella Rimington 1 13:47
Rev Organdrum 2 0:30
Stella Rimington 2 12:02
Rev Organdrum 3 0:29
Stella Rimington 3 12:54
Combustible Edison 0:30
Litcal 2:36
Michael Brook 1 0:40
Ping Pong Maugham 3:25
Michael Brook 2 0:48
Ping Pong Brehenny 4:55
Michael Brook 3 0:34
Ping Pong Graham 3:25
Michael Brook 4 1:35

What you've got here is my radio version of The Agony Column Podcast, boiled down into a digest format, with short musical interludes to quell the waves of words and give the program host a chance to make grant announcements and mention who is being interviewed. Readers are encouraged to burn CDs, take them to their local NPR affiliates and demand the show. Those same readers and listeners are vouchsafed my undying thanks, and if you drop me an email, a book or two.


10-01-08: Mario Guslandi Reviews 'Poe's Children' : The Agony Column Digest Radio Broadcast : September 7, 2008

Avoiding the Obvious

Pretty creepy cover. Wish they'd hired JK Potter, though.
Well, I'll agree with Mario Guslandi on this; Peter Straub does a damn good job of avoiding the obvious in his selections for 'Poe's Children' (Doubleday / Random House ; October 14, 2008 ; $26.95). A quick glance at the back cover will cause just about any reader to raise an eyebrow and wonder, "What the hell?" while at the same time recognizing someone familiar. The horror crowd will undoubtedly cotton to Stephen King, David J. Schow, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Hill, Peter Straub, Glen Hirshberg, Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem, Thomas Ligotti and Thomas Tessier. The literary crowd will surely know Dan Chaon and John Crowley. The science fiction readers will recognize M. Rickert and Ellen Klages. The slipstreamers will delight to see Kelly Link and Brian Evenson. New fantasy readers will know Elizabeth Hand and Jonathan Carroll. Those with eyes ("If there are eyes, avoid eye contact; if there are no eyes, avoid all contact!") will know Neil Gaiman. And I can't rightly say where Id slot Graham Joyce, Rosalind Palmero Stevenson, Bradford Morrow, Benjamin Percy and Tia V. Travis. That's a deal-sealer for me. Work by authors I dont know amongst author I know and love both in and out of genre that, to me is what I want from my horror.

For me, the true strength of the horror genre has always been variety one can gather under the genre, and there have been a number of great anthologies to demonstrate this. You can read Mario Guslandi's review of 'Poe's Children' here. When I talked to Clive Barker, he mentioned that it was the work in 'Dark Forces', edited by Kirby McCauley that inspired him to start 'The Books of Blood'. This brings to mind the question; what young writer is reading this book right now and thinking; "I can do this? I can do – this!"

Agony Column Podcast News Report : The Agony Column Digest Radio Broadcast : September 7, 2008 ; Thomas Frank and Dorothy Hearst

Podcast listeners and readers should probably know that I'm currently doing a broadcast radio show for NPR affiliate KUSP. I've recently been give my own slot, a full hour; (well, 59 minutes, but who's counting?), and I've decided to start podcast these hours for my regular podcast listeners. My hope is that each of you will burn a CD and traipse with it into your local NPR affiliate and ask them to carry the show. But also, this gives those listeners with less time a convenient way to get a digest of the best of The Agony Column Podcast in an edited-for-time and edited-for-FCC-content approval format. I'm catching up with my earlier shows this week, so prepare for more. And note as well, there's a literary events calendar that is probably non-applicable to most listeners, but short and mentions writers worth seeing and reading. The first episode of the Radio Digest features Thomas Frank and Dorothy Hearst. Here's the link, download and enjoy ... and spread the word!

And here's the breakdown of the program:

Penguin Café Orchestra Perpetuum Mobile 1 0:32
Thomas Frank 1 12:17
Penguin Café Orchestra Perpetuum Mobile 2 0:31
Thomas Frank 2 8:57
Penguin Café Orchestra Perpetuum Mobile 3 0:30
Thomas Frank 3 10:28
Penguin Café Orchestra Perpetuum Mobile 4 0:50
Mysty W. Moonfree 10:28
Penguin Café Orchestra Perpetuum Mobile 5 0:31
Literary Events Calendar 2:35
Penguin Café Orchestra Perpetuum Mobile 6 0:33
Dorothy Hearst 10:25
Penguin Café Orchestra Perpetuum Mobile 7 0:21


09-30-08: Richard Morgan Knows 'The Steel Remains' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Robert Scheer on the Economic Bailout of Wall Street Investment Banks

Rough-Cut Fantasy

Murky, dark – and dangerous.
Oh, and fantasy used to be so nice. Not really – from Tolkien to Moorcock, fantasy has always had a pretty hard edge. But you know you can count on Richard Morgan to roughen up that hard edge so it doesn't just cut – it tears. And so does 'The Steel Remains' (Victor Gollancz ; August 7, 2008 ; £12.99), Morgan's entrée into the world of fantasy fiction. He talked about this book when I last spoke to him, and now it's out in the UK. Alas, US fans will have to wait until January to pick this one up domestically. That means two things. First, you have to wait; and that's of course a problem when it comes to Morgan's books, because, who wants to wait? And second, but perhaps of primary import to my readers, is that this UK edition you see here is the True First, and therefore liable to end up worth a bit more than the US follow-up. Sure, we read for the words and the reading experience, but still. It's hard to avoid the compulsion to collect the UK versions when you've been getting them from the get-go. And as well, it seems smart to reward the editor who took a chance on Morgan's first book not so long ago.

Morgan gave us the setup for this book back in his last interview; you've got three grizzled veterans of a war against some nasty critters in a fantasy-like setting. I say "like" because Morgan's not the sort to give us anything too familiar. Figure that his world is nastier, more brutal and more dangerous than the average Magic Kingdom. And these three veterans are not the best folks in the world; as such, those around them are likely to be dispatched in nasty, brutal and often humorous ways, while Morgan makes some pertinent points about the brutality of our own world. Note as well that Morgan is not inclined to grace us with a tome; at 344 pages, 'The Steel Remains' is admirably compact. First printings are still available. Buy early and often. Morgan may injure your cozy self-image, but the reading experience is incomparable.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Robert Scheer on the Economic Bailout of Wall Street Investment Banks : Pornography Redux

Grabbing power.
Robert Scheer came to the Capitola Book Café recently, and I took the opportunity to speak with him to find out his thoughts on our country's sudden economic crisis. Of course, Scheer had already written about this – six years ago. You can find his column on

Not surprisingly, he gets straight to the heart of the debacle, in terms of the laws that were passed in order to facilitate the largest wealth transfer in the history of this nation.

You can find out what laws were passed, by whom and where to point the finger you're raising in salute to these yo-yo's by following this link. Sorry, that whole "Follow the money" deal only works when there's money to follow. We're dealing with anti-money now; whatever this stucff touches becomes instantly worthless.


09-29-08: Bill Tancer's 'Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters'

Live GeekSpeak Interview With Bill Tancer

What you're doing right now.
The world is changing at a pace that takes our breath away. But for the first time, we know more about that world than we ever did before; at least the online world, thanks to Bill Tancer, who works at Hitwise, and has written ' Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters' (Hyperion ; September 2, 2008 ; $25.95). Tancer joined the GeekSpeak crew – Lyle Troxell, Sean Cleveland, Miles Elam and myself for a live radio broadcast on September 27, 2008.

What really struck me as how much his work is informed by intuition and a sense of play. Youd think that one of the world's premiere data miners would be all and only about the numbers, but there's a lot more to his work and his conclusions than statistics. But make no mistake, he commands the world's mightiest database of online behavior and slices it with an artistic flair born of consummate knowledge. All you have to find out what he has to say is to: CLICK.


Agony Column Review Archive