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04-22-10: Thomas Frank Joins The Regulators

Not Quite Richard Bachman

Damn if it doesn't look like the ice floes are beginning to break up in that frozen white wasteland known as Washington, DC. I guess all this global warming does have some beneficial side effects.

What's emerging is a potential for some sort of financial regulation reform bill, essentially something to re-do what has been undone, piece-by-piece, since the 1980's. And of course, Thomas Frank is on the scene with his usual perceptive commentary on why we need to, as he put it, "Regulate, Baby, Regulate."

Sometimes these podcasts seem to mesh perfectly with current events, and here is a fine example. A couple of weeks ago, Frank wrote about the recent announcement by the Obama Administration to allow offshore oil drilling in some selected areas.

Now, we have a major fire on an offshore platform and regulation in the works that may directly affect oil prices far more significantly than the little issue of supply and demand.

Frank and I talk about the unseen and up until now, at least, unregulated market in oil commodities, with Frank giving a great explanation as to why this sort of thing ends up getting key votes in the Agriculture committee.

To me, over the last decade at least, the fluctuations in oil prices have always seemed sort of arbitrary. Turns out, that was the case. We're not being manipulated by OPEC; we're being manipulated by savvy traders who have figured out how to game the system and turn losses into profits.

But all this is connected with what Frank calls the "Magnetar Moment" behind the increasingly disjointed messages from those who seek to oppose regulation. To start understanding what the heck Magnetar is, you can look at a superb and chilling bit of reporting over at Propublica. They've uncovered a scheme that allowed some other system-gamers to profit from planned loss, the result of which contributed significantly to the financial crisis.

To hear Frank connect the dots between Magnetar and tricorn hat-wearing leaders who are fighting the good fight for today's hedge-fund aristocracy, just follow this link to the MP3 audio file.



04-21-10: Gail Carriger Reads at SF in SF on April 17, 2010


'Soulless' and 'Changeless'

It's fascinating that someone who creates the rich world of 'Soulless' (Orbit / Hachette ; October 1, 2009 ; $7.99) and now 'Changeless' (Orbit / Hachette ; April 1, 2010 ; $7.99) is clearly both quite soulful and changeable. Not surprising really; you need some pretty deep roots to create a world out of whole Victorian broadcloth.

And you need to be pretty damn adaptable to weather the ups and downs of the publishing world. Carriger is all that and more. She's able to dress the part, and bears a remarkable resemblance to the heroine on the covers of her books.

And not surprisingly as well, she's got the same dry with that make the books so eminently readable. She dressed and reads with an admirable precision and though you'll hear her disparage her own British accent, I have to say that it was not so evident at all when she read from her newest novel.

Carriger transplants the tropes of modern urban romantic fantasy into a steampunk-ified Victorian landscape. But her real strength is her ability to write the sort of dialogue one might have hoped to find in the supernatural works of P. G. Wodehouse. She's witty and concise, with the accent on verbal jests not crude antics. Moreover, as she explains beforehand, she never tells about what the parts are doing. You know which parts I'm talking about.

She read two excerpts from her latest at SF in SF, which you can hear by following this link to the MP3 audio file.



04-20-10: Blake Charlton Reads at SF in SF on Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spellwright

SF in SF was packed this last Saturday, with the Variety Children's Charity Theater full enough that Tachyon Publications' Jacob Weisman had to haul out some extra seats. The readers were Blake Charlton and Gail Carriger, the latter arriving in full-faux Victorian dress. Apparently, these two had what it takes to get the librarians out on a Saturday night.

There was indeed a strong Librarian contingent in Saturday's audience, but that wasn't all. There were a lot of people simeply out to have a good time and they came to the right place. Blake Charlton opened the show with a great intro and reading.

In his introduction to his own work, Charlton explained that he was pretty severely dyslexic as a kid, and that only sneaking in science fiction paperbacks ever brought him over to the dark side, in this case, the dark side of reading books!

Charlton explained some of the world behind his novel 'Spellwright' a book in which language can literally be brought to life in the form of a magical spell. It is clearly, at least to me, an externalization of the very act of reading, and thus, all those librarians become a bit less mysterious.

Now, the part of 'Spellwright;' that you'll hear is really, really funny. Charlton's humor is very engaging and he reads with a contagious enthusiasm. Since I'm not going to post the interview until next week, I will pass on one tidbit that seems relevant here.

Charlton told me that he read fro the most humorous portion of the book, and that the dragon's share of the novel is high-adventure, with, what I'm sure listeners will agree, sound like a vary nice variety of monsters. Charlton writes well and reads well. Here's the link the MP3 audio file of his reading.



04-19-10: A 2010 Interview with Ian McEwan


"This has been the most intensely-plotted novel I've ever written."
— Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is not winning the hearts of readers with the lovable main character of his new novel, 'Solar.' That's because Michael Beard is not a lovable guy. Even McEwan himself is not so enamored of his creation. In fact, I think I liked Michael Beard a bit more than the author. That probably says as much about me as it does about McEwan.

Not surprisingly, the man who won the Booker Prize was heavily booked on his tour through San Francisco. I'm not sure if he had time to eat. But McEwan really has his own sense of gravity, and he clearly considers every word he says. So even though he's in a virtual whirlwind of activity, he manages to be a calm eye at the center of the storm he creates.

'Solar' is a novel of contradictions, even in its creator's eye. On one hand, McEwan describes it as a character study, and that's certainly true. It's a fascinating, lacerating look at a man past his prime. McEwan is clearly not past his prime. Read a few sentences in 'Solar' and you can't deny the perfection. Of course, that pristine language is in the service of a reprehensible rascal, an off-putting, self-serving scoundrel. McEwan is well aware that readers may find Beard unlikable.

Beard is not the only subject of study here; an assortment of characters has the dubious luck to walk through his life. And here's where the contradictions of the novel start to emerge. For all the characters to mesh well, McEwan has to pull off some very complicated and rather fast-paced storytelling and plotting. The character study becomes by virtue of the characters, a tightly wound tale of suspense. He admits that 'Solar,' for all the centrality of the character, was a challenging novel to plot.

McEwan may have been in the midst of a whirlwind tour, but throughout our conversation he had the manner of a man who just coming from or going to a delightful, restful spot of refreshment. But McEwan approaches his novels in the same way. Each one seems utterly unlike those that preceded it in terms of tone, approach, setting and character. Graceful, elegant, powerful language is the common denominator. You can hear my conversation with McEwan by following this link to the MP3 audio file.



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