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06-21-03: The Real Felaheen

The Final Chapter of Grimwood's Arabesks

The production values of these hardcovers is superb.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood's 'Felaheen' is in fact the finale of this series,according to Darren Nash of Earthlight books. It also keeps up the ultra-high quality production values of the first two. These are books definitely worth owning in hardcover; I can't imagine not doing so. If you've not yet twigged to these books with their weird and wonderful combination of mystery, mysterious science and mysterious historical backstory, then you have the chance to get all three in hardcover, and read them back to back. I envy you.

06-20-03: Terry Pratchett's Newest & Brains4Zombies

A Monstrous Bestseller

Never ask what's beneath those tight elaborate clothes, lest ye find out.

HarperCollins just sent me the latest Terry Pratchett novel, which I'm really looking forward to. Lots of my friends have been telling me to read Pratchett, and while I enjoyed 'Good Omens', his collaboration with Niel Gaiman, I'd never quite got round to reading his Discworld ® novels. That ® probably has something to do with this, but what the hell. This looks like good, though not clean fun. Come to think of it, good, clean fun is something of an oxymoron. As usual, I'll let you know soon all about this book. Add another one to the stack!

Amazon's Got BRAINS!

Too much time on their hands -- or shilling for '28 Days Later'? You be the judge!

Not sure if these folks have too much time (and talent) on their hands, or if they're shilling for the new movie '28 Days Later'. In case you have seen that mind-bogglingly annoying flashing advert anywhere else, you can see it at But these folks did do a fantastic job spoofing the behemoth of online sales. The website is chock full of links and worth a look. Taste it!

06-19-03: The Welcome Return of Peter Octavian, a Brisk Release Pace for Chaz Brenchley thankyouverymuch and the friendship of John Connolly and Paul Johnston

The Welcome Return of Peter Octavian

Vampire fiction that doesn't suck from Christopher Golden.

Long ago I read and totally enjoyed Christopher Golden's vampire-oriented "Shadow Saga", a trilogy of novels that delivered nice big-scale monsters, secret-agent intrigue and nice writing in 'Of Saints and Shadows', 'Angel Souls and Devil Hearts' and 'Of Masques and Martyrs'. So I'm pretty stoked to see that he has returned to this series with a new novel, 'The Gathering Dark'. Golden is a top notch writer whose work is consistently good. In the newest book, "Demonic incusrions are on the increase, and entire cities are being swallowed by darkness". If you're looking for a guaranteed good time, here it is; read no farther, pick this one up to pair with Simon R. Green's latest, 'Something from the Nightside'. I believe that I wrote about the first three books some time ago, and if I can dig up the reviews, I'll post them ASAP. These really are some of the keepers in a sea of toss-away trash.

Brenchley Book 2/6 Now available

King's-schming's, I just hope they bring out the rest of the books this fast.

In a world where you can wait three years on a cliffhanger ending for some author, it's nice to see a publisher bringing out a fantasy trilogy at a brisk pace, expeically if 1) the writer has already completed the trilogy and 2) they're bring out the trilogy as six books. That's the case with UK writer Chaz Brenchley's well-regarded Books of the Outremer. Yes, well , the arc title is a bit unfortunate, but my UK correspondents assure me this is an excellent set of books. And, you can read them all before you expire.

Paul Johnston & John Connolly
Paul Johnston and John Connolly

From the Glasgow herald comes this fascinating article. Cannot reveal wherefore I obtained it! Here's their URL, however:


HEADLINE: Partners in crime;They traded in death; then one of them ended up staring it in the face.

Writers John Connolly and Paul Johnston tell the true story of an unlikely friendship

BYLINE: Teddy Jamieson

At the start of this year, Irish crime writer John Connolly had what he might call a Brian Carroll moment. Bear with him, he can explain. "I had this friend at school when I was really young called Brian Carroll," he tells me in his soft Dublin accent, "and Brian Carroll was one of these guys who would trip on new fallen snow and hit the bed of nails underneath that somebody had left there. He was just a desperately unfortunate guy. And I broke my arm when I was about five, going on six, and I was in Our Lady's Hospital in Dublin and in through the door after my operation came Brian Carroll. He'd been hit by a fire engine. And I realised that this was setting the pattern for my life - that any time it looked like I was going to get any sympathy there would always be some bastard who would get more than I would."

So, back to the start of this year when the latest ''bastard" turned out to be none other than Connolly's friend and fellow crime writer Paul Johnston. A Scot, Johnston spends half his life in his adopted homeland of Greece, but today he is sitting beside me in Edinburgh's Cafe Royal, listening to Connolly's story. It was sympathy Connolly was after when he gave Johnston a call last December. He had been out on his bicycle in Dublin, and an accident with a van had sent him flying. He needed a plate in his right arm and was left with a nasty scar running pretty much from his wrist up to his elbow joint. It still looks pretty livid six months on. Anyway, he phoned his friend, who in turn told him that he hadn't been well either. "So, I thought, 'Yeah, Scottish whinger, he's got a head cold or something.' I'm saying, 'I'm going to have a scar four inches long. I'll be ruined for life. And he says, 'Well, I've just had a kidney taken out.' And I thought, it's bloody Brian Carroll all over again." And at that Connolly and Johnston start laughing. For the hundredth time this morning.

Sunlight is pouring through the big windows of the Cafe Royal, swilling around the almost empty bar. The atmosphere feels bottled - distilled, even - but at our table the only spirit on show is in the conversation. Johnston, 45, is tall, thin, grey-haired and tanned, and not obviously an ill man. You might imagine he's an academic. Connolly, 35, is younger, burlier, gym-bulked; a natural comic. They are not the most likely pair of multiple-murderers. Johnston comes from authorial stock; he is a Fettes old boy and an Oxford graduate who has moved from writing thrillers set in a future Edinburgh to detailing the adventures of a half-Scots, half-Greek private detective. Connolly comes from a Dublin council estate and writes American thrillers with a hint of the supernatural. Yet they work as a team, travelling around the country talking about the not-so-gentle art of literary murder and whatever else takes their fancy.

What started as a marketing ploy has deepened and developed into friendship, and that is what I have come to talk to them about. It is not the easiest thing to do. They are blokes, so talking about feelings is not their strong point. They hum and haw when I try to draw out the shape their friendship takes. "I haven't really thought about this at all,' says Johnston. When I keep pressing, Connolly feels the need to remind me: "I'm not going to marry him."

They bonded over the blokey stuff: favourite writers, favourite movies, favourite music. The last time they met was to go to see Neil Young in London, and they have both just come from a record shop. "He keeps the progressive rock section in Fopp going," Connolly says of Johnston. "Someone has to."

"A hell of a lot of people, actually," Johnston replies, a smidgen defensively. "And no, I do not buy Emerson, Lake and Palmer albums."

This is how they talk, in pure banter, constantly verbally elbowing the other in the ribs. The pub is their natural meeting place but today we are all on soft drinks, two of us from choice, one out of necessity. Maybe it is because the pair of them make a living out of murder, even if only vicariously, but the darkest subjects seem the stuff of comedy - and at this moment in time the conversation could not be darker.

The reason for the removal of his kidney, Johnston explains, was "a fairly nasty disease of the internal organs." He pauses before he says it, "cancer", and then he spits it out as briskly as he can, getting it out there, maybe getting it out of the way. The diagnosis of a lump in his kidney - "as it turned out a very advanced lump indeed" - was hardly the best of New Year gifts. "I'd had kind of niggles and eventually they finally managed to track it down." Within a few days he was operated on. "They have a very different attitude to illness in Greece. I don't know if it is Mediterranean impatience or whatever, but if they believe something is wrong then they get you in and sort you out. I'd like to imagine that would happen here too, but I haven't had a totally straight answer to that yet."

As soon as he learned of Johnston's ailment, Connolly was on a plane to Greece. Johnston, however, was out of hospital and back on his feet and ready to act as Connolly's tour guide to Athens. "He didn't look well," says Connolly. "And I don't want to indulge in political stereotypes but you know that thing about tight-fisted Scots - which is not true because they are the most generous people I've met - but he hadn't got his hair cut because he figured if he was going to have chemo there was no point in actually spending money on a haircut."

"That is totally false," Johnston interjects.

"So it had grown kind of long," continues Connolly, unfazed.

"I looked like Robert Plant," says Johnston.

"In your dreams. You looked like an ageing roadie for a new romantic group."

"That is totally untrue. I had long hair. I had longer hair because I had been sick and I wasn't able to get to a barber. That is a complete invention on his part."

What else would you expect from a writer?

For Johnston, writing was the family business. His father, Ronald, a former merchant navy captain, wrote maritime thrillers in the seventies. Johnston remembers their house was always full of authors: "I can remember being up a treehouse - I had built a treehouse 60ft above the ground in the garden - and suddenly I saw these people down below and it was the old man and Hammond Innes." Everyone else's father was a farmer or an army officer, Johnston recalls, so writing seemed different and glamorous. "But it wasn't something I thought at that stage that I wanted to do particularly."

After a stint at Melville College, Johnston was dispatched to Fettes to take his place alongside the future captains of industry and government. For some "obscure reason" he had got it into his head at the age of six that he wanted to study ancient Greek. Not a common study option "so I ended up in Colditz in north Edinburgh". He says now he had a reasonable time there, yet one of his first literary acts was to blow the place up in Body Politic, his crime debut.

Paul Johnston and John Connolly both add a bit of oddness to their mysteries.

At 18 he finally made it to Greece, spending six months as a "cack-handed" tourist guide. Suddenly ancient Greece didn't seem quite so interesting. "A switch just turned in my brain. I got turned on to modern Greece in all its aspects." So much so that, after Oxford and an abortive career in shipping that ended when the company he worked for ran aground, he decamped to Greece in 1987 with his Norwegian wife Vigdis (his daughter Silje was born a year later) and started writing, firstly about Scotland but latterly about the place where he now spends half his year. "It sounds kind of fatuous, but in attitude the Celts and the Mediterranean mentalities are not that different," he says. "For a start there's a melancholy. The Greeks are a melancholic people, which I'm always attracted to because it's tuned into my own classic Scots black moods. But, of course, they are also very lively. I mean, they don't get paralytic in the pub like us, but they do dance on the tables."

Connolly, by contrast, grew up in one of the less savoury parts of Dublin, a council estate called Rialto, a rough mix of big towerblocks and lower-middle -class housing. "It's not really on the tourist trail," he admits. "The first girl I ever dated properly was from Rathfern, a nice area in south Dublin, and her mother wouldn't let her drive the car into Rialto because she's heard all these things. I said, 'As a point of principle you should bring your car in.' So she did, and all the windows got broken."

Heroin arrived in Dublin in the 1970s. Going to school in the morning, Connolly would walk to a crowded bus stop but be the only one to get on board when the bus arrived. "Everybody else was there waiting to score. The police couldn't really move you on if you said, 'Look officer, I'm actually waiting for a bus."'

He left school and started work with the local authority. He told them at his interview that he wasn't much good with figures so they stuck him in the accounting department. He lasted for three and a half years, then threw it all up, cashed in his pension fund and went to college, eventually becoming a journalist.

But he really wanted to be an author. He always had. It took him five years to write his first book, Every Dead Thing, and he immediately marked out his territory by setting it in America - in Maine, to be exact. "When it came to writing the books, I realised I didn't want to set anything in Ireland," he says. "I was very consciously reacting against a tradition of Irish writing which I hated."

Now there's a statement, I say. "It goes down really well in Dublin," Johnston chips in. Connolly, though, feels he had nothing to say about his homeland. "The themes I was interested in exploring - compassion, living and dying, the nature of justice - I saw all those things in crime fiction." More specifically, in American crime fiction.

The pair of them met about four years ago. They were lined up to do some bookshop gigs together, so Johnston thought he should make the effort to get acquainted. "I don't think John had that feeling at all," he adds.

"I'm not like Paul," Connolly replies. "I don't particularly like spending too much time with other writers. So I was a bit wary."

Even when they did meet, friendship was not a certainty. "There was a degree of chemistry, although I think it was bad chemistry at the beginning in some ways," says Johnston. But over time companionship turned to something more lasting.

Now I wonder if Johnston's illness has changed the nature of their friendship. "I think, like most people when you hear those words," says Connolly, referring to the big C, "your initial thing is to see somebody carving your name on a stone. Your instinct is to kind of step right the way round the course, and then you kind of think, well, the one thing I would hate people to do would be to step lightly around me and treat me like I was a patient. You've got to go on the way you were going on before."

"You really find out who your friends are," says Johnston, "and who are the people in your family who can cope. And some people can't cope because they look at a person who they thought was perfectly healthy and then suddenly isn't. There are people whom I've known for years who haven't been able to cope, and there are people like John whom I have known for less time who have coped magnificently and have been incredibly supportive. We'd established a close friendship anyway, but this inevitably added a new dimension to it."

Of course, such an illness does not end with an operation. His cancer, Johnston says, has been running his life for the past six months. Since the operation he has been having chemotherapy. Writing, inevitably, has had to take a back seat; he has been too busy with the business of living. Still, he is hoping ultimately his work will benefit. "I've learned a lot about myself and about other people. One would hope it will make you a better human being as well, though it makes you very bad tempered, doing chemo."

But will it make you a better writer? As someone who makes a living from writing about life and death, how will a life-or-death experience change Johnston's approach? Too early to tell for certain, he says - but he's sure it will. "When you lose your mortality cherry - as another writer friend paradoxically described it - your view of this kind of thing changes. I'm sure that when I eventually get back to writing I won't handle these kinds of issues in the same way.

"I've always been fascinated by death. I think it's one of the reasons I became a crime writer. And having a close experience of that kind is fantastic. You couldn't pay money for that. Well, you wouldn't unless you were desperate. If you are going to give an organ away, at least get some money for it."

That sets the pair of them off again. Off into the afternoon. Laughing in the face of death. Brian Carroll would be proud of them.

06-18-03: Michael Moorcock on US Censorship

Another Fine Pat Holt Newsletter Moment

Censorship or capitalism?

I believe that I've been telling you that you should subscribe to Pat Holt's publishing newsletter, and here's yet another totally SFnal reason why. She's been covering the controversy of a small printer that rejected printing a small press anthology of anti-war poetry ('RAISING OUR VOICES: AN ANTHOLOGY OF OREGON POETS AGAINST THE WAR.') with this letter:

"Dear Duane,

We appreciate you sending the job materials for 'RAISING OUR VOICES.' Unfortunately we will not be able to accept the order. After reviewing the laser copy we believe that our employees may take offense to the content of the book. We would also risk offending our customers who do not share the same point of view as portrayed in the book.

We regret any inconvenience to you and trust you will understand our decision.


Phil Knight, Director of Sales"

Censorship or capitalism? It's a sticky line and the Holt newsletter has done a fine job of examining all sides of the issue. Check out Pat's Web site and subscribe to her newsletter for the full story, or email me and I'll send you the back issues.

This week, Michael Moorcock weighed in on this controversy with his own adventures in censorship. Anyone who has ever read both the UK version and the US version of a novel might very well have noticed some changes; the lorries becomes trucks, lifts become elevators and -- well, let's let Michael Moorcock tell the story from here:

"Dear Holt Uncensored:

I agree with those arguing that a small company's decision not to handle a book that it's uncomfortable with isn't censorship, but, as a Brit living in the U.S., must say I have encountered various forms of near-censorship in this country. Far more than in other democracies, including the U.K. While some forms of pornography are still liable to censorship in the U.K., I've never had an editor censor a book there, while I've had two books censored here.

Always the center of controversy.

The first was a novel called "The Final Programme," published by Avon in 1969, where considerable minor changes were made both to my Anglicisms and to my statements about what's these days called gender-bending and to my ironies -- i.e. rationalising what the editor found hard to get his head around -- all done without my approval and in many cases getting the conversion from British to American English wildly wrong. But the worst case I've had is with a book called "Byzantium Endures," which is the first in a tetralogy about the origins of the Holocaust. This again is an ironic/comic novel in which the hero is clearly Jewish but is viciously anti-Semitic.

Michael Moorcock wrote a book that somebody didn't like -- so they changed it.

In that book, published by Random House, a great deal of the character's anti-Semitism, as well as his evident paedophilia, was removed because the publisher thought it might give offence not to the public but to their Jewish trade reps! The book, which was written I venture to say with high seriousness, became a travesty of the original. Needless to say, the tradition in which the book was written was understood by every Jewish critic who reviewed it and by every Jewish reader (as far as I know). It was Wasps who failed to get the irony and were afraid of giving offence and acted accordingly. This means that in my experience I have been censored more in the USA than I was in Soviet Russia!

Carefully uncensored novel about the American South.

These aren't issues for me any longer, and Random House were careful not to repeat their error in "The Laughter of Carthage," which was mainly set in the American South, but it did bring home the habit of self-censorship which I've noticed pretty much across the whole U.S. media.

The U.K. doesn't have a Second Amendment, and even the original Bill of Rights (1689) which so anticipates the American Bill of Rights, doesn't allow for press freedom, yet people are more able to speak their minds on TV and radio, in the newspapers and yes, it seems, even in books, than they are here. Public approval is more important culturally in this country than it is, say, in France or England, so people have developed a habit of, if you like, self-control. It serves Authority very well, I must say.

At its finest, American eloquence in the service of liberty is the best in the world. Sadly, it seems to me, that eloquence frequently goes unheard, thanks to the caution of radio and TV editors especially. If I were to begin a campaign, it would be to shame those editors into standing up for freedom of debate and the expression of views that perhaps don't always speak to the lowest common denominator. Real debate is the lifeblood of democracy, and real democracy is not only the best system we have for maintaining liberty - it is also the best system we have for creating real wealth. Authoritarian government impoverishes us at every level.

Michael Moorcock

Lost Pines, Texas"

06-17-03: Walter Jon Williams, Anti-Cyberpunk Anthology, SF Mystery by KK Rusch

This year's Space Opera

Better late than never....he said as he started reading last year's newest Ken Macleod novel.

Sometimes I move deliberately slowly -- like the US Publishing companies -- get a bit behind on what a I know I should be reading. And sometimes I catch up. I'm catching up now with Walter Jon Williams' UK only space opera, 'The Praxis'. It'll slot nicely into a column on space opera as I manage to get copies of 'Ilium' and 'Absolution Gap'. Available as a reasonably-priced UK trade paperback, it's certainly worth a look.

Live Without a Net

Paul Di Filippo and John Meaney highlight this anti cyberpunk anthology.

If a million monkeys....well, you can certainly count on there being an anti-anti cyberpunk anthology soon. In the interim, this 'anti-cyberpunk' anthology will have to do. It's really more of a non-cyberpunk anthology. But with some odd choices such as Paul Di Filippo and John Meaney, what you have here is a 'world without the Internet' anthology that deserves a bit of attention.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's SF Mysteries

The first of the 'Retrieval Artist' mysteries

The newest 'Retrieval Artist' mystery.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been in the business for a long, long time and she's garnered the perfect experience to be writing SF Mysteries. I'm trying to see if I can get my resident mystery reviewer to give these novels a look. They may be a little SF for her, but then, she's read Rick DiMarinis, so they can't be much weirder than that.