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What an ass. I passed this by at Worldcon,thinking "I don't read short stories".
Your Name is Toast

I just finished reading 'Big Brother Iron' from Charles Stross' collection 'Toast'. Not usually much of a short story reader, I've found myself reading them more and more lately and perhaps I'll turn over a new leaf. 'Big Brother Iron' manages to ride a wonderful line around funny, thought-provoking, clever and emotionally involving while also being unpleasantly pertinent to the current challenges we face if we can make ourselves endure news reports of what's going on in the world at large. Charlie tells me that it's the only story in 'Toast' not available elsewhere, but even if you are unhinged enough prefer CRT reading to the pleasure of holding a bound book in your hands, then this story alone would easily justify the purchase of the book. Especially for fans of Orwell, or, those like myself, who might have at one point in their tattered lives have held a position of employment that could in some sense be described as a "System Manager'. All the virtues of 'Singularity Sky' are on display here in 'Big Brother Iron'. Sorry Charlie; I will have to buy this damn book. But if I have to perform computer systems administration to pay for it, let it hang heavy on your head!

Remainder Table Alert! 

"You better start learning to read braille now..."

A while ago, I read and reviewed a nice little book by Jim Knipfel, titled 'The Buzzing'. In reading about the author and the book, I learned that his previous work was 'Slackjaw', a memoir of his descent into blindness. Cue the full size Chip Kidd cover, now you can, with luck find it in the remainder stack at your local independent bookstore. At least, that's where I found mine. Knipfel showed a real understanding of those in the throes of mental illness in 'The Buzzing', and you'll find out why in 'Slackjaw'. I picked it up, read about two paragraphs and I was hooked. Knipfel has one of those easy voices that grab you with honesty and humor. And, of course, phone calls to the suicide hotline. Nice way to begin a book. It will certainly pull the reader in past the first few pages.

11-14-03: A Big Batch of New Books

Amy Thomson is Alien Again


Amy Thomson's first novel of the planet Tiagi and the Tengu.

Amy Thomson's second novel brings the Tengu to earth.

Amy Thompson's new book is another novel of alien and human characters and cultures.
Some writers like to sneak up on you. It's been almost 10 years since Amy Thomson's first novel, 'The Color of Distance'. In it, she introduced the planet Tiangi and its inhabitants the Tendu. She followed it with 1999's 'Through Alien Eyes', one of those rare cases where a follow-up novel was as good as the first. Somewhere after, she slipped in 'Virtual Girl', which probably by virtue of its cyber-chic name went in under my radar.

At this year's Worldcon, Cory Doctorow, Nalo Hopkinson and others talked about how the John W. Campbell award affected their careers. here's another winner of that award; well, at least she's able to get her novels published on her own schedule. Her latest novel -- her first in four years -- is 'Storyteller'. Despite the kind of awkward illustration on the cover, it looks to feature the same virtues as her other work; carefully conceived alien cultures and the characters, both human and alien that they produce. Don't let it get lost in the crowd. Amy Thomson is worth waiting for. And make sure to spell the author's name correctly. If you haven't caught her work before, you can now, but you'll need to go to Bookfinder or one of the other services to find her earlier work. The most you'll pay is $20.00, which seems to me to be eminently worth it.



Steven-Elliot Altman is Deeply Deprived


The HEAL-helping first anthology edited by Stephen Elliot Altman.


Altman's new novel shows that he's still Deprived, but not of cover quotes. That blurb is from author/director Mark Frost.

A couple of years ago, Steven-Elliot Altman's theme anthology 'The Touch: Epidemic of the Millennium' intrigued me during one of my visits to Bookshop Santa Cruz. Had I been bright enough to crack the cover, I'd have noted that it included authors as diverse as William F. Nolan and Katherine Dunn. All proceeds from this book go to HEAL, the Health Education AIDS Liason charity. I find it interesting that a medical thriller should have the same title as a medical thriller by noted physician-author F. Paul Wilson, whose novel 'The Touch' is part of his 'Adversary Cycle'. This year, Steven Elliot Altman is back with 'Deprivers', a novel in which his sort-of psychic epidemic has changed the world. Sporting a cover blurb that, uh, covers the cover, 'Deprivers' hovers somewhere between very intriguing and very cheesy, and that's exactly where I like to find a good deal of my fiction. There's even a pretty nice website NOT TO BE CONFUSED with the ever-pertinent De-Motivators website.


Mike Resnick offers up the children of SF for ritual sacrifice.
Science Fiction Eats Its Young

Mike Resnick is busy editing lots of MMPB anthologies, and his latest claims to showcase 'New Voices in Science Fiction'. Does it live up to the claim? Well, you get the Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross collaboration 'Flowers from Alice'; that's a couple of the heavyweights from the last Worldcon in a single serving. Speaking of the John W. Campbell award, Resnick gets some his writers from this group of writers. And if you ever wondered whether Clarion was worth the money, you get a few choices from there as well. And, as well, you get novelists you know you should read, but just haven't got round to yet, like Kay Kenyon and Kage Baker. And yes, you even get singer-songwriter Janis Ian, fresh from her engagement in 'Stars'.

The face of horror.
John Shirley Engineers Horror

John Shirley was one of the Scream/Press authors who drew me deep into collecting hardcover fiction. His collection 'Heatseeker' still stands in my book as one of the best I've ever read and one I consistently re-read as well. His novel 'In Darkness Waiting' is one of those icons of the 1980's horror and surely a highpoint for the dark fiction of that decade. If you take a gander over at DarkEcho (, you can find John Shirley's website with all sorts of pertinent data. His latest novel is 'Crawlers', and it's garnering all sorts of great reviews. I'll be reading it during Thanksgiving, and with luck, talking to John Shirley live on KUSP shortly afterwards. The tentative date is December 5, 2003 at 11 AM, and you can hear the webcast if you can't get the broadcast. This is of course subject to change without notice.

Philip Pullman goes for the glamour.
Philip Pullman Back in Oxford

OK, Philip Pullman fans and book collectors, time to pay attention. The other great UK YA writer has a new book out and it looks tobe just wondrous. 'Lyra's Oxford' is a new book for "kids" ten years and up who have boatloads of money to buy this sumptuously produced little tidbit set in the same universe as his famous His Dark Materials trilogy. Serena Trowbridge is all over this and will have a report on it shortly. Since she wrote the column on His Dark Materials, expect a deeply serious and fairly critical look at this new entry. In the interim, tantalize yourself with the prospect of a volume that includes a fold-out map of the alternate-reality city of Oxford which Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon inhabit, a short brochure for a cruise to The Levant aboard the SS Zenobia and a postcard from the inventor of the amber spyglass, Mary Malone. This is the kind of thing that makes my hands twitch in the bookstore.

Next Year's Big Thing? 

China Mieville cover blurb alert.

My wonderful contacts at Gollancz tell me that they're publishing "the most exciting debut fantasy in fifteen years", in this case Steph Swainston's 'The Year of Our War'. Gods and insects from what I discern via the minimal blurb over at *, but I'll be talking a look at this meself, along with a whole host of Thanksgiving reading, assuming it arrives in time. Is Steph Swainston the next Steph Swainston? Only by actually reading will we be able to make the distinction.

Messing with Mother Nature.
Fun with Weather

While I'm not much of one for serial fiction, this recent release from Roc Fantasy really has me sort of giddy. 'Ill Wind' by Rachel Caine is 'Weather Warden, Book One', and I've got to say that it looks pretty delightful to me. The premise is that the heroine is a Weather Warden, here to keep the more extreme weather at bay lest Mother Earth wipe us out on a whim. The Wardens have been taking care of things for a long time, but now through circumstances best left to the back of the book, she's on the run. Starting with an excerpt from 'Owning Your First Djinn', I just get a good vibe from this book.


11-12-03: PW Essay on Stephen King

Harold Bloom vs Stephen King

Thrashing for guidance in an industry that manufactures treasure and trash but can't tell the difference.

Over the past ten years, readers of genre fiction have had the privelege to witness the fascinating story of an industry divided. Publishers have been happy to pump out the trash and the treasure and toss them all to the reading public with nary a clue as to which is what. Genre fiction readers were all too aware that Stephen King was something more than just another novel-a-year horror hack. The downfall of horror in the 1980's and the subsequent survival of Stephen King in spite of this should have made that abundantly clear. Since the publication of his O. Henry award winning story 'The Man in the Black Hat' in The New Yorker in 1995, King has been on a torturously slow road to academic and critical acceptance within the literary community.

But not everyone is eager to accept the self-proclaimed "Big Mac of American Literature". When the National Book Foundation gave Stephen King the 2003 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the whinging began. Since they're presumably too busy pumping iron and governating down there in SoCal to actually read, Harold Bloom in no less august a publication than the LA Times, pronounced the award "Another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life."

Stanislaw Lem's prescient essay on cultural overload should be required reading for the publishing industry, but as "genre fiction", it's ignored.
In a fascinating essay on the cultural schism measured by Bloom's bluster, Jeff Zaleski makes the shocking suggestion that publishers should actually read some of the more popular novels with which litter the landscape. And while it is no secret that, as Zaleski says, "the publishing community generally accords genre and commercial fiction second class status", it's certainly nothing that deserves page-space in the LA Times. But would a newspaper based in the movie capital of the world have any reason to lambaste the written word? Never!

Readers of the Agony Column should definitely take the time to read -- not just look at -- Zaleski's informative essay. It highlights one of the common problems found at the intersection of art and commerce. Writ large, the lessons within apply to music, the visual arts, the performing arts and yes even that Neanderthal of the arts world, movies. Moreover, these are the words of the people who bring you the words you love to read, the words that enrich your lives. They're not entirely clueless. We can help them understand what we like to read and why, by writing about what we read effectively. But more importantly, we need to be sure to purchase the books and authors we feel have something to say, something worth listening to. Long ago, Stanislaw Lem wrote in his book 'A Perfect Vacuum' of the problems we now face:

"If finding forty grains of sand in the Sahara meant saving the world, then they would not be found, any more than would the forty messianic books that have already long since been written but were lost beneath the strata of trash... And so, ere we can steep our souls in those revelations, we bury them in garbage."

Of course, as a genre fiction writer, Lem's word carries little weight with the publishing world at large; even the US science fiction community tends to dismiss his work. Even in the world of genre fiction, there's still a long way to go.



11-11-03: 30 years of Fortean Times and 15 of Cemetery Dance

Putting the Sea Serpent into 30 Years

The 30 Year Anniversary Issue of The Fortean Times.

If you're lucky enough to have a bookstore or newsstand nearby that sells the Fortean Times, count yourself as very lucky. The latest issue is a celebration of their 30 years of publishing. If you're very lucky, you'll stumble upon an article as fascinating as The Runamo Runes revisited in this latest issue. It's the tragicomic story of an Icelandic professor who stumbled upon what FT often calls a "simulacrum"; in this case what the natural formation looked like was an ancient inscription. What followed was a decline and fall of within the archaeological world

You'll also get another Fortean favorite, an article on a peculiar form of mass panic. These days, the penis-stealers get all the press. But FT covers the hair-stealers of Nanjing in May 1876.

And finally for fans of BVM trivia such as myself, there's a lovely article on the real flying nun. or rather, the beliefs in the abilities of nuns and others figures of religion to teleport themselves (as we would describe it today) hither and yon.

But FT is as hard to find on newsstands as something it might choose to cover in an article. Your best bet is to subscribe. Look if you're a writer, here's a never ending source of weird ideas and bits of research you might never get around to. If you're simply a reader looking for something different, then this is about as different as you can get. It also offers an overall very interesting angle on the universe. It's weirder than we think, implies FT. Or we are.

Flaying Faces for Fifteen years

The 30 Year Anniversary Issue of The Fortean Times.

Meanwhile, over in the US, Cemetery Dance Magazine is celebrating fifteen years of publication. The biggest and best survivor of the bloom of small press publishers that came to be in the 1980's Cemetery Dance still draws the best horror fiction writers working today.

This all-fiction issue features Ray Garton, Ian McDowell, Thomas Tessier, Tim Waggoner, Al Sarrantonio, Tony Richards, David Niall Wilson, Daniel G. Keohane & L. LO. Soares, Glen Chadbourne & Holly Newstein James IrelandBaker and Donald Burleson.

If we're lucky they'll offer a poster of the Allen Koszowski cover. Back in the day, I was lucky enough to have an AK illustration to one of my stories for Winter Chills magazine. This is a particularly nice Halloween surprise.