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11-22-03: MIT Press Features Genre Fiction, Leaves Trails of Its Own

"Chemtrails cause it's an emergency..." homepage, is leaving a trail of its own for a documentary film.

Any fan or researcher involved in the world of Forteana would have a hard time missing the wonderful world of Chemtrails. Chemtrails is the name that a group of environmental/conspiracy/fortean researchers use to describe the aircraft contrails that seem to mutate into huge cloud formations that turn the sky into a fluffy chessboard. The general thrust of the Chemtrails gang, quite well represented in the Intro link to the home page for

Chemtrails over downtown Santa Cruz.

"Chemtrails look like contrails initially, but are much thicker, extend across the sky, and are often laid down in varying patterns of Xs, tic-tac-toe grids, crosshatched and parallel lines. Instead of quickly dissipating, chemtrails linger and expand in 30 minutes or less. They open into wispy formations, which join together, forming a thin white veil or a "fake cirrus-type cloud" that persists for hours. Reports of 60-mile 'cloud systems' from a single Chemtrail spray have been reported. Unlike contrails, they can be very low and are sometimes tinged with oranges, yellows or purples or even reflect oily rainbows in them....There are various theories as to why our government would want to spray us. Several of them are: weather control and mitigating global warming; military; HAARP; communication; radar/sonar; space weaponry; and population control and/or mass inoculation. Each of these theories have their own merits and deserve attention." paper trail. is premiering a new documentary, and leaving a trail of entirely irony-free leaflets on the cars of those who park in Santa Cruz's civic garages. Now, I love getting Chemtrails "tickets" as much as the next person, and I do think that there's something definitely up with the chemtrails. In fact, I really like the approach of in being rather open-minded as to the potential causes of this phenomenon. However, I do find it interesting that they were happy to essentially litter the environment with their own experiment. I'll be watching for the documentary on my local TV station and see if it's frothing nonsense or scary stuff.

MIT Press: New Genre Fiction Giant?

Dan Lloyd's Radiant cool, noir philosopy.
My mi-am-binging days at the bookstore are not nearly over. Fresh from the Hiroshima Bugi, I found myself once again in BSC and was shocked -- shocked, I tell you! -- to discover that MIT press has another genre fiction novel offering. Now, while I don't get quite as good a vibe about this as I did about 'Radiant Cool', I got to observe a potentially powerhouse trend here. If MIT keeps popping out intelligent, well-informed genre fiction, critics will have to double back from the "it's cheesy" approach to the "it's not cheesy, but it's boring" approach. For you could hardly hope to call 'Turing', by Christos H. Papadimitriou cheesy.

An AI named Turing speaks in this new genre fiction from MIT press.
'Turing' is the story of a love triangle complicated by an AI program that pops up and gives the characters advice and computational history. I've got to say it sounds all a bit on the pretentious side, but I'm going to have to ogle the book -- and potentially read it, what a concept -- before I can form an accurate opinion. Just on the evidence of its existence, however, it gives genre fiction a huge push of support form the academic world. This is one of the most famous learning institutions on the planet, and it's just released two hardcover novels of genre fiction, 'Radiant Cool' and 'Turing'.

Genre fiction is under fire, what with Stephen King winning a Lifetime Achievement award as opposed to one of many literary writers who were probably feeling themselves deserving. But with King winning literary acclaim and MIT releasing genre fiction, we have all the bases covered; mystery, science fiction and horror, all being released without embarrassment on anybody's part. I'll be keeping a very close eye on new fiction releases from this press. I'm not sure if I would call them a small press, but they're playing the part of a small press in breaking new ground with complete aplomb.

11-20/21-03: Underneath the Cowl, Wetting the Pseuds with More Asher Action

Neal Asher's Violent Streak Continues...

Neal Asher's 'Cowl' will be his first hardcover for Tor UK.

As November rolled around, I knew I had something to look forward to -- another Neal Asher novel. I knew that he'd had it finished for a while, and I was quite looking forwad to it. Here's the cover, another wonderful piece by Steve Rawlings. This time around it will be a well-deserved sturdy hardcover, matching Tor US decisions. But what my readers want to know is will it be another Runcible Universe tale; and the fact is that it won't be. Now Asher is currently working on a a couple of sequels to both 'The Line of Polity' and 'The Skinner'. But 'Cowl' ain't one of them. Here's the full blurb from Asher's own website, which means that he wrote it and that as extensive as it is, it won't even cover the first five pages. Asher promised me a "Whole new universe this one, but it's just as violent." It will clearly fulfill the monster quota.

In the far future, the Heliothane Dominion is triumphant in the solar system, after a bitter war with their Umbrathane progenitors. But some of the enemy have escaped into the past, where they could position themselves to wreak havoc across time. The worst of these is Cowl, an artificially forced advance in human evolution … who is no longer human.

Polly knows no more than how to obtain the funds to support her habits. She is unprepared for her involvement with Nandru Jurgens, a Taskforce soldier, and the killers pursuing him. Nor is she able to resist the powerful attraction of the alien tor, which she is impelled to pull onto her arm…
But she must learn fast as she is dragged back through time, not least that to the denizens of some eras, she is little more than a food.

Initially, the fragment of tor imbedded in Tack’s wrist is the extent of his value to the Heliothane ­ a point that is brought home to him with bloody abruptness. But he is a vat-grown programmable killer employed by U-gov, and no stranger to violence. His long journey into the lethal world of the Heliothane is only beginning, and the extent of his mission just becoming apparent. And he must become more, he must change, and be changed…         

Meanwhile, hunting throughout time and the alternates, Cowl’s pet, the torbeast, grows vast and dangerous. It sheds its scales where its master orders. They are tors ­ organic time machines to bring human samples to Cowl. And the beast feeds… 

I'll have to ask him if the name of that monster is deliberate or what...

11-21-03... And here's what he said:

From: Rick Kleffel
Sent: 20 November 2003 23:28
To: Neal Asher
Subject: Cowl Q

Just wondering whether you were frontloading your novel Cowl to ensure it got the nod from Tor US/UK by putting the publisher's name on one of your beasties. I really wouldn't want to hazard a guess....

Rick Kleffel

From: Neal Asher
Subject: RE: Cowl Q
Date: November 21, 2003 2:18:12 AM PST
To: Rick Kleffel

Funnily enough I wrote Cowl as a novella years before I was taken on by Macmillan and the 'tors' and 'torbeast' were so named in that. During that time I obviously knew the names of British publishers because I was submitting to them. The publisher Tor in America I might have recognised if someone said the name to me, but nothing beyond that. I guess my knowledge of publishers names then, was only a little beyond that of a general reader. In reality readers don't actually look for the names of publishers; they look for the names of authors, read blurbs, look at cover pictures (this is perhaps something those wrapped up in the publishing world probably don't quite get). Of course, being the launch SF lead writer of Tor Macmillan and also being published by Tor in America, no one is going to believe me now. However, I do have proof of this in my short story 'The Torbeast's Prison' which was published in Kimota 13 in Autumn 2000 just as I'd been taken on by Pan Macmillan, before the creation of Tor Macmillan, and before The Skinner and Gridlinked were taken by Tor in America. Anyway, I could always say that Cowl is actually a very clever allegory - that'll get the pseuds wetting their pants.

Neal Asher

And this is yet another reason we love Neal Asher. I for one am looking forward to my encounter with the torbeast. By the time Tor US gets round to publishing 'Cowl', they will as well. As long as they put a good monster on the cover -- or better yet,just use the Rawlings illos from the UK editions.



11-19-03: Andrew Klavan Says A Word

Bring Dynamite and A Crane

Blow you up, start all over again/Build a town be proud to show/Give the name....

Andrew Klavan has written a number of thrillers, two of which have been made into high-profile movies; 'Don't Say A Word' and 'True Crime'. You've got to have something pretty good going when your books are turned into Michael Douglas and Clint Eastwood movies, even if the movies themselves are not so felicitous. His latest novel is 'Dynamite Road'. Set in San Francisco, it's about a detective agency that finds itself dealing with what Klavan calls a "VBM -- Very Bad Man." Death, destruction, and femmes fatale follow. From the little subtitle, it looks as if Klavan is starting a series about the two protagonists, Weiss & Bishop.

It's said that Klavan goes into Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson territory with this novel. That's pretty high praise. But Klavan says his interest is in the characters and not the action, which is, of course, where it should be. In an interview a few years ago, he talked about Shakespeare as an influence, in addition to Hemingway, Hammett and Chandler. He's also allowed elements of the supernatural to creep into his work, much like John Connolly, though they clearly don't show up in his latest. Terry has 'Dynamite Road' and is reading it as I write. I'm looking forward to seeing which side of the Cheese Divide this novel falls on.


11-18-03: Victor Thorn Draws Blood & PS Publishing Sends in Motherlode

PS Publishing Delivers

I recently took the plunge. I should have done this a year ago, but I was as usual, a victim of inertia. I finally got in touch with Peter Crowther and signed up for the whole deal subscription to the PS Publishing line. There can be little doubt that this is probably the most important stand-alone publisher since Arkham House, though there are, yes, a few out there that could give Crowther a run for his money. Still for breadth, width, depth, quantity, quality and importantly, variety Crowther has really stretched far beyond what I saw him doing at first with this venture.

What I didn't expect when I signed up directly was the quick and careful shipping from the UK to California. While one loves to get books from the UK, sometimes they don't do so well in the shipping process. Crowther packaged up the recent cornucopia of books he sent me with enough bubble wrap to send a car. It ensured that each of the books that came arrived in pristine condition, which is important if you're investing in books. These books are definitely worthy of investment.

Todd Schorr's incredible cover is only the cover of DiFillipo's latest novel of ideas.
Easily the most striking book cover I've seen in a long time belongs to Paul Di Fillipo's 'Fuzzy Dice'. But what's within looks equally striking. It's a full-length novel in 12 parts about a bookstore clerk who gets a visit from AI that grants him access to any world he can imagine. In the introduction by Santa Cruz's own Rudy Rucker, the 12 parts are charted in a handy table to help the reader keep track of what in the hell is going on. The chapters, so to speak, are about a page long. This tale of wish fulfillment seems densely, intensely constructed. And the back jacket flap holds forth the promise that DiFillipo is working on a sequel to 'A Year in the Linear City', which was nominated for a Hugo and one of my favorite books of last year. ANd curiously enough, you will find the introduction and the title pages repeated at the end of the book. I'm itching to read this and find out if it's coincidence -- or conspiracy?

Dead On

Where's the naked lady on the rocks?

Ramsey Campbell is a regular visitor to the Agony Column and indeed now to PS Publishing. He collects stories from 35 years ago and a bunch from the last couple of years with an introduction by Poppy Z. Brite. The penultimate tale in this book is 'No Story In It', a wonderful tale of heartfelt despair and hysterical humor, though these jokes are of the "slit your wrists and laugh till you die" genre. Some of the stories first appeared on the internet, in The Spook and at Campbell is one of the best and most prolific short story writers on the planet. If you've never read his work, this actually might be a fine place to start.

Four Novellas From Elizabeth Hand

She washed up here with her clothes on, evidently.

I've only read one novel by Elizabeth Hand, the very odd 'Black Light'. Lucius Shepard writes an introduction for four novellas. All of them have appeared elsewhere, but for those of us who passed them by in their former incarnations, this is a good chance to pick them up in one place. 'Cleopatra Brimstone' appeared in Al Sarrantonio's 'Redshift', 'Pavane for a Prince of the Air' first appeared in the Sub Press anthology 'Embrace the Mutation', 'The Least Trumps' first appeared in Conjunctions, and 'Chip Crockett's Christmas Carol' becomes the reason to buy this as it was published only at as a serial. It's nice to see that PS Publishing is expanding the format of their books, but still in the forefront of supporting the novella as a published format.

The PS Anthology Duet

New and old horror classics in a classy package.

Today's best UK SF writers from the popular and acclaimed website.

...And finally, PS has two important anthologies out. Stephen Jones offers up the second of his collections of classic horror in 'By Moonlight Only'. This is Jones' re-creation of the 'Not at Night' series, edited by Christine Campbell Thomson for British Publisher Selwyn & Blount in the 1920's and 1930's. Marc Laidlaw and David Case offer tales original to the anthology, while the reprints include Harlan Ellison's 'In the Fourth Year of the War' and Joe R. Lansdale's 'Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man's Back'. Cover art is by the dependably great Edward Miller, while the four B&W line-drawing interior illustrations are by Randy Broecker.

Also on parade are the manifold authors of 'Infinity Plus Two', edited by Keith Brooke and the ubiquitous Nick Gevers. Gevers is now an editor at PS Publishing, and probably drives an Aston Martin with an ejection seat given how busy he must be. John Clute was pegged for the introduction -- a special delight -- and the contributors include the also ubiquitous Charles Stross, Stephen Baxter, Lucius Shepard, Adam Roberts, Brian Stableford, Eric Brown, Paul McAuley, Terry Bisson, Lisa Goldstein, Ian McDonald, Vonda McIntyre, Paul Park, and Micahel Moorcock. I hope I didn't leave anybody out. We're still waiting for Gary Greenw0ood's novella and everybody is waiting with bated breath for Steve Erikson's second fantasy-mystery-adventure 'The Healthy Dead' with Bachelain and Korbal Broach. But it's hard to complain with a cornucopia like this!


Drawing Blood With Victor Thorn

This cover was designed by Peter Currenti.

This pen runs on blood. "Be prepared to kiss the status quo goodbye."

You can now draw blood with your very own copy of 'The Bukowski Hangover Project'. I got mine from Ziesing, but you can also get them via Babel Magazine. What you have here is just one step on the other side of the line that divides dangerous genre fiction from dangerous literary fiction. From poetry that is apparently by sociopaths you don't want to meet in real life to fiction that is by sociopaths you might already know in real life, BHP offers some rather disturbing stuff. I'll be looking to Poison Candy/Sisyphus Press for more extremities, including those left over from roadway accidents. From your grill -- to ours.

11-17-03: Sunday Window Shopping at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Making Pictures for CD

Stop Me Before I Buy Again

It seems like there should be no reason for me to ever enter a bookstore. What I don't relentlessly hunt down, I hear about from booksellers who help me hunt down books, from the others on the staff of The Agony Column, from my fellow volunteers on the Fine Print Staff, from readers or from friends. But there's still plenty of room for me to learn, so I take the time to browse our local booksellers. I also quite love strolling about our little downtown area, with its rich surplus of bookstores. Sunday morning, with the house full of sleeping people, I took the opportunity to get a pound of coffee beans and a quick turn through the just-open Bookshop Santa Cruz. There I found, almost side-by-side, two ideal candidates for reading by myself and (one hopes) my readers.

Find this book and open it up; it might just suck you in.
The first novel that jumped out at me was 'Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57' by Gerald Vizenor.

Yes, I admit it, somewhere in the back of my lizard brain I was thinking "MMMMM... RADIOACTIVE....... MUTANTS.....". But I was wary as well. I know that the legendary site of actual horror is all too appealing as a setting for literary novels that I tend to find "put-downable". So when I picked up the book to page through it, I pretty much expected to find dull love scenes and meaningful dialogue. Instead, what I found was a mishmash of colliding typefaces, prose poetry and high weirdness on a scale I've not seen since 'House of Leaves', though not quite on that scale either. 'Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57' bills itself as a "Kabuki novel" in which the results of our nuclear [noo-klee-ur] weaponry are confronted. Written in a hybrid of samurai and the author's Native American tribe, Anishinaabe, traditions, 'Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57' looks to be a rather surreal and literary reading experience. Readers should hoof it down to their local independent emporium and take gander to see if it will draw their fancy as it drew mine. This is the kind of unclassifiable -- yet fairly findable (once you know what to look for)-- weirdness that makes the world of reading so much fun.

Naked Ghosts

Funny how often ghost stories involve naked women lying on rocks.

Now, I'd seen 'Pharos' a couple of times but this time I managed to make myself pick it and damn if it didn't look like more than a bit of fun as well. I had to get myself past the naked girl on a rock cover, but once I did I discovered that author Alice Thompson was joint winner (with Graham Swift) of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. For her second novel, Pandora's Box, she was shortlisted for the Stakis Scottish Writer of the Year. Obviously, I'm interested in Scottish writers. And here's a very short novel of the supernatural that claims to be rather different from the usual supernatural novel -- whatever that may be. I love the blurb that says the blurber "read it in one sitting". Well of course they read it in one sitting. At 160 pages, it's not even as long as some of the PS Publishing Novella series, which we here at The Agony Column love so much. And the presentation surely isn't as nice, but we'll give a pass because we get literary, Scotland, short and supernatural in the same package. If I can make myself shed the cash, you may be seeing a review of this shortly.

Digging What You Read

Set to overturn all foundations of knowledge established by man!

Set to overturn all bestselling novels of underground terror.

From the Fortean list, comes another potential gem in the world of underground factual literature. One of my great weaknesses is a love of hollow earth literature. In theory, at least. Well, that is to say, that I am fascinated by the story of Richard Shaver and his hollow earth fiction and "fact". So when a blurb about WIllis George Emerson's The Smoky God came over the Fortean transom, I took a quick look for it and found that it's still for sale, for the ever reasonable price of $12.95. The vendor,, offers "the world's best literature, free!". Clearly Willis George Emerson's The Smoky God is not amongst the world's best literature, or else you would not be shelling out $12.95 for the Wildside Press edition. Fear not, you don't want the world's best when it comes to underground literature. Of course, few can match the recent heights or depths, depending on how you see it, of author Jeff Long's 'The Descent'. But The Smoky God (as opposed to the Smokey Bear) offers much of the same, ostensibly, all factual. It all seems a little too "Arne Saknussen" to me, but I'll go along if Emerson takes me to the center of the world to find a technologically advanced civilization responsible for UFOs. I frankly don't think that hollow-earth conspiracy books get much better than that. Do they? I'm going to order this damn thing and find out.

Making Faces

The illustration Ian McDowell did for his story in CD's all-fiction issue.

Author Ian McDowell, whose scathing, scatological desconstruction of Arthurian legends Mordred's Curse and Merlin's Gift should be first on everybody's list of heroic fantasy sent me this illustration for his story in the latest CD. I had to share it with the readers and I'm sure everyone can see why.