This Just In...News from The Agony Column

Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

 This Just in..News from the Agony Column

11-25-03: Sub Press Release

The Damnable Flyer!

It came in the mailbox.

Even though they won't let you forget, you have to thank them. Subterranean Press is clearly amongst the top small presses in the genre fiction world and their output is so universally desirable that I have to shield myself to ensure that I don't end up selling the house to buy their books. But they're smart enough to send out flyers, like the one that arrived the other day and it was loaded, positively loaded with must-buy items. These are books without which life on earth can not continue. How the hell am I supposed to be able to afford all this stuff? More importantly -- at least to my wife -- where the hell am I going to put it?

That said, the offerings on the latest flyer from Sub Press are simply amazing. First and foremost, a Blaylock and Powers collaboration titled 'The Devils in the Details', with all original stories and illustrations by Phil Parks.

What you get is an original Powers story, an original Blaylock story and an original collaboration, with an afterward by James Blaylock. As usual, there is a lettered edition available with an additional note by William Ashbless. Don't look at that price tag -- it's irrelevant.

But wait -- there's more. Dammit. Sub also has a new collection of short stories by James Blaylock, 'In For a Penny' with a brand-new British ghost story novella, 'The Trismegistus Club'. Right there you have a reason to buy this book. It looks like Blaylock is stepping away from this SoCal-centric stories. I've always loved his Orange County tales, since I spent so much of my own life there. Reading his books evokes that perfect bit of nostalgia for my long-lost youth.

Also up for grabs is a new short novel by Lucius Shepard. 'Colonel Rutherford's Colt' sounds as if it's yet another Shepard home run.

Why Shepard hasn't stormed the best-seller lists has long been a mystery to me. His work is accessible, lightly phantasmagoric, extremely literary and highly inventive. More than anything else, it appears that Shepard just does exactly what he wants without compromise, which is probably the best explanation.

One of my favorite books from last year -- not 2003, mind you, 2002 -- was Graham Joyce's 'The Facts of Life'. And I think I may have prepaid -- or intended to pre-pay for 'Partial Eclipse' a collection of stories. It includes at least two known pieces 'Black Dust' and 'Leningrad Nights'. Like Shepard, Joyce seems to delight in writing precisely what he can write best. Since this is the only edition of this book, it gets transferred into the 'must-buy' pile. Must buy with what is another matter; buy first, read next, pay later.

11-24-03: A Beautiful Uglytown, Rumpole and the Primrose Path, Steph Swainston's Year of Our War proofs, A.R.R.R. Roberts Cashes In Again

A Beautiful Uglytown

Uglytown's first publication.

Sometimes you get a good vibe from a book for a good reason. Back in 1998, I was putting together the very first Agony Column, then linked to Andy Fairclough's excellent HorrorWorld web site. For my first column I wanted to write about how the joys of cheesy fiction had helped shape my love of horror fiction. Leafing through the pages of a then-current Ziesing catalogue, I came across a book that I just had to have to help me write that column. It was 'By the Balls', ostensibly written by Dashiell Loveless. It had a classic cheesy front cover, but more importantly, the interior and the content were as perfectly pitched as the cover. On the back cover is a "crime map", and the frontispiece pages include a list of "The PERSONS this mystery is about--" and "What this mystery is about --" and "Wouldn't you like to know--". It included interior illustrations by Paul Pope. This was the first release from Uglytown, a new venture founded by the actual authors of 'By the Balls', Amazon reviewers Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender. Speed forward to last month, when I was window shopping and came upon a new novel by Sean Doolittle, titled 'Burn'. It was a nicely produced hardcover and the publisher was Uglytown. I must admit that I was surprised. Who would have thought that this venture built on a foundation of pure cheese would turn into a real-deal small press? But that was only the first of my surprises.

Crime does pay for Uglytown publishers Pascoe & Fassbender.
Once I started checking out the Uglytown website, I realized how extensive their catalogue had turned out to be. They'd gone from self-publishing well-wrought, faithful re-creations of old pulp to publishing the 21st century equivalent -- some really high-quality edgy writing with a certain trashy veneer that conceals good prose and hard thoughts. As a small press they have a lot going for them. They produced numbered and lettered copies of their titles, which means to me at least that they really respect their readers and are willing to go the extra distance to offer collectible work. In fact 'Burn' has just sold out of lettered editions.

Clearly, Sean Doolittle is Uglytown's top author. His debut novel 'Dirt' should have entered my attention zone, given that it sports praise by some of my favorite writers, including Brian Hodge and Norm Partidge. Both these guys write mysteries now, but they got their foothold in the publishing world in the 1980's with titles like 'Nightlife' (Hodge) and 'Dead Celebs' (Partridge). To find them touting this formerly obscure mystery novel adds another layer of interest. But let's look at the contents.

Dark, funny mystery fiction from Sean Doolittle and Uglytown.

LA wildfires conceal a murder in Dooloittle's new novel 'Burn'.

'Dirt' is an appropriately gritty look at the LA funeral biz. Now I don't know about you, but one of my most entertaining college reading experiences was Evelyn Waugh's 'The Loved One'. Let's give it the first sentence test. "The trouble didn't seem to start so much as it simply landed, like a hunk of blazing debris." OK, I'm in.

'Burn' is the fortuitously timed presentation of a murder committed during a Los Angeles wildfire. Playing off the recent fires in SoCal, it got a lot of publicity. Let's give it the first paragraph test. "The Morgue felt nice. Detective Adrian Timms lingered in the bracing chill before pushing on into the long afternoon ahead. He stood behind the cold steel tray and pondered the fresh Y stitching the dead man's torso closed. He thought: that's not maximum health."

21st century noir, Uglytown-style. Who chopped off the insurance agent's head? Maybe the characters from the book next door. You know that Uglytown is a bad neighborhood.

"I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer's headless body in the trunk, and all the time I'm thinking I should've put some plastic down."

Doolittle certainly passes the first tests. Other Uglytown authors include Curt Colbert (Saynoaraville) and Victor Gischler, author of 'Gun Monkeys'. 'Gun Monkeys' has been getting some good reviews as well, and is listed on the Uglytown site as "sold out". Terry and I will be working on these for the holidays, so we'll let you know if you want to spring for the numbered editions or not. But in any senses, these Uglytown books seem to really know what they want to be about.

Rumpole and the Primrose Path

John Mortimer's new Rumpole collection.
Sometimes books sneak by me. In many cases, I have no idea how a book gets past me and on the shelves before I have time to ogle it in advance. But this weekend, once again shamelssly shopping when I should have been doing something useful, I came upon a "must buy" that made some 27 bucks jump out of my pocket. That would be the latest Rumpole collection by John Mortimer, 'Rumpole and the Primrose Path'. I guess I missed it because I keep expecting each one to be the last. A few years ago, I seem to remember that John Mortimer said he wouldn't be writing any more. The death of the incredibly talented man who became Rumpole, Leo McKern, seemed to be the swan song for the eminently enjoyable character. Double that when the last Rumpole omnibus concluded with his heart attack. But in spite of that, Rumpole is back, and we can rejoice in some the best written slack-jawed drool-o-matic reading we could possibly hope for. As it happens, the title story was nominated for an Edgar award. It finds Rumpole in a convalescent home, which seems almost obscene to those of us who know and love the bilious barrister. Rumpole is fine enough to savor,l so don't expect a review anytime soon. I'll be reading the stories in those rare opportunities when I have time to read them in a single, uninterrupted reading. Rumpole may drink plonk, but the Rumpole stories are the fine wine of humorous mysteries. Savor them.

A.R.R.R. Roberts Cashes In Again

Trollps decimate the dwarves in 'The Soddit'

Not looking particularly like an insectivore.

I offered an advance look at the the now-available Tolkien satire 'The Soddit', by no less august a writer than the talented Adam Roberts, back in early August. I've just received the final book, and it is utterly beautiful. It's the kind of hand-sized square you could easily chuck at the cat if it misbehaves. But chances are you'll too busy reading and enjoying the book to know or care what the cat's doing. Roberts manages to nail down a lively English satiric prose beat, and Douglas Carrel provides a loot of very nicely detailed "Monocolour (black and white to you and me)" illustrations. "Dragons!" said Bingo. "They don't frighten me. Insectivores aren't they?" Smug insectivores, or maybe smug soddit-vores.

Steph Swainston's Year of Our War proofs

The face that launched a thousand sequels?

Here's a look at the face behind what we think will be one of the big fantasy releases of next year -- Steph Swainston, whose 'The Year of Our War' brings a distinct PR/urban edge to fantasy literature. Here's a shot of the bound proofs going round, which is not the cover of the book according to *.*. Just glancing at the opening chapter will give the wary reader a reason to pick up this novel. You get the same urban surreality that you get with Mieville. The prose seems pretty nice as well. Rest assured that both Katie and I will be looking at this book well in advance to let you, the readers know whence to toss your money.