12-26-03: Sexy Psychics Say Do the World A Favor: From the latest Issues of Fortean Times & Crimewave
It's Magazine Friday here at The Agony Column. Yes, at least once
a month I get off easy, and simply have to scan in the latest Fortean
Times and report on the contents of one of the few magazines that I
do read. The kind of fiction I can say I prefer for the sake of argument
-- science fiction, horror, fantasy and mystery -- is the unusual kind
of fiction that publishes a whole boatload of professional magazines
oriented towards readers in that genre. You know, I've just never really
glommed onto magazine science fiction, however. Can't say why. Somewhere
in the depths of time I subscribed to (I think) The Magazine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction, but it never really caught my interest. It's a
place where writers get their start, and I really respect it, but at
least these days, I don't seem to have time to read a lot of short
fiction, or magazines. With exceptions.
Crimewave is one of those magazines that I first found in Logos Books, in downtown Santa Cruz. Published by The Third Alternative Press, you know that the quality is going to be high, but probably not how high. Each issue is printed as a heavy-cover, large format trade paperback. The design is classy and utterly ad-free. Crimewave is only trying to sell you excellent fiction. I've managed to go back and find all the issues, getting yes, a bit compulsive about it all. If you can't read the pixels of my front cover scan, the current issue includes James Sallis, Muriel Gray, Christopher Fowler and a novel excerpt from Val McDermid. Edited by Andy Cox, you get utterly fresh fiction that's isolated from the commercial currents that pull so much mystery in directions that are devoid of interest. For all the star power on the cover, I've got to get my little eyeballs on a story by Matt Coward titled 'You Can Jump'. The intro says that he's the author of a short story collection called 'Do the World a Favor and Other Stories'. Between those titles alone, I'm intrigued. But, no, I'm not going to do the world a favor and jump.
12-25-03: Awwww, A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror from Christopher Moore
The Stupidest Angel Chapter One One-Week Preview
Christopher Moore is the kind of author who should be on lots of people's
auto-buy lists. He's super-reliably funny, witty, pithy and entertaining
as all get-out. One of the best things I did this year was to bring
my collection up to speed by purchasing all of Chris' novels in first-ed
hardcovers, or at least, those I didn't have already. Like many a writer
of speculative fiction, Chris has a sort of stomping ground for his
old familiar characters, Pine Cove, California. Based thoroughly on
Chris' hometown of Cambria, it's probably in better shape despite the
Lust Lizard, the Demon, and all the other afflictions he's visited
upon his imaginary homeland. That's because Cambria is rather close
to the epicenter of the recent 6.5 earthquake that struck in San Simeon
12-24-03: An Actual History of the Imaginary History of Infamy
Rhys Hughes Gets Borgesian
It's funny how small things have such long-range influences. I can
still remember my first Tanjen publication, 'Recluse', by Derek M.
Fox. Here's this very odd publication, and in the back there are adverts
for lots of others. These included Tim Lebbon's 'Mesmer' and Neal Asher's
'Parasite'. It kind of freaked me out. There was a faint whiff of exploitation,
of cheese about the whole Tanjen line. The scent of the forbidden,
of danger. In retrospect, always accurate, it was the scent of to-be-legendary
authors first published works.
12-23-03: New Wolfe & Walters
Gene Wolfe's New Fantasy
One of the great
pleasures of my 2002 Worldcon experience was meeting
Here's a man who has charted a unique course in the history
of fantasy and speculative fiction, who has created works both groundbreaking
and yet filled with carefully conceived classical literary allusions
and techniques. In a field where yesterday's troublemaker is today's
standard-issue, he's managed to continue making trouble even as his
earliest works attain classic status. And yes, to spot another gaping
hole in my science fiction reading, I've never read anything beyond
the short fiction found in 'The Architecture of Fear', one of those
great "horror boom of the eighties" anthologies that really
held its value and interest.
The Mind of Minette Walters
12-22-03: Three of a Perfect Pair
Since I know that readers have missed my one time invariable method of centering all illustrations, I went book shopping on Saturday and picked up six titles, four of which allow, nay encourage, a return to the time honored format. That's because I found two pairs of books by authors of great interest to me in the used section at Logos, and was actually told to pick them up by the Accounting Department. Who am I to question accounting?
Clive Barker's Books of Stageplays
The first to catch my eye was this pair of Clive Barker titles from 1996. Each came pre-wrapped in a Bro-Dart dj protector, and they were both in fine condition, with a little browning from the less-than-stellar quality of the paper used to print them upon.
'Incarnations' includes the three plays I was familiar with from back in the day; not that I have seen them mind you, but I have heard about 'Colossus', 'Frankenstein in Love' and 'History of the Devil'. 'Colossus' is about the painter Goya, and offers up some lovely cannibalism, along with side dishes of love and art. But it's 'Frankenstein in Love or The Life of Death' that's the work of 'Grand Guignol', based on Mary Shelley's work and not Clive's own atmospheric masterpiece of a short story. Bloody chains and butcher's hooks are called for in the scene-setting instructions, which Clive in his introductions suggests may be "too sparse". He goes on to relate that audience members tend to pass out or leave during the staging of this rather intense piece, much as they did during the screenings of his movies. Now, as much as I liked his movies, I never found them that intense, nor did I see anyone leave, though I must admit to turning off the VCR the first time I saw 'Hellraiser II: Hellbound', just about the time the asylum inmate started shaving the imaginary roaches from his body with a straight razor. I still think this is one of the most disturbing and effective horror movies you can find, though the non-CGI monsters may throw the young'uns for a loop. And finally, 'Incarnations' includes 'The History of the Devil', in which Ol' Scratch himself is put on trial for the illumination of the audience. All three titles were familiar to me from back in the 'Weaveworld' days, and it's nice to have them here for reference.
'Forms of Heaven' includes another familiar title, 'Subtle Bodies', which apparently was morphed into Quiddity, the "Sea of Dreams" from one of my favorite Barker titles, 'The Great and Secret Show'. In it, a hotel becomes a ship sailing on those seas, with lots of odd sex and offbeat horror to follow. Both 'Subtle Bodies' and 'Crazyface' were apparently written for a workshop in the time before Barker's books were earning enough money to furnish an umpteen-room mansion in Coldheart, make that Coldwater Canyon up above Hollowood. Barker hasn't always lived a life of luxury, though he's apparently flush enough now that he's only barely visible. I'm waiting for the next blip of the 'Abarat' quartet (NOT a quadrilogy, whoever dreamed up that word needs some intensive Strunk & White Therapy). I'm told we're going to get something mid-year 2004. I'm wondering if the Disney-funded movies are still on order, or if they're to come after the novels.
Moorcock Brings Elric to Reality as We Sort-Of Know It
The next perfect pair I found were these two fine new novels by Michael Moorcock. I'm of the generation that grew up in my teen years devouring the saga of Elric of Melnibone, sucked in by Moorcock's dream of puissant powerlessness, the sword that kills for you and passes on it's power to your living bag of mostly-water. So I was intrigued a couple of years ago when I saw both reviewed by SciFi Weekly. Seeing both sitting there on the shelf in fine condition hardcovers, I couldn't pass them up. These books both bring Elric into the 20th century, with Nazis and the UN hovering the background. Interestingly enough, one of the characters is named White Crow, the name of a hero made famous in novels of a similar nature by Mary Gentle. Moorcock's impact on the field is inestimable. He blended horror and fantasy and science fiction seamlessly into something very striking that's since been liberally ripped off by lots of movie makers and inspired more than a few writers. I'm curious to see if the icons of my wayward teen years will hold up under the cold-scrutiny of a crabby old man who is currently the father of teenagers. Fuck that, man!
2 in Womack's Ambient series
And finally, we have two singletons, in case there are readers who already grow nostalgic for the new style of News. I had to pick up this copy of Jack Womack's 'Heathern', which, according to the man himself, is the follow-up to the first novel of Womack's wonderful, powerful 'Random Acts of Senseless Violence'. (See this earlier news article for the skinny on how to read Womack's wonderful "Ambient" series.) Here we find drug kingpins shoulder-to-shoulder with schoolteacher Messiahs. Barely 200 hundred pages, this looks to be a really rocking read that I hope to get to sooner rather than later. I tried, this weekend, I really tried, and not only posted that enormous column but also read my first Pelecanos, which I hope to have reviewed Real Soon Now, in between cleaning the house, fighting with teens and shopping for Christmas presents. Never a dull moment here!
Last week, when I was starting on a column about the influences of modern fantasy-genre fantasy (that is fantasy that sells in the science fiction and fantasy genre section of the bookstore as opposed to that which gets shelved with literature), I was trying to find out a bit about Mervyn Peake. The best source I found on the web was a timeline from Irmin Schmidt, the keyboard player for a German band I've enjoyed greatly, Can.
But other considerations
had me set aside this column and work on the awards column instead.
So cut to Saturday, when I find
staring me in
the face none other than a Mervyn Peake biography from Overlook
Press, 'My Eyes Mint Gold', on sale for a mere $9.98. How could
I pass it
up? Filled with hundreds of illustrations, it's a real mint of
information about this enigmatic writer.