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 This Just in..News from the Agony Column


01-02-04: Andy Goldsworthy is worthy of your Time

...and Money

Time! Has come today...

On January 1, Bookshop Santa Cruz has a significant sale. Given that the rest of the house was asleep, and my movements were certain to wake them soon, I took a trip down there and spent far more than I intended. The biggest hit came from the huge art book by Andy Goldsworthy, 'Time'.

OK, normally, I'm not one for art books, but I really like Goldsworthy's work both conceptually and aesthetically. That is, to me conceptually, he seems to be a visual incarnation of the thought processes behind the works of say, Phillip Glass, whose music I often enjoy. His shtick, as it were is to create from nature using sticks and stone and ice and leaves. He re-arranges nature into something pleasing and then documents what happens as nature takes it away through entropic decay. In theory it sounds very interesting. It's a sort of mathematical take on outdoor art.

Boulder creek.
But theory wouldn't make me buy the book, which I had seen before but passed over, only to see it disappear. When it returned, at a bargain price I cannot disclose because it is still remarkably irresponsible for me to have bought it, well, I acted impulsively. I love the way Goldsworthy's stuff looks. It's quite beautiful, and my downsized JPEGs here certainly don't do the book justice. It's a beautiful book, nicely printed, and the text is fascinating as it follows Goldsworthy's journeys across the landscape. This is powerful stuff -- or powerfully silly, if you are inclined towards dismissal. But if you like the ideas ,and you like the execution, then the book itself is clearly worthy buying. One of these days we're going to have to pull ol' Jimmy Hoffa out of retirement and get that coffee table back. I can stack it high now that the kids are teenagers. The only worry is soda circles on dust jackets. Even covered, as these are, the very thought makes me instinctively cautious.

01-01-04: A Concise History of Lying

Remainder Table Alert!

The buried lie.

When 'The Concise Book of Lying' by Evelin Sullivan came out a couple of years ago, I came this close to buying it -- really! I love the idea of a book about lying. For one thing, this book is a very useful sourcebook for writers. An examination of the history and pathology of lying is practically synonymous with a history of literature, which is, after all, one big honkin' lie. But more importantly, I'm interested in the lies people tell and why they tell them and what happens when they're caught in an embarrassing lie. It's just the kind of thing that I like to label horror. Ask yourself -- how many times have you heard someone say 'I could have died!" in reference to being caught out in a lie or an embarrassing situation. While we like to think of pain as something associated with Grievous Bodily Harm, emotional pain is far worse, simply because there's no easy cure, no simple end in sight. The horror of emotional pain -- and not just breaking up with your significant other -- is a horror that's rarely explored.

While I can't say that it's explored in this Remainder Table Alert book, I can say that I heard the author interviewed and thought her take on lying as a cultural phenomenon was fascinating and detailed. She also covers lie detector tests, another wonderful means of approved torture. I don't know if you've ever taken a lie detector test, but I have, and I have to say, "I could have died!" Long ago, as a teenager, I applied for a job at a what was it, a 7-11? -- and was promptly sat down and tormented by a sadistic mid-level manager to see whether I was worth of working like a dog for slave wages. Turned out I wasn't. But I never forgot the experience. Ritual humiliation doesn't get any better than the lie detector test. What's more, they're at least as accurate as the "Toss her in the pond and see if she floats!" test for witches. Power corrupts, and the corrupted rot. Rot in hell and good riddance.

OK, I feel better now. I'm going to read a nice space opera and enjoy the New Year's Day Holiday. I swear it on a stack of Bibles. Really!

12-31-03: David Denby is an American Sucker

What Goes Around....

Will write for a huge advance and a percentage of royalties with ancillary movie rights negotiable. Is HBO interested?

… is in general, money.

Usually from the lower and middle classes towards the wealthy via corporations, if you ask me.

But you didn't ask me.

You asked writer David Denby. In the year 2000, Denby was riding high. He was employed as a staff writer for the New Yorker, living in a seven room Manhattan apartment, had a wife of 18 years and two kids. Then his wife announced that she was leaving him. He was going to lose everything he had worked for -- his family, his apartment, his high-rollin' life. He had to hang on to his home. He had to buy out his wife's half of the apartment. So with the help of friends like Sam Waksal and Henry Blodgett, he invested his life's savings, hundreds of thousands of dollars, in high-flying high-tech stocks. He researched his investments like a fanatic, traveling coast to coast to understand why and where his money was best invested. He was going to make a million dollars.

You can guess that his best-laid plans were waylaid by the realities of life. If seeing a fabulously wealthy set-up-up-the-wazoo New Yorker spiral down the fiscal toilet that slurped the savings of millions of people and sent them -- where? -- appeals to you, then this is your book. I've got to say it sounds appealing to me. You get two views here. One is of the man himself, with his sordid affairs, Internet porn addictions, whinging and pleading for the sake of the presumably spoiled children. Then there's the go-getter ultra-connected writer, working the system with the full intention of twisting every lever he can lay his hands on to get some serious cash to come out of that spigot. What comes out of that spigot is none too pleasant. Ahhh, sweet revenge upon the wealthy and famous. Watch them spiral, watch them wave. Even when they crash, it's on a plateau that you or I could never hope to achieve. Come the revolution….

Of course, Denby's written a book about it and he's all better now. Are you willing to throw a coin into his cup? They could also title this book WILL WRITE FOR FOOD. That's a sign a lot of people are wearing these days, myself included. Not too many of us, however, have a shiny green-covered, 320 page cup. I like that shiny green cover. Consider this my coin.

Oh, and a happy New Years to all my patient and kind readers.

12-30-03: T. E. D. Klein Then & Now

From Dark Gods to Untitled Collection

A bit scuffed but readable and quite nice.

It says something about our enlightened times when I find a 19 year-old collection of novellas and am reminded that back then, it was something odd and unique; today it would (one hopes) be a wonderful but unsurprising addition to the PS Publishing line.

Back in the day -- this day being the one in the mid 1980's during which the horror genre reigned supreme -- a name brand magazine made a big difference. Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine saw the first story published by an unknown named Dan Simmons. The magazine offered a handy guide to the Twilight Zone by Marc Scott Zicree, and later a guide to the Outer Limits by one David J. Schow. Joe R. Lansdale and Jonathan Carroll graced the pages with their short fiction. And editor T. E. D. Klein saw the publication of his novel, 'The Ceremonies'.

Like a lot of horror fiction back then, 'The Ceremonies' got quite a bit of acclaim, all of it deserved. There's a scene involving bees and a baby that never left my mind. But it was Klein's collection of four novellas, 'Dark Gods' that really got people excited. We'd seen a lot of short fiction, but not as much at the novella length. Collecting stories from the iconic anthology 'Dark Forces', edited by Kirby Macaulay, Shadows 2, the second installment in the long running anthology series edited by Charles Grant, and 'New Tales from the Cthulhu Mythos', an Arkham House anthology edited by Ramsey Campbell, along with a new novella, 'Dark Gods' brought an inimitable combination of classy low-key prose and exciting, intriguing ideas to the market. There's never been anything quite like it since -- simply because T. E. D. Klein hasn't written much since then.

Like a fool, back then I bought the paperback version of Klein's collection, and I've been looking for the hardcover version ever since. I wanted it so much I ended up buying two copies of 'The Ceremonies'. Last week, it finally came my way in a well-used but still decent condition hardcover over at Logos Books.

But this isn't all that's going to be available from this talented author. Finally, after umpteen years, the ever dependable Subterranean Press is going to release an Untitled Collection of Klein's short stories, including 'The Events at Poroth Farm', the novella from which 'The Ceremonies' grew. This is an important collection, and one readers won't want to miss. Of course, pretty much every damn thing over at Sub falls into this category. If only we had the money to match our desires, -- we'd probably be like the guy who had to be extracted from all his books and papers, alas.

12-29-03: Scoping the Alternatives

Strange Horizons on Genre Awards

Greg Beatty on SF Awards.

Yes, I do actually manage to read a few other websites in between the ever-growing task of maintaining this one. Of course, one of my favorites is Strange Horizons, and not just because they published an interview with Jeff VanderMeer I did earlier this year. Strange Horizons is an all-pro site for commentary, reviews and lots of great fiction. Their editor, Mary Anne Mohanraj, sent me an email pointing me to their 2002 coverage of the awards given to Science Fiction and fantasy genre titles. Written by Greg Beatty, it offers a comprehensive coverage of much (but not all) of the material I covered in my most recent column, with additional looks at other SF awards that I did not cover. That said, the more you know about these awards, the better informed you'll be if you make your choices for book-buying based on the awards. Beatty looks at awards like the Tiptree, the Sidewise, the Aurealis, and other more specialized genre awards. I'm actually beginning to pay some attention to these awards, and if you are, here's a nice little compendium of what they're about.

Emerald City Reaches 100

Emerald City Green.

I've been reading Cheryl Morgan's Emerald City since we met at Worldcon 2002, and I greatly enjoy her writing and her reading selections. She's been nominated for a Hugo, and came pretty damn close last year, I understand. She's celebrating her 100th issue with a special which includes special guest contributions by the likes of Ken Macleod, John Clute, David Brin, Mary Anne Mohanraj, and Sean McMullen. This is pretty stellar stuff, and well worth your time. She's also re-designed the site, and found a new shade of emerald to share with us. If you're not reading her stuff, you should be.