This Just In...News from The Agony Column

Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

 This Just in..News from the Agony Column

04-10-04: A Hugo for Thackery?

EmCit, Stross, Berkwitz & More

A Hugo for Thackery?
The Hugo Nominations are now up at the Noreascon 4 Website. No need for me to recount them all; you can check for yourself just as easily. I do feel compelled, however, to give an Agony Column Executive Overview. Alas, I'm away from my wireless network now, so I'll have to discuss them based on my entirely faulty memory. I do recall that 'Singularity Sky', the first novel from Charlie Stross, is up for a best novel award, and I'm happy to hear that. reviewer Jeff Berkwitz and Emerald City's Cheryl Morgan are both up for Fan Writer, along with perennial favorite David Langford. It's great to see that Cheryl's website, 'Emerald City' gets a nod as well.

For me, the big news is that Jeff Vandermeer's and Mark Roberts' 'The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases' is up for a Hugo for Best Associated Book. Congratulations are out to Jeff and Mark on a tough job well done. Credit should be go as well to John Coulthart's amazing illustrations. The Hugo committee has done the unlikely and beat their own deadline by a day. They certainly deserve a hearty congratulations as well. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the long run, and give myself more time to see who else was nominated and eventually, how all this plays out in the Fall. In the interim: Congratulations to all the nominees. Your first front-cover blurb is waiting!

04-09-04: Down the Path to VanderMania and Further to One Shot Press

VanderMeer Websites and a New Mystery Imprint from Wildside home page by Scott Eagle.

While we're in the full clutches of VanderMania, and whilst I'm away (for Easter Holiday) from the scanner which fills my site with rich and often slightly crooked graphics, I'll take the opportunity to mention Jeff's two, count 'em two new websites put together by J. T. Lindroos.

Supporting the world of all things Ambergris is This is, as Jeff says in his VanderWorld newsletter, a static site, meant to collect all the minutia of Ambergris. If three versions of 'City of Saints and Madmen' and numerous planned sequels are not enough for you, there's more here. And more importantly there's a decryption of the encrypted story in 'City of Saints and Madmen'. Now you can go ahead and simply read the decrypted version, but as VanderMeer points out in his article, you'll miss out on all the subtleties of the encryption process. Scott Eagle, who did the cover splash for 'City of Saints and Madmen' provides artwork for this site.

More Scott Eagle and Jeff VanderMeer.

Also up is, based on Eagle's artwork for the forthcoming Golden Gryphon anthology of Jeff's short fiction, 'Secret Life'. I'm about halfway through this now, and finding it fantastic in all senses of the word. What strikes me most is the unexpected variety of VanderMeer's visions; they're not all hallucinogenic fever dreams. But when they are, you don't want to wake up.

Allan Guthrie promises 'Tartan Noir'.
Of course, in the world of The Agony Column, one good thing often leads to another. So a note to J. T. Lindroos led to his mention of a new Wildside Press imprint dedicated to crime fiction. Point Blank Press will be publishsing a fascinating list of authors, including according to Lindroos, "James Sallis, Ed Gorman, Michael Collins (Dennis Lynds), James Reasoner and many others (including some great new authors)."

We'll definitely be looking at these; the James Reasoner and the Allan Guthrie titles look quite interesting to me. We're two steps down the line; where will these titles lead?

04-08-04: 'The Pearl Diver': A First Novel by Jeff Talarigo

Japanese Lepers and Pearl Divers

The photograph that inspired the novel.

Readers will know that I'm fascinated with books about disease and its effects on human lives. Non-fiction, fiction, meta-fiction; I like them all. From 'The Coming Plague' to 'The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases', I'm a sucker for sickness. Of course, many would label that interest itself an illness, and they may be right.

So when one of my contacts over at Random House told me about Jeff Talarigo's new novel, I had to admit that I was quite interested. Talarigo got his start interning with 'The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour', which should tell you something about when he was there. But he was caught up by the world he was reporting on, and he moved to Gaza and lived in a Palestinian refugee camp. He got a few publications in literary journals out of those experiences before he moved to Japan, where he now lives.

The cover photo for the novel is what led him to write a novel about Hansen's disease, which is more generally known as leprosy. It's a picture of a pearl diver on the island of Nagashima, where the Japanese sent their lepers. The novel imagines the story of this woman. As a young woman, she looks forward to a life at sea, carrying out her age-old occupation. After being diagnosed with leprosy and exiled to Nagashima, she's forced to re-create herself.

But hers is a mild case of the ailment, so she is tasked with taking care of the others who are more severely affected. Her relationships with a writer, a Korean storyteller, a gardener, a tank poet and an urn painter help her reclaim her new life. This is short, succinct novel that reads quite smoothly. A first novel, just over 200 pages, disease -- it sounds like my cuppa. And it sounds like I can wedge it into the queue, in between the thick bricks of space opera, ah, at last, that I'm currently devouring.

04-07-04: Brit Lit Mysteries and American Bad Men

Brookmyre & Fowler in the UK and Connolly in the US

..or Fuck this for a game of soldiers.
A couple of must-read mystery writers have just released the UK versions of their latest novels. Had I been a bit better prepared, I would have had them over on an earlier order from the *.*, but I found myself in need of these titles after the package had arrived, and thus, another order was required.

I've read every book that Christopher Brookmyre has written, like a good compulsive reader, in the order they were written. This is not always the preferred order by the author, but it certainly works for Brookmyre. His latest novel is a move away from the Angelique De Xavia books and harkens the return of our old favorite, Jack Parlabane, the hero of 'Country of the Blind' and 'Boiling a Frog'. This time round, Jack, a pushy and obnoxious news reporter, is off for a bit of relaxation while he attends a corporate team-building outdoor weekend. Given that the novel might have been titled, according to Brookmyre, 'Fuck this for a Game of Soldiers', you can imagine that things don't go well. But they do no doubt go amusingly awry. The return of a favorite character, a profane title and an opening rant that says of everybody's favorite election-year surprise find, Osama Bin Laden: "If he'd been born into a semi in Subiton he'd have painted his bedroom black, got himself a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt and hung around swingparks drinking cider from plastic bottles."

And that gets you to paragraph 2.

Also up at bat is a longtime favorite of mine, Christopher Fowler. I loved his short story collection 'City Jitters' so much I sought it out in hardcover, and believe me it wasn't easy to find. In his latest, 'Full Dark House', two characters who showed up in 'Rune', and in numerous stories in 'City Jitters', Detectives Bryant and May, take center stage. The novel begins with an explosion that has one investigating the death of the other, and falling down memory lane to remember their first case together during WWII. Full of deft supernatural touches, and entertaining witty British dialogue, 'Full Dark House' is comfort reading of the highest order.

While these writers have just appeared in the UK, with no sign of imminent release domestically, John Connolly's 'Bad Men' has made an appearance in American bookstores. Terry and I both read the UK version, and liked it a lot. It's one of those wind-up thrillers, when bad good people and bad men move inevitably towards one another in a reversed human version of continental drift. Like watching a car crash over 400 quickly-turned pages, it's tough to look away and easy to get caught up in Connolly's well-wrought tale, which, like Fowler's includes nice fillips of the supernatural. If you didn't get the UK version, then you might want to pick up the American version; unless you’re in the UK, in which case -- what are you waiting for? It's inevitable reading.

04-06-04: Ian McDonald's Indian Summer and Eggleton Literally on Turtledove

River of Gods

A small copy of the PS Publishing cover. Click the image or here to pop-up a full-size view.
One of my reading buddies -- who currently has the latest Patricia McKillip novel, the latest Simmons masterpiece, and Gregory Maguire's 'Wicked' -- was the one who introduced me to Ian McDonald. Long ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and WERE PAID TO DO SO, she and I worked the IT line of terror for Those Who Shall Not Be Named. She asked me if I knew anything about McDonald, to which I answered my usual, "Yep, heard he's good -- is he?" She told me she loved his stuff and had me include a couple of McDonald's in one memorable UK overseas order from Cold Tonnage, if I'm not mistaken.

In the twilight of the dinosaurs, I managed to read my first McDonald novella; 'Tendeleo's Story', from PS Publishing, with a wonderful cover by David A. Hardy and an introduction by no less a luminary than Robert Silverberg. I really loved it; it was imaginative, detailed, and very, very human. Apparently, it was one of McDonald's Chaga series, which includes 'Chaga', published in the US as 'Evolution's Shore' and 'Kirinya', which may not actually have made it to the US; it's frankly difficult for me to tell. Since the true first came from the UK, I'd be inclined to buy it from the UK anyway. Readers will recognize that I'm that kind of book-buyer. (Though I might buy a US edition reading copy; I'm that kind of book buyer as well.)

I don't believe that this is the final cover, but it's close.
Simon & Schuster UK send me word that his new novel is not going to be called 'Cyberabad', as originally reported. That's actually a pretty good call, since one of my favorite works is Stanislaw Lem's 'Cyberiad'. The potential for confusion in the non-Lem obsessed (which is actually far too much of the reading world, to my mind) is great. I'll even confess that my current computer is named cyberiad. There. I've dated myself. Are you happy now?

Well, if not, you will be when you snap up McDonald's latest, 'River of Gods', as it's now titled. It looks to be meaty, complex and delectable, and he's clearly been researching and writing the hell out of it. Or maybe into it. This is, after all, a novel of India in the year 2047. The promo copy with this book is pretty frightening. Let me quote: "India currently supplies 30% of the world's IT software engineers." In case you wanted to know what killed off the dinosaurs.

McDonald is perhaps the king of third-world (soon to be first world, if trends continue) science fiction. The novel follows the course of ten characters, is nearly five hundred pages long and the soundtrack, as listed by the author in the back of the book, includes Autechre and Boards of Canada. It'll be on the shelves June 7. Forget the stupid movies. The real blockbusters are the novels of this summer.

Harry Turtledove & Bob Eggleton

Bob Eggletron rules alright.
Harry Turtledove was crafting alternate histories before they were the next or the last big thing, and he's kept at it steadily. I have to admit that I enjoyed the hell out of the 'WorldWar' series. My wife bought me the first one for my birthday, and one for each of the following three years. Turtledove provided a humorous, tension-filled delight.

Apparently emboldened by the positive response to his revision of WWII, he decided to do it again, only this time the shtick is to substitute magic for technology. So you get a WWII with dragons to replace the B-52's. And you get a longer, thicker series that continues in "Jaws of Darkness'. While I like Turtledove, I'd have a hard time keeping up with his output. He seems to write about twice as many books as the average author, and they all sell at a rapid clip, because, one presumes that other readers like myself find Turtledove to be quite dependably enjoyable.

I've got to admit, however, that the absolutely delectable Bob Eggleton cover for this novel is particularly appealing. And in the marketing department, they ought to pay attention to the fact that this can take the novel from the "sort of want" to the "will buy" pile quite handily. And when you read it, since you know what you’re getting, you'll likely be a happy camper. But when you read Turtledove, or any other prolific author, you really have to control and schedule your reading, lest you burn out. That's not hard to do, but it does require a bit of planning. And that planning, which most of us do by piling up books in the living room or in the den, or in the bedroom, or in all those places and more -- is actually one of the greatest sources of fun in the reading game. You can wallow. You can positively wallow in your choice. Having all these books to choose from, to read -- can you ask for anything more? Other than more books that is.

04-05-04: Interviews with George Pelecanos and Richard Morgan

A Good Day At KQED in San Francisco

George Pelecanos talks about the good things -- and the bad things in life. Hear the MP3 or RealAudio interview.
A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip up Highway 280 to San Francisco, home of KQED studios, where I had the privilege of speaking to George P. Pelecanos. Terry D'Auray insisted that I read this talented writer, and wrote a column that helped me turn the corner. Of course, once I picked up 'Right as Rain' and read the entertaining first chapter, written in some of the cleanest and most precise prose that has ever gone in my eyes, I was utterly hooked. To prepare for the interview, which I knew was a possibility as far back as December, I read through the entire Strange/Quinn series, which consists of 'Right as Rain', 'Hell to Pay' and 'Soul Circus'. His newest, 'Hard Revolution', I knew was coming out in a limited edition from Dennis McMillan; I bought two of these beautiful volumes. I believe that there are still a few left; I'd suggest you hie yourself hence to his website and ask him. But then, you'd also want to pick up the Little, Brown version as well. (Many of these are signed; check your copies at the bookseller.) Look, you need a reading copy, and if you ask, you might just get one of the CD's that came with it. And you definitely want the CD.

The journey is long and the traffic is unpredictable, so I arrived quite early. I asked if I could go on ahead and get set up, and was told by the ever courteous staff that they were using the studio at present, but they'd let me know when I could go in and start prepping. There's a bit of time required to fire up the laptop and get the recording program going. After a brief wait, I was told that they were done with the interview they'd been taping and that I could now come back. As I accompanied the guide back to the studio, I asked who they'd been talking to. Last time, I explained, they'd been talking to Dan Hicks, a musician whose work I've admired and enjoyed for twenty years. When the unassuming-looking gent with an acoustic guitar had strolled past me, I had no idea who it was. This time, the guide had no idea who they'd been talking to. Oh well; I was here to interview George Pelecanos, not whoever had been in the studio before me.

At KUSP, I engineer the interviews, and the guest and I sit in the studio together. At KQED, you've got a separate booth with microphones and chairs, and a studio for the engineer with the boards and racks of recording devices. So I proceeded first to the booth, where I usually drop off my papers and such before taking the laptop to the studio. There, two people were in the process of breaking down from an interview, a young woman and a young man. The young woman who was the interviewer, had (as I often do) presumably brought along her current reading material to peruse while waiting. Yep, I'm one of those people who will not leave the house without a book in my hand, in case I get stuck waiting for a broken car (happened last Friday, alas) or some other bothersome time sink. In this case, the young woman was reading something very familiar to me and my readers; Richard Morgan's 'Broken Angels'. It not being what I expected, I said to her, "Who's reading this fabulous book? It's truly great."

"It's not who's reading it," she replied, "it's whose written it. That's Richard Morgan," she continued.

Dr. Moira Gunn of NPR's nationally syndicated show, Technation.
My lucky day. Turned out I was talking to Dr. Moira Gunn, of TechNation, a nationally syndicated NPR program, who had chosen to interview Morgan about his thoughts on extending one's life via upload and transplant technology. The show should be online next week; I'll post a link for my readers since I'm certain that Dr. Gunn has a very different agenda than do I. It sounds as if it will be fascinating.

I introduced myself, suspecting that Mr. Morgan knew who I was, and happily, I was right. Even better, his schedule was open, and I was able to secure time for an interview later that afternoon. Do you need a better reason to arrive early? I don't!

In the interim, however, I had my much-anticipated interview with Mr. Pelecanos. He arrived promptly, and we had an excellent conversation about his writing. He's a fascinating guy, intelligent and well-spoken. No surprise if you've read his work. The interview is now up on the site, and you can listen to the MP3 or the RealAudio version.

Working out, are we?
Upon finishing the interview with George Pelecanos, I set about finding a place to record an interview with Mr. Morgan. I was eventually able to use the same studio I had for the earlier interview, thanks to my gracious hosts at KQED. This was a boon to me, since it gave me a couple of hours to write up some questions for Morgan. Fortunately, I'd actually brought a portable printer. When one lugs about such a piece of technology, one's happy to find a good reason to make use of it.

Richard Morgan showed up again a couple hours after my interview with Pelecanos. (Thanks to his driver for his help in the matter!) We got in the studio, turned on the machine and Richard barely made it to his next appointment. It was a wonderfully fun interview. Potential listeners are advised that there is some language that you will not hear on NPR in the interview. (I'll either edit it or beep it, not sure yet!) Morgan is every bit as witty and entertaining and scathingly funny as you might expect. The interivew is online in MP3 and RealAudio formats. We talk about all his novels; 'Altered Carbon', 'Broken Angels' and 'Market Forces', his experience as a writer, and this thoughts on novels and the need for change. Fun stuff; listen for the Martin Riggs vs Bush & Blair scenario. Definitely worth the price of admission!

Take the time to download these interviews and get to know two prominent and talented and very different writers. It will certainly illuminate your reading experience as you enjoy the novels by these authors.