This Just In...News from The Agony Column

Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

 This Just in..News from the Agony Column

04-16-04: Good News from Lake Wu and Book Giveaway Winners Finally Shipped

Jay Lake & Frank Wu's Postcard from the over the Edge

Front and back covers of Lake Wu. I love collaborations between artists and writers. Click on the image for a larger version.

It was only last month that I finally scored my own copy of 'Greetings from Lake Wu', the collaboration between writer Jay Lake and artist Frank Wu. It's another one of those top-shelf books that have been shouting for attention. Well, with Jay Lake getting a Hugo nod for his novelette, 'Into the Gardens of Sweet Night' and being selected as a finalist for the 2004 John W. Campbell Award, it's high time I catch up with this talented and fascinating writer.

If you've not scored your own copy of Lake Wu, now is the time to do so. It's a gorgeous and beautifully produced book, with a lot of meaty stories to chew on; all illustrated by Hugo award winning illustrator Frank Wu. But as with everything, there's an exception in the batch. That would be the story 'Who Sing But Do Not Speak', in which the story is a prose response to the illustration, and the illustration itself is a response to the classic story 'Love is the Plan, The Plan is Death' by James Tiptree, Jr.

As much as I like short stories (more in theory than in practice), it's very nice to have a full-blown novella thrown in for no additional cost. In this case, it's 'The Murasaki Doctrine', original to this collection. At over 100 pages, it's worth the price of admission alone. Jay's work runs the gamut of genre, from works that might be nominally described as horror, to science fiction, to fantasy to Just Plain Weird. Buy a copy for your oh-so-literary friends and ready yourself to receive their thanks.

Jay Lake & cup.
While you'll only see the little-bitty pictures on this page, you can see the full-blown front cover and back cover in these pop-out windows. Oh the joys of JavaScript. I'm not going to reproduce the pictures within, because a) you should buy this book at the bargain price of $19.95, b) it would thrash the spine of my book, and I'm very loathe to do so.

Let's get back to that bargain price, because it's important. This is a small-run, small-press release by a writer who has Future Big Name stitched on his forehead. (I know this; I've seen his forehead.) In other words, it's not only a great reading experience, it's one hell of a nice book to hang on to. When you kick the bucket, and your kids can finally say the words "Let's get rid of all of Dad[/Mom]'s crazy-ass books!" aloud, they'll be well served by the copy of this book when they sell it on eBay. And also remember that you're serving the purpose of supporting independent voices in the publishing world. This is no small feat. Do your brain a favor, do your kids a favor, and do some poor cash-rich collector of the future a favor. This is for posterity, man. Get a grip.

"We're Givin' 'em away"

Pounds of books -- very, very good books. For free.

Yesterday, I finally got round to shipping the books to the winners of the book giveaway. Alas, I just sent out something to everyone who wrote, and because I was so tardy, I sent a lot of something out. There are some pretty damn great things in these envelopes, trust me. I've been fantastically fortunate in my ability to buy books, so much so that my spouse has donated to me my own room. But I'm fast running out of space, so I'm going to run the occasional giveaway to clear out titles where I have like three duplicates. Look for more giveaways coming in the future. And be fast to respond, because next time around, I may not have quite so much to spread out.

One thing about the book giveaways is that to a certain extent, they're sort of like what Mad Magazine used to call "gifts for finks". Let me explain. The idea in the Mad Magazine article was that you'd give the wife of a fink a fuchsia purse. Then they'll have to buy an entire wardrobe to match it.

So, while I'm giving away these various titles, the hope is that the books you receive will inspire further book buying. But don't tell your spouse that. Tell your spouse that getting these books for free actually decreases the number of books in your house, and frees up space for his/her Greatly Desired Objects.

The solution to this problem is left to the student.

04-15-04: Hand this Alien a Hookah: Julie Czerneda Achieves 'Survival' of the Fittest Writing

A Word in Your Shell-Like

Can you smoke those plants?
Julie Czerneda is one of a long series of science fiction writers to toil in the trenches. She's turned out two paperback original series; 'Web Shifters' trilogy and the 'Trade Pact Universe' Trilogy. Her standalone paperback original, 'In the Company of Others', was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. She was once a professional biologist, and she's carried that scientific training into her close portrayals of alien races. Now she's celebrating the release of her first hardcover original, and the beginning of a new series: 'Survival: Species Imperative #1'.

The eye-catching cover art is from Luis Royo. It's interesting to read Czerneda's acknowledgements. Her first readers include Nalo Hopkinson and Jack McDevitt and her editor is no less than Sheila Gilbert. That's something of an all-star lineup, and Czerneda is tickled about this release. It looks big, beautiful and pretty darn interesting. Readers will know that I will always look twice at a book with an alien on the cover will catch my eye every time. A nicely painted alien on a gorgeous cover will get my fingers on the book. At a time when publishers are rolling back faster than a slug under a salt shaker, it's encouraging to see a hard-working paperback writer get a leg-up.

'Survival' tells the story of Dr. Mackenzie Connor, a senior administrator at the Norcoast Salmon Research Facility, not the most exciting of occupations. But that changes when Brymn, the first of the Dhryn race to set foot on Earth comes to "Mac" for help. Brymn is an archaeologist, trying to find out who carved a streak of lifeless planets in the galaxy known as The Chasm. Biologists are forbidden in the society of the Dhryn, and Brymn is seeking the help of Mac and fellow scientist Emily Mamani in finding out what created the Chasm. Mac and Emily politely decline the offer; until their facility is attacked, Emily is kidnapped and Mac finds herself on the run with Brymn and the Earth special agents escorting him. It appears that the Ro, whom Brymn suspects of creating the Chasm, are here and perhaps bent on enlarging the scope of their work to include the Earth itself. It's not clear if Brymn has his own hookah or if Mac has to find one for him in the many and potentially hazardous head shops in San Francisco.

Czerneda's novel is clearly the stuff of totally mainstream science fiction; aliens, the world in peril, and scientist heroines written by heroine scientists. Blue skies and blue meanies; but wait, those aren't the meanies, are they? Those are the good guys. Welcome to the big leagues of science fiction, M. Cerneda. One down; is it two to go? This is a big vote of confidence from your publisher. Now it's up to her readers to buy the hardcover and keep Julie E. Czerneda in hardcover. You know who you are. Hop to it! And don't forget your hookah.

04-14-04: The 'Djinn' and the IHG Awards, Bored Amazons

From Left Coast Crime to the IHG Award

Smoke and mirrors and monsters.
While at Left Coast Crime, I attended a panel on 'Trends in Mystery Fiction', which I wrote a bit about in my first of two columns on the convention. The next column will come out next week. I mentioned that agent Kimberly Cameron had quipped about the number of 'Da Vinci Code' ripoffs coming in on a daily basis. However, I neglected to mention another comment she made. She'd talked about a book she bought that went against most of the things she would typically have found herself interested in; this novel was a first novel that included elements of a war novel, a mystery novel, a science fiction novel and a horror novel. That novel -- 'Djinn', by Matthew B. J. Delaney, just won the IHG award for best first novel.

The IHG awards are juried, not a popular vote. For more information on the IHG award, take a gander at my 'Award Winning Agonies' column, which covers all the major awards in which I'm interested in depth. You can also take a look at the IHG Website, which offers a complete list of the award winners and nominees, which include in the Novel category includes John Shirley's 'Crawlers' and Stewart O'Nan's 'The Night Country' (winner Peter Straub's 'lostboy lostgirl'), a First Novel category that includes KJ Bishop's 'The Etched City' and Jeff VanderMeer's 'Veniss Underground' (winner "Djinn') and other nominees that have graced this column including Elizabeth Hand's'Bibliomancy', Michael Marshall Smith's 'More Tomorrow and Other Stories', Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts' 'The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases', Lucius Shepard's 'Floater', Cemeterey Dance and The Third Alternative, and Edward Miller, AKA Les Edwards. Phwew.

OK, back to reality, Rick. Reality is sitting on the desk next to me in the form of a 400+ page hardcover from St. Martin's Press. The novel begins in 1943, on the island of Bougainville. US soldiers sent to fight the Japanese find themselves confronting something considerably more dangerous and horrifying. One of them leaves -- with a small box. Well, can you blame him? It's not like he had the cultural heritage of 60 years of horror movies to draw on suggesting that he leave the box behind. Fast forward to 2008, whoa -- that is forward, isn't it? -- and you've got a serial killer in Boston doing nasty things to bodies that might seem familiar to a certain survivor of WWII. A glance at the novel makes me suspect that there's just enough cheese here to make the whole concoction go down a treat.

I'm quite looking forward to reading this big fat novel. You've got a guaranteed monster and lots of scenic color along the way. The Djinn seem a to be a good subject for horror novels. Tim Powers' 'Declare' used them to masterful effect. [Of course, pretty much anything that Tim Powers does is masterful. So therefore, one who decides to walk the same realm has made a decision informed by one of the best writers around. And therefore, looks eminently readable.]

The upshot of all this meandering is that 'Djinn' gets a good glean from several different sources. A tried-and-true quality mystery agent bought the manuscript; a major house published it; it won a juried award; it works themes handled by one of our favorite writers; it's got a monster. Now for some (Me? What, ME Worry?) that last bit will be enough. For others, the first few points will turn the page. For Matthew B. J. Delaney, the plan is clear; write a second novel as good as the first. Not always as easy as it seems alas. It's a monster that won't submit to silver bullets, heat rays or any of the usual weapons.

Bored Amazon Mischief

Reynolds' new novel.

Oh they get bored working over at * Or somebody did. I'm positively gaga over Reynolds' 'Absolution Gap', so I was puttering about looking at the entry for his forthcoming novel, 'Century Rain'. When I first viewed it, it had a cover from a mystery anthology edited by Michael Connelly. It's paired in a "buy two" advert with Iain Banks forthcoming 'SF Novel', of interest to me because I just scored a first HC of the first book in his series. Follow the link and you find what happens when website content writers get too much time on their hands. Tasked with the unenviable chore of writing about a book that can only be described as 'SF Novel', forthcoming from Iain Banks, the writer and some entertaining reviewers take a swipe not at Banks but at the process of reviewing and previewing books itself. The page is likely to get wiped quickly; if you want to see the original, check this link; or it that's gone, my handy image-captured version can be popped-up here. In either case, enjoy the thrill of others' boredom. It's easier than it sounds!

04-13-04: John Clute 'Scores'

Visions from the Oracle

A vision from the Oracle's wife.
If any readers have any thoughts about Clute being merely a critic, forget them. Clute is light years beyond critic, reviewer, or any description less than oracle. When science fiction has need to replenish, when science fiction needs to see itself, it goes to John Clute.

'Scores' is a 400-plus page collection of heavily (and very usefully) indexed considerations, we'll call them, of, if not the best, then certainly, the most interesting works of science fiction from the last decade. From Paul J McAuley's 'Red Dust (1993) to William Gibson's 'Pattern Recognition' (2003), Clute offers clues as to why we read and why we should read science fiction. Most importantly, he offers us hotwired-to-the-psyche/intellect reasons as to how we should read science fiction. Science fiction is connected to us as readers and to our world. Those connections are made clear through the visions of Clute.

Let me make this clear. John Clute does not review books. If you want book reviews, well you're in the right place. If you want a deep understanding of how science fiction as a literature, as an art form, informs us of ourselves, how it illuminates what we are, what we were and what we might yet become, then read John Clute. And if not, then you should still read John Clute, because he's clever, witty, and often very funny, when he's not being maddeningly insightful.

If you don't like to argue with the written word, if you don't like to address the printed page, then perhaps Clute's book is not for you. You're certainly not going to agree with everything he writes. Sometimes, you'll find yourself shouting at him. And afterwards, when you've calmed down, you'll realize that he's made you think more about what you've read than what you've read made you think about what you've read. You haven't bought it yet? Go order it now. Pick a book. Ask a question. The oracle's answers await you. Your reading life, your understanding of life it-goddamned-self will be richer, more perverse, more complex than you might like afterwards. Get used to it. You deserve these kinds of riches. That would include the lovely cover image from his wife, Judith Clute, a talented artist with a rather different method of seeing into the reader's brain.

In the interim, it's up for a richly deserved Hugo award, in the same category as 'The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases', best associated book. Talk about an embarrassment of riches! Well, of course, something had to make up for the mere embarrassments, didn't it?

04-12-04: Remembrance of books past.

Elizabeth Redfern from 'Music of the Spheres' to 'Aurelius Rising'

A new gold standard for historical mystery.
Some books get an edge just because of when you read them. For me, Elizabeth Redfern's 'Music of the Spheres' is probably a good example. It came out in mid-2001, shortly after I'd left a longtime employer. It was summer, and each morning I had to take my teenage son to summer school in another city. The classes he took lasted just over two hours, and the drive was just under 30 minutes. It wasn't really worthwhile to drive there, drop him off, return home, then drive back and pick him up. I found myself with two hours to kill every day. What I did was to take a book with me and read in a nearby country park. Surrounded by old-growth redwoods it was an idyllic location.

That's where I read 'Music of the Spheres'. It's a dense, atmospheric and very dark novel set in England during the French Wars. I know in my brain that it's not the book to end all books, just as I know that it's a damn good book anyway. But the memories of reading it in the park, the sense of change that everything was going to hell, and not, watching the main character annihilate a career, it all had a bit more impact than it might have otherwise had.

So I've been waiting patiently for almost three years for the follow-up. This Easter, potting about the mall with my mother, my wife and the kids, I stumbled across 'Aurelius Rising', prominently displayed and snapped it up without thinking. So when they ask me "What were you thinking?", I can say: "Nothing."

Nonetheless, this novel does look like another nice 'Alienist' style slice of historical mystery with at least a nod towards the subjects of speculative fiction. You can't write about John Dee without getting an attentive stare from the horror readers. And Alchemy seems to be doing quitealrightthankyouverymuch, what with Neal Stephenson's 'The Confusion' burning up the shelves and 'The System of the World' in the pipeline.

But back to Elizabeth Redfern, the English schoolteacher who penned 'Aurelius Rising'. I'm not sure why she took so long, but I'm ready for another bout of depressing, depraved Victoriana. I don't have time to read in the park nowadays alas. But it's Spring, the birds are tweeting and maybe I'll have to make the time. It's never too early to start planning the past of my own future.