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05-14-04: Harry Bosch Gets the Harry Potter Treatment

Michael Connelly's 'The Narrows'

Free DVD with book purchase!
Michael Connelly’s latest destined-to-be-bestseller, the closely guarded ‘The Narrows’, officially hit bookstores in the US and Canada on May 3rd. No advance reading copies of the book were produced (since they somehow always find their way to the internet) to maintain the element of surprise, and, of course, to generate excitement and a bit of a “buzz” among followers of crime fiction. Connelly again breaks new ground by including a full-length DVD ‘Blue Neon Night - Michael Connelly’s Los Angeles’, directed by Terrill Lee Lankford, along with copies of his book. Connelly started this “multi-media gift with purchase” book marketing in the US with ‘Dark Sacred Night -The Music of Harry Bosch’ jazz CD bundled with ‘Lost Light’ back in 2003. Released concurrently with ‘The Narrows’ is a trade paperback edition of ‘The Poet’ with a new introduction by Stephen King. All in all, the sort of masterful marketing campaign usually reserved for Harry Potter, not Harry Bosch. A similar deal was on offer for George Pelecanos' recent novel, 'Hard Revolution'; you got CD of the music featured in the novel with the novel.

US (left) and UK (right) versions of the new Connelly novel.
In ‘The Narrows’, Connelly does something that back in 1996 he said he wouldn’t do – he resurrects his darkest, nastiest creation, Robert Backus, from ‘The Poet’, a villainous character left at large, roaming LA, some eight years ago. In explaining his change of heart, Connelly mentions his recent personal experience of fatherhood and its concomitant change in perception. It’s the same “having kids changes everything” viewpoint that has been echoed by any number of contemporary crime fiction writers, including Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos.

‘ The Narrows’ contains a couple of nifty novelties. It weaves together the primary characters of Connelly’s past books – FBI agent Rachel Walling, Terry McCaleb, even Cassy Black – along with new father Harry Bosch. It’s written in both first and third person. And rumor has it that it also makes some reference to Clint Eastwood’s less-than-successful movie of Connelly’s ‘Blood Work’. Sounds like a tantalizing mix of terrific noir fiction with Entertainment Weekly gossip.

Committed Connelly collectors should have already been setting aside a stash of cash for this release. Dennis McMillan has issued the “true” first in two formats, a morocco bound, slip cased edition of 156 for $250 and a Brillianta clothbound slip cased edition of 350 for $125 – both signed and numbered with cover art by Michael Kellner. The Little, Brown edition is the US trade first, followed shortly (May 10th) by Orion’s UK edition. Collectors will likely want them all, plus one to actually read! [Reported by Terry D'Auray]

05-13-04: A Dual Threat From Kevin J. Anderson, 'A Brand Old Universal Futurology of Infamy'

UK & US In Sync and Ready to Launch

Can I have the Aurora model of that spaceship?
Some authors do get a pretty much simultaneous release over here and in the UK. A good case in point is Kevin J. Anderson, whose new 'Saga of Seven Suns' series seems to me to be a pretty good bet for slack-jawed satisfaction in the space opera genre. Anderson writes fast, fun slick fiction. No, we're not talking literature for the ages, or if we are, it's for the ages of fifteen and up. I qualify for that age range -- barely -- and if I were to be headed for the beach this moment, I'd be happy to have one of these books in hand.

Having worked in other people's universes -- both George Lucas's 'Star Wars' and Frank Herbert's 'Dune' -- Anderson's finally struck out on his own in what looks to be a really fun space opera. The first novel, 'Hidden Empire' is also out in MMPB format. The newest, 'Horizon Storms' is due out later this year. If someone is going to write an annual space opera novel, at least Anderson has the good grace to keep up the pace and not leave readers hanging beyond their willingness to wait. Moreover, he's got a track record -- having cranked out book after book on time and under budget for years -- that suggests he'll be able to continue doing so. This is good news for all his fans, many of who might be discovering for the first time the pleasures of a non-media based book.

I read and really enjoyed Anderson's collaboration with Brian Herbert, 'Dune: The Butlerian Jihad'. For me, it was as if the authors had jettisoned thirty years of science fiction and managed to write from the point of view of authors in the 1970's. There was none of that messy cyberpunk influence; this was good old heavy metal done with a lot of verve and flair.

Warning: Sharp edges may cause injuries.
Anderson is certainly one of the hardest working writers we have; he not only keeps the shelves filled with 'Star Wars' novels -- with the help of his wife; he's also hard at work on the 'Dune' prequels and this, his own space opera. What really boggles the mind is that up until what -- about 8 years ago -- he was writing 'Star Wars' bestsellers, his own novels and working full-time in Silicon Valley.

As ever, it's interesting to note the difference in covers. The US cover is one hundred percent story based; you can see what looks to be a scene from the story, whether or not it is in fact a scene from the story. On the other hand, the UK cover is genre based. You look at that cover and you think: "Space Opera." Or perhaps "tinfoil origami". I'm betting the former, thinking the latter. Each cover has it's strengths; I'm inclined to like the latter in this case, but it's always nice to see a cover that indicates the artist read the book -- or at least talked to someone who did.

Research at Guinness Towers.
Rhys Hughes Studies the Future

Rhys Hughes, having conquered history with his wonderful 'A New Universal History of Infamy', wrote to tell me that "Bouffant Terrible: Margaret Thatcher", now running in the Fiction section of this website, is slated as part of a forthcoming collection.

"I'm seriously considering writing a sequel to 'New Universal History...' called 'A Brand Old Universal Futurology of Infamy' about people who haven't yet died or haven't yet been born or haven't yet done anything infamous... Margaret Thatcher is going to be the first of 7 new essays. I'm also thinking about the following as possible subjects: Luís Rodrigues (of Fantastic Metropolis fame), Enkidu, Man of Clay (from the Epic of Gilgamesh, but he gets reborn in the future), Precision and Silence (might as well have abstractions as subjects)... and two others I haven't yet decided on (though maybe 'Sequels' will be another)."

We'll keep you closely informed as to his progress. Obviously this is a volume to be shared and treasured with your loved ones.


05-12-04: One Year in a New York Alley, Fortean Times 184

Robert Sullivan Lives with 'Rats'

Man-rat-tan Island.
Get out your night vision goggles and head out for NYC with Robert Sullivan. You too can spend a year with 'Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants'.

But by reading the book you can avoid the cold, dirty, occasionally scary parts. Sullivan took a naturalists' eye view of the city, a fascinating approach that has yielded a book that I think many of my readers and I myself will enjoy. It's easy to think of the city as a purely human habitat, but that's clearly not the case. Sullivan, a contributing editor to Vogue and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, was, in his own peculiar way, emulating Thoreau. He just chose a filth-encrusted alley in New York as opposed to an idyllic pond in Massachusetts. What he found was that the alley was the perfect environment for rats.

As one might hope, you get a lot more than observations of rats at night. That's right, rats are nocturnal, so Sullivan started his watch before sundown, even in the rain, and simply observed what rats do. Sullivan learned that rats have teeth that are harder than steel, that they have sex up to 20 times a day, that your city rat is about twice as big as your country rat. He also talks about the two main kinds of rats you'll find in the city, including those lovely guys you see scurrying along the wires above your posh LA house. Those power lines are rat freeways.

Of course Sullivan talks about the myths of rats and their secret history; how they were used in rat fights orchestrated for the betting pleasure of America's early gambler, and how the man who put a stop to it went on to found the SPCA. And what would a rat book be without a Rat King? But this isn't the batch'o'rats with their tails entangled in frozen rat urine. This is one huge, honkin' rat.

I heard Sullivan interviewed on NPR, and found him to be a galvanizing speaker. He'll be at the Half King in New York next week; if you’re in town, I'd suggest you give him a listen. No word on whether he'll be bringing any friends with him.

Fortean Times 184: Lovecraft, Macular Degeneration and Martian UFOs

Front man for fearful entities.
OK, I've been flogging the Fortean Times as Agony Column approved reading for-effing ever. Now they've responded with the most Agony-Column friendly cover I've ever seen. But it's what's inside that counts.

The Lovecraft article by Daniel Harms is not your typical work of Lovecraftian scholarship. Instead you get the Fortean spin and it's a pretty interesting spin, even to those quite familiar with Lovecraft and all the permutations of his work. So, FT talks about Lovecraft as a serious skeptic. But what's interesting is that they find, in a Fortean-style collection of folklore dismissed by Lovecraft, the potential source for his story 'The Shunned House', oft cited as the nearest thing to a vampire story that Lovecraft ever wrote -- and Lovecraft despised vampire stories. I can't imagine what he'd think of today's vampire glutted market. You even get pages from his diary. Since we seem to be publishing the handwritten notes of Lovecraft lately, I offer you one of the very first sketches done by Lovecraft himself.

One of the more fascinating stories about Lovecraft in this article tells how he drew his occult esoterica for 'The Horror at Red Hook' from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Realizing, this wasn't the best place to look, Lovecraft then consulted with California poet Clark Ashton Smith. Eventually Lovecraft discovered better sources -- well, better for the day. These were sensationalistic books, but two spells from 'The Mysteries of Magic' by Eliphas Levi show up in 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward'.

That throne made out of porcelain, Cthulhu? Click image to see it full-size.
Elsewhere, you get a look at the Martian UFO photographed by the Spirit Rover and a rather interesting take on macular degeneration as a means to accomplishing visionary work. This covers something that I find really interesting called Bonnet's Syndrome, wherein the brain, unable to obtain visual input from the eyes, will fill in with memories. This can cause hallucinations that may last for hours. While the hallucinations are usually life-size, some patients experience miniature hallucinations. The implications of this as to the nature of reality are somewhat troubling. If our brains can fill in seamlessly with memories when we can't see, how much of what we can see is potentially "filled in with memories"?

This is why you subscribe to the Fortean Times.

And for those of you, who, like myself, have subscribed and wonder if they send you notices that your subscription is out, then be aware that they will do just that. I was a bit worried about this. I mean, look, the Fortean Times -- with a cover blurb by William Gibson? Truly an exquisite slab of cheese. Sublime.

05-11-04: The Future of the Future

Tony Ballantyne's 'Recursion'

Von Neuman Mosquitoes
Tor UK is focusing on creating the next generation of British science fiction writers, and to my mind, they're doing a fantastic job. From out the wilds of Interzone Magazine, where he's been a regularly featured contributor, comes Tony Ballantyne. Ballantyne's been nominated for a BSFA award. He's written an introduction to Eric Brown's 'New York Nights', an excellent cyber-mystery from the talented UK author. He was in Cheryl Morgan's list for Hugo nominations this year. In short, he gets in all the right places with all the right crowds.

So it's no surprise to see his new novel 'Recursion' out from Tor UK. I've sampled enough to know that I'd better not sample anymore, lest I get hooked and abandon my current queue for a Recursive version. 'Recursion' is set in a future when humans have the wherewithal to seed planets with Von Neuman Machines and the know-how to create artificial planets. What humanity lacks -- always has and probably always will -- is the foresight to comprehend the consequences of such creations, the ability to evision the blowback from a malfunctioning AI and preemptively -- before even creating the AI -- think, "Hey, maybe this isn’t such a hot idea after all."

I really liked the utter, total directness of 'Recursion'. On page 1, a cavalier creator returns to a planet to find that his VNM have not created a paradise, but a nightmare. The character has "made a mess of the code" that should have resulted in the creation of a paradise. Oops! Not the kind of move that gets you a great review come raise time! Of course in Ballantyne's vision, the stakes are a bit higher than they are at a company doing firmware for electronic musical instruments. 'Recursion' finds its cast of human characters confronting a batch of creations that that no longer look on their creator with a beneficent eye.

It's great to see a new publisher setting up a line of new authors, and drawing on the best sources we have -- our pool of writers published in the extensive and helpful-to-writers group of genre fiction magazines. Folks, this is publishing 101, done right the first time. It's up to us as readers to give these guys a try. This is also reading 101; find a goup of authors you like and a publisher who publishes them, and read on through. Tony Ballantyne, Gary Gibson, Neal Asher and Jon George; all fine graduates, all worth seeking out. What more could you ask from a publisher? Tor UK even gets the covers right. So now, take this advice and loop it.

05-10-04: When the Cookie, No the Goldfish, Crumbles

Tom Perotta's 'Little Children'

Relevant to the text -- goldfish show up in a crucial first scene.
Even as I write this, sitting at my laptop, I can look out into precisely the kind of suburbia that Tom Perrotta portrays so well in his newest novel 'Little Children'. Perrotta's work is often described as satire, but that's not what I would call this novel. It's a finely observed work that portrays a world that Perrotta clearly knows well enough to show lumps and all. Perrotta's prose is constantly, quietly humorous, but not the stuff of over-the-top silliness. Instead, he finds humor in characters who find humor in themselves and their own lives.

'Little Children' considers the crumbling cookie lives of men and women who make one -- or more than one -- bad decision. The problem with bad decisions is that even if one recognizes them as bad, one may still actually enjoy making them and following through on what they require, what they imply. Once you've taken one step down that path, the rest of the journey seems practically inconsequential, even if you know it's not.

Perrotta is probably best known as the author of the novel 'Election', from which the fine film by Alexander Payne was adapted. I must admit that there are scenes in that movie that will burn with shame in my own memory, in particular the portion that shows three forty-something year-old men attempting to play rock and roll music. The horror! The horror! That's a bad decision I've actually made, and followed through to its logical, utterly embarrassing conclusion. As I mentioned above, once you've taken the first step, the first "hit" so to speak, the rest of the journey, the full-blown addiction, seems practically inconsequential. Thought it's not, and that's where the problems and the humor lie.

No chocolate chip cookies yet -- other than of the crumbling variety found in suburban lives of quiet desperation.
Of course to hard-core book-o-philes, there's another rathole to dive down. That would be the variant dust jacket illustration action. While I was nattering about, I saw nothing but the very clever goldfish dust jacket for 'Little Children'. But then I happened upon the one you see here -- the scanned "crumbling cookie" variant. I immediately went to see if I could find any other crumbling cookies -- or first printings -- but to no avail. The crumbling cookie is a seventh printing; but I believe that I've seen some seventh printing goldfish dust jackets as well. I'm going to get to the bottom of this, I promise you.

And even as I type this on my laptop, looking out the neighbor's perfectly-trimmed, recently installed lawns, I realize that I, yes I, with my dust jacket fixation, am just the kind of character who might show up in this novel. Yes, I'm the guy with all the books, who will explain to you ad nauseam about dust jacket variations on novels that I will eloquently defend as deserving to show up in the bestseller lists. It's not sad. Really! Books are, books are good for you. The addict speaks. Do you recognize the addiction from afar and feel sorry for him? Or do you tell yourself, it's no addiction -- you need that book, and damn the consequences. No matter how the cookie crumbles.