06-04-04: Signed, Selected and Sent to Your Doorstep
for Mystery Offers Animated Death and Shadow of the Wind
News from Terry D'Auray
The best book clubs are ones that focus their selections by sub-genre, so those of us who are hardboiled purists need never unexpectedly come face-to-face with a cozy. But the most adventuresome clubs, and there are many of these to choose from, are "First Mystery Clubs" that focus on selecting the best new mysteries from promising new authors. If done well, these clubs give readers the benefit of pre-separating the wheat from the chafe, the opportunity to follow an author as they mature on the printed page, and the chance to grab those potentially highly valuable signed first editions of the author's first book for that highly valuable home library that's only valuable if they part with the books, which they never will. All well worth the risk of finding a dog or two in the otherwise stellar bunch of books that show up on your doorstep.
I just received my monthly care package from the M for Mystery First Mystery Club (called S&S 1, for signed & selected), which held not just one, but two, new mysteries by new authors. (M for Mystery fell a bit behind in their shipping of monthly selections, but then again, I've fallen a bit behind in my reading of them).
The second book looks to be a sure winner. 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is receiving accolades aplenty both inside the mystery genre and out. First published in Spain over a year ago (Note – first mystery does not equal first publication of the title ever, simply first mystery in US. Rules, rules, rules!). It's the story of a boy who is initiated into the secret of Barcelona's Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father, falls in love with one of the books therein and discovers that all other books by this author have been systematically destroyed. Promising a mix of history, romance, magic and murder, 'The Shadow of the Wind' looks to be Jaspar Fforde meets John Dunning with absorbing atmosphere and an enveloping plot. At close to 500 pages, it's a weighty tome, packed in a nicely muted cover designed to look old, worn and well-read. Marketers would describe the cover as "antiqued"; honest marketers would describe it as "faux antique". Whatever the description, the contents look simply yummy.
06-03-04: Golden Gryphon Rules the World
and New Work from the Two Macleods
No, they're not related, and they're not even remotely similar in terms of style and content. Yet it's hard to think of Ken Macleod without casting a thought towards fellow Scot writer Ian R. Macleod. It's summer again and time for new work from our favorite Scot writers. I've just posted my review of the wonderful 'Newton's Wake' by Ken Macleod. Ken writes to tell me of his next novel that, "…I'm working on it right now. It's called 'Learning the World', and it's about a colony starship thousands of years from now unexpectedly encountering aliens who are about to have their own version of the exciting twentieth century."
You've got to love a writer who comes up with a description like "their own version of the exciting twentieth century." That phrase brings to mind just the sort of wry, dry humor that permeates Ken's work; it's front and center in 'Newton's Wake', which manages to evoke chuckles and awe, page after page. An odd combination that; but it's what we look to Ken Macleod for. Nobody else is going to get in his particular, peculiar patch of surreal, socialist, reference-loaded science fiction.
Expect nothing but the best from Golden Gryphon, who have commissioned a beautiful dust jacket from Bob Eggleton. This one is available in a signed, limited edition, with signatures from both author and artist. Miss it at your own peril; when the time comes and you feel (as I did last year) that you must own all of Ian R. Macleod's work, you'll be upping the limit on your credit card to get one of the few limited copies of this collection.
Coming later this year (we hope) is Ian R. Macleod's follow-up to his incredible novel, 'The Light Ages'. This novel, which loosely followed the story of 'Great Expectations' in an England where a technology of magic has crippled and enhanced science and invention, was a beautiful, intense and, yes, poignant story. 'Electricity' takes place just after 'The Light Ages' and unfolds more of the history Macleod's evocative world. Once again it's a good, no it's a great summer for the Macleods. Between the two of them; with the help of Golden Gryphon, readers better get deep in their pockets to enjoy the big screen behind their eyes.
06-02-04: 'The Skinner' in Hardcover
the Skin of Neal Asher
On one hand, you have to ask yourself, what are you reading about now that will be the next big thing in two years' time? We'll do our best to tell you, every day. And on the other hand, you have to be happy to see a fine copy of a great book reach out bookstores with lots of positive publicity and a cover that actually illustrates quite well a scene from Neal's monsterific masterpiece. Since we're dreaming at the moment, how about a bestiary of the creatures from 'The Skinner' illustrated by Mr. Burns? Is that too much to ask? I think not, especially given the popularity of the Barlowe extra-terrestrial books. And in one Asher novel, there are more than enough critters to populate a complete bestiary with illustrations by Burns and Barlowe both. Why not share the joy?
Readers are also directed to check out a recent interview with Asher over at the estimable UK SF webzine 'Computer Crow's Nest'. When you're done with that one, you can go back and re-read my interview with Asher, from 2002, when we talked about the future -- that's now, in part, the past. Readers should know here and now that I have an enduring love for the concept of "the future". Every future inevitably becomes the past. My own personal hope is that we get some of the critters from Asher's futures -- but someplace where we can view them at a safe distance. Of course, that would defeat the purpose of such beasts, who are created to populate our nightmares. Alas, all too often reality bears a greater semblance to our nightmares than our dreams.
06-01-04: Don't Say "That's Not Me!" It is you.
Jones Gets 27 writers to talk about the joys and the pains of being
'The Bastard on the Couch'
Well, maybe I was dozing, just a little bit.
As much as I enjoy my daily schedule of getting up at 3.30 AM, I do find that come 9:00 PM, it does not matter what I'm reading, what's on TV, what movie I'm watching, those damn eyelids get a dose of gravity that seems to be absent during much of the day. You put me on the couch, I'm a goner. Well, also, the couch wreaks havoc with -- maybe that's too much information.
But sometimes too much information is just what is needed. I know the excess of information in 'The Bitch in the House' certainly enlivened things around my house. And if you were smart enough to pick up a copy of this fine tome for yourself or your other half, then you were rewarded with a healthy excess of the truth that may not have made things better, but might have made seemingly insane madness at least comprehensible. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. According to H. P. Lovecraft, a lot of knowledge will drive you crazy. But if you're already there, what’s the difference?
So now it's our turn to grab the remote, hoist up a brew and explain why everything we do makes one hundred percent perfect sense. Daniel Jones, husband to Catherine Hannauer, the editor of 'The Bitch in the House', has put together 'The Bastard on the Couch', a companion volume that has the same all-star power of its predecessor. The best part of this is that the brightest of us have bothered to write it down so that the remaining (literate) ones simply have to read it and pass the good news along.
I'm going to have to do some digging to see if I can scare up the identities of some of the pseudonyms that creep in here. But you get McSweeney's star Stephen Elliot and Anthony 'Jarhead' Swofford. You get Anthony Giardina, and Steve Friedman, author of 'The Gentleman's Guide to Life'.
On one hand, there's a certain amount of "These are Things Which Women Were Not Meant To Know." This book might easily be passed into that genre I spoke of in a much earlier column that includes the work of Nick Hornsby and Graham Joyce. It may be best for you to read this and take notes, so when the various subjects come up -- such as "Why Men Lie (and Always Will)" and "My Problem With Her Anger", well, you've got some ammo.
Of course, there's always the "Give me the remote, get me a beer and read this," strategy, which may or may not work for you. I won't recommend that to you. It's a judgment call, and you know what?
I'm guessing my judgment is flawed in this regard.
But I am perfectly qualified to suggest that readers cut the genre fiction, dump the mysteries, stash the sci-fi under the cushion and make a token effort to read this. In the first place, you’re going to find that it's a lot of fun; great writing about reality with lots of variety is not necessarily a bad thing. In the second place, with a variety of essays, it makes a perfect palate cleanser between this slab of space opera and that slap of space opera. Furthermore, it does confirm the wisdom of choosing to wear only one brand of white socks, so that you never have to worry about matching when you do the laundry.
You do do the laundry, don't you?
I'm currently having Serena Trowbridge, our expert on feminist fiction of the first half of the 20th century take a look at this book.
I'm a bad person, I know that.
05-31-04: Enter 'The Labyrinth' of Catherynne M. Valente
This Is Not the Way
For those of us who need to plunge completely over the edge, into the psycho-poetic terrors of a post-modern post-grad feminist, there's not a lot of choice out there. Catherynne M. Valente seems to be in the forefront of the Catherynne M. Valente school of poetry and fiction. When she's not authoring graduate theses on Jacques Derrida -- which she herself describes as "…pure wankery. See that? It's spooge, all over my computer screen," -- she's writing poetry, living in Japan "among the sushi and the geisha", or writing some one-hundred percent kicks-your-ass-into-another dimension fiction that Prime Books has the guts to publish. In case you've recovered the shreds of your sanity after reading Michael Cisco's 'The Tyrant', here's 177 pages of frothing, ranting madwoman-on-something literature that's likely to leave you wondering what exactly was in that sugar cube you put in your cup of tea this morning. Assuming, of course, that surreal, monsterific madness is your cup of tea. I can't think of any better way to start the day.
Her journal will give you the clearest picture of the mind behind this fiction; intense, intensely intelligent and anti-every-damn-thing including anti-itself. Somewhere between the cracks in reality, Catherynne and her fiction are growing, spawning, changing, churning out words that can only take you away, away from your mind, your sanity, the safe little cube of your life. You may need that desperately and know it. Or you may need it desperately and NOT know it. The only way you'll find out is to experience it. Better get your prescription drugs prescribed before you tread this maze. I'm pretty sure this is one of those deals where it's easier to get in than out.