This Just In...News from The Agony Column

Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

 This Just In...News from the Agony Column

09-02-05: Alexander Irvine's 'The Narrows'

Manufacturing Magic in WWII

The fires of publishing hell.
Alexander Irvine's 'A Scattering of Jades' came out early in the evolution of The Agony Column, and was one of the first big-deal novels that I covered. Irvine's combination of historical fiction and supernatural horror was to me reminiscent of Tim Powers' work, and it was my intuition that he'd be a Big Deal very fast. I remember clearly the 2002 Con Jose Worldcon, and being shocked that I could just walk up to his little spot in the autographing room to have my book signed.

But I missed reading his follow-up, 'One King, One Soldier'. In part, I missed it because I tried to get a review copy but was never able to. And it proved difficult to find at my local bookstores and eventually got washed into the tide of titles I'd liked to have read but managed to miss. I do actually try to contribute books I suspect will be good to that tide, just to give myself something to read, "in the fullness of time," when for reasons that I can't guess, I'll have time to read my growing backlist. I will read 'One King, One Soldier', but apparently, not before 'The Narrows' (Del Rey / Bantam / Random House ; September 6, 2005 ; $13.95).

Fortunately for me, Irvine writes stand-alone novels and novellas, like his quite wonderful bit for Subterranean Press, 'The Life of Riley'. 'The Narrows' looks as if it might be his best work yet, offering his signature combination of historical fiction and supernatural shenanigans combined this time with a bit of science fiction. Interestingly enough, it's coming out shortly after another long-awaited (by me) bit of historical weird fiction, Jeffrey Ford's 'The Girl in the Glass', which I'm reading and enjoying right now. Like 'The Girl in the Glass', 'The Narrows' will debut as a trade paperback original, which is...something of a disappointment to me. To my mind, both these authors, similarly talented and similarly inclined, deserve hardcover originals. But such is the life of the publishing world that they're relegated to trade paperbacks. I have to admit that it does rather affect my ability to enjoy a book. US trade paperbacks are not particularly well made, at least, compared to UK trade paperbacks, which seem to have the same type of paper and printing used in the hardcovers. But if the cheaper price gets it into the hands of more readers, then I'm all for it. I'm just not all that convinced that it will.

But format, shmormat. Irvine's latest looks a treat no matter how I have to read it. I'd probably agree to wax tablets, and in Irvine's world, that might be the case. 'The Narrows' is set in Detroit during the 1940's, caught up in the midst of the war effort. But as you might imagine, this isn't exactly the Detroit we know. In 'The Narrows', Henry Ford is churning out golems to support our boys Over There. Jared Cleaves is Over There. He's Over Here, and Irvine's version of Here is every bit as forbidding as the trenches. In a Detroit frantic to keep up with the advances of German magic technology, Cleaves and his family find themselves battling forces bent on sabotaging Ford's line.

Of course, though Irvine may be writing about a Detroit that never was doing things that were never done, his story is a wonderfully cracked mirror for our own fragmented world. "This is not a war of belief; it is a war of machines," laments the Rabbi responsible for the Golem manufacturing line. "The golem is a gift from God...What is this gift if other gods give gifts? I have made golems from anger; now I am no longer angry. I am without hope. This is a war for machines and men."

Irvine's vision of a dark, mechanized America is powerful and compelling, and his prose once again shows him to be a major writer, somebody to be reckoned with. The problem with the whole trade for me is that he doesn't even have the chance to make the bestseller lists, and he surely deserves this, as does his contemporary Jeffrey (not Henry) Ford. These two writers are fabulists of the first rank. And in a world where Philip Roth can hit the bestseller lists with 'The Plot Against America', it seems to be that Irvine should at least be given a chance. With a dark cover and trade paperback format, there's no telling where they'll shelve this book. Will it end up with SF? Or will they stack it next to the rows of TPB fiction originals? What will the audience for non-fantastic fiction make of a book about the golem production line worker struggling in 1940's Detroit? Frankly, I think that if they managed to actually buy the book, they'd really flip for it. Hopefully those reading trade paperback original fiction will make the effort to pick up this one and Ford's latest. Damn the shelving! Ask someone who works at the store to help you find this if it's not where you expect it to be. Who cares what you call it or how you shelve it? Maybe we need a new genre to shelve material such as this; call it the Good Reading genre. It makes about as much sense as any of the other shelving genres out there.

09-01-05: Rebecca Horsfall is 'Dancing on Thorns' and Candace Bushnell Rules the 'Lipstick Jungle

Girly Book Explosion

It says it's a girly book on the back cover, I swear. Well "girlie."
I hope nobody will take offense as I write about Girly Books. And I feel I must because in two day I got two books so Girly, one even called itself a "Girlie Book" (that's how Elle spelled it, but I'm sticking to my spelling) on the back cover. The other just had a big ol' picture of a girl on the back; no need to guess what kind of book it is. When Girly books start describing themselves as Girly books, then you know that something is very much up in the publishing world.

The first to arrive, and the one to describe itself as such, was Rebecca Horsfall's 'Dancing on Thorns' (Ballantine / Random House ; September 6, 2005 ; $23.95). Take a look at that price, because they're practically giving away this one; it clocks in at 786 pages of smallish type. Now normally, I might just pass such a tome by, but when it gets that big and sells for that little, then something is up. What's up is that we have another large book by a woman that was some ten years in the making. Last year -- was it only last year -- we had Susanna Clarke's gigantic novel 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' hit the shelves and the bestseller lists. It was ten years in the making and seven-hundred plus pages. This year, we've already had Elizabeth Kostova's 'The Historian'; not quite as long in pages or creation, but still, a big ol' novel.

For me, both of those novels were attractive because they folded elements of genre fiction into literary fiction. Horsfall does this as well, but the genre she's folding in with her literary ambitions is the romance genre. Yes, 'Dancing on Thorns' is finely written, and yes it is an unabashed "Epic Romance". Published earlier this year in the UK, 'Dancing on Thorns' is set in the world of ballet. In this case, leading the dance is Jean-Baptiste St. Michel (the blur not wearing a dress on the cover), and swept away by his tripartite name is Jonni Kendall, a nineteen-year old wannabe actress. The DJ flap doesn't get to the word commit until the second paragraph.

So nothing left for me, really, except ten years in the making and made in the UK. Still, I do like the prose, and when the publishers commit to a mammoth book like this at a low price like that, you know theyve got their hopes ratcheted up to the ceiling. I find it really interesting that they're touting the whole "Ten years in the making" aspect. Presumably, this is now, with Clarke and Kostova as backup, meant to be an indicator of quality. To me it suggests that if you take ten years to write your book, it'd better be pretty damn long. But here we are in the dawn of the twenty-first century, and a honkin' English romance about ballet dancers is getting top-drawer treatment just as the kiddies head back to school. I guess we know who the publishers think will have some time to spend in the bookstores.

Queen of the jungle. Let's eavesdrop on her restaurant converstations.
Candace Bushnell is already a name brand, and she's clearly the top predator in the 'Lipstick Jungle' (Hyperion Books ; September 6, 2005 ; $24.95). In the first place, it has less than half the pages of 'Dancing on Thorns', yet it sells for a dollar more. In the second place, Bushnell is a Name Brand. As the author of the novel 'Sex and the City', she could probably retire and the interest on her interest would be more than the average gross national product of a few European countries. But with that broken bit of phallic lipstick on the cover, and a back cover picture that makes you think she's witnessing either an execution or a divorce, well, she's clearly not out of the game yet. In fact, if you ask me, and you probably shouldnt because even my rotting corpse would crawl away from a television screen flickering with the images from the acclaimed Showtime series, 'Lipstick Jungle' sounds like a dead-perfect name for a second acclaimed Showtime series and the novel itself sounds like a dead-perfect setup for same.

Stalking the 'Lipstick Jungle' (oh, the puns one can get from this title are far too tempting, aren't they?) are Nico O'Neilly, editor of Bonfire magazine, Wendy Healy, president of Parador Pictures and (I'm not making this up -- she is!) Victory Ford, uh, Runway Model. No, Victory is NOT a forensic scientist drawn into a dangerous murder investigation, and for that, let us be thankful. Instead these three gals are no doubt acquaintances in New York. A random dinner scene has Wendy telling Victory, "My tits are hanging down to my belly button."

And I thought that this wasn't a horror novel.

Yikes! No analyzing this cover!
Yet here I boldly go, where no man has gone before. My next stop in the page-turning tour features a "patient mother", and after that, Victory saying, "Most women are not crazy, until some man makes them insane." Okey-dokey. So we have two totally, unabashed, in-her-face girly books for the Fall Season. Bushnell no doubt delivers a heavy dose of urban angst leavened with catty, bitchy dialogue. You know, I sit around in restaurants all the time and eavesdrop, but I've never been privy to any conversations like that. I suppose that I'll have to eat someplace more upscale than a taqueria.

And even though I'm mercilessly making fun of these books, they're surely worth thinking about, even if youre only thinking that you should buy them for the other half. At least one business out there recognizes that half the audience is well, girls. And while both these books might as well say "NOT FOR MEN", well, think of how many books I write about here say "NOT FOR WOMEN". I'm guessing that somewhere out there in the Bookscan and Borders books databases, they've got numbers telling them that women buy books. Boy, time to write home, there's some news. Well, ladies, you now have your very own equivalent to books like 'The Gun Seller' and 'Death Rat!' I just hope that you enjoy 'Lipstick Jungle' as much as I enjoyed 'Death Rat!' I have to allow that 'Death Rat!' probably doesn't have the makings of a Showtime TV series. But if it does, I hope you'll give it a look-see.


08-31-05: A Not-So-Brief History of History in Fantasy

The O'Brian Factor

A master of world-building fiction.
It's surprisingly difficult to underestimate the enduring appeal of Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey novels to science fiction readers. These historical novel from the outside, have no connection to the world of science fiction. They're immaculately detailed, beautifully written books about seafaring and marine warfare set during the Napoleonic wars. So why do they have such an appeal to science fiction readers and writers? According to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, set up a panel on these books during any SF/Fantasy convention, and you'll have to fight to be on it and you'll have to fight to get into it when it runs.

Well, the appeal here is that the O'Brian novels make use of many of the literary techniques found in the best science fiction, and that they address issues, which are of concern to science fiction readers. First and foremost, the detailed recreation of a historical period is in the best sense, what the science fiction community calls world-building. Moreover, the novels deal with the introduction of new technologies and how these new technologies affect military matters and society at large. Drop in a dragon and you've got a mainstream fantasy novel.

How could any tales of the Bronze age be really new?
The appeal of historical fiction to genre fiction readers is certainly not lost on either publishers or authors, as a glance at the genre fiction bookshelves of any bookstore will show you. Let's start today's roundup of new science fiction titles with an obvious example, 'The First Heroes' (Tor Books / Tom Doherty Associates ; August 16, 2005 ; $14.95), edited by Harry Turtledove and Noreen Doyle. Subtitled "New Tales of the Bronze Age", what you have here is no less than an upfront, in-your-face example of historical fantasy.

Yes, we all know that fantasists from Robert E. Howard in his Conan stories to J. R. R. Tolkien in his 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, have based their fantasy on the real Bronze Age. The conceit here is that Turtledove and Egyptologist Noreen Doyle have solicited stories from famous genre writers set in the "real" Bronze Age. It's a pretty impressive list of authors, including the two editors, Gene Wolfe, Lois Tilton, Poul Anderson, Brenda Clough and even a new Nantucket story by S. M. Stirling.

Don't expect totally straight historical fiction here. There's enough of a genre twist to keep the hardcore's attention. A number of the stories involve sending scholars back in time; Turtledove offers a story about mythological beings watching in horrified fascination as humanity stomps all over Earth's natural order. In spite of the genre twist, however, you can expect more than a modicum of attention to historical details. Think of it as a literary milkshake spiked with a few vitamins.

Prisoner of the Man in the Iron Mask -- NOT!
Of course, not all new fantasy needs a historical basis. There's the girly-appeal factor as well. Thus, Sarah Ash, and her 'Tears of Artamon' series continues in Book Two, 'Prisoner of the Iron Tower' (Bantam Spectra / Random House ; September 6, 20095 ; $7.50). Here we rely on the eternal appeal of dragons, well, and the writing of Sarah Ash who does put the old detailed-historical-world-building aspects into her fantasy. But with 'Prisoner of the Iron Tower' (note the similarity of the title to a couple of rather well-known pieces of literary historical fiction), you get a guaranteed-on-the-back-cover dose of "dragon daemons" backed up by a very nice front cover illustration from Stephen Youll.

With what is announced on the front cover by Publisher's Weekly as "Drooling to get their hands on the sequel," appeal what more could a publisher or bookseller or reader ask for?

Well, a speedy release of the sequel, but given that we're seeing this one in mass market paperback, can the third book in the cannily named "series" (as opposed to "trilogy") be far behind? With a preview of the October release 'Children of the Serpent Gate' slotted in the final unnumbered pages of the book, I guess not! Were it not for addiction, the entire economy would roll over and die.

Kushiel's appeal is mainly in the peel.
Jacqueline Carey has been an outstanding star of the field since the release of her first novel, 'Kushiel's Dart'. Readers can now get the final volume in the 'Kushiel's Legacy' trilogy in mass market paperback, 'Kushiel's Avatar' (Tor UK / Pan Macmillan ; September 16, 2005 ; £7.99). Carey works on a big scale -- these are long novels, with this one tipping in at 957 pages.

The usual world-building aspects are complemented not by the usual military shenanigans, but rather a societal upheaval and a soupcon of forbidden sex. Ah, forbidden sex, always a great draw. You know, pain and pleasure, experienced as one? Indentured servitude? Can't get enough of that in this world where we have no identified-as-such indentured servitude. It's always nice to read about it in a world where the potential for come-uppance is upped by the presence of burgeoning magic.

Alas, magic is sadly absent in our world, until you start browsing the shelves for fantasy fiction. And surely that's why you browse the shelves for fantasy fiction, that and because hell, these books dont just immerse you. At nearly a thousand pages, they drown you and teach you to breathe water, just like in 'The Abyss'. And like 'The Abyss', they often seem endless, so when someone like Carey actually ends a story, it's thumbs up all around, good job, now get me to the next series, please.

Oh, and we liked the naughty bits.

Midshipman definitely-not-naughty-Blithe reporting for duty SIR!
None of which you'll find in 'Midshipman Halcyon Blithe' by James M. Ward (Tor Books / Tom Doherty Associates ; September 15, 2005 ; $24.95). No, Ward follows another rather familiar route, cross breeding the incredibly popular Patrick O'Brian Aubrey-Maturin novels with the incredibly popular Harry Potter series, leaving out any naughty bits and apparently, four hundred pages of verbiage in this first series installment. So, the drill is, magic sea vessels backed by huge sea-dragons. Less than three hundred pages mean that your teenager may have the wherewithal to actually finish the novel, or simply devour it, if they've been well-trained by She Who Does Not Write Fantasy But Now Writes Really Long Books.

Ward brings a lot of teen-appeal to the table. If you've looked on the TiVo/DVR, you've probably found that your teen is cluttering up the disk space with something called 'Dragon Ball Z', and after checking to make sure that's it just an animé, not porno or porno animé, you've said well, I just dont get it.

Dont try to get it, just get that Ward is the creator of the Dragon Ball Z Card game, and hope the teen A) spends as much time reading as playing video games and watching TV and B) doesn't catch you reading this one, because then it will be well, uncool. Trust me, if you read it, its uncool.

Nice DJ by Steve Stone.
Even if it looks pretty cool, which can certainly be said about 'Straken: High Druid of Shannara Book Three' (Simon and Schuster UK ; August 15, 2005 ; £17.99) by Terry Brooks. That cool cover is courtesy of Steve Stone, who is in the process of taking over fantasy book-cover illustrations. We can thank Brooks, who was in attendance at Worldcon in Glasgow, because, as we're told in the promo pieces "Without Terry Brooks there would be no Philip Pullman, no Terry Pratchett, no Robert Jordan."

Of course, theyre right about Terry Pratchett, who got his start lampooning Brooks' first series of books back in the late 70's and early 80's, 'The Sword of Shannara'. I remember seeing these books in the UCI bookstore and gagging, as at the time I saw them as a desperate rip-off of Tolkien. Well, the good professor is no longer writing books, but Brooks is, and now, he's second in sales only to the man who got his start lampooning him, that is, Terry Pratchett. Here, Dark Magics emerge at the Right Time to threaten Young Heroes. But like any form of addiction, if you're addicted to Brooks, well, heres your next fix. As a grown man who ruthlessly reads Simon R. Green's 'Nightside' series, I can sympathize. No diet is complete without cheese. Brie, Velveeta, what's the difference? Cheese is cheese. We all need it and we all love it, whether it's historical, fantastic, science fictional, or even animé-oriented teen cheese.

Of course, when you're done reading this crop of fantasy, there are like, a zillion Patrick O'Brian novels left to read, right? Or re-read. And then you can appreciate the differences as well as the similarities. Because for all their world-building and techno-fetishization, the Aubrey-Maturin novels also provide a very pleasant difference from the world of genre fiction. Yes, we love our fantasies, our magics, and our monsters. But once in a while, we need a bit of a palate cleanser, so to speak, to make all the magic seem, well, magical again.


08-30-05: 'Galileo's Children' and FSM; Robert Pinsky's 'The Life of David' and Alicia Suskin Ostriker's 'No Heaven'

Evolution in Action!

Some themes just get more timely.
Yes, it's true, I already mentioned the now-in-hardcover collection 'Galileo's Children', edited by Gardner Dozois (Pyr / Prometheus Books ; August 23, 2005 ; $25.00). I sang the praises of this because it deserves to be praised with an eclectic selection of stories, an all-star cast and a very timely theme; that is the on-going battle between science and superstition.

But in the intervening months, that battle itself has evolved, an irony that might well be lost to those who are duking it out on the ground. In June, South Carolina State Senator Mike Fair (OK, the irony is not just lost, but buried), filed a bill that would require schools to expose students to a "variety of theories on controversial issues like evolution." Our own President echoed those sentiments.

Well, sure, said Bobby Henderson, in an open letter to the Kansas School Board, the first state entity that had decided to get into the biz of teaching Intelligent Design. "Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster." Illustrated thusly. And thusly is an Internet phenomenon born.

Hurry up evolution -- from pencil sketch to Michelangelo in about a month.
Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing picked up on this immediately, and the idea, well, evolved, into the new website, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This whole deal of course has something to do with pirates and global warming as well. Now we have the religion of pastafarianism, with an entry in the Wikipedia, and even the look of FSM has evolved.

Since every religion needs its bestselling novels -- witness the growth of religious fiction as a genre unto itself, tracked unto itself by services like Bookscan -- then is it too much to hope that the millions now sporting FSM t-shirts and bumper stickers might spend a little of their disposable incomes on 'Galileo's Children', a collection of short stories that dramatize the collision of science and superstition? Not that I'm calling the FSM a superstition, mind you. I have too much respect for the beliefs of others to do so.

And once you take the first step down the path of science versus superstition, you might want to follow that step with Connie Willis' superb 'Inside Job'. In this now sold-out novella from Subterranean Press, a channeler provides a path for the deceased and very skeptical H. L. Mencken. Mencken had his own run-ins with creationists back when he was covering the Scopes trial for the Baltimore Evening Sun; back then, he tartly remarked that the whole affair called attention dramatically to the fact that, "enlightenment, among mankind, is very narrowly dispersed." Many years later SF writer William Gibson would echo those sentiments when he said, "The future has arrived but it's just not evenly distributed." Indeed. But both 'Galileo's Children' and 'Inside Job' are easily obtainable if not evenly distributed. It's an evolving situation.

J. K. Potter presents the latest cover for Subterranean Press.

I will confess that the link between pirates and global warming seems a bit on the dubious side, however. But I will allow that my views on this and any other matter may evolve.

Poetic Double-Header

Above us only sky.
In one of those weird coincidences, the work of two of America's most noted poets has landed in my lap. Robert Pinsky's 'The Life of David' (Schocken Books / Random House ; September 7, 2005 ; $19.95) and Alicia Suskin Ostriker's 'No Heaven' (University of Pittsburgh Press ; April 2005 ; $12.95) arrived literally on the same day, with Ostriker giving a nod to Pinsky in one of her poems.

I've already finished the Ostriker collection, and I have to say that I enjoyed it more than I frankly expected to. In fact, it was downright excellent, enough so that I might have to explore this whole poetry scene a bit more extensively, if Ostriker's any indication of whats out there. Of course, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth -- at the same time I was going to college, which has some relevance to the article above -- I spent a fair amount of time reading poetry as an English major at UCI. So it's not like I'm a total stranger to it.

But 'No Heaven', Ostriker's collection, was cleverly put together and beautifully, but not preciously written. The title is a reference to the John Lennon lyric from 'Imagine'. And yes, Lennon gets mentioned in a poem, but not as youd expect. 'A Walker in the City' is a tour of New York crime scenes; disturbing but generous. My guess is that readers of this column will need to read only that to get them to pony up for this book.

Can't go wrong with a classic painting.
'No Heaven' is arranged such that it has some of the impact of a short story collection, with themed poems sequenced to excellent effect. Ostriker has been nominated for no less than two National Book Awards and won the William Carlos Williams Award. I'd highly suggest a trip to your local independent bookseller, there to sit down and read through a few to get the vibe of what Ostriker is doing. It's subtle and powerful. I know that she'll be appearing live in Santa Cruz on September 13, 2005 in association with Poetry Santa Cruz. Should you really wish to investigate, finding the author reading her own work is clearly the best way to experience it.

Meanwhile, Robert Pinsky, who gets a nod in one of Ostriker's poems, has a new biography out, 'The Life of David'. For a bit of sympatico and synchronicity, readers can read Ostriker's review of Pinsky's 'The Life of David' on the website. In the glorious voice of a mythic storyteller -- "Of the Thousand Great Stories, more than a few are about him," it begins -- Pinsky rewires the lives of David into a single narrative and traces the fables, folklore and lessons associated with the slayer of Goliath. As a trickster, as a king, as a hero, David offers many faces and allows many interpretations. Pinsky approaches this subject not as an academic, but as a poet. It's a very odd little book, and it certainly might find resonance with those enjoyed the Bullfinch telling of Greek myths. Of course, the Greek myths were all about coincidence and the effect that chaos and the gods have on our lives. To help us evolve.

08-29-05: Tanith Lee is Here in Cold Hell; Simon R. Green Stalks a 'Blue Moon Rising'

Book Two of the Lionwolf Trilogy

Skull and sculpture.
Damn, what is it about these British Trade paperbacks? US publishers really could learn something from the folks at Tor UK / Pan Macmillan. While I was out, I got the trade paperback original of the second novel in a fantasy series -- not usually my cuppa -- but Tanith Lee's 'Here in Cold Hell: Book Two of the Lionwolf Trilogy' (Tor UK / Pan Macmillan ; August 19, 2005 ; £10.99) looks delectable enough for me to go back and get the first one. Yes, part of this is the effectively interesting -- and *just* classy enough cover -- by Dominic Harman. A BIG part of my interest stems from the fact that even though this is a trade paperback, the pages are big enough and the type is big enough for it to be a US hardcover. The paper is nice enough for it to be a US hardcover. Even the binding isnt bad. Just to pick up, to hold and to read, this book gets me interested in reading it. And isnt that what every publisher wants? So congratulations Tor UK. You've done an outstanding job on getting the book off the shelf and into a reader's hands in such a manner that I would be ready to buy it should it meet that final criteria -- how does the writing look?

And here's where Tanith Lee get a big fat pass. Big and fat enough to make me want the first book in the series, and I have to admit that I've not been a big fan of Lee's up to this point. I mean, I've read her work in anthologies and enjoyed it, but no book until this one has commanded me to read it. But 'Here in Cold Hell' seems to have the volume turned up a bit on the normal anemic fantasy. In fact it seems turned up a lot, and in a manner that I find very appealing. Lee seems to have stripped out the fluff and the romance and played up the hard, mythic edges of her tale.

You see, one of the appeals of reading fantasy is that I have been doing so since I was a little kid, when I voraciously read all of Bullfinch's Mythology and loved it. The monsters and gods in those tales were hard-edged and unforgiving. There were no maidens to soften things up in the end. There was a bleak plain splattered with blood -- the monster's, the hero's or both. 'Here in Cold Hell' gives me that same bleak vibe. The story in this second tome picks up with the hero Lionwolf in, well, a cold and icy hell, having been cast there by his true father, the god Zezeth. See what I mean? Very Greek-myth, that. Gods casting their kids into cold hells while hell breaks out on earth as well. Empires fall, magicians torment themselves, and the hatred of good ol' Zezeth is likely to spill over every damn where.

Should you feel a need to experience some more mythic-based fantasy that's not very nice, then I'm certain you could get a good dose of cold, hard, unreality from Tanith Lee. I think the weather is very cold in this book, emotionally as well as meteorologically chilly. The gods are cold yes. But they're pretty damn entertaining.

Rewind and Reprint

Pasta-safe pages highlight this reprint.
Meanwhile, over in the US, with the reprint of Simon R. Green's debut novel 'Blue Moon Rising' (Ace / Penguin Putnam ; September 6, 2005 ; $15.00), you have kind of the opposite effect. I really like Simon R. Green. He's a known quality to me, with his entertainingly droll 'Nightside' mysteries. So when I see a reprint of his first humorous fantasy novel, I am automatically interested.

With 'Blue Moon Rising', Simon R. Green takes the Terry Pratchett approach to fantasy, lampooning the fantasy clichés even as he adheres to them. You've got the unfortunately named Prince Rupert, the official Heir To the Etc. Etc. Which translates to second son of a piss-poor king in a destitute kingdom. Not an auspicious start. So he's off to kill the dragon and rescue a princess.

The problem is that the dragon proves to be friendly. And the forest though which he has journeyed has coughed up darker dangers than the dragon which needs no slaying. In fact, the dragon's going to have to help him keep his keester out of the fire. So, knowing this is Simon R. Green, and we've got a reprint in TPB for, well, I'm quite interested. The cover is nicely illustrated, nicely done in a sort of matte printing and only moderately sleazy with the usual dragon, prince, princess and -- UGH -- unicorn.

Then I open up the book. The paper's not a lot better than newsprint, and the type isn't either. So instead of automatic interest in a book I don't know I want, I find myself sort-of willing to buy a book I know I would like. Weird, ain't it? I mean in a published package like 'Here in Cold Hell' this would be an auto-buy in a heartbeat, but with this quality of printing, I'm forced to think, won't kill me if I get salsa on the pages while eating lasagna for lunch in Kianti's in downtown Santa Cruz. Now that's a good consideration, and yes, I like the idea of a read-it-and-eat-and-not-weep-when-the-pasta-hits-the-page book. But I like it better when both the book and content inspire book lust. I guess that given the current economics of publishing here in the states, the idea of getting a book like Lee's is itself something of a fantasy.