This Just In...News
From The Agony Column
01-12-07: Fantasy & Science
Fiction Double Header
great issues well worth your time and money.
Yes, I whinge about The
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction when they
ship me great fiction with a great cover that gets covered by an address
label. But I sure as hell subscribe and so should you. The last two months
of this magazine have indeed been fantastic, worthy of both your time and
you money, with a to-die-for lineup of great fiction short and long. Better
still, they're putting the address label on the back cover.
So you can see my scans of the last two months sans any personal information.
It makes it so much easier to compliment them when I don’t have to
x-out my own address from the cover illo. Of course, none of that would
matter one whit, really, since the last two months have featured a cavalcade
of verifiably great writing.
Let's ratchet back to January, oh wait, this is January. Well, the January
issue at any rate, which includes the proviso that is should not be displayed
after December 28. yet here I am displaying the January issue in January,
so I presume that they'll have to send the mattress tag police to get me.
They may take me alive but they won’t get my magazines.
So how can you resist a magazine that features a new novella by Bruce Sterling
at his very best, and he's always at his best, but this is the sort of
best we pretty much expect and really like from Sterling. This is goofy
high-tech silly fun in the form of 'Kiosk' a lovely little story about
fab-tech and all its implications as only Sterling can unpack them. Fun
stuff, smart stuff. Sure, Neil Gaiman's 'How to talk to Girls At Parties'
first appeared in 'Fragile Things', but we'll take our Neil Gaiman where
we can find him. Reading a mix of stories is the idea behind subscribing
to a magazine, right? Add to that mixc David Gerrold's angry metafictional
'The Strange Disappearance of David Gerrold' and you've already sold me
three times over. Robert Reed's 'X-Country' will give those readers who
run pause to think and another really good excuse not to, while Marta Randall's
'The Dark Boy' and Jeremy Minton's 'The Darkness Between' offer all the
darkness you need and perhaps more than you expect. Let Lucius Shepard
loose his verbal slings and arrows on the execrable remake of 'The Wicker
Man', Charles DeLint and John Kessel (good last name!) loose on books,
and you've spent an enjoyable Saturday afternoon without having to leave
I can let the mattress police relax when I talk about February's issue.
Matthew Hughes brings back Guth Bandar from 'Black
Brillion' for 'The Helper
and His Hero' a long first part of a two-part serialization. Alexander
Jablokov returns with the "novelet" 'Brain Raid', William Spencer
Browning honors Robert E. Howard in 'Stone and the Librarian', the late
John Morressy's 'Fool' escapes from inventory and Pynchon-influenced newcomer
S. L. Gilbow gets a shot with 'Red Card'. Charles DeLint and Michelle West
take up the book duties, Kathi Maio talks about the graphic novels, comics
and the recent French film 'Renaissance' and the jocular Paul Di Filippo
steps up to the very strange altar of 'Our Feynman Who Art In Heaven'.
A heavenly fast, indeed. And even if you buy 'em both on the newsstand
at your local independent bookstore to obviate the possibility of a gnarly
address label, a steal at $4.50 a pop. Fantastic.
01-11-07: Carol Emshwiller Unveils 'The Secret
Why oh why? We are positively surrounded with fantastic writers of
the fantastic, folks whose work should be hotly anticipated by sleazy
entertainment magazines, lauded by empty-headed know-nothings with
prefab faces, celebrated by meaningless glitzy award shows complete
flashbulbs and microphones thrust from hidden fists.
cover art by Ed Emshwiller.
Why are we who read these books so fortunate to have them as ours
and ours alone, our secret secrets? Or in this case, 'The Secret
Books ; April 2007 ; $14.95) by should-be superstar Carol Emshwiller.
It's not as if Emshwiller hasn't won, like The Pushcart Prize, the
Dick Award and the World Fantasy Award, plus half a page more. She's
not hiding out. But perhaps she at least feels that way, given the
subject of her newest novel. No matter, it is a secret no more. Or
at least not to those who read this column.
Emshwiller's latest displays her incredible talent for writing naturalistic
prose about unnatural situations, as well as her ability to create
a compact level of intensity. 'The Secret City' starts when Lorpas,
one of a group
of alien tourists stranded on Earth, is rounded up by the cops. Ever
hoping to return home, they've never assimilated into the masses of
they resemble so much. Of his parents, Lorpas says, "The home-schooled
us sop that we knew more about a distant world and its wars and landmasses
than we knew of this one."
Obviously, Emshwiller's not offer readers another alien invasion novel,
though an invasion of sorts occurs. Or more precisely a rescue by fellow-aliens
who are ill equipped to deal with this world. Heck they might as well
be humans. They've got the xenophobia down pat. Now all they need are
and politics. Oops, turns out those are pretty universal as well. Or
if not universal, easily gettable here on Earth. Nothing is more universal
than senseless conflicts driven by ignorance and selfishness. Oh the
Emshwiller's newest novel is a blazing fast read, but it's also a pithy
look at insider and outsider, whether they are human or otherwise.
It's her prose that carries this book, the simple straightforward voice
drives the novel. Emshwiller uses the simplest devices of the science
fiction canon like great whacking levers to get incisive looks at issues
real human right now. She makes the conflicts that drive our everyday
lives seem fantastic and utterly real, she uses the genre to re-invent
for the reader.
Genre fiction, of course, creates its own outcasts. Those of us who
are willing to and indeed enjoy reading science fiction have our own
Cities, and we damn well hope that the aliens are arriving like, tomorrow
to get us the hell out of Dodge. I remember when I first started reading
the Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian series. I was in fifth grade and my
friends and I, the outcasts of reading, called ourselves Red Martians,
humans, it seems only different. Do you feel just like a human – only
different? Are you hoping against hope that someone is out there, coming
to rescue you? And do you fear that they might be no better than those
from whom you hope to be rescued? You can run. You can hide. Or better
still, you can understand, escape from this world into the fictional
world of Carol Emshwiller just long enough to grok that, no matter
how hard you
look for your home, you might never find it. Until you look in the
mirror and realize that we all carry our homes with us. You. There
is no place
01-10-07: Dan Simmons Explores 'The Terror'
Dan Simmons may
not know what’s right for his career, but he sure knows what’s
right for his readers. Having just published the acclaimed duet 'Ilium'
and 'Olympos', well over a thousand pages of dense peculiar, post non-standard Singularity
fiction, I'm sure his career advisers were wishing he'd deliver them a
nice near future, toe-tapping techno-thriller, full of buxom babes and
flying car chases. But Simmons has time and again evaded the expectations,
or at this point the vain hopes, of his publicists. These folks have got
to know by now that just as Simmons gets going in one direction, he turns
and takes a new tack.
TERROR! THE TERROR!
In this case, he's gone from baroque science fiction to a dense, compelling
novel of historical horror, 'The Terror' (Little Brown / Hachette
Books ; January 8, 2007 ; $25.99). And yes, there is terror to be found
both expected and unexpected. Moreover, Simmons is engaging in a
tour to promote the novel. Here's
the schedule. It's been a long time
since he's been on the road and
one can easily imagine the readers lugging stacks of interim novels
to be signed. I hope he's brought his carpal tunnel meds and wrist
Cold seems to be a theme that send Simmons on tour, since the last
time he was around here, at any rate, was when his novel 'A Winter
came out. That novel as well involved a horror story played out against
a frigid background.
'The Terror' is in fact the name of the ship captained by Francis Crozier,
who, with Sir John Franklin at the helm of the Erebus, left in May of 1845
on the Northwest Passage Expedition. They never returned and what become
of them is unclear at best. Dan Simmons simply applies his ample imagination
to the problem.
Well, simple is not the word you'd first choose to describe a novel is
some 784 pages long and yet manages to keep up a crisp pace by clever cross-cutting
and literary experiments just-reigned-in enough to render them transparent.
'The Terror' offers all the immersive thrills of great historical fiction
with a nice genre-fiction twist that is eminently satisfying to those of
us who enjoy such goings-on.
What’s interesting here is how Simmons uses aspects of the historical
novel to create veracity when he slides off into his surreal, supernatural,
science-fictional premise. By the time you get there, and I'm not going
to tell you where "there" is, you've been so thoroughly immersed
in true-life detail that you're willing to follow the author wherever he
takes you. And he also manages to successfully up an already high level
Interesting as well is the ease with which Simmons' world-building skills,
honed in complex science fiction like the aforementioned 'Ilium' and 'Olympos',
are translated into historical fiction. The similarities between world-creating
science fiction (like, for example, 'Dune') and historical fiction have
often been commented upon. What I find fascinating as a literary critic
is the fact that science fiction, a relative latecomer to the literary
canon, is the genre that has given us the best tools for describing what
historical novelists have long been doing. If one were feeling very expansive,
one could easily claim that the number-one job of the writer is in fact
world-building, because every writer wants to immerse their readers in
a literary experience. It's only now that we've figured out how to describe
what writers have been doing from day one. Thanks to the science fiction
It's no surprise then that we'd discover this most clearly in the work
of Simmons, who writers everything and writes it well. If you are not cold
enough in this era of global warming Dan Simmons 'The Terror' will put
a chill on everything except your desire to turn the pages faster, ever
01-09-07: Scott Rosenberg is 'Dreaming in Code'
Searching for Chandler
Bourne shell scripts. Software tools installations. Product management
tools configuration. Talk about fear.
let this happen to you. Oops, sorry. It already has happened
to you. Good luck.
Talk about agony.
I have escaped. Sort of. As much as any of us can, these days.
Which is, truth to tell, not much. What used to be just a difficult profession
is now a difficult requirement for anyone who uses computers. Systems administration,
my old job, is now something everyone has to do just in order to keep up
with the world. Not that it's become any easier. No, it's just that most
of us actually need a working computer with online access, email accounts
and decent regular backups in order to keep up with our jobs, our friends
and our sanity. My curse, long ago uttered at 11:30 PM while still embroiled
in some hellacious software installation gone very wrong, has finally come
You're all systems administrators now.
And as such, the book 'Dreaming in Code' by Scott Rosenberg (Crown
Books / Random House ; January 23, 2007 ; $25.95), is pretty much essential
You think you have it bad, trying to navigate through the muddle
of instructions to configure your wireless hub? You're only in the
borderlands of hell,
my friends. The balmy Balmer suburbs. Rosenberg has been to the Ninth
Circle, he's seen Gates^H^H^H^H^HSatan himself buried upside-down in
ice. Trying to
debug a failed ERP implementation while the accounting department
leaves early, unable to work because he^H^Hsomeone screwed the AP-UPDATE
with a badly installed patch. Oh the glory that shall be yours, all
'Dreaming in Code' is Rosenberg's story of the efforts to develop Chandler.
Oooh, memory lane time. I've always hated MS Outlook. It's deeply EVIL.
And so anyone who was going up against Outlook was My Friend in a
big, big way. I counseled all my corporate customers to avoid Outlook
all possible. I knew it as a veritable cornucopia of horror, the
king of kludge. Rosenberg, co-founder of Salon.com, spent three years
crack folks who embarked on a quest to build a huge piece of software
pretty much from chicken scrapings and old Bourne shell scripts.
It was intended
to be an "Outlook killer". What came of this effort, led
by Lotus 1-2-3 creator Mitch Kapor? Hell, back in the day, I replaced
a $20K annual
service from Control Data that generated inaccurate and unusable
reports on blood factory engineering project spending with a $5K
IBM PC and Lotus
1-2-3 macros. So I know what that guy Kapor can do from chicken scratchings
and shell scripts. He can RULE THE WORLD. Suffice it to say that
Chandler is not in the news. I refer you to this weblog. Remember when
they were called "weblogs"?
Please don’t cry. I have already wept for you.
One of the most interesting aspects of my
interview with Vernor Vinge was
the point where we talked about what might suggest that we were or were
not going to experience the Singularity in a manner described by most science
fiction writers. Vinge suggested that the failure or success of large-scale
software development projects would be a fine way to measure our progress
towards the Infocalypse. Judging by the events described in 'Dreaming in
Code', well, it appears that the Singularity Is Not Quite So Near as one
might hope, if one were to hope It Is Near. But that does not mean the
path upon which we are treading is not entertaining to read about.
Funny, isn’t it? Here we are in the midst of all sorts of high-tech
this and that. There are e-readers out there that don't seem as if they
are by default godawful. Most people spend a great deal of time reading
each day, even if it is only on their computers. Books, an ancient technology,
have yet to be effectively superceded. We're reading books about the failure
of software to supercede books. Maybe there's a meta-message here that
Or not. I suppose more people will read 'Dreaming in Code' on some e-reader
than...might have read it on an e-reader when Kapor and company first embarked
on their project. I know, I have a paper book fetish. And, so, I suspect
do you. But that matters not a whit. What does matter is that you are likely
to be 'Dreaming in Code'. Dreams are a code. It is wise to keep those dreams
well-informed, wise to keep the mind that dreams them entertained by gripping
narratives of software development crises. As with many experiences, it
is certainly better to dream about them because you read about them than
to dream about them because you lived through them. And should you learn
something from all the experiences in this book? Well maybe the message
has nothing whatsoever to do with software development. You're reading
a book, the perfect example that humans can develop technologies that endure
essentially unchanged for CENTURIES. The medium is the message.
01-08-07: History As An Alien World
A 2006 Interview With Charles Frazier
Frazier at KUSP.
I didn't really
try to get Charles Frazier to talk about his latest historical
novel as it relates to science fiction. He just said it himself,
when I talked to him last month as he toured to speak about his
new book, 'Thirteen
Moons'. But I will confess I did probe to find
out what rattlesnake tastes like; he didn't get round to trying
it himself, but in the true tradition of urban legends someone
who had eaten it told him it tasted:
"Just like chicken."
Frazier's new novel is an immersive history of times and people most
of us don’t know boo about, the Eastern Cherokee who managed
to avoid the Trail of Tears by virtue of having grokked the peculiar
concept of land ownership. It was an alien term to them before the
Europeans came along, but those who learned...lived.
Frazier is an avid researcher. He told me about how he went about
creating 'Thirteen Moons' and 'Cold Mountain' out of old US Army
records and other primary research materials. The detective work
he did is nearly as interesting as his novel. Readers can now download
it in the traditional
MP3 format or the delightfully
DRM-encumbered Real Audio, in case you feel you have too much freedom in your lives.
As usual, our fine government is doing its part to curtail that excess
freedom; you need to pitch in. When you're helping fight the good
fight, then watch what happens when we fight the not-so-good fight,
as we did in the historical corners so artfully covered by Frazier's
fine work. Look for a full length review to pop up shortly. And get
yourself a deed. Lots of deeds. Lots of entanglements. Letting the
law set you free is greatly overestimated. 'Tis far better to let
the law pin you down to a place you want to live.