This Just In...News
From The Agony Column
10-17-08: Kirsten Menger-Anderson Examines 'Doctor Olaf Van Schuler's
Brain' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : LitQuake / SF in SF Kage
Baker Brings on the Brass
Quacks Like a Doctor
I love a good story
of quackery; it's a very Fortean
subject, as those tales directly address the shortcomings of known science.
For years, the standard bearer has been T. C. Boyle's sublime and hilarious
'The Road to Wellville', his tale of John Harvey Kellog and the perils
of past medical theory. And for anyone who thinks we've advanced since
that time, it would do well to remember that maggots are once again back
in style as a means of consuming dead flesh, so it's not really helpful
to think that we're beyond leeches. If so, weve only bumped up
one level of animal phylum.
For those of us who like our medical advice uncertain and based on passing
fancy, there can't be a better book than 'Doctor Olaf Van Schuler's Brain'
by Kirsten Menger-Anderson (Algonquin / Workman Books
; October 21, 2008 ; $22.95), which takes on several generations of medical
mis-apprehensions and spins a series of stories following the Van Schuler
/ Steenwycks family from 1664 through 2006. It may not be a pretty picture
of the world of medicine – modern and otherwise – but it's
certainly entertaining and offers a vivid portrait of the shortcomings
of so-called scientific belief.
The format here is very simple. Anderson takes us through thirteen generations
of Van Schuler / Steenwycks (the Van Schulers disappear after the titular
first generation), in a series of stories spanning 342 years. Anderson's
powers as a short story writer serve her well in this time-travelling
version of the mosaic novel. She
won was shortlisted for the Short
Story Award for New Writers from Glimmer Train, and the Iowa Review contest.
Fortunately for my readers, she's not a writer of the navel-gazing sort,
unless one is searching for bodily humours and means through which they
may be extracted to obtain a cure for neurasthenia, say. In keeping with
yesterday's post about Jeffrey Ford's 'The Physiognomy', she's got a phrenologist
aboard, and in keeping with the Steampunk themes of this week's podcasts,
she writes with verve and vigour about the history of New York city. This
is the perfect book to keep you eating well, as when you read it you'll
want to do anything and everything you can to keep the doctor away. If
fiction must have uses then this is a very utile novel.
And indeed, to my mind, fiction must have uses. 'Doctor Olaf Van Schuler's
Brain' is much more than a compendium of medical mistakes and the odd
side-roads taken by medical scientists in pursuit of understanding how
we work. Menger-Anderson (even her name has a steampunk feel) gets to
the human element in all this history, that combination of pride and fear
that drives us to believe in something, well – unadvisable. Ourselves,
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : LitQuake / SF in SF Kage Baker Brings on the Brass : Sub-Mariners
We modern-day Americans
the first to decide that we needed submarines to fight box-cutter-wielding
terrorists. No back in the day, when steam powered them subs instead
of you-rain-ee-yum, well, Kage Baker's time-traveling
doppelganger was hanging around to keep an eye on the action. You can
hear her report on the matter, "Speed, Speed the Cable," offered
to an attentive audience at the LitQuake / SF in SF Shindig of October
the Ninth, the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Eight, by
following this complicated series of tubes.
10-16-08: Mario Guslandi Reviews Ed Gorman's 'Cage of Night' ; Agony
Column Podcast News Report : LitQuake / SF in SF Richard Bottoms Speaks
to the power of Steampunk
Ticket to Ride
Oh my – readers
and fans of Mario Guslandi's reviews will be shocked
to find the man who usually confines himself to collections of short stories
has opted to read a novel.
From PS Publishing. Always worth your time and money.
Yes, you read right, a novel, and not just any novel, but one by master
storyteller Ed Gorman. Like Mario, I believe that Gorman
is a seriously under-appreciated writer here in the states, and the story
that Mario tells about the reception of Gorman's 'Cage of Night' is simply
astounding. I frankly think that publishers were being disingenuous in
their reaction to Gorman's genre-bending tale, because that sort of genre-bending
is all the mainstream rage right now.
You can't turn on the TV without seeing some combination of science fiction,
horror and suspense, say '1984' meets 'The Manchurian Candidate' –
and that's on the news channels! When it comes to fiction, well, the weirdness
almost seems sedate in comparison with the turmoil taking place in so-called
mundane reality. Those seeking the solace of a great story that will pull
them in and make them forget the world around them need only read
Mario's review of Ed Gorman's 'Cage of Night'. Your next stop will
be the PS Publishing web site, or one of the many independent booksellers
who will stock this title.
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : LitQuake / SF in SF Richard Bottoms Speaks to the power
of Steampunk : A Positive Vision
and friend from publishing world.
The first person to
speak at the LitQuake / SF in SF event was Richard Bottoms;
a name that may be unfamiliar to you – And it was to me –
but probably not for long. He's at the helm of Steampoweredevents.com
and is instrumental in setting up the Steampunk Convention that will close
out the month here in Northern California. It looks like I may finally
get a chance to meet the VanderMeers. But I'll not count my VanderMeers
before they hatch, given the object lessons of how things such as nest
eggs can hatch and take flight before youre able to ... stop working
every gods-damned day of your life. Not that I'd stop, but I may have
to stop this if the nest eggs don't return in some form or another! But
I digress. Richard Bottoms is a steam-powered mover and shaker; and
you can hear his first speech to the SF in SF / LitQuake crowd from this-here
10-15-08: Jeffrey Ford's Well-Built City Trilogy ; Agony Column Podcast
News Report : Kage Baker, Terry Bisson, Richard Bottoms, Joe R. Lansdale
and Rudy Rucker on Steampunk
Trade Paperback Physiognomy
image to pop-up enlarged version.
One of the reasons
that I spotlight first novels in my series
for National Public Radio is that it's
so easy to miss a great first novel if someone isnt shining a big
ol' bright light on the thing and saying, "Looky-here, worth your
valuable time!" Thus, I missed the very first edition of Jeffrey
Ford's first book, 'The
Physiognomy'. What I found was the EOS books, mass-market paperback
re-issue that came out a year later. The trouble was that Avon Books next
put out a trade paperback of the sequel, 'Memoranda',
which I did get, and then a hardcover version of the final book in what
then was called "The Well-Built City Trilogy", 'The
Beyond', in hardcover. While I loved the books, the covers are sort
of nothing-ish; they're not bad, but theyre nothing to write home
about. Moreover, having the trilogy in three separate formats grates against
every compulsive book-collecting bone in my body. But there was really
nothing I could do about it – until now.
Those who have been listening to my podcast may recall an interview I
did with John Picacio, where he talked about a project he was working
on that has finally come to fruition; a single triptych painting that
would be divided into covers for each entry in The Well-Built City Trilogy,
to be re-issued in a unified trade paperback format by Golden Gryphon.
Those books have just been released, and there's an investment that is
well worth your valuable time and money; 'The Physiognomy', 'Memoranda'
and 'The Beyond' (Golden Gryphon ; October 1, 2008 ; $14.95) are
all available direct from the publisher, or via your favorite independent
bookseller. Even if you have the originals in first eds, this is a great
idea. They look beautiful, they're nicely printed, easy-to-read, and edge-cutting
classics in a style that has not been explored.
The world that Ford creates in these books is unlike pretty much any other
you'll find in what gets lumped under the rubric of "fantasy"
these days. The Well-Built City is far leaner and more grotesquely simple
than the sort swords-and-horses stuff that dominates the genre. Many critics
have compared the first book in particular to Kafka, and I'd agree, to
a point. There's a clean, crisp feel to the prose and the imagined world
that really seems to have nothing at all to do with what is traditionally
classified as fantasy. But no matter how you classify it, the trilogy
is quite compelling, grueling and original. Wrapped in the work of one
of today's best SF&F cover artists, this is a wonderful and affordable
set of books that should call your name, and your attention to the publisher
as well. Golden Gryphon has been doing stellar work in trade paperback
of late; other entries include 'Harvest of Changelings' by Warren Rochelle,
and 'Budayeen Nights' by George Alec Effinger. Follow these up with Jeffrey
Ford, and your mind will be most excellently damaged. If this is the case,
then perhaps Cley, the Physiognomist from Ford;s novel can schedule some
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : Kage Baker, Terry Bisson, Richard Bottoms, Joe R. Lansdale
and Rudy Rucker on Steampunk : The Future Past
Bisson, Rudy Rucker, Kage Baker, Richard Bottoms, Joe R. Lansdale.
I'm starting off my
podcast series from the LitQuake /
SF in SF program from Thursday, October
9, 2008, with the panel discussion of SteamPunk, featuring Kage
Baker, Terry Bisson, Richard Bottoms,
Joe R. Lansdale and Rudy Rucker. You
can find the link to the podcast here. The discussion, as you might
imagine, given the four volatile personalities takes some unexpected though
always civil turns as the "positive" aspect of Steampunk gets
the usual treatment from Lansdale, whom, it is instructive to remember,
brought us The God of the Razors, among other deities. You know, if you
ever find yourself in a Lansdale story, you might want to think twice
about the power of prayer.
10-14-08: A 2008 Interview with Charlie Huston
From 'Every Last
Drop' to Everyone's Last Gasp
is a one of those lucky writers who manages to get a lot of books published
in a short span of time. It was less than a year ago when we got 'Half
the Blood of Brooklyn', and now Huston's back with another Joe Pitt novel,
'Every Last Drop' (Del Rey / Ballantine / Random House ; September 30,
2008 ; $14). It's another hot rod to hell in novel form, with Joe Pitt
once again employed by The Coalition to go undercover into a new clan,
The Cure, who, you might correctly surmise, are seeking a cure for the
Vyrus that causes vampirism.
No red paint in sight.
As Charlie told me in the interview we recorded last week, he uses a lot
of red paint for this one, and Joe' bleak world grows a darker shade of
black. Do note that Charlie is always in fine form with these books, keeping
them tense, terse and to-the-point; well many points, I'd have to concede,
usually piercing flesh in ways both inventive and entertaining. Assuming
that you're entertained by this level of violence and horror.
Still, for all the
grue you encounter in a Joe Pitt casebook, there's a kind of deep appeal
to this character, who is both a literally-bloodthirsty killer and a noir
knight in dark armor. He's truly human in ways that keep the character
compelling and compulsively readable. It's probably too cold to sit on
the porch and read his in one sitting; but this perfect for fodder for
reading by the first fire of the year. Burn something and read Charlie
In the dead of the winter, you'll be able to get another dose of a rather
different Huston, 'The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death' (Ballantine
/ Random House ; January 13, 2009 ; $25). Yes, he still uses the red paint,
but leaves the source off-screen for his tale of Web Goodhue, a slacker
type who falls into a new occupation; crime-site cleaning. Of course,
this isnt the sort of fall that comes without injury and Web soon
finds that cleaning up is only part of his job. The wrong woman, the answer
to the wrong question, it's easy to go ... wrong.
said than done.
I talked with Huston about his latest two novels, and I'll let you hear
him tell me his plans with regards to both Joe Pitt and Web Goodhue. But
wait; there's more, because the prolific Huston has more Pitt in the hopper,
plans for Goodhue beyond erasure and something totally different up his
sleeve as well. By now, you should know to have Huston on your auto-buy
a lot of future in the future; here's a link to the MP3 that will tell
you how far the future can reach.
10-13-08: A 2008 Interview with Naomi Klein Explores 'The Shock Doctrine'
; Agony Column Broadcast Radio Pledge Drive : Support Your Agony
"One of the
really dangerous parts of an economic shock like this is just the complexity
For all the talk of
technologically-accelerated change, there's nothing like an economic disaster
to throw the world into fast-forward. When the difference between each
day can be easily measured in trillions of dollars lost or transferred
from one class to another, any technology beyond those of the economy
seem rather irrelevant. Naomi Klein is the kind of visionary
who sees our future in economic terms; in fact, it's starting to seem
as if she saw the present about a year ago when 'The Shock Doctrine' (Picador
/ Henry Holt ; June 24, 2008 ; $16) was first released as a hardcover.
A hole in our lives.
Klein has a fascinating approach and thesis. She calls her book an "alternative
history," but it's not speculative fiction. Instead, she examines
at the last forty or so years of history from a new perspective, viewing
the rise of the so-called "free market economy" championed by
Milton Friedman as a violent conquest rather than the peaceful unfolding
of natural economic evolution.
From the overthrow
of Salvador Allendé in Chilé to the razing of New Orleans
by Katrina, Klein offers example after example of how the powerful have
harnessed natural and man-made disasters to unmake existing, stable economies
and replace them with ruinous "free market" capitalism that
transfers wealth from the poor to the rich and leave the victims with
Naomi Klein manages to smile!
Klein is currently touring and talking about her book as well as the present
economic crisis. She'll
be at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz on Friday, October 17, at 7:30 PM.
You can get tickets for that event at the Capitola
Book Café and the Resource Center
for Non-Violence. Here's
a link to the rest of her tour dates.
Klein is clear, passionate and very down-to-earth in her book and was
equally so when I spoke to her on the phone. For all that we might have
liked to believe that our economy was beyond shock, that's now quite clearly
not the case. Change is happening so fast, it might seem impossible to
keep up, but Klein offers a pretty clears vision of what is happening
now, why it is happening and how we can keep a grip on our world, our
lives and our economy. It's not all about disaster; we can, she says,
resist; and in fact that is what's happening. It's time to clear the air
and prepare for economically-accelerated change. Here's
the MP3 to introduce you to 'The Shock Doctrine'.
Support Your Agony
Today is the Pledge
Drive on NPR affiliate KUSP; I'm running
the Food Panel with Mollie Katzen, Michael Pollan and Ann Vileisis. I've
got ten Molly Katzen cookbooks to give away, and a $500 matching grant.
I'm hoping there are at least ten brave readers out there willing to support
this podcast and broadcast by joining up and picking up a great cookbook.
I'm not a vegetarian; in fact, I've long been more of a meatatarian. But
back when I decided to talk to Mollie Katzen, they sent me her book and
I tried some recipes and found them totally wonderful. They're now staples
at our house. You can help this column, and this podcast and get a free
By the end of this week, I'll be making my 500th podcast – every
one free. And what I have coming up is quite stellar; though I'm going
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a podcast, plus getting the book, well, I hope that some of you out there
think its worth supporting. I'd especially appreciate a phone call
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PM PDT. Or, you can pledge on the web during
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