Review Archive


This Just In...News From The Agony Column


11-07-08: Agony Column Website Re-Launch :, and

A Break in the Agony

On January 1, 2002, I launched this website; On December 1, 2003, I began writing news five days a week; On August 20, 2007, I began podcasting five days a week. It's been a long run here at So now it's time for a change, and yes, the timing is completely coincidental.

Next week, we'll be taking a break from the daily podcasts and updates. We're re-launching the site on November 17. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, please email me.


11-06-08: Ann and Jeff VanderMeer Pilot 'Fast Ships, Black Sails'; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Barry N. Malzberg Interviewed at SF in SF

Masters of Their Own Fate

Fast reading as well, and rather dark.
Jeff and Ann VanderMeer recount a conversation they had with Elizabeth Selinger, author of 'The Idiot's Guide to Pirates', wherein she suggested that a pirate would, "...have to have a deep need to be the master of their own fate."

That says it all for me, and I suspect that's the core of the appeal that has made pirates such a huge cultural phenomenon. Frankly, though not much of that matters to me, unless it results in such yet another VanderMer anthology, in this case 'Fast Ships, Black Sails' (Night Shade Books ; October, 2008 ; $14.95). Jeff and Ann VanderMeer are rapidly becoming our premiere anthologists because they have the perfect combination of talents required to put out consistently excellent collections; a fantastic artistic eye, the respect of great writers and the boundless amount of energy required to request, edit, select, collate and sequence a bunch of great writing. Moreover, they're known for casting a wide net. That's important, because theyre able to put out themed collections that still offer a huge amount of variety.

But then, given the caliber of writers they can attract, it's no wonder they have the variety. There are so many writers in this collection who name alone would warrant an auto-buy that it's almost silly. But I'm going to run a few past you, just for grins; Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette (we'll be hearing from Elizabeth Bear in an upcoming podcast), Naomi Novik, Kage Baker, Rhys Hughs (!), Conrad Williams, Steve Ayelett (Not a Lint story), Michael Moorcock, Howard Waldrop, Garth Nix ... But these are just the marquee names so to speak. What matters is that the stories by those names you (or at least I) dont recognize right off the bat – Justin Howe, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Kelly Barnhill, Carrie Vaughn, Katherine Sparrow, Paul Batteiger, Rachel Swirsky – are all excellent entries. What we've learned is that the VanderMeer's know how to pick 'em.

The genres are as varied as the authors; you've got horror, science fiction, slipstream, fantasy, mystery, and yes – Pirate stories. All with one core appeal, one commonality, that all humans share – we want to be masters of own fate, literary and otherwise.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Barry N. Malzberg Interviewed at SF in SF : Weddings and Divorces

Oh the times you wish you had your tapeless tape running! I was mostly just listening, to be honest, to Terry Bisson chat with Barry N. Malzberg in the bar before the SF in SF event and let me tell you, that man is outrageous! And he is an absolute scream, (as you could tell by his story) so I was quite pleased that he was willing to sit down and speak with me between sets at SF in SF. Here's the link so that you can share this tales of joy and less than joy amidst the squabbling science fiction writers of the Golden Age. Ah, to be 14 again!


11-05-08: Charles de Lint Unravels 'The Mystery of Grace' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Kim Stanley Robinson Interviewed at SF in SF

Hot Rod Dreams

Smart writers know they sometimes need to give potential (and often compulsive) new readers a break. Let me be a case in point.

When it comes to series fiction or even non-series fiction set in the same milieu, I am a stickler for chronology. Here's the scenario. I've heard about Alfred E. Newman, and he's got this great series set in the "SharpTeeth Universe" where vampires have long been the majority and kept humans as cattle, until one Spartacus starts talking rebellion. But I dont hear about this series until book five, "Pagans for Breakfast, Christians for Dinner" comes out. Now that's a real catchy title (I think) and look at the previous four; "SharpTeeth Servings", "Snacking on Blood", "A Loaf of Bread, A Jug of Blood and Thy Neck" and "The Hemophile's Dilemma". Damn, I'm thinking this has gots to be the bee's knees of vampire fiction. But then I start doing page counts; the first book is a nice 327 pages, the second tops off at 372, the third one weighs in at 496, the fourth at 572 and book five, which caught my interest, needs to purchase an adjacent seat when it flies with a heft 763-page count. All told ... 2,530 page, a good 2.78 on the HamilMartin Scale.

That's a lot of books to be reading just to get to the point where I might hope to see some Pagan snackin'. So, I say, what the hell and pick up 'Bonk', the latest non-fiction work from Mary Roach, which I know will have no ties to her previous work and will NOT be thick enough to choke a politician.

No pagans for you my skeletal friend!
Or, 'The Mystery of Grace' (Tor / Tom Doherty Books ; March 2009 ; $24.95) by Charles DeLint. Now, he has a passel of books set in Newford that seem mighty appealing. And, yes, I admit grudgingly, I could read them out of order. I have in fact, but leave that aside for a moment. The compulsion is there, deep, dark and unstoppable and as implacable as the page count therein. Therefore, 'The Mystery of Grace', wherein DeLint starts anew with a book set in the Southwest, is like brand new door with a 278-page Welcome mat. This is a perfect entrée into DeLint's world and lovely writing that is utterly background free. Cool. No Servings, so Snacking, no Loaves, Jugs, Necks or Dilemma to ponder. Just a straight shot of Hot Rods and the subtly supernatural.

Hot rods? That's a very DeLintean touch. He's the kind of writer who really knows how to ground things so that the slide into the surreal is easier to experience. When a turbaned gypsy in a novel tells you she's haunted, you might have a jaundiced reaction. When tattooed mechanic (even if she's a presumably hot she) tells you she's haunted, well, you might be inclined to listen because at least you can be pretty sure youre not getting re-heated Rice. Instead, DeLint illuminates the interior lives of folks who generally make about the same amount of money as their readers and don't seem to have graduated from Fashion Model Academy. He writes with grit, emotion and a leavening sense of humor. And he does so for a mere 269 pages. No requirement to tell you kid "See ya in 12 years when yez graduate from High School." This time around, he's sporting cover blurbs from Alice Hoffman, which seems like a better fit than the more fantasy-like fantasy authors; though the ARC makes it clear that this is shoehorned into the fantasy genre.

In short, here's an ideal, baggage-free entrée into the wonderful world of Charles DeLint. 'The Mystery of Grace' is to DeLint's work what marijuana is purported to be to Heroin. If only all gateway drugs were so easy to score!

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Kim Stanley Robinson Interviewed at SF in SF : Comedy and Eco-Tragedy

It was really a treat to see Kim Stanley Robinson at SF in SF a couple of weeks ago. We caught up a bit and then I turned on the mic and we chatted about his interest in domestic comedy and ecological collapse. Now yes, we know that politics doesn't make strange bedfellows; marriage does. But so do writers like Robinson, who are apt to marry apocalypse and parenting tips, or say, Galileo and time travel. To travel in time to those moments when I spoke with Robinson, follow this link. Just avoid shooting your grandfather, or going after Hitler. They've both been done and it's getting tiresome. Or at least if you're going to time travel, check out the FAQ.


11-04-08: For Simon R. Green, It's 'Just Another Judgement Day' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Cecilia Holland Interviewed at SF in SF

John Taylor Rides Again

Step aside, pardner.
I hope I don't have to introduce anyone to either Simon R. Green or John Taylor. The latter is a detective who works out of the NightSide, that part of London where you can find the gods, demons, aliens, and every critter or creation that ever did a stint in a work of genre fiction. The former is his creator, and author of the Novels of the NightSide. I've been digging Green's NightSide novels since the very first iteration, 'Something from the NightSide'. They're fast, funny, very imaginative and, I've long thought, too good for mass-market paperback only release. Well, it took Ace eight books to get around to it, but finally we can get our first hardcover novel of the NightSide, 'Just Another Judgement Day' (Ave /Penguin Putnam ; January 6, 2009 ; $24.95) and not a moment too soon. It's kind of funny, really, to see this long-held wish come to fruition, since really Green and Taylor were there for me at the beginning my work in this arena. It's great to see a fine talent like Green get the acknowledgement he deserves.

This time around, Taylor's facing a familiar dilemma. Things start to settle down in the NightSide, which means a measly murder rate and lots of blood-spattered sidewalks. Monsters and mobsters mixing it up, but nothing too tragic. Well, until God decides to send in The Walking Man. He's just another god-blessed (apparently!) legend that a) can't be killed, b) pretty much spells the end of everything if he isnt killed, or at least the end of the NightSide. Taylor, the man who finds things, may himself find that his talent is best dialed back a notch or two.

But then, dear readers, I must address the spelling variant. I dont know about you, but my Word Proce$$or doesn't just flag $cientology and Micro$oft; it also flags "judgement" with an "e" crammed in there. Now I had to look it up and I did look it up, and yes, the variant is accepted, and so far as I can tell it does show up in the BBC website. Still, to have an American hardcover with that odd spelling, well, one can only say that it's a judgment call. And clearly not one Micro$oft would approve of.

So far as the novel is concerned you know what to expec; a couple of nicely-twined twisty plots, well-described set-pieces wherein mayhem is executed with vigor if not finesse and a number of shady characters who prove to be rather different than one might expect. If your expectations of plot are nicely derailed, rest assured that Green is not using his hardcover to bloat out the usual snappy-tale, well-told. It may be 'Just Another Judgement Day', but that does not mean it's got to go on forever. Just long enough to get in, maim, entertain and then get out while the getting is good. I got me a line of Simon R. Green NightSide novels on shelf just waiting for the first hardcover. Hard times be damned, this is going to be fun.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Cecilia Holland Interviewed at SF in SF : Fantasy & History

It was pretty wild at SF in SF; Kim Stanley Robinson pretty much started out telling us that he started reading science fiction because of co-guest Cecilia Holland.

The upshot was that I got to talk to not, one, not two but three (Including Barry N. Malzberg, yet to be podcast) legends of the speculative fiction business in a single evening.

Heres the link to my interview with Cecilia Holland, who will tell you as much you need to know about history, fantasy and writing – or at least as much as yon interviewer had time to coax out of her between the reading and the panel.


11-03-08: A 2008 Interview with Danny Goldberg

Bumping Into Geniuses

Oops! Excuse me, sorry!
You really can't just write it all off to luck. Danny Goldberg is the sort of man who simply has a talent for finding talent, an ability to sense history before it happens and make sure he's there when it does happen. How else does a green reporter from Billboard happen to get sent to cover a little festival out in the boonies called Woodstock? How does a guy end up making sure Led Zeppelin is being treated right at a time when the rock and roll press wants nothing to do with them? The names go on and on; Bonnie Raitt, Nirvana, Courtney Love; Goldberg has been the president of Atlantic Records, Warner Brothers Records and Mercury Records.

But what really shines in 'Bumping Into Geniuses: My Life Inside the rock and Roll Buisness' (Gotham Books / Penguin ; September 18, 2008 ; $26) is his love for the art form and – this is important for the readers – his sense of humor. Goldberg truly loves the environment he's immersed himself in since he was a teenager looking to work for a magazine. He understands the business and the art, and has a knack for mixing the two that results in music that's popular, powerful and acclaimed.

But forget all the great people he's worked with and forget all the names you want to hear about. This book is one of the funniest books you'll read in a long time, full of great anecdotes about working in the world where prickly artists clash with hardscrabble businessman. It's the story of a whole corporate empire and business model coalescing about talent that refuses to be easily defined. And Goldberg's story, here in this link to an MP3 audio interview is a total hoot that you'll hear, believe and then want to experience on the printed page.

I have to confess I didn't know what to expect when I picked up this book. I thought, well, "Cool celebrities," and yes, there are cool celebrities, but what makes this a wonderful book is great writing. Listen up and see if you dont head down to the bookstore, though you may end up at the CD emporium first.


Agony Column Review Archive