11-13-09: Donald Sidney-Fryer Reads at World Fantasy Convention, 2009 : Clark Ashton Smith and the California Romantics
I have got to say that I really, really like Donald Sidney-Fryer and his wildly antiquarian poetic readings. He's absolutely possessed when he reads, and his voice is incredibly powerful. He has a diction and accent like no other reader I have heard, even though both are in some sense, sort of familiar.
Poetry is a peculiar literary pursuit these days. There's a lot of great poetry about, but there's also a great deal of poetry that is now supposed to seem quaint or out of date, or — unfashionable. The work of Clark Ashton Smith and a group of writers who are called the California Romantics is a prime example of poetry that was fashioned with passion and a sense of rebellion against the oncoming train of modern, surreal poetry that at the time was being championed by no less than Ezra Pond and T. S. Eliot. That was a hard double-threat to meet, and the rhyming styles of the late nineteenth century went by the wayside.
Well, not entirely. Donald Sidney-Fryer has taken up the torch and his totally wonderful reading will turn your head round sideways. Sidney-Fryer preserves the power of those words and booms them forth in a voice that could call down the Elder Gods from their cyclopean realms. But there's a sly sense of fun in what he does, a sense of revel as well as revelation. When he brings down the final curtain on humankind in the heat death of the universe, you kind want to smile because it’s all so cool, so powerful, so beautiful. Here's your link to worlds you'll never traverse, to words you will never hear spoken with such power.
11-12-09: FBI Agent George Fong at Book Passage Mystery Conference
"As a law enforcement agent, personally, I've worked on several cases, a number of cases, in which your eyes see things in a different light at the end of an investigation." — George Fong
Sometimes the interviewer has to learn from the interviewee. And it's not just the fact the interviewee has to speak of, or the opinions you're trying to evoke. Sometimes you have to figure out a whole new approach to a guest.
That was certainly the case when I interviewed George Fong, an active FBI Agent who was attending the Book Passage Mystery Conference back in July. I save these things for a rainy day, and though it's not raining yet, I remain ever hopeful. I heard Fong speak briefly on a panel, and then set up an interview, with one approach to him lodged firmly in my mind. Alas, it proved to be the wrong approach, and hardheaded me, it took me about thirty minutes and an essentially complete interview to figure out what was wrong. Fortunately, I did figure out what was wrong — and fixed it. You can hear my second conversation with George Fong by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
11-11-09: World Fantasy Convention The Google Books Settlement:
Russell Davis, Karen Wester Newton, Charles Petit, Jay Lake, Christopher Kastensmidt, Dan Gamber (moderator)
"I can't claim it — even though I wrote it." — Russell Davis
Here's what the website/little book had to say about this (death) panel:
"The Google Books Settlement has caused worldwide controversy and will have a marked effect on every author and publisher. Hear various viewpoints on this issue."
It's sort of like saying, "Well, you can throw this match in that pool of gasoline, but there might be some side effects."
Animated does not do this panel justice. So, let me say, up front, that, whatever they're paying Russell Davis for being the Prez of Sifwa (Science Fiction Writers of America): It ain't enough. It ain't nearly enough. That guy is a rockin' firebrand, folks and if you doubt my words, well ...
Before I finish that thought, I just want to say that what I really liked about this panel was that it was not cut and dried, "Angelic Us versus Evil Google." (Hey, isn’t their slogan "Don't be evil"? When did that fall by the wayside?) I've got to say that even I don’t know where I'd stand on this issue, though clearly Google has asserted as a right something that is most assuredly a privilege. That said, this is not a black-and-white argument, though Davis wears one hell of white hat. It might have been nice if Google would have made an appearance. They definitely stepped in it by not doing so, even though someone who claimed to have worked for them in the audience swore that they really didn't mean to be evil. Still, when you can own several medium size countries with you last year's earnings, not showing up here is a prime bit of foot-shooting expertise. Especially when the opposition has a lineup like David, Karen Wester Newton, Charles Petit, Jay Lake, Christopher Kastensmidt, and Dan Gamber. You can find out why I think Davis deserves a pay raise by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
11-10-09: Three Books with Alan Cheuse
Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna
Charlie Huston, Sleepless
J. M. Coetzee, Summertime
There are a lot of books out there, jostling for your attention. They fire them out of a cannon at me, and at NPR's Alan Cheuse as well. This month, we had a particularly fruitful selection. Who can not love Barbara Kingsolver? And what will the esteemed book critic for NPR make of Charlie Huston's science fiction apocalypse? How will J. M. Coetzee manage to hold a reader's interest as he writes about himself as if he were dead? What books do you think you want to read?
I had one hell of good time talking about books with Alan Cheuse this time around. It's a subject that we both take quite seriously, a subject that we believe all citizens should take seriously. How else can you engage with your world if not through reading, especially fiction? Fiction offer us the opportunity to experience lives we could never ourselves live; for example, Trotsky's life and untimely death in Kingsolver's 'The Lacuna,' or a world without sleep in Charlie Huston's 'Sleepless.' Or the literary Moebius strip that winds through a hall of mirrors in J. M. Coetzee's 'Summertime.' The deal is that each of these books will ask for a bit of your life, with the promise of giving you more than you expect in return. You can follow this link and hear which are worth your time — which are worth your life — by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
11-09-09: A 2009 Interview with E. L. Doctorow
"They opted out — which is not that unusual an American phenomenon" — E. L. Doctorow
Some things are made easy. I didn't expect the E. L. Doctorow interview to be one of them. I drove out to San Francisco on a chilly winter morning expecting to have to fight for a parking place — not to have one open up magically directly in front of the hotel. Free parking. It was like hitting the magic corner in Monopoly.
With that small sign, things started to look up. I spoke with E. L. Doctorow in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco, which occupies it's own city block. Sunday morning or not, it was crowded and loud, but we found a quietish corner off to the side, in what I believe was called an executive lounge. Having just lived inside Homer Collyer's head for a notch over two-hundred pages, it didn't surprise me when Doctorow started to read and I felt as if I were talking to a man who played Homer Collyer on the stage, in a play that ran as long as the Collyers' mythic lives run in Doctorow's novel. And Doctorow himself admitted that he had not managed to shake off Homer's voice; he was suffering a sort of writer's hangover, still immersed in the chilly world he so beautifully portrayed in prose. And yes, while there is no pretense of 'Homer & Langley' being anything other than a novel, the elegiac feel of Doctorow's writing gives the novel something of the feel of a heroic historical poem, perhaps by the spectre of Homer's namesake, living vicariously through the American twentieth century with a sort of visionary wonder. You'll hear those same cadences in Doctorow's own words, by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
New to the Agony Column
03-04-14: Commentary : Michio Kaku Foresees 'The Future of the Mind' : Form Follows Function