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07-04-08: Earthling Independent Press; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Carol Emshwiller Reads at SF in SF June 21, 2008

Free Memories

You'll not forget the picnic.
It's funny what gets you thinking about your early encounters with compulsive book-buying. I just got an ARC of the forthcoming fourth book in Earthling Publications' Halloween series, 'Moontown' (Earthling Publications ; October 2008 ; $45) by Peter Atkins, and it sent me straight to the shelves. Oddly enough, I was able to go directly to the place where I have my all-too limited Atkins stash –'Morningstar', 'Big Thunder' and 'Wishmaster and Other Stories', pull them all, and make a nice little book pile as I swam back through the years. It's an odd collection of memories.

I first bought 'Big Thunder' from Mark V. Ziesing. I was mired in the world of IT at the time, and the set-piece scene from that novel still echoes in my mind. I remember reading it in Branciforte Park here in Santa Cruz, surrounded by ancient redwoods capped with blue sky. Atkins' writing is elegant without being fussy, straightforward with style. He knows when to focus the reader on details that disturb and when to dial back to pure terror. 'Big Thunder' was one of the novels that made me think that horror could be both entertainingly disturbing yet still be classy.

So I backtracked and picked up his novel 'Morningstar'. It's a vampire and detective novel that in retrospect presaged much of the vampire literature that to this day inundates the shelves, so much so that the horror ghetto in your chain bookstore is likely to be pretty much vampires and Stephen King, full stop. But while other writers mow down forests to meld hard-core pornography and sharp teeth, Atkins was able to accomplish a greater goal – entertainment, enchantment and classy writing – in a mere 238 pages.

Red rivers.
But Wishmaster, Wishmaster – that was, I believe, for my son and I, the last hurrah of the Rio Theater, and appropriately so. The Rio is an old-fashioned theater. It has a big marquee, it has a single big screen, it has a "crying room" upstairs. These days, it gets used mainly for events like the Salman Rushdie appearance. But back when "Wes Craven's Wishmaster" came out it was one of the last, great movie theaters. My son was what, 11 years old in 1997 – but already well versed in horror fiction. I have to tell you that we didn't expect much with Wishmaster, but we both came away quite happily surprised. Here was a movie where the excellent special effects were actually bolstered and based on a good story, well told. A story written by Peter Atkins. My son and I saw a matinee and I'll always recall the afternoon sunlight on the green paint of the theater as we walked out and said, "Damn, that was actually good..."

That same son had begun his education in terror very early on when I sort of accidentally made what seemed like the mistake of taking him to see The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The terrifying death angel early on made him hide his eyes, but what really scared the bejesus out of him was Robin Willams as the Moon King. I was able to chase him down the streets saying "I am the Moon King" for years afterwards.

All of which brings us to the oh-so welcome return of Peter Atkins to novels with 'Moontown'. Yes, you get the moon king and the kind of classy but truly frightening writing that gave horror such a boost back in the 1980's. But back in the 1980's something else gave the genre a boost as well, and that was the work of the sort of strong, independent presses – I think of Scream / Press and Dark Harvest – that were able to bring out many of the writers who really mattered. (Atkins was published by HarperCollins in the UK, so it wasn't only the small presses.) Today, there are still small presses driving the best writing, bringing it to you. But frankly, sometimes you have to act fast. You look at Earthling's web site, theyve got as many books out of print as in print. One both hopes and fears that 'Moontown' will sell out. Atkins, who has been a mainstay of the Rolling Darkness Revue, knows how to tell a Halloween story; Earthling is at this point free to publish such potentially mind-damaging material. We like our Sky Fairies friendly. Atkins has a different take, one that may just inform some other father and son. Free to buy. Free to read whatever the heck we want. Listen. The words matter.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Carol Emshwiller Reads at SF in SF June 21, 2008 : 'Whoever'

The words matter as well for Carol Emshwiller. She's a purely intuitive writer, and you can hear this with complete clarity when she reads her story 'Whoever' at SF in SF from June 21. Here's the link; she speaks best for herself.


07-03-08: Jeff VanderMeer Reveals 'Secret Lives' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Pat Murphy Reads (and throws cards) at SF in SF

"My life is an open book"

Another open book.

This is a phrase we hear all the time, and while it's certainly true of me .... well, no wait, it's NOT true of me. I value my privacy, screw that, secrecy, because shame and shock are entertaining when viewed from afar and not so entertaining when experienced from within. What shocking, shameful stuff am I getting up to? I'll leave that to your imagination, just as a variety of volunteers left it to Jeff VanderMeer's imagination, resulting in this slim cool hardcover (and trade paperback as well) collection, 'Secret Lives' (Prime Books ; June 15, 2008 ; $35). Now, some of my readers are in here; Troy Knutson gets tangled up with a private eye; Rebecca Saunders has a secret life that I can't reveal here, because well, they'd have to kill me if I told you and I have to finish up a bunch of stuff or else all sorts of people will be upset. Secret people, I can't tell you about them. But if you knew ...

Here's what we do know. Jeff's collection 'Secret Life' comes out and ever-vigilant Mark looks for an angle. He's good at angles and it keeps him in business. Maybe a bookplate that Jeff could sign or something. But not, Jeff gets it in his head to write out a "secret life" sort-of bio for every customer, starting out with handwritten notes and graduating to full-blown, typewritten ... collectible-in-an-antho stories. These stories. Maybe your story is in here. Even if your name isn't.

The sorts of story that are in here range from the giggler to the grimacer ; stuff that will make you laugh and stuff that will make you blanch, lighthearted japes that dont wander far from the kind of reality that gets reported on in the newspaper to stuff no newspaper would publish even after the aliens landed. What draws these stories together is a sort of community of the mind. 'Secret Lives' is a hardcover version of one of those pernicious social networking sites. Everybody here has been "friended" (alas there is no typeface named Disdain, or else I'd be using it for that non-word) for better or worse, for richer or poorer by Jeff VanderMeer. Sureality follows, along with wonderment, name-dropping and ancient cities. In another universe, or in his own secret life, VanderMeer is actually the man behind McSweeney's, the man behind Found and the man in the Iron Mask, just to be safe. Though it's small, 'Secret Lives' sports an entire "Found"-styl short story on the endpapers. If your digging the cover, and who wouldn't, the artist is Terry Rentzepis, with more on view at his website. The experience of reading about real people's unreal lives is unsettling and strange. It's unique. It's why you read.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Pat Murphy Reads (and throws cards) at SF in SF Fantasy in SF

At the latest SF in SF, author Pat Murphy gave listeners a lot more than they may have bargained for. Sure, we enjoyed her wonderful but unfinished story that unfolded in the streets of San Francisco and in a toy company that sounds rather like Murphy's "day job", that is, working as a writer for Klutz publishers. That explains the card-throwing, at least as much as I want to. You can hear the rest of this delightful story from this link. Be careful, that card-throwing is harder than you think. Murphy makes that look easy and she makes the writing seem easy, which is why you know she works so hard.


07-02-08 : Neal Asher Casts 'Shadow of the Scorpion' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : NPR Report on Paolo Bacigalupi

A Matter of Scale

The unmistakable Bob Eggleton. Cool!

It seems like it was just yesterday and I was writing about this phenomenal trade paperback book titled 'Gridlinked' by this guy named Neal Asher. But I've been at this since January 2002, and here we are six years later. Asher no longer an unknown (at least it worked out for one of us!) and we're well into his Agent Ian Cormac series; so far, in fact, that "Agent Cormac 5", 'Line War' (Tor UK / Pan Macmillan ; April 4, 2008 ; £17.99) was just released in the UK and 'Shadow of the Scorpion' (Night Shade Books ; July 2008 ; $14.95), the second in a series of TPB originals, is due in trade paperback in the US later this month. Given the go-ahead to publish novel as fast as he writes them, Asher can offer a 500+ page novel every nine months and a 250-page novella as well. Note that – novella. For any other writer, that 250-page book would be the main course; for Asher, it's just an appetizer.

... and now venerable Steve Rawlings.

But not really. 'Shadow of the Scorpion' takes readers back to Ian Cormac's childhood, growing up as the human race is at war with the Prador. So what you get with 'Shadow of the Scorpion' is a "coming-of-age" tale, Asher-style, while 'Line War' offers the perspective of a grizzled and gridlinked combat veteran. One is small and intimate, the other grand and effusive. Well, explosive at any rate. Asher blows up shit real good in these Cormac novels and the latest from Tor UK is no exception. AI overlords, a boosted Cormac, the Dragon and Mr. Crane are all in the mix. It's a pretty sure bet that somewhere along the way someone will suggest, "That could have gone better."

On the other side of the scale, it's the little things that make Ian Cormac a man who could end up being boosted. And in 'Shadow of the Scorpion' we meet those things and they prove to be disconcertingly human. Funny how we're always the most efficacious enemy we could meet, isnt it? On the other hand, at least Asher gives us the Prador, so effectively illustrated on the cover by Bob Eggleton; Steve Rawlings provides the usual and effective cover for 'Line War'. I do find it interesting that as Asher's work for Pan Macmillan becomes increasingly big-scale and baroque, his titles seem to get sheared down into almost generic territory.

To my mind, Asher's reached a sort of "like him or not" point. If you like Neal Asher, then you'll want both of these novels. He's a solid writer who delivers outstanding monsterific science fiction. If you've not read Asher, 'Gridlinked' is a great place to start, and you can rest assured that there is a lot more to the story. Big scale and small-scale stories to play out in the Polity. Child and man.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : NPR Report on Paolo Bacigalupi : Green Sci-Fi from Bacigalupi's Pump Six

From Night Shade Books and in short supply!

So readers, first and foremost, thanks for emailing the story. Feel free to go to the website and do so again! It really did well, which will help book sales and thusly, the cause of reading itself. As ever, these pieces are all about the people I speak with, and Paolo Bacigalupi, Jeremy Lassen and Michelle Nijhuis deserve all the credit. All that is a just a means of adding enough verbiage to justify the link to the high-quality MP3 of the report itself. Science fiction really is a unique storytelling medium, and as we enter more and more future, well, the genre will become less and less important. Not because it doesn't matter, but because the world we live in has become, as Kim Stanley Robinson once told me, a bad science fiction novel. I just hope it doesn't end up like a Paolo Bacigalupi story. A more straightforward apocalypse would be preferable.


07-01-08: A 2008 Interview With Robert Scheer, Part 2

"An imperial government is incompatible with democracy"

Remember to mention the book, damnit!

If you decided to get your Robert Scheer in measured doses, then today's podcast is a dose of truth about our government, and freedom of the press – which belongs, Scheer quips, taking a line from Henry Mencken, to those who own one. (Be assured he attributes the quote; he's a pro through and through.) Scheer himself now owns a press, in this case,, and his approach is refreshingly distant. Sure, he contributes to the site, but he encourages diverse views and runs articles that he knows wont have the biggest readership, simply because he thinks the things they say need to be heard. Rather like the gentleman himself. Here's a link to part 2 of the interview, part 1, in case you missed and the whole kit and caboodle, in case you like to get a LOT of truth in one big dose.


06-30-08: A 2008 Interview with Robert Scheer, Part 1 + The Whole Shebang

"This is a scam of unbelievable proportions"

Shamelessly stolen from

I'm calling this conversation with Robert Scheer an interview, but that's something of a misnomer.

Basically, I just said, "We're on!" and let Scheer speak his mind, which he does without reservation, but with the same eloquence you'll find in his columns. From Nixon in China to Bush in Iraq, from General Curtis LeMay to Donald Rumsfeld, Scheer unleashes his keen analytic and vitriolic sensibilities on the mediated world around us to scrub away the stories until he's scorched the earth down to something remotely resembling reality.

I guess that I shouldn't be surprised that the master of the written polemic proves to be canny, convincing speaker, firing off words, ideas, facts, assertions, conclusions, analogies and analysis like a verbal gattling gun. I'm not going to say anymore; I'll let Robert Scheer speak for himself in the first of two parts. Do note that my usual podcasting rule applies here, to wit, when I get more than an hour of tape, I split the podcast into two pieces; I've done so here once again and the second of two parts will go out tomorrow. But you know, Scheer is something of a force of nature and I hesitate to interrupt him, so I'll offer listeners the choice to hear the whole shebang in one, uninterrupted podcast. The sort of insight you get from Scheer benefits from the firehose approach. It's rather like having your mind cleansed. Thoroughly. Though whats interesting is that for a guy with some real strong opinions and the facts to back them up, he's surprisingly self-deprecating, noting that he has gone it wrong as well as right. To my mind, he's a bit harsh on the Clintons. That said, I do like that he calls out the Dems when they sin just as quickly as he'll call out the Gasoline & Oil Party. Of course, given that the North Pole is going to melt away, it's just not possible to be "too harsh." I think the world around us is going to give us a good idea of just harsh things can get.


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