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07-20-13: Austin Grossman Plays 'You'

Second-Person Shooter

When humans look at anything, they see story — even when they look at story itself. Austin Grossman's 'You' plays with story at all levels, a phrase that could be lifted from or exported to the world of video games in which it is set. It is the story of the birth of a new storytelling technology, a classic tale of the American entrepreneurship, a coming-of-age novel, an insider's look at what is now a multi-billion dollar empire and an experimental riff on the reading experience. It's also funny, compulsively readable and tinged with a whiff of romantic techno-nostalgia. It manages to be a novel that is grounded in unreality.

'You' immerses readers in the world of Russell, a nerd who works for Black Arts Games, and really has since high school, when he and three friends first began re-purposing school computers. Somewhere in this emotionally fraught, even terrifying time, Simon, the troubled genius of the quartet, creates a few strings of code that were fraught with magic. They became the core of WAFFLE, an almost living engine that generates computer game worlds that are always a step ahead of the competition. But there's a downside to WAFFLE; a bug that threatens undo everything Black Arts Games has built.

Grossman's narrative is all about story in all its forms; how we create it, how we live within it, how it controls us while we think we control it, and how it informs and undermines our belief in free will. 'You' rockets back and forth between Russell's first person narratives and second person in-game experiences. The effect is to keep the reader a bit off balance. It's almost as if we're navigating the prose version of a video game.

Binding the narrative are Grossman's compelling characters. 'You' is a powerful vision of America's new generation of technological artists, those who find creativity in the crevices between different versions of circuit boards, who use specification as springboard for flights of fantasy. Not surprisingly, 'You' works with archetypes, embodied in the heroic quartet who found the Black Arts. But these staples are deeply informed and detailed by Grossman's experience in the business of making videogames. The result is that they become people we know and care about; they move from the world of the book into our world.

Grossman's first novel, 'Soon I Will Invincible,' was quite funny, and this book offers a lot of humor as well, though it is much lower key. Grossman manages the unique feat of writing about science fiction worlds and even writers in a grounded and realistic fashion. The genre itself is a character that drives much of the plot as well as the plots within the games. And even the most prose-loving hard-core book fans will find an appreciation of video games as a form of storytelling.

'You' does not feel like almost any other book you're likely to read this year. Grossman's novel captures the adolescence of its protagonists and their art form. The characters' growing pains are reflected in those of the new storytelling medium. 'You' is in effect about the birth of a nation, one that has no boundaries in the physical world. In story we are freed from the constraints that chafe us in day-to-day life. In this story we find life — new life, a new world in which we can experience pure freedom. For a moment, or more, you forget who you are.

07-16-13: Mario Guslandi Reviews Eddy C. Bertin 'The Whispering Horror'

" to provide every time a note of originality and creativity."

Editor's Note: The fabulous cover of this collection is by Harry O. Morris..

Review by Mario Guslandi

A fine example of a "European" horror writer, Eddy Charly Bertin was born in Germany in 1944 from a German mother and a Belgian father and is still living in Belgium. From the late 60's to the present time, he has published a bunch of horror stories, some in Dutch (later translated by himself in English) and some directly in English (then rewritten in Dutch). Several of his stories produced in the 70's have been included in the mythical series Year's Best Horror Stories (USA) and Pan Books of Horror Stories (UK).

British author and editor David Sutton has now assembled fourteen of Bertin's best stories in one volume published by his own Shadow Publishing, a small imprint mainly devoted to unearth and collect lost or forgotten tales by masters of the genre first appeared in print in the golden era of horror fiction.

Once again Sutton's effort is worthwhile, offering to today's readers the opportunity to taste the atmospheres created by an author perfectly at ease with the canons of horror fiction, yet able to provide every time a note of originality and creativity.

"Ten" is an excellent story depicting an ingenuous, slow and terrible vengeance, while "A Taste of Rain and Darkness" is a beautiful, dark tale full of desperation and lyricism, where a murderer keeps re-living the horror of his crime.

The nasty "Belinda's Coming Home!" effectively portrays a retarded girl and her difficult relationship with life and with her own family.

Psychic haunting constitutes the subject of the rather conventional "I Wonder What He Wanted" while psychic vampirism is the key in the outstanding, "Something Small, Something Hungry" (perhaps the best story in the volume), set in a traditional circus, superbly mixing noir and horror in a dark atmosphere of dread.

In the very short but riveting "The White Wall" a man unexpectedly talks on the phone with his dead wife, and in the powerful tale of witchcraft "Whisper of Leathery Wings," evil proves to be a force impossible to control.

Not surprisingly Bertin also paid homage to H.P. Lovecraft in more than one occasion. Here we have the opportunity to enjoy "Dunwich Dreams, Dunwich Screams," a vivid piece blending Lovecraftian themes with British history at the time of Henry the Eighth and "My Fingers Are Eating Me," a Grand-Guignolesque piece of cosmic evil taking place in the claustrophobic world of the London underground.

'The Whispering Horror' is a very good collection, apt to satisfy both the nostalgic elderly horror fans and the new generations of dark fiction lovers.

07-15-13: Ryan Coonerty and Jeremy Neuner Reveal 'The Rise of the Naked Economy'

Evolve or Else

I'm already road kill in the world as described by Ryan Coonerty and Jeremy Neuner in 'The Rise of the Naked Economy: How to Benefit from the Changing Workplace.' Those changes have come and gone and at this point the website you are reading is hanging by the slimmest of threads. But while it's quite likely too late for me, it may not be too late for most of this book's potential readers. The charm of 'Naked' is that it presents, without leaning too hard one direction or the other, both sides of the equation. Here's a vision of the very near future that's both utopian and dystopian.

'Naked' fires off with a forward by Fabio Rosati, the CEO of Elance, an online job-matching service cited in the book, and a very informative Introduction by the authors that lays out what follows; three parts, followed by a conclusion, a "What to Expect When You're Expecting the Naked Economy," acknowledgements and a very thorough and useful index. The book is easy to read, clear and logical. For some, that logic is not going to be particularly good news.

Part one is titled "The Cubicle Pensioner: The Traps and Trappings of Work." It's a combination of history and revision. By examining what work once was as recently as the late 20th century, comparing it to earlier versions and looking at what is and is not important, the authors pry our concepts out of old models of work with the idea of making new ones comprehensible. For a certain segment of the population, which alas includes me, this reads like an economic version of the apocalypse. It's refreshing as all get-out, well written and clear headed. But readers will quickly suss that this is not a feel-good, get-rich quick guide.

The second part, titled "A Specialist and a Generalist Walk Into a Bar ... Get Drunk and Start a Company: Prospering in the New Economy" might be considered a guide to economic evolution. This is great stuff if you're not already a dinosaur, and those readers who aren't (most of them) will find the material energizing, refreshing and intelligent. Even those of us on the wrong side of the mass economic extinction can learn from what's here; if nothing else, that the shadow above is from a planet-killing asteroid and those furry critters at your feet you always ignored will inherit the earth. If you can manage to emulate them, you're in good shape. If not, well, it helps to be informed about all the chaos that's going to catch up with you, sooner rather than later.

Part three, "Wi-Fi, Work and Water Coolers: How Work is Changing But People Are Not" is an informed vision of the future, assuming you have one. Coonerty and Neuner are the co-founders of NextSpace, which looks to those of us who spent their formative years in cubicle farms pretty much like the planet today must have looked to the last lumbering giant reptiles. It's very nice, and we'd love to be there. In this segment, you'll find visions of the three parts of the economy that the authors deem critical; people, place and policy. There are lots of fantastic visions of companies in the present making these transitions, making them work and making money in the process. As William Gibson remarked, "The future has arrived, it's just not evenly distributed."

Throughout the book, expect lots of interviews and mini-biographies of people who have successfully made the transition from yesterday's world to tomorrow's. They come from all trades, all levels of incomes and a wide variety of places. Coonerty and Neuner are conscientious about getting outside of Silicon Valley.

Conclusions are made and expectations explained with concision and intellectual rigor. 'Naked' fully lives up to its title in that the authors don't mince words. Their outlook and their vision of the outcome of the trends they see are both thoroughly positive. The metamorphosis in action offers the workers of the future more freedom, more family time and more flexibility in their lives, assuming that they are on the right side of the evolutionary divide. The authors offer a vision for getting on the right side of that divide that's clear and engagingly described. If we plan for what's coming, we'll do well, and if we don't, then there's a good chance our descendents will be using distillations of our compressed remains to power whatever vehicles they're driving in the future that we never get round to experiencing.

New to the Agony Column

09-18-15: Commentary : William T. Vollman Amidst 'The Dying Grass' : An Epic Exploration of Simultaneity

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with William T. Vollman : "...a lot of long words that in our language are sentences..."

09-05-15: Commentary : Susan Casey Listens to 'Voices in the Ocean' : Science, Empathy and Self

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Susan Casey : "...the reporting for this book was emotionally difficult at times..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 213: Susan Casey : Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins

08-24-15: Commentary : Felicia Day Knows 'You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)' : Transformative Technology

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Felicia Day : "I think you have to be attention curators for audience in every way."

08-22-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 212: Felicia Day : You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

08-21-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Senator Claire McCaskill is 'Plenty Ladylike' : Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism [Incudes Time to Read EP 211: Claire McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike, plus A 2015 Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill]

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Emily Schultz Unleashes 'The Blondes' : A Cure by Color [Incudes Time to Read EP 210: Emily Schultz, The Blondes, plus A 2015 Interview with Emily Schultz]

08-10-15:Agony Column Podcast News Report : In Memory of Alan Cheuse : Thank you Alan, and Your Family, for Everything

07-11-15: Commentary : Robert Repino Morphs 'Mort(e)' : Housecat to Harbinger of the Apocalypse

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Robert Repino : " even bigger threat. which is us, the humans..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 208: Robert Repino : Mort(e)

07-05-15: Commentary : Dr. Michael Gazzaniga Tells Tales from Both Sides of the Brain : A Life in Neuroscience Reveals the Life of Science

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Michael Gazzaniga : "We made the first observation and BAM there was the disconnection effect..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 208: Michael Gazzaniga : Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience

06-26-15: Commentary : Neal Stephenson Crafts an Eden for 'Seveneves' : Blow It Up and Start All Over Again

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Neal Stephenson : "...and know that you're never going to se a tree again..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 207: Neal Stephenson : Seveneves

06-03-15: Commentary : Dan Simmons Opens 'The Fifth Heart' : Having it Every Way

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Dan Simmons : "...yes, they really did bring those bombs..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 206: Dan Simmons : The Fifth Heart

05-23-15: Commentary : John Waters Gets 'Carsick' : Going His Way

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with John Waters : " change how you would be in real life...”

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 205: John Waters : Carsick

05-09-15: Commentary : Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD and 'Shrinks' : A Most Fashionable Take on the Human Mind

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD : "..its influence to be as hegemonic as it was..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 204: Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD : Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry

04-29-15: Commentary : Barney Frank is 'Frank' : Interpersonally Ours

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Barney Frank : "...while you're trying to change it, don't ignore it..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 203: Barney Frank : Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage

04-21-15: Commentary : Kazuo Ishiguro Unearths 'The Buried Giant' : The Mist of Myth and Memory

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro : ".... by the time I was writing this novel, the lines between what was fantasy and what was real had blurred for me..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 202: Kazuo Ishiguro : The Buried Giant

04-17-15: Commentary : Erik Larson Follows a 'Dead Wake' : Countdown to Destiny

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Erik Larson : "...said to have been found in the arms of a dead German sailor..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 201: Erik Larson : Dead Wake

04-15-15: Commentary : Peter Bell Reflects 'A Certain Slant of Light' : Strange Stories of Modern Scholars

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Peter Bell : "...I looked up some of the old books..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 200: Peter Bell : Strange Epiphanies and A Certain Slant of Light

03-14-15: Commentary : Marc Goodman Foresees 'Future Crimes' : Exponential Potential

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Marc Goodman : "...every physical object around us is being transformed, one way or another, into an information technology..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 199: Marc Goodman : Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It

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