08-13-04: Labyrinth Redux; Terror on the Tor
M. Valente Interview
However, that's not all I have to offer. While we were in the studio, I had Catherynne record some of her poetry, which I'm also posting to end the week. Readers can have the privilege of heard the author read poems from her collection 'Music of a Proto-Suicide'. The poems include Electra Redux, Freaks, De Naturis Bestiarum, and Gingerbread. Catherynne M. Valente is a writer you’re going to be hearing a lot about from other people -- but you'll hear Catherynne M. Valente herself first here. Don't pass by this chance to hear a fantastic writer with a unique voice -- speaking for you, the reader. You need not be a Proto-Suicide to enjoy her work, and you're not likely to be one after hearing it. You'll want to stick around to hear what else she has to say.
Starting off the issue is "one of the clearest photos ever taken" of an alien. Just to give you a flavor of why scientists might have a teeny-weeny bit of doubt when it comes to the existence of aliens, I've nabbed the image from its home site, Para-Normal.com, where readers can happily while away hours looking all sorts of weird stuff.
When your eyes start to weary of pixels, you can always go back to FT187, where they've got a rockin' little bit on Spontaneous Human Combustion, Ronald Reagan's UFO obsession and your Saint of the Month.
What I'm most interested in is the cover story on 'Terror at the Tor'. They’re not talking about Tor books, but Glastonbury Tor, a well-known mystical site and the location for many a fine novel of the supernatural, most pertinently Phil Rickman's 'The Chalice'.
Nick Redfern, Jon Downes and Richard Freeman had been called into this noted site to help a man who had been researching Arthurian legends in Glastonbury and unwittingly awakened a gargoyle like monster. The article is an excerpt from Redfern's book 'Three Men Hunting Monsters', which sounds very much like a book I should be reading. I guess that's a familiar refrain, eh?
08-12-04: No More Strangeness; Don't Freak Out; Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic
|Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Limited Edition Sells Out in Two Days
Readers (like myself) who might prefer a UK edition and prefer to have it signed will be able to get one at Cold Tonnage. If you just want a signed US edition you should try to get to one of the signing events next month. In the meantime, I'm keeping my ear to the ground for more news on this release. If I get anything I'll put up an article as soon as I hear. I'm going to contact the US people today, so expect to hear more on this anticipated release before the week is out.
Little Book of 'Freaks'
I reviewed these novels for 'OtherRealms', an early E-zine edited by Chuq Von Rospach. And I said of them, in the nicest possible way that they were like B movies. Somewhere, stuffed in a drawer, I still have the letter that Lumley sent me in response to my review, taking issue with the B-movie designation. It was my first brush with a famous writer. I was glad that he'd actually read the review and cared enough to write.
And now, fifteen years later, Lumley's still at it and so am I. While I haven’t hit on the Necroscope series in quite some time, I'm stoked to see Subterranean Press is publishing 'Freaks'. It's a very small collection of three short stories from the 1970's, one from the late eighties and one original to the collection. Hmmmm...Lumley...Freaks. Very good.
One of the highlights from this collection has got to be the fine illustrations of Allen Kozlowski. Kozlowski is one of those masters who really deserves more attention and accolades. He has a style that nobody can duplicate digitally, one that seems to slip between the cracks in our ability to reason and send slivers of fear and distress into our nervous systems. Subterranean Press is offering up a mere 750 copies of this for a mere $35.00. Given that Lumley has been something of a bestseller since anything vampiric turned into gold, chances are this might sell out pretty fast. And it deserves to. I mean... Hmmmm...Lumley...Freaks. Very good.
F. Brett Cox, Andy Duncan and Tor?!?! Yes Tor!
That's why you'll be happy to have me point out the mind-bogglingly good lookin' new anthology from Tor, because unless you looked on the spine you’d never in a million years guess that it was a Tor book. 'Crossroads', edited by F. Brett Cox and Andy Duncan is a breathtaking, thorough collection of mostly original fiction described as "Tales of the Southern Literary Gothic". I cannot imagine anything to make me salivate more than this collection. What we have here is a collection of stories of science fiction and horror that names Flannery O'Connor on the dust jacket.
And that dust jacket, by the way, is just classy as all hell, and very un-Tor-like. Not that Tor's covers aren't classy (though some aren't), but this one looks like something the Atlantic Press would put out. And that's perfectly fitting for this collection, because the anthology itself is like something one would hope the Atlantic Press would publish. That includes the two editors. F. Brett Cox has all the prerequisites for an Atlantic Press publication. He's published fiction in Century, Indigenous Fiction, and The North Carolina Review. He's now an assistant professor of English at Norwich University in Northfield Vermont. So you've got your high-falutin' litrary credentials right there. Very good.
Together they've gathered an incredibly wide range of talent. Contributor's include the talented Kelly Link, who's won a World Fantasy Award, a Nebula Award and a James Tiptree Junior Award; Jack McDevitt, whose annual novel usually gets shortlisted for one a Hugo or Nebula, Michael Swanwick, who was in practically every award category for the Hugos ceremony I saw; Scott Edelman, who edits SciFi Weekly, the largest site of its kind on the web; James Sallis, an Agony Column favorite and author of the Lew Griffin novels, including 'The Long Legged Fly'; Michael Bishop, who has a recent collection also out from Golden Gryphon, 'Brighten to Incandescence'; and noted experimental horror author Don Webb. This doesn’t even cover half the authors in this compilation. But it should give you an idea of the variety offered within. To my mind, 'Crossroads' is clearly on the road to being one of the best anthologies of the year -- in any genre. Or out of all genres. It's just a bunch of great writing with a southern theme. And did I say that they mention Flanney O'Connor in the dust jacket?
08-11-04: Counting the Body Count Twice, Comic Con Report From Geek Speak; No More Jonthan Strange Limited Editions
Gerritsen Gets a Body Double
I have a vivid memory of the first Tess Gerritsen book I ever encountered. I had driven "over the hill", which in local parlance means driving your car through the twisty-turns of Highway 17 (which has been the location for many an installment of 'Red Asphalt') for some 20 miles until you literally bottom out in the Santa Clara Valley, hitting first Los Gatos (still nice) and thence descending into the heart of Silicon Valley.
These days -- and back in 1999 when I saw the novel -- Silicon Valley is not much different from Los Angeles. It's essentially one long series of strip malls, commercial centers and industrial parks interrupted by the occasional neighborhood. But that's where we went to get our PC, and I enjoyed the opportunities to get out of the office and drive over the hill to pick 'em up. On the way there or back, I could stop at a Crown Bookstore --remember them? -- and poke about to see what was out in the big, normal stores as opposed to the boutiques that we have in Santa Cruz. Make no mistake about it, I love my local bookstores, but, as they aren't chains, one doesn't know what's selling in the chains.
That started my history with Tess Gerritsen, picking 'em up, checking 'em out and eventually putting them down. I'd probably have enjoyed every single one, but at the time my reading priorities were elsewhere. I was just twigging to the great UK SF scene that was about to give birth to writers like Neal Asher and Alastair Reynolds. So though I can say I've glanced at just about every Gerritsen book since 'Gravity', I've never actually read one.
I sat in on a panel about science in mysteries recently, featuring such fascinating speakers as Peter Clement, James Jay Calder, John F. Schilke and W. H. Watford. They were all great speakers and the panel was quite entertaining and enlightening. It really made me want to get out there and read a bunch of medical thrillers. Looking back however, one might be tempted to notice a lack of women. So what Gerritsen can bring to the field is a woman's perspective and it's clear that she does this across the board. With women in the roles of both detective and ME, you're certainly going to get a very different feel from this medical thriller. I'm still tempted by Gerritsen's work. I'm not, alas, detecting even the vaguest possibility of any monsters here, however. Even the Beast, I believe will prove to be all too sadly human.
Williams' ShadowMarch and Much, More
08-10-04: A Bonanza of Small Press Hardcover Novels
Publishing and Golden Gryphon Bring On the Originals
Back when I was a...oh forget it. I'm still a -- well, whatever I was back in the 1980's, with more weight and more gray hairs. But the small press has undergone several metamorphoses in the interim. In its most recent re-incarnation, there haven't been a lot of all-original novels appearing. PS has stuck mostly with novellas, while Golden Gryphon has specialized in collections. Cemetery Dance and Subterranean have offered a smattering of collections, anthologies and limited editions of novels otherwise available from the large publishing houses. NightShade has been busily re-printing the classics and offering up the most oddball anthologies the mind could ever conceive of. Tachyon has been reprinting the classics as well, though they've got lots of oddball stuff of their own to throw in the mix.
While all of these have offered up the occasional original novel, recent signs suggest that the original novel may become a staple of the small press. In part this is because the large publishing houses are in the process of giving up the mid-list authors. You're either a best seller, or going to be a best seller. Of course, that's overly simplistic, but it's not entirely inaccurate.
But if current trends continue, we could be at the beginning of a bonanza of high-quality original novels, novels that blaze new paths, bring us new authors and offer established authors a chance to present their latest works without compromise.
"Every hue and tone was there, every variegate and plaid, each Great House here to witness somber rite and occasion most high, here for merriment and drink, for sly misdeeds and shady deals, mischief and scams of every sort."
Barrett brings the skills of a standup comedian to his prose, transforming the world as we know it into the world as he sees it. Reading a Neal Barrett novel is like putting on a pair of Neal Barrett glasses, or drinking a glass of Neal Barrett Beer. Please don't operate heavy machinery or drive an automobile while you are doing so. Barrett combines some heavy-handed swipes with lighthearted shenanigans in a future we'd all be better off not seeing. But even though he goes over the top in his revision of the world, as we know it, he still manages to make his future real -- full of real characters confronting real (to them) problems and reacting realistically. I mean what are you going to do when the black helicopters swoop down to ruin your wedding? Hopefully this isn't a problem that many of us are going to face. But if we do have to face it, we'll have Neal Barrett to guide us through the difficult times.
Nobody is able to evoke unease with prose with the skill that Campbell has developed. Every word, every phrase and every comma contributes to a deep-seated sense of "something is very wrong here". Campbell's prose vision of of a hungry world, a world that will chew away first at the body, then at the soul. Just to test my own theory, I opened up the novel to a random page and found this paragraph:
"Some of the writers, not to mention the denimed woman and the oilskinned man, are staring at Wilf by now, the rainbow woman hardest of all. It feels exactly like being forced to stand up in class, though he's crouching over the book as if it's a pain in his knotted guts. Are they the source of the unpleasant stagnant taste? As he lowers his eyes to the novel he finds himself praying that it will somehow offer him a refuge."
This is why Ramsey Campbell will always, always be remembered as one of the foremost novelists of this generation. He seems to be able to pull our minds through our fears as if our brains were made of taffy. Nobody will ever call it "feel good fiction". But it's so good at making you feel bad, really bad, "you must wash your hands now" bad. I'll give you a moment to yourselves.
But as usual, wait, there's more. Readers might have noticed that there's a bit of palindromic language going on in the titles of the novellas. Take a look at the Table of Contents, listing the Chapter titles and you'll see even more. Everything is palindromic. The novels however aren't palindromic, and in fact they’re not even exactly the same number of pages. 'Kim' is a boyish androgyne who eats, sleeps and breathes God Dog, a band led by the charismatic Mik Dyer. She's in some sort of fan heaven when she's asked by Mik to perform an important mission during God Dog's homecoming concert. To accomplish her mission, she's going to cross a city on the verge of a meltdown. In 'Mik', the leader of God Dog has promised a memorable show for that final concert. His long-time friend is worried that there's more than hype behind that promise. Mik has become withdrawn and morose. And he's the kind of guy whose morose but brilliant moment might be a bit scary.
Lovegrove is capable of greatness, and he's capable of what must plainly be called, uh, mindfucking the reader into a gibbering wreck. One is advised to read his work with caution, because, one typically encounters the former shortly before feeling the latter. Are they palindromes for Lovegrove? He may think so. One hopes not.
The final PS original is the most original, in that I've not seen any other work by the writer, Adam L. G. Nevill. The dust jacket indicates he had a story in the Campbell-edited anthology 'Gathering the Bones'. So one is absolutely unprepared for a honking 494 page novel about ritual murder in a Scottish town. He's being treated as well as one could hope for. Launched by PS with a gorgeous Les Edwards cover, this book clearly has the potential to be an atmospheric feast in the tradition of Campbell and Rickman.
"After another two hours, he ascertains that many people have been tried as witches in the Northeast of Scotland, tortured and then horribly disposed of, but little else. He suspects their deaths were the result of accusations made through fear or envy, sanctioned by religious intolerance, and that the hapless individuals were all innocent of the charges brought against them. That is the tone of every book; the authors disbelieve in the existence of any supernatural basis to the stories. The last story he reads is concerned with an old and solitary woman accused of witchery, who is stuffed into a barrel by an enraged mob, which is then covered in tar, ignited and finally rolled into a river so that she will both suffocate and burn. Her imagined hopelessness, confusion, and terror, in the moments leading to such in inhuman punishment, depress him. He wants to flee this, and all of the books, and all of his questions, with another drink."
Needless to say, 'Banquet of the Damned' is a pretty damned impressive first novel. From a pretty damned impressive publisher. It seems almost like a return to the halcyon years, before the horror genre itself was damned by its own ubiquity.
08-09-04: Cruising the Magazine Stand; READER UPDATE
Strange, Unlimited Argosy & Anders
[Note: Read the full article on the wonders of the New Argosy magazine below, then read this addedum.]
Reader Mathew writes to tell me that "I'd subscribe to the A5 slipcased version of Argosy if I were you...the novellas come separately to the mag and the slipcase is lovely - the first novella was by Michael Moorcock!" I agree -- that is, I agree that I should subscribe! Here are the details (scroll down or search for March 25, 2004 to find the article about the "Connisseur Edition") at the website, which also offers the standard money-saving (and therefore worthy) Proletarian subscription of $49.95 for one year (six issues). You can email Argosy for details or ask your local speciality bookseller. Mathew gets his from Clarke's World Books; ask your favorite specialty guy or gal and I bet they'll have them as well.
Also, per the website, Lou Anders is stepping down as editor to take over Pyr, an SF&F imprint for the Prometheus Books. Prometheus is known in Fortean circles as a publisher of skeptical and debunking literature. But their selection includes a variety of fascinating non-fiction, including material like Fred Schulte's crime-based tales of how we get 'Fleeced!'. They're now expanding into SF&F. We wish Mr. Anders well. Given the incredible work on Argosy 1 & 2 and 'Live Without A Net', we expect great things.
*246=250 - 1 for Troy and 3 for me!
Bringing the Past to Life with Argosy and The Strand, A Slick SF News Magazine,
The first thing to catch my eye -- oddly enough because it was nearly completely hidden -- was 'Chronicle' Magazine ($5.95, Monthly, DNA Publications, dnapublications.com/sfc). It's an all-slick 50-page compendium of the latest news, reviews and interviews from the world of printed science fiction, fantasy and horror. The August 2004 issue includes an interview with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, and essentially the rest of the issue is a series of departments that cover news and reviews.
I really liked the clean layout of this magazine; it's very easy to read, with little clutter. Readers will have to lose their fear of pages of solid text, but since we do that for books we should be able to do that for magazines about books. Advertising is plentiful and in color and nearly as informative as the editorial content. There are eleven solid pages full of news, including book and media sales, websites, publishers, magazines, bookselling, headlines, market reports, foreign rights, and book club sales. If you're looking for a solid mainline fix of deadly news certain to increase your book-buying activities and anticipation, this is it. It's nicely organized and easily read.
There are lots of book reviews that are also quite well organized. In "Critical Mass" Don D'Ammassa reviews 28 hardcover books, 10 trade paperbacks, 14 mass market paperbacks and 10 "Associational" books. Can he do that in a month? Boggles the mind. The reviews are in the 100-200 word range. Michael M. Jones offers 14 reviews of young adult and children's novels in 'Schroedinger's Bookshelf'. Jones' reviews are quite a bit longer than D'Ammassa's.
Movies are covered by Alan Dean Foster and Jeff Rovin. Foster reviews 'Shrek 2' and 'Van Helsing'. 'Shrek 2 gets 7/8 of a page, while 'Van Helsing' gets the remainder. Guess which one he liked? Jeff Rovin's 'SF Cinema' is a column that covers current productions and DVD releases, as opposed to a review format. There are two pages of "Buyer's Guide", which amounts to a list of everything the publishers are willing to send in. I noticed that they didn't have a listing for Pan Macmillan/Tor UK, however. Tanya Brown's UK report covers the Arthur C. Clarke awards and assorted UK media news from newspapers to the upcoming Doctor Who revival.
In 'Buck Rogers Stuff: Science Fiction, Toys and Society', Mark Rich covers toy cars for future from the past. And finally, there are listings of conventions, lots of conventions. 'Chronicle' is published by DNA publications who also offer Absolute Magnitude (science fiction), (yet another) Weird Tales (revival), Fantastic Stories (SF, horror, fantasy) and Dreams of Decadence (vampire fiction). It's a pretty impressive lineup that could probably keep you reading full-time, were you to be so inclined.
Editor Andrew F. Gulli interviews Anne Perry, while Nicholas Fuller contributes an article on Gladys Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley, currently being portrayed on PBS by none other than Dame Diana Rigg. Stephen Rachman offers and entertaining article on 'Poe Magazines & the Origins of Detective Fiction. Can you ask for more than Poe's own design for his never published magazine 'The Stylus'? I don't think so. The 64 pages of this magazine are very cleanly laid out and very easy to read. It's a class act.
The one that really wowed me, however, was the one I only barely saw at first. Hiding in the bottom rack was the new Argosy Magazine ($12.95, bi-monthly, Coppervale International, www.argosymag.com), edited by Lou Anders, who was last seen editing an anthology covered earlier titled 'Live Without A Net'.
The presentation here is digest-sized but printed on heavy, slick paper. This is the way all paperback books should be printed but aren't. It's heavy, beautiful and built-to-last. This issue features all-new illustrations by none other than Doctor Seuss. Getting Seuss into Argosy is so right that it's almost beyond words. The cover is by Gregory Manchess, and no less a talent than John Picacio puts in a wonderful appearance.
O'Neil De Noux, Jeff VanderMeer, Carol Emshwiller, Mike Resnick, Mike Baron and Martin Meyers provide the short stories, while the issue concludes in a separately-numbered novella by Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow. But it's not just a novella; there is a Foreward, an Introduction, and even a glossary of terms. Stross likes his glossaries.
Argosy has little resemblance to the late-great Bigfoot and Flying saucer festooned periodical of my youth. Normally, I would lament the passing of that peculiar and particular cultural icon and it's replacement with a classy literary magazine. I had a special place in my adolescent heart for the original Argosy. It re-created the world for me, populated it with monsters, aliens, and all-purpose weirdness. And I have to say that the new Argosy does not replace the old one.
Frankly, The Fortean Times has done that quite handily, and I'm ever so happy to have a high-falutin' journal of weird fiction out there. It's always fun to go hunting for one thing and find another.
I'm subscribed to Interzone, so I'll not miss the issue I couldn't find all that much. But I'm glad that I searched for one on the newsstand, because what I found was really quite spectacular. I've not been visiting the news stands much of late. Alas, it's another thing I can add to my already extensive list.