Review Archive


This Just In...News From The Agony Column


09-19-08: Jeremy Lassen on Zombies and 'The Living Dead'

"A liberal nightmare"

Can you sign our petition?

When the bears come out to play on Wall Street, it's Zombie season. At last, that's my take on the cyclical nature of horror and economics. I'm sure by now you've sussed that given this week's news, we'll need a really, really big Zombie book. How does 230,000 words (500-plus pages) worth sound? I'm guessing it sounds pretty much like 'The Living Dead' (Night Shade Books ; September 29, 2008 ; $15.95) edited by John Joseph Adams, an immensely thick slab o' book that, were you to heft it deftly in the general direction of a zombie's brain, might just do the trick for destroying said brain, thus killing the zombie. With one exception, these are all reprints, more than a few from the iconic John Skipp and Craig Spector ("Skip Inspector", my wife called them) books that Ziesing issued in the early 90's –'The Book of the Dead' and 'Still Dead'. But there's quite a bit more beyond that, and you can hear all about it from the publisher himself, Jeremy Lassen, in this MP3 audio link.

Zombies, like all the iconic monsters –vampires, werewolves and aliens – have a host of interesting connotations; political, social, moral and even religious. After all, most major religions deal with the problem of death by invoking resurrection. Zombies are the K-Mart of messianic resurrections, the Ford Pinto. And yes, they do tend to get set on fire. But set on zombie on fire, and you dont expect any Phoenix-like action, no rising from the ashes here. But wait, wasn't it Return of the Living Dead where they cremated the zombie and when the ashes fell all the other dead bodies came to life. Including of course, if my memory serves me, Hot Punk Rocker Chick. You can't have a zombie apocalypse without one of them! Now as inclined as I am to recommend anthologies like this as bed stand reading, I think I'm going have to give this one a pass in that regard. I've read enough of these stories to know that they'll not aid in sleep, nor will they yield pleasant dreams. But if you want to find out what happens when we extend the right to life beyond death, well, 'The Living Dead' is your go-to guide. Just dont expect those reading to be, well, friendly. Approach them slowly. Dont try to take away their food – lest you become the second course.


09-18-08: Kathryn Petruccelli Reviews 'Fidelity' by Grace Paley; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Kathryn Petruccelli Reviews 'Fidelity' by Grace Paley Audio

All Our Grandmothers

Author and book.

Apparently, September and October are months of poetry, and we'll have coverage of poets and poetry. We're starting with Kathryn Petruccelli's review of the final collection by Grace Paley, 'Fidelity'; sadly, Paley succumbed to breast cancer last year at the age of 84. To my mind, this review is as finely written as the work it covers. That's the beauty of the audio, which reveals the quality of the prose; which discusses the quality of the poetry. There's a nice circle in there. Here's a link to the written review; this is a link to the audio version.


09-17-08: A Review of Peter F. Hamilton's 'Pandora's Star' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : A Conversation With Victoria Blake

Travelling in Space

Sure it came out four years ago, but I'm writing the review now. It was a huge incoming object from space, and I needed time to as they say "assimilate" it. Peter F. Hamilton's 'Pandora's Star' is now widely available in some delightfully cheap UK and US mass-market paperback editions.

I'm partial to the UK editions, as I like their covers and print better, but either will do. It's the words that matter, and there are a lot of them here.

The UK hardcover first edition, which is what I actually read, boasts 882 pages. You can read my review of the first of two books in the "Commonwealth Saga" from this link. Do note that I've not scaled the review to match the book.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A Conversation With Victoria Blake : From Dark Horse to Underland

If you've been watching the Rolling Shelves, you'll have noticed a couple of intriguing ARCs; 'Last Days' by Brian Evenson and 'The Pilo Family Circus' by Will Elliot. I decided to find out who was behind the new publishing venture of Underland Press, and talked to publisher Victoria Blake. She left Dark Horse Comics to start Underland Press, which features frightening literature with a rough, surreal edge. You can hear our conversation from this link – if you dare! Underland looks to be publishing authentically disturbing horror literature, not just tension-packed sort-of scary thrillers. That's a difference that matters to this reader.


09-16-08: John Shirley Looks Through 'Black Glass'

"We're slipping into a lower-common denominator state of mind"

This is your brain on tomorrow.

Slipping? More like sprinting, but then John Shirley is so far ahead of the pack that he has the luxury to slip when the rest of us are running madly in what David Sirota memorably calls, "the race to the bottom". In fact, John Shirley is so far ahead he can take a 20-year old project and turn it into a cutting-edge novel without breaking a sweat, which is precisely what he's done with 'Black Glass' (Elder Signs Press ; November 2008 ; $15.95 / $48).

I can't say when I first heard about this novel. Probably back in the day, when I was buying the seminal, Bruce Sterling-edited anthology 'Mirrorshades' at Change of Hobbit, or compulsively reading and re-reading Shirley's Scream / Press collection, 'Heatseeker'. But that title has been my brain for along time. And even though the online databases have no memory thereof, I swear I saw pieces of a direct-to-pay TV movie with that title, starring Traci Lords (but which was probably a movie called "Laser Moon"). I remember looking at the credits and being relieved that it was not Shirley.

So when the real deal showed up in my mailbox, I gave John Shirley a call, and we talked about his newest book for this linked MP3 podcast. I really enjoyed 'Black Glass'. Shirley effectively conjures the feel of classic cyberpunk for a generation whose grandfathers called themselves cyberpunks. Or at least walked around with dog-eared copies of Gibson's 'Neuromancer' and clung to the rare run of Shirley's 'Eclipse' series with a near-religious fervor. Shirley does a very smart thing with 'Black Glass'. He harkens back not to the cyberpunk era, but rather to those books that inspired cyberpunk; the gritty, unpleasant mysteries of Caine and Thompson. All he has to do is set his mystery in California some 25 years on, stir in some tropes from 'Heatseeker' and take aim at all the crap that's going down in the here-and-now, just like any good science fiction writer. He shows us today reflected in the 'Black Glass' of tomorrow. It's funhouse horror to a certain degree. I mean, I find myself horrified with the prospects of what the future has to offer. We'll get more "more of everything" and somehow a lot less life. Shirley's often bleakly funny, countering the mordant humor with guarded optimism.

Elder Signs Press makes a nice trade paperback that's very easy on the eyes. For the compulsive among us, you know, like the folks who cling to their yellow, 20-plus year-old Advance Reading Copies of 'Heatseeker', Elder Signs does up a very nice hardcover, signed and limited edition. You want to predict the future correctly. Dig up some John Shirley, and just to be safe, always mention that "Things are going to get more expensive." Now that is a safe bet.


09-15-08: Terry Brooks on Geekspeak

"You can play around with what that means"

Still being shelved in the UCI bookstore, I hope.

I can still remember the first time I saw a Terry Brooks novel in UC Irvine Bookstore. It was 1977, and there, big-as-a big ol' book and quite clearly bigger than life was 'The Sword of Shannara'. I was horrified. Who was this Brooks flash-in-the-pan, my know-it-all self wondered? How dare he rip off Tolkien like that? It wouldnt last, I knew that much. As it happens, in much the same way we know most things when we're young and still really, really stupid.

Brooks at KUSP.

I certainly would never have thought that some umpty-ump years later, I'd be sitting in the Santa Cruz studio of KUSP talking with Brooks with the geeks of GeekSpeak (Lyle Troxell, Sean Cleveland, and Miles Elam) about his thirty-plus year career as a premiere best-selling fantasy writer. Brook's "dark fantasies" of the "Word and Void" series really intrigued me, and even the dumbass reactionary college kid in me is excited about "The Genesis of Shannara" series; 'Armageddon's Children', 'The Elves of Cintra' and his latest, 'The Gypsy Morph' (Del Rey / Ballantine / Random House ; August 26 2008 ; $27). That's because Brooks has gone and done something that's always intrigued me about fantasy. He's taken readers from the current-day setting of the Word & Void series into a crumbling, slow-motion apocalypse and used that to spring forward into his fantasy series. It's a pretty clever way to re-approach Shannara after 30 years of writing, and infuse the whole deal with a bit of grit and wit learned in the interim. Plus, I love demons roaming about a polluted wasteland. How can you not love demons wandering around a polluted wasteland? It's our world, non-fiction reality. Gots to love it.

That aside, Brooks had a great time on GeekSpeak and we covered a lot of ground. I thought it was fascinating to hear him talk about submitting Shannara and getting a letter from the iconic Lester Del Rey; I mean, Del Rey's 'Nerves' haunts me to this day. You can hear an action-packed podcast from this audio link while contemplating your own youthful prejudices, just how far they got you and the precise moment you saw them splattered against the bumper of oncoming life.


Agony Column Review Archive