02-24-11:The Agony Column Live, February 12, 2011: Matt Stewart and Joshua Mohr Read From Their Work
"Esmerelda is in an underground extreme food training ground compound in Marin ..."
"This will not help your appetite, whatsoever..."
Prepare to be shocked. Trust me, it will happen. In fact, I'm warning you now, if you are easily offended, then be cautious with Joshua Mohr's reading. It's raw stuff. But, like Matt Stewart's reading, it is tear-jerkingly hilarious. These are the kind of readings that sell books, and they did sell books at the Capitola Book Café. So, wherever you are, please hold off on buying these books long enough to go to a local bookstore and get them, or order them. I know what you will want to do for that immediate gratification.
Gratification is indeed the topic of these two live readings. In the first place, it was gratifying for the audience to hear such great performances. Both writers are natural actors and their readings are beyond lively. Matt starts things off with an appropriately culinary episode from 'The French Revolution.' To my mind, this passage really captures the anarchic feel of the book, the way that Stewart's prose mirrors the chaotic lives of families. And I will dare to say that you will laugh out loud, often, as you hear him read. Try not to embarrass yourself.
You can leave the embarrassment up Joshua Mohr, who reads a passage from 'Termite Parade,' This is a hilarious book (I'll review it tomorrow); but it is also a bad book, bad in way of bad behaviour, bad attitude, the kind of snarky smart-ass that gets you thrown out of class in school our dirty looks in business meetings. I have to admit that as I heard Mohr start reading his passage at the Book Café, I sort of cringed. I knew what was coming, and I just hoped my audience at the Book Café was as open-minded about this as I was. Happily they were, because you can hear them laughing when they are supposed to and imagine the cringing as well.
02-23-11:Diana Paxson Reads at SF in SF on January 15, 2011
"Our hero, who is from Greece, has been faced with the problem of how to turn a lump of meteor iron into a sword."
It sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? Turn that meteor iron into a sword, how tough can that be? Well, if it happens to be set in the 12th century BC, at the end of the Bronze Age, then the challenges become obvious, and those are only the immediate challenges; fire, heat, etc.
But as Diana Paxson read an entire chapter from 'Sword of Avalon' at SF in SF on January 15, 2011, the real challenges are not simply in the physical world. Yes, getting the heat right, the fire right, the pressure right are all tough when you're living at a stone-age level. Even hard is Paxson's job of making all this right and real for the reader, or in this case, the listeners.
Yet Paxson is clearly both a superb writer and superb researcher. You get all the tough, gritty stuff here and it is riveting to hear. The details are pretty amazing, and the once gain, seeing the importance of technology in fantasy is really interesting. Of course, 'Sword of Avalon' is not simple, second-world fantasy. It's an historical fantasy that cleaves to history and reality and introduces only a subtle touch of magic.
02-22-11:Rudy Rucker Reads at SF in SF, on January 15, 2011
"The Birth of Transrealism"
Rudy Rucker is a remarkable man and a remarkable writer. More than any other science fiction writer, he's managed to make the absurd seem not just not just realistic, but probable. His fiction is funny and scary, and plenty weird. But he also writes about the sort of authentically strange characters who enter our lives. After reading Philip K. Dick's 'A Scanner Darkly,' he coined the term "transrealism" to describe the combination of the mundane and the surreal that Dick, and Rucker himself so expertly formulated in their fiction.
At SF in SF last month, he didn't read any of his science fiction. Instead, he read from his forthcoming memoir, the appropriately titled 'Nested Scrolls.' If you've read enough Rudy Rucker, this title seems almost inevitable. He's a mathematician, and I'm guessing he could come up with a computer program that would analyze his prose over the years and then write a proof that his autobiography would take that title.
Rucker's a great comedian in a very low-key manner. He was quick to mention that the literary world now found the appellation "autobiography" outdated, but I can see why Rucker would like it. It has a more recursive feel than "memoir."
The portion he read was titled "The Birth of Transrealism," and yes it offers readers a picture of the genesis of his literary theory. But I'd have to say, on hearing this work, that is it hands down my favorite, and very possibly his best. It has many qualities of the genre it describes being born. PS Publishing will be offering a limited edition, while Tor is going to publish a trade paperback. I think that's a mistake. Of course, Rudy is great reader of his own work. This is really amazing writing, and you can hear exactly why by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
02-21-11:A 2011 Interview with Deborah Harkness
"So often that's what scholars feel when they open a book for the first time, 'Oh no, this isn't what I thought it would be.'"
It seemed particularly appropriate that I would interview Deborah Harkness in the History Department Conference Room at Stanford University. I'm just surprised we didn't run into any creatures.
Running was the course of the day, as it happened. While the drive to Stanford is not so far, the drive within Stanford can be quite daunting. It's actually much bigger once you get inside than it seems from the outside. You may be able to drive around the circumference of Stanford in twenty minutes. But once you're inside the grounds, you can spend twice as long time trying to find your destination; and then you have to find a parking space. That requires real magic.
This was a magic that I was low on the day that I interviewed Harkness. I ended up parking about a mile from the History Building. I had to lug some 40 pounds of gear across beautiful open spaces that seem rather forbidding. I did not know exactly where I was going. I just aimed myself at some buildings and hoped that they were the right ones. Even GPS mapping trembles when faced with academic architecture.
I did manage to find the right building, lugged the gear up the third floor and set up at the head of a huge table in a large conference room, where I sat down to talk with Harkness. She's a really remarkable speaker, an exlorer of her own created world as well as the world of alchemy and academia, which are closer to one another than either might prefer to admit.
Harkness is a scholar of the history of science, and her most recent work of non-fiction, 'The Jewel House: Victorian London and the Scientific Revolution,' sounds like both a natural follow-up to her novel and the perfect research material. She's been immersed in alchemical manuscripts since 1984. We talked about how many things in the book are in fact real, from grimoires to wines, and I think readers will be surprised to find where the preponderance of truth lies.
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]