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12-08-12 UPDATE: Podcast Update: Time to Read Episode 77: Susannah Cahalan, 'Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness'

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Here's the seventy-seventh episode of my new series of podcasts, which I'm calling Time to Read. Hitting the one-year mark, I'm going to make an effort to get ahead, so that podcast listeners can get the same sort of "sneak preview" effect that radio listeners get each Friday morning. And yes, I know this means I have one more to go this week — and here it is!

The podcasts/radio broadcasts will be of books worth your valuable reading time. I'll try to keep the reports under four minutes, for a radio-friendly format. If you want to run them on your show or podcast, let me know.

My hope is that in under four minutes I can offer readers a concise review and an opportunity to hear the author read from or speak about the work. I'm hoping to offer a new one every week.

The seventy-seventh episode is a look at Susannah Cahalan and 'Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.'

Here's a link to the MP3 audio file of Time to Read, Episode 77: Susannah Cahalan, 'Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.'

12-06-12: Ken Scholes, Andrew Mayer, and Tad Williams Discuss EPIC Fantasy Moderated by Terry Bisson on October 12, 2012

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" could spend your entire career not having a career by going back and re-working the same five chapters..."

— Ken Scholes

It was beyond standing room only at SF in SF on October 12, 2012; the presenters actually had to turn people away because the room was at the limits permitted by the various departments that dictate such matters. The show lived up to the title; it was indeed an EPIC discussion of fantasy and writing fantasy by Ken Scholes, Andrew Mayer, Tad Williams and Terry Bisson.

For me, it was interesting how much of the discussion focused on the actual writing of the genre, and the writing business in general. The audience was not hear to hear all about fantasy critters, fantasy movies, or any of what one might presume to be the usual folderol of the genre. No, these folks were here to hear about writing.

I've gone through the audio and done the best I can to bring up the volume so listeners can hear the questions as well as the answers, but the quote from above will give you an idea of what we are talking about here. These are practical writers, folks whose job is writing and who take that job seriously. Moreover, they are able to take their job of being an artist seriously without taking themselves too seriously. That, I believe, is the point of Ken's message above.

Of course, the definition of the "fantasy" genre gets a good representation here. Tad Williams has written the most of what is generally thought of as "fantasy" — big stories of sweeping grandeur set in carefully-crafted worlds that never were, with a hint of the medieval to them. Now, that's an extreme over-simplification, but you get the gist of the matter. That said, his most recent novel, 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven,' is more of a noir urban fantasy, with a backdrop of his usual extravagant worldbuilding. It's fascinating just to see Williams take on a new genre with such ease, but it is what you should, at least, expect from a writer of his talent.

Ken Scholes' most recent work looks and to a degree reads like fantasy. But the backdrop of world-building here is to my mind, completely science fictional, with a wrecked far future where things have to the point that bit of science hang around making Clarke's Law (Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic") particularly relevant. As I mentioned when I discussed Scholes' reading, I think his work also has a very hard-boiled fantasy feel, that is gritty and realistic. It's a peculiar combination in the abstract that seems completely natural on the page. He's one of those writers who is so talented that he makes the difficult look easy.

Andrew Mayer writes Steampunk, which is to a degree not what most people think of when they talk about the fantasy genre. His series, 'The Society of Steam,' however, has all the key elements of fantasy; a complex, created world, epic heroes and villains, and all sorts of elements of the fantastic that create an environment in which the characters will naturally display their most heroic (or villainous) strengths. And Andrew Mayer knows how to have a good time.

Put these three writers together, and let the esteemed Terry Bisson moderate their conversation. Bisson is himself a noted fantasist, who does have some epic-ish fantasy-ish work in his bibliography, particularly a time travel novella titled 'Dear Abbey.' This in addition to his whole oeuvre, which is quite accomplished and extensive. Multiply everything by four, then do so again. Then you'll have an idea of the engaging intelligences you'll hear when you follow this link to the MP3 audio file.

12-05-12: Ken Scholes Reads at SF in SF on October 12, 2012

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"There was a time when I used to get up and preach..."

—Ken Scholes

Ken Scholes is ten kinds of unexpected. Perhaps not in retrospect, but when you seen the man for the first time. hear him speak, hear him read from his Psalms of Isaak series, I have to say, it is a bit overwhelming.

We should probably expect overwhelming with Scholes, though. He's one of Science Fiction's most interesting and literate authors. He's also hard to pin down, as there's a good argument to be made that the Psalms of Isaak are not science fiction. To a large degree, these books and this writing has the feel of what one might call hard-boiled fantasy.

Let me explain; "hard-boiled fantasy" to me would not indicate that the books mix fantasy and the crime fiction genre, though many books I'd call "hard-boiled fantasy" do that. Rather, to me "hard-boiled fantasy" would be fantasy that has a particularly rough and gritty feel, one that eschews for the most part the kind of magic that tends to be a key element of the fantasy genre.

What you'll hear when you hear Ken Scholes read is a rough-and-ready tale of survival in the woods, in some way more reminiscent of Mark Twain or Jack London than J. R. R. Tolkien. Of course, there is that mechanical man, straight our of the world of science fiction. But again, you can have all the science fictional elements in the world in a novel and not have it feel like science fiction.

Scholes' work has some of the touches of Jack Vance, but take that series title seriously. Scholes was once a preacher, and you'll hear that voice when you hear him read, and you'll hear the power of raw nature and raw human nature at work. There are elements of the fantastic in the world building, but listen to this and you're likely to seek out 'Lamentation,' the first book in the series.

One of the great reasons to hear a writer read their work is to get some insight into the voice you read on the printed page, because even in a raw reading, you'll get some sense of who the writer is. Scholes talks a bit about himself and reveals his personality in the reading. The upshot is that you'll hear a powerful and unique voice and a story fragment that is beyond intriguing. What Scholes reads has the feel of hard-boiled fantasy, but there is clearly a world out of science fiction operating in the background. You can hear the wheels turning by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

12-03-12: A 2012 Interview with Justin Cronin

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"How do you re-assemble a world?"

— Justin Cronin

When Justin Cronin arrived at KQED, he was positively bursting with energy and confidence. He had good reason; following on 'The Passage,' his sequel 'The Twelve' was set to be another bestseller. Moreover, it is clear that Cronin had as much fun writing it as his readers will when they read it. He's got the inverse of the "I'm so sick I have to stay home and read this book" flu.

When I sat down with Cronin in the studio, he seemed almost like a force from 'The Twelve,' unleashed on the literary landscape, ready to devour every genre, every trope, everything in order to serve his sense of creating a huge, fun, intense and emotional horror fiction epic. It's almost like trying to interview a kid about Disneyland while he is in the midst of his first visit there. There's so much stuff he can put in these novels that there seems to be little limit to his appetites.

And if you see these novels, which are admittedly light on the horror and heavy on the interpersonal and family dynamics, as visions of our world in Cronin's carefully designed funhouse mirror, then when you hear him, you can see behind the mirror. What's nice about talking with Cronin is that we can tease out the themes and tropes and character arcs without ever really having to talk about the plot. Of course, in one sense, the plot is simple; world ends, people go on. But you can tell how much fun Cronin has tearing all that into little bitty shreds and putting it back together.

Cronin is an unabashed fan of the writers in whose footsteps he is following, but you can hear him talk about his work in a manner that is filled with the joy of discovering that he can do it himself, in his own way, while he entertains the living hell out of us and keeps us reading to the very last page.

He does have some interesting habits and plans with regards to the way he put together the series and the where he intends to go with it. Given that the vampires are afraid of mirrors and the heartland feel to the first two novels, readers will be interested to hear where the next novel is going.

It's interesting as well to talk to writers of this sort of epic in the post-Game of Thrones world. More and more, writers are interested in having their work show up not on the big screen, but the small one, where the whole story can be more effectively told. And it is not often that readers will hear a discussion of the merits of I Dream of Jeannie. We do get beyond good and Barbara Eden, which you can hear by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

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