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08-29-08: 'American Widow' by Alissa Torres, Art by Sungyoon Choi; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Talking About Space Opera With Lou Anders


A vision of hope. (Note turquoise book cover at top.)

What happens, happens. What happens afterwards, what we do in the aftermath, defines us. We become the sum of those actions. Alissa Torres did not have it easy to begin with. She was pregnant when her husband Eddie lost his job, and he didn't step immediately into a new position. New York's an expensive place to live, and weeks dragging while he awaited word took their toll. But she was smart and in love, and things worked out. On September 10, 2001, Eddie Torres started his new job in the World Trade Center.

'American Widow' (Villard / Random House ; September 9, 2008 ; $22) is a gorgeously written and illustrated look at the aftermath of a national tragedy on a personal level. Torres was seven and a half months pregnant when her husband was killed. What most of the world saw played out on small screens in small doses, Torres lived – and wrote – through. 'American Widow' is powerful, complicated in the way that life is complicated, and packs a wallop. But Torres and her artist Sungyoon Choi bring a delicate, beautiful tone to the story, allowing the reader to experience her world without being torn apart. It's a wonderful balancing act that works every time.

What if....?

Torres originally wrote the graphic novel without herself as a character, but when she showed the version she'd written – in Word, with text boxes for the panels – to N. Christopher Crouch, he set her right. He told her the book would not work without her in it, and helped her write a screenplay-ified version of the book. When she went shopping for artists, so to speak, she knew that she wanted a woman to illustrate the book. Sungyoon Choi was clearly an excellent choice. The sense of space, the colors and layout of the book are alternately astonishing and inviting. Most of the book is highlighted with a pastel turquoise blue. Choi's style brings out the serenity in Torres' narrative, a serenity that Torre herself was forced to develop as she entered the labyrinth of help, self-help, bureaucracy and news-feeding that followed those who lost loved ones. At 205 pages, 'American Widow' is concise, but filled with the stuff of life. This is how we live – and what we do in the aftermath of life.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Talking About Space Opera With Lou Anders : To Trek or Not to Trek?

Lou Anders.

Today's Agony Column Podcast News Report is my conversation with Pyr science fiction editor Lou Anders. Inspired by 'Icarus at the Edge of Time' and my own current reading, Peter F. Hamilton's 'Pandora's Star', I called up Lou to talk about Space Opera. We quickly sidelined into a discussion that I'd like to ask readers about, to wit – Star Trek. Space opera or not? If enough readers write me, I'll publish your answers. You can hear what Lou Anders and I came up with via this link. And it strikes me that we can talk about your responses next time around. Email me!


08-28-08: Brian Greene Soars With 'Icarus at the Edge of Time' Reviewed by Rick Kleffel ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Kathryn Petruccelli Interviews Patrice Vecchione

Cutting-Edge Physics Leave Emotional Wounds

Concise Space Opera.

Books that are part of the "space opera" sub-genre tend to have certain qualities. First and foremost of these is size; theyre big, fat, books with gorgeous covers and bazillions of words. Not so 'Icarus at the Edge of Time' (Knopf / Random House ; September 3, 2008 ; $19.95) by Brian Greene. Here's a board book for beginning readers that has the impact of a powerfully written piece of space opera. As a bonus, you get wall-to-wall astrophotography from the Hubble Telescope, art directed by Chip Kidd. I've got a review of the book here. And, if you're not averse to spoilers, you can find a gallery of some of the images from the book here on Chip Kidd's website, and Chip Kidd's insights into the making of the book here. It's fascinating stuff. It's a revelation, really, as to what might be done with space opera; a book-brick of a very different kind.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Kathryn Petruccelli Interviews Patrice Vecchione : "Poems Are My Enemy"

Patrice Vecchione and her book "Faith and Doubt"..

Today's Agony Column Podcast News Report comes from Kathryn Petruccelli, who went out to hear Patrice Vecchione read her poetry and then spoke to her in a Monterey coffee shop. Vecchione writes fascinating, intense poetry with more than little humor. How can we not love a poet with a poem titled "Poems Are My Enemy"? This report consists of two five-minute readings recorded live, and then a 22-minute interview. Here's a link to the MP3. Some poems are not your enemy.


08-27-08: Joe R. Lansdale's 'Leather Maiden' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : SF in SF Panel Discussion With Michael Blumlein, Michael Shea and Terry Bisson

Speaking In Voices

Joe R. Lansdale has one hell of a voice. Listen to him speak, and you know he's got a hotline to some truth that most of us can't manage to dig up. Not surprisingly, this carries though in his writing. I've got a full-length, in-depth review of his latest novel, 'Leather Maiden', which offers the dual pleasures of familiarity and novelty. That's not an easy slate to fill, but Lansdale's great strength is that he makes something quite complicated look amazingly easy.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : SF in SF Panel Discussion With Michael Blumlein, Michael Shea and Terry Bisson : Novella

You can bet that if you put Michael Blumlein, Michael Shea and Terry Bisson behind a little table in front of a group of science fiction readers, youre going to get a good conversation. In this case, they immediately launched into a conversation about novella-length fiction, which, to be honest, I really love. I think there's a lot more of it about than is generally understood. For example, the recently mentioned 'Black Flies' by Shannon Burke, coming in at under 200 pages, might by some be considered a novella. To hear what these masters of the form have to say about the subject – and about horror as practiced by both Shea and Blumlein – follow this link.


08-26-08: Holly Phillips Births 'The Engine's Child' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Michael Blumlein Interviewed at SF in SF

Proof in the Prose

More than just a pretty picture – or concept.

High concept isnt hard, especially with genre fiction, which has such a rich conceptual background that there is literally an entire universe of ideas to pick from. Science fiction, fantasy and horror have always been mixed together in single works. From Mary Shelly's 'Frankenstein' to J. R. R. Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' to Jack Vance's Dying Earth to Michael Moorcock's Multiverse to China Miéville's Bas-Lag to Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris, writers have mingled genres of the imagination so as to make any determination of what work slots into what genre anywhere from difficult to pointless.

What distinguishes each author is not the conceptual framework, but rather, the quality of the prose, the plotting, the unfolding of story and texture. Open up the new novel by Holly Phillips, 'The Engine's Child' (Random House / Ballantine / Del Rey ; November 25, 2008 ; $15), and your reading experience will sweep away any notion of genre or concept. Instead, you'll simply be there in "Shadras" with Moth as the rain falls and the lamps blaze. Reading Phillips' novel provides layers of pleasure; the immediacy of her prose and the joy of unpacking her world, the involving skeins of plot and peril and unfolding understanding of her conceptual framework. 'The Engine's Child' suggests that weve stepped past the boundaries of genre and into literature that knows no boundaries.

Moth lives in a world without boundaries as well. The world as we know is dissolved and in its place is a world of magic that looks like technology and technology that looks like magic, a world where the words "technology" and "magic" are interchangeable – in inapplicable. What strikes the reader are the immediacies of the world at hand; sizzling desk lamps that speak secrets; the hiss of droplets cast from the oar blades of the boats that ply the harbor. Phillips writes with a purity of conviction that replaces the reader's world with her creation. And she tells one hell of a good story in the process. It's not all shadings and subtlety. Blood is spilled as the best-laid plans crash up against the novel's carefully crafted reality.

Do note the vote of confidence in giving Phillips a gorgeous David Ho cover painting. There's a sort of rainy-day feel to this novel, and the cover captures that feel precisely. Sure, Id love to see a limited, illustrated hardcover version of a text I feel to be this fine. But the flips side is that this TPB might get into more hands. Hands to open the book, minds to read the words, crate the world, again and again. Concepts from on-high brought to life by artists, writers and readers.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Michael Blumlein Interviewed at SF in SF : Doctor in the House

I had quite a conversation with Michael Blumlein at SF in SF, as we talked about what it's like for him to be a doctor as well as a writer of genuinely disturbing stories. And while I understand why he feels his work is not horror, I also understand why his work is shelved with horror. Blumlein has a disturbingly clear vision of the humans, the sort of clarity that makes on distinctly uncomfortable being human. We dont know what to do with that feeling, and thus we classify it under "horror" – what does not make us happy, scares us.

Readers and listeners, however, have no reason to far Blumlein. Heres a link to the interview that demonstrates why.


08-25-08: A 2008 Interview With Joe R. Lansdale

East Texas Westerns

Joe R Lansdale hissownself at NPR West.

Joe R. Lansdale doesn't spend a whole lot of time touring. That's a good thing, because it means he can spend more time writing books like 'Leather Maiden', wherein we met Cason Statler, the great grandson of Sunset Jones ('Sunset and Sawdust'). I made a trip to Southern California to talk with Lansdale at NPR West, their state-of-the-art-studio in Culver City. It seemed like a pretty decent way to start my second year of five-days-a-week podcasting, and heck – Lansdale's worth it.

His latest novel.

It's not surprising that Lansdale wears a lot of hats as a writer. He's known for his horror, his science fiction, his Steampunk – 'Zeppelins West' – which was bathing in pig urine when today's Steampunks were watching the tech-stock option still climb shortly before the bubble burst – as well as his more mainstream mysteries like 'Leather Maiden'. This of course presumes that you can call anything Lansdale writes mainstream. I'd say that's stretching the truth more than a little. Lansdale's too talented and too funny for the mainstream. Here's a link to our conversation. There might be some salty language in there. Listen at your own risk. Please note that there is a secoind readiung after the interview, so hang around!


Agony Column Review Archive