This Just In...News
From The Agony Column
09-19-08: Jeremy Lassen on Zombies and 'The Living Dead'
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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
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
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
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'
into a lower-common denominator state of mind"
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
play around with what that means"
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.
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
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.