Wednesday, November 29, 2006


That's right, the Library of America will publish a hardcover edition in June 2007 containing four of Philip K. Dick's novels from the 1960's: The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik.

I'll admit that the only one of these novels in this collection I've read is The Man in the High Castle, but I've read a few others, most recently A Scanner Darkly, which knocked me out. Not only was Dick an important genre writer -- and it's great to see more credibility given to a genre writer -- he was an important writer period. He and his readers certainly deserve this edition.


I was at a library sale today and ran across a book I just had to have: Edison & The Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death by Mark Essig.

I've been fascinated with the concept of the electric chair since I was a kid. I remember hearing some of the old timers hanging around my dad's grocery store, telling tall tales, as old timers will do. One man told about the days when the State of Mississippi had a traveling electric chair, which of course enthralled young ears like mine. When I got older, I dismissed the story as pure bunk.

Years later a friend of mine told me he remembered actually seeing the traveling electric chair as a boy in Quitman, Mississippi. Then I read Andy Duncan's excellent story "The Executioners' Guild" and was once again fascinated. Andy, if you're out there, have you read the Essig book? I imagine any romanticism on the subject is greatly diminished in what I imagine are pretty grisly details, not for the faint of heart.

But I'm still going to read it. Hey, it was only 10 cents.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Today's Survey

Here's the situation: I just took my car in to the shop. Needs a new radiator, around $600, which actually isn't too bad. But the car's ten years old and probably won't last much longer. Here's all the vital information for your consideration:

1997 Saturn SL-1, manual
128,000 miles
Good mileage (between 32-37 mpg)
CD player has an attitude

Repairs completed in the past year:
New water pump/gasket
New ignition coil/switch
Replaced front brake pads and rotors
New windshield
Other routine stuff (including new tires)

Total amount spent (other than normal maintenance) in the past year (not counting the radiator) = $2225.88

Other factors:

We just bought a Toyota Matrix, which we love. It's eventually going to be my car, but Cindy's driving it right now. The next car will be hers, but we can't decide what to get. We want to test-drive a Honda Fit for Cindy, but they don't stay on the lot long enough for you to even look at one. (They don't call it the Fit for nothing. We've had a fit trying to find one.) But we may have to made a decision sooner than we thought.

So whaddya say? Fix the Saturn or sell it?

The Unblemished - Conrad Williams

I'm about halfway through this book, which is a must-read if you're a fan of quality horror fiction (or fiction in general). I plan to write more about it later, but I just have to share this one paragraph. (I hope Mr. Williams doesn't mind.)

After meeting a character in a London bar, Bo experiences some really strange stuff going on in the city. In this scene, Bo's staying at his friend Sammy's house, considering whether or not it's safe to confide in his friend. While Sammy is asleep, Bo hears something from outside the bedroom.

He saw the shape of a hand reach around the edge of the door, its fingers shockingly long. Each of them came to rest against the wood, nails tapping lightly as though it were still incarcerated, knocking politely to be let out. Its smell reached Bo before anything else did: old things left undisturbed for too long: wet rags that had not been allowed to dry properly, desiccated newspapers, woodworm and rust. It shifted like someone whose joints had recently been operated upon, or someone coming back from a traumatic accident, at the start of a physiotherapy programme. Bo resisted the insane drive to offer assistance. He heard a terrible, dry clicking sound and though he didn't want to know what was producing it, found his mind throwing up any number of horrid possibilities. What disturbed him was the knowledge that the truth would be far worse.

This isn't hammer-the-reader-over-the-head horror, but instead an artful balance of terror and desire. Bo is terrified of who (or what) is about to enter the room, yet feels a tinge of compassion, if not responsibility, to somehow help this creature. The sensory details are so vivid you can almost feel the overwhelming odor of the thing wrapping itself around you. And Williams even portrays the painful sickness of Bo's conflict and imagination, "his mind throwing up any number of horrid possibilities."

What happens next is totally unexpected, yet completely satisfying. This guy's an outstanding writer. Check him out.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Gym First, Shopping Later

Well, the Eating Season is officially upon us. I survived the surplus of Halloween candy and yesterday's eating festivities (including three pies*), so I'm off to the gym to fight the good fight. Wish me luck. I'll need it - This will be my first visit to the gym since World Fantasy.

But before I subject myself to a morning of pain and ridicule, I want to make my bid for the "Genre-gift-for-the-person-who-doesn't-read-genre" prize. We all have friends and family whom we love in spite of their indifference/disinterest/outright condemnation of genre. With some of these people, we've probably given up, but with others, we continue to hold out a bit of hope.

Even though I haven't quite finished it, my choice for the genre holiday gift for the non-genre reader is Best New Fantasy, edited by Sean Wallace from Prime Books. Here's why:

1. Size - This collection contains 16 stories at 237 pages. Sure, most genre readers have no problem tackling the mammoth 500-page anthologies with twice as many stories, but for those new to the field, this is the perfect size.

2. Price - At $12.95, you can afford to buy one for yourself and one (or two) for a friend. Or a potential friend. Or Uncle Stinky who thinks you're a freak anyway.

3. A little bit of everything. You've got fairy tales, historical stories, horror tales, slipstream, action, beautiful prose, weirdness, you name it. There's truly something for everyone here. Even Uncle Stinky.

There's my pitch.

* No, I didn't eat them all. Not quite.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My Hair Length is Determined by the NFL

The barber I go to is really incredible. He takes his time and does a great job, even trimming my moustache, goatee and eyebrows. This guy's really top notch.

But he's also a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

I've got no problem with that, as long as I get a haircut after a Steelers win. If I go after a loss, the guy's so steamed that I come out of the barber shop looking like the top of my head's been in a battlezone. But the Steelers won on Sunday, so I should be safe.

Go Steelers!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Don't Miss This!

Jeff VanderMeer is offering copies of Leena Krohn's World Fantasy-nominated book Tainaron, as well as signed copies of Jeff's own collection Secret Life, just out in trade paperback. Check it out here.

I haven't read Jeff's collection yet, but I bought a copy at World Fantasy. I think I can safely say, having read his latest novel Shriek (as well as Veniss Underground), that these stories will not disappoint.

I'm buying two copies of Tainaron to give to friends. If you've got friends who know you read speculative/fantastic fiction but don't think they'd like it, this book would be a great gift. (And by all means, get a copy for yourself.) The writing is poetic, gorgeous, stunning, strangely beautiful. Anyone who appreciates good writing will enjoy it. Trust me on this.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Everything Old is New Again...Sort Of...

After last year's release of Let It Be Naked, Capitol Records will release The Beatles Love in a couple of weeks. The difference between the two releases? Let It Be Naked was not manipulated; rather the official release was, with Phil Spector's orchestral and choir overdubs, among other things that sent Paul McCartney into orbit. With Love, long-time Beatles producer George Martin (along with his son Giles) has augmented and linked several Beatles songs together with additional instrumentation, newly-discovered vocal tracks, etc.

Do we really need this? Probably not. Does Capitol really want to juice more money out of Beatles fans? Definitely. Capitol understands that there aren't any more hidden Beatles tunes to be discovered; we're finished, done. We can't even throw something together as the (then) surviving Beatles did a few years ago with "Real Love" and "Free as a Bird," featuring pre-existing vocals by John Lennon. That was sort of cool, but those tunes are hardly standouts in the Beatles canon.

I actually heard the Love version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" a few days ago. The orchestration is okay; it's not offensive, it's somewhat interesting, but if I want to hear the song, I'll just put The White Album into the player.

Musicians argue all the time over performance practices, especially in classical music. What did Mozart really mean when he wrote a forte? Did Tchaikovsky really want five fortes in the Finale from Symphony No. 4? You can find musicians who'll just about come to blows over whether to perform pre-modern music on contemporary or original instruments.

So is the release of Love really such a big deal? I guess it is for Capitol. I don't plan to buy it, but if it's playing, I'll give it a listen. Or maybe I'll just dust off that old Rubber Soul LP instead.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hold Your Breath for 13 Weeks

Six weeks into Season Three, the fine folks at ABC have decided that Lost will take a 13-week hiatus, returning on Feb. 7 to begin sixteen more episodes. During those thirteen weeks, ABC will air a new show (or maybe mini-series would be more apt) called Day Break, which actually doesn't look bad.

Of course that means we'll have to wait and speculate for thirteen weeks. 91 days. 2184 hours. 131,040 minutes. But who's counting? Maybe that will give me time to get caught up on Battlestar Galactica Seasons One and Two.

More on the WFC awards later.
Today's short story: "A Temple of the Holy Ghost" - Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

World Fantasy Report

Reality still hasn't quite settled in yet (Let's hope it never fully does), but since I have been home for well over 36 hours, I'm probably coherent enough (Well, maybe not) to give a brief report on WFC.

As John mentioned on his blog, WFC is much more than panels, book signings and the dealer room. I attended only a few panels, the best of which was Saturday morning's Horror, Dark Fantasy and Other Fiction that Go Bump in the Night.

Any panel with Stephen Jones and Ann VanderMeer is worth your time and this one was no exception. Jones mentioned that horror will endure because it keeps reinventing itself with the times and culture. VanderMeer said that two of the basic aspects of horror, sex and death, are universal, motivating us more than anything else. Everyone understands that, although they may not want to face it. Nancy Holder seemed to agree, stating that horror is an emotional mood, not a genre.

I'm glad the panelists brought up this topic: People often ask "Why do we need horror in the world we live in now?" The more visceral the real horrors of life, the more we need escape. Jones said that horror should be confrontational, not just violent; it should stick with you.

It was a great panel. It could have gone on for two hours and I wouldn't have budged.


I only attended two readings: Jeffrey Ford and Holly Phillips. Ford read a story in manuscript (but which will appear in the upcoming anthology Inferno) which was vintage Ford: weird, funny, disturbing, quirky, wonderful. I believe it was called "The Bedroom Window." Correction from John: "The Bedroom Light"

The only story I'd read by Holly Phillips before last week was her WFC-nominated story "The Other Grace," which I enjoyed very much, but the unpublished story she read on Saturday was absolutely gorgeous. I'll be reading her entire collection very soon.


As John mentioned, World Fantasy is about the people you meet and the friendships you develop. It's always great to see my Clarion friends (we had six show up this year) and instructors, as well as meeting new folks. The more I write, the more I realize that the friends you make along the way constitute the best part of writing.


And now, the part everyone wants to know about....

FREE books from the book bag/exchange table:

The Lost District - Joel Lane
Mockingbird - Sean Stewart
The Nymphos of Rocky Flats - Mario Acevedo
Best Short Novels 2006 - Jonathan Strahan, ed.
A Princess of Roumania - Paul Park
The Mount - Carol Emshwiller
Last Week's Apocalypse - Douglas Lain


Best New Fantasy - Sean Wallace, ed.
Forbidden Cargo - Rebecca K. Rowe
In the Palace of Repose - Holly Phillips
Howard Who? - Howard Waldrop
Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead - Alan DeNiro
Catalyst - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Secret Life - Jeff VanderMeer

Books I should have bought while I had the chance:

The Keyhole Opera - Bruce Holland Rogers
20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill

Tomorrow: Thoughts on the WFC Award Winners

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Post-Halloween Thoughts, WFC Preparations and Other Stuff Guaranteed to Waste Your Valuable Internet Time

You'd think the World Fantasy Convention powers-that-be would have enough wisdom to prevent these two clowns from attending, but they have foolishly allowed us free (well, not exactly free) access to the con starting tomorrow. (This photo of John and me was taken at the recent Capclave by Andy Duncan. Thanks, Andy!)

Halloween was fairly uneventful. Since our greyhound Bullet normally sends young children running for the safety of their parents' waiting cars on Halloween, we've found the best thing to do is set out a bowl of candy, refilling it every hour or so while watching a movie or two with the hound. Cindy had her running group last night, so I got to choose the movies. (Bullet lost his voting privileges when he sided with Cindy to watch Memoirs of a Geisha several months back.)

I made a couple of discoveries which weren't too surprising:

1 - The TV show Night Gallery is nowhere near as good as I thought it was as a kid. Disc One is all I've seen in 30 years, but if it's any indication, the show suffers from overacting, gimmicks and weak adaptations of good stories. C.M. Kornbluth's short story "The Little Black Bag" is a wonderful tale in print that should have been a home-run, especially with Burgess Meredith starring in the NG episode. Although it's probably the best of the lot, the frame around the episode is very clumsily done. Fritz Leiber's "The Dead Man" would have been a good episode, but runs too long and explains far too much to the audience (plus the device that makes the whole thing work isn't executed well at all). "The Nature of the Enemy" is downright embarrassing, but at least it's short.

From what I've read, Rod Serling isn't really to blame. The producers wanted more "weird monster" stories, rather than the imaginative thought-provoking tales that made The Twilight Zone such a hit. As a result, they got the monsters-and-gimmicks they were looking for.

I'll probably keep watching, though. I remember several episodes that I'd like to see again, in particular ones starring John Carradine as a creepy old man trying to scare a couple of kids and Richard Thomas as a starving man offered corpses to eat.

2 - John Carpenter's The Thing, however, still holds up well after nearly 25 years. (Has it been that long?) Although it hasn't happened lately, Carpenter used to make some pretty good stuff. Every time I see The Thing I ask myself if I really like the ending or not. Last night I liked it.

Well, it's almost time for WFC, which means the ol' blog will be silent for a few days. If you're attending, I hope to see you there. If not, I'll be back early next week with a full report.