Sunday, December 31, 2006

Octavian Nothing

After M.T. Anderson's YA novel won this year's National Book Award, my editor wanted me to review it and assumed, I guess because of the freaky cover, that it is science fiction or fantasy. Well, it's neither, but it's pretty good anyhow. I learned some things about the American Revolution that I hadn't really bothered to think about.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Before the Year Runs Out

Before 2007 arrives, I should deal with the Stoppard-related links that have accumulated since the start of December.

In the wake of the Litvenenko murder, Stoppard was caught in the verbal crossfire when his seminar at the Humanities University in Moscow was interrupted by the crowd's harassment of the British Ambassador. interviews Bill Crudup about his role in "The Coast of Utopia."
Dominic Papatola of the St. Paul Pioneer Press interviews Stoppard prior to his speech at the Guthrie. The Star Tribune has a run-down of the event.
Minnesota Public Radio produces an audio interview with Stoppard.
Over at, John Simon has little good to say about "Shipwreck."
But Toby Zinman of the Philadelphia Inquirer deems it "fine, emotional stuff."
Kathy Schwiff in Parsippany finds both the first and second installments of the trilogy "uninvolving."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Expectations Dashed, Exceeded and Met

I really wanted to like John Connolly's "The Book of LostThings," but it felt far too generic for my tastes. Diane Setterfield's "The Thirteenth Tale" was a pleasant surprise, given that I read it under duress. And Rudy Rucker's "Mathematicians in Love" lived up to the excellence of its predecessors.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Disappointed with the British Chatterboxes"

The Russian News and Information Agency weighs in on "The Coast of Utopia." One wonders what has been lost in translation. ("Stoppard exclaimed that British society had no democracy and was totalitarian through and through (!)")

Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Coast of Utopia" Reviews and News Rolling In

Newsday has a problem with the Act One, but is "hooked" by the end of "Voyage."

The New York Observer calls it a "strangely un-Stoppardian play." has the details about the after-party.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Merkin on Stoppard

On the eve of the "Coast of Utopia" opening, a long profile of Stoppard by Daphne Merkin in today's NY Times Magazine. One reader finds Ms. Merkin exasperating. Somebody else has more of a problem with Stoppard himself.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Run-up to "Coast of Utopia"

On Friday, the NY Times ran a handy primer for prospective Trilogy attendees. Check it out before it disappears into the pay-only section.

And the Moscow Times notes that Stoppard will lead a seminar at the non/fiction book fair, but details are spare.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

My Book Picks for the Holidays

It's time again for The Chronicle's annual Holiday Book issue. I've selected 10 science fiction and fantasy titles worth giving as gifts. The authors include Kage Baker, Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, Kit Reed and Jeff VanderMeer.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Coast of Utopia" Prep

If you haven't already, check out Lincoln Center Theatre's site for its production of "The Coast of Utopia." I've mentioned the Backstage Blog, but there's also an interview with Stoppard and a Notes on the Play section, which will undoubtedly be expanded as the other installments of the theatrical trilogy are rolled out.

And Playbill reports that Richard Easton, who became ill during an Oct. 18 preview, has returned to the production and is ready for the official Nov. 27 premiere.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Loose Seal!" "Lucille? Where?"

Although nobody has had a hand bitten off yet, life is imitating "Arrested Development" here in San Francisco: Rogue sea lion menaces swimmers!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sorry, But You "Lost" Me Right There

It happened two episodes ago with the death of Mr. Eko. My son was asking me all kinds of questions about what the characters on "Lost"were doing and why they were doing it and I kept saying, "I don't know. I don't know." And I suddenly realized that the writers of the show probably don't know either, no matter what they say.

I simply can't imagine any kind of logically consistent framework into which all the puzzle pieces are going to fit. There are just too many of them, to the point of ridiculousness.

The Others in particular don't seem to make any sort of sense. They say they're the "good guys," but no one who acts as they do is so sociopathic as to say that with a straight face. And if I had a tumor in my spine, I wouldn't abuse the only doctor in my neighborhood and torture his good friends in the hopes that he might operate on me successfully. Off the top of my head, I can think of about a dozen more productive strategies.

I'm getting tired of all the torture and the nastiness and the total refusal to ask the most obvious questions. ("Hey, where'd all you Others come from? Does this island have a name I might have heard of? Do you know how that smoke monster thing works?") Watching the "mid-season finale" was a real chore. By the time Sawyer and Kate got around to the Dirty Monkey Love in the polar cage, I'd lost interest.

If you stop and think about it, every single main character on "Lost" is running some sort of con game, either on him/herself or others. I'm convinced the writers are doing the same to the audience, and it's really starting to annoy me.

I'll be back for more in February. But as Adam Sternbergh points out in New York Magazine, "Lost" didn't have to end up like this.

Friday, November 10, 2006

TV Vet Plays Stoppard Vet

Christopher Timothy, typecast after years of playing veterinarian James Herriot on the BBC's "All Creatures Great and Small," is finding great satisfaction in playing a World War One veteran in Stoppard's adaptation of Gerald Sibleyras's "Heroes."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Stoppard Miscellany Continues

The San Jose Mercury News finds ACT's "Travesties" too clever by half

"Travesties" Wins with Timeless Wit, sez The Daily Californian

Inspired by the local production, the San Francisco Chronicle's Steve Winn discusses real-life travesties

Miscellaneous Stoppard Links

Cleaning out the old messages to find items of interest:

Unexcited by the first part of "The Coast of Utopia," Lawrence Toppman in the Charlotte Observer praises its star-studded cast

A profile of Gregory Wallace, who played Tristan Tzara in the ACT production of "Travesties"

A review from the Contra Costa Times about ACT's "Travesties"...

And one from Bloomberg...

And another from the San Francisco Chronicle

Lincoln Center's Backstage Blog from "The Coast of Utopia"

If you have a spare $350 for patron ticket, you can attend the Williamstown Theatre Festival's salute to Stoppard on Nov. 13

Friday, November 03, 2006


Last Sunday's Chronicle was just chockablock with reviews I'd written. In my regular column, I covered the latest from Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Susanna Clarke. As a bonus, the monthly kids' book page featured my review of new books by Ursula Le Guin, Delia Sherman and Chris Humphreys.

For a Good Cause

Emma Burke writes:

I work for the National Library for the Blind in Stockport (UK) and during Right to Read week (beginning 6th November) we're launching a special celebrity signed book auction on eBay. We wrote to a number of celebrities and asked them to sign a copy of their favourite children's book.

One of the books in our auction is Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome which has been chosen and signed by the lovely Tom Stoppard for us. We were hoping that information could be put up on the website so that fans of Tom's will know about it and have the chance to bid for the book as we feel this is a real collectors item. Our eBay site will go live on Thursday 9th November, but we've created a holding page on our website for fans to visit to check when the bidding can begin.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I Shriek, You Shriek, We All Shriek for Fungi

My new science fiction review in the San Francisco Chronicle covers the latest from Kage Baker, Jeff VanderMeer, Alexandra Sokoloff and Brian K. Vaughan.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Rock 'n' Roll" Part Three

On the 38th anniversary of the Soviet invasion, Richard Ouzounian of the Toronto Star reflects on what a city remembers, what it tries to forget and how a new play by Tom Stoppard tied it all together for him.

"Rock 'n' Roll" Part Two

In The Observer, Sean O'Hagan comments upon the new play's "use of [erstwhile Pink Floyd singer] Syd Barrett as a symbol of lost innocence."

Monday, August 28, 2006

"Rock 'n' Roll" Part One

Stoppard's latest play, "Rock 'n' Roll," opened at London's Duke of York Theatre to hugely enthusiastic reviews in June. I've accumulated many links to reviews of the production and background pieces since then. It's time I started putting them to work. So:

Here's Vaclav Havel talking about the play.

Don't Smoke 'Em If You've Got 'Em

Speaking of "R&G," the latest production at the Fringe substituted cocaine for marijuana as Rosencrantz's drug of choice, due to a much-publicized ban on smoking. (Why R. was being depicted as a pothead is unclear to me.)

A Mixed "R&G" Review in the Washington Post

The headline -- "A Slow Death for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern" -- pretty much says it all about the critical consensus for the Longacre Lea production.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Latest Cast Details for "The Coast of Utopia"

Amy Irving and Jason Butler Harner are the latest major additions to the American premiere of "The Coast of Utopia," slated to open at Lincoln Center on October 17.

If You Happen to Be in the Twin Cities on 12/18...

Stoppard will appear at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis as this year's Global Voice speaker.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

No One's Queuing up for Joyce's "Exiles"

Why don't great novelists makes great playwrights, and vice versa? This article from the Guardian Unlimited delves into that issue. In passing, Stoppard's "Lord Malquist and Mr Moon" is described as "far too slick and ingenious to carry any weight: that boulevardier's juggling, so delightful and paradoxical in the plays, just looks cheap on paper."

President of the London Library

Apparently, Stoppard has recently been appointed president of the London Library in St James Square, founded by Thomas Carlyle and friends. In this article from All About Jewish Theatre, he discusses his Jewish roots, his love of books and his methods of writing while staying at hotels.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Special Powers

Last week, the Sunday Chronicle featured my reviews of the latest from Tim Powers, Elizabeth Bear and Kim Newman.

Catching Up

It's been a while, hasn't it? Here's the first of two long-ago review columns. I cover the latest from Marta Acosta, Kit Reed and Vernor Vinge.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tuttle, Duncan and Medley

I recently reviewed "The Silver Bough" by Lisa Tuttle, "Vellum" by Hal Duncan and "Castle Waiting" by Linda Medley and was not 100% happy with any of them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Leads Set for "Rock 'n' Roll"

Rufus Sewell, Sinead Cusack and Brian Cox have been announced as the stars of Stoppard's latest play.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Spare a Thought for Jack, the Self-Emasculating Tapir

I usually pay scant attention to stories about wacky "birds-and-bees" tours at zoos, but the graphic nature of this one really made me do a double-take. I hear there have been no major complaints from The Chronicle's loyal readership. I don't know whether to compliment our audience on its openmindedness or despair that no one seems to read what we print.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Soul Patch

New review in The San Francisco Chronicle, covering three books that, in one way or another, address the mind/body problem and the existence of the soul: Ian McDonald's "River of Gods," Christopher Moore's "A Dirty Job" and John Scalzi's "The Ghost Brigades." All three get high marks.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Stoppard Catch-Up

It's been a while, but I've had my reasons. Anyway, assorted Stoppard-related news has been trickling in:

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will stage "On the Razzle" next year. Yay! I'll probably get to see it.

ACT here in San Francisco has announced that its next season will open with "Travesties." Again, yay!

Stoppard is reportedly adapting Robert Ludlum's "The Bourne Ultimatum" for the big screen. The director assures us that it will be "a f**kin' classy film." Uh, yay, I guess.

Monday, February 27, 2006

More Stoppard Links

Well, somebody liked Stoppard's "Heroes." It won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

And Daniel Radcliffe is using some of his "Harry Potter" earnings to buy a Stoppard manuscript entitled "Murder."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sleeper "Cell"

On Sunday, The Chronicle ran my latest science fiction and fantasy column, covering Stephen King's "Cell," Kevin Brockmeier's "The Brief History of the Dead" and "The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana" by Jess Nevins.

I probably gave "Cell" a kinder assessment than it deserved. The plot really is rather dumb if you think about it for more than a second. But I was in the mood for a guilty pleasure at the time, and that's what King delivered. So, good on ya, Steve.

Here's a very funny Digested Read of "Cell," courtesy of The Guardian Unlimited.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I'm interested in doing more freelance writing about comics. With that in mind, I was a correspondent for Comic Book Resources at last week's WonderCon, just a block away from my office. I wrote about:

Grant Morrision, talking about the "WE3" movie, hopes for an "Invisibles" anthology hardcover and language magic

The Future of the DC Universe, which sounds quite headache-inducing and a huge financial drain on anyone who wants to follow all its permutations

Upcoming Vertigo books, which honestly don't excite me very much. Oh, well.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

StoppardFest in Winnipeg in '07

Details are still very sketchy, but a StoppardFest has been announced for January '07 in Winnipeg. Apparently, this year's O'NeillFest was something of a depressing bust, but organizers hope the StoppardFest will achieve the level of success attained by 2004's AlbeeFest.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Apropos of Nothing

This is the only book dedication to have ever made me laugh out loud. It is from "The Ignored," a horror novel by Bentley Little:

Special thanks to the employees of the City of Costa Mesa with whom I worked from 1987 to 1995: both the friendly intelligent competent professionals I liked, and the small-minded backbiting bureaucratic assholes I hated.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Stoppard to Adapt "Lear" for Hopkins?

This item, about Anthony Hopkins' proposed cinematic swan song as King Lear, is truly curious. Is Stoppard really working on an adaptation, or is Sir Anthony just talking out his, uh, hat? Or are the Welsh playing some sort of practical joke on us? They will, you know.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Ew, Cooties!

My most recent San Francisco Chronicle column explores the theme of contamination in new books by David Marusek, Charlie Huston and Charles Burns.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A More Complete Bibliography Than Mine

Michael Hutchins maintains a very useful Stoppard bibliography. Beware, though, of the ugly and annoying Geocities tab.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Family Business

Tom Stoppard's son Ed is performing the title role in the English Touring Theatre’s production of "Hamlet."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

By Which I Mean He Contributed to the Screenplay

Conventional wisdom seems to be that Tom Stoppard had an uncredited hand in Lasse Halstrom's new "Casanova," starring Heath Ledger.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Stuff to Which I'm Looking Forward in 2006

Well, 2005 is gone, and good riddance. Let us instead keep in mind the pleasures that the new year might bring.

Two new Stephen King novels, "Cell" and "Lisey's Story" are slated for publication this year. The first sounds like it could be either really lame or a rip-snorting guilty pleasure. The second is being played up for its literary value, which always makes me suspicious. Glad ol' Steve is enjoying his "retirement."

It looks like "Arrested Development" may be picked up by Showtime or ABC. I don't subscribe to Showtime, but at least there's now the possibility of more episodes on DVD eventually. I don't get HBO, either (I'm one cheap son of a gun, aren't I?), but "The Sopranos" is slated to return this spring. And I continue to enjoy "Lost," somewhat against my better judgement.

The culmination of Grant Morrison's "Seven Soldiers of Victory" super-dooper comic book maxi-series thing arrives in April. It's been a long, weird ride so far, but Morrison is known for rarely bobbling his endings. I may even read his "All-Star Superman" limited series, although I'll probably wait for the inevitable trade.

The WonderCon comics fest happens at San Francisco's Moscone Center in early February and then the World Horror Convention hits town in May. I am enough of a geek to be waiting eagerly for them.

I always enjoy our family vacation in Ashland, Oregon. This season, I'm looking forward to new Oregon Shakespeare productions of "The Winter's Tale," the rarely produced "King John" and David Edgar's adaptation of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Meanwhile closer to home, Berkeley Rep will stage "The Glass Menagerie" with Rita Moreno.

I know of two major Stoppard productions coming up -- the world premiere of "Rock 'n Roll" in London and the New York premiere of "The Coast of Utopia." I won't be seeing either, but it will be interesting to read what the critics have to say.

Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen will release his new solo disc, "Morph the Cat," in March. If my excited anticipation marks me as a sad remnant of the Seventies, so be it.

The movie version of "V for Vendetta," starring Natalie Portman, looks promising, even if cranky Alan Moore has removed his name from it.

Then there are the usual personal aspirations for being more productive and more successful and thinner. We'll just have to see whether the odds for those are any better than the probability that "V for Vendetta" won't suck.