Wednesday, January 31, 2007

And Now I Also Hate Michael Patterson

First the Granthony Debacle, and now this. Has Lynn Johnston started huffing oven cleaner or something?

Like the Great Wall of China, the plot turns in "For Better or for Worse" are clearly visible from outer space. We all knew that eternal-good-boy Michael Patterson would sell the "novel" he's been working on between toddler wrangling and battling the boorish Kelpfroths downstairs. But did it have to happen in the most unrealistic and ludicrous manner possible?

I feel confident that no writer in the entire history of publishing has sent an unagented, unsolicited manuscript (one rescued from a devastating house fire, no less) to a single publisher and a month later received a contract for $25,000. $25K in CANADIAN dollars, but still...

It never works like that. Never. To believe otherwise is the height of cluelessness. Ms. Johnson, watch your step, because it's a mighty long drop.

If this were "Get Fuzzy," I wouldn't mind. If Satchel (or, hell, even Bucky Kat) somehow wangled a three-book deal for an insane wad of cash, I'd think that was awesome. But "FbofW" pretends to take place in the real world. I don't expect to see Granthony gored by a unicorn (though I wouldn't complain), and I can't swallow that Michael Patterson could sell his first attempt at a novel, especially if it reads like any of these horrible letters.

You can foob some of the people some of the time, but you can't foob all of them all of the time.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Books I'm Not Reading -- "The Tower of Shadows"

First novels present a number of challenges for the reviewer. On the one hand, you want to be encouraging of new talent. On the other, many first novels simply aren’t very good. And when they’re not, there is absolutely no point in making a big deal about it. No one should be trashed for their inaugural effort.

I didn’t read Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon” when it was first published, but my editor insisted that I cover its follow-up, “Eldest.” I’m glad I waited, because I didn’t like the second installment and felt no guilt in saying so. (I’m hoping to be spared the task of reviewing Volume Three, but I’m not counting on it.)

And now there’s Drew C. Bowling’s “The Tower of Shadows.” It apparently features at least one dragon. Its author is a photogenic college sophomore. It also has a cover blurb by Terry Brooks, and he’s not an author whose critical judgment is likely to sway me.

Sorry, but I’m not going to read “The Tower of Shadows.”

Perhaps some of you will contend that I’m merely bitter over the fact that I was never a photogenic 19-year-old who managed to sell his first attempt at fiction to a major publisher such as Del Ray. I will aver that I am above such petty considerations, and I will still decline to read “The Tower of Shadows.”

New novelists with a track record of some kind stand a better chance of getting a review from me. I’m more inclined to read a debut novel if I know the author has published at least a handful of stories to professional markets.

Of the last 30 or so books I’ve reviewed for The Chronicle, six were first novels. I’d say that’s a pretty good ratio, one I would like to maintain. In my current reading stack are two more first novels, one from a major publisher, one from a specialty press. It’ll be interesting to see which I prefer.

Friday, January 26, 2007

StoppardFest -- "Jumpers"

The Winnipeg Free Press reviews the StoppardFest production of "Jumpers."
Terry Hands, a director at the Clwyd Theatr Cymru in Mold (who claims to be a friend of Stoppard), discusses what it's like to stage "Arcadia."

The New York Times notes that Isaiah Berlin's essay collection "Russian Thinkers" has virtually disappeared from the city's bookstores, thanks to "The Coast of Utopia."

And the Seattle Times has a review of a local production of "Travesties."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Scalzi Love, Granthony Hatred & StoppardMania!

The number of daily visits to this site has skyrocketed into the double digits over the past few weeks, and a quick perusal of the logs reveals that three topics in particular are responsible for this heady up-tick in popularity.

I kinda knew that by featuring John Scalzi's "The Android's Dream" as the inaugural Book I'm Not Reading I might attract a few devoted readers from his popular site, The Whatever. That John used my entry as an excuse for an extended riff on his book's feelings of low self-esteem only sweetened the deal.

For quite a while, Cheaper Ironies has been Google's top search choice for the Winnipeg StoppardFest. Now that the fest is well underway (here's a review of its production of "The Real Thing."), it looks as if the fresh stream of Stoppard enthusiastics may continue into February. Hurray! And too bad for you if you didn't get your $59 all-you-can-eat StoppardPass, because they're all gone!

What truly surprised me, though, was the amount of traffic generated by my entry about Granthony, Liz Patterson's creepy erstwhile boyfriend. Whew, there are a lot of Anthony Cain haters out there! Given the way Lynn Johnston demolished both of Granthony's romantic rivals in one fell swoop this week, they're probably even more incensed.

Thanks, Granthony! Cheaper Ironies salutes your feckless neediness and twerpitude. Keep sending your detractors thisaway!

Portrait of Anthony Cain (c) Lynn Johnston Productions Inc.

A Trip to "The Jennifer Morgue"

I really loved Charles Stross' first "Bob Howard" book, "The Atrocity Archives," a brilliant mash-up of Len Deighton and H.P. Lovecraft. I'm a little less enthusiastic about its follow-up, "The Jennifer Morgue," an homage to James Bond, but not by much. It could be that Deighton is more to my taste than Ian Fleming. Deighton's "Game, Set, Match" trilogy ranks as one of my very favorite espionage sequences, second only to Le Carre's "The Quest for Karla."

In addition to "The Jennifer Morgue," my latest Chronicle review also covers Alan Dean Foster's "Sagramanda" and Bruce Holland Rogers' "The Keyhole Opera."

I was also planning to review "The Terror" by Dan Simmons, but reading that 800-page saga of arctic misery put me over my deadline. It will have to wait until next month.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Quick Stoppard Roundup

The New Yorker weighs in on "The Coast of Utopia."

The Christian Science Monitor gives "Coast of Utopia" an A.

The Independent profiles the Czech band "The Plastic People of the Universe," immortalised in Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll."

The Winnipeg Sun offers the complete Stoppard Fest lineup. I idly considered finding a cheap flight but gave up once I noticed that the daily high temperatures there hovered around -15C.

I'll console myself with "On the Razzle" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this summer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Books I'm Not Reading -- "Wild Fire"

I'm still harboring a grudge against Nelson DeMille.

I usually only get paid to read science fiction and fantasy, but I do enjoy other genres, mysteries and thrillers in particular.

A few years back, somebody recommended DeMille's "Plum Island" to me. The book introduces former NYPD homicide detective John Corey and involves him in a case on Long Island that revolves around biological weapons and Captain Kidd's missing treasure. The climax of the narrative was a little, well, anticlimactic, but Corey is a wry, affecting narrator and DeMille keeps the action percolating for most of the book.

A couple of years later I read "The Gold Coast," his Gatsby-meets-The Godfather best-seller, while on a trip to Oregon. It doesn't feature John Corey, but it's a better book: funny, suspenseful, unique in its observations. Fitzgerald it ain't, but with much better writing than Puzo. Perfect for reading while on an Oregon vacation.

So far, so good, But then I picked up "Night Fall," the third in the Corey series, skipping "The Lion's Game," as I wasn't in the mood for Middle Eastern terrorist plots.

"Night Fall" has one of the worst endings I have ever encountered in a best-selling thriller. I am going to spoil it now, because it annoys me so. Run away if you do not wish to witness said spoiling.

DeMille resolves the central conflict of "Night Fall" by having all the major characters except John Corey and his spouse arrive for a breakfast meeting AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001!!!!! Boom go the planes, down come the towers, all the plot threads get sliced in one great whack. THE END.

I don't mind ambiguity in my thrillers, really. But I felt cheated by the way DeMille brazenly appropriated a national tragedy to create an escape hatch from the plot box he'd written himself into.

Now comes DeMille's latest, "Wild Fire," and John Corey is again the protagonist. I have a galley, and I momentarily considered reading it during the holiday doldrums. But then I thought, "Burn me twice..." And it becomes another Book I'm Not Reading.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I Hate Granthony, Too

I spend a good part of my day staring at the various components of a daily newspaper, and perhaps I invest too much mental energy in keeping track of the on-going four-panel slice of mundanity that is Lynn Johnston's "For Better or for Worse." But I really can't help myself. I've been reading the strip for at least 20 years now and have weathered Farley's heroic death, Lawrence's coming-out, Michael's marriage to Deanna the Pharmacist Who Never Figured Out Birth Control and Grandpa Jim's stroke. The Pattersons are like family -- strange, passive-aggressive Canadian family.

Johnston is heading into semi-retirement, though, and she seems to be tying up a lot of loose ends, in not exactly the most subtle way possible. Chief among her concerns is the question of which eligible bachelor will Elizabeth Patterson choose as her life-mate. All evidence suggests that Johnston intends to have her wind up not with the devil-may-care helicopter pilot, not with the studly police officer from the arctic wilderness, but with her high school flame Anthony, the schlubby divorced accountant who lives in her hometown, has full custody of his pre-school daughter and enjoys amateur astronomy.

Shaenon K. Garrity has posted a brilliant and impassioned essay about why the Liz/Anthony match is so very wrong and infuriating. I can't think of anything to add. "Attaboys" go out to the Comics Curmudgeon for bringing Shaenon's rant to my attention.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Books I'm Not Reading -- "The Android's Dream"

Countless bloggers write about the books they're reading. I've decided to take a different tack.

Every week, I receive dozens of review copies for upcoming science fiction and fantasy releases. Eight out of ten are immediately discarded after only a cursory inspection. (They're not thrown away, but donated to the San Francisco Library. I think.) Of all the remainder, one or two are elevated quickly to "Must Review" status. The rest go into the "Maybe, I Dunno" pile, where they sit for a couple of months. One or two titles might emerge and be read, but most eventually make that final trip in a plastic USPS bin to the library. Ave atque vale ARCs.

This feature, then, is a salute to the also-rans, the books I never get around to reading, for one reason or another. Perhaps my reasons for not reading them will prove instructive.

First up is John Scalzi's "The Android's Dream." I've heard many good things about this novel from the author of "Old Man's War" and "The Ghost Brigades," and I suspect that I would enjoy it, were I to read it. But that's not going to happen, at least not anytime soon.

The problem is that I reviewed both of Scalzi's earlier novels, and "The Ghost Brigades" even made my 2006 list of holiday recommendations. That's a heavy concentration of Scalzi for the San Francisco Chronicle in the past 18 months.

The same is true of Rudy Rucker's "Mad Professor." I favorably reviewed his new novel, "Mathematicians in Love," last month. Now comes this collection. Even though Rucker is a local author and a personal favorite, he's had his turn in the spotlight for a while.

Neither Scalzi nor Rucker should fee slighted. There are only a handful of writers whose new work gets a review from me in every single instance. I seem, for example, to be The Chronicle's default reviewer for Stephen King and Neal Stephenson. Folks such as Dan Simmons, Kage Baker, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub and Jonathan Carroll can usually expect to fall under my scrutiny, but it's never a sure thing. I only review about 35 books per year, so I have to choose carefully.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

More Stoppardfest Details

Since this blog is Google's top search choice for "Winnipeg Stoppardfest," I suppose I should pass along the link to the official site. It looks to be a really fun event. In addition to hosting various lectures and screenings of "Brazil" and "Empire of the Sun," those hardy Manitobans will also perform "Arcadia," "The Real Thing," "R&G Are Dead" and some real rarities, including "Enter a Free Man" and "The Dog It Was That Died."
If I had some free time, spare cash and a more extensive winter wardrobe, I'd definitely be there.