Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Bad Monkeys

I'm really looking forward to Matt Ruff's new novel, "Bad Monkeys." I got my ARC yesterday, and it looks quite cool. Ruff's "Set This House in Order" is one of the best fictional depictions of multiple personality disorder I've ever read, and I'm hoping "Bad Monkeys" will achieve a similar level of excellence.

Speaking of naughty primates, there's a weird saga unfolding in Plano, Texas. An illegal rhesus macaque was confiscated from one of the locals, who then allegedly sent the monkey a pornographic audio tape hinting at interspecies sexual shenanigans. Now the animal control specialist who made the allegation is back-pedaling, claiming he may have misinterpreted the tape and begging not to be sued or lose his job. (Thanks, Obscure Store!)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

All Hail Lio

"Lio" by MarkTatulli is a pantomime strip that took the place of "Foxtrot" in the daily San Francisco Chronicle. I've been impressed by its Calvin-and-Hobbesian mixture of childhood concerns and fantasy. Today, though, it has made me a true fan.
Does Tatulli have something to say about Liz and Granthony? Oh yeah...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Save Jeff Kay

I spend a lot of time each day reading prose of varying degrees of quality. It's always comforting to know that there are certain writers I can depend on to give me exactly what I'm looking for. And one of those reliable writers is Jeff Kay of The West Virginia Surf Report.

I discovered The WVSR via The Gargoyle Letters, one of the funniest bits of correspondence I've ever encountered, in which the wonderfully named ArdnaTyne frets about her neighbor's possibly Satanic yard decorations. I go back to that page every six months or so, hoping that it will be updated. So far, no luck.

For some reason, though, it took me a while explore the rest of The WVSR, but I eventually fell under the spell of its proprietor -- middle-aged, middle-managing ex-'zinester and former record marketing weasel Jeff Kay. He's a funny, funny guy. Occasionally crude, true, and sometimes not "politically correct" (whatever than means anymore), but sharply observant and possessing a brutally self-deprecating wit. I look forward to every daily installment and am sorely disappointed when one doesn't appear. When I was in China last summer, worn to a frazzle by the rigors of my first round of foreign travel, I enjoyed visiting his site from the hotel computers, just for a dose of down-to-earth American humor.

I've never figured out what Jeff actually does for a living, but last month, out of the blue, he was downsized. Yikes. He's handling it pretty well, but he's looking to monetize The WVSR while looking for his next full-time gig. He could use extra visitors, so please drop on by.

For a quick taste of Jeff's singular genius, check out his page of favorite quotes: "Sweet Sainted Mother of Blanket Jackson." If you laugh more than once, explore the rest of the site. You're not likely to regret it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Top 15 Unintentionally Funny Comic Book Panels. The commentators are up in arms that much of this material has appeared elsewhere. Whatever. It still made me laugh.

I found the link at The Beat, so don't say mean things about me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Books I'm Not Reading -- "Dangerous Games"

In Melbourne's urban underworld, there's a nightclub for every fantasy and desire. But for Riley Jenson, one such club has become an obsession. Riley, a rare hybrid of vampire and werewolf, hasn't come in pursuit of pleasure but of an unknown killer who's been using the steamy nightspot as his hunting grounds.

Sometimes I'm just the wrong audience for a book. Although I'm all up for werewolves, vampires and serial killers, singly and together, I'm not particularly enthusiastic about them in a "deliciously sexy adventure." (And do they have any werewallabies Down Under? Just curious.)

These "paranormal romances" obviously have their fans, and such writers as Laurel K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison have succeeded in finding large, eager audiences for their urban fantasies featuring highly sexed supernatural protagonists and antagonists. But these kinds of books don't interest me, and I suspect I'm not equipped to critique them in any meaningful way.

A while back, I was asked to review "Happy Hour at Casa Dracula" by Marta Acosta. I don't think I did a particularly good job of it, mainly because the conventions of the vampire-romance subgenre grate on me so. I found the characters annoying and their behavior baffling and the plot more than faintly ridiculous. But I could see that the things that turned me off would work for the book's intended audience and that Acosta was writing well and wittily within the set of rules she had chosen for herself. So I gave her a favorable review, concluding, "One suspects that the ultimate merit of 'Happy Hour at Casa Dracula' can be determined only by those readers squarely within its target demographic, but those with a taste for unlikely romance will probably find it a refreshing warm-weather treat."

Something of a cop-out -- and a reason why I won't be reading "Dangerous Games" by Keri Arthur or any other paperback originals that promise "a world of peril and pleasure that will leave readers panting for the next installment."

Next Stop: Haven of Contentment

I found this through Boing Boing, and it is several different kinds of awesome. It's a slide show about a mysterious Loyal Order of the Moose-sanctioned community that's as creepy as anything you'll find in a David Lynch double-feature.

Stoppard Snippet

Interesting New York Times article by Anthony Tommasini about the use of music in "The Coast of Utopia."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Books I'm Not Reading -- "Things Will Never Be the Same"

When authors and publicists write to me and ask whether they may send review copies of their latest books, my response tends toward the politely (I hope) discouraging. Even the least promising print-on-demand project deserves more than a "For the love of God, don’t waste my time" reply, but I feel that people should know what their chances are before they go to the expense of mailing, and especially Fed-Exing, their books to me. Those who persist (politely) are rewarded with the direct address to my desk, rather than to the catch-all that delivers everything to the Chronicle basement for haphazard sorting.

The publisher of "Things Will Never Be the Same: Selected Short Fiction 1980-2005" by Howard Waldrop wanted to know whether he could send a galley. I replied that, as much as I admire Waldrop's stories, I wasn't likely to review this compendium of previously collected work, and he might end up wasting postage. He sent the galley anyway.

I'm glad he did. Even though I’m not going to read "Things Will Never Be the Same," right now.

See, I’ve already read most of these stories. Written about many of them, too. Most of them are wonderful. I particularly recommend "The Ugly Chickens," "Heart of Whitenesse” and “Night of the Cooters.” As he’ll tell you himself, Waldrop is a National Treasure.

Sure, this volume features new afterwords by the author, and those are always illuminating. (In fact, there has been more than one occasion when I didn't know what the hell a Waldrop story was about until I read his explanatory endnotes.) But I can't see my way to devoting even 250 words in my column to this collection, not when there are so many other new books clamoring for attention.

I'll certainly recommend it here, though, for whatever good that does.

Just so we're clear: If this were a new Howard Waldrop novel, I'd be all over it.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Stoppard Hither and Yon

Deroy Murdock of the National Review went to London and found "Rock 'n' Roll" "remarkably long, remarkably dense, and remarkably dull." He really liked the new comedic adaptation of Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps," though.

Gavin Allen at icWales provides a not terribly illuminating review of "Arcadia": "Stoppard's play is a tough nut, and Theatr Clwyd didn't quite have the cracker."

Richard Moeschl of the Mail Tribune finds a few "groaners" in the OSF production of "On the Razzle" but has a good time anyhow.

Brickman and McAnuff Make Nice

In a pair of letters to the San Francisco Chronicle Datebook, "Jersey Boys" director Des McAnuff and writer Marshall Brickman put their petty squabbles behind them. Like Michael Corleone and Fredo, no doubt.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Does Anybody See Any Connections Here?

According to the Wall Street Journal, stand-alone book review sections are almost extinct at major metropolitan newspapers.

"Premiere" ceases publication as a printed magazine.

In the Miami Herald, Carl Hiaasen writes about the excessive media coverage of the continuing Anna Nicole Smith story and other forms of "necro-tainment":

Don't make the mistake of dismissing the Smith story as an anomaly; it's a media watershed. If the death of a hapless, doped-up ex-model can knock two wars out of the headlines, there's no end to the squalid possibilities.

We have seen the future, and it's in the gutter.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Final Thoughts on WonderCon

Because Moscone Center is two blocks from my office, because I would be granted a press pass and because I would be getting paid for writing about the experience, I was happy to attend this year's WonderCon. And even though nothing untoward happened, the proceedings left me oddly -- not depressed, exactly -- but disengaged.

Maybe it was the lack of any major guests who really push my fan-boy buttons. Last year, Grant Morrison was in the house. This year, the only pro who interested me was Brian K. Vaughan, and I've stopped reading both "Y: The Last Man" and "Ex Machina." (I find the pacing of his story arcs maddening.) The DC booth had little in the way of interesting trinkets, and nothing at Oni, Top Shelf, Dark Horse or Slave Labor Graphics caught my eye.

I'm also spoiled by the fact that I live within walking distance of three great resources for all things comics- and science fiction/fantasy-related: the Comic Relief, Dark Carnival and the Other Change of Hobbit bookstores. None of the WonderCon dealers seemed to have anything that I couldn't pick up more easily elsewhere, with less chance of being ripped off.

I have no idea how some of those guys set their prices. See that "Tarzan" with all the bitey baboons on it? One joker wanted $30 for it, and he had three copies! Who in their right mind would pay that? I thought that issue was awesome (Carson of Venus!!!) when I paid 60 cents for it at age 15, but c'mon!

People were selling week-old first issues of the new quasi-Stephen King "Gunslinger" book for $3, $4 or $5. Get your stories straight, folks. Scariest of all were the Eastern European gentlemen who had full runs of various comics all bound up in plastic wrap. A hundred and sixty bucks for every "Booster Gold" ever published? Such a deal. I idly picked up a block of "Resurrection Man" and was immediately pounced upon. "Is good book, no? You buy, right?" I not buy, no, thank you.

I spent only an hour wandering around the exhibition hall, and that was enough. Then I attended two panels, went home, spent the next morning writing about them, went back for two more movie-related panels and called it quits altogether.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Reports from WonderCon 2007

Sorry for making you look pink-eyed and rodent-like, Brian K. Vaughan, writer for "Y: The Last Man" and "Ex Machina"! You're actually a cooler guy than my pathetic digital photography skills can capture.

I spent a good chunk of the weekend at WonderCon in San Francisco, covering the event for the Comic Book Resources site. I wrote about the DC Nation panel, Vaughan's spotlight session and the preview panels for the films "300" and "Spider-Man 3."

Yeah, You

Four books in one review in today's San Francisco Chronicle column: "The Terror" by Dan Simmons, "You Suck" by Christopher Moore, "Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill and "Hart and Boot" by Tim Pratt. I liked them all, to varying degrees. The Simmons is the most harrowing book I've read in a long time, positively brilliant in its bleakness. "Heart-Shaped Box" is a strong debut from a novelist working from within a very big shadow. "Hart and Boot" took me by surprise with its sophisticated take on modern love. I read "You Suck" because I was instructed to do so, and while I don't truly regret the time spent on it, I wish Moore would move out of town while he publishes his next two or three books.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Get Your "Coast of Utopia" Calendars

A calendar featuring photographs taken by Amy Irving of the leading ladies of "The Coast of Utopia" is now available. All proceeds from the calendar will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

At the Village Voice, Michael Feingold feels that "the sense of human struggle and suffering seems almost wholly absent" from the play.

As for the Oregon Shakespeare production of "On the Razzle," which opened Presidents Day Weekend, the Eugene Register-Guard has one of the first reviews.

Marshall Brickman Is a Funny, Angry Man

The co-writer of two of my all-time favorite movies, "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan," Marshall Brickman responds to a self-serving interview with "Jersey Boys" director Des McAnuff in the San Francisco Chronicle. Hee hee.