Monday, December 22, 2008

Back to Stoppard Blogging

Been a while since I've added any Stoppard links. Here are a few from England and around the U.S.

Stoppard and Andre Previn are gearing up for a revival of "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" at the National.

Stoppard recently visited Yale to speak to a class by Paula Vogel. He was in town to see a revival of "Rough Crossing" at the Yale Repertory Theatre, reviewed here, here, here and here.

Really sad to hear that Shakespeare Santa Cruz has been pushed to the financial brink. Glad to know that Stoppard is lending his support.

Two recent productions of "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern": one in Surrey, UK, the other in Melbourne, Australia.

John Cullum and Tony Roberts are slated to star in the New York premiere of "Heroes." (Not the superhero television series.)

And Stoppard is still opposed to the publication of Nabokov's final novel, "The Original of Laura."

Friday, December 12, 2008

List of Science Fiction Review Sites

John Ottinger of Grasping for the Wind is collecting links to science fiction and fantasy reviewers. Here's what he's compiled so far:

The Accidental Bard
A Dribble Of Ink
Adventures in Reading
The Agony Column
The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
Barbara Martin
Bibliophile Stalker
Blood of the Muse
The Book Swede
Breeni Books
Cheap Ironies
Cheryl's Musings
Critical Mass
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Darque Reviews
Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog
The Deckled Edge
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Dusk Before the Dawn
Enter the Octopus
Eve's Alexandria
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Cafe
Fantasy Debut
Fantasy Book Reviews and News
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' Blog
The Fix
The Foghorn Review
From a Sci-Fi Standpoint
The Galaxy Express
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Grasping for the Wind
The Green Man Review
Highlander's Book Reviews
Jumpdrives and Cantrips
Literary Escapism
Michele Lee's Book Love
Monster Librarian
Mostly Harmless Books
My Favourite Books
Neth Space
OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
Outside of a Dog
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Piaw's Blog
Post-Weird Thoughts
Publisher's Weekly
Reading the Leaves
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
SF Diplomat
Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SF Gospel
SF Revu
SF Signal
SF Site
SFF World's Book Reviews
Silver Reviews
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Speculative Horizons
Sporadic Book Reviews
Stella Matutina
The Sword Review
Tangent Online
Temple Library Reviews [also a publisher]
The Road Not Taken
Urban Fantasy Land
Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Variety SF
Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
The Wertzone
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The World in a Satin Bag

Foreign Language (other than English)

Cititor SF [Romanian, but with English Translation] [French]

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Latest from King, Hill and Baker

SFGate has posted my review of new books from Stephen King, Joe Hill and Kage Baker. King's latest is a collection of 13 short stories, most of which are pretty good. It's not my favorite gathering of his short work, but there's enough of a mix to make it worthwhile for most fans. Stand-out stories include "The Gingerbread Girl" and "Ayana."

Joe Hill (who happens to be King's son, just in case you hadn't heard) created an on-going comics series for IDW. It's called "Locke and Key," and the first six issues are collected in hardcover as "Welcome to Lovecraft." (Minor quibble: I don't think H.P.'s surname works as a New England place name. Just sayin'.)

As crazy as I was for Baker's Company books, I'm really conflicted about her fantasy novels. I know they're well-written, but they just don't grab me. It seemed to take me forever to read "The House of the Stag," but don't let that stop you from giving it a try.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Holiday Books 2008

The San Francisco Chronicle publishes its annual Holiday Books section tomorrow, and it once again includes my list of recommended science fiction and fantasy titles.

It's not really a Best of the Year list, as I'm not able to read enough of the year's selections to make any kinds of definitive judgments. But I try to choose an interesting mix of authors working in a variety of modes. So, in addition to books by heavy-hitters like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Neal Stephenson, I give props to lesser-known authors like Jo Walton, Daryl Gregory and Jeff and Anne VanderMeer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

George C. Chesbro and the Last of Mongo

I was sad to hear that George C. Chesbro, author of the Mongo mysteries, has passed away, as noted at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, The Rap Sheet and the author's official site. With his dwarf protagonist, Chesbro brought something unique to crime fiction, a willingness to mix elements of the paranormal with the traditional gumshoe mystery, well before "The X Files" and its many imitators.

I started reading Chesbro with "The Beasts of Valhalla." (C'mon, look at that cover! How can you not want to pick it up?) It's an astounding mash-up of Wagner, "The Lord of the Rings" and a mad-scientist science fiction plot. I highly recommend it and its two immediate follow-ups, "Two Songs This Archangel Sings" and "The Cold Smell of Sacred Stone."

A few years ago Clayton Moore wrote an excellent column about Chesbro for Bookslut. It's worth reading now as an eloquent remembrance.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Remembering Michael Crichton

I think I read one of Michael Crichton's pseudonymous thrillers before I got around to his better-known work under his own name. It was the paperback original "Binary" (or as I pronounced it in my 13-year-old brain "bin-arry"), about a plot to release nerve gas at the Republican National Convention. (I guess that would be bad.) Anyway, it impressed the hell out of the teenaged me.

Throughout high school, I picked up "The Andromeda Strain," "Eaters of the Dead" and "The Great Train Robbery." I saw "Coma" and "Westworld" at the movies. "Sphere" was among my first assignments as a professional reviewer, and I was amused to see that the paperback edition prominently featured cherry-picked adjectives from my less-than-glowing critique.

Like a lot of folks, I was startled to learn on Wednesday that Crichton had died of cancer at age 66. He'll be missed by a lot of readers. I'm glad I was given the opportunity to write an appreciation of him for the Sunday Chronicle.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Octavian Nothing -- The Kingdom on the Waves"

M.T. Anderson has published the concluding volume of "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation." I review it this weekend in the San Francisco Chronicle's kids' books pages. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nelson DeMille: When Will I Learn?

I don't really know why I thought it was a good idea to read Nelson DeMille's new novel, "The Gate House." It's a sequel to "The Gold Coast," the very funny and well-observed Gatsby-Meets-The Godfather thriller from 20 years ago. I had managed to resist picking up his previous best-seller, still bearing a grudge from "Night Fall," which used 9/11 as a shoddy deus ex machina.

Maybe I was looking for a palate cleanser after "Anathem."

Anyway, I picked up "The Gate House" and was suckered in by DeMille's smart-ass dialogue and the return of some well-liked characters. Then it all started to fall apart. The characters began acting like idiots, the chief antagonist disappeared for half the book and nothing much happened. Perversely, I continued reading.

Finally, after more than 600 pages, everything was resolved by a stupid shootout and the arrival of a letter that could have been read at nearly any point in the narrative and thereby stopped everything in its tracks.

So, if you ever see me reading another new Nelson DeMille "thriller," please slap it out of my hands.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New Review: Walton, Gaiman and Carroll

This week's Sunday Chronicle features my science fiction/fantasy column. Books covered include "Half a Crown" by Jo Walton, "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman and "The Ghost in Love" by Jonathan Carroll.

Although all are good and well worth your time and attention, I think my favorite of the three is "Half a Crown." Walton brings her alternate history trilogy to a rousing conclusion. It's a genuinely impressive feat, one that should be acknowledged by a wider, more mainstream audience.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Stoppard Does Chekhov, Plus More "Rock 'n' Roll"

In London, Kenneth Branagh stars in the Donmar West End production of Anton Chekhov's "Ivanov," newly adapted by Stoppard. The production has been well received, for Branagh's performance and Stoppard's adaptation. Critics are reportedly unanimous in their praise.

The reviews for the San Francisco production of "Rock 'n' Roll" keep streaming in:
San Francisco Bay Times
Sacramento Bee
The Bay Guardian
The Daily Californian

Meanwhile, in a Times Online video interview, Stoppard claims that his approach to theater is "very, very lowbrow." You betcha.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Stephenson Is to Stoppard As...

It took me close to two months, but I finally dragged myself through Neal Stephenson's 900-page philosophical science fiction epic, "Anathem." Oy. I'm a big fan of the author of "Cryptonomicon" and "The Baroque Cycle," but this tale of cloistered scholars making their way into the outside to deal with extraterrestrial visitors was a struggle all the way through. I nearly gave up a couple times, but I persevered, mainly because I knew that The Chronicle should cover the book and that no one else was going to step forward to do so.

It got a little easier once I found a hook for the review. After seeing "Rock 'n' Roll" last week, it struck me that Stephenson is to science fiction as Tom Stoppard is to contemporary drama. Sound far-fetched? Well, read my review from today's Chronicle and see if you agree.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Rock 'n' Roll" Opens at ACT

On Wednesday, Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll" opened at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, the play's first post-Broadway outing. I saw it on Wednesday, taking last-minute advantage of ACT's "Pay What You Wish" program.

It's a solid production of a play that doesn't rank among my favorites. The sets, lighting and sound design are especially impressive. I found the male lead, Manoel Felciano as Jan, to be problematic. Perhaps he was merely tired after Opening Night, but his energy level seemed off and he didn't connect with his counterparts as he should have. Jack Willis was more in the groove as Max, the aging Marxist professor, and his scenes with Rene Augesen as his dying wife/regretful daughter were beautifully handled.

In the Friday San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Hurwitt gave the production an enthusiastic review. On his blog, Chronicle movie critic Mick LaSalle takes special note of Augesen's performance.

Pat Craig at the Contra Costa Times
had good things to say about this "Rock 'n' Roll," as did Lee Hartgrave at BeyondChron. Chad Jones at The Examiner was equally positive in his appraisal.

If you have tickets, be sure to take a moment to read the timeline printed in the program. The historical context is greatly helpful.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Breaking Radio Silence

I haven't been in the mood to blog for quite a while. But that doesn't mean that I haven't been writing.

In July, I contributed to the Barnes & Noble Review for the first time, with a spotlight review of "Saturn's Children" by Charles Stross.

I'm a big fan of Stross, so I wanted to like this novel more than I did. Maybe I'm just not as fond of late-period Heinlein as I should be...

For The Chronicle, I reviewed three trade paperback originals in my last column: Victor Gischler's "Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse," "Dogs" by Nancy Kress and "Superpowers by David J. Schwartz. The Gischler is the standout among those three, but each has its merits.

And last week, the Sunday Chronicle published my stand-alone review of Arthur C. Clarke and Frederick Pohl's "The Last Theorem."

It's unclear exactly how much Clarke contributed to the book, but it's worth checking out.

Now I'm reading a trio of first novels for my August column, including "The Gone-Away World" by Nick Harkaway. And Neal Stephenson's 900-page "Anathem" taunts me from the bedroom shelf. I'm not making swift progress through it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Miscellaneous Stoppard Productions, Appearances and Interviews

I've been remiss in keeping tracking track of various Stoppard productions since "Rock 'n' Roll" closed on Broadway. Here are links to a handful around the country and globe:

In Boston, The Publick Theatre is presenting "Travesties." The Boston Globe has a review. And so does the Boston Herald.

"Hapgood" is being revived in Britain, but it's still seen as a transitional piece.

"Rock 'n' Roll" has opened in Sydney

The Queensland Theatre Company performed "Heroes,"
but you probably missed it.

Stoppard granted a rare interview to the Oxford student newspaper, on the occasion of receiving the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence.

Stoppard will take part in the HighTide theater and film festival in Halesworth, May 1-5.

At Harvard, "Angels in America" author Tony Kushner criticized "The Coast of Utopia" but praised "The Wire."

I Am NOT Dwight Shrute

Somebody at my workplace knows I'm a fan of "The Office." This tempting office supply/dessert was on my desk after I momentarily stepped away this afternoon.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Blogging Malaise

It had been a long time between posts here. I'm not sure what happened. I was enveloped by some kind of malaise and had trouble pulling myself out of it.

I did contribute a few items to my other blog, though. In case you missed them, I wrote about "The Big Lebowski" and its real-life inspirations, new books by Toby Barlow, John Meaney and Mark Evanier, and the passing last week of Arthur C. Clarke.

I'm particularly happy with the Clarke tribute. The Chronicle gave me a decent amount of space in the paper and, thanks to StumbleUpon, my blog post pointing to the online version was one of my most popular entries ever.

The next couple of weeks promise to be super-busy and stressful. I don't know whether I can regain a regular blogging rhythm. I'll do what I can, I guess.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ACT Nabs "Rock 'n' Roll" for Fall '08

No surprise, really. Back in January, Carey Perloff strongly hinted she would soon produce Stoppard's latest play at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre. Today it was announced that it will be the season opener for '08-'09. Excellent!

One of the great advantages of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is the opportunity to see some really first-rate theater. I'm especially excited by Berkeley Rep's next season, which will feature Martin McDonagh's "The Lieutenant of Inishmore," August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" and "Yellowjackets," a world premiere by Itamar Moses about Berkeley High School in the Nineties.

The redoubtable Shotgun Players also have an interesting season ahead of them. I'm looking forward to their version of "Beowulf.

I'm unsure whether a trip to Ashland, Oregon, is in the cards this year. Nothing in the 2008 season besides "Fences" really grabs my attention. (And they're staging "The Music Man in '09? What's up with that? I don't need to travel six hours and pay $60 a ticket to hear "'Til There Was You.")

Now I just have to find the spare cash to see all these plays...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stoppard Roundelay

The Baltimore Sun's critic thought the unconventional casting of the Centerstage's production of "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern..." gave the "old play new relevance." begged to differ, saying that the production "has set the new standard for bad theatre." Ouch.

Stoppard weighs in on the debate about whether Dmitri Nabokov should, per his father's wishes, destroy the final manuscript by the author of "Pale Fire" and "Lolita." Stoppard comes down on the side of "Burn it!"

John Madden, director of "Shakespeare in Love," writes about working with Stoppard on that breakthrough film. Then Stoppard himself gets a chance to discuss the production. (And, holy crap, has it really been 10 years since its release?)

In an interview on the Guardian Unlimited, Stoppard discusses his support of the Belarus Free Theatre.

And everybody covets Stoppard's book-bag.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Striking a Balance

I haven't yet found the perfect balance between my old and new blogs. Two-Fisted Freelancing Tales gets more attention from me, largely because I'm really trying to learn how to build traffic on it. But I know that Cheaper Ironies has its regulars, including some who might be wondering about my latest reviews.

So, check out my recent Chronicle reviews of "Runemarks," a children's fantasy by Joanne Harris, and of Stephen King's "Duma Key," "Hunter's Run" by George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham, and "The Dragons of Babel" by Michael Swanwick.

Also, if you're a fan of King, I recommend to you Bev Vincent's "Tales from the Dead Zone" and Lilja's Library.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Quantum of Solace" Means What Now?

"Quantum of Solace." Wow, could there be a worse title for the next James Bond movie? Sure, it's taken from one of the stories in "For Your Eyes Only" (one in which 007 barely makes an appearance). But it's so dementedly overreaching in its attempt to be poetic that I almost suspect that someone is taking the piss, as they say in Ian Fleming's homeland.

If you have any affection at all for Bond, you really should read Simon Winder's "The Man Who Saved Britain." It's a fascinating look at how "Casino Royale," "Dr. No" and "Goldfinger" pulled Britain out of the funk it had been in since World War II. Winder is both captivated and repelled by Fleming and the super-spy ethos he invented, and he dissects the Bond books and movies with great wit and insight.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Saturday Stoppard

Last Saturday, I attended a "conversation" with Tom Stoppard at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. Sponsored by the Koret Foundation, the event was hosted ACT artistic director Carey Perloff.

Beginning at 10 on a storm-swept morning, the program attracted a sell-out -- and peculiarly geriatric -- crowd, but their enthusiasm for the author was evident. Settled in armchairs on the otherwise empty stage, Stoppard and Perloff discussed the recent success of "The Coast of Utopia" and "Rock 'n' Roll" for just under an hour. Some highlights for notes scribbled on the program:

Stoppard talked about his first trip back to Zlin, in what used to be Czechoslovakia. There he met the daughter of one of his father's medical colleagues, and the now-elderly woman told him how Dr. Straussler had stitched up her hand after she smashed it through a window in a childhood accident. Stoppard said that he was moved by the tangible evidence of his late father's handiwork.

Perloff recounted an anecdote about a student at ACT asking Stoppard to name the most important quality that an actor should bring to his scripts. Stoppard's answer: "Clarity of utterance."

Now devising a new translation of a Chekhov play, Stoppard said he works best at night, although he sometimes wakes to find that what he has produced reads "as if the Polish au pair girl had rearranged it." Also in regard to the Chekhov project, he reported that he's found a way not to worry about the presumed artificiality of characters speaking to themselves while alone on stage. "Breaking the fourth wall doesn't break the play."

Perloff kept the conversation rolling, but there's something a little off-putting about her manner, which borders on the fawning. I reap the benefits of her friendship with Stoppard, in that it enables events like this Koret program and the U.S. premieres of "Indian Ink" and "The Invention of Love." But it's a little icky to watch her gaze at him and proclaim him to be "the greatest living writer in the English language." It may be true, but c'mon.

She also apparently burnishes his bon mots a bit. After relating a story with the supposed punchline of "The problem with America is that you don't seem to have an Irony button on your keyboard," Stoppard gently corrected her, saying that he only wished for a typeface that could identify the ironic lines in his playscripts.

The biggest news of the day came at the beginning, when Perloff let slip that she is angling to bring "Rock 'n' Roll" to the Bay Area. Let's hope she's able to complete that negotiation successfully.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Announcing "Two-Fisted Freelancing Tales"

In an attempt to keep some of my resolutions for 2008, I've inaugurated a new writing blog, "Two-Fisted Freelancing Tales." It's up and running and ready for visitors, so won't you please drop on by?

Regular visitors to "Cheaper Ironies" will remember that I tried to do something similar back in July and that the results were somewhat... semi-posteriored. This time I've learned my lesson and not slapped the blog together a day before an extended vacation. There's content already written and waiting to be published throughout the month. I plan to discuss the art of the book review, sites of particular use to writers, lessons that can be learned from authors famous and otherwise and making money online.

The inspiration for the site's title comes, of course, from the EC Comics series edited by the inimitable Harvey Kurtzman. Freelance writing can be a tough gig. Not quite as bad as going one-on-one against a mean s.o.b. with a pointy hook for a hand, but close.