Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Generation Ex

I’m going to have to give Christopher Buckley some further consideration. I’ve been absorbed off and on over the past week with Boomsday, his latest satirical consideration of modern-day America. I don’t lean much towards conservative humorists, with the possible exception of P.J. O’Rourke because a) they’re not funny and b) they’re usually Republicans, who tend to be extremely comical but only in a this-can’t-be-happening, weeping-for-the-death-of-common-sense sort of way. I certainly wasn’t expecting generational insight from the son of William F. Buckley, Jr. a former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush and a card-carrying member of Skull and Bones.

I liked the movie version of Thank You For Smoking, the abruptly deleted sex scene with Katie Holmes Cruise Hubbard notwithstanding, but thought it could have veered much further to the edge in terms of acid wit. It’s interesting that Buckley purposefully walks a very fine line, pointing fun at his subjects without exposing them to the harshest light available. But for entertainment’s sake, I may have to revisit Little Green Men and his last couple of pointed lampoons of Washingtonian buffoonery.

That said, Boomsday’s attraction is in its setup and had Buckley run with the premise – the text-messaging, blog-ranting citizens of what generational demographers call “Gen Y” or “Millennials” have run amuck – it might have a longer shelf life. Urged on by a disillusioned, ferocious blogger named Cassandra, these untamed youths have tired of paying taxes so that spendthrift Baby Boomers can keep up their private airplanes and golf course. Attacking gated communities and burning their social security cards seem to the first waves of what column writers have dubbed “Boomsday”…

But then it reverts to Buckley’s insider snarking at low-blow beltway politics. The lead character, Cassandra Devine, is eminently likeable though. She’s been abandoned financially by her selfish, narcissist bastard of a father, who has poured Cass’ Yale money into a failing Internet startup. Her story takes a left turn into further weirdness. She joins the Army, is assigned to babysit a peculiar Kennedy-esque Senator named Randy Jepperson during a jaunty outing in Bosnia, and he promptly drives them into a minefield. Several months later, the Red Bull-chugging blogger-by-night finds herself in the midst of an Internet-age revolution (which is to say, not much of an overthrow in the slightest, but quite noisy).

I suppose what I like best about it is that Buckley goes after everybody: boomers, millennials, politicians, bloggers, the military, social security reformists and incontinent conservatives all get the lash. Now if he’d just add a little more steel to the end of his whip, we might get somewhere. The audiobook is read by Janeane Garofalo, which might be worth a listen in the near future. An excerpt, here.

Further reading: here’s an interview with Buckley at (hilariously) AARP, a proper review at the International Herald Tribune, and a bite-size profile at the USA Today. At Borders, Buckley interviews himself.

In other news…just to add my voice to the chorus: holy crap, Oprah picked a real book. Somebody on her staff must have a head cold or a surreptitious heroin habit or something.

The Raw Shark Texts seems to be moving healthily along. While TheNew York Times bit back a little bit, as usual, the Los Angeles Times praises it in a decently written review.

At Things I’d Rather Be Doing there’s a short interview with Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime, where it’s nice to see that they’re still reading the slush pile.

“But once in a while – I'd say one time out of 100, or about once a month – I come across a manuscript that's worth some extra attention. Mostly they're not quite good enough to buy, or they're good enough but not right for us specifically (they're too long, or have supernatural elements, or feel too modern, or whatever) – but they're worth reading all the way to the end and giving the author feedback on.”

And finally, Ali Karim interviews Robert Crais over at The Rap Sheet.

I’m off to indoctrinate myself into the cult of Withnail and I. Don’t wait up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Experiments

I've been trying to catch up with off-kilter assignments and other miscellanea, but have returned from the ether with a few items of interest.

It's worth noting that, for some unknown reason, Little, Brown has dropped the new Rebus novel on U.S. shelves a few weeks early. The new book, The Naming of the Dead, was due out on April 2 but I've seen it on bookstore shelves already this weekend. Visit www.ianrankin.net for all sorts of malty goodness from Rankin including a 20th anniversary microsite, an auction where you can bid to meet the author at The Oxford Bar, and get a bit of warmth from the Rebus20 whisky. The Scotsman also gives a rundown of books that have influenced the author and the series. The next, and possibly last, Rebus puzzle will be delivered in October of 2007 to those lucky denizens of the United Kingdom. God only knows when it will cross the water at this point.

Lucky for the Americans, you can finally lay hands on The Raw Shark Texts in just under a week. I stumbled across it when I was assigned to interview its British author, Steven Hall, who is admirably appreciative of the praise the book is attracting. Hall reveals that Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) has been tasked to write the screenplay. Check out more shark weirdness at the microsite and at lostenvelope.com.

In more experimental adventures, the good folks at Bantam are paddling around in Second Life. It seems the publicity mavens have opened a bookstore in SL, broadcasting bits of interviews with Lee Child and others. Last week, they hosted a virtual book reading with horrorist Dean Koontz. While it's certainly not the most innovative (or indeed, horrifying) function in Second Life, kudos to them for trying something more interesting than a podcast or a contest. I missed the event but muddled about in their space for a few minutes; here's a snapshot.

Now if someone can just model The Oxford Bar, which seems quite possible. While muddling about last week in SL, avoiding people in kangaroo outfits and carnival barkers, I stumbled across a bloke who had modeled the center of Dublin. It's accurate to such a degree that I could find my way from the General Post Office, cross the River Liffey, stop for a moment on the Ha'Penney Bridge and then listen to music for a few minutes at a pub that was a dead ringer for the Oliver St. John Fogarty at the real junction of Fleet and Anglesea in Temple Bar. I never thought ones and zeros could be so entertaining.

In more traditional mediums, Charlie Huston talks vampires n' funny books at The Bat Segundo Show. (link via The Rap Sheet). In other vampiric news, Christopher Moore seems to be getting more comfortable in front of the cameras. The entirety of one of his recent events is online at Borders Media.

In less interesting news, there was some kind of big squabble last week regarding comments made at the National Book Critics Circle's recent panel on genre fiction. While I am a dues-paying member of the NBCC, I can't be bothered to delve too deeply into the quarrel. As usual, Sarah has a comprehensive rundown of the showdown and posts the responses from the crime writing community, such as they are. Myself, I think Rankin sums it up best:

"The big prizes are the Booker and the Whitbread and they are for literature. You never get a crime novel long listed for those prizes, let alone short listed. The Queen, God bless her, gave me an Order of the British Empire a couple of years ago for 'Services to literature.' That was important because it wasn’t services to 'Genre fiction which you read on a train journey and then discard when you get to your destination.' If the Queen is starting to take crime fiction seriously, surely everybody else is going to follow suit."

Lastly, I gather that there's been lots of action in Austin this week. SXSW has posted some decent video from a few of its panel discussions including a panel on the future of the online magazine. Bruce Sterling, discussing the future of media, says time is not on the side of the incumbents.

To end, Warren Ellis shares some inspiring words for the day. Chin up, folks.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Talking Books

One last item of note today: the new Kirkus Special has come online, highlighting Best Books for Reading Groups. I read some really thoughtful books and interviewed some very talented authors for this special. The lineup includes This Human Season, Louise Dean's brittle fiction about Northern Ireland on the eve of the hunger strikes; The Post-Birthday World, an alternate personal history by last year's Orange Prize Winner Lionel Shriver; and the most nebulous and ambitious book here, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, concerning a Pakistani man who finds that the fabled American "melting pot" doesn't quite work the way it's advertised in the wake of 9-11. These books aren't my usual cup of tea but they represent heady, serious writing on the part of all of these writers and are great reads to boot. You can read all about them here. Note that the magazine is in .PDF format, so it takes a minute to load.

Maybe I need to start my own book club. "Bang's best books for reading clubs who are into dimestore potboilers and broken knuckles and nickel-plated .45s and stuff." We could meet at airports.

Friday, Surveyed

Fridays are good. Not only has the weary working week finally come to its bitter end but I often have reviews out in the hefty entertainment sections. Today, you can find my feature review of Heyday, the new historical novel by former Spy Magazine editor Kurt Andersen, in the Spotlight section of the Rocky Mountain News.

While looking through the Rocky's latest books section, I also found this great one-off article from the past week, a long-ish philosophical reconsideration of Phillip K. Dick. Even better - everything is a circle, you know - it's written by Denver transplant Adrian McKinty, who recently completed his dark crime trilogy with The Bloomsday Dead. I gave McKinty's new novel a look-see in my latest mystery column at Bookslut.

In other mediums, there's an article about the intriguing new television series The Riches at CNN. Although the article bizarrely labels its lead character a "grafter" (probably meant to be "grifter," I imagine), it gives a decent overview. The series, which follows a pair of modern-day gypsy-slash-criminal sorts, debuts on Monday. I don't know how they got this cast but I'm hoping the material is worth their talents: it stars the criminally underrated Minnie Driver and the genius of Eddie Izzard. Although I have to say, the last time I saw Eddie was at Wembley Arena, where he was being broadcast on a two-story screen, complete with fake breasts and thigh-high leather pumps, so this could be a largely different encounter.

Also from the idiot box, you can read Aaron Sorkin's flailing defense of Studio 60 at The Chicago Tribune. It's just like the fable of Icarus, only with drug-addled scriptwriters who don't know when to quit. That goes for the series and Sorkin, for that matter, who managed to screw up one of the only programs I was bothering to watch.

I'm off to delve into Chuck Palahniuk's latest, Rant, which arrived from Doubleday this morning. Let the disturbance commence.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Deaths in the Family

Some fleeting items of interest that keep careening across my desk today....

I have mixed feelings about the quietly reported death of Premiere Magazine. While what had once been one of the most comprehensive, tightly written film magazines in the world had suffered greatly in the past five years and become a mere snobbish shadow of its former self...it was the ONLY movie magazine in America. The British appetite for all things film supports Total Film, Empire, a host of DVD review titles and weird fusions like Uncut. Has the American appetite for US Weekly (which lacks, um, articles, mind you) completely corrupted any need to find out what's happening at the movies, or is the Netflix contagion simply killing the market for movies in general? A mixed blessing and a damned shame at the same time.

Galleycat and others in blogtopia are commenting on the Wall Street Journal's gruesome commentary on the death of the book review section. For myself, I just keep looking for alternative venues where genre authors and their fascinating backstories might attract an audience. But while I wouldn't consider myself an old-school literary critic, I can definitely see where the gallows environment in the print industry would rattle more than a few cages.

A smart bit of observation on Galleycat's part regarding the WSJ's pronouncement that, "The book review as a separate section is endangered not only at the Los Angeles Times but at other major newspapers like the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and San Diego Union-Tribune.": Wait, like those papers? Do the math: If the LATBR goes, and that leaves five stand-alone book sections left, and the NYTBR is one, then logically those are the only other four. Those darned clever bloggers and their arithmatic.

There's also some noise about Barnes & Noble and Borders merging and some scuttlebutt suggesting that Amazon should buy them both. To which I can only add the dead silence of a complete and utter lack of concern. In pursuing a particular publication this past week, I couldn't find a copy at either of my nearest superstores because they were still hoarding their stock in the storerooms. I finally found a copy at the local gas station, who manages their wares properly. Couldn't care less if the big box stores are hurting, thank you very much.

Finally, to all those mainstream publications who have bought into Marvel's little stunt regarding Captain America (spoilers in the link) and splashed it all over your front pages in a pathetic plea for readers: please die. All of you've done is ruin this week's Comic Book Day for those intrepid souls who actually purchase one of the blasted things once in a while. Anybody who's been paying attention to the frustrating Civil War arc already knows that there's someone else in the flag suit. Most leads point towards Frank Castle. My bet is on the Winter Soldier. ("The who?" say the dumb reporters. Go die now. Go on.) I wonder if Mark Millar cashed his check already...

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Book...Slut... Bookslut.

I'm hip-deep in a stack of debut novels at the moment, working on an assignment, but wanted to add that my new Bookslut column is up. "Cold Comfort" finds me grasping for new and interesting ways to describe these frigid days and investigating new books by Robert Crais, Ken Bruen, Adrian McKinty and others.


Elsewhere in the issue, the increasingly ambitious Colleen Mondor investigates the mind of Scarlett Thomas, plumbs the depths of teen non-fiction, and delivers a very thoughtful consideration of The Collaborator of Bethlehem. There's also a very weird interview with Vikram Chandra, who manages to nimbly dodge a rather bizarre line of questioning. Elsewhere in the issue, there's a review of Phillip K. Dick's recently unearthed manuscript Voices From The Street and a reconsideration of Robert Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold, among lots of other scathing contributions to the cause of literature.

I've also just realized that this column starts my third year of residence as Bookslut's Mystery Strumpet. Time flies. Are we having fun?