Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Layoffs at Random House, Simon & Schuster

The economy has crashed down on an industry once believed immune from the worst — book publishing — with consolidation at Random House Inc., and layoffs at Simon & Schuster and Thomas Nelson Publishers.

"Yes, Virginia, book publishing is NOT recession proof," said Patricia Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers. "It's sad day."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Book Review: Holy Headshot!: A Celebration of America's Undiscovered Talent by Patrick Borelli and Douglas Gorenstein

Did you ever snicker at some hapless bride who trips and falls into her wedding-cake on America's Funniest Videos, only to feel guilty about finding humor in someone's humiliation? If so, then you might want to pass on this book. But for the rest of us insensitive jerks, HOLY HEADSHOTS will provide much more than a dirty little chuckle.

Collected are one hundred diverse, starry-eyed hopefuls with hunger and desperation on the breath, all-waiting for their big break. And for the lucky few, it comes in the guise of an extra on a afternoon soap opera, a local commercial pitchman, the lead in a community theater production of 42nd Street, or a supporting role on a direct to video horror flick. (While thumbing through, I did recognize some the actors from various projects; so now I have names to put to that faces in the crowd scenes on Law & Order and NYPD Blue.) Included with the 8x10 glossies are the actors' resumes, and some will give you chilling insights into their hopes and dreams (I'm looking at you Clement Dyer on page 34!)

This book is a must for anyone who ever dreamed of fame but woke up and got a civil service job.

Book Review: Marvel Masterworks Atlas Era Tales Suspense by Jack Kirby

Before a Gamma bomb was detonated in the dessert, or a young student had a fateful run-in with a radioactive spider at Empire State University, and even before Marvel was Marvel, Stan Lee was in the monster business.

Under the banner of Atlas Comics, Lee and the amazing talents of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Matt Baker, Carl Burgos and Joe Sinnott assaulted young 1950s readers with bold five-page, nine-panel horror/sci-fi stories with surprise ending "inspired" by the Twilight Zone tv series. Some much so, Lee stated in an interview, "I used to get letters from readers `Hey, I just saw Twilight Zone, and they used one of your stories from issue so-and-so.'"

Marvel Masterworks Atlas Era Tales Suspense 1 beautifully reprints the first 10 issues of the title and brings out face-to-face killer robots, hulking behemoths the deadly Monstro, a killer Cyclops, invading Martians and many more oddball and off-beat menaces from the four-color universe - and beyond! This collection is a must have for vintage monster comic book fans who have also enjoyed Dick Briefer's The Monster of Frankenstein, Monster Masterworks and Zombie Factory.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Book Review: Valis by Philip K. Dick

Like most of Philip K. Dick’s novels, the main characters around which the story of Valis revolves are engaging, sympathetic, and mirrors of the social and psychological complexities faced by mankind. Unlike his other novels, however, the main characters in Valis are actually PKD himself. This results in the occasional switch from first and third person narrative, and several instances in which the author and the author surrogate interact with one another.

Valis (the name assigned by the main characters to their vision of God) is less of a novel than it is a fictionalized account of PKD’s own spiritual journey. Because of this, a good portion of the middle becomes bogged down with in depth descriptions of PKD’s theological views and theories. Anyone not well versed in Gnosticism and Metaphysical Theory will be tempted to skim several pages of text at a time, and might even debate whether finishing the book is worth the trouble. This will be especially true of readers who are only familiar with his early science fiction work and not prepared for a crash course in PKD’s exegesis. In some ways, Valis could be considered PKD’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, except the focus of this road trip isn’t the American Dream, but the True Nature of God.

Above all else, PKD is a master storyteller, and this is what saves Valis from being a stuffy and unintelligible pseudo-memoir about a spiritual journey. The uncertainty of the narrator’s true identity (both to the reader and the narrator), as well as the sympathetic nature of his plight and the conspiracy-drenched plot twists reminiscent of Robert Anton Wilson (whom PKD mentions in the book) will keep you interested enough to struggle through the denser passages. But you also find yourself riveted as you gain closer insight into the mind of one of the greatest science fiction authors of the last century.

Valis is a perfect snapshot of a time not so long ago, when there existed a movement of authors that eagerly blended the lines between science-fiction and spiritualism. It was a time when optimism regarding mankind’s future potential was almost intoxicating, and the experimental expansion of the mind and spirit were deemed as important as technological advancements. Looking back, it may seem a bit naive and fanciful, but it was also full of hope and wonder, two traits that seem to be lacking more and more with today’s sci-fi authors.

Reviewed by S. Michael Wilson

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mystery writer Truman, daughter of president, dies

Margaret Truman, the only child of former President Harry S. Truman who became a concert singer, actress, radio and TV personality and mystery writer, died Tuesday. She was 83.

For the complete article:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Review: On Becoming an Alchemist: A Guide for the Modern Magician by Catherine Maccoun

Having read several self-help and personal-improvement books over the past few years, the recent trends are hard to ignore. Most of the books on the market covering these themes tend to simplify life changes and introspective reevaluation to the point of claiming it is as easy as saying ‘Yes I Can’. With the popularity of The Secret and guided imagery, even talking to yourself is taken out of the equation, and simply wishing or imagining personal improvements is supposed to be enough to bring about radical change.

So reading Catherine MacCoun’s book, On Becoming an Alchemist: A Guide for the Modern Magician, is a much needed breath of fresh air in what has always seemed a cliché and uninspired genre.

MacCoun’s title and subject matter may at first put some readers off with its references to arcane alchemical arts and magical properties. But what she has actually managed is to offer a fresh perspective into how people make choices, perceive the world around them, and live their lives. She does so by introducing us to an innovative blend of spiritualism and psychology, in much the same way that Alchemy itself blends scientific observation with objective mysticism.

Granted, chapters like the one that uses scenes and terminology from Harry Potter to illustrate a point may take the magician aspect of the book a tad too far for some people. But the message within is much more grounded in reality than some of the ‘guided imagery’ feel-good books cluttering the bookstore shelves these days.

The true test of any book of this nature is the ability of the reader to glean something constructive and useful from its pages, even if they do not buy into the author’s overall message. Readers of MacCoun’s latest will undoubtedly have no trouble walking away wiser and more aware, no matter their take on becoming a Modern Magician. And that, as they say, is magic.

Reviewed by S. Michael Wilson

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and prophet of the satellite era, dies aged 90

The science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke - famed for his visionary predictions of the future - has died aged 90.

He will be remembered as someone who for more than half a century popularised scientific reality through science fiction, and who lived long enough to see many of his most outlandish predictions become first fact and then history.

In more than 70 books, countless short stories, articles, film scripts and TV shows, Clarke painted his vision of the future that may at times have veered towards the romantically idealistic but was nevertheless always grounded in plausible scientific reality.

He provided the inspiration for what some fans claim to be the best science fiction film ever made - 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There are two kinds of science fiction writers - those who paint a picture of alternative, future or alien worlds governed by fantasy and whimsy, and those whose fiction is rooted firmly in the laws of physics.

Clarke, along with his American contemporary Isaac Asimov, was firmly in the latter camp.

His stories were often little more than an excuse to air a technological or scientific postulation. Clarke's astronauts mostly eschewed the “warp drives'”and “wormholes” beloved of most sci-fi writers and relied instead on good old-fashioned rockets.

Clarke, who was wheelchair-bound, had been suffering from heart and breathing problems when he died in his adopted home of Sri Lanka at 7.30pm GMT yesterday, according to an aide.
In later life he had suffered from post-polio syndrome, a result of contracting a brief bout of the disease in his youth.

Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore paid tribute to his friend last night, saying: “He was a great visionary, a brilliant science fiction writer and a great forecaster.

“He foresaw communications satellites, a nationwide network of computers, interplanetary travel - he said there would be a man on the moon by 1970, while I said 1980 - and he was right.”

Born the son of a farmer in Somerset in 1917, Clarke was a radar specialist for the RAF during the Second World War and took up writing full-time in the 1940s.

In 1945, Clarke made perhaps his most famous and accurate prediction.

He wrote an article in Wireless World predicting that, one day, it would be possible to use satellites in fixed “geostationary” orbits, 23,000 miles above the Earth, as in effect giant radio masts, allowing radio, telephony and television signals to be relayed from any point on the planet to another.

Although this was a dozen years before the first satellite would be launched, Clarke had come up with the idea for worldwide satellite-broadcasts.

In keeping with his visions of a future that others could barely imagine, he coined Clarke's Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

In 1953, while scuba diving in Florida, he met Marilyn Mayfield, marrying her a fortnight later. But she left him six months later. Clarke settled in Sri Lanka in

One short story made him famous. The Sentinel - a tale of a mysterious alien race which had accelerated human evolution - was noticed by the film director Stanley Kubrick, who met Clarke in Trader Vic's bar in New York to discuss how it could be turned into “the perfect science fiction movie”.

From the roof of Kubrick's Manhattan apartment, the pair spotted a mysterious object tracking across the sky.

The UFO was, they decided, a good omen and they signed the deal. (The UFO turned out to be a secret Pentagon spy satellite).

The result was spectacular. 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, has been hailed by its fans as the best science fiction movie ever made; its detractors claim it is incomprehensible gibberish, especially the ending, which differs from Clarke's more straightforward original.

Unusually for a celebrity writer, Clarke was always highly approachable - he described himself as a “failed recluse”, holed up in his luxury Colombo home.

His phone number was listed in the Sri Lankan directory. Until his health really started to go downhill in the late 1990s, he would always answer calls from fans personally, often spending half an hour or more chatting away about space elevators of the possibilities of colonising the Moon.