The dragon moon
Here’s a big newsletter edition, with new books, a new short story, lots of links and recommendations, and then a note about the future of the newsletter itself.
We’ll begin with what’s new, and there is a lot!
Both of my novels are now available in fresh paperback editions. Behold!
Notice that Sourdough has a new cover, this one suggesting its connection to Penumbra with a shared palette, and a shared secret, which I will now spoil: both books glow in the dark.
Sourdough is bolstered with the prequel novella The Suitcase Clone, never before available in print. The new edition of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore likewise has the prequel Ajax Penumbra 1969 bundled in, along with a new foreword from Paul Yamazaki, the legendary City Lights bookseller who could easily be a character from the novel. He might, in fact, out-Penumbra Mr. Penumbra.
The new material adds to each book a satisying measure of thickness. These are a couple of truly handsome, thoughtful editions —
The sci-fi anthology Terraform, edited by Brian Merchant and Claire L. Evans, has also been published. It is a hefty paperback treasury, packed with stories commissioned and coaxed by Brian and Claire over many years —
In other sci-fi news, mark your calendar:
On October 14 at 6 p.m. PT, I’ll chat with Ray Nayler about his new book The Mountain in the Sea, in a virtual event hosted by the great Mysterious Galaxy bookstore. You can register here.
I wrote about Ray’s book in a previous newsletter; to reproduce just a scrap of my commentary,
The Mountain in the Sea, meanwhile, is the most exciting novel I have read this year; maybe in the past few years.
I’m looking forward to chatting with Ray for the first time —
Harriet Amber in the Conan Arcade
Next up, a new short story.
If you read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, or have been reading this newsletter for any amount of time, you’ll understand that this was a dream assignment:
The type foundry Commercial Type wanted to produce a type specimen that went beyond the usual boundaries of the form —
My contribution was Harriet Amber in the Conan Arcade, which you can now read online, presented in two of Commercial Type’s great typefaces —
I was delighted to find Navneet Alang’s byline alongside mine in this package; his interview with Helen Rosner is characteristically deep and fun. All of the Food Issue’s features were illustrated by Derrick Schultz, one of the truly great computational artists. They were edited by Caren Litherland, whose work I’ve admired for many years. It’s a dream team, all around!
Here’s an Easter egg for you:
I keep pages and pages of names; a stockpile, a hoard. Some are invented, others overheard or recombined. One of the names on that list, for many years, was Elettra Brixi. I’d used it, at last, in The Suitcase Clone, which I initially drafted years ago … and feared, after a while, might not see the light of day. So, writing this story for Commercial Type, I grasped an opportunity to deploy the name again. Too good not to use!
However, in the time between this story’s composition and its publication … The Suitcase Clone was released! It’s available now, both as a standalone e-book and bundled into that new Sourdough edition.
As a result, I’ve doubled up on Elettra Brixi. Strictly speaking, this was an accident, but/and I have decided that it IS the same character, appearing in two stories —
While we’re on the subject of strange coincidences and correspondences …
A bit of trivia, for readers of The Suitcase Clone: John Belushi’s great unfinished movie project, the role he believed he was born to play, was a script titled … Noble Rot, about “a young, unsophisticated guy named Johnny Glorioso, who takes an elite new California wine to a New York wine tasting contest”.
Johnny Glorioso … or Jim Bascule? Alas.
Burning bagels and bank shots
My friend Kiyash Monsef’s forthcoming novel is now revealed, so I believe I am allowed, at last, to show off my advance copy:
It’s clear that Simon & Schuster is putting a lot of wood behind this arrow, and they ought to: global culture will only benefit from the rise of the Monsef-verse.
When I met up with Kiyash to gratefully receive this copy, my proposed rendezvous spot was a coffee shop I’d long avoided, punishment for the sin of a bagel served with rancid butter. But, it’s conveniently located, with chairs set up in the sunshine … and it had been more than two years … time enough to have earned another chance.
When we stepped up to order our coffees, we saw two bagels on fire —
It’s going to be another two years.
Many of you know I am the co-owner, with Kathryn Tomajan, of Fat Gold, a producer of California extra virgin olive oil. Earlier this year, we took the next big step in the company’s evolution and purchased our own olive mill, a huge piece of equipment.
The news this month is that THE MILL IS ON THE WATER!
I have, of course, never shipped anything in a 40-foot container before, so it is thrilling to be swept up, for the first time directly, in the flux of global logistics. The container is carried on a huge ship, and I know its name; using an abstruse internet tracking tool, I watched it pull into Barcelona, watched it leave. It is nosing out into the Atlantic now. Amazing.
Here’s a bank shot of a book discovery:
I follow the blog of Hiroko Shimamura, who translated both of my novels into Japanese. I have had the honor of meeting Hiroko a couple of times in Tokyo: some of the great moments of my writing life.
In a recent post, Hiroko recommended a mystery novel by Robert Crais. She had read, and was recommending, the Japanese edition; it took a bit of sleuthing to figure out the English title, and, having sleuthed, I decided to begin with the first in this writer’s long-running series. I’ve now read three, and I love them. Their protagonist, Elvis Cole, is a surprising, revisionist take on the private investigator; his partner, Joe Pike, is a kind of presiding angel … or maybe a djinn, with fire in his eyes.
In particular, the detective work feels real: the slow grind of boring observation punctuated by a few legitimately clever tricks.
In this new translation from Reading the China Dream, an intellectual reflects on the experience of being briefly banned from the internet. The title, along with much of the essay’s language, is oblique, and totally evocative: “If sheep don’t like to be tied up, it is not necessarily because they want to do something bad.”
Watching the DVD extras for The Princess Bride, ripped on YouTube, I loved this line from Mandy Patinkin, recalling Rob Reiner’s direction:
The way I want everybody to play this is, as though you have a hand of cards, and I want all of us to just almost show the hand to the audience … but we never really show it.
I loved this essay, on growth in all its guises, written back in the spring by Meera S. Kumar —
Matt Webb, fizzing with insight: I hope libraries are snapshotting today’s awkwardly sourced AIs.
Where AI is concerned, I believe we are at a point that has moved beyond hype or gloom. As with computers themselves, or the internet, all we can do now is discuss, in a careful and creative way, what is before us.
I loved this interview with Timothy Morton, full of sharp lines:
A feeling is an idea that hasn’t been articulated yet, whereas an idea is more like the receipt that comes out of the cash register of the thinking process.
It reminded me of a book I’d meant to recommend, which is Morton’s Spacecraft, an extended riff on the deep meaning of the Millennium Falcon.
It really is a riff: loose, discursive, funny. It is also, as argumentation goes, pretty rough —
Spacecraft is a very slim book, almost a fat pamphlet, and it reads like a super-extended blog post. I think that’s a pretty cool format; there ought to be more books like this.
Morton is so obviously tapped into what is interesting about the world, and so eagerly pushing its edge: much more interesting and dangerous than any of the reactionary intellectuals who love to call themselves “dangerous”. If you are looking for a writer to prod and trouble your thinking, you have found them.
What does Kim Stanley Robinson believe he contributes to the conversation about climate?
Three things: the future as subject for speculation; the syncretic combination of all the fields into a holistic vision of civilisation; and lastly, narrative as a mode of knowing.
Sounds good! We’ll take it! That’s from a terrific little interview, found in the great Sentiers newsletter.
I sincerely think someone ought to make a movie about a fictionalized version of Saturday Night Live’s hand-written cue card department, which consists of NINE PEOPLE!
What a weird craft. It’s a whole little world.
Who, me, Antony?
I recently watched, for approximately random reasons, the 1953 production of Julius Caesar, with Marlon Brando as Mark Antony and James Mason as Brutus. It was totally gripping, in a way I hadn’t expected. And, maybe this is a boring thing to say, but: yes, there really are scary parallels to our world, our moment.
Mark Antony’s speech across Caesar’s corpse —
Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
Antony saying, of course: let me stir you up.
They that have done this deed are honourable:
What private griefs they have, alas, I know not,
That made them do it: they are wise and honourable,
And will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.
Antony saying: they are NOT honorable; their reasons are corrupt.
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men’s blood: I only speak right on;
I tell you that which you yourselves do know;
Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds, poor, poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me: but were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.
Antony saying: rise and mutiny.
Listen to him; don’t you recognize this tone, this trick? “Who, me?”
It’s both discomfiting and, in a way, reassuring to know this rhetorical mode is as old as English, as old as politics. I found this 1953 production impressive and captivating, here from the vantage point of 2022. I sincerely recommend it.
The double dagger, sheathed
The new edition of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore commemorates the book’s tenth anniversary. Many of you have been reading this newsletter since 2012, some even longer. Think of all that has changed in our lives across these years.
We have been known, all along, as the Society of the Double Dagger. Today, at this hour, the society is disbanded.
Fear not: for in the same meeting (this is it, right here) we are reconstituted. The membership remains unchanged. You will receive newsletters uninterrupted. Our shared interests shine undimmed. (“So, it’s just a re-branding, then?” a voice snarks from the back row.) What’s new are the lines of inquiry that have fueled my forthcoming novel, which I’ll now bring into this newsletter. They are diverse: animal life, wetland ecology, invented languages … tons more. I have begun, also, to engage more deeply and intentionally with my influences —
You’ll learn lots more about this new novel —
You are now among the Trespassers on the Dragon Moon.
P.S. You’ll receive my next newsletter on November 8.