Wednesday, October 31, 2007

AKICIF: Entourage on Macintosh Help

Of course my e-mail would suddenly go wonky just as I'm about to run off to World Fantasy, wouldn't it? (That's just par for the course for me this year.)

If there's anyone out there who knows about Entourage on a Mac, here's the problem as I'm describing it to the Microsoft help line:
When I tried to launch Entourage this evening, I got an error message saying "Entourage cannot access your data. To attempt to fix the problem, rebuild your database."

When I try to rebuild the database (I've tried several times), I get the message "An error occurred while attempting to rebuild your database. An unknown error (-5000) occurred." The same message appears if I try to verify database integrity.

How do I get Entourage back -- preferably with my old database, but how can I get it working at all?

I'm running an iMac -- 1.25 Ghz G4, 256 megs of memory, system 10.2.8. There's almost 23 gigs free on the hard drive.
Any thoughts, suggestions, brilliant ideas? (I won't be able to implement any of them after about 10 AM tomorrow until late Sunday night -- since I'll be at WFC -- so that might give any knowledgeable folks more time to mull it over.) Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Update: I may have become too cynical; Microsoft's help line (though I had to jump through hoops to get through to them) was quick and correct. The problem has been solved.

So this is Emily Litella saying "Never mind."

You Can Never Find a Princess When You Need One

Here's what my two sons looked like a little earlier this evening. (Right now, they're solidly asleep, after walking around the neighborhood for an hour or more.)

The costumes were made entirely by The Wife; there was talk of making me into Bowser, but, luckily, that would have been too much trouble and time.

Movie Log: The Dish

There are some movies that seem to exist only because some local kid grew up, made good, and got on some film commission or other. The Dish is one of those movies.

There's nothing at all wrong with it -- on the contrary, it's a pleasant, diverting story, with some good characters and a happy ending we already know -- but it's a minor, sidebar story to something that's practically ancient history these days, and I can't see how it ever struck anyone as the kind of idea that a movie just had to be based on.

That idea? The Dish is the story of the radiotelescope dish in Parkes, Australia -- and, more specifically, about the biggest event in which the Parkes dish was ever invovled, Apollo 11's first landing on the moon. The Dish doesn't have a plot that takes place against the backdrop of the moon landing; the moon landing and its effect on Parkes is the story -- mostly about the crew at the dish, with a subplot about Parkes's mayor. The three locals who run the dish are working with an American overseeing the project -- does this lead to major conflicts? Well, it could have, but the American is a nice guy, and the little conflict passes quickly. In this, like so much else, The Dish resolutely avoids drama -- perhaps to hew closer to real life, which I guess is admirable.

So The Dish is small, a bit quirky, and lovable -- and utterly free from Hollywoodization. Plus, it's got Sam Neill in it, who's always a good actor to watch work, and Patrick Warburton, whom I'm sure has done something less than wonderful along the line somewhere, but I can't call it to mind. They're both actors that you immediately trust when you see them, and they fulfill that trust in this movie.

I guess I'd recommend The Dish; I enjoyed watching it. But it's a very slight movie, which seems to exist mostly out of Aussie (or maybe specifically Parkes) pride.

Uncle Dynamite by P.G. Wodehouse

Whenever I'm unsure of what to read next, whenever I look at the shelves packed with new books and can't find anything at all that appeals -- that's when I know it's time to go back to Wodehouse. It happened again last week, so I turned to the shelf and found Uncle Dynamite, another tale of Frederick Altamont Cornwallis, fifth Earl of Ickenham, possibly better known as "Uncle Fred."

He's one of Wodehouse's lesser-known series heroes, without the fame of Jeeves & Wooster, the renown of the Empress of Blandings, or even the admiring cult of Psmith. By the time you discover Uncle Fred, you're hooked hard on Wodehouse, and casting about for everything by him you can find.

Uncle Dynamite is a fine Wodehouse novel, complete with an impostor at a country house, various young lovers with engagements that should be broken for the good of everyone, unpleasantly loud older men, and collections of strange-looking items. It all comes together very well, and Uncle Fred is quite quotable throughout.

If you've read a number of Wodehouse novels, nothing in this one will surprise you. But it will delight you, which is more to the point.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

This Is Not a Post

It's an apology for not posting. Tonight I was at the Australian Consulate in New York for a reception honoring Australian SF and Fantasy, which was wonderful -- I got to see and talk to a bunch of people (most of whom, though, I expect I'll see in two days at WFC) -- but got me home with just enough time to eat a quick bite and check my e-mail.

I've hit an inflection point at the new job; I've learned how to do enough things that I'm busy a lot of the time, but I haven't done any of them enough that I'm really quick or good at anything yet. So it's pretty time-consuming right now, with lots of asking people how to do things.

(And that's before the two business trips and sales conference coming up in the next five weeks -- plus WFC and Thanksgiving. I may need to cut back on blog-reading even more to free up a bit of time for blog-writing.)

Anyway, that's why the posts have been thin on the ground here (and short, when they did show up) lately. I also need to read some good books, so I have something to write about -- maybe I can find some at WFC...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Hellboy at ComicMix

Today at ComicMix, I reviewed the newest Hellboy collection, The Troll Witch and Other Stories.

(And also spent what felt like most of the afternoon driving around Florham Park, NJ, trying to get to a meeting. How was your day?)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan

Enthusiasm can be a dangerous thing; the bound galley of this book came with one of the most glowing quotes I've ever seen (credited to Locus) -- "Dazzlingly original, full of unsettling psychological insight...never simplistic, persistently wise...a formidably accomplished book."

Now, when I say that I found Red Spikes to be a good collection of short stories, by a writer who is quite talented, it may sound like damning with faint praise by comparison. (And, I do admit, my hopes were set very high by that quote, and ones like it, and those hopes were not entirely fulfilled.) Now, don't get me wrong -- Red Spikes is a swell collection, and Margo Lanagan, from the evidence here, is a fine writer. She's just not the second coming of Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, or Kelly Link, as some people seem to think. (Or maybe she is, but I can't see it. Or maybe she will yet be, someday.)

Red Spikes is a collection of Young Adult stories, which means, from a purely marketing point of view, that it will be shelved in a different area of the library/bookshop and the cover price will be notably lower than a similar "adult" book. Trying to define YA turns one into a Potter Stewart: I know it when I see it (or, at least, I know many telling details), but I don't have a quick test. The ten stories here are all short -- which is sometimes an indication that a work is for younger readers -- and all of them feature young protagonists -- which is even more often a YA giveaway.

Lanagan writes in sparse, lean prose, without extraneous details or fancy language. This strengthens the stories individually, but can make them run together -- I noticed, most of the way through, that all of the stories took place nowhere; there are no place names here, of any kind. There's little to place these stories in time, either -- a few are apparently in the modern day, but many of the others cold be set in a medieval European village, or a mud hut in prehistoric Africa, or some random secondary world. Again, that is generally a strength in any particular story, but, after ten stories in a row, it becomes something less, a lack where a background might be. (There is one story clearly set in Purgatory...without ever using that word.) The one thing that did place this collection in time and space to me is that many of the characters speak in a rough, grating dialect, with particular grammatical errors and word choices. It's not a speech pattern I'm familiar with, though I can guess with some confidence that it's Australian (and with less confidence that it's lower class), and it fell unpleasantly on my ears. I felt as if all of the people speaking that way were uncouth louts who I wanted to get as far away from as quickly as possible -- perhaps that was Lanagan's intention, but I'm not sure.

Another YA characteristic is that these are mostly stories of becoming -- not just stories about young people, but about young people transforming or transformed, learning something about the world and themselves, finding new places and new people to be. (On the other hand, these aren't precisely stories with happy endings, so you may need to adjust your ideas of what I just said.)

Each of the stories in Red Spikes is a fine, well-crafted thing, but they're all well-crafted in the same way, like knives in a drawer. I'd recommend anyone thinking of reading this to ration it to one story a day; that way, they'll each come individually and clearly. They're not as strong in a phalanx.

(I haven't yet read Lanagan's first two collections, Black Juice and White Time, so I can't compare Red Spikes to them. I have been wanting to read them for several years now, and they're still staring at me from the shelf. I still do want to read them, but not too quickly; reading a bunch of Lanagan quickly is obviously not an optimal strategy for me.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Incoming Books, Week of 10/27

Three things, all manga-esque of one kind or another -- The Manga Bible, volume one of Alice on Deadlines, and Tezuka's MW -- came in the mail this week.

And today was also a library run, so I got four books there (along with larger piles for the two boys) -- and two of those are manga.

So I've got fodder to keep Manga Fridays running for a while now; I hope I can keep up with it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Manga Friday Returns!

I review four manga volumes -- all the beginnings of series -- at ComicMix again this Friday, continuing what I hope will turn out to be a long streak of Friday manga posts.

The books this time are Parasyte, Alive, Le Chevalier d'Eon, and Mushishi, and I really liked three of the four, and greatly admire the audacious nuttiness of the fourth. So this is a good batch to check out, if anyone is looking to jump into manga.

Quote of the Week

"Too often when a publisher entertains an author at the midday meal a rather sombre tone tinges the table talk. The host is apt to sigh a good deal and to choose as the theme of his remarks the hardness of the times, the stagnant condition of the book trade and the growing price of pulp paper. And when his guest tries to cheer him up by suggesting that these disadvantages may be offset by a spirited policy of publicity, he sighs again and says that eulogies of an author's work displayed in the press at the publisher's expense are of little or no value, the only advertising that counts being -- how shall he put it -- well, what he might perhaps describe as word-of-mouth advertising."
- P.G. Wodehouse, Uncle Dynamite (1948)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My Longest Review Yet

I don't know if you folks have noticed, but blogging has been on the light side here for the past week, in large part because I was first reading and then writing up my review of David Michaelis's controversial Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography.

The review is now up at ComicMix, so check it out. And maybe I'll have more time in the next few days to write things that will actually be posted here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This Is Not My Beautiful House

I just reviewed House of Clay by Naomi Nowak at ComicMix, becoming I think the first person to review both Naomis, Novik and Nowak, within a week of each other.

That and a buck-fifty will get you a cup of coffee.

The Book of Classic Insults edited by Tom Steele

There's not much to say about a book like this; it has 165 pages of people saying nasty things about each other (and about countries, cities, kinds of people, and many other things). I bought it because it was on a remainder shelf, and I certainly got my money's worth of invective, bile, and calumny.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

One of the Best Editorial Cartoons I've Seen in a While

Check out the real Hillary's expression, in particular.

It's by Nick Anderson, and I got it here.

All Hail the Quills!

The Quills ceremony took place last night, during which a long string of previously announced awards were handed out.

The one new award, which GalleyCat says was voted on by the general public, was the Book of the Year, the "Quill of Quills," which went, unsurprisingly, to the Romance category winner, Nora Roberts's Angels Fall.

You can watch the whole thing on TV on Saturday on your local NBC station, if you're paralyzed and unable to look away. I wouldn't recommend it otherwise.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Your Grumpy Comics Reviewer Strikes Again

Really, I don't hate everything -- thought it might seem that way, some weeks. Today, at ComicMix, I reviewed Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened, an anthology edited by Jason Rodriguez that I found a bit too much of the same thing.

Stephen Fry Is Among Us

And by "us," I of course mean "Americans, the only real people in the world." (It's no use having a reputation for arrogant insularity if you don't use it now and again.)

He's working on a documentary in which he visits all fifty states in a black London cab. Sounds wonderful; how come I can never get work like that?

Dumbledore Is Officially Gay

As the world now knows, since J.K. Rowling announced it over the weekend.

Since she felt the need to mention Albus specifically, that means, I suppose, that every other character in Harry Potter's world is officially straight. How sad for old Dumby.

Mysteries of the New York Times List

The Times's intrepid Public Editor descended into the Stygian depths of the Gray Lady this past weekend, to thread the labyrinth that is the secret process by which the Times creates a bestseller list.

He wasn't able to explain in detail how it works -- it's secret, got it? -- but he did attempt to reassure all we peons that the Times is, as always, the final and only true arbiter of what is selling and what isn't.

But that's balderdash.

We've now learned that there's yet another reason why a book can be gerrymandered off the Times list -- if it's "evergreen" rather than "new," it doesn't count.

So, to review, the Times list generally cited as "the bestseller list" actually contains the top 15 fiction books published relatively recently, aimed at adults, not meant for evangelical Christians, as sold in a list of stores that the Times will not reveal. (And they clearly reserve the right to drop other things off that list, if they feel the need.) Are we really meant to take this seriously in the age of Bookscan?

The Times needs to radically change its lists, and stop suppressing books they don't like because they're too old, too much for children, too "miscellaneous," and so on and so on -- the history of the Times list is a history of the Times relentlessly finding new and ingenious ways not to list books they don't want to list. Hardcover fiction needs to be a list of the top-selling books in a given week that are both hardcover and fiction, full stop. Similarly for non-fiction, and similarly for the paperback lists.

And, if they're not willing to do that, they need to admit why: they're systematically managing the lists to create the greatest number of possible new bestsellers, because that will maximize their ad revenue. It's not a "bestseller" list, it's a list of books whose publishers they desperately hope will advertise.

If they can't change to a honest list, it would be more honest to admit what they're doing and systematize that, calling the lucky publisher of the "#1" bestseller every week and declaring that the back cover is available...and, if that publisher doesn't want to take the ad, some other book could be #1 instead. Because they're halfway there already.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Forgotten New York by Kevin Walsh

I've been reading this book, mostly right before bed, for the past several months. At one point, I thought I'd try to do walking tours of some of the sights of the city -- hey, I had nothing better to do all summer, right? -- but I never managed to get organized to do that. (And, probably even more so, I didn't want to dedicate a whole day to being out of touch and unconnected to my job search.)

What this book is is a huge list of historical sites, odd objects, and other remnants of various times in the past that are still existent in New York. It runs through all five boroughs, with useful maps and terse but useful descriptions of each thing. I read it in hardcover, but the paperback is probably much more useful, since it could be easily thrown into a backpack or bag. (And this is the kind of guidebook you'd want to have along with you.)

I found it interesting and informative, even if I did wish I was a more energetic person. (And/or one who actually lived in the city, so poking around to find some of these places wouldn't have been an expedition.) If there's anyone out there who already is an energetic New Yorker interested in the history of the city, this book will be essential.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Quick Take on Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis

I spent the day on a family trip -- up to Albany to see my cousin's new baby, on her first trip out of Texas -- so I won't have anything both interesting and original today. However, out of guilt (and out of my dwindling store of old posts), here are some thoughts on a then-new Don DeLillo novel, originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 9/5/03:

Cosmopolis is, I'd say, an interesting failure. I think it actually is a formal allegory (though I didn't precisely work out what everything stands for); at the very least, it's a heavily, heavily symbolic story. I thought the story itself crumpled a bit from the weight of all the symbolism, but I found it fun to track the journey in the book (it's all set on one Manhattan street, which is right next to where I used to work). And DeLillo's prose is strong, as usual. (Aside: I read an interview with him recently in which he claimed to have something like eighty-five pages full of just opening lines for Cosmopolis, as he worked out just the right tone.)

I read Ratner's Star quite some time ago, so it might be less accessible than I remember. It is pretty "science-y," as I recall, which might attract SF readers. But I still think White Noise is his masterpiece -- and, coincidentally, that's the closest he's come to our skiffy shores.

Incoming Books, Week of 10/20

Five books this time, all sent by publishers, and all sent by bits of the same publisher (Random House) -- one YA fantasy novel, two manga, the new Alan Dean Foster, and a Star Wars book by two people.

Meanwhile, I've spent the last four days working my way through Schulz and Peanuts, and I have to say I haven't come across anything yet to justify his children's apparently strenuous objections to it. But I haven't quite gotten to the divorce yet...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Almost a decade ago, I was browsing in a Barnes & Noble when I came across a book called Route 666: On the Road to Nirvana. It was a music book about a band I liked, so I started paging through it immediately. What I remember are two sentences on the fourth page which discussed how awesome it was that 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' was on the radio, and how this was almost akin to America electing a new president: 'It's not that everything will change at once,' wrote the author, 'it's that at least the people have voted for better principles. Nirvana's being on the radio means my own values are winning: I'm no longer in the opposition.' I have never forgotten those two sentences, and there are two reasons why this memory has stuck with me. The first reason is that this was just about the craziest, scariest idea I'd ever stumbled across. The second reason, however, is way worse; what I have slowly come to realize is that most people think this way all the time. They don't merely want to hold their values; they want their values to win. And I suspect this is why people so often feel 'betrayed' by art and consumerism, and by the way the world works. I'm sure the author of Route 666 felt completely 'betrayed' when Limp Biskit and Matchbox 20 became superfamous five years after Cobain's death and she was forced to return to 'the opposition' (whatever that entails -- complaining about Clear Channel, I suppose). If you feel betrayed by culture, it's not because you're right and the universe is fucked; it's only because you're not like most other people. But this should make you happy, because -- in all likelihood -- you hate those other people, anyway. You are being betrayed by a culture that has no relationship to who you are or how you live."
- Chuck Klosterman, "Cultural Betrayal," Chuck Klosterman IV, p.285-286

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

The fourth "Temeraire" book is the most obviously influenced by Patrick O'Brian of the series so far -- so much so, I fear, that the influence has been the cause of a lot of the less-than-glowing fan reaction to Empire of Ivory.

I've seen Internet reviewers complaining that Empire spends too much time "describing scenery" (instead of describing big dragon-fights, I suppose) and that the plot stops and starts. It is true that scenery is described in detail, and that the plot is not a headlong rush from beginning to end. The difference between those reviewers and myself is that I believe a measured pace and well-chosen words are a positive thing, not a negative. (Here is where I could have inserted a lament about readers brought up entirely on the one-damn-thing-right-after-another school of epic fantasy, and how they can't appreciate a plot that actually changes pace to match the actions. But I thought better of it.)

I can imagine that readers unfamiliar with O'Brian's masterful "Aubrey & Maturin" novels (the first one is Master and Commander; if you haven't read them, there is not a moment to be lost in starting) wouldn't recognize Novik's homages to the master's work, but I'd hope that they could appreciate that life is not a headlong rush, and so a novel does not need to be one, either. Like O'Brian's series, Empire of Ivory begins and ends in the middle of busy lives; everything is not completely explained at either end, but the novel in between still is a novel, and not a sausage-slice of a longer story. Novik also uses O'Brian's often leisurely pace as a guide, though she never lets the background plot to ever drop out of view, as O'Brian did regularly, often for a whole novel at a time -- a writer in a modern genre does not, it seems, have the freedom of a historical novelist.

Empire of Ivory begins in the middle of action, very soon after the end of the previous novel, Black Powder War. The dragon Temeraire and his crew are shepherding a group of feral dragons from central Asia (and some Prussian soldiers, rescued from grave defeat at the hands of Napoleon's armies) to England, and battling fierce French opposition. They finally arrive on friendly soil to find that the "cold" that beset Temeraire in the second book, Throne of Jade, is a far more virulent disease than they had thought -- and, while they were elsewhere, that disease has infected nearly every dragon in England, and killed many of them.

Meanwhile, Napoleon is massing his forces for a possible cross-Channel invasion. So Temeraire, as the only healthy large dragon left to the British, is vitally necessary for the defense of the realm. But, perhaps, he's also vitally necessary to the task of finding whatever it was that cured him -- because, if the cure can't be extended to other English dragons, there's no chance of saving the nation.

I had a thought, early on, of the "of course they'll do X" type, but I filed that thought away when nothing along those lines was mentioned. Then, suddenly, the issue popped up near the very end of the book -- and Jack Aubrey Will Laurence took what I thought was a somewhat ahistoric position on the issue. (It's not out of character for him, but that just goes to show how ahistoric he's getting in general.) It makes for good drama, I suppose, but this is not just a war, but a very bloody, very long, pre-modern war, and such scruples are a great luxury. But that's a minor point.

The publisher's teaser in the back gives away the fact that Napoleon will invade in the next book (which may be a foregone conclusion, but, still, you don't say it that bluntly). I'll be back for that one, even if I suspect that it will be more conventional and less in the spirit of O'Brian than this one. The Temeraire books are fine entertainments, good novels steeped in a world that is not our own and told in lively semi-period language. There should be much more fantasy like this; more books which aren't simply modern people in dress-up clothes gathering their various Plot Coupons.

Manga? Manga?! Manga!

I've started what I hope will be a series of posts reviewing lots of manga (and probably showing off my ignorance along the way). Come join me at ComicMix:
Del Rey Manga Round-Up, Part One

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What Is the Deal With Technorati?

I mean, I'm not hugely egotistical -- only mildly, I hope; checking my stats every two weeks or so -- but it's really weird that the Other Blog that I used to do, which has been silent since the day I got shown the door nearly five months ago, has a Technorati ranking about eight thousand higher than this one.

I mean, nobody's linking to it, right? There's no new content, yes? So why is the ranking of Antick Musings drifting downward (not all that much, and I don't really care that it is), and that other blog, which I shall not name, sticking where it was?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Return of Whimsy

The Ministry of Whimsy, that is. I might as well just copy & paste in Jeff VanderMeer's awesome announcement wholesale, because otherwise I'm sure to confuse the issue as I try to paraphrase:
Effective January 1, 2008, Jeff VanderMeer’s Ministry of Whimsy Press will come out of hibernation as an imprint of Wyrm Publishing. VanderMeer will work as a creative consultant and publicist for the Ministry’s books.

In its previous incarnations, the Ministry published the Philip K. Dick Award-winning Troika by Stepan Chapman, as well as the landmark Leviathan fiction anthologies. The Ministry was a World Fantasy Award finalist in 1998 and VanderMeer won a World Fantasy Award in 2003 for co-editing Leviathan 3, also a Philip K. Dick Award finalist.

Future projects for the Ministry will include Last Drink Bird Head, an anthology of flash fiction in support of literacy projects that features contributions from Gene Wolfe, Peter Straub, Tanith Lee, Stephen R. Donaldson, Rikki Ducornet, Caitlin Kiernan, Michael Swanwick, and many more. Through Wyrm Publishing, the Ministry will release two to three books a year, with the Leviathan series set to return in 2009. The Ministry is not currently soliciting book projects.

Wyrm Publishing was established by Neil Clarke earlier this year, and will soon publish books by Charles Stross, Gene Wolfe, and Tobias Buckell, in addition to the ongoing publication of Clarkesworld Magazine and its annual Realms anthology. For more information on Wyrm Publishing, visit their web site.

Into Darkest Anime

At ComicMix, I continue to review things that I really don't know all that much about:
Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow

Head on over there and comment on everything I got wrong, if you like.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What "Indie" Means

Today at Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon Sean T. Collins possibly shares too much about precisely why SPX is such an awesome show:
Much of crowd at this show was very attractive, a point that should be made often and loudly. This extends to many of the creators as well, both male and female, and not just in comparison to what most people in comics look like either. I don't know how else to put this -- whatever your preference, there was some grade-A tail on display, in extremely close proximity to social lubricants and hotel rooms, and you crazy kids should be out there ticklin' and slappin' and makin' it happen.
Makes it sound like I should go next year...

You Call These Great American Comics?

Today at ComicMix, I complain (mildly, I hope), about the second annual edition of The Best American Comics.

I'm Ready for My Movie Contract by Darby Conley

It's the new collection of Get Fuzzy strips, and I bought it early last week and then read it mostly at bedtime. What more needs to be said? (Either you already know the strip, which means you already have an opinion, or you've never hard of it, in which case you should check it out online and make up your own mind. Me? I like it a lot -- Conley is very funny and can actually draw. Most decent strips these days only manage to hit one of those qualifications.)

Well, I do need to waste a little space, so I can get down past this bookshot to then stick in my favorite strip from the book. So I'll just type a bit here, to add some filler.

And then another line or two, just to be safe.

Yes, I think that was enough. Below is my favorite strip from the book; click to expand. Does the fact that I laughed out loud at this prove I'm a dork? It's possible...

Monday, October 15, 2007

SF Vs. Fantasy

Mark Chadbourn is still unhappy about the world at large: now he says that Fantasy is beating SF because the world is too rationalistic, and we all need to run around in loincloths howling at the moon for a while, which, counter-intuitively, will increase the profile of super-rational SF. (Or something; the point isn't entirely clear.)

Sigh. I disagree with just about every sentence in that essay, so, if I'm not careful, I'll run on at the mouth for thousands of words. But I'll try to be brief, and just hit a few high points on the SF/Fantasy issue. I'm going to ignore everything he says about wider society, since that's a can of worms I don't want to open. (But, still: I think he's completely wrong, wrong, wrong -- about sources and trends and...well, everything, really.)

One. Perhaps -- just perhaps -- these two facts are not unrelated:

1) Fantasy is currently much more successful than SF in book form.

2) Fantasy books, to put it in less loaded terms than Chadbourn does, are fun to read and attract a large audience of people who love them. SF books are serious, dour affairs that, in his deadening, grandiloquent words "will undoubtedly be read in decades to come."

One and one-half. Uh-huh. Genre works that have a minor audience now will be massively more popular at some unspecified time in the future when we're all less rational and less amenable to the stories of SF. Go on, pull the other one.

Two. Chadbourn is comparing "serious" SF with "bestselling" fantasy to make his point. There is also "serious" fantasy, which often sells at about the level of "serious" SF. And there is also bestselling SF, which these days is mostly media tie-ins. (And popular adventure stories like Anne McCaffrey's "Pern" books and Orson Scott Card's "Ender" series.) And there might be more SF that sold at that level if there were more people writing in a crowd-pleasing style similar to that of the big fantasy series. Nothing forces SF to be serious literature for the ages, or keeps fantasy from being such.

Three. New Wave SF desperately wanted the prestige and seriousness of the mainstream novel. And now it's got all of that -- and the sales to match.

Four. Once you correct for the near-complete collapse of mass-market distribution in the US, SF is only slightly down. This may be no consolation to readers or writers; but a greater number of mass-market titles used to have wider distribution, in lots of small outlets frequented by people who don't go to book stores. Those books aren't in those places anymore, and those sales have been lost.

(The equivalent problem in the UK seems to be derived from the collapse of the net pricing scheme, and the consequent rise of mega-discounting by supermarket chains and an ever greater emphasis on fewer and fewer would-be bestsellers.)

There are a few mass-market winners each year, but even they aren't as big winners as they were a decade ago. It's possible that the mass-market format itself is in a death spiral, or just settling down to a new, lower, level of sales after the recent increase in sales of hardcovers and trade paperbacks.

Paul Has a Summer Job by Michel Rabagliati

I've been looking at this graphic novel for a couple of years now, but never actually bought it. I finally read it on Thursday after getting it from a library. (Have I mentioned how much I like libraries these days? Ever since I was sacked, I've been all about the libraries.)

To start off with: Rabagliati is a roughly forty-ish Quebecois with a wife and daughter...and so is "Paul," the main character of this story. So it's not pure autobiography -- I expect the details are changed -- but it's clearly based on and drawn out of Rabagliati's own life.

Paul is seventeen at the time of the main story; he dropped out of high school after an angry run-in with the principal and works briefly at a print shop before taking a job as a camp counselor. At the camp, he has the expected experiences -- learns more about himself, becomes part of a group of friends, and finds true love. It sounds like a string of cliches, but it's all rooted in specific events and narrated with utter conviction. A story doesn't have to be new to be special; it just has to be real.

Rabagliati's character drawing reminds me of the classic UPA cartoons: hair defined in a few lines, clean outlines, cartoony faces. His backgrounds are a bit more detailed some of the time, but generally are on the same level of abstraction. This isn't a story filled with action, but there's a sense of motion in his panels and real anatomy underlying the cartoony figures.

Paul Has a Summer Job is a very impressive graphic novel; it has a depth of feeling and economy of line rarely found together. It also was published in 2003, so I can hope that Rabagliati either has another book out now...or will have very soon.

Year's Best Musings

I just finished reading The Best American Comics 2007, and noticed something interesting.

In the SFF field, there's been a land rush into the "Year's Best" arena over recent years, with different projects jockeying for position (in mind-space and in time). The starting line for all of the books has been the same: December 31st, when the old year ends and an editor can draw a line under his submissions. Some publishers are exceptionally nimble, and can get a book out in February from that starting gate, but most will need until mid-Summer. (And any of those schedules can be pretty punishing.)

But the "Best American" books sidestep all of that by making up their own years; the 2007 Comics volume, for example, was based on works published between August 31, 2005 and September 1, 2006.

Using that method, then, an editor can decide when he wants to publish a "Year's Best," calculate back the appropriate amount of time, and set his year accordingly. It may seem a little odd to those of us still under the iron grip of the calendar, but why can't a year end wherever you want it to? (And the "Best American" series is certainly a formidable precedent.)

I give this to the world of genre, in hopes that it will lighten the load of some ink-stained anthologist out there.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chuck Klosterman IV

Klosterman is my generation's premiere rock critic, and possibly our most distinctive voice on pop culture. (God help us.) His first book, Fargo Rock City, combined the story of his own youth on a rural North Dakota farm with an encyclopedic knowledge of '80s hair metal. I think next was Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs, which felt to me like a collection of previously published works but was meant as an over-arching cultural manifesto. Then came Killing Yourself To Live, a book about a road trip to the sites of various rock star deaths. And now IV actually is a collection of random essays, primarily from Esquire and Spin.

Klosterman has one of those matter-of-fact, slightly smart-ass, I-can-explain-everything American voices, born of wide open spaces, long hours spent discussing nothing with friends, and generations of glad-handing, too-friendly salesmen. He's like that semi-annoying friend who won't shut up about his crazy theories -- you don't mind having him around, because he's usually funny and entertaining, but, after a while, you wish the dude would just shut the hell up. In a book, of course, you can shut him up any time you want to, which makes writing a great career choice for guys like that.

IV divides, not so neatly, into three parts. The first, "Things That Are True," collects profiles of various famous people, both actors and musicians, ranging from Britney Spears to Bono. Klosterman is at his best when he's dealing with the real world, so this is the strongest material in the book. He's quite good on the vagarities of fame, and also on how weird famous people can get. He does run off on his various theories in this section, but they're always grounded in the specifics of some particular person's life, and his work is stronger for that.

Next is "Things That Might Be True," which is mostly the record of a column he wrote for Esquire. (It's also interspersed with a series of weird sophomoric thought experiments -- of the "would you rather be killed by a random goat accident or by a jealous husband" type -- which is the kind of thing he's done before.) Klosterman's theories are amusing, and occasionally more than that, but running through a whole lot of them in a row just reinforces how college-bull-session his thinking is. My advice to Klosterman, not that he'd listen to me, would be to cut back on this stuff, since he's not nearly as deep a thinker as he thinks. (And he's beginning to show the initial signs of the self-educated crank -- look to Dave Sim for one potential terminal stage of that ailment.)

Last is a semi-autobiographical novella, "You Tell Me," under the section title "Something That Isn't True At All." It's not bad, but it's pure lit-fic ramble, starting nowhere and going nowhere. It's not so much a story itself as it is a polished but abandoned section of a potential novel. Again, it's minor Klosterman at best. I wouldn't say that he couldn't write fiction, but he would need to fictionalize a lot more, and actually have a story. (If he wanted to write fiction, I think he'd be smart to try a novel about a rock star or movie star -- he understands quite a bit about those people's lives, and it would keep him from falling into pseudo-autobiography.)

So the first half of IV is the best stuff...which, given Klosterman's Led Zeppelin riff in the title, is appropriate. Like Zep's untitled fourth album, the second half isn't bad, just a mixed bag, with some things that really don't fit well together or necessarily deserve to be preserved.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Explaining Fight Scenes

Kevin Melrose Jason Thompson has a great, long essay at Newsarama about shonen manga, with piles of examples and an amazing amount of insight into Japanese and American comics.
Update, next morning: Name corrected to the person who wrote the essay rather than the one who posted it. (And that information was at the beginning of the long essay; I just didn't re-read the beginning closely enough to get it right.) Thanks for the correction.

Incoming Books, Week of 10/13

Four books this week:
  • I'm Ready for My Movie Contract by Darby Conley; the new "Get Fuzzy" collection, which I just finished.
  • a bound galley of Peter F. Hamilton's The Dreaming Void, which is over 600 pages long and the first of a trilogy -- I've never read Hamilton, and I think I should, so maybe I can get to this before it publishes in March. (On the other hand, I'm now reveling in all of the long middle-of-series books that I don't have to read anymore...)
  • an interesting looking graphic novel from NBM called House of Clay. It's by Naomi Nowak, whom I haven't heard of before. (Though I'm now thinking someone should introduce her to Naomi Novik, just because that would be fun.)
  • and the latest big Will Eisner collection from Norton, Life, in Pictures. I might just hold this to read at World Fantasy, since I read the last big Eisner book at WFC last year, and I'm all about the little rituals.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Monkey Vs. Robot by James Kochalka

In a jungle somewhere, robots are building a mysterious factory...presumably as part of the evil scheme of someone-or-other. Elsewhere in the jungle, a group of monkeys (Tribe? Pack? What is the collective noun for monkeys, anyway?) go about their normal lives.

A robot kills a monkey, a monkey kills a robot. And then the battle is on.

Kochalka is one of the most distinctive and individual voices in modern comics; he manages to do autobiographical pieces that aren't self-indulgent (probably because he does them as a single-page daily diary, which focuses him to look at specifics and keep it short) and also does odder comics. Like this one, which I think was his first book-length project, back in 2000.

Monkey Vs. Robot is a nearly wordless book-length comic, drawn in Kochalka's distinctive thick-lined, loosely-rendered style, in which, yes, monkeys fight robots. That's pretty much the whole plot. There's some vague symbolism (monkeys = nature, robots = technology), but it's clear that this isn't what really interests Kochalka. He just wants to get into the hot monkey-robot action.

And I can definitely appreciate that; this is a fun story, with some unexpectedly poignant moments (on both sides).

I Can Haz Panel!

Even though I have no official professional connection to Fantasy these days, I'm still clinging tightly to the world of genre whenever possible. So I'm very happy to note that I'm still considered important enough to be on a panel at World Fantasy:

THURSDAY, 9 PM. City Center A
The Fantasy Graphic Novel.
Think of Watchmen, Maus, or The Sandman. How does the graphic novel (i.e. what we used to call a comic book, only different) achieve a depth and complexity on the level of an adult prose novel?
Alisa Kwitney Sheckley, Matthew Dow Smith, Charles Vess, Andrew Wheeler, Doselle Young

Yes, a panel. Unless you're a Guest of Honor (or maybe a Judge), you get one at best. It's a con almost entirely made up of filthy pros, so they all need time to talk at each other.

Hm. One could certainly read condescension into that description, should one want to (even in that glancing "adult prose novel" at the end), but I don't think any was meant. And I'd better start thinking and making notes if I'm going to keep up with that group.

Seven Sentences

I'm no writer, so I don't know why I did this. I got it from Jay Lake, but it was Jim Van Pelt's idea. But it amused me, and I hope it amuses you.

1) Johnny the Mook rode into Fairview late on a Friday night, hungry for cheeseburgers and vengeance. 2) Unfortunately, Jimmy’s All Night Burger Barn had been blown up for the insurance money two weeks before, when Jimmy ran away with Johnny’s girl Luanne. 3) There was one man in town who would know where that rat Jimmy had gone, so Johnny set his sights on the south side. 4) Mayor Dumbarton didn’t take kindly to Johnny’s three A.M. rat-a-tat on his front door; he slammed Johnny into jail faster than you could blink. 5) Johnny decided that Squiffy, the night guard, looked enough like Jimmy to qualify, and administered a one-armed, through-the-bars thrashing before the one-legged bailiff could get away. 6) The next day, while waiting to be arraigned, Johnny convinced Jimmy’s old cook Walter – now slinging the jailhouse chow – to whip him up a burger for old time’s sake. 7) And Johnny was duly hung that Saturday, on the trumped-up charge of whistling at a Senator’s daughter.

Quote of the Week

"If the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over."
- Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean, The Wolves in the Walls

Thursday, October 11, 2007

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

There's a nearly infallible way of telling a literary story from a genre story: the genre story is required to have an ending that wraps up at least part of the plot, while the literary story merely needs to have an emotional moment at which to stop.

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves is a collection of literary stories.

Yes, all of the stories here have at least vaguely fantastic elements, and I did come to this book from seeing Russell read at an event for The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, but these stories all stop rather than end, which makes them solidly literary.

(Careful readers of this blog may have noticed that I generally use "literary" as a description rather than as a term of approbation. This is also the case here. "Literary" isn't necessarily good or bad; it's just a kind of writing and reader expectation.)

St. Lucy disappointed me, I'm afraid. The writing was generally good, but I find that "literary" short stories have to be written transcendently well to overcome the inertia of a century of well-written, MFA-caliber stories about feelings. Russell is using fantasy elements to differentiate herself from the general herd of lit-fic writers, but there are, and have been, a lot of somewhat literary writers, from lit-fic and from the fields of genre, doing similar things. She's not postmodern, which is a big plus, but, still, she's one of a pack of writers -- and, at this point, her voice isn't distinctive enough to break her out of that pack.

Writing literary stories with fantastic elements is doubly dangerous; the writer runs the heavy risk of the fantastic element turning into a gigantic flaming metaphor, flashing its lights and honking its horn as it drives at top speed down the center-line of the story. The more attention you pay to a story's literary qualities, the more the metaphor is strengthened in comparison to the literal meaning. It is possible to balance it all, but I'm coming to believe that you need to be Kelly Link to do it. (And there's only one Kelly Link.)

Russell's metaphors do run away with her stories on occasion, and they're usually the same kind of metaphors. All of her protagonists are young, and all of these stories are, in one way or another, about learning to grow up. Alligator or werewolf, if the narrator is a girl, the metaphor is about sexual awakening. The stories about boys are sometimes also about sex, but can also be about death. But that's about it; these are stories about metaphorically learning about sex or learning about death. Individually, the stories are decent, though none really jumped out at me; together, they serve to punch the same button over and over and over again.

Russell is still young; this was her first collection. I have hopes that she'll soon find something more individual to write about. St. Lucy, by itself, is pleasant but unspectacular, somewhat new lyrics to a tune we've heard many times before.

A Meme of Questionable Utility

As happens pretty often, Keith DeCandido was doing this, so I decided to try it, too:

Q. What is your salad dressing of choice?
A. I detest salad.

Q. What is your favorite fast food restaurant?
A. I end up at McDonald's the most often, but I prefer Burger King for onion rings.

Q. What is your favorite sit-down restaurant?
A. Miele's, of Verona, NJ.

Q. On average, what size tip do you leave at a restaurant?
A. No more than four inches.

Q. What food could you eat every day for two weeks and not get sick of?
A: Cereal for breakfast is an obvious answer. If you mean "and nothing else," then I'm not as sure.

Q. What are your pizza toppings of choice?
A. Pepperoni and sausage. (And occasionally other meats.)

Q. What do you like to put on your toast?
A: Butter. Maybe jelly if I'm feeling energetic. (Or feeling British, though then I'd call it jam.)

Q. What is your wallpaper on your computer?
A: A stitched-together satellite photo of the Earth at night.

Q. How many televisions are in your house?
A: Two.

Q. Are you right-handed or left-handed?
A. Right.

Q. Have you ever had anything removed from your body?
A. Wisdom teeth, splinters...I think that's about it.

Q. When was the last time you had a cavity?
A. Either right now (since I haven't seen a dentist in several years) or about five years ago.

Q. What is the last heavy item you lifted?
A. Well, let's see, I toted that barge, so it would have to be that bale.

Q. Have you ever been knocked unconscious?
A. Not that I recall.

Q. If it were possible, would you want to know the day you were going to die?
A. Hell no.

Q. If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
A. Andrew C. Wheeler, Devastatingly Sexy and Debonair Lord of the Seven Galaxies

Q. What color do you think looks best on you?
A. Whatever makes me fade best into the background.

Q. Have you ever swallowed a non-food item by mistake?
A. I'm sure there have been bugs. I don't have any humorous stories about other items.

Q. Have you ever saved someone's life?
A. I've spent the last nine years keeping two boys from running out into traffic, so I hope so.

Q. Has someone ever saved yours?
A. Not that I remember, but I had my own running-out-into-traffic years way back.

Q. Would you kiss a member of the same sex for $100?
A. Hell, I did it for free at my prom, so sure. (Especially if I get to pick.)

Q. Would you allow one of your little fingers to be cut off for $200,000?
A. Maybe. Depends. If I had already convinced The Wife to buy a bigger house with a real library in it, then I probably would.

Q. Would you never blog again for $50,000?
A. No, it would take more money than that. I'm finally getting the hang of this...

Q. Would you pose naked in a magazine for $250,000?
A. Hell yes. It would burn out eyeballs far and wide, but I don't care about that.

Q. Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1000?
A. No. I don't do stunt eating.

Q. Would you, without fear of punishment, take a human life for $1,000,000?
A. Yeah, I think I would. If I could choose, definitely.

Q: What is in your left pocket?
A: Lint.

Q: Is Napoleon Dynamite actually a good movie?
A: You'd have to ask someone who saw it.

Q: Do you have hardwood or carpet in your house?
A: (Starting from the room I'm in now, and circling upward) Neither, wood stairs, hardwood, carpet, neither, wood in the hall, wood, wood, wood with an area rug, carpet on the stairs, all carpet in the upstairs. So the answer is "yes."

Q: Do you sit or stand in the shower?
A: I stand. Why would you sit?

Q: Could you live with roommates?
A: I did in college, and I have a family now, so I think so.

Q: How many pairs of flip flops do you own?
A: None, which is the correct answer.

Q: Last time you had a run-in with the cops?
A: I haven't had anything I'd characterize as a "run-in" for twenty years.

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: Too late.

Q: Who is number 1 on your top 8?
A: I haven't a clue as to how to answer that.

Q: Friend you talked to?
A: I don't really have "friends;" I'm a suburban father in his late thirties. I did have lunch with my old boss yesterday.

Q: Last person who called you?
A: A colleague from Indianapolis, at work this afternoon.

Q: Person you hugged?
A: Thing 2, tucking him in at bedtime.

Q: Number?
A: e

Q: Season?
A: Autumn

Q: Missing someone?
A: Well, I know I ain't missing you at all.

Q: Mood?
A: Ring

Q: Listening to?
A: The quiet whisper of the computer and the clatter of my fingers typing.

Q: Watching?
A: Nada

Q: Worrying about?
A: Everything

Q: First place you went this morning?
A: Either the train station or work, depending on how you look at it.

Q: What can you not wait to do?
A: That would be telling.

Q: What's the last movie you saw?
A: Killers From Space, as commentated upon by "the Film Crew."

Q: Do you smile often?
A: Define "often." Once a day? Twice?

Q: Are you a friendly person?
A: I'm not unfriendly...

The First Rule of Akira Club

Has just been broken by this review at ComicMix:
Akira Club by Otomo Katsuhiro

Self-Admitted SF Writer Wins Nobel, World To End

Today The Swedish Academy took the last necessary step for the destruction of all life on Earth by awarding this year's Nobel Literature Prize to Doris Lessing. Lessing has not only written several novels of science fiction -- primarily the "Canopus in Argo" series -- but was a Guest of Honor at the 1987 World Science Fiction Convention.

Since SF is, by definition, disreputable, awarding a Nobel to a writer for a corpus including self-admitted SF proves that the laws of the universe are crumbling. The utter destruction of the Earth itself is soon to follow.

It's been nice, friends...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Curses by Kevin Huizenga

I'm not quite sure how to pigeonhole Kevin Huizenga's comics work...and that's a good thing. When I saw that his stories were mostly about a single character, Glenn Ganges, I expected that Huizenga would be a pseudo-autobiographical cartoonist, maybe in the Peter Bagge vein. But the Ganges stories -- at least the ones in this book -- mostly don't feel autobiographical.

In fact, the lead-off story in this collection, "Green Tea," retells a nineteenth century horror story by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and other stories repurpose an Italian folktale, Chinese adoption records, and evangelical theology. Ganges is the main character in only a couple of the stories; in others, he seems to be the viewpoint character, but then the story shifts away from him.

I still think Glenn Ganges is a stand-in for Huizenga in some way, but Huizenga is clearly not using Ganges to retell his own life -- at most, it's an outlook on life or a viewpoint that Ganges shares with Huizenga.

All of the stories in Curses are interesting, and some of them (I liked "Lost and Found" in particular) are really strong. It's a very strong debut collection, and I hope we'll be seeing more from Huizenga soon.

The New Gig

Nobody's asked yet, but I'm sure everyone will ask at World Fantasy, so in the interests of not saying the same thing fifty times then, here's the scoop on What I Do Now.

I work for a big publisher called John Wiley & Sons, Inc. It's a public company, which I was surprised to find out -- they're pretty quiet, and publicly traded publishers tend to be in the news (buying or being bought, having trouble with stockholders, all that jazz).

Wiley's business, like Gaul, is divided into three big parts. The one I'm in is "P/T," for Professional/Trade. It's then divided into a lot of smaller product lines, all with letter designations that I'll be figuring out for the next three years. I'm the Marketing Manager for what Wiley calls the "R-Line." The letters don't seem to stand for anything in particular; R is "Accounting."

It's actually not as boring as that sounds; yes, the line does include the usual study guides for people who want to become CPAs (which involves a grueling four-part test), and big fat annuals of very specific information (hello, GAAP and IFRS!), but there's some more interesting stuff as well. For example, coming up in a month or so is Cynthia Cooper's Extraordinary Circumstances, the personal story of the WorldCom whistleblower and co-Time magazine Person of the Year in 2002. A big piece of the business is books for high financial executives -- CFOs, controllers, auditors, and similar folks. I'm still figuring out the jargon, but some of this stuff is fascinating -- and I'll have a much better idea how American business actually runs one year from now than I do today.

I'm not an editor there, though I do work with a group of editors; my job is to see that people actually buy these books, which is something I've always been concerned with.

I work with a group of pleasant people who don't seem to expect that I'll have any idea what I'm doing for about six months, which is both encouraging and disquieting.

I have something like an office -- four walls that go up to about seven feet, plus a door, but no roof. It also got my name put on it just this Monday, so I now belong there.

I work in Hoboken, which means several good things:
  • I'll no longer have to pay income taxes in two states
  • I can -- and do -- take the train to work, which is wonderful
  • my office is less than a five minute walk from the train station
There's also a nice park right out behind the building, from which one can see a great view of the New York skyline. (The unfortunate thing about working in New York is that it's hard to see it well from inside.) I have hopes that eventually, when it stops being so hot, I'll actually go down to that park for lunch at least some of the time.

All in all, it's much better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. It's pretty nice, actually.

...except for the fact that my assistant, who actually knows how things work there, just gave her notice today. (She wants to go back to California.) So it looks like I'm going to hire two assistants, at vastly different jobs, within one year. 2007 has certainly been an interesting year for me, I have to say that.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On the Top Shelf

I reviewed a small pile of comics and graphic novels from Top Shelf today on ComicMix:
View from the Top Shelf

Good Grief!

Which Peanuts Character are You?

You are Charlie Brown!
Take this quiz!

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I am Dumbfounded

SF Diplomat can't seem to stop writing about things he completely misunderstands. I had to comment on his most recent post, and I'm copying it here, just because:
Romance is not a small, niche genre. Romances are over 26% of all books sold, by units, in the USA. (Further staggering statistics available from the Romance Writers of America.) Perhaps the situation is vastly different in the UK...but I doubt it. You're just not paying attention. Romance, as a genre, is approximately four times the size of SF and Fantasy put together.

As to the lack of romances on the bestseller lists...did you even bother to look? Check out the most recent mass-market paperback list from the New York Times. There are romances at number 2,3,5,6,7, and so on...

You really should check facts first.

Other points:

There has always been fantasy that has an interest in the "genuinely fantastical and weird." It has always sold poorly. (The original Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, beloved in fannish folklore ever since, was a dismal commercial failure.) Starting in the late 1970s, it was discovered that there were other kinds of fantasy which sold very well. Those other kinds of fantasy then grew in importance, for the obvious reason that lots of people were buying them.

There has been a major crossover of writers and readers between romance and fantasy over the past decade or so, but it has nothing to do with the "death of romance." It has a lot to do with a natural confluence of subject matter, which you seem to realize in your very negative assessment.

One of your points might be true if by "relatively recently" (referring to the "boy's club" of genre) you mean "up until the early 1970s." That is, of course, about thirty-five years ago. In popular culture, that's not recent -- it's the dead past.

Yes, fantasy never succeeded on TV before Buffy. We all imagined The Twilight Zone, and Dr. Who, and dozens of others.

You're mildly correct that female readers are conservative. But guess what? So are male readers. Readers in general are conservative. The works that are liked by the largest number of people are only very, very rarely ground-breaking or new. (Please tell me this doesn't come as a shock to you.)

Saying that fantasy is still "overwhelmingly dominated by male authors" is true only if you define fantasy very narrowly. Yes, Robert Jordan is the single best-selling recent fantasy writer. But there are several women published as fantasy in the next rank of bestsellers, and the entire strong-selling subgenre of "paranormal romance" that you seem to think doesn't exist also moves a lot of books. Of all the units of books sold in a given year with fantasy elements in them, I'd bet that well more than half are now written by women.

The Complete Peanuts, 1965 to 1966 by Charles Schulz

At this point, there's really not a whole lot I can say about Peanuts or this reprint series that either I or far more famous people haven't already said several dozen times. Schulz created a wonderful strip in Peanuts, and, even more than that, he created a whole world for that strip to take place in. His characters were true, his drawing was (at least during this era) clean and crisp, and his writing was incisive and thoughtful.

Sure, no kids in the history of the world ever talked like the Peanuts characters, but that was deliberate. The Peanuts kids were never supposed to be "real" kids -- as if the funny pages, then or now, ever had anything like real kids -- but something like small adults, and something like pieces of one person's psyche personified, and mostly just characters in the stories Schulz wanted to tell.

So many of the strips from Peanut's golden age are gems -- there are dozens just in this book along -- that this series really is a must-have for anyone interested in strip cartoons. Schulz is just that dominant, and that good; every gag-a-day strip after him was either influence by Peanuts or deliberately running away from it.

I'll leave you with two of my favorite strips from this book, both of which show the amazing depth of emotion "Sparky" Schulz could bring out of a few pen lines and some well-chosen words. Click on them to enlarge.