Monday, December 30, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of December 28th

Last week in this space, I wrote about the one book that made it to me, fighting the Christmas hordes and the existential ennui of the book-publishing world, and predicted that this week I wouldn't have any books at all to write about.

Well, I was wrong about that: this week, like last, I have one book that made it through the lines. As usual, I haven't read it -- but here's what I can tell you about it anyway:

The Kill Order is a prequel to the bestselling near-future YA dystopia (and series-starter) The Maze Runner, by the indefatigable James Dashner. This one seems to be the explanation of how the entire world went to hell -- somehow, "sun flares" lead to "a disease of rage and lunacy" (I'm faintly surprised that it's not more clearly the zombie apocalypse), and two young people, one male and one female, must race through the collapsing world to save themselves and whatever else they can. People more familiar with the series than I am may be able to tell if "Mark and Trina" become the founders of the evil dystopian society of Maze Runner, or if they founded the Secret Redoubt of Free People, or something else in the middle. But they're the central characters here, and so this is yet another book for people who like reading about all of their friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers dying horribly and painfully in a global apocalypse.

(You might guess that I find those people to have disturbing -- one might use more clinical terms, if one was so inclined -- tendencies, but fiction is fiction, and life is life, so I won't do more than cast mild aspersions at them.)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Incoming Books: Christmas Edition

I probably should have posted this a few days ago -- though I've been so busy being on vacation and playing video games and just lazing around the house, he said sarcastically -- but better late than never, I suppose.

I got a few books for Christmas, and these are them:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman's slim new novel for 2013.

The Revised Vault of Walt, a book by Jim Korkis telling untold/secret/amusing/odd stories related to the vast Walt Disney empire, which appeals to my twin loves of scuttlebutt and business.

And Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, first in a series I've been meaning to read for ages and ages. Now that I have a copy of this in the house, it might actually happen.

I also got the big new Mystery Science Theater 3000 boxed set -- the gala 25th anniversary thingy with four episodes that haven't been on video before, plus two that were individual DVDs and VHS tapes, back in the before-time. That's not a book, though, so it doesn't get a picture.

A blog has to have some rules, after all.

(I got other things as well -- the obligatory socks & underwear, a PS3/Grand Theft Auto 5 bundle that I bought myself, Grand Theft Auto 4 for the previous and also bought by myself, and some other knickknacks and gewgaws that I either can't remember or don't want to be bothered listing here.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Current Dilemma

So it's the end of the year, and I'm working on the end-of-the-year blog posts, as one does.

I'm nearly finished with my big Favorite Books of the Year post, talking about the books I really liked each month and picking one top book from each month as the very best.

But I have a problem: I haven't read anything really good in December (except Watchmen, as part of a project with the Before Watchmen books). And, by any reasonable Best-of-the-Year rules, a re-read of a twenty-five-year-old book just doesn't count.

Luckily, there still are four days left in the month -- so according to my own rules, I can still read something wonderful and include it. But I'm currently puttering through Bill Bryson's One Summer: America, 1927, which might well last until after the holidays, and which normally wouldn't be the best of the month. (Bryson is an engaging writer, and I really loved his early travelogues, but he's turned into a writer of fairly bland books in the nonfiction-bestseller mode, which I absolutely do not want to celebrate.)

So my dilemma is this: I can pull out something specifically expecting it to be my best of the month -- I have several options -- and then hey, presto! after reading it, it will be my favorite of the month! But that feels hugely like cheating.

I'm going to throw the question open to the general Internets -- not that I'll necessary follow your advice, but I haven't done a poll in a while, and it might be fun to see the responses. Click below to indicate what you think I should do, and feel free to hector me in comments.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I'd Love to Hear the Rest of This Christmas Carol

Today's A Softer World:
Hope your holiday season is more pleasant than that, at least. (Either side of that feeling.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/21

I thought this week was going to be a mulligan, but then a package was on my doorstep Saturday when I got back late from various family frivolities. So here's the one book that was in that package, proof that America's hard-working publicists were still very active up to just a few days before Christmas. (I don't expect anything to show up in my mail next week, but I'd be very happy to be wrong.)

As usual, I haven't read this book -- as I write this, it showed up at the house barely twelve hours ago -- but I'll tell you what I can about it anyway.

The Haunting of Twenty-First-Century America is the third in the supposedly-nonfiction series -- after the original Haunting of America and a volume on Twentieth-Century America. Authors Joel Martin and William J. Birnes here explain how various paranormal events -- from the chapter titles, those include Uri Geller, MK-ULTRA, the the US Army's various researches into remote viewing, and various aspects of the "New Age" -- actually controlled world history in ways that have been completely covered up by the traditional media channels. The book also seems to be in large part an attack on skepticism -- naturally, since those are the people that have proven time and again that these "paranormal events" only actually happen when nobody is paying attention or controlling for cheating. It's a Forge trade paperback, coming December 17th, and I sincerely hope it is not as deliberately misleading and false as I fear it is.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Cheery Thought for a Sunday Afternoon

According to this here chart, the USA is already more than halfway down the slope to oligarchy, likely in the banana republic model.

Good thing most of our elected idiots don't believe in numbers!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/14

Hey, I'm back! Didja miss me?

This Monday, I have two books to write about, both of which arrived mysteriously in my mailbox over the past week, left surreptitiously by agents of a government organization or a wide-ranging private contractor. I have not yet studied these documents in great detail, but I know that they are fascinating and unique. But here's what I have managed to decode so far:

Robot Uprisings is a new, mostly original anthology, with seventeen stories about robots conquering humans (or the reverse), assembled and edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams. Wilson is the current go-to guy for killer robots, being the author of Robopocalypse -- and a brand-new story in this book -- and Adams is the king of 21st century anthologies. So, if you're in the market for stories about robots rising up and smashing mankind, this is the best pedigree you could hope for. Other authors examining killer robots include Charles Yu, Genevieve Valentine, Hugh Howey, Cory Doctorow (reprinting 2010's "Epoch"), Alastair Reynolds (reprinting 2010's "Sleepover"), Alan Dean Foster, Ian McDonald, Seana McGuire, and Nnedi Okrafor. Robot Uprisings is an original trade paperback from Vintage, coming on April 1st 2014.

And from Vertical comes Kyoko Okazaki's classic single-volume manga Pink, originally published in Japan in 1989. (Okazaki is also the author of Helter Skelter, which Vertical recently published and which I haven't managed to read yet.) Pink is the story of a young, aimless call girl and a young would-be novelist kept by an older woman -- and, today, is seen as one of the quintessential expressions of Japan's "Bubble era," when it looked like their economy would keep rising forever and Japan would be the next great world power. Pink is available now, and it looks lovely.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/7

Most weeks, at least one unexpected book arrives in my mail, sent by the great publicists of American trade publishing in hopes I'll read and review and promote it. (And that is a wonderful thing -- if you ever have a chance to get free stuff come to you unexpectedly, take it, because it makes every day a journey into surprise and joy.)

And so I write about those books every Monday morning, because that kind of thing deserves a response, because I want the free books to keep coming, and because I feel horribly guilty about how few of these books I manage to read.

This week there's just one book: a new collection of short stories by SF writer Peter Watts, the current reigning master of the dark future. (All you people who just read zombie stories have no idea how dark things can get.) Beyond the Rift collects a baker's dozen stories (one written in collaboration with Derryl Murphy), with a new afterword by Watts. The stories are mostly since his last collection, Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes, in 2002, though four of these stories are from the '90s. This admirable book is a trade paperback from the fine folks at Tachyon Publications, and it's already available now.

As my colleague James Nicoll has said, "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts." You should, too.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Incoming Books: Week of December 7th

About a week ago, I blogged about two sales going on in the comics-on-the-Internet world: one from my "local" comic shop, Midtown Comics, and one from the excellent Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly. And, over the past few days, the books I bought from those sales arrived, allowing me to gleefully unwrap them and cackle over them. (I hope you were able to make purchases of your own and engage in your own unwrapping and cackling.)

The Search for Smilin' Ed is the most recent major Kim Deitch book, in his ever-proliferating Waldo universe of secret histories of obscure and oddball entertainment media of the early 20th century. I reviewed it with two other (very different) graphic novels two years ago, and I just had to re-buy it, since my first copy was lost in the flood. But I was happy to do so.

Rick Geary has a new book in his long-running series of graphic novels about historical murders, currently under the umbrella title "A Treasury of XXth Century Murder." This year's entry is Madison Square Tragedy, about the 1906 murder of noted new York architect Stanford White. I've reviewed many books in this series over the years, and expect this one will be as carefully-researched and thoughtfully executed as all of the rest.

I also had to re-buy Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson, Vol. 3, since my first copy was lost in the flood. (I think my sons might like to read this one, one day.) And this is the book with Skurge's last stand at Gjallerbru, one of the finest moments in comics, and in heroic literature.

The program to reprint the whole run of Charles Schulz's strip Peanuts has continued at Fantagraphics -- two volumes a year, regular as clockwork -- with The Complete Peanuts 1989-1990.

And there was a new graphic novel from the Norwegian cartoonist Jason this year, called Lost Cat, which is some kind of Chandleresque hardboiled PI story.

I will re-collect the entire Love and Rockets saga, so I can do a big re-read -- it's now the major thing on my "future reading projects" shelf, now that Starktober is done -- and I got two books this week to bring me closer to that goal. First was the new book for this year, Love And Rockets: New Stories No. 6, by both of the Hernandez Brothers.

And the other one was Human Diastrophism, collecting the second major storyline from the original L&R series by Gilbert Hernandez. I've not got nearly twenty L&R books, and only need about three more -- I should be able to get this reading project in sometime in early 2014, before New Stories No.7 hits.

Ray Fawkes's One Soul is a book I've already read -- I reviewed it when I got it from the library about eighteen months ago -- but it's so good and so wonderful that I needed to own a copy for myself. I hope you decide to do so, too.

Drawn & Quarterly's program of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's books continues with his contemporary work, which only very slightly disappoints me -- A Drifting Life is deep and interesting and thoughtful, but Tatsumi's early-'70s stories as collected in The Push Man, Abandon the Old in Tokyo, and Good-Bye are raw-nerve powerful and searingly immediate, so I want to see if he has more work as unrelenting and striking as those from around the same time. So his new book this year was Fallen Words, originally published in 2009 in Japan.

Another book -- like One Soul -- that I bought because it's so major and so full of energy that I know I'll need to read it again is Anders Nilsen's Big Questions, a gigantic and major graphic novel that's as good as. I did a quick review of it when I read it two years ago.

And last was Vanessa Davis's Make Me a Woman, which I've been vaguely looking for since late 2010, when it was published. (When you already have a lot of unread books, and are interested in lots of things, most of the books you're looking for aren't all that urgent -- you can find the ones you happen to come across in person, or find cheaply, or whatever, letting chance decide what you read next.) I've liked her short strips in various anthologies and Year's Best books, so it will be fun to see a whole book of her work.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Glad Tidings of the Season!

Today is an actual holiday that I did not make up: Krampus Night! It's the day when Santa's [1] evil helper punishes all of the bad kids. (Can you guess it's a German holiday?)

These words are to make it less obvious that I was going to throw the below image onto my Tumblr, then remembered that I don't post enough to keep this blog and a tumblr active.

[1] Saint Nicholas, if you're being nitpicky about it. But has anyone ever seen the two of them together?

Monday, December 02, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/30

These are the books that arrived the last week of November, all of them new paperbacks from major American publishers. I haven't read them yet, but here's what I can tell you about them:

I'll start out with Year's Best SF 18, because it makes me feel so very old to remember when the first book in the series came out from Harper in the mid-90s and I bought it for the SFBC. The editor is still David G. Hartwell, who is as close to the perfect SF editor (both long and short form) as it's possible to find in this imperfect world. And this latest edition of the annual series collects twenty-eight of the best stories of 2012, from writers including Eleanor Arnason and Andy Duncan, Linda Nagata and Gene Wolfe, Megan Lindholm and Paul Cornell, Pat Cadigan and Tony Ballantyne. All of those are short stories, and all are science fiction -- rather than fantasy or something else -- at least according to Hartwell's compass, since people can and do disagree strongly on the subject. Year's Best SF 18 is available as a trade paperback on December 10th.

Everything else I have this week comes from the empire of Yen, one of this country's major publisher of manga as well as related things. (They're all December publications, and all paperbacks.) And so I think I'll slip into that world through the related things -- light novels, manga-influenced comics from American sources -- and then dive into the pure stuff from the other side of the world.

So next up is Spice and Wolf, Vol. 10 by Isuna Hasekura, from a series of "light novels" (which, in Japan at least, are shorter and quicker reads than things sold as just plain "novels") about a medieval merchant and the ancient goddess embodied as a wolf-girl who travels with him. There are seventeen novels in the series in all, so we're a little over halfway at this point. If you've ever wished that your secondary-world fantasy had fewer flashing swords and more details of economics and trading, you are in for a huge treat with this series.

The Dark-Hunters: Infinity, Vol. 2 is set in the world of Sherrilyn Kenyon's urban fantasy series "Dark-Hunters," and is credited to Kenyon, with art by JiYoung Ahn. I'm not clear if this adapts part of Kenyon's sprawling series of books, or if it tells a new story set in that world -- I think it's the latter, but the book itself doesn't make the connection clear. In any case, there's a teenage boy who has recently (in the first book) discovered he has supernatural powers and Everything He Knows Is Wrong, along the usual lines of urban fantasy.

Similarly, Soulless, Vol. 3 adapts Gail Carriger's steampunk series -- I think each comics volume adapts one book, so this would be 2010's Blameless in comics form -- with art by an entity credited as REM. (Not the one with the twanging guitars, I presume.) I reviewed the first novel a few years back, if you want more details of the world and such-not. But, hey: Steampunk! Parasols! Victorian clothing! Tea ceremonies! You folks go nuts for that stuff, don't you?

And now I'll get into the actual manga, and take them by volume numbers:

Lunching this month is Shiwo Komeyama's Bloody Cross. She's a cursed half-angel, half demon! He's a full angel! They're cops vampire hunters! It's more complicated than that, of course -- her particular curse means she has to drink demon blood regularly to stay alive, and through the usual confusions at the start of a manga series, she transmits the curse to him, so they have to stay together for both of their survival.

Also launching this month is Shiro Amano's Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, and I have to admit I have no idea what the title means, even after a quick skim. But it's about Roxas, who was born as a Nobody and is now part of Organization XIII -- and if you know what that means, go for it.

Yoshiki Tonogai's psychological horror thriller Judge is back for a second volume, in which the bunch of young Japanese people kidnapped and trapped in an abandoned courthouse continue to be forced to decide which of them are the worst sinners and be killed. (So it looks like a slightly more legalistic Saw from my point of view.)

Are You Alice?, Vol. 3 is by Ikumi Katagiri and Ai Ninomiya (credited as "original story by") and is some kind of Alice in Wonderland-themed story with gangsters in a weird alternate world.

The ever-proliferating "Puella Magi" magical-girl saga is back with Kazumi Magica, Vol. 3. Kazumi, the helpful subtitle adds, is "The Innocent Malice," which makes everything all right.

And then there's Until Death Do Us Part, Vol. 5, continuing Hiroshi Takashige and DOUBLE-S's story of a blind swordsman (those are the most dangerous kind, of course, just like little old men have the deadliest kung fu) and the precognitive girl he's protecting from the obligatory evil rich man (here called Mr. Wiseman, to be that much more on the nose).

Sunshine Sketch, Vol. 7 contains more 4-koma gag strips about the six girls living at the Hidemari Apartments and taking art classes at their school, by Ume Aoki.

JinHo Ko's ultraviolent Jack Frost is back for an eighth volume -- actually, I should admit that I don't know for sure if it's still ultraviolent, but it certainly was for the first two volumes, which I reviewed back in 2009 for ComicMix. I do hope that the young heroine is not getting decapitated nearly as often by this point in the series.

My sons will be thrilled to see that Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba&!, Vol. 12 has arrived: they love this series about an amazingly enthusiastic and innocent young girl encountering new things and being amazed by them over and over again. (I have to admit that it's never clicked with me, though I'm not quite as clueless now as when I read the first volume.)

Speaking of things my sons like, there's also Atsushi Ohkubo's Soul Eater, Vol. 17, the latest in a very energetic and active boys' manga series, with all of the associated demon-fighting and details about everyone's secret moves. (I reviewed the first volume of this one way back when, as well.)

People who like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya will be happy to hear that the seventeenth volume is now out, and anyone else is advised to find the beginning and start there. It's by Gaku Tsugano and Nagaru Tanigawa, as usual, and contains approximately twelve times the recommended daily level of teen-girl energy.

And last for this week is Pandora Hearts, Vol. 19, another series (this one by Jun Mochizuki) that does weird things to Alice in Wonderland for its own purposes. I reviewed the first volume back at the dawn of the world, but I bet that things have changed and gotten more complicated since then.