Saturday, May 28, 2016

Incoming Books: Last Weekend

Last weekend, The Wife and I went off for a romantic weekend -- meaning, a weekend away from the kids -- in trendy bucolic New Hope, PA. The town was so impressed, they had a fireworks display on Friday night -- well, actually, that was because it was also Pride Week, but we pretended it was for us.

One of my favorite leisure-time activities is puttering through bookstores, so of course I came back with a stack of things, from two side-by-side used bookstores in Doylestown, from a new comics shop in New Hope, and from the local library sale (because who can pass up a bargain?). And those books were:

Vox by Nicolson Baker -- I've read a number of his novels, and I like the way he turns really tiny moments into full stories. And I could have had as many copies of this phone-sex novel as I wanted back in the '90s, when my employer sold it and it was around the office for close to a decade. But I was embarrassed then, and I'm probably still embarrassed now. But I may read it, eventually.

The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey -- this is one of two Booker winners from Carey, one of the great names in modern Australian literature. I read his novel Jack Maggs (because of the Dickens connection) around 2002, and his short travel book Wrong About Japan (because it was short), and I keep thinking I should read more by him.

Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M Coetzee -- I know nothing about this one, or about Coetzee (whose name I've heard, but I'm not even sure if "J.M." is male or female, and I'm deliberately not looking it up). It's slim, and looks fabulistic in an interestingly literary way, and it was cheap.

The Translator by John Crowley -- I'm behind on reading Crowley, but, luckily for me, Crowley is an incredibly slow writer, so it's not that far behind. This is a historical novel, without supernatural elements (I think), and is now about a decade and a half old.

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl -- this is the first half of the two-volume autobiography of Dahl's young life, along with Going Solo. I read the young-man book last year, and I guess I'll get to the pre-adult book sometime soon.

The Great Cat Massacre by Robert Darnton -- Picked up because of that magnificent title, and kept because it was cheap (that library sale) and because it's a book about oddities in French history by, I just noticed, possibly the preeminent expert in pre-Revolutionary France.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby -- I've enjoyed Hornby's books for a long time, despite a nagging sense that they're more lightweight than they should be, the literary equivalent of Twinkies. This one seems slightly deeper, being the story of a working girl in '60s London.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan -- But no one can ever accuse McEwan of being lightweight at any time. This is his most recent book, I think, and I found a new-looking paperback in a used-book store, which is a nice thing.

West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan -- A novel about the last days of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood, I think -- "last days" could be stretching the case -- by a writer who I keep wanting to read more of.

The Complete Poems by Christina Rossetti -- It's huge, and don't know if I will realistically get to it at any time before the sun cools. But there's a great glaring portrait of Rossetti on the cover, I've always liked her better than her brother, and I want to read more poetry.

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh -- I read all of Waugh's novels in the '90s, when I was young and heartless and happy. Now that I'm old and bitter and grumpy, I should try another run at them. (Though I did like them a lot the first time around -- I'm more worried that his casual cruelties will pain me more this time.) This one was his first book, so where better to start?

Orlando by Virginia Woolf -- I haven't read as much Woolf as I want, though I love Mrs. Dalloway way back when and the bits I've read since then. Since the movie is old and untimely now, I can read this novel in peace.

Kyle Baker, Cartoonist -- A self-published collection of Baker's gag cartoons and short strips, as I recall. I had this the first time around, and was happy to buy it again cheaply; Baker is good at the funny stuff and I really loved the expressiveness of his line before he started working electronically.

As Naughty As She Wants To Be! by Roberta Gregory -- Gregory is a strongly feminist comics-maker, coming out of the old underground tradition and maybe the counterweight to Robert Crumb. And I've only seen a few short strips of hers here and there. This is a bigger dose, reprinting work from her Naughty Bits comic -- which title, I understand, is descriptive, but it's not the kind of naughty bits that the usual (read: young and male) audience is looking for.

Jar of Fools by Jason Lutes -- Lute's first big story, which I read as collected into floppies and then in book form -- and then lost to the flood. So I got a new copy.

Fallout by Jim Ottaviani and various artists -- The story of the Manhattan Project, told in comics by the master of science comics. The topic is interesting, and I have to admit I feel a puckish glee in the title, given the video game I've been playing obsessively for the past five months.

Popeye, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 by Roger Langridge and various artists -- More reprints of the Langridge-written recent Popeye series (is it even still running? I'm totally out of the loop on Wednesday Crowd stuff these days), which I expect will be just as much fun as the first book.

The Question: Poisoned Ground by Dennis O'Neil, Denys Cowan, and Rick Magyar -- Second volume reprinting the excellent series about the costumed hero with no face from the late '80s. I guess I'll try to find the others, and re-read the series to see if my description above is actually still true.

Mage: The Hero Defined by Matt Wagner -- A big book reprinting a major story by Wagner, long-awaited sequel to his first major comics story and supposedly the middle of a trilogy. (The Hero Denied, coming, we hope, sometime in the next decade or two.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/21

Monday. Blog post. Books arrived in the mail. My joy. Sharing with you. Hope you love something. I know very little.

First up this time: the first in a new annual series of anthologies of the year's best science fiction stories, from my fellow New Jerseyite Neil Clarke. (Who, more pertinently, has been running the online new-fiction venue Clarkesworld for ages, and otherwise is deeply plugged into the world of SF short stories as a fine editor and anthologist.) It's is unsurprisingly named The Best Science Fiction of the Year, Vol. 1, and it's coming from Night Shade Books on June 7th. Clarke's Best SF is one of the hefty volumes -- there are occasionally skinnier Year's Best volumes, like the old Don Wollheim series and the early years of David Hartwell's, but fatness is generally the point -- with thirty-one stories from last year included. Some of the authors with stories here are Ann Leckie, Carrie Vaughn, Aliette de Bodard, Brenda Cooper, Nancy Kress, Naomi Kritzer, and Alastair Reynolds. (And, obviously, 24 others.)

And then I have a light novel from the folks at Yen Press, available in trade paperback now, which I think was written by Mizuki Mizushiro and illustrated by Namanie. (The cover credit says, simply, "Mizuki Mizushiro x Namanie," which is not as descriptive as it could be.) The book is titled Psychome, Vol. 1, or maybe Psycho Love Comedy, which the first name seems to be short for. And it's about a teen boy -- absolutely ordinary in every single way, and insistent on it, as required for the heroes of stories like this -- who is thrown into a reform school after he's accused of a crime he didn't commit. Since this is a Japanese story, his fellow students are all both gorgeous girls potentially interested in him and incredibly dangerous convicted murderesses. Cue the wacky harem comedy with sudden-death sauce!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/14

When I get books in the mail -- which I didn't this week -- I write about them here.

When I don't get books in the mail -- as previously referenced, this is one of those weeks -- I instead note what I do the rest of the time.

As I've just done now.

See you next week. (Or you can check out my Incoming Books post yesterday, which is also a thinly annotated list of books I haven't read yet.)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Incoming Books: Week of 5/15

I've bought some stuff by mail recently -- one order from my regular comic shop after a badly-planned stop on Free Comic Book Day that sent me back out the door empty-handed, and some random stuff from that big Internet store since I was ordering a new mouse anyway -- and so I'll tell you all about it here.

(I've never mentioned when I get music, even though I buy as much of that as books, probably. I'm geeky about music in slightly different ways, though, and I don't know how to write about music, so it tends to get forgotten here. But, what the hell -- I also got Richard Thompson's Acoustic Classics and Sling Shot to Heaven from Margot & the Nuclear So And So's.)

The most important of the books is a little thing called Black Seas of Infinity, a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories published by the SF Book Club in 2001 and complied by a guy named Andrew Wheeler. (Yes, me -- not one of the myriad others this time.) I might give this to my second son as his summer reading this year, so I needed a copy. I had five or so after I left the club, but the flood of '11 killed them all.

For some reason, I've been thinking about "it was a dark and stormy night" recently -- the Peanuts version, I mean. That reminded me that Snoopy and "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night", a book from 1971 by Charles Schulz that's an independent version of the beagle's novelistic work. And so I bought that, too.

And then there was Charles Stross's The Annihilation Score, last year's new "Laundry Files" book. It's out now in mass-market, but I don't like mass-markets, so it was a good time to get a remaindered hardcover.

And then there was the stuff from the comics shop -- which, frustratingly, didn't include any of the books I picked up in the store and didn't buy because of the long lines -- because those things didn't show up on the online store. (There was The bus 2 and Don't Get Eaten by Anything and I can't remember what else.) Yes, online and in-person commerce don't always match, but being completely disjoint is pretty annoying. But here's what I did find online:

Founding Fathers Funnies, a collection of short Peter Bagge strips from various places about the wacky hijinks of the Revolutionary War heroes.

Giant Days, Vol. 2, the second collection of the college-set comic by John (Bad Machinery) Allison and Lissa Treiman, which is loosely related to Allison's Tackleford-set webcomics. (Esther De Groot is one of the main characters, but it takes place away from Tackleford and the timeline is a bit squishy -- Giant Days seems to be set "now," but it fits in chronologically around the mid-aughts in Allison's other work.) Anyway, it's a fun comic, and Allison writes great dialogue and wonderfully real young women.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye looks to be one of the big comics of the year, a pseudo-retrospective of the work of Singapore's greatest (and entirely fictional) cartoonist. It's by Sonny Liew, who has been a gorgeous inventive artist for a long time (most recently seen, by me at least, in The Shadow Hero) but who I haven't seen write any serious comics before. By all accounts, and quick glance myself, this is big and meaty and interesting and metafictional and deeply informed -- Liew is Malaysian himself, so this is a story about his immediate world. I'm looking forward to this.

The Eltingville Club collects all of Evan Dorkin's scabrous stories of the world's worst, most horrible and emotionally stunted group of fans, the ultimate (and deeply informed) middle finger to the Wednesday Crowd. I wish Dorkin would work more -- I understand drawing causes him pain these days, so I guess I wish either it didn't, or that he'd create a hugely popular TV show, like a number of his acolytes have, and get famous and successful that way -- but everything puts out is worth reading, and his art has always had a nasty, cutting brilliance.

Bloom County: The Complete Library, Volume 4 is by Berkeley Breathed, of course. I don't have volume 3, so this will have to sit and wait to be read sometime later -- but the comics here are already thirty years old, so another year or three won't hurt them none.

And last is something else from our friend John Allison: Bad Machinery, Volume 5: The Case of the Fire Inside. It's the latest collection of his main current webcomic, and you're probably sick of me telling you how brilliant he is. Well, he's still brilliant, so I won't stop saying it.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Mini Twitter Rant on Ownership of Law Firms

Hey! Who knew I had strong opinions on the ownership of law firms?!

But it turns out I do, and the Twitters heard those opinions, whether they wanted to or not:

What I think is behind this -- and this may be my accounting-marketing background coming out -- is that lawyers are afraid the Big 4 accounting firms, the Big 3 management-consulting firms, and adjacent companies (Marsh & MacLennan, for example), will go on an attorney-buying tear and destroy the old clubby attorney-partnership model.

And they want to make sure that can never happen, so the only people exploiting the work of lawyers are other lawyers, like Ghod intended. It's not the hill I'd want to die on, but I'm no lawyer.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Reviewing the Mail, Week of 5/7

It's another week, and yet more books have arrived in my mailbox. This time out, they're all manga (with an asterisk for a related novel, which I'll leave for the end), and all in finsihed-book form, which means they're all available for order right now.

And here's what I can tell you about these various things despite the minor handicap of not knowing basically anything about any of them....

Most of these books come from our friends at Yen Press -- whom we also want to congratulate on their recent change of ownership, and express deep hopes that congratulations are the right sentiment -- but I do have two from the scrappier, quirkier Vertical, so I'll putthose first. (I'm a bit scrappy and quirky myself!)

So first up is the very quirky looking Ninja Slayer: Atrocity in Neo Saitama, Vol. 4, which has credits so long and involved I'll have to rended them as bullet points:
  • Original Work by Bradley Bond and Philip Ninj@ Morzez
  • Art by Yuki Yogo
  • Script by Yoshitaki Tabata
  • Manga Adaptation Supervised by Yu Honda and Leika Sugi
  • Character Design by Warainaku and Yuki Yogo
That's all on the cover folks, underneath the over-rendered picture of the dude with the unfortunate nose. In this volume, the Ninja Slayer is dead, or thought dead, and there's a new Ninja Slayer in town. (So this is the "Reign of the Superman" or Azazel of this particular universe.)

Also from Vertical is Ajin: Demi-Human, Vol. 7, which ups the ante on the previous, already pretty darn dark covers for the series and flat-out dares you to be able to read the title. (Designers: black on black may look cool, but it suffers a bit in legibility.) This series is about immortals forced into science experiments and deigned non-human, but they seem to be fighting back pretty strongly by this point.

(From here on out, it's all Yen.)

Take a deep breath for the title of My Youth R♥mantic Comedy is WrΓΈng As I Expected: @ comic, Vol. 1, by Wataru Watari (original story), Naomichi Io (art) and Ponkan⑧ (character design). (And, yes, the title has an at-sign, a slashed lower-case o, and a heart in it, and one of the authors has a circled 8 in his name. It's like they don't want anyone to be able to reported their credits. Luckily, my HTML-code google-fu is at Level 9000.) After all that, I'm a bit disappointed to find out this is yet another high school comedy about a misanthropic boy and a cold-fish girl, thrown together into the inevitable club and forced to solve other students' problems. They will, of course, fall deeply in love by volume 7, possibly even tell each other by volume 15, and so forth.

Your latest dose of magical-girl fun comes from the Magica Quartet and Gan, in the form of Puella Magi Suzune Magica, Vol. 3. I frankly can't keep track of all of the "Puella Magi" books, but they're all interconnected and all feature cute girls in silly outfits battling evil and the heartbreak of teen girl friendships.

Dragons Rioting, Vol. 3 is not -- and I have to underline this -- a veiled reference to the cover character's barely-contained mammaries and a promise on their unveiling inside. Well, I think it isn't, but this book does have a parental warning and shrinkwrap, so there may well be some naked flesh inside. This, I think is the tough-girls-school-suddenly-allows-a-few-boys-in story, and wacky hijins are at this point ensuing. The whole thing is by Tsuyoshi Watanabe.

From Izumi Tsubaki comes Monthly Girls' Nozaki-Kun, Vol. 3, the continuing story of high-school manga-ka and their combined school and professional problems. But that does raise the question: if both Japanese schools and Japanese comic-making are famously all-encompassing, time-devouring occupations, how on earth is it plausible anyone could do both at once? And, even more importantly, why is the guy on the cover holding a transparent ruler?

Then we have Trinity Seven, Vol. 5 by Kenji Saito (story) and Akinari Nao (art), continuing their story about a wizards' school. This time out, someone is re-devoting himself to his studies after something happened in the previous volume (don't ask me, I don't know what), and It Is Surprising.

Speaking of things I don't know much about, can I offer Yana Toboso's Black Butler, Vol. XXII? It's some kind of Victorian England supernatural thriller, but I've never been able to figure it out any further than that. (of sure, I could read it, but twenty-plus volumes is a big time commitment for that.)

And last is a novel by Kugane Maruyama, called Overlord, Vol. 1: The Undead King. (I'm deliberately not checking to see if it's been turned into a manga and anime and series of collectible figurines yet, because the only question there is the word "yet.") About a century in the future, one super-gamer is online to watch the last moments of his favorite virtual reality MMORPG, Yggrasil, when -- wouldn't you know it! -- he's subsumed bodily into the game and has to live in a dangerous fantasy world that isn't quite the same as the game he played. (Guy gets stuck in VR video game seems to be a thriving genre in Japan.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

There Is Another Ted

Across this fine nation, millions are despondent -- they desperately wanted a president named "Ted," and he's left the race.

But there is another Ted running for president in 2016. A Ted of the Internet, of '80s nostalgia, of staring out the window and trying to remember what job he has, of all of the fallibility and looniness available.

A better Ted. A nicer Ted. A Ted we can all get behind and ask, "what was the deal with Jem and the Holograms, anyway?"

All he needs now is your vote

(I was trying to grab just one of these, but apparently the whole thing is one image.)