Monday, March 30, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/28

It's Monday once more, and I have a few books to tell you folks about. As usual, these arrived, semi-unexpectedly, over the past few days, and they're all newly published or just about to come out from their various houses. I haven't read these books, but I have perfected a mixture of the quick glance and the unsupported assumption over my nine years of blogging, and I will use those awesome powers to describe these books to you now.

First up is Melanie Rawn's new fantasy novel Window Wall, the fourth in her Glass Thorns series that started with Touchstone. This time out, we've still got a pseudo-Elizabethan world with many fantasy races and ubiquitous magic, but our young hero, Cade, is finally accepting his magical visions and trying to figure out what potential future events they're showing him. And, since prophetic visions of breakfast are very rare in fiction -- sadly so, keeping mundanity and everydayness carefully corralled in the real world -- those visions are of course about devastating, horrible explosions. (And I suppose he should be happy they're not of The End of All Things, the traditional wellspring of fantasy visions.) Window Wall is a Tor hardcover, arriving April 14.

I've seen several editions of James Dashner's very popular YA novel The Maze Runner over the past couple of years, both before and after the recent movie. And I now have a new one at hand: The Maze Runner/The Scorch Trials: Collector's Edition, which collects the first two books in the series along with some new "bonus content." [1] Coincidentally, The Scorch Trials is turning into a movie as well, and will reach theaters in mid-September. If you don't know the series, it's yet another near-future dystopia, where teens are cruelly sorted and tormented by the nasty oppressive adults who don't understand anything and can't see The Truth -- which is not at all a metaphor for actual teenage life, no sirree -- until the main kid rises up to lead the revolution and start down the path to Logan's Run. This particular series has a whole bunch of boys stuck in a death-trap maze, because that's what you do with the next generation of workers in your society: try to murder them all off early. This edition gives readers two whole novels for one price, and is available on April 14th.

Now, this is interesting. Tor is bringing out Peter Orullian's 2012 novel The Unremembered in a new, somewhat rewritten edition as The Unremembered: Author's Definitive Edition on April 7th as a trade paperback. If I'm reading the description right, this isn't a case where the first edition had some errors, or extensive cuts, but instead that Orullian was working on the sequel and realized he had painted himself into too many corners "some core truth was missing." That core truth -- not sure what it is, exactly, but it is definitely core and truthful -- is now included. I do wonder if Orullian will discover yet more "core truths" are missing when he comes to write book three -- or five, or twelve -- and I hope he'll realize that going much further down this path will quickly lead to The Prelude syndrome: rewriting over and over the beginning and never getting to the big thing originally planned. This new core truth edition also contains a exclusive short story set in the same world -- it looks like Orullian has been writing a whole bunch of stories in that world for Tor.com -- and the first chapter of the second novel, Trial of Intentions, which itself will be coming in May. And one certainly hopes that "core truth" will be included in Trial of Intentions from its first edition.


DC Comics sent me a couple of hardcovers from their ongoing reprints of the "New 52 initiative" -- just as it's ending, to be replaced with whatever comes out this this year's big events -- but I will note that these will probably be the last DC books showing up in my mail. I let the very nice publicity people at DC know that they might possibly have conflated me -- Eisner Judge class of 2009, ex-ComicMix reviewer, ex-Realms of Fantasy reviewer, general smart-alec -- with the Andrew Wheeler who recent became editor in chief of the major website for comics news, Comics Alliance. (We're not the same person; amusingly, we've never even met.) They didn't quite admit that's what they did, or declare that they'll never send me any further books, bu I have a highly developed ability to read between the lines.

Honesty is the best policy, but sometimes it's tough.

Anyway, here's Harley Quinn Vol. 2: Power Outage , written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by Chad Hardin and John Timms, collecting the second clump of issues from what I think is a popular, funny series. (I am way outside of the superhero-comics loop these days, mostly by choice.) In this volume, Harley finds an amnesiac Power Girl in Coney Island and claims they are a long-time crime-fighting duo, and then takes a trip to the San Diego Comic-Con, because comics aren't nearly self-referential enough.

And I also have Wonder Woman Vol. 6: Bones, written by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang and Goran Sudzuka, which ends their run on this book. (I don't remember if there was a recent relaunch before the big linewide crossover event, or if this was the run-up to the event. And, honestly, I don't really care: contemporary superhero comics are just a blur of relaunches, linewide crossover events, and shocking changes these days, and I'm much happier not bothering to pay attention.)



[1] As a marketer myself, I'm very prone to using the word "content" to describe written stuff, though I hope I'd think twice before putting it on a book cover. It's a very marketing-sounding word, and not customer-friendly.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

QR Codes Kill Kittens by Scott Stratten

Schadenfreude is a powerful motivator. For some of us, it's the only thing to get us out of bed in the morning: the knowledge that somebody, somewhere, in in a vastly worse situation than you are, so you might as well find out who that is and laugh at them.

I'm not too proud to admit it: this was the first book I read after I got laid off. I know I'm a good marketer, and that I'll be up on that horse again quickly, but there's no better way to convince myself of that than by seeing what highly-paid and well-credentialed idiots have done when given far too much money and freedom.

The subtitle of QR Codes Kill Kittens is "How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business Into the Ground," and that's exactly what it covers. It's from social media guru Scott Stratten -- one of the smartest, immediate, and down-to-earth marketing experts you will ever find -- and it's a litany of bad examples, presented in picture-book form, of all of the incredibly stupid things that marketers do when they try to be tech-savvy without thinking it through.

(If you have time to only read one business book in your life, this would be an excellent choice.)

If the title confuses you, let Stratten explain it:


QR codes do kill kittens. They kill happiness, and brand equity, and positive feelings, and any sense that the organization on the other end of the code is competent. And the book of that title will show you a long list of equally stupid marketing ploys, from badly thought-out scheduled tweets to mobile-hostile landing pages to social icons without URLs to printed URLs full of random characters. Every single one of those ploys seemed like a good idea, only because the marketer behind it didn't take the time to stop and ask: how is my customer actually going to interact with this? Where will this thing appear, and what are the circumstances around that placement? What else will the customer be doing or thinking at that time?

Stratten has four reasons that QR codes kill kittens -- they don't work, nobody likes them, they're selfish, and they waste useful space -- and organizes the book around those four problems. There are a lot of QR code examples, because QR codes are incredibly easy to use badly. (Put it on a billboard by the freeway! Put it on an automatic door! Put it on a sign pulled by an airplane! Put it as your brand's Facebook profile photo!) But there are plenty of other kinds of marketing mistakes, too -- and a few Internet-style funny pictures, because of course there must be.

If you do marketing -- and by that I mean, if you help in any way to package products and services for customers or help those customers find the right products and services -- these are lessons you need to know. Not so much so you use QR codes correctly, since tactics are always changing, but so you market correctly: thoughtfully, purposefully, with your customers in mind at all times.

That won't magically make all of your efforts successful, since nothing can do that. But it will keep you on the right path, and you'll be far ahead of the bad marketers, who will be out there killing kittens every day with their thoughtless slapdash efforts.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Award Nomination Season Is Upon Us

You have probably seen these nominees/finalists elsewhere, since they were announced up to a month ago. But you haven't seen them here yet, which...doesn't matter to anyone, but it sounds like a comeback.

Anyway, if you are looking for things to read, these are things that at least a decent clump of people think are really awesome, that are all genre fiction in one way or another, and all came out within the last year or so.

Nebula Award Nominees & Hangers-On


Novel
  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
  • Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
  • Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
  • Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)
Novella
  • We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
  • Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
  • “The Regular,” Ken Liu (Upgraded)
  • “The Mothers of Voorhisville,” Mary Rickert (Tor.com 4/30/14)
  • Calendrical Regression, Lawrence Schoen (NobleFusion)
  • “Grand Jeté (The Great Leap),” Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’14)
Novelette
  • “Sleep Walking Now and Then,” Richard Bowes (Tor.com 7/9/14)
  • “The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
  • “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
  • “The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado (Granta #129)
  • “We Are the Cloud,” Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed 9/14)
  • “The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)
Short Story
  • “The Breath of War,” Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 3/6/14)
  • “When It Ends, He Catches Her,” Eugie Foster (Daily Science Fiction 9/26/14)
  • “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” Matthew Kressel (Clarkesworld 5/14)
  • “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family,” Usman T. Malik (Qualia Nous)
  • “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide,” Sarah Pinsker (F&SF 3-4/14)
  • “Jackalope Wives,” Ursula Vernon (Apex 1/7/14)
  • “The Fisher Queen,” Alyssa Wong (F&SF 5/14)
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Edge of Tomorrow, Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Interstellar, Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures)
  • The Lego Movie, Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller  (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House)
  • Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)
  • Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown)
  • Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
  • Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion)
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)
(I saw these first from the estimable John Scalzi and have almost no opinion this year, since I've read exactly none of the fiction and only saw two of the movies. I would like to see Alaya Dawn Johnson win at least one for vaguely nepotistic reasons, though.)

Bram Stoker Award

Superior Achievement in a Novel
  • Craig DiLouie – Suffer the Children (Gallery Books of Simon & Schuster)
  • Patrick Freivald – Jade Sky (JournalStone)
  • Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You (Jonathan Cape, Vintage/Penguin Random House UK)
  • Christopher Rice – The Vines (47North)
  • Steve Rasnic Tem – Blood Kin (Solaris Books)

Superior Achievement in a First Novel
  • Maria Alexander – Mr. Wicker (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
  • J.D. Barker – Forsaken (Hampton Creek Press)
  • David Cronenberg – Consumed (Scribner)
  • Michael Knost – Return of the Mothman (Woodland Press)
  • Josh Malerman – Bird Box (Harper Collins)
Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel
  • Jake Bible – Intentional Haunting (Permuted Press)
  • John Dixon – Phoenix Island (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books)
  • Kami Garcia – Unmarked (The Legion Series Book 2) (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)
  • Tonya Hurley – Passionaries (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
  • Peter Adam Salomon – All Those Broken Angels (Flux)
Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel
  • Emily Carroll – Through the Woods (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
  • Joe Hill – Locke and Key, Vol. 6 (IDW Publishing)
  • Joe R. Lansdale and Daniele Serra – I Tell You It’s Love (Short, Scary Tales Publications)
  • Jonathan Maberry – Bad Blood (Dark Horse Books)
  • Paul Tobin – The Witcher (Dark Horse Books)
Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
  • Taylor Grant – “The Infected” (Cemetery Dance #71) (Cemetery Dance)
  • Eric J. Guignard – “Dreams of a Little Suicide” (Hell Comes to Hollywood II: Twenty-Two More Tales of Tinseltown Terror (Volume 2) (Big Time Books)
  • Joe R. Lansdale – “Fishing for Dinosaurs” (Limbus, Inc., Book II) (JournalStone)
  • Jonathan Maberry – “Three Guys Walk into a Bar” (Limbus, Inc., Book II) (JournalStone)
  • Joe McKinney – “Lost and Found” (Limbus, Inc., Book II) (JournalStone)

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction
  • Hal Bodner – “Hot Tub” (Hell Comes to Hollywood II: Twenty-Two More Tales of Tinseltown Terror (Volume 2) (Big Time Books)
  • Sydney Leigh – “Baby’s Breath” (Bugs: Tales That Slither, Creep, and Crawl) (Great Old Ones Publishing)
  • Usman T. Malik – “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family” (Qualia Nous) (Written Backwards)
  • Rena Mason – “Ruminations” (Qualia Nous) (Written Backwards)
  • John Palisano – “Splinterette” (Widowmakers: A Benefit Anthology of Dark Fiction) (Widowmaker Press)
  • Damien Angelica Walters – “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” (Jamais Vu, Issue Three) (Post Mortem Press)

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay
  • Scott M. Gimple – The Walking Dead: “The Grove”, episode 4:14 (AMC)
  • Jennifer Kent – The Babadook (Causeway Films)
  • John Logan – Penny Dreadful: “Séance” (Desert Wolf Productions/Neal Street Productions)
  • Steven Moffat – Doctor Who: “Listen” (British Broadcasting Corporation)
  • James Wong – American Horror Story: Coven: “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks” (FX Network)
Superior Achievement in an Anthology
  • Michael Bailey – Qualia Nous (Written Backwards)
  • Jason V Brock – A Darke Phantastique (Cycatrix Press)
  • Ellen Datlow – Fearful Symmetries (ChiZine Publications)
  • Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Thomas, and Dennis Widmyer – Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press)
  • Brett J. Talley – Limbus, Inc., Book II (JournalStone)
Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection
  • Stephen Graham Jones – After the People Lights Have Gone Off (Dark House Press)
  • John R. Little – Little by Little (Bad Moon Books)
  • Helen Marshall – Gifts for the One Who Comes After (ChiZine Publications)
  • Lucy Snyder – Soft Apocalypses (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
  • John F.D. Taff – The End in All Beginnings (Grey Matter Press)
Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction
  • Jason V Brock – Disorders of Magnitude (Rowman & Littlefield)
  • S.T. Joshi – Lovecraft and a World in Transition (Hippocampus Press)
  • Leslie S. Klinger – The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (Liveright Publishing Corp., a division of W.W. Norton & Co.)
  • Joe Mynhardt and Emma Audsley – Horror 101: The Way Forward (Crystal Lake Publishing)
  • Lucy Snyder – Shooting Yourself in the Head For Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide (Post Mortem Press)
Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection
  • Robert Payne Cabeen – Fearworms: Selected Poems (Fanboy Comics)
  • Corrinne De Winter and Alessandro Manzetti – Venus Intervention (Kipple Officina Libraria)
  • Tom Piccirilli – Forgiving Judas (Crossroad Press)
  • Marge Simon and Mary Turzillo – Sweet Poison (Dark Renaissance Books)
  • Stephanie Wytovich – Mourning Jewelry (Raw Dog Screaming Press) 
 (Seen via SF Signal, which is not nearly as easy to cut-and-paste from as Mr. Scalzi's domain.)

Aurealis Awards

Best Fantasy Novel
  • Fireborn, Keri Arthur (Hachette Australia)
  • This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Lascar’s Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette Australia)
  • Dreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)
  • Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)
  • Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins (Harlequin Enterprises Australia)
Best Fantasy Short Story
  • “The Oud”, Thoraiya Dyer (Long Hidden, Crossed Genres Publications)
  • “Teratogen”, Deborah Kalin (Cemetery Dance, #71, May 2014)
  • “The Ghost of Hephaestus”, Charlotte Nash (Phantazein, FableCroft Publications)
  • “St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, Angela Slatter (The Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3)
  • “The Badger Bride”, Angela Slatter (Strange Tales IV, Tartarus Press)
Best Science Fiction Novel
  • Aurora: Meridian, Amanda Bridgeman (Momentum)
  • Nil By Mouth, LynC (Satalyte)
  • The White List, Nina D’Aleo (Momentum)
  • Peacemaker, Marianne de Pierres (Angry Robot)
  • This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
  • Foresight, Graham Storrs (Momentum)
Best Science Fiction Short Story
  • “The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)
  • “Wine, Women and Stars”, Thoraiya Dyer (Analog Vol CXXXIV nos 1&2 Jan/Feb)
  • “The Glorious Aerybeth”, Jason Fischer (OnSpec, 11 Sep 2014)
  • “Dellinger”, Charlotte Nash (Use Only As Directed, Peggy Bright Books)
  • “Happy Go Lucky”, Garth Nix (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)
Best Horror Novel
  • Book of the Dead, Greig Beck (Momentum)
  • Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)
  • Obsidian, Alan Baxter (HarperVoyager)
Best Horror Short Story
  • “The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)
  • “Skinsuit”, James Bradley (Island Magazine 137)
  • “By the Moon’s Good Grace”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 12, Issue 3)
  • “Shay Corsham Worsted”, Garth Nix (Fearful Symmetries, Chizine)
  • “Home and Hearth”, Angela Slatter (Spectral Press)
Best Young Adult Novel
  • The Astrologer’s Daughter, Rebecca Lim (Text Publishing)
  • Afterworld, Lynnette Lounsbury (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)
  • Clariel, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Haunting of Lily Frost, Nova Weetman (UQP)
  • Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)
Best Young Adult Short Story
  • “In Hades”, Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press)
  • “Falling Leaves”, Liz Argall (Apex Magazine)
  • “The Fuller and the Bogle”, David Cornish (Tales from the Half-Continent, Omnibus Books)
  • “Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “Signature”, Faith Mudge (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)
Best Children's Fiction
  • Slaves of Socorro: Brotherband #4, John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
  • Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, Karen Foxlee (Hot Key Books)
  • The Last Viking Returns, Norman Jorgensen and James Foley (ILL.) (Fremantle Press)
  • Withering-by-Sea, Judith Rossell (ABC Books)
  • Sunker’s Deep: The Hidden #2, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)
  • Shadow Sister: Dragon Keeper #5, Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)
Best Collection
  • The Female Factory, Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Secret Lives, Rosaleen Love (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Angel Dust, Ian McHugh (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Difficult Second Album: more stories of Xenobiology, Space Elevators, and Bats Out Of Hell, Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)
  • The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Angela Slatter (Tartarus Press)
  • Black-Winged Angels, Angela Slatter (Ticonderoga Publications)
Best Anthology
  • Kisses by Clockwork, Liz Grzyb (Ed) (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Eds), (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, Dominica Malcolm (Ed) (Solarwyrm Press)
  • Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)
  • Fearsome Magics, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)
  • Phantazein, Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)
Best Graphic Novel/Illustrated Work
  • Left Hand Path #1, Jason Franks & Paul Abstruse (Winter City Productions)
  • Awkwood, Jase Harper (Milk Shadow Books)
  • “A Small Wild Magic”, Kathleen Jennings (Monstrous Affections, Candlewick Press)
  • Mr Unpronounceable and the Sect of the Bleeding Eye, Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)
  • The Game, Shane W Smith (Deeper Meanings Publishing)
(also via SF Signal; if you don't know, the Aurealis are the national genre-fiction awards of Australia)

Congratulations to all of the nominees and commiserations to the vast majority of them who will come up losers on the big day.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/21

I'm still here, in case you were wondering.

Things other than blogging have been taking up too much of my time and energy -- mostly the latter, to be honest, since I have a lot of time on my hands these days, and I'm not as efficient in using it as I want to be. (Know the saying "if you want something done, give it to a busy man"? Well, the reverse is also sadly true.)

Anyway, none of that stops the mail -- nothing stops the mail. This week I have three books to write about, slightly marred by a sneaking suspicion that one of them was meant to go to a different Andrew Wheeler entirely. (The other comics Andrew Wheeler isn't my nemesis, since we've never met -- but, if we ever do, maybe we can work out a mutually agreeable pact of nemesis-itude.) As always, I haven't read them yet. But here they are:

Harrison Squared is a new contemporary fantasy novel by Daryl Gregory, author of Pandaemonium and Afterparty. It's the story of young Harrison Harrison, deathly afraid of water after a supernatural sea creature capsized their boat and disappeared his father, who now lives with his marine biologist mother in the small, eerie Massachusetts town of Dunnsmouth, perched on the edge of a dark and mysterious sea. It's a first person Lovecraftian book, and appears to have been hand-crafted to appeal directly to me -- so I hope I can find time to read it. Harrison Squared is a Tor hardcover, officially arriving in stores tomorrow.

Another Tor hardcover hitting stores tomorrow is Gillian Philip's Icefall, the fourth and last book in her "Rebel Angels" fantasy series about alternate worlds and the various Scottish hunks in all of them. (I may be misrepresenting the series horribly.)

And my third book this week is a big slab of comics from DC's "New 52" initiative, which I've pretty much entirely avoided up to now. (I don't read much in the way of mainstream superheroes, since I'm no longer fifteen and self-aware enough to realize that.) It apparently is a very big fight with Doomsday, the alien monster that "killed" a previous version of Superman about twenty years ago. (He got better. Well, first four other people got better, then he did -- it was complicated.) I don't think the cover is meant to depict Bizarro -- one of the best characters of all time, and I don't care who knows it -- which is good, since it would be sad if it did. The book is called Superman: Doomed, it's credited to the law firm of Greg Pak, Charles Soule, Scott Lobdell, Tony S. Daniel, Aaron Kuder, and Ken Lashley, and it's available as a big fat hardcover right now.

(SPOILER ALERT: Superman is not actually doomed.)

Note that this book does actually have words on the cover, but, as usual for comics publishers, finding the real final cover online is nearly impossible and finding the dark and foreboding art by itself is dead easy. Comics people have a distant and strained relationship with words.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/14

Another week has come and gone, and what do we have to show for it?

Well, for the part of "we" that is me, I've got at least a few paper-based entertainment products that arrived in my mailbox over that week. I didn't ask for these, which makes them even better, and I'm continually impressed and amused by the odd things that get published. (And that sell hugely, and become international cult successes, and win awards -- the world is big and full of strange things.) This week, I have one book and two comics to mention, and, as usual, I haven't actually read any of them yet.)

(This is true even this week, when I could probably take half an hour or so right now, read them, and get back to this post. But I refuse to do that, because...um...I'm sure I have a reason...well, let's say because it would ruin the gestalt I've established over the past seven years and move on quickly, shall we?)

The book is an illustrated paperback called Gene Simmons Is a Powerful and Attractive Man: And Other Irrefutable Facts, which is written by Christina Vitagliano (founder of the Monster Mini Golf chain, a fact so random I can't help but mention it) and illustrated by the twin dynamos of Monster Mini Golf's art department, Corey and Craig Marier. It's a Simmons-centric version of all of those jokey webpages about how some person is totally awesome and bends reality to his will: I believe Chuck Norris is the canonical original, but there have been plenty of them by now. Vitagliano's particular take is that Simmons is the modern god of sex, more or less, so this is full of one-liners about the powers of his tongue and other body parts, as well as the usual "the sun needs Simmons's permission to come up" silliness. It has a foreword from the man himself, written in the third person, and it will be a Plume trade paperback in April. If you are sexually obsessed with Simmons, this will be the only book you need this year.

Both comics are from DC, and both are Batman books -- first up is Detective Comics: Endgame #1, one of a series of one-shots tying into a current storyline in which Joker unleashes mass chaos and death in Gotham City. (What, again?) It's written by Brian Buccellato, drawn by Roge Antonio and Roman Cliquet, and appears to be entirely a sidebar.

The other is Batman Arkham Knight #1, yet another story about Joker yadda yadda Gotham City in flames and ruins blah blah blah mass deaths and horror et cetera. It's set in between two of the video games -- nothing against them, personally, since I still hope to play several of them -- and was originally published in three smaller parts digitally. It was written by Peter J. Tomasi and drawn by Viktor Bogdanovic and Art Thibert. I'm not clear about whether this is also a one-shot or not -- it has a "Next!" box at the end, but that could easily be leading into the game. Either way, it a piece of Batman story that fits in between two of the most popular pieces of Batman story of the past few years.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Quote of the Week: There's a Message on the Wind

"God never listened to Charlie Parker; Charlie Parker lived in vain."
 - Richard Thompson, "Outside of the Inside"

Monday, March 09, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/7

Since I ostensibly review books online -- though you couldn't tell that from this blog, recently -- publishing companies send me books to review, through an antiquated system involving parcel-delivery agents who actually go to people's houses. It's a lovely thing, getting free stuff: I highly recommend organizing your life in any way you can to get things you like for free as much as possible.

In return, I review at least some of those books here. (And, it used to be, other places as well, though that's fallen off in the past few years.) I also do a Monday-morning post to list all of them as they come in, to make sure I give everything at least a little attention. Despite the title, this isn't actually a review, sine I am handicapped by not having read the books in question.

This week, I've got one book to tell you about, but it's one I probably would have bought or read anyway, so that's a very solid win.

The book is A Blink of the Screen, and it collects all of Terry Pratchett's short stories -- in or out of Discworld, from 1963 through 2010, including a deleted segment of his only novella as an appendix -- between two covers. Pratchett was never much of a short-fiction writer, though he is entirely responsible for around fifty novels and partially responsible for a handful more, so this book is not all that large; it's less than three hundred pages long. It has a loving, appreciative foreword by A.S. Byatt (of all people), and no new Pratchett prose of any kind, unless you count the single-sentence dedication to his longtime agent Colin Smythe (whom I also used to have the pleasure of occasionally talking to, back in my book-club days).

Blink is a Doubleday hardcover, part of their current wonderful flood of secondary Pratchett titles into the US market, and officially hits stores on the 17th of this month. It follows last fall's A Slip of the Keyboard, which did the same thing for Pratchett's nonfiction, and joins the Science of Discworld books (four of them; I think Doubleday has two out here so far with the rest in queue), The Folklore of Discworld, The Compleat Ankh-Morpork City Guide, and possibly several other things I've forgotten or missed. I'm still waiting for Nanny Ogg's Cookbook to hit America, though I expect I will be waiting quite a long time to come.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

For some readers, a book with a connection to the world of books is immediately appealing. Have a major setting in a library or bookstore, throw in an author as a major character, make the maguffin some old book with secrets that must be retrieved, and those folks are in line immediately to plunk down their nickels.

Full disclosure, here: I'm talking about myself. I may be talking about you as well, but you'll have to decide that one yourself.

So a slim book from Haruki Murakami called The Strange Library was obviously going to be catnip to me and people like me. First, the whole library thing. Second, it's short: a quick read. (Shorter even than I expected: I didn't count words, but it took substantially less than an hour to read. It might well not even reach novella length.) And add in that this library is "strange," too -- well, how could I pass it up?

The Strange Library is deeply Murakami-esque, with a passive young narrator -- a schoolboy visiting his local library one day -- when he gets sent into a surreal landscape, and trapped in a place where the normal rules don't apply. Our young man is just looking for some books, and follows the directions he's given -- go to this room in the basement, and then follow the requisite nasty librarian to the "inner room" to read the chosen books, where things go wrong. It's so short that saying much more than that about the plot probably would give away everything, but the back cover mentions "a mysterious girl" and "a tormented sheep man," so it's fair to note that this boy is not entirely alone.

The Strange Library is concentrated Murakami, which means it comes very close to being complete nonsense and is redeemed primarily by his matter-of-fact tone (as rendered in English by translator Ted Goossen). Any attempt to justify the plot or setup will fail immediately; this is a book about atmosphere and feeling and fine sentences rather than about things that actually happen or could happen. Frankly, it's not terribly satisfying for those reasons: Murakami works best when he has more space to spin his quirkly alternate worlds, and his readers have time to settle into those worlds and live within their unspoken rules for a while. Strange Library, on the other hand, is more of a sketch, over almost before it starts. It's best left to those who are already Murakami fans.