- The Narrows by Alexander C. Irvine
Reading for WFA is letting me catch up on writers whose work I liked in the past but I've missed (for one reason or another) recently. I really liked Irvine's first novel, A Scattering of Jades, but couldn't persuade many SFBC member to buy it (the ingrates). So I ended up missing One King, One Soldier (which I'll have to go back and read some day) and only just got to this excellent novel. It's about a young married guy in Detroit during WWII -- oh, and he works on Henry Ford's secret golem assembly line. If that description just made you say, "Wow, cool!" you won't be disappointed by this book.
- The Mammoth Book of Illustrated Erotic Women edited by Maxim Jakubowski
An odd, convoluted title for what is essentially the sequel to The Mammoth Book of Illustrated Erotica. The first book should have been called ...Erotic Photography, and this one ...Erotic Female Photography. Maybe "photography" is a sales-killer at Mammoth World Headquarters these days, but "illustrated" implies paint and/or ink, and these are books of photographs. (Tasteful, arty photos of naked people, but you probably guessed that by now.)
- The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt
First novel by a noted short-story writer (though I don't think I've read any of his stuff before) and Locus staffer. The plot wasn't as surprising as I'd hoped, especially in the end, but it is a nice literate modern-chick-saves-the-world-from-magical-evil book.
- The Complete Peanuts: 1957 to 1958 by Charles M. Schulz
God, Schulz was good. I know at some point Peanuts descended into blandness, but I don't really know when that was, and the early years were so good (and so in tune, in retrospect, with the Zeitgeist of the late '50s) that I can't wait for the next volume to come out.
- The Joys of Engrish by Steven Caires
A very small book of photos of Japanese consumer goods (and a few signs) that humorously mangle the English language. Some of the sayings have potential as Zen koans, and a large number of them are hilarious.
- Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds
I've liked Reynolds's books from the beginning (and his short fiction is excellent as well), but this is his most energetic novel. It's about as long as his other books, but it seems to move much faster. In this one, Saturn's moon Janus suddenly powers up and heads off out of the solar system -- and only one human ship is in a position to fly-by and see what the hell is going on. I have to admit a weakness for Enigmatic Alien Artifact stories, and this one pushed a lot of my buttons.
- Mommy Knows Worst by James Lileks
I've tried reading Lileks's blog, but he has the born newspaperman's ability to spin out copy endlessly even when nothing is happening. (Today! Ten thousand words on driving his daughter to school in a light rain!) But his books are another story. I've read this one and The Gallery of Regrettable Food, both of which are broad, satirical looks at mid-century lifestyle books (cooking in the latter, parenting in the former). He's funny in himself, and he's good at unearthing appalling things that people used to do or believe.
- Looking for Jake by China Mieville
This seems to be Mieville's complete stories to date, and I'm afraid it's a bit of a mixed bag. Some of it is very good and some of it is...less good.
- Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones
A late entry into the Chrestomanci series, this has atmosphere and setting to spare but the story isn't particularly surprising. (On the other hand, I've been poking through a giant stack of YA novels over the past week, and this is vastly better than today's average YA novel.)
- Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple
First novel by a young musician, about a young musician. (No, it's not as bad as you fear; it's pretty good, actually.) He's a semi-reformed junkie who goes off to Scotland and discovers the Fey Folk, which causes problems. It has an interesting, non-typical ending that my SFBC reader loathed but which I liked, probably because it was untypical.
- Frazz: Life at Bryson Elementary by Jef Mallett
I still look askance at the author for mislaying one of the letters in his first name, and this occasionally gets too cutesy for its own good, but it general it's a solid gag-a-day strip, with regular moments of thoughtful humor. (And nearly-as-regular moments of deliberate, middle-America "thoughtfulness" that doesn't rise to the level of humor.)
- Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Betrayal by Aaron Allston
First in a new series set way at the far end of the timeline, and which I enjoyed more than I expected.
- Samurai Executioner, Vol.8: The Death Sign of Spring by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
These aren't quite as good as Lone Wolf and Cub (28 volumes by the same creators; run out and get the first one now), but this comics series about Edo-era samurai is as close to stories written by aliens as we're likely to get.
- Fables, Vol.6: Homelands by Bill Willingham and various artists
More of the backstory is revealed in the latest collection of the popular fairy-tale-characters-hiding-in-the-modern-world comics series. Willingham has been doing interesting stuff around the edges of comics for about two decades now, so I'm glad he finally got himself a big, juicy hit.
- The Hedge Knight by George R.R. Martin and various comics-adaptation writers and artists
All of the characters look too clean and pretty, but that's what comics do. And I found it hard to keep track of the characters and their familial relationships (though that's sometimes an issue with the "Song of Ice and Fire" novels, too, though I've never had to do the Russian-names thing and just hum over a list of fiefdoms). It's an unnecessary thing -- the novella didn't need to be adapted into comics, and being adapted into comics didn't add much to it -- but it's a pretty thing, and a solid retelling of a good story.
- The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
First in my boys' favorite book series. I'm now reading longer books to them at night (these have been taking three nights apiece to go through), and I hope to transition to books without pictures sometime soon. (I'd been doing separate bedtimes for the two boys up to about six months ago, and had been reading long books to Thing 1 before then, but this is the first time Thing 2 is getting serialized fiction.) If you have, or know, boys aged about 6 to 10, you already know this series. If not, you'll probably never have heard of it. They're very fun, and very silly, for that audience, and for men who remember when the word "wedgie" all by itself could raise a big laugh.
- Powers, Vol.1: Who Killed Retro Girl? by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming
Somehow I avoided reading this comics series about cops in a world of superheroes until now, despite all of the acclaim. (Probably because I have a very low tolerance for long-underwear types these days.) The dialogue is of the aggressively "realistic" type, with people talking in fragments and across each other -- yes, that's how people talk in real life, but that works better in filmed media than in written media (like comics). Everyone repeat after me: a comic is not a movie. But the story is interesting, and I've already bought and read Vol.2, which is some kind of recommendation.
- Queen & Country Vol.7: Operation: Saddlebags by Greg Rucka and various artists
This collects one short story arc, in which our main character is berated at the end for not being an uber-competent James Bond and killing three men with a toothpick while cutting the red wire and foiling the plans of SMERSH (I may be altering the details slightly). Yes, the guy doing the berating is a jerk, and it's in character, but this series has always been about how those kinds of neat-o keen-o super-agent heroics never actually happen and don't work, so I found it a bit jarring. Even worse is that this book also collects a sidebar issue, which is told mostly in untranslated French and German. I often complain that comics underestimate my intelligence, but going the other way can be just as bad: one should not have to be trilingual to understand why our heroine just walked into an orgy. Translate it, paraphrase it; do something. If there are lots of words we can't even read in our comics, we might not keep coming back.
- Ethel & Ernest: A True Story by Raymond Briggs
The story of the author's parent's marriage, told in comics form. Touching and real, but a bit sketchy, since it covers fifty years or so in less than a hundred pages.
- Year's Best SF 11 edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer
Another good round-up of the previous year in skiffy; if you like SF and (like me) can't keep up with the magazines, you should be reading books like this one to know what's going on in short fiction. Besides, this one has a story by my colleague Alaya Johnson in it!
- Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets by Dav Pilkey
- A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
It's huge, and still only half of the book Martin was writing (and doesn't have most of the fan-favorite characters in it, to boot). He's still a mesmerizing writer, but parts of this feel like side-shows to the main story -- for example, I wish that Brienne's story was important to the series, since I love her character, but I don't believe that it is, right now. Even given all of everyone's grumbles, this is still as good as epic fantasy ever gets (and I'm saying that as a compliment!)
- Skizz by Alan Moore and Jim Baikie
One of Moore's first comics works, originally serialized in 2000 A.D.. An alien gets stranded in early '80s Birmingham, and is saved by a teenage punkette and her friends. It's minor Moore, and pretty obvious, but a pleasant read while it lasts.
- Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman by Dav Pilkey
Book five; the boys decided to jump out of order.
- Electric Girl, Vol.3 by Michael Brennan
A YAish comics series that I remembered (after reading this one) that I wasn't enjoying all that much. Oh, well. I think this was the end of it. A teenage girl has electrical powers and a trickster-figure imp who causes trouble for her. That's the problem, really -- either one of those would be a good premise, but having both of them feels like too much to me.
- Best Short Novels: 2006 edited by Jonathan Strahan
It's gigantic, it's full of good stuff, and I'm not at all objective about it. It has both Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners" and Connie Willis's "Inside Job," so how can you avoid buying it?
- Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants by Dav Pilkey
Book four; we're now working backwards.
- The Extraordinary Voyage of Jules Verne by Eric Brown
A novella published as a book in which Verne is dragged into the future to witness wonders, save the world, and fall in love with a hot freedom-fighter babe. I didn't love it, but it's written in a distanced style, and I don't think it was meant to be loved.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
I'm running a few days late on this -- I forgot about it until yesterday, actually -- and it's a long list, so let's dive right into what I read last month: