Monday, September 06, 2010

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 9/4

Usually, I start off these weekly posts by emphasizing that I haven't actually read any of the books I'm about to describe, and to say that I'm telling you what I can about them from looking at them and giving them the incredibly scientific examination known as the "sniff test" in publishing circles. But, this week, the first book I have to mention actually is something I've already read.

And that would be wonderful, if I had positive things to say about Charles Yu's first novel, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Sadly, I found it trite and dull -- deeply postmodern at the expense of any science-fictional or even more generally literary virtues -- when I read it just under a month ago. (There's a more positive review in this week's New York Times Book Review -- by a poet named Ander Monson, whose taste and perspicacity I have no other datapoints to clearly map -- but I think anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows my opinion of the NYTBR's judgment when it comes anywhere near SF.) Live Safely comes complete with glowing quotes from Colson Whitehead, Audrey Niffenegger, Kevin Brockmeier, and Nick Harkaway, so, if you trust their opinion on SFnal novels better than you do mine, you can grab a copy of Live Safely at your favorite book emporium tomorrow, when Pantheon publishes it in hardcover. (I will quickly note that this is yet another book that feels the need to declare itself "A Novel," which I think shows incredible nervousness on the part of the author, publisher, or both.)

The image I have to the left does not adequately represent how very, very shiny the cover of Trish J. MacGregor's supernatural thriller Esperanza is. It's terribly shiny, possibly enough to act as a crude solar reflector if read outside on a generally sunny day. I suspect that this is not a particularly subtle book -- its protagonists, FBI Agent Tess and Professor Ian, find themselves on Bus 13 and then sharing Cottage 13 in the small Ecuadoran town of Esperanza, on the banks of the Rio Palo (aka River Stick-as-in-Styx, and not the "Come Sail Away" kind of Styx, either) -- but who wants subtlety in a romantic thriller about the "mystic war between the kind spirits of the dead who guard humanity, and the hungry brujos, who exist only to possess living human bodies"? Not me, certainly. If you want to know if Tess and Ian save the world, Tor will publish Esperanza on September 14th in hardcover.

Also from Tor, and also coming in hardcover on the 14th -- and even edited by the same person, as far as I can tell -- is another fantasy novel, in a very different style: Ken Scholes's Antiphon. Antiphon is the third volume in Scholes's Psalms of Issak series, after Lamentation and Canticle, and is thus the middle of this planned five-volume series. I have to admit that I haven't read any of these, so all I can tell you is that they seem to be smart epic fantasy, the kind that gets good reviews but which still are described in terms of large numbers of characters, places, and things with deeply fantasy-novel names: Nabios, the Wizard Kings, Windwir, Marsh Queen, Hidden Library, Ninefold Forest, Jin Li Tam, Child of Promise, Crimson Empress, Blood Guard, Gray Guard, Petronus, Remus, and the inevitable Moon Wizard Raj Y'Zir. If that intrigues you, Lamentation is available in paperback, so start there. And if you've already read the first two, your wait is over.

Last this time out are two graphic novels translated from the French, the earliest works of a renowned master of bandes dessinee -- which may sound very hoity-toity to you, until I reveal that I'm talking about Peyo and Les Schtroumpfs. Those are "the Smurfs" to those of us on this side of the Atlantic, and the two books in question are The Purple Smurfs and The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, the first of a planned new wave of Smurfy products coming in advance of a new CGI Smurf movie expected next year. The movie looks like the usual "family movie" formula that we get far too much of these days, but if it means that Peyo's stories get another shot at the US market, who am I to complain? The Purple Smurfs has three shorter stories -- the title tale, "The Flying Smurf," and "The Smurf and His Neighbors" -- while Magic Flute is a full-length graphic novel. These two books are coming from NBM's kid-friendly Papercutz imprint Papercutz, NBM's tween-focused sister company, in September -- and so are probably already in a lot of stores -- with a third smurf volume, The Smurf King, coming in December. I can't think of anything more totally smurfy than that!

Edit: Fixed description of Papercutz above, much later than I should have.

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