Monday, July 18, 2011

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/16

As usual, this post captures, as if in amber, the contents of my mailbox during the previous week, with commentary that I intend to be witty or informational or, in rare cases, both. I haven't read any of these books yet -- and, at the rate I'm going this summer, it doesn't look like I'll get anything read -- so this is what I can tell you from prior knowledge, supposition, hearsay, and wild flights of fancy:

I'll lead off with an author and a series that I ran out of superlatives for many years ago -- Rick Geary and his decade-plus project of graphic novels about various famous murder cases of the past. It started out as "A Treasury of Victorian Murder," though the last few years have seen Geary move a few years forward into "A Treasury of XXth Century Murder" -- and, under any name, the books are precise, gorgeous, engrossing, and eye-opening. This year's book is The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti, about the two Italian immigrants accused of murder -- and, more damningly at the time, of anarchism and simply being Italian immigrants -- in Massachusetts right after the end of the first World War. Sacco and Vanzetti is published, as this whole series has been, by NBM, and will be in stores in September.

Michael Blumlein is not particularly prolific: he had an excellently creepy SF novel, The Movement of Mountains, in the late '80s; a vastly creepier horror novel, X, Y, in the middle of the next decade; and then The Healer, a novel which was somewhat less creepy and arguably either SF or fantasy, just a few years ago. His short fiction was collected, longer ago than I want to remember, in The Brains of Rats, one of the great unsettling collections of the late 20th century. And he's had stories here and there since then, mostly in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. One such story was "The Roberts," a long novella that F&SF published three years ago -- and it was received so well that it's spun out to be a slim book of its own. The Roberts was just published by Tachyon, bringing the story of Robert Fairchild, one-eyed lonely genius architect, and the perfect woman he creates into its own two covers for the first time.

Osamu Tezuka is a towering figure in Japanese popular entertainment, the seminal (and vastly popular for decades) force behind much of both the early comics (manga) and animation (anime) industries, with entire genres deriving directly or in part from single works he did in the '50s and '60s. And the most popular work of his mature years was Black Jack, the long-running story of an outlaw, unlicensed surgeon who traveled the world, performing unlikely, dramatic medical interventions, under his own demanding, quirky code of conduct. Verical has been reprinting all of the Black Jack stories for an English-speaking audience -- in Tezuka's preferred order and reading right-to-left, like the Japanese originals -- for a few years now, and has just reached the fifteenth volume, of a planned seventeen. (I reviewed volumes one and two when they were published.)

Steampunk has proliferated to the point where even fans can start to argue passionately about edge cases -- for example, are George Mann's "Ghost" novels, set in New York soon after World War I, in an alternate history with a US-Britain cold war, actually steampunk, or does their post-Victorian setting disqualify them? Does the fact that the villain has flying mechanical minions made of brass sway the dial one way or the other? Whatever you call it, Ghosts of War -- the second book in the series, after Ghosts of Manhattan -- was published at the beginning of this month by Pyr, and that collection of ideas will certainly entice readers of steampunk.

Only in science fiction can a completely reprint collection still claim to be about the future of anything -- if one wanted to be triumphalist about it, one could claim that SF writers are always a few decades ahead of other fictioneers, but I don't know if I'd go that far -- and so Rick Wilber's anthology Future Media can still be exciting and new, even if it contains stories as old as an excerpt from 1932's Brave New World and nonfiction as old as a Vannevar Bush essay from 1945. To be honest, Future Media strikes me as a book designed as reading for a very particular college course -- perhaps, even, once that Wilber teaches at the University of South Florida -- but it certainly pulls together interesting texts from very disparate areas on the subject of media in the future. Tachyon will publish Future Media in August.

And last for this week is Campbell nominee Lev Grossman's second fantasy novel -- he wrote one non-fantasy novel several years ago, and has been a professional writer and critic for a decade, but he's still Campbell eligible because the rules for that award are particularly parochial -- The Magician King. I read and reviewed The Magicians, to which this new book is a sequel, and didn't entirely think it lived up to the hype, but it was nevertheless a major, serious fantasy novel with a lot of ambition, ideas, and writing chops behind it. This book is clearly Grossman's version of The Dawn Treader, as Magicians was a combination of Harry Potter and Narnia, but I hope that Grossman has been able to turn his impulses into influences, and escape the first book's focus on retelling other people's stories the "right" way. Magician King will be published August 9th by Viking.

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