Monday, May 28, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/26

I write this from the middle of a particularly long holiday weekend -- I took extra days fore and aft -- so I'm about as relaxed and contented as it's possible for me to be. (Which is not very, but it's as good as things get.) So the big stack of books that came in this past week looks like an exciting panoply of potential riches to me, instead of a chore or any of the other things it could be if I were in a grumpier mood.

All of these books showed up on my doorstep, essentially unannounced, over the last week. And I haven't read any of them yet. But here's what I can tell you about them:

The Rapture of the Nerds is the first novel-length collaboration between SF writers Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, coming as a Tor hardcover in September. Actually, I should walk that back a bit -- it's actually a fix-up, consisting of two previous published Doctorow-Stross novellas, "Jury Service" and "Appeals Court," along with a new novella-length story, "Parole Board," all of which has been rewritten at least somewhat to make it read smoothly. (The fix-up is an venerable and respected SF form; Asimov's original Foundation Trilogy and half of the works of Van Vogt are notable examples.) Rapture is set in a moderately post-human future, a hundred years on, in which the various uploaded minds floating around near space occasionally interfere with the lives of the billion traditional humans left on Earth -- which interference our hero, the grumpy young Welshman Huw, tries to minimize.

Timothy Zahn's Quadrail series -- which has something to do with trains in space, or at least began with the novel Night Train to Rigel -- concludes with Judgment at Proteus, a Tor hardcover on sale June 5th. It's adventure SF in the space opera style, with an evil parasitic alien force trying to conquer the brains (sweet, sweet brains!) of the galaxy, and the One Man who must stand against them.

Just in time for this year's gala Nebula Awards ceremony -- literally; it was published on May 15th as a trade paperback from Pyr -- is Nebula Awards Showcase 2012, an anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, containing the 2011 winners, given out at last year's ceremony. The book itself very careful does not say anywhere easily noticeable -- it could be buried in the introduction, which I only skimmed -- that these are the 2011 winners, though a very careful reader could infer that from the list at the end, which contains all Nebula winners from publications years 1965 through 2009. (But that's even more confusing, since SFWA's current numbering scheme calls the winners in this book the 2011 Nebulas -- given in 2011 for works generally published in 2010 -- though the list in this book's appendix uses year of publication, implying that the year 2010 had no Nebulas at all.) Anyway, this book has stories by Harlan Ellison™ -- literally; he's credited with the trademark after his name -- Kij Johnson, Geoff Landis, Rachel Swirsky, Adam Troy-Castro, and more, plus excerpts from the novel nominees, and the aforementioned introduction.

It's also time for the monthly flood of manga from Yen Press -- the comics side of the Orbit SF imprint on my side of the Atlantic -- which is more than half of my books on hand this week. All of these publish in May, and nearly all of them are later volumes, so I'm going to arrange them as a countdown, from thirteen right down to 1 (without ever number being represented of course; I couldn't get that lucky at random):
  • Bamboo Blade, Vol. 13 continues the high-school-girls'-kendo-class drama from Masahiro Totsuka and Aguri Igarashi. And when I say "continues," I mean it: two girls are in the middle of a bout (match? spar? round? whatever the correct term in) on the first page, which ends at the end of this book.
  • Sumomomo, Momomo, Vol. 12 is the finale of the martial-arts parody series by Shinobu Ohtaka (I loved the first two volumes in this series, and lost track of it for a while, and then mildly enjoyed the previous volume), and the kind of parody it is has turned much louder and more obvious by this point -- which probably has pleased many people.
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Vol. 12 is by Gaku Tsugano and Nagaru Tanigawa (from characters by Noizi Ito), and I'm afraid I've never been able to really get into this series, so your guess is as good as mine -- the hero seems to be time-traveling back to his own recent past in this one, which I suppose means it's only for series fans.
  • Pandora Hearts, Vol. 10 is an adventure manga with semi-random references to Alice in Wonderland thrown into it -- as I like to point out when things like that come up in manga, it's the equivalent of all of the ninjas and samurai in western comics with equally serious underpinnings -- by Jun Mochizuki, and I reviewed the first volume, back in the day.
  • Nabari No Ou, Vol. 10 has a painfully thin guy on the cover -- seriously, won't somebody give him a sandwich? -- and otherwise is deep into a story I know nothing about. The back cover explains that Yukimi -- possibly that thin dude -- is searching for the true Yoite, and has been given the name Sora, but Yoite also seems to be another person, who is in danger or something. I'm sure it makes sense if you've been reading Yuhki Kamatani's story, and not just trying to make sense of back-cover copy.
  • Soul Eater, Vol. 9 is the latest piece of Atsushi Ohkubo's very energetic story of the training of minions of the death god (in a good way!), something like Bleach set at Hogwarts, following up on a previous volume I actually read.
  • Omamori Himari, Vol. 7 is the only volume this month that came shrinkwrapped -- due to it's M-rating -- and the panty shot on the cover may give some indication why. Milan Matra's story looks to be another typical manga melange -- one part harem story, with a bevvy of pretty girls in short skirts fighting over one far-too-ordinary boy, and one part he's-the-heir-to-a-thousand-year-tradition-of-fighting-demons.
  • Daniel X, Vol. 3 has a huge "James Patterson" on the cover, but I think it's actually adapted from Patterson's novel by Adam Sadler, and the art is definitely by SeungHui Kye. Daniel X is one of Patterson's YA series protagonists, which means he's got paranormal powers, is part of a band of similar teenage misfit/runaways, and has to save the world from the forces of EEEEEvil.
  • Until Death Do Us Part, Vol. 1 is a double-sized volume launching this new series by Hiroshi Takashige and DOUBLE-S. She's a precognitive pre-teen on the run from yakuza who want to use her powers to get rich! He's a blind swordsman in modern Japan with techno-glasses and a computer voice in his head! Together, they will...well, we'll have to see about that.
  • And last is another debut, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Vol. 1, credited to Magica Quartet (story) and Hanokage (art), which seems to be a spin-off from a different magical girl series (not to mention an anime cartoon adapted into comics). Anyway, there's this magical girl, and her fabulous friends, and their stunning costumes, and all the rest of that stuff.
Back to prose, Daniel H. Wilson -- author of the bestseller Robopocalypse [1], the kind of thriller that we're supposed to pretend isn't actually SF -- is back with his new novel Amped, about a near future in which hundreds of thousands of people are "amplified" with high-tech prosthetics and then the Supreme Court (clearly Scalia and Thomas were only the beginning) rules that, apparently, anyone with a prosthetic anything doesn't count as human for the purpose of the law anymore. And then the requisite thriller plot kicks in. I'm sure that Amped is not nearly as stupid as that description makes it sound, by the way -- but I'm getting that straight from the flap copy and cover letter. Doubleday, which used to know what SF was, back in the day, publishes Amped as a hardcover on June 5th.

Larry Tye is a journalist, biographer, and author of general nonfiction -- his Satchel (a bio of Paige, I believe) was a bestseller a few years back -- and his new book is Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero. Tye's previous works are nowhere near the comics field, so I hope he's bringing an outsider's objectivity to this regularly re-told (and heavily mythologized) story. It is, obviously, the story of DC Comics's biggest cash-cow, the character that enriched a thousand corporate executives but couldn't manage to save his creators from poverty. Random House publishes Superman on June 12th in hardcover.

And last for this week is the new Amos Walker detective novel from Loren D. Estleman -- some folks may remember when I read a whole bunch of books in that series -- called Burning Midnight, and coming as a hardcover from Forge on June 5th. This time out, Walker investigates gang violence and the disappearance of a teenager -- related to his frenemy, police detective John Alderdyce -- in his native Detroit.

[1] By the way, Robopocalypse: A Novel is the silliest title I've heard in at least a decade and possibly my entire life. Was someone worried that readers would confuse it with Robopocalypse: The True Story of My Battle Against Skynet by Sarah Connor?

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