Friday, November 30, 2012

More Books Than You Can Shake a Stick At

Most people will look at these pictures of an Amazon warehouse and talk about how big, complicated, and organized it is.

I must have been working in finance/supply management publishing for too long, because what I see is no automation, massive amounts of handwork, and those unfortunately oddly sized objects (known as books) which cause trouble for robots to pick and pack, as they would in a proper warehouse. It's sad but bracing to realize that one is never happy with anything.

(Oh, and if this drives you to think of buying something-or-other from that particular retail behemoth, here is a handy link to allow you to do so.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

To help you get into the festive mood of the season, NoiseTrade have made available one of the great Christmas albums -- Over's the Rhine's 2006 Snow Angels -- absolutely free.

Now, you can leave a tip -- I know I paid for that record when I got it a few years back, and it was well worth it -- but you don't have to; you can get it for absolutely nuttin', if you want.

And I do recommend you check it out -- if you're not sure, listen to "Darlin' (Christmas Is Coming)"  and "Here It Is" for the joyful side and "Snow Angel" and "All I Ever Get for Christmas Is Blue" for the other persuasion. It's a great record, it's perfectly apropos right now, and it's completely free.

Hey -- you can listen to all of the songs right in this here widget, without even clicking off to NoiseTrade. C'mon, I can't coddle you any more than that, can I?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bushman Lives! by Daniel Pinkwater

For more than two generations now, weird, quirky kids have been peering out at the world, sure that there must be some hidden reason behind it all. They've looked around for those explanations, to religion and science and superstition and gut instinct, with varied levels of success. But the smartest and luckiest ones are the kids who found the novels of Daniel Pinkwater, and realized that the world is both unknowable and wonderful, that explanations are absurd but still worth chasing, and that the possibilities are even wider and more amazing than they have dreamed.

Pinkwater's books are all odd, all a lovely mixture of sweet and goofball, smart and nutty. They're all deeply pleasurable to sink into, especially if you are -- or were -- one of those weird, quirky kids. But some of them are more than that -- some books, like the sublimely Dada Young Adult Novel, or the two "Snarkout Boys" stories, or the pseudo-autobiographical The Education of Robert Nifkin, see Pinkwater integrate all of his themes and obsessions, from Yiddishkeit to '50s Chicago, from smart outsiders to his own kind of magical realism, and create great, moving novels even more impressive than his usual work. Pinkwater's usual books are a wonder and a lifeline, but his best books are world treasures. And Bushman Lives! is one of the strongest novels of Pinkwater's long career.

Pinkwater's deepest and most resonant novels usually draw from his own life, and Bushman  continues that tradition, following the story of teenager Harold Knishke, a smart, fat kid in the Chicago of the 1950s. But Bushman isn't a tightly focused book; it's as much about Harold's friend, the budding sailor Geets Hildebrand, as it is about Harold himself, and even more so, it's a book about being that kind of kid in that time and place, in a Pinkwaterian world full of wonders and oddities. Bushman also slots into the recent sequence of loosely linked Pinkwater novels, from The Neddiad to The Ygyssey to The Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, with Molly the Dwerg and her friend the Wolluf showing up here as important secondary characters.

As usual with Pinkwater, the plot isn't the point -- that plot, loosely, is "Harold wanders around Chicago, one hot summer, learning about people and starting to get serious about art." It's probably as close to an autobiographical novel as Pinkwater will ever come, but it's not that close; Harold's adventures could only take place in a Pinkwater book, not in the real world. Everything that happens in Bushman is one turn away from the real world, a click or two more heightened than actual reality, in that brighter, more vibrant world we all know from our imaginations.

And Bushman himself? He's a famous gorilla, who lived in Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo from 1930 to his death in 1951. In our world, his skin is stuffed and on display at the Field Museum. But Harold and Geets, in a Pinkwater world just a few years after his "death," insist that he never died, that he escaped from men and their zoos to a better place. And in the world of a Daniel Pinkwater novel, that's not just the answer we want to be true, it's the way to bet.

Bushman Lives! is a wonderful, kaleidoscopic, lovely, deep, thoughtful, silly novel about growing up and figuring out what to do with your life. It will be immeasurably helpful to uncountable young people, as earlier Pinkwater novels have been. And it's also a window into Pinkwater's world, one of the clearest and best-positioned windows yet, to give the rest of us a view of a world more interesting and purposeful and meaningful than our own. To put it more simply: it's one of the best books of one of our best writers.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/24

I hope my American readers had a pleasant and calorie-filled long Thanksgiving weekend (or, at worst, didn't have to work too many hours at retail this Black Friday), and that the rest of the world had a week not too much worse than normal. I say that because it's a social nicety, and because -- after doing these posts weekly for several years -- I've run out of on-topic, coherent things to say to begin them, and so have a tendency to just babble randomly for the first paragraph.

With that out of the way: this is a new week, with new books, all sent to me by the wonderful Publicists of Publishing. I haven't read any of these books yet, but I can tell you some things about them anyway, an those things (which are guaranteed to be as true as possible) are:

The Price of War is a handsome paperback repackaging of the back half of Daniel Abraham's acclaimed fantasy series "The Long Price Quartet" -- that would be the novels An Autumn War and The Price of Spring -- as a follow-up to the similar omnibus Shadow and Betrayal, which came out last year. Price was published by Tor earlier this month, and comes with encomiums from Jay Lake, George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Jo Walton, S.M. Stirling, Paul Di Filippo, and (unexpectedly) Junot Diaz. I haven't read the series myself, but who am I to quibble with such a line-up?

To see how much my manga-reading has deteriorated in the past year, I'll point to the next book: Is This a Zombie?, Vol. 3by Sacchi, the latest in the manga series based on the light-novel series by Shinichi Kimura (with art by Kobuichi and Muririn, who therefore designed all of the characters). I have the first two volumes sitting on my shelf to read, so I can't say a whole lot about this one -- I believe it's a shonen harem story (the M-rating tends to agree with me) with one shlubby boy and a bevy of busty supernatural girls (at least one vampire, I'm sure, though the Japanese don't go in for werewolves the way we do in North America) who fall all over him and/or beat him up for perceived bad behavior. This one, like the first two volumes, is from Yen Press.

Joanne Bertin -- author of The Last Dragonlord and Dragon and Phoenix, which I acquired for the SFBC way back in my prior life in the last century -- is back with a new novel in that series after more than ten years of silence. Bard's Oath is a hardcover from Tor on November 27th, continuing the high-fantasy story of shape-shifters and dragons than I vaguely remember liking at the time. (Hey, it's been thirteen years! I've read a lot of other things since then. If it weren't for the flood last year, I'd be able to pull out my old reports and see what I said about the old books at the time, but those were yet more things I lost last year.) Anyway, if you remember the old books, or just want a big fantasy in the McCaffrey mode, check this out.

Hannu Rajaniemi, the latest wide-screen-SF wunderkind and author of The Quantum Thief (see my review) is back with the second novel in the trilogy -- did you really think any mildly successful SFF book would avoid becoming at least a trilogy? you are so silly! -- The Fractal Prince, a Tor hardcover also coming on the 27th. Quantum Thief was big, bold, and almost too zippy for words -- so much so that less-experienced SF readers have reported having trouble comprehending it -- so I'm happy to see Rajaniemi back for another go, and not quite as happy to keep trying to teach my fingers how to spell his name correctly.

And last for this week is The Bones of the Old Ones by Howard Andrew Jones (also known as the managing editor of Black Gate), the sequel to The Desert of Souls and thus the second of "The Chronicles of Sword and Sand," a pseudo-Arabian fantasy series. I understand that this is an old-fashioned sword-and-sorcery style series, meaning that each novel and story stands alone (and, I dearly hope, that Jones's heroes at no time attempt to save the world), so a reader could easily begin with this volume, in which scholar Dabir and swordsman Captain Asim head out into the worst winter in history to battle an evil cabal and save a beautiful noblewoman. Bones is a hardcover from St. Martin's Press, coming December 11.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Something I Should Remember, But Never Do

It doesn't pay to buy cheap used books from Amazon, because the sellers there have no sense of condition. And every single "great deal" I've gotten on a "Very Good" or "Like New" book inevitably turns out to be an ex-library copy with stamps and stickers everywhere.

Case in point -- I'm trying to rebuild my Love & Rockets library, this time with the fat paperbacks. And a recent Amazon order included what was supposed to be a "Very Good" copy of The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S., the second collection of Jaime stories. What I got was, instead, a mildly foxed and over-stickered (bar code on the front cover with marker scribble over it! two stickers on the back cover that don't come off! stickers on the spine with the title pasted right over the actual title printed on the spine!) reading copy that the Denver library tossed aside recently.

So, if you're like me, and looking for book bargains, do not, under any circumstances, give in the the siren song of Amazon. They're fine at shipping brand-new stuff, and they can zap electrons around like nobody's business, but used books requires a human being's eye and discrimination, not Big Data and massive warehouses, and so they do not do that particular thing with any great facility.

(And, he added with a fine eye for irony, look out for a post or two in the very near future with lots of Amazon links for you to use to buy things!)

(Further parenthetical thought: I also got a copy of Shannon Wheeler's I Thought You Would Be Funnier, Stephan Pastis's Pearls Freaks the #*%# Out, and a Rick Riordan fantasy novel for Thing 2, my younger son. This concludes the ritual Announcement of the Incoming Books.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/17

First of all, let me point you back to last week's post, which has finally been updated. (Getting settled at home after a week-long vacation didn't leave quite as much free time as I had hoped.)

And then, the usual notes: these are books that showed up, more or less unexpectedly, in my mailbox over the past week, each sent by a publicity person from their respective publishers. This is a wonderful thing, so I want to give all of these books some attention, even if don't end up reading and actually reviewing all of them. Below is what I can tell you about them right now -- it may be slightly incorrect (or even biased, since I don't love everything equally, like anyone else), but it's relatively honest and arguably positive.

Last week I saw the most recent installment of Atsushi Ohkubo's demon-fighting manga Soul Eater (the eleventh volume), and this week brings the second volume of the spin-off, Soul Eater NOT! (also by Ohkubo). This one seems to be sillier, and more focused on "partnering" between scythemeisters and their (sentient, shape-shifting, often female) weapons, with the romantic/sexual undertones that implies. (I might have to ask my older son, who read the first one -- in fact, he grabbed it away almost before I saw it.)

The Inexplicables is not a new superhero team -- well, it probably is, somewhere, but this particular manifestation is not. It is, instead, a new novel by steampunk queen Cherie Priest, the fourth book in her loosely-linked, alternate-historical, zombies-in-Seattle "Clockwork Century" series. And it's a trade paperback from Tor, hitting stores November 13th.

But The Ultra Violets is both a new superhero team and a novel -- the former made up of four girls, best friends, who are splattered with a mysterious purple goo that transforms them, and the latter the story of their adventures, written by Sophie Bell with illustrations by Chris Battle. The latter is aimed at middle schoolers -- who will have to wait until April of 2013, when Razorbill will publish it -- and, I would suspect, in particular young women who want a Powerpuff Girls for their generation. It looks quite cutesy and fun, in a very girly way.

Scott Westerfeld's bestselling Uglies series spawned a graphic novel a year or so ago, and it's clearly still fecund (to extend a shaky, unpleasant metaphor), since a second GN, Cutters, has just appeared. It's written by Westerfeld with long-time comics writer Devin Grayson, and features art by Steven Cummings, who has also been part of the Udon collective. This book is a side-story to the main novels, telling the story of Shay's time in New Pretty Town from her point of view. And it will be available on December 4th from Del Rey.

King of the Dead is the second book in a dark urban fantasy series by Joseph Nassise -- the first was Eyes to See, in which series hero Jeremiah Hunt gave up normal sight for the ability to see the supernatural world. This time, Hunt and his compatriots (urban fantasy heroes always have compatriots; it's the core Scooby-Doo DNA of the genre) travel to New Orleans, one step ahead of the feds hunting for them as serial killers and just in time to try to battle a nasty evil something-or-other. This one is a Tor hardcover, publishing on November 27th.

From Tor's corporate sibling Thomas Dunne Books comes Weston Ochse's SEAL Team 666, a thriller about the special forces that battle supernatural threats, with the tone and style of the Clancy-derived technothriller. I'm probably jaundiced, but it looks to me like Stross's "Laundry Files" series, written for your cousin who only reads James Patterson. (Although that could probably be a lot of fun, come to think of it.) Seal Team 666 hits stores on December 11.

David Walton's Quintessence is an alternate-historical novel, set in a 14th century where the Earth is flat and magic works, and it promises "alchemy, human dissection, sea monsters, betrayal, torture, religious controversy, and magic." (I'm slightly worried that the publisher feels the need to mention both human dissection and torture, as if they're both selling points, but it otherwise sounds awesome.) Quintessence does not sound like anything else out there, which is a huge plus. And it's coming from Tor as a hardcover in March.

And last for this week is Crown of Vengeance by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, the first book of a new series (The Dragon Prophecy) set in the same world as their prior two trilogy-length collaborations, The Obsidian Trilogy and The Enduring Flame. This may be a prequel to those earlier series, and the publisher's copy promises things like "the truth about the Elven Queen Vielissiar Faricarnon, who was the first to face the Endarkened in battle and the first to bond with a dragon." If you're looking for that kind of big fantasy, full of "Elves and demons, unicorns and goblins, and Mages and warriors", then this is exactly what you want. It's a Tor hardcover, hitting stores last week.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

2012 World Fantasy Award Winners

The World Fantasy Convention is held every year on the weekend closest to Halloween, and the World Fantasy Awards are given out then -- so most folks who have any pretensions to providing genre news have announced those winners some time ago.

But things have been busy in these parts (and the other parts where I happened to be) over the past couple of weeks, so I missed posting these when they were brand new. But, luckily, the good thing about excellent stories is that they're still as excellent a couple of weeks later.

So, with my congratulations to the winners and nominees (and my thanks to the judges, who have a hard but wonderful job), these were the winners of the 2012 World Fantasy Awards:

Lifetime Achievement Award Winners:
Alan Garner
George R.R. Martin

Novel: Osama, Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

Novella: ”A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong,” K.J. Parker (Subterranean Winter 2011)

Short Story: ”The Paper Menagerie,” Ken Liu (F&SF 3-4/11)

Anthology: The Weird, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Corvus; Tor, published May 2012)

Collection: The Bible Repairman and Other Stories, Tim Powers (Tachyon/Subterranean Press)

Artist: John Coulthart

Special Award Professional: Eric Lane, for publishing in translation – Dedalus books

Special Award Non-Professional: Raymond Russell & Rosalie Parker, for Tartarus Press

(via SFWA)

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Hey, have I ever mentioned the webcomic The Non-Adventures of Wonderella here? (I don't think I have.)

Today's installment is particularly fun, with a smart take on the ticking-bomb scenario so beloved by hack writers the world over. And Wonderella is regularly funny, in an often sneaky way (not unlike Sinfest) that works particularly well if you know North American superhero cliches.

OK, OK, the elevator pitch: Wonder Woman is well-meaning, but self-centered and more than a little fond of the bottle. Now go read it.

(The panel I chose isn't even the best bit of this one: the ending is excellent.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Possibly the Worst Infographic Designed by the Hand of Man

There's an old saying to the effect that a little learning is a dangerous thing, and this here infographic about bestselling SF is a sterling example of that.

It's breathtaking in its stupidity and mistakes -- I'm half-convinced that every single "fact" in that image is utterly wrong.

For one example, it chirpily announces that Slaughterhouse-Five has sold more than 60,000 copies! Actually, the current trade paperback edition has sold about that many copies in the last two years -- the total number of sales is vastly higher. (I'd ballpark it in the 5 million range.)

It's also nuttily inconsistent in its aims -- it's far too long, to begin with, and doesn't present books in any coherent sequence (such as a countdown or countup), but tosses them at random, with odd (probably incorrect) factoids that usually, but not invariably, are numbers connected to sales figures.

(There are also plenty of grammatical, syntactical, word-choice, and other errors as well -- a fully-annotated version of this thing would be massive.)

In fact, if any of you out there are also marketers, as I am, this infographic is a perfect bad example of the form. If you ever set out to make an infographic, this is exactly what you don't want to do.

(Hat tip to Making Light, which discovered and made fun of this before I did.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/10

..will be delayed this week.

I got back from a week-long family vacation in sunny Cal-i-forn-i-a (possibly the subject of its own post, if I get around to it in time) late Sunday night, just in time to see that there are boxes, but not to open them.

So the current hope is that I will update this Monday evening to adequately describe the splendor and wonder that are in those boxes. Let's see if I get to it that quickly -- Monday is also the first day that I try to commute to work in Hoboken post-Sandy, which I expect will evoke a reaction such as the below.


Update, 11/18: Well, that took longer than expected, but here's what was waiting for me when I got back from vacation:

First up is a book I got through the auspices of Amazon's "Vine" program for reviewers, which is another attempt by that retail behemoth to take over and control every last aspect of book publishing and distributing that it can. (Not that I seem to mind that much, as far as it affects my actual behavior and not my online complaining.) Julian Barnes's new book is Through the Window, a collection of essays about writers and books, published as a trade paperback original from Vintage on October 30th (during that big storm you may have heard about). Barnes is an excellent, smart novelist -- I particularly liked his puckish A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters and recently reviewed here the short novel The Sense of an Ending -- and possibly an even better writer of nonfiction, with books like the lovely journalism collection Letters from London and the recent Nothing to Be Frightened Of. Sure, he's a "literary" writer, which we grubby genre types are supposed to despise, but he's a great, wonderful writer who has dabbled in non-realistic stuff several times, and I've been reading him with great pleasure for twenty years or so now.

I also have two paperbacks from the fine folks at DAW Books, both publishing in December:
  • Elemental Magic is an anthology of new stories set in Mercedes Lackey's "Elemental Masters" series (the retold fairy tales in more-or-less-modern day series, starting with The Serpent's Shadow), edited and with a new story by Lackey. Other contributors include the usual DAW crew: Rosemary Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, Elisabeth Waters, Jody Lynn Nye, Tanya Huff, and almost a dozen more.
  • Alien Vs. Alien is the sixth book in Gini Koch's series of contemporary SF novels (they look a lot like urban fantasy -- heroine with massive levels of spunk and a silly name, romantic tension turning into soap operatic series-length plots, long-running conflicts with powerful enemies -- in a SFnal setting), and, in this one, our heroine's husband goes missing and that's the least of her worries.
Everything else I have -- and it's quite a bit -- is from one big shipment from Yen Press, the manga/graphic novel sister of the SFnal imprint Orbit Books. All of 'em seem to be publishing in November. 

The novel Zoo -- by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, one of those hot-weather thrillers about ridiculous implausibilities causing mass death and devastation (in this case, that pretty much all animals in the world start attacking humans at every opportunity) -- has been turned into a graphic novel by Andy MacDonald. If you like to see lions and gorillas taking bites of out people's heads, this is the book for you.

The rest of the Yen Press box is made up of series books -- most, but not all, of them originally from Japan -- and so I'll organize them my usual way, from lowest volume number to highest, so you can see me getting more and more confused by accumulating backstory.

Mari Yamazaki's Thermae Romae, Vol. 1 is an attractive, large-sized hardcover with a plastic jacket that is both appealing to the eye and severs to cover the naughty bits of the statue on the front cover. Romae has one of those goofy premises that are so wonderful when they work right: harried Roman architect (and bath-house designer) Lucius accidentally gets sucked through the bottom of a bath and somehow finds himself in modern Tokyo, among the only other society in history as bath-obsessed as his own. I think, from poking through this book, that he goes back and forth between the two worlds (presumably through that magic plughole), so that Romae isn't just a fish-out-of-water comedy. Whatever it is, it looks very different, and worth a look.

Also a first volume, but somewhat more conventional, is Misun Kim's Aron's Absurd Armada, a silly, mostly 4-koma (with some longer, conventionally-formatted stories interspersed) series about ne'er-do-well pirates in a very vaguely 18th century Atlantic Ocean kind of world.

Officially a first volume is Umineko: When They Cry: Episode 1: Legend of the Golden Witch (by Ryukishi07 and Kei Natsumi), though it's actually somehow related to the Higurashi: When They Cry series. (Though, after checking the Internet a bit, I suspect the only real connection is that both "Cry" series are based on computer games in the same solve-the-murder genre from the same Japanese developer.) The rich Ushiromya family is gathering for their annual festivities on an isolated island, and an estranged young man, Battler -- Battler?!? -- is rejoining for the first time in several years. And, as Agatha Christie fans would expect, once the island is cut off from the world, the bodies start falling.

Soulless, Vol. 2 continues the adaptation of Gail Carriger's "Parasol Protectorate" series (under the title of the first book in that series), with art by an entity credited as REM. Since the first book adapted the first novel (Soulless) in the series, my assumption -- though we all know what happens we one assumes -- is that this book, more-or-less-adapts book two, Changeless, into comics. See my review of the novel Soulless for more details, if such be necessary.

The third volume of Satoko Kiyuduki's Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro has finally come around -- I reviewed the first two volumes, back when I was reviewing regularly for ComicMix -- after a delay I have no idea what caused. But this quirky, and quietly dark series is back, and I'm happy to pick it back up -- it's not like anything else I've read.

Now we're getting into the realms of real confusion, with the sixth volume of The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan, a parody spinoff of the main Haruhi Suzumiya comic, which itself is a brand extension of the series of light novels by Nagaru Tanigawa. Supply lines are getting pretty long, and we're deep into otaku territory here. This book is written by Tanigawa, with art by Puyo.

Also this month is the seventh volume of Yumi Unita's Bunny Drop, which was originally about a confirmed bachelor raising a little girl, but turned into a romance story mid-way through, when the time jumped to make that little girl a teenager. As I understand it, there are parallel romances for both the girl and her grumpy, now-middle-aged guardian, but I'll admit that I haven't read the series at all.

Milan Matara's Omamori Himari is a family-of-demon-slayers story (incorporating the standard hot girl who is also a powerful spirit and defends the "regular guy" hero with all of the power and the very few clothes at her disposal) with added fanservice -- as seen by the M-rating on this ninth volume in front of me.

I read the first volume of Atsushi Ohkubo's Soul Eater and enjoyed it -- and enjoyed Soul Eater again when I wandered back in, several volumes later, though I was a bit more confused then -- but I haven't made a habit of reading it. However, my older son is now getting into this zippy, very shonen story of demon-hunters and their sentient, shape-shifting weapons, so I may have to read more of it to have another topic of conversation with him. (How horrible! Having to read comics to communicate with one's own offspring! I do have a nice life.) This month sees the eleventh volume, in which our heroes are attached by someone (or something) called Arachnophobia.

And last for this week is the twelfth volume of Yuhki Kamatani's Nabari No Ou, which I have to admit that I haven't read at all. I'm sure this has fighting in it, but I have no idea who is doing the fighting, or about what. So I'm afraid you'll need to find a more reliable guide if that cover looks intriguing.