Monday, February 29, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/27

Hello, and welcome back.

Sometimes I get books in the mail from publishers, and, when I do, I thank them by making a post about those books on Monday morning, listing the books and writing a bit about them in a way that I intend to be enticing. (If your tastes are massively different from mine, you may find my comments work entirely in the opposite direction, but there's little I can do about that.)

This week, there's one such book, and here it is: The Lyre Thief by Jennifer Fallon.

It's a Tor hardcover hitting stores in North America [1] on March 8th, and starts a new trilogy called "War of the Gods" -- not the first time that's been used for an epic fantasy trilogy, certainly, but very regularly applicable -- set in her popular world of Hythrun. [2]

This one sounds interesting, with some fun opportunities for drama -- a princess discovers she's not really a princess, and runs off with her half-sister-cum-maid, who coincidentally is a dead ringer for her. And there are several gods mixed up in the action as well, plus the fallout from events in the previous two trilogies.

[1] It may already be available in the author's native New Zealand [3], or other places -- I make no promises there.

[2] I keep wanting to type "Hyrule," because my fingers and brain are conspiring against me.

[3] There was a time, when the world was young and life was gay and I worked in the halcyon halls of the SF Book Club, where I fell into being the Antipodean Expert [4], and acquired a bunch of Fallon books. I think I bought her first trilogy, and maybe even part of the second one, and liked them -- it was large-scale epic fantasy with good characters and some real depth, without heading over to the grimdark side of things.

[4] I acquired Fallon, the Seans (both McMullen and Williams), Sara Douglass, Isobelle Carmody, a couple of Greg Egan projects, several George Turner books, and worked on a couple of projects with Jonathan Strahan. And then I did a big multi-omnibus set of A. Bertram Chandler's John Grimes series, which I don't think I managed to complete before I got the axe. (I don't have copies of any of the books, post-flood, and obviously I don't have any of my notes and plans from the late job.) None of that was planned; it just sort of happened that I acquired most of the SFF from the other end of the world -- perhaps I was just upside-down in my thinking, and thus connected better with those books.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/20

Hey, I'm back!

Sometimes I get books in the mail for free, which is pretty darn cool. When I do, I post on Monday morning to list those books, and present them as positively I can for whoever may be reading. (But, once in a while, "as positively as I can" is barely above "criminally libelous," because I don't like everything equally and I have a tendency to sarcasm.) I do this because I want to help out those books and the people who wrote/published/publicized them, and because that's pretty much the point of sending out books free to people.

Anyway, I have two such books this week. Let's look at them, shall we?

First up is Black City Saint, by Richard A. Knaak, whose name I haven't seen around for a while. (So good for him -- either for working somewhere I didn't pay attention, or getting back into the limelight. Either is just fine.) I remember Knaak as a writer of mostly gaming-influenced epic fantasy back in the '90s and aughts, but, like so many other old epic-fantasy hands, he's turning his talents to fantasy stories set in a more modern world recently. Black City Saint, a trade paperback from Pyr in March, focuses on an immortal man in 1920s Chicago, tasked with guarding the Gate to Faerie since he slew the Dragon some long time ago. (It seems Knaak hasn't wandered too far from his earlier stuff, which is probably really good news for his fans.) Our hero, that immortal guy, is also fated to see his eternal love die over and over again, because urban fantasy requires doomed love. That's the set-up: there's also bootleggers, and the remnants of that Dragon, and a secret flow of really nasty faerie-folk to deal know, I wouldn't be surprised if this turns into a series.

And then there's The Brotherhood of the Wheel by R.S. Belcher, a March Tor hardcover and a dark contemporary fantasy from the author of The Six-Gun Tarot (which I think I still have around here, and plan to read Real Soon Now). This book is about the secret offshoot of the Knights Templar, who still hold to the original tenets of that brotherhood: to safeguard the roads and the safety of those who use them. And, since there are the usual nasty supernatural beasties lurking around the fringes of things, there's plenty of safeguarding and saving to be done.

And let me also mention that I just received Murder at the Hollywood Hotel, a new book by Rick Geary that he funded through Kickstarter. I don't think it's otherwise available -- well, it might show up on Geary's webstore eventually, but it's not there now. It's another story of historical murder, drawn with a bazillion tiny little perfect lines -- but I already said it was by Rick Geary. I chose one of the higher tiers of the campaign, so I also got two miscellaneous Geary self-published books, The Lampoon Years and Rick Geary's Book of Murder. Those two are in the webstore, for those who are interested, as are his last few kickstarted books.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/6

Hola, muchachos!

You're back just in time for the longest-running feature on this (now very irregularly-updated) blog, the wondrous and thrilling Antick Musings: Reviewing the Mail! In this feature, I, your intrepid blogger, look deeply into a series of packages that arrive in my mail, find wonders within, and share them with you!

(Well, not literally share them -- I tell you what they are. You'll still have to go buy your own copies if you're interested.)

As always, I haven't read any of these books yet, so any errors of fact or interpretation are entirely my fault -- if a book seems like it's almost exactly the thing you want to read next, just assume I got that bit wrong and try it out.

Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free is the second book in Randy Henderson's urban fantasy series about a young man who spent twenty-five years in the realm of the Fey due to a (utterly untrue) accusation of necromancy. After the events of Finn Fancy Necromancy, he's now settling back into the real world, no longer with a threat of death over his head from those old charges, but his world is still weird and complicated, so there's plenty of supernatural stuff to cause trouble. (I'm also told that this series is substantially funnier than the usual run of urban fantasy, if you're looking for that.) Bigfootloose is a Tor hardcover, available February 16.

Also from Tor, also a February hardcover (one week later, on the 23rd), and also the second book in a fantasy series -- who says SFF isn't comfort food? -- is V.E. Schwab's A Gathering of Shadows. This is the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic, about several alternate-world Londons and the people that travel between them -- and I'm sure magical shenanigans continue in this book.

I also got a box of trade paperback collections from DC Comics, and I'm hoping they meant to send them to this Andrew Wheeler this time. The cover letter talks about the odder bits of what DC seems not to be calling "the New 52" anymore, so it may be true -- if they're actually trying to get outside the usual superhero-fanboy audience, more power to them.

All of these are coming out later this month.

Catwoman, Vol. 7: Inheritance is the one I'm least likely to dive right into, because, hello, volume seven. It's written by Genevieve Valentine and drawn by David Messina, and collects issues 41 to 46 of the current series -- and it looks to bring crime fiction much higher in the mix than usual for DC, and tone down superheroing somewhat.

Secret Six, Vol. 1: Friends in Low Places collects the latest relaunching of a cult series that I've managed to read hardly ever, in any of its incarnations. (Wait: there was a serial in that odd period when Action was a weekly, and I know I read that.) This time out, it's written by Gail Simone and has art by a whole bunch of people, which usually isn't a good sign when there's only six issues reprinted. And the setup is a bit different from the previous Secret Six series, drawing from Suicide Squad and Thunderbolts and maybe even Judge: this time, six very minor characters (some maybe new) were shanghaied to a mysterious coffin-shaped box-room somewhere, and told to solve strange puzzles by an enigmatic voice, on pain of death. I'm sure, though, eventually they get out into the world and start punching bad-guys, because it's a DC comic.

Batgirl, Vol. 2: Family Business continues the hipster-Batgirl storyline, this time bringing our girl Babs into conflict with the new robot-suit-with-bunny-ears Batman (not the stupidest idea in mainstream comics this past year, but not through lack of trying), who is also Her Father. DRAMA!!!! This is written by Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher, with art by Babs Tarr, including lots of combat-boots-on-bunny-ears action.

Doomed seems to collect a miniseries -- it has no volume number, at least -- that came out of a Superman storyline that brought Doomsday into this latest version of the DC universe. This particular story steals Spider-Man's origin -- young nerd is at high-tech facility, things go wrong, and he has amazing new powers -- with a side order of the Hulk. I assume our kid hero eventually decides he has to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, again, because DC. It's written by Scott Lobdell with art by Javier Fernandez.

And last is Midnighter, Vol. 1: Out, the comic that exists because I guess DC is shy about having Batman on every cover, and needs a pseudo-Batman to pick up the slack. (OK, Midnighter is gay, which I guess makes him slightly different -- he is still gay, right? DC didn't quietly retcon that? -- and I think he also has a Wolverine-level violent-asshole level, so he's more Jean-Claude Valley than Bruce Wayne. But still: Batman clone in Batman's world. I kid, I kid -- I think there's decent buzz about this in the usual I-love-very-slightly-quirky-superheroes sectors of the internet, so maybe it's not just a "what if Batman beat people to death with metal pipes?" kind of book. It's written by Steve Orlando, with art by a number of people led off by an entity known as Aco.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Incoming Books: February 5

So I ordered a big box of books a week or so ago, and promptly forgot about it. (My usual comic shop had a big, nearly-all-GNs-40%-off, sale, and I usually wait for those to get the stuff I wanted to buy anyway.) That box arrived yesterday, to my surprise and delight.

And here's what was in that box, a diverse collection of comics that I've either already read once or desperately wanted to own and read. (Well, more or less.)

Bat Boy: The Complete Weekly World News Comic Strips by Peter Bagge -- Bagge is, of course, most famous as the creator of Hate and was the premiere comics chronicler of the slacker lifestyle of the '90s. And Bat Boy was the creation/mascot/demented id of the least factual newspaper of all time, the Weekly World News (which might even still be running, bless its heart). The two collided about a decade ago, when Bagge drew strips about BB for the WWN for about two years. I'm a big fan of demented comics, from Bob Burden to Ted McKeever, and this could just possibly make it up to that level.

Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker -- this was probably my favorite graphic novel of all time for a good ten-year span, and I'm not sure that it doesn't still hold that title, even now. And now that I have a new copy, so I can read it again and find out.

Nexus Archives Vol. 1 by Mike Baron and Steve Rude -- I liked this SFnal series about mass murderers, revenge, and justice when I first read it back in the '80s, and keep thinking I should get all of these archive volumes and read it straight through. I now have volumes 1, 3, 4, and 5, so I'm getting there.

American Flagg! Vol. 1 -- One of the great signposts of how both good and how bad serialized monthly comics could be [1], Chaykin's great SFnal series of the mid-80s came out of nowhere and mostly went back there after it ended; I get the sense that other than a few stalwarts (including Michael Chabon!), this series is left unremembered. That's unfortunate, but the world is bigand full of wonders, and we can't gawk at all of them all of the time. I gawked at this particular one when it was first reprinted in this fancy hardcover form, and now I can do it again.

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III -- if I have to explain this, you're really reading the wrong blog. Gaiman's been a rock star in both comics and SFF since (and because of) the original Sandman series in the early '90s, and this was his reunion tour.

A Gregory Treasury, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Marc Hempel -- I haven't seen anything from Hempel in a while, so I hope he wandered away from comics to do something as creatively fulfilling that pays better (animation sucks up a lot of comics-makers who like to eat regularly). These two small books collect a series of oddball stories about a small person in an insane asylum -- and they're funny, light-hearted, lovely little stories, too. (And clearly not that popular; the copies I got both have just ISBN-10s on the back, which is a big flag for anyone in the publishing biz that they haven't been reprinted in a long time.)

Two Brothers by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba -- the new graphic novel by the really talented South American twins. I think this adapts some novel I haven't otherwise heard of, but I don't really care -- I'm here because of Ba and Moon.

The Puma Blues by Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli -- this is a classy, acclaimed, black-and-white comic from the '80s that I never really read at the time. (My brother loved it, and maybe I subconsciously left it as "his.") And now it's a single gigantic book, about thirty years later.

The Complete Peanuts 1950-1952 by Charles M. Schulz -- I lost the first twenty-five years or so of the collected Peanuts in the 2011 flood, and haven't really started to regather them. But this first volume could either stand by itself or be a good place to re-start.

Bookhunter by Jason Shiga -- this might not be my absolute favorite Shiga book, since Meanwhile is so complexly awesome and unique. But it's the '70s-action-movie style story of a library cop, in the inimitable Shiga style, so it's better than most things by most people.

And last from that big box was I Don't Get It, a book of single-panel cartoons by Shannon Wheeler. I like single-panel cartoons, and people named Wheeler -- even those completely unrelated to me -- are obvious super-smart and totally awesome at everything they do.

Oh, wait! I also got a copy of Love And Rockets: New Stories No. 8 by the Bros. Hernandez this week, the last piece of the big Cyber Monday Fantagraphics order that I placed on a day I hope you can figure out from context. That was separate from the big box, obviously, but it fits the theme, and it's another thing to read.

[1] Alan Moore did a one-issue story about sex-cops that is not only the worst thing he ever wrote, it comes close to being the worst comic of the 1980s, against really strong competition.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/30

Sometimes people send me free books -- I know; I can hardly believe it myself -- and I list them here every Monday. (I review books here as well, though nothing like as consistently as that.)

This week, I have one book, a manga volume from the fine folks at Vertical. It was officially published about two weeks ago, so you should be able to find it at the book purveyor of your choice.

That book is A Girl on the Shore, the new story -- complete in one volume, like a novel or a "graphic novel," and unlike what we usually think of as manga on this side of the Pacific -- from Inio Asano, creator of Nijigahara Holograph and Solanin. (Both of those links are to my reviews, here on Antick Musings.) Asano is a real talent, coming off two excellent books, so I'm looking forward to this one -- even if it looks to be more of a genre exercise, the story of a young summer love in the year before high school. (That's a very traditional time for such stories in Japan, since the three high school years are proverbially crammed with activities and any kid with home of becoming someone has no time for anything but work once high school starts.) I don't know if Shore will go creepy like Holograph or slice-of-life like Solanin -- or even head off in a new direction -- but I'm ready to see what Asano has for us this time.

Read in January

Hello, and welcome to February, the typically dreariest month of the year (if you live in my hemisphere). I don't know if this will help, but have a list of books that one random middle-aged man read last month.

Edit, in early March: OK, I'm raising the white flag, and admitting that these books won't get full posts. But I'm backfilling something about them here, so I can get them off the corner of my desk and onto shelves, where they should be. (I find my own expectations and routines are my worst enemies.)

Jillian Tamaki, SuperMutant Magic Academy (1/4)

The acclaimed webcomic collected in one book -- Tamaki was telling one story, and ended it, so this is all they'll ever be. (Until twenty years from now, when she is enticed to do SuperMutant: The Next Generation for a huge pile of money, we should all be so lucky.) If you're not sure who Tamaki is, she was half of the team on Skim and This One Summer -- and you've read (or at least heard of) those, haven't you? Also: it's a webcomic; just read some of it, and then buy the book. Simple!

It's episodic, as a webcomic will inevitably be, but that works well to show the pace of life in this vaguely Potter-influenced boarding school of oddballs and wizards and mutants and others. Tamaki has some great characters here: specific and quirky and contradictory and very much teenagers. I hope she does some other solo long-form work very soon, or at least starts up another webcomic.

(And I do have to comment that the title keeps amusing me: since I've been playing a lot of Fallout games over the past year, "Super Mutant" has a very different image in my head!)

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Saga, Vol. 5 (1/5)

I always have trouble reviewing a chunk of middle, and serial comics are nothing but middle. Saga isn't that bad -- I get the sense that there's an overall story arc already planned out, even if it will take three or five more years to get to the end of it -- but this particular volume is very middle-y, full of the people we already know running around in different directions at high speed to add plot complications. (This is also the book where Vaughan officially splits the party, always a bad sign in gaming or sagas.)

I'm still enjoying Saga, but this particular chunk feels closer to rote to me, as if Vaughan has some cool stuff he wants to get to, but wants to spin his wheels for a while first to make the story longer. (Which was pretty much exactly my problem with his earlier Ex Machina.) In any case, if you've been reading this, you know if you'll continue. If you haven't been, the words you want to read are my review of the first volume, which is much more apropos.

John Allison, Bad Machinery: The Case of the Lonely One (1/6)

Allison is a mad genius of comics, and everyone should read his books. Now!

OK, so you might want more than that. I guess. This is the fourth case investigated by a gaggle of British schoolkids (secondary school; they're roughly high school freshmen at this point) in Allison's odd and interesting village of Tackleford. All of the cases are vaguely supernatural, and Allison's plotting is amusingly non-linear; things wander around in what can seem an aimless manner until they all come together at the end. And his characters are wonderfully witty, with great individual voices.

For a general Allison overview, see my review of four volumes of his Scary Go Round series. For the prior Bad Machinery books -- oh, and, by the way, Allison is still getting better, so Bad Machinery is smarter and funnier and more solidly plotted than even the wonderful Scary Go Round was -- see volumes one and two and three. And then go buy everything he's ever done.

M.K. Brown, Stranger Than Life (1/8)

The good news is that this book contains most of M.K. Brown's idiosyncratic output from 1970 through 2013, which is wonderful for those of us who remember her lovely colors, quirky sense of humor, and amusingly disjointed line from the National Lampoon and other places. (And offers a great opportunity for those who don't remember her work to discover it as well.) The bad news is that there's just this one book, and that the world has not provided more opportunity for Brown to make her great comics, as it was supposed to.

(Stupid world.)

But we do have this, with single-panel cartoons and longer strips, surreal moments and comments on passing fads, strange people doing strange things strangely, all drawn in Brown's inimitable style. She's even got comments and notes throughout, explaining some of the things that can be explained.

Alex Robinson, Our Expanding Universe (1/11)

Robinson makes smart, deep graphic novels about real people that don't easily boil down to a quick Hollywood-style description -- particularly when you're trying to remember them two months later. This one is a about a group of male friends, hitting that age when the group of friends is no longer the most important thing in life, with babies on the way or already here, secrets kept, and career hiccups.

So it's like a real novel, the kind with just words, only it has pictures, too! Seriously, Robinson could have been the Nick Hornby of a world that likes a different kind of comics. He's smart and fun and accessible all at once, and makes great stories. They're just difficult to write about, particularly with my current handicaps (no time, read a while ago, etc.)

Ben Towle, Oyster War (1/12)

John Layman and Rob Guillory, Chew, Vol. 3 (1/13)

John Layman and Rob Guillory, Chew, Vol. 4 (1/14)

Walt Kelly, Pogo, Vol. 3: Evidence to the Contrary (1/14)

John Layman and Rob Guillory, Chew, Vol. 5 (1/15)

Sean McMullen, The Time Engine (1/15)

Kate Beaton, Step Aside, Pops (1/29)

Vanyda, The Building Opposite (1/20)

Lemony Snicket, "Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?" (2/22)

Mike Grell, The Complete Jon Sable Freelance, Vol. 1 (1/25)

Mike Grell, The Complete Jon Sable Freelance, Vol. 2 (1/26)

Mike Grell, The Complete Jon Sable Freelance, Vol. 3 (1/27)

Mike Grell, Jon Sable Freelance: Bloodtrail (1/29)

Charles Portis, Norwood (1/29)

There are no links yet; these books are sitting in a stack on the edge of my desk. I do hope to turn them into links sometime in the near future. But, even without links, it's a list of interesting books, which ain't nothing.