Monday, September 03, 2018

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 9/1/18

This week, I was on vacation. And the best vacation activity is book-shopping, as I hope most of my readers will agree. So I got into the city to hit the Strand and the nearby Forbidden Planet, coming away with a large stack of wonderfulness, which I will now describe to you.

(I've finally figured out why I keep feeling weird in the Strand these days. Well, I'm getting older and unhappy that things change, obviously, but, specifically in this case.

The Strand used to be the biggest, best used bookstore in the world, crammed into crowded aisles and overflowing with wonders. You went there to search for review copies of recent hardcovers and dig through the many tables of half-priced paperbacks; there was basically nothing new or full-priced. Their redesign around 2000 turned them into an oversized version of  standard indy bookstore, with wide aisles, lots of light, and many tasteful tables with the same tasteful new books at a tasteful small discount as every other tasteful indy store in the country. Oh, there's still a decent amount of used books around the edges and in pockets, but the core of the store is entirely different, and it has less stuff than it used to. I feel like it's a different store now because it is a different store now.)

Surface Detail was, I think, the last novel by Iain M. Banks, who died way too young. I missed his last couple of SF novels, and I want to read them someday. And I can't do that if they're not at hand for me to read them!

People Are Unappealing: Even Me is a book of humorous essays by Sara Barron, which I've been vaguely looking for since approximately 2009. (There's a huge question about whether it makes sense to purge your Books I'm Looking For list every few years, since you're not the same person or interested in the same things, but I will not get into it here.)

Good Guys is a standalone SF/superhero novel by Steven Brust, new this year. I've read pretty much everything Brust has ever written -- I haven't gotten to the sequel to The Incrementalists yet, but that's it -- and he hasn't steered me wrong once yet.

I'm not sure if Zero K is still Don DeLillo's most recent novel, since it's from 2016. But it's a newish novel by him, and I haven't read it. There was a time when I was a huge DeLillo fan -- and I recently re-read White Noise, finding it still held up -- but I've been less and less impressed with what I've read of his stuff since the bloated and overhyped Underworld.

A Murder of Quality is a very early novel by John Le Carre, about his series character George Smiley. I got it because I feel like I should read more Le Carre, because I like the current unified trade dress for his books, and because this is a short one from early in his career. (His major spy books look to be mostly doorstops, and I'm not much into reading doorstops these days.)

Fraud by David Rakoff is a collection of somewhat humorous reportage/essays, and a book I'm pretty sure I haven't read, but I've seen it in a million bookstores for about fifteen years, so I can't be entirely certain. I did read, and mostly enjoy, one Rakoff book (Don't Get Too Comfortable) a couple of years back. But I never listened to him on NPR or anything; as far as I'm concerned, he's a guy who wrote some books and then died before I really noticed him.

Gateway in the UK has a newish omnibus of three John Sladek books: The Reproductive System/The Muller-Fokker Effect/Tik-Tok. Sladek is one of my very favorite SF writers, and I lost all the Sladek I had in my 2011 flood. So this looked like a good excuse to re-read at least the excellent and nasty Tik-Tok.

Quillifer is a (picaresque?) fantasy novel from last year by Walter Jon Williams, first in what looks to be a series about a roguish young man on the lookout for the main chance. If it's half as fun as his criminally underrated SF caper novels about Drake Majistral, it will be totally awesome. (Williams has been writing really good books, in a bewildering array of styles and modes, for about thirty years, and has never gotten the attention he deserves.)

Giant Days: Extra Credit, Vol. 1 collects stories by John Allison and his collaborators from various ancillary Giant Days appearances that I don't think will appear in the big Not on the Test Edition hardcovers. If they do, I will be very annoyed at publisher Boom! for not making it more clear -- the point is to make it easy for readers to find the new stuff and buy it, not make them figure out what is collected where and what isn't.

Think Good Thoughts About a Pussycat is a 1975 collection of George Booth cartoons, in a large-format Dodd, Mead hardcover. I like Booth, I like seeing author photos of him looking young and very '70s, and I like getting books from forgotten publishing houses like Dodd, Mead.

Sex Criminals, Vol. 5 is the most recent collection of the comics series by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, and I seem to remember hearing vague reports that the series may be ending soon. I like stories with endings, so I hope that's planned rather than sales-driven.

Multiple Warheads, Vol. 2: Ghostown continues Brandon Graham's loose-limbed and funky SF comic -- see my review of the first volume for more details. I will see if this volume contains unexpected hardcore sex, like the first one did. (I'm not sure if I want to see more of that in comics -- on the one hand, I like sex and want comics to be allowed to show as much of life as any other medium. On the other hand, I'm often reading comics on a train in between other people, which can be an issue.) 

Henchgirl by Kristen Gudsnuk is a book I've see positive chatter on but otherwise know very little about. The main character is a young woman working for a supervillain for low wages and no benefits, and both the art and the idea sound like fun. And I like trying out new creators, and especially supporting women coming into such a boyish medium as comics.

Descender, Vol. 5 continues the killer-robots (and some not-so-killer robots) SF epic by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. This is another series that I've heard vague things that make it sound like it will come to a real ending before too long, and that's something I want to encourage. (I mean, it's good, and I want to keep reading it, but I also want stories to actually end -- which doesn't happen often enough in comics.)

Sebastian O/The Mystery Play collects two oddball Grant Morrison comics projects -- the first drawn by Steve Yeowell, the second painted by Jon J. Muth. I think I read both of them when they originally came out, but that was twenty-five years ago, and who can remember those kind of details?

Come Again is the new big graphic novel from Nate Powell, who most people probably know as the artist of the bestselling March series but I will always think of as the creator of the amazing Swallow Me Whole. (One of the great comics stories of our time, period.) Like Swallow and Any Empire, Come Again is a big book about life in the South about a generation ago, and looks equally ominous.

And last is a mid-90s book by Ted Rall, before he became a complete nihilist: Real Americans Admit: "The Worst Thing I've Ever Done!" It's a collection of (new to the book, I think) strips about people who did bad things and told Rall about them.

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