Monday, April 29, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/27/19

Two books came in the mail this week, and I'm going to hit them in order of size of physical book (descending), because that's they way they're stacked right at this second. And that means about as much as you think it does.

First up is a new novel by one of my favorite nutty SF writers, Rudy Rucker. Million Mile Road Trip is not just a brand new Rucker SF novel -- coming on May 7th from Night Shade, which I keep forgetting is part of Skyhorse now -- but the lead-off of a big Rucker reprinting project, which is possibly even better.

So: Million Mile is another odd, probably math-inspired Rucker story, in which three teens open a transdimensional gateway to Mappyworld, an endless plain divided into basin-like worlds by ridges, and of course go on a road trip there in an old station wagon to save the world from carnivorous flying saucers.

And: Night Shade is also reprinting nine earlier Rucker novels at the same time, from classics like The Sex Sphere and White Light and Spacetime Donuts to books I missed the first time around like Turing & Burroughs and Jim and the Flims. Unless you are vastly more of a Rucker-head than I am, some of this will be new to you, and I hope you have fun with it. (I see that I haven't reviewed any of Rucker's novels here -- the only Rucker book I've covered was his autobiography, Nested Scrolls.)

The other book I have is a reprint anthology called, with a certain swagger in its step, The Unicorn Anthology. I suspect there may have been more than one, but this one is edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman, and includes 16 stories from such luminaries as Jane Yolen, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Carrie Vaughn, Karen Joy Fowler, Nancy Springer, Patricia A. McKillip, and Garth Nix. It's a trade paperback from Tachyon Publications, and you can get it right now if you want.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: week of 4/20/19

Two books this week -- one that came in the mail, one that I bought. And they'll run in that order, as usual.

In the mail I got 5 Worlds: The Red Maze, third in the middle-grade graphic novel series by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun. (The first two write, the rest do the art -- I covered the second book, The Cobalt Prince, last year and I still don't know the breakdown of work any more than that.)  This one is coming May 7th in hardcover from Random House Books for Young Readers, and it looks like just as much fun as the last one.

The book I bought is Brandon Graham's early sex comic Pillow Fight. (As opposed to Brandon Graham's early sex comic Perverts of the Unknown, which I still have not seen. I think that category includes just those two things, plus a random scene in the first volume of Multiple Warheads.) Graham has a fun line and a good way with puns and a loose storytelling sensibility. And he doesn't have all that many comics out, so I'm getting around to his more disreputable stuff sooner than one might expect. (Or maybe not: I can be pretty disreputable myself, I suppose.)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/13/19

One book this week -- a book of illustrated stories coming in October from Norton.

It's called The Envious Siblings and Other Morbid Nursery Rhymes, it's by Landis Blair, and it's more than a little influenced by Edward Gorey.

(Tangent: why is that a big deal? Well, our artistic culture seems to be just fine with the thousandth genre entry -- write a book about a stableboy who turns out to be the lost prince and see if every review uses the same comparison -- but comes down hard on the second. To my mind, that's backward: the second creator is still trailblazing, turning one person's specific style into something closer to a genre, and making room for more work in that genre. I complained about this a lot when Elizabeth Willey's novels were coming out, since she was the only person who tried to do Amberesque novels other than Roger Zelazny. And I expect Landis Blair will be my new example for the same argument.)

So Envious Siblings has eight stories, all told in rhyming verse underneath full-page illustrations in precise pen-and-ink with more than a little crosshatching, all about nasty and/or tormented young people in scenes that tend to look more Victorian than modern.

I haven't done more than scan it, so I can't say how well Blair's writing handles this style. His art looks nice, carefully posed in that way that implies action but looks static. And I'm always in favor of more grisly dark humor. So I want to like this, and I'm happy to see it has quotes from Emil Ferris and Eddie Campbell. If you've been a bit out of sorts since Gorey died, you'll want to at least glance at Envious Siblings when it hits stores this fall.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Perdy, Vol. 1 by Kickily

Genres are quirky things -- especially the small ones. I'm pretty sure "French Western comics" is a pretty small genre, but it's hard to say, as a purely Anglophone reader an ocean away.

I have seen a stream of things in that genre, though -- first the Blueberry comics by Charlier and Moebius, which I read in the '90s but were mostly older than that. then some other random things, and most recently Perdy, Vol. 1 by an entity credited as Kickily. [1] And they all have seemed to fall into a basically coherent genre. It's a comics version of Sergio Leone movies more than anything -- not just influenced by the American cinematic Western, but specifically influenced by the late, decadent, European burst of "the American cinematic Western." They definitely have nothing to do with the thin American genre of Western comics, which were another one of those vaguely superhero-esque brand extensions from the Big Two and are now quite thoroughly dead.

Then again, French adventure comics tend to have a distinctive tone or style to begin with: more fatalistic than their American equivalents, depicting worlds in which horrible, irrevocable things happen...and are not afterward wished or retconned out of existence. French comics, from what I've seen, play fair with their audiences: they say clearly "this is real, this story matters, and what happens in it will have consequences."

I appreciate that, as a reader who likes stories and not just narrative shards. And that's one of the reasons why I wanted to read Perdy.

(Among the others: it's unabashedly about sex and violence but centered on a woman no longer young, never terribly attractive, built very sturdily, and possessed of the bullheaded will and drive usually reserved for men in popular fiction. Perdy herself is a great obnoxious character, and that came through even before I read the book.)

Perdy is a woman of middle years -- call her somewhere in her forties, since she has a grown daughter. She's been in prison for fifteen years as the story opens, and is just getting released for her unspecified but clearly violent crimes. She has nothing but the rags of her prison garb: not even shoes. But we readers can see immediately that this will not be much impediment to her: Perdy is the kind of person you either quickly get out of the way of or get bowled over by.

There's something cartoony about Perdy, but it's the fun, narrative-enhancing kind of cartoony. A story always moves forward with someone like Perdy in it, and so this one does: she goes to retrieve her gear from the place she hid it, and then sets out to get back to the work of her life: robbing banks.

(Well, and causing trouble, but that's more of a hobby -- the kind of thing she can and does do nearly every moment of every day. She's also quite fond of very vigorous sex, entirely on her own terms, which is also nice to see in a woman like Perdy who is almost entirely not constructed for the male gaze.)

Along the way, she comes back in contact with someone from her old life, though I won't spoil that surprise. There's another female character here who is nearly as overwhelming as Perdy, in her own more conventionally feminine way, though I have to admit the men mostly do not acquit themselves well in the company of either woman. It's understandable: they're clearly overmatched, and know it.

As the Vol. 1 might imply, this is not a complete story. The second book is promised for this fall, though, and what we have here has most of the shape of a story -- there's no ending, but it's a satisfying story that tells us a lot about these people and their world and runs us through a series of entertaining and amusing scenes. I'm cautiously optimistic that we won't be looking for the ending in a Vol. 12 some years down the road...but that's always the danger.

For now, though, this is a fine beginning and a great central character. Perdy kicks ass in several ways, and it's fun to watch her doing it.


[1] A desultory Internet search leads me to believe that Kickily is a male human being. I can't prove this, so take it as you will. Every entity on the Internet can be assumed to be a dog unless you have compelling evidence otherwise.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Quote of the Week: Yes, I Know

"The most characteristic aspect of most any blog is a first few enthusiastic posts, followed by a large gap and a post explaining why the person hasn't posted, and a public intention to post again -- usually followed by silence."
 - Kevin Young, Bunk, p.114

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

100 Bullshit Jobs...And How to Get Them by Stanley Bing

I may have found the most 2006 book ever. (And I hope someone won't be saying the identical thing about 2019 a decade from now, though I wouldn't bet against it.)

2006, of course, was the height of the last big American boom, driven by the last big delusional Republican American president -- and, at the time, we thought those both were heights that would never be bettered. (Insert hollow laugh here.)

And the mostly humorous business writer "Stanley Bing" -- he has some other name, which I could probably find without too much trouble, under which he has lived a real career as an actual mid-level corporate manager -- summed up all of the highlights of that era in his book 100 Bullshit Jobs...And How to Get Them.

This is indeed a list of 100 jobs, alphabetically, each with a pseudo-scientific and mostly humorous mathematical formula to determine just how bullshit each of them is. Up front is an introduction explaining the formula and the project, but the bulk of the book is running through those hundred jobs and describing what they do in breezy tones, starting (obviously) with pay and running through the skills required, duties, famous folks with that job, how the reader can get into it, and so on.

Bullshit isn't the same as easy, of course. A job can have long, grueling hours and still be entirely bullshit. But there's an essential lack of honesty and centeredness that characterizes the true bullshit job, and many people aspire to that state of not-caring and want to find a way to skate by everything serious and weighty.

Bing begins with Advertising Executive and runs through Yoga Franchiser before hitting #100 with, in the best business-book fashion, You. Because every business book is always about You: how you can win friends and influence people, or move the cheese, or lean in, or whatever piece of bullshit advice that particular writer thinks will sound plausible to you so he can make a fortune.

Bing knows this, and lays on the smarm at the end, with not only the final job being whatever the hell it is You do, but adding a short conclusion entirely on "Transforming your job into a bullshit job," which is of course what we all clearly aspired to in 2006.

Obviously, 100 Bullshit Jobs is a massive exercise in bullshit itself -- that's the point. Any of the jobs listed here can be bullshit, and so can a whole lot of other jobs. (Our current President, for example, is showing that you can make any job a bullshit job -- I hope Bing is proud.) Any job can also not be bullshit: like a crime, making a job bullshit requires motive, means and opportunity -- you have to have the chance to make that job bullshit, and you have to want to do it.

If you do have that desire, know that Bing's book is out there as a roadmap. The world is slightly less friendly to bullshit jobs after the last financial crash than it was in 2006 -- I have a vague, probably-bullshit-theory itself that this has been the case for every crash, and that bullshit builds up afterwards in the fat periods -- but there's still plenty of it out there, and 2006 is close enough to 2019 that the models here still mostly work.