Saturday, June 25, 2016

Salvage and Demolition by Tim Powers

Powers is not particularly prolific. But, over the last decade or so, he does seem to come out with a novella or two vaguely related to his most recent novel -- perhaps reworked sections that didn't fit, or early abandoned/superseded versions of his premise, or maybe just something else he worked on while the big book was stuck somewhere. (I don't know his writing process; I just read the things.) And so Salvage and Demolition, a novella-as-book, came out two-and-a-bit years before his novel Medusa's Web, and then I read both of them, not entirely deliberately, within a month and a half.

Salvage is a time-travel story -- well, really more of a time-slip story, in which a man from the modern world is pulled back to the 1950s through some artifacts he discovers, bouncing between the two times over the course of the story, and gets caught up with a woman then and an apocalyptic cult existent in both times. I don't want to say much more, not least because the book went back to the library two months ago. It's tight and precise and lovely and has a perfect bittersweet ending. And it is a novella, of only about 21k words. So you should just read it. You should just read any Powers books, but the shorter ones take even less time.

(And, to my first point, the time-slip mechanism is very similar, but not identical, to the one in Medusa's Web, so Salvage does feel like a cousin or small sibling to the larger novel. Reading the two in close succession is recommended.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/18

Hey! It's Monday again. As usual, I list the books that arrived in the prior week from the hard-working publicists of Big Book, in hopes some of you will love some of them and take them to your bosoms forever.

(I also have a few things I bought this past week, which I'm shoving in here because I'm already writing about books. There will be a clear separator, for those of you who are persnickety about such things.)

Wolf's Empire: Gladiator is what looks to be the first in an oddball soft-SF series by actress Claudia Christian and a guy whose name sounds like a law firm, Morgan Grant Buchanan. (I'm trying not to assume that Buchanan did all of the hard work, but that tends to be the assumption when a celebrity emits a book-shaped object written with a co-author.) It's set in one of those utterly implausible universes -- the Roman Empire never fell! it now rules a Galactic Empire! a plucky noblewoman (who could potentially be played by Claudia Christian in the TV version) has to become a gladiator to avenge the wrongs done to her family! she's cast into slavery and forced to fight alongside the men she wants to kill! -- that I'm afraid I just can't take seriously at this point in my life. If you can, this is a Tor hardcover that will be officially published on June 28.

The other review copy I have this week is a manga volume from Kaori Yuki: Alice in Murderland, Vol. 4. It's another of the inexplicable rush of manga loosely -- generally very loosely -- based on Lewis Carroll that have been making their way across the Pacific lately. (I have no idea if this is an actual manga trend, or if US editors are cherry-picking the few Alice-based manga because US audiences love them -- either would be weird, and either is possible.) As I understand it, the nine children of a powerful and rich family must battle each other to the death before the eldest turns twenty, for no immediately plausible reason. Our heroine is the youngest daughter, aided by a murderous alternate personality. One suspects this family could do with a lot of intensive therapy, in some very well-guarded and secure facility far away from collateral casualties. But they'll probably just slaughter each other in inventive ways instead.

Clear Separator

Love Fights, Vol. 1 is the first half of a 2003 story by Andi Watson about superheroes in love. Andi Watson had a great stretch of really wonderful comics from the mid-90s through very recently -- I'm waffling only because I haven't seen as much of his stuff recently, though I don't expect he suddenly turned into Frank Miller -- all humanist and lovely and full of real people with real lives and relationships. I had a big shelf of Watson before the flood, and I'm building it back up as I can.

Sunny, Vol. 4 is the most recent (I think) book in the slice-of-life manga series by Taiyo Matsumoto. (See my reviews of volumes one and two.) This series is deep and real and full of very closely observed damaged kids; it's a masterpiece of world comics.

Little Star is another Andi Watson book; this one complete in one volume. Blah blah blah Andi Watson is awesome. Like I said before.

The 4-Fisted Misadventures of TUG & buster, Vol. 1 is a Marc Hempel book from the dark (or maybe light; depends on your point of view) days of the late '90s, and was his creator-owned follow-up to the Gregory books, which I recently re-read. The book has a big "1" on the spine, but I don't think there were any more TUG & buster stories...though I'd be happy to find out I'm wrong.

And then there's B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 12, from Mike Mignola and his crew. I don't have volume 11 yet, but that's OK: I tend to read these Hellboy-universe books in a big clump over a week or two, so I'll probably wait to have another two or three of these, maybe an Abe Sapien, and probably the back half of Hellboy in Hell. So I'm in no hurry.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Return With Us to the Halcyon Days of March!

I've just (finally!) posted the list of books I read in March, with words that vaguely resemble reviews following each title.

Should you wish to read those words, go here.

This is all.

Friday, June 17, 2016

I Haven't Told You To Read John Allison in At Least a Week

So here's the back half of today's Bad Machinery to entice you:
Click to enlarge, if necessary. And then follow this here link to get to the beginning of the current story, less than two weeks ago.

C'mon. It's free, and you'll like it. Have I ever steered you wrong before?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, Vol. 2 by Jiro Kuwata

Kuwata made Batman stories for the Japanese market in the late '60s, riding the wave of the TV show and DC Comics's zeal for finding as many licensing dollars in as many places as they could. Those stories were generally adapted from ideas and stories from the American comics of the time -- but the American Batman comics of the mid-'60s were already pretty weird in those pre-Neal Adams days, and turning them into Japanese comics did nothing to make them less weird, if you know what I mean. (I wrote at greater length about the history of "batmanga" in my review of the first volume.)

Either the modern editors cherry-picked the weirdest stories for the first volume, or I'm getting jaded by Kuwata, because Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, Vol. 2 felt much less crazy to me than the first one. Oh, sure, there are murderous wrestlers, crazy scientists and their amazing inventions, an actual lake monster, and the Japanese remix of the famously weird Alfred-as-villain "Outsider" story. But Batman is competent and organized throughout, and isn't wrong-footed as much as he seemed to be in the first book. The Batman of volume one sometimes seemed to be a guy who just happened to be there as crazy events occurred; this one sees a more recognizable great-detective and great-athlete Batman who is nearly always in control of the situation.

They're still nutty Japanese Batman stories, of course, drawn as if Dick Sprang and Osamu Tezuka had a really unlikely love-child and written out of a similar cultural clash. And that's pretty darn cool. But these stories are not quite as deranged and sui generis as the ones in the first book.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Deep South by Paul Theroux

We might have thought Theroux was done traveling after The Last Train to Zona Verde -- the end of that book saw Theroux almost deciding that, and definitely deciding to give up on journeys through Africa. (Which is a deeper cut for him than it would be for nearly anyone else in the world: Africa has always been central to his view of the world, from his early Peace Corps days, and was the place where he became a writer. Plus, you know, it's a gigantic continent filled with hundreds of millions of very diverse people -- a lot to give up.)

But, instead, he looked closer to home, and shifted his mode of travel. Theroux had always been a train man by preference and mass-transit guy in general, writing many times about how you really get to understand a locale by riding with the locals on their usual transport. But only weirdos and a few lefty cities use mass transit in the US: we're a nation alone in our cars. So Theroux drove through the American South -- in his own car, at his own pace, four times for the four seasons over the course of a year, driving out from his Cape Cod home to revisit mostly the same places repeatedly.

And that reinvigorates his work unexpectedly -- Theroux repeatedly comments on his new traveling style and love for his country in Deep South. But he's still the same writer, with the same concerns: the man who said the happiest humans are bare-assed is always going to be most concerned with the poorest, the most marginal, the ones on the edges and margins. (And, here as often in Africa, the ones with the darkest skins.)

Deep South is about the poor, forgotten South -- the mostly-empty towns, the struggling farms, the deep backroads, the poorest pockets of the poorest states of our nation. And Theroux doesn't belabor the point, but he knows -- and those of us who are willing to see already know -- that all of those people are black. And the fact that the poorest, most marginal Americans are black in the former Confederacy is no accident.

But it's a mostly joyful look: these aren't miserable people. Theroux talks with ministers and start-up farmers and aid-agency heads, folks who put their heads down and work hard for themselves and their communities. He repeatedly compares, say, Mississippi with Zambia, and wonders what the same amount of money we send to the latter would do for the former. He's realist enough to know it won't happen, but idealist enough to ask the hard question.

And these are interesting people. And Theroux is a master at listening to locals and making their concerns and thoughts and word choices live to a wider audience. So Deep South is almost a celebration, and entirely a loving look a half-forgotten corner of a man's own country, and the people who live there.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/11

Yup, it's that time once again. Below are some books that arrived at my house last week, among which might just possibly be something that you will love forever. (Or maybe not. Could be next week.) I haven't read these books yet, and I don't promise to read them or to write a review of them if I do manage to read them. So pay attention now -- that's all I'm saying.....

Natsuki Takaya's popular Fruits Basket manga series is being reprinted by Yen Press in large handsome omnibus editions, both on a larger page size and with more pages (380ish) per volume. Both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are in front of me now, since both are being published in June. (There were 23 volumes when they were tankobon-sized, so I expect there will be ten double-sized volumes and either an eleventh that's triple-sized, or a normal eleventh and a twelfth with extra stuff added in.) The story is a combination of "normal person thrown into wacky family with supernatural secrets" and "this person transforms into {X} when {Y} happens" -- the latter was more popular in '90s manga than one would expect. It's been hugely popular, here and in Japan, both in this form and in the inevitable anime, so I expect large sectors of the Internet are very happy to see it come around again. (The original American publication was from the late, somewhat lamented Tokyopop.)

Also from Yen this month, and also a big omnibus-sized volume, is Servant X Service, Vol. 2, by Karino Takatsu. This story about workers in a civil service office in a small provincial Japanese city is shorter, less plotty, and more focused on gags than most manga we see here -- for example, this is the end of the series. (So you're not going to be in for a One Piece-style saga that goes on indefinitely, if you're worried about that.)

And last for this week is the new fantasy novel from Elizabeth Haydon, The Weaver's Lament. It's the ninth book in her "Symphony of Ages" series -- sometimes better known as the Rhapsody books, after the title of the first book. (I once heard David Hartwell tell a convention audience that fantasy writers should make sure they're happy with their first-novel title being used to describe the whole series -- because it inevitably will be.) Rhapsody, this time around, has to choose between her husband and her two oldest friends -- and, from the flap copy, it sounds like her husband is in the wrong. This one comes from Tor in hardcover, hitting stores on June 21.