Friday, July 03, 2015

A Perfect Day to Die

History doesn't exactly repeat, but it does rhyme. And that's even more true for the history of music, which is supposed to rhyme a lot of the time anyway.

Which is to say: I've recently found a newish band that sounds like they could have come right out of some mid-80s club, a lost Goth powerhouse that could have shared a bill in some grimy venue with Bauhaus or the early Cure or Sisters of Mercy.

(And I mean that all as a good thing -- strong keyboard lines, ominous atmosphere, a singer with a great declamatory tone, a tendency to long and intricate songs, mysterious spoken-word quotes setting the tone -- and as a signpost to identify folks like me who might not have realized they would be happy discovering a new band in that idiom.)

These guys are Knifight, and while it looks like they've been around for a few years, I discovered them with their new album V.

And it looks like I can stick a widget in here that will let you listen to that whole record, so how about less of me talking about music, and more experiencing music? If this is the kind of thing you like, you'll know pretty quickly, and then you can pay for it in whatever method you prefer these days.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Read in June

I'm writing and posting this late, but you'll only realize that if you're me or if you're paying way too much attention to my blog. (Seriously: get a life, buddy!)

As usual, this is a list of books I read this past month. And my methodology is pretty much what's it's been for a while: I list everything here, link to any posts I've already written, and then start writing about the books that haven't gotten posts yet. If that writing gets to the vague "substantial enough" standard, I pull it out and set it to post separately. If I get too tired or distracted, I might post this before I've managed to write something about every book. But, eventually, there will be at least a sentence or three about every one of these books, so, if you're reading this sufficiently far in the future, you will have an opinion you can argue with. (Because what else are opinions for?)

This was the first full month of the new job, so there's a lot of train reading -- though my new line into NYC is more crowded and hectic than the Hoboken train was, because everything must become worse over time. I've been trying to read batches of things and then write about them that way, but I've also been tired and unmotivated (a 2-hour commute each way can do that to you), so there's another large stack of books staring at me at the end of this month.

Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Tyler Crook, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 8: Lake of Fire (6/1)

Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and James Harren, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 9: The Reign of the Black Flame (6/2)

Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Laurence Campbell, Joe Querio, and Tyler Crook, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 10: The Devil's Wings (6/3)

Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Sebastian Fiumara, Tonci Zonjic, Kevin Nowlan, Joe Querio, and Wilfredo Torres, Lobster Johnson, Vol. 3: Satan Smells a Rat (6/4)

Richard Ford, A Piece of My Heart (6/4)

Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Tonci Zonjic, Lobster Johnson, Vol. 4: Get the Lobster! (6/5)

Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, Bandette, Vol. 2: Stealers, Keepers! (6/8)

The BD-influenced Parisian thief is back with another lovely souffle of an adventure, following Bandette Presto! This one threatens to become more serious, with a deadly hitman called the Strangler stalking our sunny heroine, but the tone stays light-hearted and there's no sign that anything in the world could ever harm or even more than mildly deter either Bandette or her great friend/rival in thievery, Monsieur. This is a deeply artificial world, in which victims meekly wait for the Strangler to kill them one at a time even though they are supposedly tough gangsters with guns and in which a rough-hewn police detective endlessly and fruitlessly pursues Bandette, but all of its artificialities work well together: it's a particular kind of fictional world that doesn't pretend to be real, and is all the more lovely and enchanting for that.

Andi Watson, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula (6/9)

This one is a graphic novel for younger readers -- the world Watson has been working in for close to a decade, probably because that audience is interested in stories about wider topics than which long-underweared steroid case is punching which psychotic murderer this week -- but it's longer and somewhat deeper than his last few books for the pre-adult set. As the cover suggests, there is a hint of romance between the harried Princess Decomposia and her new chef, Count Spatula, though it's all entirely above-board and very chaste. Decomposia is the heir to a great kingdom in the underworld, supposedly run by her hypochondriac father, King Wulfrun, who clearly has not done any real work in years and whose capricious dietary requirements have just driven off yet another chef on the day of a major banquet. She hires Spatula, who also teachers her how to relax and enjoy life, as the loved one in a romantic comedy always does. Wulfrun objects to what he thinks is a romance -- though it isn't actually anywhere within country miles of a romance at that point -- overreacts, causes huge problems, and ends up sparking that aforementioned very genteel romance at the very end. Watson has done deeper and more thoughtful books than this, but his panels are full of expressive close-ups and great quirky character designs and his dialogue is joyful and real as ever. Huge Watson fans might be slightly disappointed, but I hope this will help solidify him in the minds of a million younger comics-readers -- and I still think he could have a Raina Telegemeier-level great book for that audience in him.

John Darnielle, Wolf in White Van  (6/9)


G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, and Adrian Alphona, Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why (6/10)

The second major plot arc continues the tone and style of the first, in good and bad ways. (See my review of the first book for some unpacking of that.) The attempts at relevance can be a bit cringe-inducing -- the evil mastermind of the moment, The Inventor, is brainwashing local teens to power his machines Matrix-style with their brains by telling them he's going to fix global warming and the evil grownups aren't -- and the required Marvel Universe Synergy Moments slow down the story and steal focus from Kamala. (Especially when we learn that she's an Inhuman, because that's the hobbyhorse Marvel is riding this decade.) But Kamala is a great character, even if she is basically a distaff Peter Parker with a few details changed up. (Or maybe more a female Richard Rider, since Kamala is reasonably smart but not the Braniac nerd Peter is.) And the art team continues to present her stories in a style that can function in the Marvel Universe but looks distinctive, as if it doesn't quite belong with all of those shiny men in skintight spandex.


John Allison, Great Aches (6/15)

John Allison, Ahoy Hoy! (6/16)

The Art of Doug Sneyd (6/17)

Sneyd is a gag cartoonist, whose work is usually in gorgeous watercolors. He's probably worked for other outlets -- who hasn't? -- but this book focuses entirely on his work for Playboy, where's he's had a full-page color piece nearly every issue since 1965. He's the one of the sleek women with big toothy grins, and then rat-faced men always on the prowl. Given Sneyd's style and the source -- all Playboy, all the time -- one would expect there to be a certain similarity of gags here, and one would be entirely correct. (One gets a cookie. Good one!) But Sneyd and his gag writers ring a lot of interesting changes on the standard setup, and Sneyd, in line with the Playboy philosophy, generally has his women as interested in and happy about sex as the men, which makes them funny gags rather than mean ones. It's also amusing as a series of time capsules about the manias and fads of the last forty years, since Sneyd wasn't shy about using the newest hot idea as the hooks for his gags. (And there's an index detailing where each cartoon originally appeared for those who want to pinpoint each fad, or work through Sneyd's career in chronological order.) Interestingly, this book also has an introduction from Lynn (For Better or For Worse) Johnston, who is about the last cartoonist I'd expect to have been influenced by Sneyd -- but I think she knows him from their mutual Canadian-ness, and wrote the intro out of fellow-feeling for a brother toiler in the realms of frozen tundra and Bristol board.

John Allison, Peloton (6/18)

John Allison, Recklessly Yours (6/19)

Mike Mignola, Scott Allie, John Arcudi, Sebastian Fiumara, and Max Fiumara, Abe Sapien, Vol. 3: Dark and Terrible & The New Race of Man (6/22)

Mike Mignola, Scott Allie, Sebastian Fiumara, and Max Fiumara, Abe Sapien, Vol. 4: The Shape of Things to Come (6/23)

Mike Mignola, Scott Allie, Sebastian Fiumara, and Max Fiumara, Abe Sapien, Vol. 5: Sacred Places (6/24)

Daniel Handler, We Are Pirates (6/24)

Mike Mignola & Richard Corben, Hellboy: House of The Living Dead (6/25)

Hellboy goes to Mexico in the '50s, in a short but stuffed story that seems to exist mostly so Corben can drawn masked wrestlers, vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein monsters in their requisite busy laboratories filled with mysterious machinery. (Or, more specifically, because Mignola wants to see Corben draw all of those things -- Mignola's stories have always been driven by the things he wants to draw as much as anything else.) I've warmed up to Corben's art over the years -- seeing it with Dave Stewart's coloring helps a lot, unlike the jaundiced look his work had in Heavy Metal thirty-some years ago -- and he is definitely a good artist for a Hellboy story. I could wish this one was more substantial, or connected to other pieces of the larger saga, but this is fine for what it is, and I'd honestly be happy with a series of mostly one-shot stories about a young Hellboy wandering around and punching monsters, drawn by Mignola or Corben or whoever.

Mike Mignola, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon, B.P.R.D.: Vampire (6/26)

Ted McKeever, Eddy Current, Vol. 1 (6/29)
 
Ted McKeever, Eddy Current, Vol. 2 (6/30)

 
And after that comes July, in which there will be more books. It's a good world that has so many books in it.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/27

Yep, it's the same ol' thing once again: books in the mail, I write about 'em here, yadda yadda yadda. And so I'll dive directly into the probably vaguely accurate description of things I will take my first serious look at in about five seconds:

The Philosopher Kings get to go first because it's the new Jo Walton novel, and she's an interesting and quirky writer who does different things each time out and has written a number of excellent novels (e.g.: Among Others, Half a Crown and the rest of that loose trilogy) in recent years. This one is the sequel to last year's The Just City, in which the goddess Athena set up a city in the distant past as a utopia to educate intelligent youngsters from all of history, with a faculty of robots and philosophers. Things apparently did not go entirely to plan in that first book -- if things did got to plan all of the time, our novels would be very boring -- and so now the situation is much more complex and dangerous back in that supposedly perfect city. And there's at least one book to go -- I read Walton's blog, where she's been talking about writing the third book -- so this will not be the end of the story. I've still got The Just City on my shelf to read, but I would recommend not waiting as long as me. Philosopher Kings is a Tor hardcover coming June 30th, and I hope I don't have to try to spell "philosopher" again for ten years.

Changing gears entirely, how about a graphic novel for kids? Judd Winick, who would probably prefer if people like me didn't point out that he began his media-figure career as a contestant on the show that spawned the entire hideous "reality" genre, and so is partially responsible for the horrible state of the world today, is back with Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. The title character is a Zot-ish blond-haired innocent with some manner of superpowers, but a few years younger and vastly more innocent than Scott McCloud's '80s hero. He arrives on Earth, meets the obligatory completely normal kid, and wacky hijinks ensue. There will clearly be more of these -- the numeral "1" in the title is the big clue there -- but this first one is coming from Random House's Young Readers operation in hardcover on the first of September.

Chris Willich is back with the third novel about the poet Persimmon Gaunt and the thief Imago Bone -- and, from the cover, the Viking-looking guys with big axes that want to kill them -- in The Chart of Tomorrows. The previous books in the series were The Scroll of Years and The Silk Map, our married heroes are still trying to keep their baby son from being the locus of all evil on their particular secondary world -- as you do -- and this book promises to have war-balloons in it. How can you turn aside a book with war-balloons, I ask you? This one is a Pyr trade paperback, available July 7th.

Who says steampunk is just for adults? Certainly not Alan Gratz, who is back with the second novel in his "League of Seven" series (after the eponymous first book), The Dragon Lantern, which comes complete with extensive illustrations by Brett Helquist (whom some of us remember fondly from Lemony Snicket's "Series of Unfortunate Events" and others probably remember fondly from other stuff). This series is set in an alternate 1875 powered by steam and where Native Americans seem to be at least nominally in charge of the United Nations of America, and whose world is periodically threatened by the evil Mangleborn and then in turn saved by the resurgent of a League of Seven, who always follow exactly the same template, because this is a book for middle-school kids, and they love specific rules and details. This is from the Tor Starscape imprint, and should be already available from your favorite retailer. (If not, why are they your favorite, exactly? It came out on June 9th.)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What the Hell?

From this post by Zara Sternberg at the Melville House Blog, interviewing Prof Daniel Donoghue of Harvard:
Donoghue: If you are ever reading out loud, there is a time lag – your reading is about 2 words behind the uttering of the word, and as long as there is a time lag, you have a moment of silent reading. Do you hear a little voice in your head when you read silently?
Sternberg: Yes.
Donoghue: Most people do. They also often move their lips as well, especially when trying to absorb difficult material.

Let me pull out the essential part of that: "Do you hear a little voice in your head when you read silently?" "Yes." "Most people do."

What the everlasting fuck? I've never heard a voice in my head while reading, and never even considered that anyone might. Is this actually a real thing? Am I some sort of weird outlier because I actually read instead of listen to things?

You know what -- this calls for a poll. Folks, let me know if I'm crazy or not:

Do you hear a little voice in your head when you read?

Yes -- all the time, my own voice
Yes -- all the time, another voice
Yes, sometimes, but not always
No, and I agree with you that this is utterly insane.
Poll Maker

If you have any trouble using the poll as an embed, this link should take you to cast your vote, and this one should link to the results.

Edit: I thought this poll would show results within the widget, but the "Results" button opens a new window on the host's site. I guess that's what happens when you use free web content without investigating too closely. Anyway, if you're having trouble seeing results, check your pop-up blocker.

Posing for Vengeance

So this here new Avengers cover hit the intertubes this week, revealing the new team that apparently is exactly the same one everyone assumed it would be. (I don't pay close attention to long-underwear comics these days.)

I'm not here to berate or praise the racial/gender mix of the team -- there are plenty of other places filled with people who have scarily strong opinions on the subject -- but I do have a question.

Where are they?

They seem to be standing in a cloudbank, and I'm pretty sure several of those characters don't fly -- Spidey and Ms. Marvel, in particular. I don't know if the current Thor can hover, either, though I wouldn't be surprised if Vision, Nova, and ol' Shellhead can do so. They're also strangely crowded around the camera, though at very different levels -- are they on cloud risers?

Also, while I'm at it, what the heck is Captain America doing? Is he supposed to be coming in for a landing on his cloud riser, or just showing off his muscles?

Yes, I know it looks cool: they're all glowering menacingly at the assumed reader, and Cap gives it some movement. But what does it have to do with anything, and why should we care that they're giving us the stink-eye?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Memories and Memes

So I noticed that a book cover I was responsible for was memed recently -- that's it at the top of this post.

I say "I," but Jim Butcher wrote the actual books, and Dan Dos Santos did that great cover -- and I think it was Toby Schwartz who was the art director at the time, so she contacted Dan, negotiated the deal, and worked with him to develop the cover. I did make the deal for the omnibus -- Wizard at Large, the third Butcher omni I did, back in 2006, collecting books seven and eight -- and had the idea for the cover, though.

(I can't claim much credit for that, though. I think my brief to Toby was pretty much "Dan's done two of these already, and he knows what he's doing. But there's a scene where Harry rides a zombie T-Rex, and I think Dan would do a killer job on that. But you and he might have other ideas.")

Still, it was a hoot to see my old life pop up unexpectedly: that is a great cover, and I hope Dan is selling a lot of prints of it. Who knows? Maybe some day I'll be lucky enough to walk by it on the side of a van.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/20

Do I need to explain this all every week? I doubt the audience changes much.

But the Internet is wide and lasts forever, so context is always useful. At this point, I've been doing these weekly posts for around eight years -- each time listing the books that came in the mail and attempting to make sense of them. As always, I haven't read any of them, and anything I write below about them is subject to being entirely wrong.

But, with that danger in mind, let's see what I have for you this morning....

Falling in Love with Hominids is the third short-story collection from Nalo Hopkinson, collecting eighteen stories from the last dozen years. It's a trade paperback from Tachyon, coming on August 15th.

Also from Tachyon -- but publishing sooner, on July 14th -- is Peter V. Brett's The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold, collecting two sidebar novelettes to Brett's Demon Cycle novels that were each originally published as pricey limited-edition hardcovers in the UK.

(Tachyon seems to be concentrating on writers that I've met and feel guilty about not reading more of -- probably not on purpose!)

And I also have what I think is a first novel this week: Robert Brockway's The Unnoticeables, a contemporary fantasy that comes more out of the mainstream than the genre. There is a supernatural world, but they operate like a really nasty consulting firm: their own job is to find and eliminate "problems," and make the universe operate more efficiently. And every human being has a problem of one kind of another -- everyone is inefficient. Unnoticeables is the story of a punk in 1977 and a would-be stuntwoman in 2013 who each discover the truth of the universe, and what they do about it. This one is a Tor hardcover, available July 7th.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Goal?

Picture this: a world were most of the people are obsessed with a particular game, with quirky rules that forbid the use of hands except in special situations. Teams wear distinctive colors adorned with the logos of commercial enterprises that want to harness their popularity, and are beloved in their communities -- and, in some cases, worldwide. Individual players are often larger than life, drawing massive media attention and adulation for their elan and skill.

And the whole enterprise is organized into a complex structure of leagues within leagues, all carefully orchestrated and managed to benefit a small elite of managers, who, it is rumored, are deeply corrupt and have gained massive fortunes from their positions.

The head of this world-spanning game, the man with his hands in all of the pies and his whims translated into instant action, is smooth and deeply personable in public, but ruthless behind the scenes. No reforms can take place as long as this charismatic figure is in place, and he's cruising to an easy re-election even in the face of proof of massive scandals. His name is Sepp Blatter.

...

We're living in a Jack Vance novel, aren't we? Some tough agent of an interstellar polity is going to smash this system, on his way to killing the fiend that torched his planet thirty years ago, right?

It's the only explanation I can see: it all looks too Vancean to be the real world.