Monday, July 27, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/25

I need to be quick this week -- The Wife has just left to take Number Two Son to Boy Scout camp (this year he's a star, and has plans to get merit badges in Shotgun, Archery, and Kayaking, I assume as part of his latest nefarious plot to conquer the world [1]). Very soon, I will take Number One Son to do some weed-whacking at my mother-in-law's house, for what may just be last time before the place finally sells.

And this is a weekend, so I want to be wasting time and being lazy. So typing about books comes in far down the priority list.

But here are four books that arrived this week, annotated glibly by Yours Truly in ways that may not be entirely untrue. With luck, one of them will be your favorite book of 2015. And, if not: it's not my fault.

Many of you have already parts or all of John Scalzi's new novel-in-novellas, The End of All Things, which came out digitally as individual stories over the past month. The hardcover combined edition hits stores on August 11th, from Scalzi's longtime publisher Tor. This is the sixth novel (assuming you count it and its immediate predecessor, The Human Division, as novels and don't demand that "fix-up" be declared its own thing) in the series that began with Old Man's War and which has taken that as the series title. (I haven't gotten to Human Division yet, but I wrote about Zoe's Tale, The Last Colony, The Ghost Brigades, Old Man's War, and a general post about the universe post-Last.)

This next book has an interesting story behind it: Gary Whitta is a prominent and successful screenwriter (Book of Eli, one of the upcoming sidebar Star Wars movies), who decided to crowdfund his first novel. That novel is Abomination, and it's coming from the publishing company Inkshares -- which has a crowdsourcing focus itself, and only publishes books once its reader community given them a thumbs-up. (I'm not entirely sure how those two crowd models meshed in this particular case, but the result is entirely professional -- good book design, an excellent (if dark) cover, and even a publicity letter as focused as you'd see from a big New York house.) Abomination is a historical fantasy with horror aspects, set in medieval England, during King Alfred the Great's reign, where there may be one way to stop the marauding Vikings, but it's of the Slumbering Horrors That Should Not Be Awoken variety. The flap copy sounds more screenplay-ish -- he's the top knight in Alfred's Court! she's the tough scion of an elite knightly order! they'll fight until they fall in love! -- but it still looks intriguing. It's officially published on July 30th.

Melinda Snodgrass is the New Mexico-based, Wild Cards-originating, ex-Hollywood writer who isn't George R.R. Martin, and she's back with the third book in her current contemporary fantasy series, The Edge of Dawn. (It follows The Edge of Ruin and The Edge of Reason; I'd like to see this series run a long time just to find out how many nouns Snodgrass has stacked up in reserve.) Our series hero is a paladin, battling the cold and unsympathetic Old Ones, who I believe come from beyond space. Things are tough at this point in the cosmic struggle, and his best hope might be a new potential paladin he's met: unfortunately, she's a nine-year-old girl. Edge of Dawn is a Tor hardcover, available August 4.

Also from Tor's stable of New Mexico writers -- they keep well in the dry heat; I recommend storing all of your SFF authors out there -- is Victor Milan, who is back with the amusingly high-concept novel The Dinosaur Lords, set in a medieval world with the full panoply of Jurassic (I think) dinosaurs. So knights ride dinosaurs, and Brachiosauruses sometimes eat your crops, and so forth. Milan is telling what looks like a port-Martin multi-character viewpoint story in this world, full of backstabbing and war and betrayal and intrigue...and, of course, dinosaurs. [2] This one is available in hardcover as of tomorrow.

Turns out this wasn't that quick, after all. Oh well -- off to weed-whack.

[1] I am not actually joking here; my younger son has said from about the age of ten that he intends to conquer the world, supervillain-style. And I wouldn't put it past him.

[2] I do wonder if this book has enough sodomy in it, though. Perhaps Gardner Dozois would know.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Your Efficient-Markets Quote of the Week

From this NYTimes article about Amazon's Q2 earning release this week:
“This market is just nuts,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research. “Amazon’s profit is effectively 0 percent of revenue and everyone cheers. Apple grows faster and has a profit that is 20 percent of revenue, and the stock tanks. Amazon’s stock price doesn’t seem to be correlated to its actual experience in any way.”
Efficient-market theorists, you need to explain Amazon -- all twenty-plus years of it -- before the rest of us will ever listen to you again.

Also, given that Amazon's profit is effectively 0 percent of revenue, and is driven by the higher-margin Amazon Web Services business, it is very likely that the "core" selling-stuff-to-people-over-the-Internet business is still losing money every quarter except Christmas. I know retail is a tough business, but let's get real: the investor class has subsidized the destruction of countless media businesses and their real-world retail channels in pursuit of shiny nothingness for two decades now.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Other Things My Fingers Have Been Typing

I have been neglecting this blog of late, I admit. (But then, the whole world has been neglecting blogs more and more for the past five years or so -- and who am I to buck that trend?)

But I have been typing thinky things into little boxes (phrase stolen from John Scalzi), and I figured I should at least link to them here, as proof I still have dumb opinions and evidence that I am not yet dead.

So: I've had an account on Quora for a year or so, though I can't recall how or why I set that up. But I started answering questions about a month ago, for similarly nebulous reasons. (One of my first three answers, on a "what's the deal with Chris Christie" topic, got lost in the aether when the evil Quora robots combined several questions and my in-progress answer fell into the memory hole. I am still bitter.)

Here's what I've answered so far, in reverse chronological order. You can follow me there, and possibly see more of my words, or harangue me to answer specific questions, Or not: it's always your choice. But I present this in lieu of passing a Voight-Kampff test in person for each of you.

My 3-year-old son is extremely naughty and doesn't allow us to rest after a tiring day at the office. How can I handle this as a parent?

Why is Chris Christie still running for president when he is currently mired in such controversy?

What was the benefit to Random House of the very short promotional period before the release of "Grey"?

Could Chris Christie be elected President in 2016?

When getting a book deal, do I ever have to meet with the publishers?

Do secularists, humanists and atheists have a right to impose their moral beliefs on others through law?

What is the best way to break into the publishing industry as a novel writer, if you don't have an MFA in creative/fiction writing?

Why do writers think they should get paid to write?

I want to be a published author, and I hope to write a best selling novel. What are the steps required to do so?

What should you never put in long-term storage?

Why do people refuse to click ads?

Does past life exist?

Do Americans want income equality?

Assuming that all actions of criminals are, by definition, crimes, could a criminal commit a good deed?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/18

Yeah, yeah, it's that time again. These are books; they came in the mail; I haven't read them yet. But here are some things about them that may just be truthful and/or entertaining:

Last First Snow is the fourth book by Max Gladstone in his fascinating secondary-world fantasy series that began with Three Parts Dead (link is to my half-assed, far-too-late review.) The series is called "The Craft Sequence," though I don't recall if the world has been named -- but, from everything I've seen, both are unique and quirky and excellent. (I have the middle two waiting for me to have time to read them.) Each book in this series -- set in a mostly urbanized world where the gods were deposed a generation or so ago, and replaced by human workers who are something like engineers and something like lawyers and something like urban planners -- stands alone, and their titles show where each fits into the timeline. (Though Gladstone is now going to have to use negative numbers or fractions if he wants to infill parts of his history -- I'd have suggested the Donjon theory of book-numbering, if anyone asked me.) Anyway: Last First Snow is the chronologically earliest book in the series so far; it features a younger Elayne Kevarian; and it centers around two veterans of the God Wars (one of them Kevarian) who may be on opposite sites of a new conflict in the city of Desediel Lex. You can get Last First Snow as a Tor hardcover right now; it was published last week.

The Scorch Trials is the second novel in James Dashner's YA dystopia series -- no, not that one, the other one, the one with a big maze in it (no, not The Man in the Maze, the one with a bunch of teenage boys) -- and it's about to become a big expensive movie. So there's now a movie tie-in edition of the book, and I have it in front of me now. Our stalwart Gladers have escaped the maze and are now trying to cross the Scorch, the worst part of this post-apocalyptic world, while the evil government organization WICKED (do not expect subtlety here) plots to wipe them all out. This very much does not sound like the kind of book I would read willingly, but you are not me and may love it to death. This edition has an eight-page insert of color photos from the movie (the better to show off the sulking pretty boys), a teaser of the third book of the series (in which WICKED tries to kill Our Heroes in some other baroque way, I assume), and, of course, the full text of the book. You can find it at your favorite bookseller on August 4th.

And I also have a copy of the new Dan Wells novel, The Devil's Only Friend, from the great people at Tor. (They published it in trade paperback back in mid-June.) This begins a new trilogy about John Wayne Cleaver, a very non-neurotypical young man who stumbled over the existence of human-predatory creatures he called "demons" in the first trilogy and who has used that discover to temper the serial-killer tendencies he's very aware he has. (See my review of the first trilogy; Wells has a great, compelling first-person voice for Cleaver, and those books are compelling and wonderfully entertaining.) In this new sequence of books, Cleaver is working for the feds, tracking down the demons, but the war has escalated -- and possibly come out into the open. I'm looking forward to this one.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Things Linnell & Flansburgh Have Taught Me

To keep the theme of Darnielle and Waits, I'm using the guys' names rather than "They Might Be Giants." This may well count as a foolish consistency, and you know what they say about those....

"Memo to myself: do the dumb things I gotta do.
Touch the puppet head."
 - Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head

"I was born in a lighthouse, my mother was the sea.
I crawled to school each morning, when it occurred to me
That life's just a mood ring we're not allowed to see."
 - Absolutely Bill's Mood

"When I was driving once I saw this painted on a bridge,
'I don't want the world, I just want your half.'"
- Ana Ng

"Which one of us is the one that we can't trust?
You say that I think it's you but I don't agree with that."
- I've Got a Match

 "There's only one thing that I know how to do well.
And I've often been told that you only can do
What you know how to do well
And that's be you;
Be what you're like;
Be like yourself.
And so I'm having a wonderful time,
But I'd rather be whistling in the dark."
 - Whistling in the Dark

 "Big hand's on 120,
Little hand's on E."
 - AKA Driver

"You're older than you've ever been.
And now you're even older.
And now you're even older.
And now you're even older."
 - Older  

And, more than anything else:

"No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful.
Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful."
- Don't Let's Start


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Incoming Books: Most of July

This blog has been very quiet lately -- any little thoughts I've had have been little enough that they can go onto Twitter (and from there to Facebook, where people probably hate me for the Twitteresque five posts in two minutes style). I do have a stack of books I want to write about, but I'm not getting to write about books except for weekends these days, and not always then. (I could blame the still-pretty-new job and its substantially longer commute, but I should be honest and point at laziness and a preference for playing video games when I'm in front of this particular glass-and-metal box, like usual.)

But I do have a different stack of books, which I bought recently, and by my silly laws, I need to list them here before they go onto the normal shelves. (Oh, like you don't have silly rules for yourself!)

Anyway: I bought a couple of things online for my younger son [1] recently, and got some books for myself at the same time. (As you do.) And I hit a comics shop about three weeks ago, and bought some books -- although, of the seven, I later realized I already had two. (A bad average: I used to know what I had and didn't have, but the flood and aftermath have screwed up that memory forever. There are things I think I have that were flooded, things I don't think I have that I've bought since, and probably even things I don't recognize lurking around somewhere.)

Lawrence Block is not just a great crime writer, but one of my favorite writers period: he has an easy, conversational style that comes out in everything he does, and he early mastered the tricky business of writing books where it's just easier to keep turning one more page. So I've read pretty much everything he's done: funny mysteries, serious mysteries, thrillers, early pulp, how-to-write books, memoirs about racewalking, you name it. And these days he's doing a little bit of his own publishing -- collecting the bits of string that his regular publishers don't care about, I guess -- and that's how The Crime of Our Lives came to be. It's a collection of introductions and other occasional pieces about other crime writers, and I'm afraid it will make me add a dozen things to my read-this list. How horrible, right?

I'm going to read through all of Donald E. Westlake's Dortmunder books -- sort-of as a bookend to my read-through of his Parker novels (as Richard Stark) in Starktober a couple of years back -- and so I re-acquired three more of them: The Road to Ruin, What's So Funny?, and What's the Worst That Could Happen?So I now have five of the fourteen novels; it might take a while until I'm ready.

Speaking of re-buying, I'm sure I had a copy of the Overlook edition of P.G. Wodehouse's Thank You, Jeeves before the flood -- I know I read it, though that may have been in my first run through Wodehouse in the mid-90s in the Harper trade paperbacks -- but I didn't last month, and now I do again.

And then we come to the comics-shop stuff: the two books I already had were Paul Pope's The One Trick Rip-Off and Jason's The Last Musketeer. The rest were actually new books to me...

Petty Theft, from Pascal Girard. Girard's the cartoonist of Nicolas (which is deeply personal and magnificent) and Reunion (which is good) and Bigfoot (also good) and possibly other things I haven't seen yet: he's French-Canadian and works in French, so his work has to be translated before Anglophones like me can read it.

Grip: The Strange World of Men, a new standalone graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez. I'm not sure if this is "really" a standalone, or if it's an "adaptation" of another movie from his usual fictional world. (Hernandez gets a bit odd and metafictional quite a lot of the time, to be honest. It's one of the things I like best about his work.)

Dungeon Monstres, Vol. 5: My Son the Killer, the latest 2-in-1 of the manifold and long-running French comics series, as always written by Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar, with art by Blutch and Bezian (respectively) this time.

Howard Chaykin's Black Kiss 2 the long-unexpected sequel to the first big smutty comic from a mainstream comics creator. I have a vague plan to re-read the whole sordid mess at once and try to make sense of it; there's also a one-shot comic, I think. (And even BK2 is a few years old at this point.)

Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot, another adaptation of a Jean-Patrick Manchette crime novel by the master French cartoonist Jacques Tardi. (Like West Coast Blues and I think at least one other book -- Tardi's done a lot of stuff, and I don't have a great handle on his career.)

[1] He's a freshman in high school this year, and had to pick two books from a long list for his Honors History class. He'll read them and then do some kind of paper once school starts. So we talked a bit, and he ended up getting two books on The Great War -- Tuchman's The Guns of August, which I recall is pretty good, and a one-volume by Martin Gilbert that's well-respected.

I also decided to give my two sons Dad Required Reading this year, just because. The younger son -- one of these days I'll start using their names, probably -- got Daniel Handler's first novel The Basic Eight, because he likes sneaky smart things. And the older one, my mythology nut, got Neil Gaiman's American Gods. (No link; I read it and bought it for the book club when it was published.) They each have to talk to me about the books once they're done: that's the "homework."

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/11

Another week! And here are the books that arrived at La Casa Hornswoggler during this most momentous of weeks!

(Week not guaranteed to be momentous in all locations. See local dealer for terms and restrictions. All books guaranteed unread. Opinions expressed below are purely those of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, and may not bear any resemblance to anything else in the real world. All sales final.)

Vertical is repackaging a popular manga series by Konami Kanata into big omnibus editions, and the firts one is out now: The Complete Chi's Sweet Home, Part 1. It's nearly five hundred pages of comics about a cute cat (who, if I recall correctly, mostly acts like a real cat, unlike Garfield and Doremon and others of that ilk) that originally appeared in the first three volumes of Chi's Sweet Home, plus three bonus strips that were not in those books.

Jessie Hartland has created a graphic biography of Steve Jobs -- can't call it a "graphic novel" when it's non-fiction, can we? -- under the title Steve Jobs: Insanely Great. (I suspect it takes a positive slant on its subject -- not that this is unusual for a biography in any format!) This comes from Random House's new Schwartz & Wade Books imprint, as a hardcover on July 21st.

Svetlana Chmakova -- best known for the Dramacon series from Tokyopop, and whose Nightschool books from Yen I enjoyed quite a bit (see my reviews of volumes one, two, and three) -- is back with a standalone solidly in Raina Telgemeier territory: Awkward. It's about one middle-school girl, the boy she literally runs into on the first day at a new school, the feuding clubs they belong to, and the inevitable mean kids who make life hell for anyone who stands out. Chamakova is a fine artist and does good work with young characters, so this is one to look out for (more so if you're a teacher or librarian or just the parent of a quirky middle-schooler.) Awkward is a paperback from Yen Press, available now.

Funny little books on media-inspired topics have been a perennial "genre" for ages now -- I had a copy of The Preppy Handbook myself, and I've seen examples going back at least to the '50s. So "Count" Domenick Dicce's You're a Vampire: That Sucks! has a long pedigree to live up to. It's written as a fake nonfiction book, a guide to new vampires in a world where there are a lot of them, and it could be really entertaining if it's as funny as it looks. This one is coming from Tarcher/Penguin -- which sounds like a really expensive design firm, but is an imprint of the Penguin Random House behemoth -- as a small hardcover in October...just in time for Halloween!

And last for this week is M.C. Planck's Gold Throne in Shadow, the second in the "World of Prime" series after Sword of the Bright Lady. It's a fantasy set in a secondary world that seems to have nothing of the epic about it: the main character is a mechanical engineer raised from the dead to lead an army regiment, and I can detect no Dark Lord with even the most sensitive instruments. So this is definitely worth checking out for people who like their fantasy not stamped out by machine. It's a Pyr trade paperback, available on October 13th.