Wednesday, January 31, 2007

SF Book Meme

How could I not do this one? I got it from The Tensor.
  1. Science fiction, fantasy, or horror?
    These days, I think fantasy noses out SF in my reading tastes, but not by much. The dreary SF is annoying me more than the paint-by-numbers fantasy, at the moment, but that can shift quickly. Horror isn't in the running at all, though I do come across a horror story or novel I can stand occasionally.
  2. Hardback, trade paperback, or mass market paperback?
    Trade paperback by preference: I like the larger type and page size, but soft covers makes it easier to carry. (This somewhat mirrors my usual reading pattern: bound galleys to read, hardcovers to keep.)
  3. Heinlein or Asimov?
    Heinlein; he's a more interesting writer to begin with, and an immensely better prose stylist.
  4. Amazon or brick-and-mortar?
    I use both, and it depends on what I want. If I need to get a specific book (usually for work purposes), I'll either order it from to the office (same-day shipping in Manhattan) if it's in print, or search up copies on ABEbooks if it's not in print. For myself, I usually do my personal book shopping at Midtown Comics and the Montclair Book Center, because I like browsing through books.
  5. Barnes & Noble or Borders?
    No preference; they're the same thing, as far as they affect me.
  6. Hitchhiker or Discworld?
    Discworld. Even Douglas Adams didn't like the Hitchhiker series that much, and it shows in the later books. Pratchett likes writing stories, and has a lot of stories to write.
  7. Bookmark or dogear?
    Bookmark. I mark up books for production pretty regularly, but otherwise I try not to damage them.
  8. Magazine: Asimov's Science Fiction or Fantasy & Science Fiction?
    I know both Gordon and Sheila, so I can't answer this honestly. (I also haven't had time to read fiction magazines for ages, though I did subscribe to F&SF for a year or two in the mid-90s -- and, I think -- read about three stories that whole time.)
  9. Alphabetize by author, by title, or random?
    Unread shelves: by genre and size (roughly -- I have sections for mass-markets, mysteries, mainstream, and SFF, and the latter two are divided into larger and smaller format books), and then by author.
    The main bulk: by format (oversized books on the bottom shelves, otherwise hardcover/mass-market/trade paperback sections), except for classics and a couple of reference shelves. Then by author. Within author, by date of first publication (though series stay together).
  10. Keep, throw away, or sell?
    Keep, far too much. Sell, quite a bit. Donate to library sales, every year or so when I get up the energy.
  11. Year's Best Science Fiction series (edited by Gardner Dozois) or Year's Best SF Series (edited by David G. Hartwell)?
    I mildly prefer Gardner's books, but that's only partly because his tend to be slightly more literary -- the other reason is because they're so huge, and usually contain a few novellas. But I've been reading both since David started doing his book, and I expect to continue to read both as long as they both are published.
  12. Keep dustjacket or toss it?
    Keep, of course.
  13. Read with dustjacket or remove it?
    Usually with, unless it's a particularly big book that I'll be reading for a while (and I'm worried that it will get dinged up).
  14. Short story or novel?
    I read novels more than short stories, I think. But I read a fair bit of short stuff, too, and I usually want to read more short stuff than I do.
  15. Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
    I like the Potter books, but Lemony rules.
  16. Stop reading when tired or chapter breaks?
    Stop reading when: a) the bus has arrived at its destination, b) my lunch hour is over, c) the children/wife/cat require attention, d) some other calamity has occurred. I don't get to choose when I stop these days.
  17. "It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time"
    "All this happened, more or less."
  18. Buy or borrow?
    Buy. Actually, by preference, get a publisher to send me for free or order from my company's warehouse, but those aren't options open to most people.
  19. Buying choice: book reviews, recommendation, or browse?
    I'm so plugged in to reviews and recommendations that nothing surprises me. For a new (to me) writer, it's generally personal enthusiasm from people whose opinions I respect (whether they're reviewers, readers, editors, or whatever).
  20. Lewis or Tolkien?
    Tolkien, by a country mile.
  21. Hard SF or space opera?
    Space opera. I don't like equations in my fiction, and I do prefer characters that have at least one dimension. (This only applies to stories written while I was alive; I've found I can't stand space opera from before the '60s, so my preferences invert for older works.)
  22. Collection (single author) or anthology (multiple authors)?
    I read collections much more than anthologies, and rarely read original anthologies at all.
  23. Hugo or Nebula?
    Hugo, but it's a mild preference. It's more that I'm annoyed by the Nebula's best-works-of-two-years-ago rotating eligibility system than anything else.
  24. Golden Age SF or New Wave SF?
    New Wave, baby. I grew up on Moorcock and Ballard, Ellison and Silverberg. That is my Golden Age.
  25. Tidy ending or cliffhanger?
    I can take a slingshot ending if it's done well. Otherwise, I prefer something in between -- not tying up all of the ends tidily, unlike real life, but not ending at what feels like a chapter break, either.
  26. Morning reading, afternoon reading, or nighttime reading
    Whenever is good for me. I don't tend to read in the evenings these days, but otherwise it's throughout the day, when I have time.
  27. Standalone or series?
    I don't have a simple preference here; it really depends on the author and the subject.
  28. Urban fantasy or high fantasy?
    How about non-epic secondary world, can I choose that? I don't have any simple preference here, either.
  29. New or used?
    New by preference, though, at this point, I've read or studiously avoided reading everything published in the field for the past fifteen years.
  30. Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
    Hard Landing by Algis Budrys. A short novel, published quietly in the mid-90s, which is one of the best "aliens among us" books ever written.
  31. Top 5 favorite genre books read last year? (in no order)
    Farthing by Jo Walton
    The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
    20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
    The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross
    The Fair Folk edited by Marvin Kaye
  32. Top 5 favorite genre books of all time? (in no order)
    Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny
    The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
    The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance
    The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers
    The Dunwich Horror and Others by H.P. Lovecraft
  33. 5 favorite genre series? (in no order)
    Steven Erikson's "Malazan Empire"
    Gene Wolfe's interconnected "Sun" series
    Jack Vance's "Demon Princes"
    Zelazny's (first) "Chronicles of Amber"
    Robert Silverberg's original "Majipoor" trilogy
  34. Top 5 favorite genre short stories? (in no order)
    "Fondly Fahrenheit" by Alfred Bester
    "Prayers on the Wind" by Walter Jon Williams
    "The Man Who Walked Home" by James Tiptree, Jr.
    "The Deathbird" by Harlan Ellison
    "With Folded Hands" by Jack Williamson
For a meme, this stays remarkably on-topic, and seems even to have been created by an adult. I'm impressed.

Book-A-Day #199 (1/31): Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds

This was Reynolds's second collection of last year (along with the essentially simultaneous Zima Blue and Other Stories), and I'm now, once again, essentially caught up on his books. (If you don't count the fact that I never finished Absolution Gap.)

This one was originally published in the UK -- the American edition is coming along in June -- and it contains stories set in his "Inhibitors" universe.

There are only eight stories here, but I think six of them -- all but "A Spy in Europa" and "Dilation Sleep" -- are novella-length. In fact, three of those novellas are original to this book, which is pretty uncommon. (They add up to nearly half the total length of the book.)

(The other reprinted stories are "Great Wall of Mars," "Glacial," and the title story, for those counting on their fingers.)

If you like modern space opera, you should be reading Reynolds. He's less violent than Asher, less depressive than Baxter, and I wish I could think of something else he's less of than another British writer whose name starts with C. (Oh, well.) More importantly, he's a good, thoughtful writer who can do both characters and Big Space Stuff. And, for those to whom this matters, the Inhibitors universe is obsessed with the Drake Equation in the modern manner and relies on purely STL travel.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Is Harry Potter Urban Fantasy?

In a comment on this post, Johan Larson asked:

Speaking of urban fantasy, there was a brief thread on rec.arts.sf.written recently on whether the Harry Potter series should be considered urban fantasy. What's your take on this?

Now, I could have answered with another comment, but I figured I'd move it up here, in case anyone else cares.

I've agreed, mostly, with the rasfw consensus, which is why I haven't posted there: the Harry Potter books don't show any of the usual accouterments of urban fantasy (in either its original, Charles de Lint/Emma Bull form, or the modern, Hamilton/Harris/Harrison/Buffy version), so I don't think it makes much sense to think of them that way.

But let's take them one at a time:

1) The original definition of urban fantasy was, to dumb it down, "Rock 'n Roll Elves" -- traditional mythological creatures (usually Celtic, though occasionally of Greek or other continental folkloric origin) in the modern world, interacting with modern people. Those modern people also usually were on the fringes of society -- runaway kids, itinerant musicians, and the like. There's still plenty of books like that out there -- I recently read Holly Black's "faerie" novels, which are very much in that vein -- but it's been eclipsed by the massive popularity of the newer type.

The Harry Potter books could superficially fit into this category -- they have some very traditional folklorish tropes, and Harry starts off as outcast and downtrodden as anybody -- but they're not about the intersection of the magical with the everyday, as that kind of urban fantasy usually is. Harry Potter is a Fans Are Slans story, a Lost Prince story, yet another retelling of the King Arthur story. There's nothing ordinary about Harry: that's the point.

2) The modern type of urban fantasy -- which I prefer to call "vampire shagging," though that's probably derogatory and not always accurate -- is more focused: almost always about vampires and/or werewolves in the modern world. Where de Lintian urban fantasy looks back to Andrew Lang, the Grimms, and a thousand other folklorists, the vampire shaggers look back to '30s horror movies, and, occasionally, to Bram Stoker. (Fairies and other folkloric folks do pop up in vampire shaggers, but they're just one more magical thing, not the point of the exercise.) Type 2 Urban Fantasy relies on the appropriation of horror tropes for mystery or romance plots, so calling them fantasy can be seen as a little odd. (Though they do solidly fit in fantasy; fantasy is a large and capacious genre, willing to go along with a lot of things.)

Harry's world has werewolves and vampires in it, but they're set dressing; they exist because the Potter books operate on the assumption that every magical thing really exists (and the better-known a magical thing is, the more it exists and the more important it is). But vampires aren't (to borrow a feminist comics term) Sexy Sexy Danger in Harry Potter, which is definitely their purpose in the vampire shagger novel. Also, the vampire shagger is primarily a woman's domain -- the main characters are overwhelmingly young women -- and that's not the case with the more traditional, male-dominated world of Harry Potter.

So I don't see Harry fitting into either version of "urban fantasy" -- his stories start from different premises and go to different places. I'm sure there's some current urban fantasy that's responding to Harry Potter (and that there will be more, as the younger generation of readers grows up and starts writing their own fantasy novels), and that sub-genres will continue to merge, coalesce, and re-form. But, for now, they look like different things from here.

Book-A-Day #198 (1/30): Alias, Vol. 3: The Underneath by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos

Yes, another one. I do like the dialogue, and I like Jessica Jones's narrative voice. And the fact that the only super-folks who show up are third-stringers at best (two different Spider-Women! Speedball!) is also nice.

It's got that gigantic "Parental Advisory EXPLICIT Content" purely because people swear -- the violence is less explicit and common than most longjohns comics, and the sex is mostly implied (there's no "nudity" that I can remember -- people are naked, but they're movie-naked, and you never see anything). Yes, if it were a movie, it would be R-rated, but only because Jessica's every fifth word is "fuck." (Let's see -- it would say "R for Sexual Situations and Pervasive Obscenity.") Mainstream comics, as usual, are desperately conflicted about creating stories for grown-ups, but they can do it, now and then, if they really want to.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Today's Quote

From Chris's Invincible Super-Blog:

"So: A Star Trek comic that re-tells classic episodes from the Klingons' point of view, and there's a Klingon language variant? If you're a guy who collects comics and you find yourself still able to have sex with a woman, this is the sort of thing that'll clear that right up."

Oddities of the Online World

There appear to be three separate LJ feeds for this blog -- antickmusings, andrewwheelersf, and gbhhornswaggler. Just another one of the efficiencies of the modern world, I suppose.

(I check these things because I want to know if people are commenting there on my posts -- though, so far, the answer is mostly "no.")

Monday, January 29, 2007

Book-A-Day #197 (1/29): Now We Are Sick edited by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones

This is a collection of horror poetry -- well, jokey horror poetry really. It's mostly doggerel, and I don't generally like horror to begin with, and my tastes in poetry are a bit odd as well.

Which is all to say that I couldn't stand this. It's exceptionally lightweight (by design), so saying any more than that would be overkill. It wasn't for me, but it was short, and it only hung around the house for about a year before I managed to read it.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

My Boskone Schedule

This year, for the first time ever, I'll be at the renowned Boskone science fiction convention in Boston, which is coming up in just about two weeks. In case anyone else is going to be there, and wants to say hello -- or is interested in seeing me pontificating about things -- here's what I'm scheduled to do that weekend:

Sat 12:00 noon
Other neglected authors
Small presses are doing a good job getting a number of authors in print, yet some great SF authors, who everyone should read, are still neglected. Even authors who have some stuff in print can be considered "neglected." To start, each panelist will take one author and make a case for him or her. Some we might consider -- though that's up to the panel -- are Pangborn, Lafferty, Kornbluth, Leiber (yes, Leiber can now fairly be called that). Even Sturgeon probably qualifies. Gwyneth Jones, Joanna Russ.

Sat 3:00pm
The Fantastic and the Mundane: A Look at Urban Fantasy
What is urban fantasy? A discussion of definitions dealing with what is essentially another umbrella term: we have vampires, werewolves, wizards, elves, ghosts and more all falling under the concept of urban fantasy or authors identifying themselves as urban fantasy writers. Is
it new? Who is writing it? Some people self-identify as urban fantasy writers. Some think of themselves as something else. And some reject the categorization. Is Neil Gaiman urban fantasy? Margaret Atwood? Anne Rice? What makes them different or same as Simon R. Green, Jim Butcher or Laurell K. Hamilton?

Sun 2:00pm
The New Millennium: SF and Fantasy in the 21st Century
We're now more than five years into the new century. Who are the major authors writing SF and fantasy today? What are the major works so far in this century? And who will be the major forces and what will be the major trends in the next 10 or 20 years?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Book-A-Day #196 (1/28): Death's Head by David Gunn

It's a first novel, in the MilSF vein, and it publishes in May. That, really, is about all I should say.

Maybe I can add one thing -- I don't think of myself as someone who particularly likes MilSF (or military Fantasy), but I keep enjoying specific books in that area. (Steven Erikson, for one big example. John Scalzi's first two novels. And so on.) I mean, I'm not generally choosing to read books in which rejuvenated Nazis save the world, but, in general, I have a much higher tolerance for "Sir, yes, sir!" and detailed weapons descriptions than I thought I did.

Well...and I can't say I'm thrilled about that cover. Nothing about it says "SF" to me. (Maybe that's the idea?) It just looks like they're trying to trick people who liked Jarhead into picking up a SF novel, which seems like an odd strategy to me. But I don't sell books into bookstores, and I'm sure plenty of people hate the covers I do, so I'll just register mild bemusement, and leave it at that.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Book-A-Day #195 (1/27): Give Up? by Whitney Darrow, Jr.

OK, this is going to look like another one of my cheat books -- and it is, in a way -- but it became today's book-a-day very naturally.

Our last pile of kids books were due back at the library today, so I chucked the Things in "the dark car" (remind me to explain that some time) and set off to the library. There, as usual, I was the one poking around and finding books (for them to read, I hope), while Thing 2 played educational computer games and Thing 1 read issues of Nintendo Power magazine.

I was trying to find some Garfield books, since they both love that strip right now. (Six to eight-year-old boys -- sounds about right, yes?) The computerized card catalog said a few books were on the shelves, but it lied to me -- lied! But looking for them got me right into the middle of the shelf or two of comics/graphic novels/whatever. I almost took out Epileptic for myself, but, as always when I pick it up, I felt a great urge not to read it, and so I put it back down. But I did find this book of New Yorker cartoons, and -- since I love those -- I took it.

Reading a 128-page book, where each page contains at most two gag cartoons with a single-line caption, does not take very long, so I poked through it at the library, at my mother's before and after dinner, and then once I got home. It was published in 1966 by Simon & Schuster, and every single cartoon in it originally appeared in The New Yorker.

Darrow is not generally considered one of the great New Yorker cartoonists, and this book shows why. It's pleasant and often funny, but it's very much of its time and milieu ('50s suburban America, middle-class and white as you can get). The Peter Arno-ish art is the best thing about the book; it's nicely loose and loopy -- not timeless, but more interestingly an artifact of its time than the writing is. There's a long parade of guys in suits and their frumpy wives, and the cartoons mostly take place in either offices or living rooms (with a smattering of doctors, lawyers, sales clerks, and beatniks) -- which is just a longer way of saying that they're middle-rank, mid-century New Yorker cartoons.

The copy I read had been rebound at some point (I think 1973), so scanning the cover wouldn't help anybody. So, instead, I scanned the first, title, cartoon.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Incoming Books: 27 January

What, again?

I can explain: the boys wanted to go to what they call "the card store" (because it sells Yu-Gi-Oh and other trading cards, though it's really more of a comics shop), and we were going to be in the neighborhood anyway, so I caved in.

Thing 1 bought five packs of Naruto cards (which he was disappointed to discover are not a game, but the old-fashioned kind of collectible trading cards); Thing 2 bought a Pokemon plush (he has a couple dozen of them now, but this is the first one he bought with his own money), a Pokemon board book, and a pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards. And I just had to buy something, too, right?

I did find Vol. 4 of Path of the Assassin (which my normal comics shop had been out of yesterday). But did they have The Grave Robber's Beautiful Daughter? (The shop guy said no, and seemed never to have heard of it or Richard Sala...or, worryingly, Fantagraphics at all.) Did they have The Push Man? (Still no luck, though he admitted that he'd heard of Drawn and Quarterly. OK, this is a small strip-mall store catering to twelve-year-old boys, but come on!) I wanted to buy something else, but they didn't have Ode to Kirihito. I didn't even consider looking for Fun Home. I've been vaguely looking for Ragmop and Shenanigans -- I've never seen either in person -- and, well, I still am. But this shop did have Alias Vol. 3, so I got that.

I also looked for Fortune & Glory, so I guess Bendis really is growing on me at this point. I think there's only one more volume of Alias after this, though I seem to remember that Jessica Jones turned up elsewhere in the Marvel Universe afterward. (Though, if she's in Civil War or some equivalent stupid mega-crossover, I really don't care in the slightest. Those things are just pure idiot bait.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Book-A-Day #194 (1/26): Alias, Vol. 2: Come Home by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

See Vol. 1 for my boring thoughts on that subject.

In this volume (mostly concerned with a case about a missing teenage girl in upstate New York), we learn that Jessica Jones is a self-destructive alcoholic. (We suspected it in the first book, but we could have put that down to her having a bad day. Something that happens once could be coincidence. A pattern of behavior is more worrying.)

The dialogue is much less fragmented here than it was in Powers, which is probably why I went on to Vol. 2 of this rather than Vol. 6 of Powers (though I expect I'll get there, eventually). This is also more of an everyday-life kind of series, which I like -- I guess I don't mind superheroes in my funnybooks, as long as they know their place and don't start angsting or emoting all over the place. (Yes, that was a veiled reference to the fact that Superman is crying again.) Super-heroing is in the background here; characters either appear out of costume (Luke Cage, Scott Lang) or wander across the background (there's a nice passing fight scene among Spider-Man, the Human Torch, and Doctor Octopus).

I still think the "mutie" thing in the Marvel universe is overdone -- as I've said before, MU people have the infallible ability to tell mutants from other kinds of super-beings, and just hate the former (up until Civil War, I guess, and probably again as soon as that reboots). That is dumb, but I guess it's too deeply ground into the carpet of Marveldom to come out now without major steam cleaning.

My qualms about the deeply silly fictional universe it's set in aside, I liked this book, and I'll probably be back for Vol. 3 next month.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Incoming Books: 26 January

Went to the comics store today, and, despite the fact that I couldn't find a whole bunch of things I was looking for (The Push Man and Other Stories, Vol. 4 of Path of the Assassin, The Grave Robber's Daughter by Richard Sala, and Vol. 6 of The Legend of Grimjack), I still managed to spend a lot of money.

My last trip was before Christmas, though, so that was one reason. I got two issues each of Sonic the Hedgehog and Teen Titans Go! for the boys, and five little digests (mostly Marvel, and many from the 70% off shelves, so they were pretty cheap) for them as well.

For me, I got two actual pamphlet-type comics (Castle Waiting and Gumby), and a number of book-shaped objects:
  • Spider Kiss by Harlan Ellison
    It's a nice edition, and it's one of the few Ellison books I don't already have, in one form or another.
  • The Cartoon History of the Modern World by Larry Gonick
    Wasn't this supposed to come out in October? I've been waiting forever for it to turn up at the comics shop, since I pre-ordered it there.
  • B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine
    More Hellboy spin-offs.
  • Queen and Country: Operation: Storm Front by Rucka and somebody
    Goddamn! I thought this was an old one, but it was in my pull file, so I took it. Looking at the shelf now, I see I already have it. Someone's getting a Queen and Country present soon, I guess.
  • Alias, Vol. 2: Come Home by Bendis and Gaydos
    Which I read on the ride home, so it will be the next post.
And when is League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier going to come out? I need me some more Victorian super-team action!

Quote of the Week

"Opportunity knocks only skin deep."
- Launchpad McQuack

More Bizarre Searches

I think I'll try to leave this one as a draft for a while, to pick up more of the oddball ones:

  • Someone in Orange county, California, at about 6 AM local time on 1/22, desperately needed to know about "fritz that's 2 anaheim holly redhead," but got to my June archives.
  • Google Romania led one surfer from "weekend by fay weldon analysis" to my Fan Fiction label.
  • A person in Rochester, NY -- who apparently cannot spell -- wanted "gent warts picture" and got to my root page. That's terribly dispiriting for all sorts of reasons. (What makes it worse is that he used WebMD for his search.)
  • A websurfer in Urbandale, Iowa wanted to find "matchstick men and stephanie seymour," and got here.
  • In Swansea, England, they're eager to know about "dragonby treacle mine," and I guess my "You Know: For Kids" label fits, somehow.
  • Someone from Korea searched for "club. book 46" and got my Book-A-Day post about Yoshitaka Amano's Fairies.
  • A person smack-dab in the middle of Spain wanted to know about "birthday presents for 80 year old," but found my post about Thing 2's birthday presents. (Thing 2, by the way, is 6.)
  • Someone at the Directorate of Logistics in Fort Rucker, Alabama, firmly believes "little miss sunshine boring!!!!" Sadly, I didn't agree.
  • On January 25th, two separate people clicked over to me from the friends page of a LJ user named eldritchhobbit. (I thus discovered that this blog has at least two LJ feeds, since the one Mr. Hobbit was using wasn't the one I'd previously known about.)
  • I also learned that eight people have saved this blog's URL on
  • The question on the mind of one person in Greenville, South Carolina: "is jenny mccarthy and gena lee nolan the same person"? The unhelpful answer: my "Smutty" label.
  • One of my LJ feeds has also been "friended" by hapendfro, who otherwise seems to read a lot of Harry Potter fanfic. Looks pretty slashy, too. I have no idea what the connection there is...
  • In the quiet town of Lake Oswego, Oregon, there once was a little old lady who desperately wanted to know about "advance search antick furniture." Alas, like so many accidental visitors here, she had a little trouble spelling "antique." And so she got to some of my publishing posts. (How do I know she's a little old lady, or that Lake Oswego is sleepy? I don't, but it makes a better story.)

And that's about a week of vaguely amusing and/or interesting links, so I'll post them now.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Book-A-Day #193 (1/25):A Box of Matches by Nicholson Baker

Books do tend to sit around unread for long periods of time at La Casa Hornswoggler. One of the reasons I go on a book-a-day tear is to shake up those stacks, and pull things out and actually get them read. Sure, those tend to be very short things, but it's the thought that counts.

(Books tend to be vaguely triaged here: some things I read immediately, or at least as soon as I can get through work reading. Others, usually classics, are picked up because they're a nice edition, or back in print, or whatever -- and I don't seriously intend to read them anytime soon, though I always have hope. The vast middle category is made up of books I want to read "soon," but, as Toad once said, soon was over a long time ago, and now it is later.)

This is exactly one of those cases -- a book from the vast middle (I've had it since late 2002 sometime, since what I have is a bound galley, and it was published in January 2003), which is short enough (178 pages) to be read easily in one day. And now it's done.

I've only read Baker's work a bit before; I know I read Double Fold, the book about libraries getting rid of newspaper archives. (I was reading it on 9/11, so I remember that I read it.) I think I read Vox, but maybe I just remember that copies of that were on the discard piles around the office for about two years. Other than that, I don't think I've read him before.

This seems to be in the vein of his first two novels (The Mezzanine and Room Temperature) -- close looks at very small parts of life, with lots of introspection and a fair bit of close observation of (the narrator's) behavior and foibles. OK, let's be specific: this book has thirty-three short chapters, in each of which our narrator lights a fire, very early in the morning, and thinks about his life. (I know certain folks from rasfw are recoiling in horror, if they're reading Antick Musings to begin with.) There's no real plot, no larger story: it's just a series of views of one man's life, over just more than one winter month.

But I liked it; Baker is an engaging writer, and I read for character and ambiance as much as plot to begin with. And, most importantly, now it's off the to-be-read shelves.

(Side note: that's a perfect cover, and it has exactly thirty-three matches on it. The galley doesn't credit a designer, but, whoever it was: very nice, sir or madam. Very nice.)

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Gorilla Suit Day is Coming Around Again

And I thought you folks might want to know about it. You may now go about your daily business.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Incoming Books: 24 January

Four things this week (so far):
  • The Other Book...of the Most Perfectly Useless Information by Mitchell Symons
    Third in the series; to go onto the bathroom book back-up stack. (Which is itself getting a bit out of hand -- I've got at least five books over there already, which means they'll last for at least this whole year.)
  • Secret Life: The Select Fire Remix by Jeff VanderMeer
    OK, confession time: I now have this, Shriek, City of Saints & Madmen, Veniss Underground, and (goes to check) yes, the original edition of Secret Life piled up in various places. I've read about half of Veniss. (I'm almost as bad on Gene Wolfe; I have Soldier of Sidon and his last three short-story collections still to read.)
  • Totally Weird and Wonderful Words by Erin McKean
    Probably also for the bathroom book stack.
  • On the Wealth of Nations by P.J. O'Rourke
    This I'll probably get to quickly; it's short and I love O'Rourke's writing. (And I do seem to get to non-fiction faster than fiction these days.)
And, someday soon, I need to get out to my usual bookstore to buy Calvin Trillin's About Alice and Martin Amis's House of Meetings...and I bet I won't manage to walk out buying only those two books.

Book-A-Day #192 (1/24): I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! by Bob Newhart

I read a bunch of the deluge of comedian's books in the mid-90s, so I felt morally obligated to read this one, especially since my company was doing it and I could get a copy for free. (Well, "morally obligated" is awfully strong. How does "it sounded like a short, funny book" strike you?)

This is clearly an as-told-to book; Josh Young is credited in the acknowledgements as "who gave structure to my 'Stew'". (For those of you out of the publishing loop, words like that in the acknowledgements exist to explain to the in-clued who actually wrote the words in the book. I bet Newhart talked to Young, and Young taped it all and boiled it down; that seems to be the usual process.)

This is clearly a memoir: it's loosely structured, skips about in time, and very surface-y. It's really a collection of anecdotes and bits of routines -- the written equivalent of watching Newhart on various talk-show couches for three or four hours. Of course, who expects anything more than that from a comedian's book?

It was pleasant and I got it done in one day. At this point in book-a-day, that's all I'm looking for. Tomorrow: a collection of jam-jar labels, or something equally mentally demanding.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

AKICIF: What Clark Ashton Smith Texts Are Preferred?

Explanation of title.

Let's say you had your choice of texts of Clark Ashton Smith stories. Which are the "good" ones? As they were originally published in Weird Tales and elsewhere? Some cleaned-up later edition? His manuscripts, which have never been published in their intended form?

Or what?

(Yes, I'm asking for help with my homework.)


Glenn McCoy's political cartoon for today confuses me. I'm a nice guy, so I won't steal it for my own convenience -- you folks can click on the link, then come back.

Who is that supposed to be? Hilary? Bush? Someone else? I'm stumped.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Book-A-Day 191 (1/23): Year's Best SF 12 edited by David Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer

The first of at least three "best of the year" collections I expect to read this year is the mass-market paperback from Hartwell & Cramer, publishing in June from Eos.

Since the version I read might not even have the final line-up of stories, I won't say a thing about what's in it. (I will mention that reading a book of short stories where they all run together, and the section breaks seem to have disappeared in the formatting, is an interesting experience. I got a very early version of this, and it shows.)

I did scan the cover flat (which also might not be final), so there's a little visual interest.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Book-A-Day #190 (1/22): Michael Swanwick's Field Guide to the Mesozoic Megafauna

Yesterday was as close as I'd come to breaking the book-a-day streak: the book I'm reading for work (and thought I'd be able to finish today) had to be set aside at lunchtime, since I had an interview to do (with the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast; watch for it in a few weeks). And I'd cleared out the last of my emergency back-up half-read pile over the weekend.

Things looked bleak for the ol' book-a-day.

But then I remembered the super-secret pile of quick reads, and pulled this out of it. It's probably the thinnest excuse for a "book" that I'll ever commit, but it looks like a book, so I'm counting it.

This very slim stapled volume (32 pages, I blush to mention) contains two short-short story cycles: "A Field Guide to the Mesozoic Megafauna" (originally posted on Swanwick's publisher's website to promote his then-new novel Bones of the Earth) and "Five British Dinosaurs" (from Interzone). There are eighteen different stories here, but they are all, of course, very, very short.

But they're also Swanwick stories, so they're witty and fun. I don't recommend this to anyone but a huge dinosaur fan (or Swanwick completist), though I should add that Bob Walters makes a cameo appearance in one story.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Book-A-Day #189 (1/21): The Best American Comics 2006 edited by Harvey Pekar

Certain nefarious forces on the Internet (I'm not being more specific because I don't actually know who they are or what their problems are) have been dumping on this book, and praising the Ivan Brunetti Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories instead.

I'm not done reading the Brunetti book (which has its strong points, but some very glaring weaknesses as well), but I don't get it. Apparently the series editor of Best American Comics, Anne Elizabeth Moore, is a divisive figure in some comics circles for reasons everyone is supposed to already know -- maybe that's the underlying reason for the hating.

I'll get to the Brunetti book when I finish it (for now, check out Jeff VanderMeer's review of it at Bookslut), but The Best American Comics 2006 is a very nicely put together, cleanly designed, and well-chosen collection of comics stories. There's nothing here I found embarrassing (unlike the Brunetti book), only a couple of excerpts of longer works (which don't really work well in an anthology), and some really good work by people I hadn't heard of before (like Joel Priddy's "The Amazing Life of Onion Jack" and Jesse Reklaw's "Thirteen Cats of My Childhood"). Since Pekar was the editor of this edition, there's a lot of autobiographical and journalistic comics, and a bit of pure left-wing agit-prop (like Lloyd Dangle's "Street-Level View of the Republican National Convention"), but that's to be expected. The whole point of having guest editors in a series like this is to let those editors view the year through their own lenses.

The notes on the contributors (and their own notes on their works) are long enough to be useful, and the fact that they're in the backmatter (so they can be on slightly cheaper paper, I imagine) is OK. I hadn't thought about the problems of headnotes in comics anthologies before, but, now that I have, I imagine that you either have to devote a full-page for the notes to each story, or move all of the notes into front- or backmatter sections. (This is because comics stories are already, and inherently, organized into pages in a way that prose or poetry are not.)

All in all, I liked it a lot. I hope the series continues, and does well; I'd like to keep getting these every year.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Gala 1000th Post!

Actually, there's nothing special about this post, but -- since, like most of humanity, I have an inordinate affection to large, shiny, round numbers -- I figured I should mark the occasion anyway.

You could go back and see my 100th post, which features my favorite political joke, if you want.

Odd fact: even though it started more than six months later, the SFBC Blog is also nearly at its 1000th post. (That's because posts there tend to be short and punchy, and posts here tend to be long, discursive, and pointless.)

And that's all I've got here. So we'll just move on to #1,001, and so on...

Tomorrow We Begin the Snake-Handling!

I ran across this three times in my Bloglines feeds before I broke down and did it myself:
You know the Bible 95%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

Yep. That's the boy who won the Bible Olympics two years running; he's still in the back of my head, somewhere. (But most of the questions are actually really easy -- and at least half of the possible answers are obviously wrong. I just wish I knew which questions I missed.)

I Am Flabbergasted realize that no one has published a biography of Maggie Thatcher under the title The Greatest Tory Ever Sold.

On second thought, that might be more appropriate for a book about John Major...but, still, it seems to have only been used for the title of a profile of Jeffrey Archer in an Australian paper, and it's a better pun than that.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Today's Tongue Twister

Picky Nicky nitpicks picnics.

Four adults spent much of today's belated 6th birthday dinner for Thing 2 putting various permutations of that together, but I like this one. It's not quite as tough as it should be, though. I'm still thinking.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Movie Log: Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx is the second in the series of six movies made in Japan in the early '70s from the manga series of the same name by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima.

I liked the first one quite a bit, so I figured I'd run through the rest -- they also all seem to clock in just under ninety minutes, which is nice.

This one also adapts some specific stories, but I'm not going to try to track them all down in the twenty-eight volumes of Lone Wolf and Cub, since I don't think anyone really cares. There are three major stories adapted here, I think -- one where Ogami Itto battles a family of female ninjas, one where he's feverish and holed up in a shack, and one where he fights three samurai brothers to kill an informer.

The kid who plays Daigoro is still amazing -- he can't be more than three, but he's either completely natural or actually acting. (According to IMDB, his name is Akihiro Tomikawa, and he appeared in these six movies as Daigoro, and nothing else.) The rest of the cast is at least solid, as far as I can tell without being able to understand a word anyone says.

But this movie felt a bit more like a pedestrian action movie than Sword of Vengeance did; there are a lot of scenes of flashing swords, spurting blood, and dropping body parts, but it didn't add up to as much as the first book did. It's funny, but the violence is actually more comic-booky in a movie than on a comics page -- as strokes of ink, it has a stylized, designed look that keeps it from seeming quite as dumb as red fountains of blood. Still, I think I'll keep going, since there's interesting stuff going on here.

Book-A-Day #188 (1/20): Luba: The Book of Ofelia by Gilbert Hernandez

This isn't actually the latest Gilbert collection of Love & Rockets stories, since the next book (Luba: Three Daughters) has already been published, but I finally finished it -- it had been sitting around for a while.

(In my defense, I tend to arrange the comics-and-such stack by size, and these books are album-sized; so all of the trade-paperback-sized books were on top of it, weighing it down. And there were a lot of them for a while -- all of the comics-y stuff from Book-A-Day came off that pile.)

I've said some of what I have to say about Gilbert when I read Sloth (his first standalone, non-porn graphic novel) a few months back. That would probably be a better place to begin with Gilbert than this book; there are five full-length Gilbert
books that came before this one (plus his half of more than half a dozen shared books). He does make a strong effort to explain the tangled relationships up front, and the series did have a major dislocation a few years back (moving from the fictional Latin American town of Palomar to southern California), but these stories still build on a multi-generational soap opera, and it's better to know the backstory first.

There's that big Palomar book to dive into, if you're so inclined -- it reprints all of the stories in this world up to three years ago -- and there's also a new series (starting in March) that will reprint all of those earlier stories in fat little manga-like volumes. But Gilbert Hernandez is one of the masters of modern comics, so, if you're interested in comics stories about people who don't wear their underwear on the outside, you should check him out.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Book-A-Day #187 (1/19): Dark Mondays by Kage Baker

I don't really have much to say about this book; it's a new collection of Kage Baker short stories (all unrelated to her "Company" universe, and pretty much all dark fantasy), and it's quite good.

The amazing thing, for me, is that five of the eleven stories here -- including "The Maid on the Shore," which just sneaks over the border to novel-length -- are originals. So anybody who likes Baker has no excuse not to buy this; nobody but her, her agent, and the Night Shade boys saw these stories before this book was published.

(I'm not sure how Baker manages to produces so many short stories, especially when they're all such high quality, but, given the evidence here, I wouldn't rule out a deal with some infernal power.)

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Quote of the Week

"Conservative, n. -- A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others."
- Ambrose Bierce

The Other Place

Oh, in case anyone has been trying to access the SFBC Blog over the last day or two, the server move is going on right now, so you're probably getting either error messages or a page that's more than a week old. The experts in this area know about this already, and assure me that everything will be fine, Real Soon Now.

(Maybe today, maybe tomorrow -- but Soon.)


A question for the masses:

If you came across an application for a job under the name of a major boss from a relatively popular video game -- said name being a perfectly respectable American-type name, though -- would you:
  • a) assume it was some kind of odd joke?
  • b) feel really sorry for this person and try to forget about it?

I'll almost certainly do b), but I just had an odd moment.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Book-A-Day #186 (1/18): Phaic Tan

The cover credits Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner & Rob Sitch as writers, and gives a subtitle, "Sunstroke on a Shoestring." Oh, and there's one of those shallow-u accents over the "a" in Tan.

Phaic Tan is the "sequel" to the fake travel book Molvania, which was about a fictitious Eastern European country. This one takes the same approach to Southeast Asia.

It's not as funny as Molvania (since there aren't that many different jokes in this area), but it's attractively designed, and it's still pretty funny. Quite a lot of the humor is based on punny names (such as my favorite, the Donkekong River), so one's tolerance for that will determine the reaction to the book as a whole.

I see the line is still expanding -- I admire their capitalist drive, but I do wonder about quite how much more punishment this particular equine can take. I know I'll keep reading them if I can find them for free, but I'm not sure I'd spend any actual money on the things.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day!

Movie Log: Arthur and the Invisibles

The boys and I hadn't seen anything in the theater for a while, so I gave them the choice of Happily N'Ever After and Arthur and the Invisibles on Saturday. This is the one they chose, and I can't really complain, since neither one is supposed to be very good.

I should say that this wasn't a bad movie, just a bit slipshod and hurried. The live-action acting is perfectly acceptable, and the character designs for the CGI characters are interesting and move well. But the movie suffers from an excess of stunt voice casting, can't decide what it's audience is (or how to target that audience), and has a tin ear for dialogue. (Particularly of the I'm-talking-too-much-too-fast-to-get-all-of-my-words-in style.)

The CGI scenes also often seem rushed, especially during action sequences and as scenes change -- I'm not sure if that's a reflection of a tight budget, or an eagerness to get to the "good stuff" -- but it makes parts of the movie hard to follow visually. Arthur seems to have a little too much plot in general for its length; it should have either been ten minutes longer or a bit more simplified.

(And, as others have pointed out, casting Madonna as the love interest -- yes, it's more middle-school infatuation than anything else, but her CGI character does appear fully grown up -- for ten-year-old Freddie Highmore is more than a little squickworthy. The camera also seems to linger on CGI-Madonna's butt much more than is strictly necessary.)

Still, I'm glad I saw it on a big screen. Given the pacing problems with the CGI scenes, I expect this will not play well on normal-sized TVs; a lot of this movie will turn into visual mush at home. It's most interesting as a CGI test-bed; to see what this particular studio has done with the form -- there's some nice animation here and there. If your kids drag you to see it, try not to let the dialogue annoy you too much, and don't think too hard about the dropped plot points -- just watch the pretty pictures.

Minion Update

The Editorial Assistant job has been posted; anyone who wants to apply can click on that link and try to get a job in the glamorous, high-paid world of book publishing.

C'mon, it'll be fun!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Book-A-Day #185 (1/17): The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

I run hot and cold about reading genre books for pleasure -- sometimes, there are so many things I want to catch up on (like this, and the two Al Reynolds collections, and Kage Baker's Dark Mondays, which I think will be next) that I jump from a work SF book to a pleasure fantasy novel, or vice versa. Other times -- usually when I'm reading things for work that are not entirely to my taste (he said, politely) -- I find I have to run as far away from genre for my other reading as possible.

No points for guessing what kind of week this was.

So far Scalzi is writing zippy novels that are fun and quick to read. (I've read Agent to the Stars, Old Man's War, and now this.) This one is a bit more serious and resonant than Old Man's War, though it's set in the same universe (and could be called a sequel, if one was being loose with the term).

Parenthetically: I'm still hoping that the Old Man's War-iverse is not exactly as we have been led to believe. When I think about the background, there's a lot of stress on my suspension of disbelief: see my post on Old Man's War for the details. To make it worse, in this book we learn that there are six hundred intelligent starfaring races in our neighborhood (without quite defining how large that neighborhood is or how many inhabitable planets there are), all of which are at roughly technological parity and a large fraction of which are at least at cold war with everybody else. Somebody's thumb is on the butcher's scale there, and if it's not some entity in this universe, then it must be Scalzi, which would be too bad.) On the other hand, we learn in this book that the human government has been explicitly lying about/covering up some important information about the wider universe, so Scalzi may have an answer to this dilemma up his sleeve. I hope so.
Ghost Brigades has many of the virtues of Old Man's War, as well: it's a book that's easier to just keep reading than to put down, which is rarer than it sounds. It's written in limited third person, with several important viewpoint characters, but it still moves along as swiftly as the first-person Old Man.

I liked it, and I'll keep reading more Scalzi books, even though my boss is the one who acquires him for the SFBC. That's a pretty serious recommendation from me; he's a writer in the genre who I'll go out of my way to read when I don't have to.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Book-A-Day #184 (1/16): Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Abandon the Old in Tokyo is the second in a series of books reprinting the comics work of Tatsumi (or should I say Yoshihiro? I'm not sure which one is the family name). The first one, The Push Man and Other Stories, came out about a year ago, and got excellent reviews, but I managed to miss it. This one collects short stories Tatsumi published in 1970, as I believe Push Man covered 1969.

These are dark, adult short stories -- very different from the big manga series that we're used to seeing. Tatsumi was one of the founders of the underground comics movement in Japan; he even coined the usual term for describing these kind of stories, gekiga. (The timing of his career makes him seem like the Japanese R. Crumb or Gilbert Shelton, but I suspect he's more like a Japanese Will Eisner -- someone trying to use the tools of a broad, youth-oriented popular medium to tell very specific, grown-up stories about more rounded, less savory characters.)

I recommend this guy highly to anyone who reads modern American alternative comics -- the Hernandez brothers, Chris Ware, Seth, Craig Thompson, Dan Clowes, and particularly Charles Burns. Tatsumi was doing something not too far removed from them over thirty years ago, on the other side of the world. They're still great stories (though some of them are very dark; he could be the manga Joyce Carol Oates), and the warts-and-all look at a very different society is fascinating. (If "Beloved Monkey" isn't in the next Best American Comics annual, there's no justice in this world.)

I'll be looking for Push Man the next time I'm at my comics store, and I hope Drawn & Quarterly continues with this series -- I want to see more of this guy's stuff.

(Oh, and today is the six-month anniversary of Book-A-Day; I've now been doing this for half a year. So how come the stacks of books don't seem to be getting any lower?)

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Book-A-Day #183 (1/15): Alias, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos

I must be liking Powers more than I think, since I seem to be seeking out other, similar comics written by Bendis. This is the next obvious step -- Powers is "cops in a superhero world," and Alias is "ex-minor superheroine as PI in the Marvel Universe."

This is a somewhat grown-up version of the MU: sex and bad language exist here, as they don't in most of the regular MU comic books. That has horrified some Internet commentators (and thrilled others), but, coming to this soon after Kim Deitch, the mere existence of those things in comical-book form doesn't mean anything in particular to me. Oh, my, the F-word and Captain America on the same page; aren't we cosmopolitan?

Bendis's dialogue is growing on me, or maybe I'm just getting used to it. It is generally speaking naturalistic, but it's a very stylized kind of naturalism -- I suspect Bendis deliberately styles his dialogue on David Mamet. The swearing works in context, because the people here swear like normal people (or, rather, the ones who do swear do so as part of their regular speech, and the characters who wouldn't swear don't toss in some curses just to keep up). The overlapping speech isn't used as much here as in the early Powers issues, and Bendis has limited himself to only having people repeat themselves three or four times, for the most part. It reads a bit like dialogue that's meant to be performed rather than read, but it works most of the time. It's a very talk-heavy series, so Bendis does some layout tricks to make it all work. (That's not quite code for "a lot of talking heads," but close.)

The viewpoint character is Jessica Jones, a PI who used to be the very minor superheroine Jewel (apparently she was briefly partner or sidekick to the Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel in the '80s -- this is all retcon, though; the character didn't really appear at that time), and who now mostly investigates straying spouses, alone, in New York. It pays badly, but she seems to be OK at it. As the series starts, it's not clear how long she's been doing this, though it does seem that she doesn't try to trade on her minor superhero contacts or to use her powers (low-end brick: limited flight, strength, probable invulnerability on some level) in her work.

This book collects the first nine issues, which cover two cases: Captain America's secret girlfriend and Rick Jones's abandoned wife. (The series isn't really set up that cleanly, though, and I like that: it meanders in and out of the cases as they come up, and her private life, such as it is, also comes in and out as thing happen.)

I like the character of Jessica Jones, though she's a bit passive. On the other hand, that may be deliberate -- she's a character in a universe where the usual reaction to anything is to punch someone through a wall, so her occasional lack of affect and reaction is clearly different from what we expect in a Marvel comic. And she feels much more like a real human being, with conflicts and doubts, than the usual long-underwear types. So I'll probably look for more of these; I think the series is collected in three more volumes.

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!