Monday, March 31, 2008

Stoker Winners

Locus has reported that the Stoker winners (presented over the weekend at the World Horror Convention in that very spooky place, Salt Lake City) have been made public, and has a list of them.
  • Novel: Sarah Langan's The Missing
  • First Novel: Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box
  • Long Fiction: Gary Braunbeck's "Afterward, There Will Be a Hallway"
  • Short Fiction: David Niall Wilson's "The Gentle Brush of Wings"
  • Anthology: Gary Braunbeck & Hank Schwaeble's Five Strokes to Midnight
  • Collection: (tie) Michael A. Arnzen's Proverbs for Monsters, Peter Straub's 5 Stories
  • Nonfiction: Jonathan Maberry & David F. Kramer's The Cryptopedia: A Dictionary of the Weird, Strange & Downright Bizarre
  • Poetry: (tie) Linda Addison's Being Full of Light, Insubstantial, Charlee Jacob & Marge B. Simon's Vectors: A Week in the Death of a Planet
A full list of the nominees is also available.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/29

This week's collection of books to review is all comics, so I'll even throw in a few things I picked up at my comics shop, since they fit the inadvertent theme.

How to Love is a collection of "graphic novellas" from Actus Independent Comics, distributed by Top Shelf Productions in the US. (Actus is an Israeli publisher.) It's in an odd format -- hardcover, 9 1/2" x 7" turned "landscape" -- and features stories by six creators. (That includes the only Israeli cartoonist I previously knew about -- Rutu Modan, of Exit Wounds fame -- which probably only proves I wasn't paying attention.) How to Love will be published in August -- and no on-line bookseller is listing it yet, which may mean it will be very difficult to find. On the other hand, August is some time away, so I expect it will show up eventually.

Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning, Vol. 3 is the third in a manga series by Kyo Shirodaira and Eita Mizuno about a young detective and the mysterious "Blade Children" that he's trying to stop; I reviewed the second volume at ComicMix some weeks ago. This one is being published by Yen Press in April, so it's probably shipping to stores already.

Also from Yen Press is Kieli Vol. 1 by Yukako Kabei and Shiori Teshirogi. From the description on the back cover, it sounds oddly religious -- there's a reference to a race of immortal warriors who were "eradicated in the name of God" and to the title character, who sees ghosts and yet is a budding atheist. I'm not sure whether to expect a mildly Shintoist setup, or the kind of confused take on Christianity that shows up now and then in manga. (I guess I'll find out when I read it.) This is also an April book, so it should be available everywhere pretty quickly.

Too Cool To Be Forgotten is the new graphic novel from Alex (Box Office Poison) Robinson, coming from Top Shelf in July 2008. It's substantially shorter than Robinson's previous work and focuses entirely on one character: Andy Wicks, who accidentally hypnotizes himself back into his geeky, gangly high-school self in 1985.

I've seen a number of things specifically for kids this week -- and they all seem to come from France, for whatever reason. One is Emmanuel Guibert's Sardine in Outer Space 5, subtitled "My Cousin Manga and Other Stories." I haven't read the series before, but anything like this aimed at kids needs to have individually standalone stories, so I'm not worried about confusion. (I might be worried about the fact that "My Cousin Manga," on the cover, seems to have giant marshmallows jammed onto her stick-like legs, but I'm sure there's a good explanation for that.) This one is coming from First Second in June 2008.

Also from First Second, and also for kids, is Lewis Trondheim and Eric Cartier's Kaput and Zosky, about two incompetent alien do-gooders. I recently enjoyed Trondheim's diary comic collection, Little Nothings, so I'm quietly hopeful about this. (And, after I check it out, it will got to my sons for the acid test...whether they pick it up at all.)

Moving on to books I actually paid money for, there's Dungeon: Zenith, Vol. 1 : Duck Heart (Dungeon), by Joann Sfar and the ubiquitous Lewis Trondheim. I picked this up on Jeff VanderMeer's suggestion, and because I liked Little Nothings so much. This is the first in the series, I think -- there were also books called "The Early Years," "Twilight," and "Parade," so it was hard to tell -- and it's about a giant D&Dish castle, stuffed full of monsters and treasure, that adventurers keep trying to loot. And, apparently, also about this duck who gets mistaken for a barbarian warrior and has to protect the Dungeon. (This one was published in 2004, for those keeping track.)

And then there's Gumby. What can I say about Gumby? Some outfit called Wildcard Ink got Bob Burden to write and Rick Geary to draw all-new comics adventures of Art Clokey's clay character, and they're wonderfully bizarre, if very irregular. (In many senses of that last word.) Now there's been enough of them -- three issues, I think -- to fill up a small trade paperback, and so here it is. Gumby says that it was published in December of 2007, but I think it only made it out into stores last week. Whenever it was, it's Gumby, damnit, and it's utterly indescribable and a hell of a lot of fun. Where else will you find a villain being foiled by the ghost of Johnny Cash?

Last for this week is Michel Rabagliati's new book Paul Goes Fishing, just published by Drawn & Quarterly. I still haven't managed to read Paul Moves Out, but I loved Paul Has A Summer Job when I read that last fall, so I just grabbed this new one when I saw it was already out.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Deja Reviews by Florence King

The specter of infinite recursion is always before me, but never more so when I'm about to review a book of book reviews. If I'm not careful, who knows how tightly I could contort myself? But I'll try to soldier on.

Florence King is one of the modern world's great curmudgeons; her best book is the sublimely grumpy With Kindness Towards None, a history of misanthropy. She's also had an interesting, complicated life -- chronicled in her mostly autobiographical Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, and in dribs and drabs in her other books -- but settled into life as a conservative columnist and book reviewer at the beginning of the '90s. (She's also one of many people on the right who had an interesting and complicated sex life when she was young, but would rather ignore the subject entirely now that her ardor has cooled. Luckily, writing for uptight right-wing magazines makes it easy to avoid even thinking about sex for years at a time.)

Deja Reviews collects her book reviews -- some? all? the book doesn't say -- from 1990 through 2001, from The American Spectator and National Review. There's the expected spate of political books, some popular histories, and other assorted and mostly-topical non-fiction.

To be blunt, she's against nearly all of it, from the men's movement to Ayn Rand's followers to Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation. (Though, oddly for a conservative, she seems to quite like Eleanor Roosevelt as a person.) She's not a movement conservative, or one of the religious right. She's probably economically conservative, but mostly because she expects everything to go all to hell at any moment. She doesn't seem to be over-fond of current right-wing politicians and leaders (which failing, and fawning, over personal friends has made two other right-wing writers, Ben Stein and P.J. O'Rourke, only intermittently tolerable in recent years). Really, the main thing holding her to the right side of the political world is a firm belief that the world is bad and getting worse. (Well, that and a dislike of liberals -- but there are plenty of Democrats who hate the kind of liberals that King attacks.)

Collections of book reviews are bad books to read straight through, which is more or less what I did with Deja Reviews. (Over the course of a about a week, yes, but this was the big book I was reading at the time.) And I doubt that there are all that many huge Florence King fans out there, besides me. Serious right-wingers will probably find her unsound on at least one item of doctrine, and the fact that this book ends in June of 2001 will make it seem beside the point to a whole lot of that crowd to begin with. So I'm really not sure who this book is for -- and publishers might have been equally puzzled, because this book came out from that powerhouse of book-making, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Curiouser and Curiouser

The New York Times reported today on the ruling in Los Angeles which said Jerry Siegel's heirs "were entitled to claim a share of the United States copyright to the character" of Superman.

Now, it's possible that my knowledge of intellectual property is more defective than I think, but isn't the character of Superman a trademarked property, and individual Superman stories are copyrighted?

It seems to me that the judge has declared that Siegel retains copyright to the Superman materials in Action Comics #1, but is silent on the status of all later, copyrightable works, and also silent on the ownership of the Superman trademark. So this ruling, if I'm reading the reportage correctly, does not say that Siegel's heirs own anything other than the copyright on a single, seventy-year-old story. (More may come later, but that's what happened in this ruling.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Bakers: Babies and Kittens by Kyle Baker

I don't review comics things here as much as I used to, since I do have the ComicMix gig. But this book is short, I don't have much to say about it, and it's by someone who seems to be a personal friend of much of the ComicMix team, so I'll just say something random about it here.

I'd thought this was a collection of previously published work, but it isn't; it's a brand-new, 92-page story about Kyle Baker's terribly cute kids (and his wife and himself, along the way), including the probably-mostly-true story of how they came to get a couple of cats.

It's presented in Baker's full-color style, which is very animation-influenced (and which I think is done by drawing in a computer program). I'm not as fond of it as I am of Baker's traditional pen-work; his panels tend to be boxier and more rigid in the animation style, and some of his pages end up very reminiscent of storyboards. There's also an awful lot of using many panels with similar backgrounds to indicate motion -- again, very much like a storyboard.

The story is cute, the characters are well-defined in their personalities, and Baker is an excellent caricaturist. But I got the feeling that this story was meant to be an animated cartoon, not a graphic novel, and would have worked better in that other form.

Oh, and the story? Kyle is allergic to cats, but the kids want a kitten. And there's a rat in the house, which scares the kids and their mother. So, while Kyle is out (trying to sell a comics story about a giant killer rat), they sort-of accidentally get two kittens. (And then there's a long chase sequence with one of the kittens and the rat near the end.)

As I said, it's cute but a bit slim. And, while reading it, I kept thinking about this Spleenal strip about getting a cat, which is both shorter and funnier. So, for my money, the shorter, b&w "Bakers" strips are better. (Oh, and the end of the back-cover copy, which talks about an "all-out war between the jealous baby and the fuzzy kitten," doesn't have anything to do with this story -- maybe that's the sequel?)

I Randomly Review Manga!

This week, my "Manga Friday" feature at ComicMix reviewed the first volumes of Priest, Sugar Sugar Rune, and Mobile Suit Gundam Seed, simply because they were what I had lying around.

Far Away From Everything Else

Hey! My boss's boss got quoted in a Washington Post article about the Wiley "Manga Shakespeare" series!

See? I'm not as far away from the SFF/comics world as you might think!

Itzkoff Forgets How to Plug a Book

Yesterday, Dave Itzkoff slunk into the New York Times's PaperCuts blog to chat with the man with the best hair in all of theoretical physics, Michio Kaku. Kaku gave Itzkoff some excellent quotes and background about three impossible technologies -- teleportation, time travel, and precognition -- which he carefully categorized into three classes of impossibility.

Itzkoff, since he had to provide only a short introductory paragraph, acquitted himself well. And he did manage to mention Kaku's new book, Physics of the Impossible. But this blog post is about the act same thing as that new book, which Itzkoff doesn't seem to have noticed -- in fact, Kaku's quotes quite likely came from the book itself.

(But it's better than I thought -- on my first, cursory glance, I didn't notice Itzy had mentioned the book at all, which is about what I expected from him.

Quote of the Week

"In this our springtime there is no better, there is no worse.
Blossoming branches burgeon as they must.
Some are long, some are short.
Stay upright. Stay with life."
- Cyril Pedrosa, Three Shadows
(though the first three lines are possibly quoting someone else)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fear My Dark Wraith!

Today I reviewed a graphic novel called Dark Wraith of Shannara at ComicMix, which was based on a new original story by Terry Brooks.

RFI: Anybody Use Naymz?

I've gotten a request to use yet another social networking system, Naymz. I'm generally inclined to be grumpy and unsociable, but this one claims to be for professionals. On the other hand, it has a silly, misspelled name.

So I'm asking the assembled brainpower of whoever's out there: have any of you used Naymz yet, and is it any good?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bestelling Genre Books of 2007

Publishers Weekly's current issue is the one with the big round-up of the bestselling books of last year, and I was under the impression that I've been pulling the genre (meaning SF/F/Horror) titles out of that list for my own amusement and the entertainment of whoever might be watching for the last couple of years.

Except that I don't seem to have done that here last year, so maybe it was on rec.arts.sf.written that I did it...

But I'm typing here now, so I'll continue.

(The full PW articles are available online -- hardcover, paperback, children's.)

For parallax, the #1 fiction title is Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, at 2,201,865 and the #1 non-fiction book is The Secret by Rhonda Byrne at 4,590,000.

#10 Dean Koontz, The Darkest Evening of the Year (740,000)
#18 Richard Bachman, Blaze (581,000)
#22 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Hurin (462,000)

J.D. Robb, Creation in Death (395,080)
Terry Goodkind, Confessor (280,644)
Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union (245,465)
Laurell K. Hamilton, The Harlequin (245,155)
James Rollins, The Judas Strain (200,000)
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, The Wheel of Darkness (197,324)
Sherilyn Kenyon, Devil May Cry (183,257)
Christine Feehan, Dark Possession (175,737)
Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box (175,000)
Christopher Moore, You Suck: A Love Story (175,000)
Laurell K. Hamilton, A Lick of Frost (173,240)
Newt Gingrich & William R. Forstchen, Pearl Harbor (125,440)
William Gibson, Spook Country (118,635)
Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson, Sandworms of Dune (116,647)
Jim Butcher, White Night (115,137)
Charlaine Harris, All Together Dead (105,414)
Terry Brooks, The Elves of Cintra (102,891)

According to PW, their list contains all of the fiction books that sold over 100,000 copies in the US last year -- or at least new hardcovers that did so. (There may be some strong-selling backlist, but that's fairly unlikely in the hardcover category.)

Trade Paperbacks:
#1 is Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, with 4,274,804 copies.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road (1,364,722)
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist (603,000)
Gregory Maguire, Wicked (281,431)
Kate Mosse, Labyrinth (230,646)
Gregory Maguire, Wicked (143,820) -- PW calls this the tie-in edition, but I think they have it backward
Max Brooks, The Zombie Survival Guide (143,684)
Max Brooks, World War Z (132,549)
Gregory Maguire, Son of a Witch (132,030)
Matt Groening, Simpsons Comics Beach Blanket Bongo (125,099)
Christopher Moore, A Dirty Job (125,060)
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (125,000)
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (122,000)
Gregory Maguire, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (116,521)
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle (110,000)
Stephen King, editor, The Best American Short Stories 2007 (103,047)

Mass Market Paperbacks:
#1 is Blood Brothers by Nora Roberts, at 2,247,730

Michael Crichton, Next (1,600,000)
J.D. Robb, Born in Death (955,073)
J.D. Robb, Innocent in Death (895,194)
Scott Smith, The Ruins (835,321)
James Rollins, The Black Order (750,000)
Stephen King, Lisey's Story (730,000)
Gregory Maguire, Wicked (650,000)
Catherine Doulter, Wizard's Daughter (640,972)
Sherilyn Kenyon, Dream Hunter (600,000)
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, The Book of the Dead (592,400)
Stephen King, The Mist (560,902)
Christine Feehan, Dark Celebration (545,957)
Christine Feehan, Safe Harbor (540,393)
David Michaels, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Fallout (518,622)
J.D. Robb et. al., Dead of Night (515,194)
Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (511,361)

On this list, PW only gets down to the 500,000-copy level before succumbing to ennui.

#1 in hardcover frontlist is, of course, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, at 13,114,692.
#2 Stephenie Meyer, Eclipse (1,112,660)
#5 James Patterson, Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports (590,875)
#10 Mary Pope Osborne, Dragon of the Red Dawn (355,521)
#12 Rick Riordan, The Titan's Curse (350,000)
# 18 C.S. Lewis & Robert Sabuda, The Chronicles of Narnia Pop-Up (251,520)
# 19 Matthew Reinhart, Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy (248,918)
#26 Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles: The Nixie's Song (210,086)
# 30 Angie Sage, Physik (190,169)
# 31 Disney Pirates of the Caribbean: From Ship to Shore (190,000)
# 38 Sir Thomas Faye, Disney Pirates of the Caribbean: The Secret Files of the East India Trading Co. (175,000)
# 39 Scott Westerfeld, Extras (172,615)
#43 T.T. Sutherland, Disney Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: The Movie Storybook (150,000)
# 45 Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (150,000)
# 50 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Deluxe Edition (144,742)
#53 D.J. MacHale, Pilgrims of Rayne (137,068)
and several more, but my fingers are getting tired.

Hardcover backlist unsurprisingly leads off with Stephenie Meyer's New Moon at 820,604.

The rest of the list is mostly classic books for little kids, but Sorcerer's Stone is at #14 at 335,931 and Order of the Phoenix at # 15 with 311,040.
#18 Half-Blood Prince (295,339)
#19 Chamber of Secrets (287,543)
#23 Prisoner of Azkaban (265,638)
#24 Goblet of Fire (257,880)
#36 Meyer, Twilight (203,729)
#41 DiTerlizzi & Black, The Field Guide (198,072)
(That's the first book of the Spiderwick Chronicles; the second is at # 72, the third at #115, and the fifth at #116.)

Paperback frontlist is anchored by James Patterson's Maximum Ride: School's Out -- Forever, with 999,753.

From there down, there's some more of Osborne's "Magic Tree House," some Paolini and Pullman, more Pirates of the Caribbean, some Riordan and several of "A Series of Unfortunate Events," Patterson's Maximum Ride, various movie tie-ins (Shrek, Transformers, etc.) on the way down to the 150,000 copy mark at #69. There's a lot of at least mildly fantastic stuff there.

And the paperback backlist chart starts off almost entirely fantasy:
#1 Pullman, The Golden Compass (various editions, 1,337,680)
#2 Meyer, Twilight (879,120)
#3 Half-Blood Prince (825,072)
#4 Order of the Phoenix (778,564)
#5 Sorcerer's Stone (696,188)
#6 Pullman, The Subtle Knife (669,458)
#7 Pullman, The Amber Spyglass (651,149)
(#8 is S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders.)
#9 Chamber of Secrets (562,835)
#10 Goblet of Fire (556,799)
#11 Prisoner of Azkaban (548,512)

And going down from there: more Osborne (lots of Osborne), Riordan, Paolini, a couple of Narnia books, Roald Dahl, Westerfeld, Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, and Charlotte's Web (still selling 151,841 copies in a year, even fifty-five years later.)

And those are the bestselling genre books of 2007, at least according to PW's figures.

It's New Weird Wednesday!

The VanderMeers and their publisher, Tachyon Publication, have declared today to be New Weird Wednesday...and who am I to deny them?
However you celebrate New Weird Wednesday, be sure to do it responsibly.

An Astonishing Fact

There is a fantasy novel that has sold over two million copies in one trade paperback edition since that edition was published in late 2000. (Not to mention several hundred thousand in a different trade paperback edition, over a hundred thousand in mass market, and tens of thousands in hardcover; pretty much all of those this decade -- and all numbers are purely US sales.)

It is not by J.K. Rowling, and it was published as an adult title. The author is still alive and writing. (And I was just struck by its sales patterns while looking some things up on BookScan this morning.)

I wonder if anyone out there knows what book this is?

More from Publishers Weekly

PW has an article this week about, well, let me just quote it:

Bertelsmann to Exit Club Business in U.S.
"Less than one year after it paid $150 million to Time Warner to acquire complete control of Bookspan, Bertelsmann has put the Bertelsmann Direct North America unit up for sale and is considering selling its entire Direct Group, which houses all of its various club businesses worldwide. The North American group consists of 21 book clubs plus BMG Music Service and Columbia House DVD, under the direction of Stuart Goldfarb. Revenue in 2007 was just under 900 million euros ($1.2 billion), with more than half generated by the book clubs."

(emphasis mine)

"As part of its effort to integrate Bookspan into BMG/Columbia, BDNA eliminated several hundred jobs in the year and incurred substantial impairment (291 million euros) and restructuring (123 million euros) charges in 2007. Excluding those one-time events, the division was marginally profitable last year."

(emphasis still mine)

Connecting any dots will be left to the reader.

SF and Religion

SF Signal has another one of their "Mind Meld" features today, in which they ask a number of SFnal folks the same question and amalgamate the answers into one gigantic post.

This time, the question is "Is Science Fiction Antithetical to Religion?" The distinguished panel includes Mike Resnick, Lou Anders (who suggested the question), Ben Bova, Adam Roberts, Larry Niven, Michael A. Burstein, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., John C. Wright, James Morrow, and Yr. Humble Correspondent.

My contribution was as follows:
That's cherry-picking names, though, isn't it? Plenty of the classic SF writers weren't atheists, and even the ones with sanguine views towards organized religion (such as Arthur C. Clarke) believed, or wanted to believe, in some kind of transcendence, even if it wasn't direct experience of some Godhead.

Science Fiction often does think religion will mostly go away, or will settle down quietly - let me mention Clarke again, who in several books has the whole world think better of religion after some major event - but that's just part of the general classic SF tendency to put the world into a neat, easily-defined box. (Psychohistory also comes to mind in this context; classic SF often thought all of human knowledge would eventually be as rigorous and predictive as classical physics - though they were clearly wrong about that.)

The only real, died-in-the-wool atheist of classic SF that I can think of is Asimov, who utterly epitomizes the idea that pure thinking can reduce the world to a set of axioms. Science has since proven - actually, science was already proving, back then, but classic SF didn't pay as much attention to real cutting-edge science as some people like to pretend these days - that the world is much stranger and more complex than the layman thought.

Smart SF writers, the ones who understand how real human beings think and feel, don't discount the effects of religion (and other forms of irrationalism and wishful thinking) on humanity. Clarke may have hoped that we'd outgrow it, and newer writers like Egan (in "Oceanic") may argue that we can and should engineer religiosity out of humanity, but they still take its role in human culture seriously, and know they have to account for it.

SF does have a tendency to explain things away, and religion is one of the biggest targets there - and "those closed-minded religious fanatics" are a common villain type for all kinds of SF - but there are plenty of SF writers who actually believe, to one degree or another. SF isn't necessarily's just anti-irrationalism. The more rational a religion is, the more likely it is to be treated positively in SF.

Notable Quotables

As always, no comment:

"...a closer look at the reports from B&N and Borders and the book clubs, and several off-the-record conversations with experts show that while revenue growth is sluggish, book sales are up slightly; it's the decline in sales of music CDs that have dragged the numbers down. You may not realize, for example, that while the old Bookspan's revenue last year was down from 2006's, it was still about $700 million."
- Sara Nelson, Publishers Weekly, "Bearing the Bad News"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Much Ado About Nothings

Today, ComicMix posted my review of Lewis Trondheim's diary comics, Little Nothings.

See My Author on TV!

Cynthia Cooper will be on C-SPAN's BookTV this weekend, talking about her book Extraordinary Circumstances and her role as the WorldCom whistleblower, in an event taped at Washington DC's Army/Navy Club. Set your alarm (or Tivo) for 11 PM on Saturday...

I Wonder If Anyone I Know Was Involved in This Conversation

Suit: Why does she have to be a devil? Why can't she be a demon?

375 Hudson Street
New York, New York

Overheard by: Harriet Vane

via Overheard in the Office, Mar 24, 2008

Movie Log: Michael Clayton

All the critics said Michael Clayton was really good, so I saw it. And I think I agree with them, but I don't have much else to say.

Who directed this thing, anyway? He got a lot of good performances -- yes, out of people you'd expect, like Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton, but still -- and I don't remember hearing much about the director.

(looks it up) Tony Gilroy, and apparently this is his first film. Well, good job, Tony -- ex-writers aren't always that good directing actors and moving the camera around and all that jazz.

Michael Clayton is just a good movie, and one that didn't make me obsess about anything in particular -- yes, it's another "gosh, some big business are really, really corrupt" movie, but who's surprised by that message these days? It's true, isn't it? (The only thing people seem to disagree on is whether "some" means "nearly every" or "only a few.")

So this, I guess, is one of my least useful or interesting "Movie Log" posts. It was a movie; I saw it; I have nothing coherent to say. Sorry.

Movie Log: Twelfth Night (again)

On the advice of several people (after I'd seen the Kenneth Branagh version), I decided to see the Trevor Nunn film of Twelfth Night.

My first impression is that this one is much more homoerotic than Branagh's production. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) And, for once, it's equal opportunity homoeroticism, with both a vaguely swishy Duke of Orsino (Toby Stephens) and some very physical scenes between Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter) and Viola (Imogen Stubbs).

Otherwise, having seen the same story once (in a slightly different selection of scenes from the original, longer play) helped quite a bit, as did not having one actor double two minor characters in the same clothes. (Here's a clues for all dramatic presentations: you do not want the audience spending their time wondering if two people with different names are the same person when all it means is that you're too cheap to pay two actors.) So the plot was clearer the second time around, and actually having backgrounds and furniture was also helpful.

The hugger-mugger of the mistaken identity plot (and the related hurly-burly of the duel) late in the play is still silly and needs to be taken at great speed to be at all plausible. (Again, when a plot hinges on someone not saying "Hang on, my name's not X!", you've got your work as a director cut out for you.) Others have said it before me: Shakespeare is not generally remembered because of his plots -- they're usually not his, to begin with -- but for his speeches.

I'm not sure how I missed Twelfth Night the first time around -- I seem to have spent a big part of the middle '90s in a hole; I was married without kids and not working that much -- but it was a good movie to catch up with. It's probably one of the top 20 movie adaptations of Shakespeare; others may put it even higher.

Monday, March 24, 2008

All You Need Is Planet Love

In my ongoing attempt to get myself organized and review something other than manga at ComicMix, today sees the publication of my review of Doom Patrol: Planet Love, the sixth and last collection of the fabled Grant Morrison-written run of that title from the early '90s.

Look for more later this week...

Yet More Awards

The Australian national SF convention, Swancon, was also held this past weekend, and it gave out awards as well. OZ HorrorScope (or perhaps just HorrorScope) has the full list of Ditmar and Tin Duck winners for this year.

The novel awards are:

Ditmar for Best Novel: Saturn Returns by Sean Williams

Tin Duck for Best Western Australia Professional Long Work: Hal Spacejock: Just Desserts by Simon Haynes

Who Is The New Clarke?

And the man asking that question, in yesterday's New York Times, is...our own Dave Itzkoff!

(Did he think he could hide from us by appearing in a different section of the paper?)

Itzy phoned up a representative handful of current SF writers -- Charles Stross, Walter Jon Williams, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Ian McDonald -- and asked them about current scientific trends and SFnal prediction. All said reasonable things, although the backhanded compliment of Bacigaulpi's "In a lot of ways, Clarke was writing honest SF for his time" is awfully close to the perennial radical's lament of how everyone in this history of the universe was less intellectually advanced than the speaker is now. (I've liked several of Bacigalupi's stories a lot, but every time I read his comments about the field I get less and less interested in what seems to be more and more intense axe-grinding.)

The article's premise is on shaky grounds, though -- it's the old saw about SF, and in particular Clarke's work, being primarily about predicting the future. That never was true for any good SF past the very earliest Gernsback era, and it's less true of Clarke than most. Clarke never wrote a future history, and very few of his stories were particularly predictive.

Did Childhood's End "predict" that devil-shaped aliens would transform our children?

Did Rendezvous With Rama "predict" that giant enigmatic alien starships would use our solar system as an interstellar rest stop?

I suppose it's too early to say whether the "predictions" in Against the Fall of Night/The City and the Stars came true, so we can give him a pass there.

There's no space elevator yet, so I guess that makes The Fountains of Paradise "wrong."

Commentors are encouraged to post their own ideas of what particular Clarke works "predicted" and whether they came true or not.

Really, the predictiveness of a story has nothing to do with whether it's good SF, or good in any other way. It may be what non-SF readers cling onto as "what SF does," but that just proves that they don't know much about SF.

And that nicely returns to my first point -- let me repeat that the author of that article is one Dave Itzkoff.


Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/22

Not a huge pile this week, but a very choice one; I want to read everything here. (Whether I'll manage to do so -- especially since one of these books is guaranteed to take more than a week of reading time all by itself -- is another story, though.)

For most of the past two decades, it was hard to surprise me in the SFF field; I was keeping track of it obsessively for work, and something immediately wonderful and surprising was usually a sign that I'd failed at that job somewhere along the line. But I'm doing something else now, so books I had forgotten were coming can pop up and make me amazingly, unexpectedly happy.

This week, that book is The Born Queen, fourth and last in Greg Keyes's great "Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone" series, which started with The Briar King. I bought the first three of these for my old job, and burbled about them to anyone who would listen -- this is really good secondary-world fantasy, more in the George R.R. Martin vein than traditional plot-coupon epic fantasy, and populated with a wide array of distinctive, memorable characters. I think this is going to be the next big book I read; I'm that excited to see it. It's published by Del Rey, and it's supposed to officially be in stores everywhere tomorrow -- if you haven't read this series before, give Briar King a try.

I've had a galley of Life Sucks for a little while now, but I've held off reviewing it because ComicMix prefers to be useful to readers/buyers and only review things once they're available. (And I'm mostly of that opinion personally, as well -- once in a while, there's a book I can't stand to wait to read, but, in general, pre-pub reviews are just for the industry, and I have hopes that real readers will be interested in what I say.) It still seems to be a ways off -- the letter says that First Second will publish it on May 1st -- but the finished book has arrived, so I'll move it up the pile. Life Sucks is a modern-day vampire graphic novel written by Jessica (La Perdida) Abel and Gabe Soria, with art by Warren Pleece.

Parenthetically, can I complain about how some publishers -- usually ones from the book trade moving into the comics world -- will run credits as "by" the writers and then "illustrated" by the artists? What comics artists do -- even the ones who work from detailed panel-by-panel breakdowns -- is substantially more than "illustrate" a pre-existing story; they provide a huge chunk of the actual story-telling.

Singularity's Ring is a first novel by Paul Melko, which Tor published in early February. It's sounded intriguing from the reviews so far -- especially the fact that the hero is a five-person "pod" with linked minds -- so I've added it to my groaning pile. God knows when I'll get to it, but it looks like the kind of SF I always want to see more of, so I feel obliged to take note of it. I believe I've read his story "The Walls of the Universe," and was impressed by it.

Back to comics with Cyril Pedrosa's Three Shadows, a graphic novel that won the 2008 Prix Essentiel at Angouleme (the massive French convention, which is more like a combination of WorldCon, the National Book Awards, and a small World's Fair than the San Diego con). First Second is publishing it on April 1st, so I should get to this quickly as well. The art is smooth, looking almost dashed-off, but still precise -- it reminds me a bit of Marc Hempel.

Prime Books published Ekaterina Sedia's first novel The Secret History of Moscow some time last year, but they're still promoting it, which is encouraging to see. I just got a copy of it this week, but I've been thinking about it since I saw a review of it by OF Blog of the Fallen. Let's see if I can squeeze this one in somewhere...

I still haven't gotten to Ann & Jeff VanderMeer's wonderful-looking anthology The New Weird, and already they've lapped me -- Tachyon will be publishing another VanderMeer-VanderMeer anthology, Steampunk, in June. Tachyon is really owning the category of smart, well-chosen anthologies that encapsulate various movements and themes in the SFF world, and I'm very glad that they're out there doing that. Now, if everyone would just slow down their publishing schedules so I can catch up...

Not helping at all on that account is Tor, which has been issuing the door-stopping novels of Steven Erikson's massively ambitious "Malazan Book of the Fallen" series as quickly as they could, to catch up with Erikson's British publishers. With Reaper's Gale, they're now less than a year behind and closing -- this is the first one where I couldn't get the UK mass-market paperback (or C-format, to be more precise) to read before the US edition. Reaper's Gale was published in the US in March, and the next book, Toll the Hounds, will see the gap drop to only three months later this year. Given that these books are 800+ pages long each, with casts of thousands, maps that cover entire continents, and complicated, twisty, huge-scale plots, just getting them copyedited is a massive undertaking. I am very fond of this series, but it's not for everyone -- you need to have read piles of epic fantasy (preferably in one's ill-spent youth) and gotten a bit tired with them to be ready to make the leap up to Erikson. (If anyone wants more of my blathering on the subject, here are my reviews for the last two books in the series: The Bonehunters, Midnight Tides.)