Friday, October 31, 2008

Da Na Na Na Na Na Nah -- BAT-MANGA!

My apologies for the title, but how could I resist?

This week's "Manga Friday" column for ComicMix reviewed the one, the only Bat-Manga!, a collection of Japanese Batman comics from 1966-67 with a list of credits as long as my arm.

Movie Log: Baby Mama

Netflix took forever and a day to get us Baby Mama. We used to get new movies lickety-split; I don't know what I've done to offend the Netflix gods -- Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Iron Man have been sitting forlorn on my list nearly as long, too -- but I wish I could figure out the right sacrifice to appease them.

Anyway, Baby Mama. It's an obvious comedy, one in the very long line of movies spawned from Saturday Night Live. This one is not as obviously a SNL movie as some, but the two leads -- Tina Fey and Amy Poehler -- are clearly riffing on the kinds of characters they're known to do on SNL, and the audience went to see this because it knew them from SNL,'s a duck.

Tina Fey is a driven top executive of a Philadelphia-based firm which is not in any way meant to be Whole Foods. (Nuh-uh.) Her career is in top gear, but, to do that, she's completely neglected her personal life -- she has no man, alas! Her biological clock is ticking ever louder -- her fecund sister, Maura Tierney, and "outspoken" mother, Holland Taylor, also don't help -- so she decides to have artificial insemination.

(Silly Tina Fey! Don't you know that meddling in God's Realm -- procreation -- never works in a Hollywood movie? Babies are only made the old-fashioned way, through tastefully implied in-between-scenes sex between the people who have to fall in love to make the plot work.)

So Fey moves on to Plan B, which involves the high-end surrogate operation run by the seemingly eternally pregnant herself Sigourney Weaver. One should be surprised when said high-end operation belches forth the clearly low-end Amy Poehler, playing every stereotype of poor people other than wearing a bib overall with only one strap. One should, but one is not, because one has seen Hollywood movies before, and buddy movies require said buddies to be as mismatched as possible.

Wacky hijinks ensue. No, really: that's the appropriate description of the entire movie; it's a SNL sketch writ large. (A funny one, yes, built around attractive, funny people, but still a thin, obvious thing.)

(I will say that this movie passes the Bechdel Test quite easily -- as long as "not talking about men" doesn't have some sort of exemption for talking about pregnancy. I might just be expecting the Bechdel Test to stand against all gender-stereotyped behavior, which is too much to ask of any single metric.)

I haven't mentioned Greg Kinnear, who is in this movie so Fey can have someone to fall in love with. Or Steve Martin, who's quite funny as Fey's Harvard Business School/Hippie boss. Or Dax Shepard, as the obviously wrong guy Poehler needs to learn to extract herself from.

If you've seen the trailer -- and you probably have, by this point -- you know what this movie is about. If you laughed at the trailer, you'll laugh at the movie; not just those same jokes, but many more that are very similar. If you hated the trailer, stay far away from the movie.

But, as every vaguely geeky male of about my age must admit, Tina Fey is intensely hot, which was more than enough reason for me to be happy to look at her for about a hundred minutes.

The Only Writers Left Not Blogging...

...are J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon, because even Danielle Steel is jumping into the web.

No snarky comments from me; I've never read any of Steel's books, but I used to sell the heck out of them. And I know there are a lot of women who love her books, and will be thrilled to know that "Danielle" is now that much more accessible and real to them.

Roger Ebert Explains How To Review

Many of his rules apply only to movies, but those of us who cover books -- even sad bloggy wretches such as myself -- would do well to read and think about those guidelines.

Plus, as Gawker points out, many, many of his examples -- while also being true, apropos and entirely appropriate -- are daggers aimed directly at the heart of his TV replacement, Ben Lyons.

That's how a good critic does it.

A Great Band for Today: Harley Poe

One of my current favorite bands is the little-known but quite awesome Harley Poe. I'm not even completely sure that they're still together -- the frontman (Joe Whiteford) formed Harley Poe after his previous band, Calibretto, broke up, and Harley Poe -- while undeniably awesome -- does look more like a side project than a full-time gig.

I don't know all that much about them -- they're pretty obscure -- but they've got a great sound, and they're a perfect band for Halloween. So, in case there's anyone out there looking for some party music for tonight, here's what I know and could dig up.

Harley Poe sounds a lot like early-period Violent Femmes, but their music is almost entirely about horror-movie imagery -- zombies, vampires, maniac killers, and the like. (They've got songs about being zombies and about fleeing zombies, about being a vampire on a date with a girl, and discovering that the girl you're on a date with is a vampire -- they're equal opportunity that way.)

So the sound is acoustic punk -- fast but not electric, angry but not screeching. And that generally goes well with the lyrics, especially in songs like "It's Only the End of the World" and "What's a Devil to Do?" (which I've mentioned here before). They do have some slower songs, but it's the high-velocity ones that really showcase their sound, and dark sense of humor, the best.

They're essentially a joke band, I guess, but they're easily the greatest joke band since Dread Zeppelin (who had two excellent albums and then started wearing the joke thin -- I expect the same will happen to Harley Poe in time, if they didn't already break up).

Harley Poe released three records, all within thirteen months starting in early 2006 -- In the Dark, a full-length with ten studio songs and four live tracks; then The Dead and the Naked, which was the other way around: five studio songs and ten recorded live (and recorded well, at a clearly happy concert at someone's house); and then one-half of a split record, Harley Poe and the Dead Vampires, with five songs from each band.

Harley Poe has a MySpace page, as every band is now required to do.

You can hear some of their music at, and watch some videos (quite grainy and amateur) on YouTube.

There are also some MP3s to listen to and buy at Mtraks. Mtraks also has a good Selection of Harley Poe videos, mostly from one particular videotaped performance. (These seem to be the same as the YouTube videos, but they're better organized.)

You can also hear or buy their music on this very page, using this handy Amazon widget. (And if anyone guesses that I made this post so that I could play around some more with Amazon's MP3 widget, well, you're not completely wrong...)

Or, if you prefer the traditional "shiny disc" format:

So: it probably says something telling about me that these guys are one of my current favorites, but they are, and maybe I am. (Whatever you're thinking.)

Quote of the Week

“Part of growing up is recognizing that something the family tells each other all the time is not necessarily true.”
- Judy Blundell, in an interview with Publishers Weekly

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Movie Log: Young at Heart

Young at Heart is a documentary about a group of what we're supposed to call "senior citizens" (because, apparently, "old people" is now an insult) who are part of a chorus of such aged folks in a Massachusetts city.

"Young at Heart" is the name of the chorus, as well as the name of the movie, and they've toured Europe several times in their twenty years of existence. I have to admit that most of them -- with the exception of one gentleman who's now too sick to perform with them except on special occasions -- don't have voices that are substantially better than, say, mine. (And, if you've never heard me sing, it's for a reason.)

Of course, like Johnson's pig on its hind legs, the point isn't how well they sing, but that they sing at all. The chorus has the slight aspect of a postmodern joke, particularly when their conductor and leader, Bob Cilman, has them working on a complex, difficult, and atonal Sonic Youth song. Obviously, both the chorus and their audience wants to see them sing old songs that everyone remembers, particularly if those songs have allusions to age in them. Cilman seems to fight that tendency as much as he can -- even against the chorus, whom he can be quite tyrannical towards -- but it's not at all clear why he started this thing in the first place, and kept it up so long, if he secretly thinks it's just schmaltz. (Maybe he just likes to stretch himself and his singers.)

Anyway, this does come down on the "heartwarming" side, but it mostly gets there honestly. The narrator -- whom I think I should recognize, but I didn't; he's British, and I think his name is Jonathan -- is mostly unobtrusive, and lets the various chorus members tell their own stories. I have the feeling that there's several times as much footage left on the cutting room floor as ended up in the movie, and that the movie was edited to focus on the more "touching" stories -- keep that in mind if you see it.

But it's only ordinarily manipulative for a movie, and the old folks have great attitudes and opinions, for the most part. Their singing may be only decent, but the fact that they can do it is still something to be celebrated.

I Generally Hate This Kind of Thing

I really dislike chain letters, and their bloggy equivalents, and this is definitely one of them. But I also think the message outweighs the annoyance of the medium this one time:

Copy this sentence into your livejournal if you're in a heterosexual marriage, and you don't want it "protected" by the bigots who think that gay marriage hurts it somehow.

This isn't a LiveJournal, but I still agree. And people who talk about how the definition of marriage has always and forever been exactly the same really haven't been paying attention.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Question to Pronoun Users

Do you really see no difference in these two uses of the word "they"?

a) I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly. -- Jane Austen

b) I waved to the man and they waved back at me.

(Emphasis added for clarity.)

Because all of the people arguing "it was good enough for Jane Austen!" are trying to justify sentences like the latter -- which I expect Miss Austen would loathe, with a quiet, time-appropriate, womanly loathing -- on the basis of sentences like the former.

Do you honestly think that "they" is is in common use as the definite neuter singular third-person pronoun? Are there style guides or dictionary usage notes to support such a thing? (Is it allowed in Chicago or AP style?)

Has no one on the Internet ever heard of the "if it's clumsy, rewrite it" rule? I despair for the world.

I Like the Night Life, I Like to Boogie

Today at ComicMix, I reviewed the second collection of Jessie Reklaw's Slow Wave webcomic, The Night of Your Life.

Movie Log: One Fine Day

About twelve years ago, The Wife and I were in New York for something-or-other -- probably seeing a movie at the Film Forum, back when "art-house" movies didn't make it out into the suburbs and we were young and free -- and there was a movie being filmed up the block. We hung around a bit, hoping to see George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer, but I don't recall that we did -- just a bunch of kids in Halloween costumes.

The movie was One Fine Day, and, somehow, we never bothered to see it when it came out, or for a decade afterward. We finally fixed that on a recent Friday night. (Oh the thrills of long-time married life! A "date" is sitting in the living room on a Friday night watching an old movie and yelling up the stairs for the kids to settle down and go to sleep.)

One Fine Day is another movie that definitely has a formula. I won't say that it transcends that formula, but maybe I should call it more of a recipe: it uses the expected elements in pretty much the expected ways, but is baked just the right length of time and comes out quite tasty and sweet.

Clooney and Pfeiffer are both single parents, he of a girl and she of a boy. The kids are in the same class -- kindergarten, I assume, given their ages -- but the parents haven't met before. Due to some frivolous horseplay of Clooney's, both kids miss their class trip, and are their parents' responsibility all day. (The trip the kids missed was on the Circle Line, which made me question the movie. Sure, it could be some kind of fancy all-day charter, but the typical Circle Line cruise -- even the all-the-way-around-Manhattan trip, which I've taken -- is generally only about two hours long. Those kids should be back in school by lunchtime...but, then, we'd have no movie!)

But both of them are in for busy days, with little time for babysitting:

Clooney is a reporter whose corruption scoop is coming unglued -- there's going to be a late-in-the-day press conference by the guy he claimed was dirty, and the paper will have to run a retraction (and Clooney will be fired), if he doesn't have back-up by then.

Pfeiffer works for an architecture firm, and has a major presentation that day, because in a movie like this someone has to be frantic about "the {somebody} account."

So they reluctantly (on her part much more than his -- she's the tight-ass, buttoned-up career woman, he's the fun-loving laid-back guy) trade kids back and forth, bouncing around New York City as they day goes on. They start off mostly disliking each other, but you know that can't last, can it?

One Fine Day is a slightly nonstandard romantic comedy, centered on a couple of smart, attractive people who do interesting things and can talk well about it, which makes it a great pleasure to watch, (Clooney in particular is one of the great talkers of modern cinema -- there are actors who do a lot of their work silently, but Clooney's not one of them; he's at his best when he's got two or three pages of dialogue to run through.)

New York is also close to being the third major character of the movie; nearly all of it was filmed on location, and I bet you could map this movie pretty easily.

I doubt One Fine Day is going to hit anyone's list of the greatest movies of all time, but it's a great date movie -- from a first date, to married-for-fifteen-years-and-watching-it-on-DVD. That's all good.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Movie Log: Son of Rambow

Son of Rambow is one of those movies that seems that it must be autobiographical -- to some degree, at least -- because it's so incredibly specific. It's a movie about very particular people, in a very specific time and place, living lives that didn't come out of a million previous movies. Perhaps it is fictional, but -- even if it is -- it has the quirky charms of actual truth to it.

It's 1982, somewhere in England. (All jokes about how there are parts of England that would be lucky to get up to 1982 this decade suppressed.) Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is about twelve, one of two children of a widow and part of a very strict Puritan sect. He's never seen a movie; the first scene of the movie has him exiled to the hallway at his local school, doodling in his notebook while his schoolmates watch some dull documentary.

And that's where he meets Lee Carter (Will Poulter), the school's resident troublemaker. Lee quickly sizes up Will, and takes merciless advantage of Will's innocence and unworldliness. But just being around Lee opens up Will's world -- in particular, he sees a movie for the first time because of Lee. That movie is First Blood, and it sets the rest of the plot in motion.

Lee and Will start filming their own sequel to First Blood, starring Will as "Son of Rambow" and Lee as the Richard Crenna character. Things go on from there, as they will -- a somewhat over-the-top (but always enjoyably so, and in keeping with the time period as well) French exchange student named Didier also becomes part of the film.

Son of Rambow does have something like a lesson at the end, but it's not crammed down the audience's throats. And the scenes along the way all ring true -- this is the story of these boys, in their world, in 1982, not something concocted out of a Hollywood scripting class. It also has an occasionally flamboyant visual style, as Will's drawings come to scratchily-animated life on the screen as they do in his head. It's something of a small film, and one that's easy to miss. But it's definitely worth seeking out; Will and Lee are very memorable kids, and their story is worth seeing.

They Are Not Singular

I was going to post the below as a comment on this post of Matthew Cheney's, but it's gotten too long and too grumpy for that. So it goes here...and you folks get to deal with my grumpy old-fashioned ire.

"They" is used, and understood, by the vast majority of English speakers to be third person plural, and making that word less useful and distinctive does not seem to me to be a worthy goal. Many writers have used individual words idiosyncratically, or in a non-standard manner, but that doesn't mean that all of the things a word has ever been thought to mean in the past are equally valid as meanings today.

I also note many of the usages noted by Cheney or on the linked page are of the form "everyone...they" or "anyone...they." Those may be technically singular, but "any" and "every" always retain a sense of multitudes to them.

There are many good ways to communicate that a singular third-person has an unknown (or unimportant) gender; making a myriad of other sentences less intelligible along the way is not one of them.

In the current case: "I'll pay one author for one story."

Join the Campaign to Keep They Plural!

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Trip to Yop City

Today at your friendly neighborhood ComicMix, I reviewed the second graphic novel by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, Aya of Yop City.

Movie Log: Run, Fatboy, Run

Once again, I'm desperately far behind in writing about the movies I've seen. They were all pleasant enough -- decent ways to waste time -- but none of them have given me a burning desire to talk about them. But, since I'm trying to clear Antick Musings' decks in preparation for the big trip, let me see if I can knock off one a day until they're all done for.

Oldest, and possibly least, of those movies is Run, Fatboy, Run, which proves that Simon Pegg can be a generic romantic-comedy hero just like every other vaguely attractive actor. It's a terribly, terribly generic movie, hobbled by a thuddingly obvious script. The actors -- Pegg as the man-boy who needs to learn to grow up, Thandie Newton as the girl he left pregnant at the altar, and Hank Azaria as her requisite too-good-to-be-true new American boyfriend -- struggle to make us care about the plot, which is the usual slop in a new bucket.

There's some decent physical comedy in Run, Fatboy, Run, and the secondary characters, who don't have to pretend to be deep and soulful, are freed to embrace the tackiness and genericism of their parts. (Harish Patel is Pegg's landlord, a grumpy Indian widower with a thick accent and a quick hand for physical punishment when he becomes Pegg's trainer. India de Beaufort plays Patel's sexy daughter, although the scenes in which she becomes a credible threat to Pegg's true love for Newton were obviously left on the cutting room floor. And Matthew Fenton is Pegg's best friend, a role that only exists because otherwise the audience would rightfully assume that he has no friends.)

There are also some strange, pointless villains, in a wasted attempt to add some tension. And another one in the recent series of far-too-concretized metaphors, which shows up at the climax.

Should I mention the plot? Does anyone care? Pegg wants to win back Newton, and to do so he impetuously says he's going to run a marathon in London. Eventually he does race, and finish, against far greater odds than make any sense whatsoever.

The Wife and I saw Run, Fatboy, Run because The Wife thought it looked funny, and liked Pegg in Hot Fuzz. But this is a much more forgettable and minor movie; see it only as a way to waste time and laugh a bit.

Commenting on Comics of the Times

Another jumped-up comment, from this blog post by Publishers Weekly's comics blog, The Beat:

This isn't actually a Direct Market issue -- not in the case of Watchmen or of The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle -- since both have sold strongly enough in particular weeks through book-industry outlets to outrank many books on the published lists.

The problem is that the bestseller lists are actively, and heavily, managed -- perhaps for the image of the New York Times, or perhaps for the benefit of the Times's ad-sales department. The Times deliberately leaves out many categories from their bestsellers lists -- their "fiction bestsellers" doesn't include books published as Young Adult, or graphic novels of any kind. (As we've all recently learned.) Similarly, their non-fiction list is mostly limited to history, memoirs, and current events -- they suppress all how-to books, self-help, computer books, and other categories.

Given that sales data is all captured electronically these days, it's clear that the Times must start with a compiled weekly list of sales (from the outlets that report to them) and then decide which books are actually "fiction" or "non-fiction" by their definitions, and which are not worthy of being listed at all.

(When you see the Times folks talk about the list, they often say that a book "was placed" on a list -- I suspect this is how they refer to it internally, and another sign that their bestseller lists shouldn't be taken as pure reportage.)

From their website: "Among those categories not actively tracked are: perennial sellers; required classroom reading; text, reference and test preparation guides; journals and workbooks; calorie counters; shopping guides; comics and crossword puzzles." Note that "among," as well -- they're leaving themselves the room to "not actively track" other things, at their whim.

A Brief Detour Into Politics

Fact 1: Election Day is next Tuesday in the US. (Canadians got their election over with a couple of weeks ago, and the rest of the world have their own schedules, of course.)

Fact 2: I'm going to be at Walt Disney World on Election Day.

So, since I wanted to vote this year -- it's a fairly big one, in case you hadn't heard -- I had to get an absentee ballot. I finally filled the thing out last night, signing my name sixteen times, darkening a host of little black ovals, and sealing several envelopes inside each other. And I mailed it this morning.

So my part in this election is done. I do want to encourage Americans to vote this year, particularly if they care about the outcome -- if you don't care, don't bother to vote, since you'll do it wrong.

And I'm sure nobody cares, but...I voted for a Democrat for a national office for the first time that I can remember. I was rooting for McCain back in 2000, but I just couldn't get behind the 2008 version. (Something similar nearly happened back in 1992, but the elder Bush eventually convinced me to stick.) The final straw, I guess, was Sarah Palin -- if that's the kind of decision McCain is going to make, I don't want him to be my President. If he'd picked even Tailgunner Joe Lieberman, I probably would have voted differently.

On the other hand, I voted the straight Republican ticket otherwise -- my local government incumbents, who're doing a decent job and have a chance to stay in office, and the current sacrificial lambs to Frank Lautenberg and Bill Pascrell. (The latter is my guy in the House -- I'm in a district that includes the local city, which means it'll go Dem until and unless the office holder is found in bed with the proverbial dead girl or live boy.)

So: vote in your own localities, and good luck in getting representatives that you can stomach.

Slave Leia Pillow Fight

Yes, I'm practically just copying this Topless Robot post -- but he already had the perfect headline, and I can't pass up the opportunity to post more pictures of multiple Slave Leias.

A world that contains this is a good world -- that's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.

Something to Brighten Up a Monday

William Carlos Williams is a really bad roommate.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/25

How is this week like every other week? I got books in the mail, and I want to tell you something about them -- in case I don't get to review them all. (And the chances of that are very high, since my "actively want to review" stacks have about fifty books in them.)

So, this week I saw:

I read John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars back when it was published by Subterranean -- and I still have that book around somewhere, since it was here at home when the old job blew up suddenly -- and liked it then, so I'm happy to see it return in a snazzy retro-looking trade paperback from Tor Books. Word is that this edition is slightly updated, so all you Scalzi completists are now required to buy it. It's his first novel, and that does show -- but it's a fun, if silly, romp, and I expect a lot of people will like it.

I have a galley of Elizabeth Bear's All the Windwracked Stars lying around here somewhere -- it's deep in the to-be-read stacks -- but that's now turned into a real book, which Tor is publishing in hardcover the first week of November. It's a far-future fantasy novel, set after Ragnarok, and I really do have to read all the way to the end of one of Bear's novels one of these days.

The Stormcaller is the first in an epic fantasy series by Tom Lloyd, and I suspect it's his first novel as well. The cover is somewhat generic -- although it's hard to avoid that, after the flood of epic fantasy over the past few decades -- and, if I'd been in charge, I'd have asked for that title to be substantially larger. But I wasn't, so it isn't. Stormcaller is a Pyr trade paperback and was published in October.

The headline on the press release for Inukami!, Vol. 1 reads "A wacky love comedy about a boy and his dog-goddess." You know I've been reading too many manga when that made me think "What, again?" All kidding aside, Inukami comes from Tor/Seven Seas and has art by Mari Matsuzawa and a story by Mamizui Arisawa, with character designs credited to Kanna Wakatsuki. (And a bit of deeper examination proved that this is yet another spin-off, originating as a light novel series and then moving to anime before turning into a manga.) It's publishing in November.

Also from Tor/Seven Seas in November is Hayate X Blade, Vol. 1 (which, from the cover, looks like the title is actually Hayate Cross Blade), by Shizuru Hayashiya. It's the story of girls at an elite swordfighting school, and -- from the press release -- seems to be about equally divided between the girls battling each other with swords or swooning over each other romantically. I haven't come across a yuri (the female equivalent of yaoi; same-sex love affairs among women, but not generally done by, for, about, or in any way like actual lesbians) before, so this looks like a way to ease into it.

On to a different kind of high school story: Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives, Vol. 2 is published by both Tokyopop and the HarperCollins imprint Katherine Tegen Books, and is based on the novel series Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber. This manga series is written by Schreiber with art by Rem. (Not the band, I assume.) Raven is a typical Goth teenager -- well, the '00s mass-media "typical Goth girl": perky, cute, self-possessed, not at all morbid, and seemingly only into Goth for the fashion -- who goes to the all-too-obviously named Dullsville High and is dating a real live vampire. I smell not just garlic here; this looks like one of those immensely wish-fulfillment YA stories. It was published in October.

I saw Suihelibe!, Vol. 1 in proof form -- and reviewed it for ComicMix -- but now it's turned into a real book, so other people could find it. It's published by DC Comics's CMX imprint and it's by Naomi Azuma -- and it should be available everywhere you find books right about now.

Crayon Shinchan is apparently a TV show, but I've never seen it. It's also a manga, which I've just seen, in the form of Crayon Shinchan, Vol. 6. It's by Yoshito Usui, coming from CMX in December, and it's about a weird kindergartener and his bizarre adventures.

Also from CMX in December is Venus in Love, Vol. 5 by Yuki Nakaji. I think it's yet another high school story -- this one more focused on interpersonal relationships and love affairs -- but the back cover copy is entirely taken up with descriptions of who's kissing who and who's getting what part-time job. That's what happens by the time you get to the fifth volume of anything, I guess.

Last for this week is the massive and massively over-designed Bat-Manga! It has very complicated credits: compiled, edited, and designed by Chip Kidd; photography by Geoff Spear; from the collection of Saul Ferris; translated by Anne Ishii and Chip Kidd. It's being published this week by Pantheon in both hardcover and trade paperback, with different covers. And, once you fight your way through the undergrowth of Kidd's design -- the guy is excellent at book covers, but when you let him control a whole book, he gets more than a little carried away -- you'll find that it's a collection of Japanese Batman comics from 1966 and 1967, never before collected (even in Japan) and never seen in the US at all. The page design is busy, the scans aggressively call attention to themselves as scans, and it's a large, heavy object -- but it certainly looks like wacky fun.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Quiet Weekend

Everything may look serene on the surface, but don't be fooled.

I'm going to be going on a long vacation -- seven days with the family to see "the Mouse" at his Florida home -- in just over a week, so there's actually frantic activity going on behind the scenes here at Antick Musings HQ.

For instance, over this weekend I wrote four book reviews for this blog (all currently scheduled to be published while I'm away) and two for ComicMix (coming up tomorrow and Wednesday), on top of the usual big Monday "Reviewing the Mail" extravaganza. So, although this channel has been pretty quiet, I've actually been very busy.

But this post is really just so something has this date-stamp on it; I have a mania about posting every day, even if there isn't anything to say.

Oh, here's one bit of news I don't know if I mentioned: I'm not going to World Fantasy. It's too far, too expensive, and the flights are too complicated. (Not to mention that I'd have to come back right after the banquet, sleep a few hours, and then fly back out with the family to Orlando.) Not this year, I'm afraid. But I do want to try to make it to San Jose next year (although, if I remember my business travel schedule correctly, I think I'm going to be in San Francisco only two weeks later, which is annoying).

If you drink heavily in memory of me -- and of all those who couldn't manage to schlep to Calgary this year -- the World Fantasy Gods will be please, if not appeased.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Incoming Books: 25 October

Between realizing that I'd missed Brust's Dzur (and we all know how painful that can be! {insert rimshot}) and getting a notice that Borders had a three day sale with buy-two-get-one-free on a variety of categories (including SF/Fantasy) in their stores, I bought several books this week.

And they were...

First was an order from Edward R. Hamilton, who has been my favorite used-books retailer for at least fifteen years. He puts out regular catalogs, he has just about everything currently in remainder status (plus some still-new books at decent discounts), his shipping is ridiculously speedy (especially if you live close to Connecticut, as I do), and his website is bare-bones but serviceable. Before I learned, as a book-club editor, that I could just ask rights people at houses for copies of books (occasionally, and nicely), I used to get huge boxes from Hamilton regularly.

Now an order from them is rarer, but still happens now and then -- like last week, when I ordered:

Dzur by Stephen Brust, because I realized after reading Jhegaala (review to come soon) that I'd missed it.

Filthy Shakespeare by Pauline Kiernan -- the subtitle is "Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns," and I've had it on my list of books to read for about the past year, since I read a good review of it (somewhere that I've forgotten). I didn't manage to find it in person before it was remaindered, so I got it cheaper than I otherwise would -- sometimes life is sweet that way.

And, once I was in that neighborhood of the Hamilton website, I found my way to The Big Book of Sex "Quotes", as compiled by Julian d'Estrange, which actually is moderately thick but otherwise of diminutive size. (And all of the women in the audience are making "Ah, just like my first husband" jokes in their heads.) I like books of quotes, and sex is usually good for some clever wordplay, so into my shopping cart it went.

I also was recently reading Josh Karp's A Futile and Stupid Gesture, a biography of Doug Kenney intertwined with a history of the first decade of the National Lampoon. (Review on that coming soon as well.) That made me nostalgic for the old NatLamp -- I was a subscriber for a while in the '80s, and built up nearly a complete collection back to the beginning before deciding the whole thing was juvenile and getting rid of it around the time I got married. (Lesson: never, ever, get rid of anything, for any reason.) So I dug up two NatLamp reprint collections, from the flurry of NatLamp activity earlier this decade -- after a new owner bought up the brand and was trying to make a quick buck.

The books are National Lampoon Magazine Rack and National Lampoon's Big Book of Love, and I expect I'm more likely to poke at them than to read them straight through. But they were only four bucks apiece, so it's worth it.

And then I went to Borders with the boys today; Thing 2 spent his time reading Guinness: World Records 2009(and asking if I'd buy it for him), while Thing 1 gave me an oral book report on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets so I'd buy him a new manga. (That's the rule: for every "real" book he reads, and reports to me on, he gets a manga.) The deal was "Buy Two, Get 1 Free," so, after some poking about -- they didn't have Wolfe's An Evil Guest, which I really wanted -- here's what I found:

Caine Black Knife by Matthew Stover. Stover's one of the few writers whom I can say that I've read all of his books -- even the three Star Wars books, which are all excellent by the way -- and there's no reason to break that streak (even if Del Rey forgot about me). I also was the acquiring editor for the SFBC for six of those seven previous books -- couldn't justify buying Blade of Tyshalle, unfortunately -- so I have a slight proprietary feeling towards Stover.

Terry Pratchett's Nation -- I'm not as plugged into the publicity structure at HarperCollins as I am at some other publishers, and in particular I don't know the YA people. So instead of hoping that they'd remember me, I just bought the thing. It's ridiculously cheap -- $16.99 for a hardcover -- and the early word is that it's Pratchett's best book in ages. (Given how good his run-of-the-mill book is, that's saying something.)

And last was Ken Grimwood's Replay, which I've thought that I wanted to read since I saw it in a SFBC catalog more than twenty years ago. It's difficult to read a book that one doesn't have access to, so I've finally fixed that.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Halcyon Science Fictional Days of the Eighties

Since I got a huge unexpected readership for a long post about amazingly publishing-insider things last week -- and since, because of that, I haven't had as much time to think and write new stuff for the blog this week -- here's something similarly insidery and depressive.

Someone mentioned (on rec.arts.sf.written) in early August that golden time when "a whole bunch" of SF writers could command huge advances, and wondered if we would ever see their like again. As always, I disagreed:

Actually, your list there is almost complete, and a bit misleading. There was a short period, from the late '70s through the late '80s, during which a few SF writers got huge advances, but it wasn't all of them, and it didn't last.

The three writers who got huge advances no matter what they wrote -- the ones who commanded an large audience just due to their own writing -- were Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov. (And that was because they were the iconic, world-famous "Big Three" SF writers, with a stature and a popularity that no one else could ever match.)

Herbert got big money, but only for "Dune" books. Silverberg got a big advance for his return to the field with Lord Valentine's Castle (and sequels), but not otherwise, and not really after that. Pohl got increasingly good money for the "Heechee" books. Niven and Pournelle got big advances for their very mainstream thriller-y SF books. But that was pretty much it for clearly SF books (depending on how you characterize McCaffrey's Pern novels).

On the other side, Dick wasn't making that kind of money, and neither was Simak. Nor was just about anyone else of their stature and time in the field -- the big money was going to books in very popular series...much like it is today.

The center of gravity now has mostly shifted to fantasy, in part because fewer SF writers are trying to write big, unabashedly popular series like Dune or Heechee or Pern these days. (It seems to be mostly the Brits who are -- people like Hamilton and Reynolds. The Great American Hope in this area is John Scalzi, and his meteoric rise shows that there were people who really wanted books like that.) The big space opera series of our times is Star Wars, and we shouldn't be surprised that there's a larger audience for space opera than for dreary stories of loss and the inevitable destruction of mankind.

A Week and a Day At ComicMix

Last Friday, my usual column reviewed the first volumes of B. Ichi by Atsushi Ohkubo, Wild Animals by Song Yang, and Mao-chan by Ken Akamatsu and Ran.

On Monday, I reviewed Guy Delisle's Burma Chronicles.

On Wednesday, I reviewed the Paul Gravett-edited The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics.

And today's Manga Friday column covered the second volumes of Yukako Kabei's Kieli, KwangHyun Seo's Croquis Pop, and Satoko Kiyuduki's Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro.

There'll be more next week, and I might even manage to kick to those reviews on the days they're posted.