Monday, October 05, 2009

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/3

Just like I say every week: here are a whole bunch of books that came in the mail last week. Some of them I'll eventually read and review, and some of them, with the best will in the world, I just won't get to. (And some of them, though I'll try not to say which, I'll never want to read.) So I do a post like this every Monday morning, to cast a little light on all of these books, just in case one of them is the book you've been looking for.

To start off, I've got a new anthology called The Secret History of Science Fiction, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel and publishing in November from Tachyon. It sort-of pretends to be an artifact from the alternate world that Jonathan Lethem's 1998 essay "Close Encounters: The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction" described; one in which Gravity's Rainbow won the 1972 Nebula, literary values conquered SF thereafter, and somehow SF remained a viable commercial genre afterward. (I thought Lethem's essay was a masterpiece of special pleading -- he basically was asking for the universe to be reorganized entirely around his then-current literary ambitions -- and I probably would have written about it extensively if I'd been blogging back then. Luckily, I wasn't, and you all were spared that.) Secret History gathers eighteen stories: all of them literarily ambitious and all of them with some scientific content. But half of them were written by "genre" writers, and half by "literary" writers. Of course, even the genre folks are pretty damn literary -- like Thomas M. Disch and Lucius Shepard -- and the literary writers are ones who dabbled in SFnal-like exercises regularly. The exercise would be more impressive if Kelly and Kessel dug out stories by Larry Niven and Mike Resnick and Stephen Baxter -- hell, how about Greg Egan? -- on the one side and the likes of Raymond Carver on the other. It's an interesting idea for an anthology, and the stories that I know are all good ones, but I'll want to take a close look to see if it's really presenting a specific argument about the field, or just mashing together a bunch of good stories.)

Also from Tachyon, but published in mid-September, if The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology, edited by the magazine's current editor, Gordon Van Gelder. It collects twenty-three major stories from the magazine's past, all from huge names. You can probably read some of those names on the book cover to your left, but, trust me, they're huge -- Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Shirley Jackson. That kind of big names.

(If I wanted to be particularly Erisian, I'd note that the former of those anthologies has 41% women and the latter has a mere 21% women -- and that neither of them has any serious minority representation -- and wonder if the PC Anthology Police would start holding their standard Hate-Ins in their directions. It has been at least a week since the dudgeon has been hoisted on the good ship LiveJournal. But I don't actually want the Diversity Cops to attack these books, so I guess I'm just stirring up trouble.)

I know Pyr is reprinting James Barclay's "Chronicles of the Raven" -- the multi-book sword & sorcery series about a band of adventurers that was published in the UK a few years back -- in order, but I've been seeing them out of order (and, I think, more than once each), and it's been confusing me. For example, this week I have Noonshade, the third book...though I could swear that I've already seen the third book. In any case, this one is coming out in trade paperback October 6th.

Ken Scholes's novel Lamentation was one of the big fantasy debuts of the year back in February, launching an epic fantasy series called "The Psalms of Isaak" and getting the usual burbling love from the usual epic-fantasy lovers on the Internet. (I haven't read it -- I've felt no interest in starting any new epic fantasy series in the last couple of years, actually -- so I can't speak to its wonderfulnesses directly. But the kind of people who like this sort of thing seem to like this particular manifestation of it very much.) And now the second book has arrived in the same year: Canticle, an October hardcover from Tor. I have nothing coherent to say about the second book in a series where I haven't read the first, so I'll just note that this book now exists, suggest that a fair number of people will be very happy at that, and move on.

Last week I saw one of the major graphic novel publications of the fall, The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb, which W.W. Norton is publishing. I requested it from Norton, which might have gotten me onto one of their publicity lists that I didn't anticipate -- because this week they sent me The Restored New Testament: A New Translation with Commentary, Including the Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Mary, and Judas. It was translated by Willis Barnstone, and I am utterly unqualified to comment in any way about it. It's a very impressive book, and it's coming October 12th -- if any of you happen to be in the market for a new translation of the New Testament.

And I went shopping on Saturday, since Borders had a "buy 4 graphic novels, get the 5th free" offer combined with a coupon. Three of those five books are for my sons, but the other two are...

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley, which Oni published back in February of this year. Hey, I'm finally caught up! After I read this one, I'll have to wait for #6 just like everybody else.

And then there's Kazuto Okada's Sundome, Vol. 5, the latest in a sexually creepy (or creepily sexual) manga series about a highschool boy and the girl who teases him in yet more inventive and manipulative ways in every story. I've reviewed the first four volumes, but Yen didn't send me this one for review -- understandable, since I bet they don't get much in the way of review attention by this point in a series -- so I just had to pay for it myself. I'm deeply, deeply conflicted about this book, but I want to find out how it comes out -- and that's the test of good fiction, right?
Listening to: Over The Rhine - Drunkard's Prayer
via FoxyTunes

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