Monday, November 30, 2009

Glad That the Month Is Over

November of 2009 saw a mere 37 posts on Antick Musings (excluding this one), which makes it the lowest posting frequency of any month since October 2005, when I started. (And, even there, I managed 33 posts from the 4th through the 31st without knowing what I was doing.)

I think I've gotten back onto an even keel, but boy howdy! was that a tough month. I'm glad to see the back of it, and I hope that Antick Musings will be back to something like its normal schedule for the end of the year.

So I'm posting here partly to pad that very low post count and partly to solemnly swear that it's not going to happen again...I think.

Speaking Ill of the Dead

Today, after a long hiatus, ComicMix posted a new review from me, in which I look at three minor Will Eisner graphic novels: A Family Matter, Minor Miracles, and Life on Another Planet.

As you might guess from that word "minor," I do not precisely recommend these three books.

In a more general note, I'm back on the horse and expect ComicMix reviews to flow out at the old speed, for at least a few weeks. I do not promise that I'll be any more positive and happy than in this review -- but, then, you've probably come to expect nothing but bile and vituperation from me anyway.

Movie Log: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

The world has unexpected depths to it: my older son is turning into something like a younger version of me (but even more so, if that's possible), while my younger son is becoming almost exactly the kid I always thought I wanted to have: witty, smart, interesting, adventurous, and thoughtful -- the kid, perhaps, that I always wished that I'd been. I'm trying to enjoy both of them as they are right now, since if there's one thing you can count on with kids, it's that they'll change -- faster than you expect, in ways you can't anticipate, on the roads to becoming the people they're going to be.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film about fathers and sons -- and about what fathers see and don't see in those sons, and the sons' resentment of that -- but, more to the point, it's also the movie that my two sons and I saw the Friday after Thanksgiving, almost entirely because Thing 2, that younger son, really wanted to...and I'm not sure entirely why, now. I know he didn't want to see it for the reasons I did -- it's a Wes Anderson movie, and every movie Anderson has made has been interesting and worth seeing; it's in stop-motion animation, which I always admire the skill and craft of; it features voices by George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray, all actors whose work I enjoy -- but I'm not sure what did engage him about it. Maybe I should just ask him; he might be able to tell me.

Fantastic Mr. Fox adapts and expands the Roald Dahl novel of the same name, turning it into a Wes Anderson movie that includes kids in its audience but isn't directly aimed at them, like most movies for children. I doubt Anderson took his inspiration directly from them, but Mr. Fox is imbued with something like the Pixar film-making ethos: movies are stories, and if you find your story carefully and tell it well, it can be a story for many people as individuals and not just a piece of product aimed at a Hollywood "quadrant."

George Clooney provides the voice for the title character, who promises his newly-pregnant wife (Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox) in the pre-credit sequence that he'll stop stealing chickens and get a safer job. And so he does -- the main body of the movie takes place twelve fox-years (two human years) later, with Mr. Fox working as a newspaper columnist and living in a burrow. He's safe and stable as a family man, but the loss of the excitement is eating away at him.

So he buys a new house, in a big tree right in view of the three nastiest farmers in the valley -- Boggs, Bunce, and Bean -- and soon enlists the local handyman (Anderson regular Wally Wolodarsky as the opossum Kylie) in "one last big score." One turns to three, since he has to rob each of the three farmers in turn. But when they realize the theft, they come after Mr. Fox, and all of the local animals, with overwhelming force.

Meanwhile, Fox's son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is a sullen, unappreciated teenager, which is only made worse when his visiting cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) turns out to be a "natural" at everything athletic.

All of the animals are eventually trapped together, deep underground, with human sharpshooters watching everywhere outside. There's no way out -- except, possibly one so tricky that only a fox could figure it out.

2009 has turned into a great year for animated movies, with Coraline and Up and now Fantastic Mr. Fox -- all three of them, like so many of the best movies, about family and community, but each of them with a different take on the thorny issues of self and society. It's a great time to be alive and watching movies.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/28

It's very likely you already know this, but I haven't read any of these books yet. They were sent to me because I review books (here, and, increasingly, other places), but there's a very good chance that I won't end up reading them all. So I do posts like this one to give books a little attention as they come in.

This was a short week due to the holiday, so the list of books is similarly short -- and I'll get right to them.

Out in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I would have a long plane flight back home with only John Kelly's The Great Mortality to keep me busy. Kelly's book is an excellent history of the Black Death, but I suspected I might not want to spent six or seven hours straight reading about buboes and mass death. So I went to a bookstore near my hotel, looking for something lighter. I eventually bought Josh Lieb's I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President, but I spent some time poking through the Jasper Fforde section, wondering if he'd had a new book since First Among Sequels (back in the summer of 2007, and one of the last books I read for the club before I was given my liberty).

I didn't see anything new by Fforde then, but there is a new Fforde book in the offing -- Shades of Grey, which I am holding in my hands right now and which Viking will have rolled out to bookstores by December 29th. Shades of Grey isn't related to either of Fforde's two previous series -- the Nursery Crime books or Thursday Next's adventures -- but is set in an equally Ffordean world, one where the world is ruled by the Colortocracy and one's position is determined by the colors one can see. Like his other books, it sounds weird but not too weird -- a kind of non-genre fantasy that appeals both to people who insist they never read fantasy (though they do read Stephenie Meyer, and liked the Harry Potter books, and Stephen King when he's not too gory, and and and) and those of us able to call a spade a spade.

I am cynical and jaded on the subject of epic fantasy, so I'm probably not to be trusted on Alexey Pehov's Shadow Prowler, the first novel to be translated into English by a major contemporary Russian genre writer. The back cover contains these words, more or less in this order: the Nameless One, the Desolate Lands, the great city of Avendoom, Shadow Harold (master thief), a magic Horn, the Kingdom of Siala, elfin princess Miralissa. As with the Goldberg Variations, it's not the notes that matter, but the feeling and virtuosity that a writer can bring to the material. I'm willing to accept the postulate that Pehov is a Glenn Gould of epic fantasy, pending further investigation, and so I hope you will also look forward to this book being published by Tor in hardcover this coming February.

And those two were the only books that arrived in the mail last week. I also saw a catalog -- from Fantagraphics, covering the Spring and Summer of 2010 -- and one comic book:

The first issue of The Talisman is actually the second issue; it followed a zero-numbered issue that came out a month or so ago. (Yes, we all agree that zero-numbered issues are really dumb, but comics publishers, having discovered the concept, can't seem to wean themselves from it.) The comic adapts the novel of the same name by Stephen King and Peter Straub; the adaptation is scripted by Robin Furth, drawn by Tony Shasteen, and published by Del Rey. (This is a rare example of a traditional bookstore publisher jumping into the modern comics direct market, and I'm surprised that hasn't gotten more attention from the usual comic-shops-are-God apologists.) There's no date on the cover, but I'd presume that this became available in November, and probably would have had "December" on the cover if it had ever been intended to hit newsstands, which of course it wasn't.

And that's what I saw last week; I expect that this coming week -- with a cohort of publicists fortified by turkey, stuffing and pie returning to their offices today to confront masses of books that need to be sent out -- will be busier for my mailbox. Either way, there will be another "Reviewing the Mail" post at this same time next week to sort through whatever does arrive.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Movie Log: Cheri

When a movie doesn't quite succeed, there are many possible explanations. Perhaps the actor playing the title character was insufficient to the job, or perhaps he wasn't given enough to work with. Perhaps the bigger-name female star bent the project to make her character the center, and that threw off the balance. Perhaps the story is set in a world long gone, and none of the movie-making team could quite get into the mindset enough to make it all seem plausible.

Any one of those problems -- or all of them, or others -- may have been responsible for Cheri. Or, perhaps, the movie was successful, and it was the viewer who failed to properly appreciate it. But, for one reason or another, it didn't quite work -- and it didn't work entirely because I couldn't see what Michele Pfeiffer's Lea -- or anyone, for that matter -- could possibly see in the vapid, self-obsessed, lethargic, dull and unpleasant young man called Cheri.

Cheri (Rupert Friend) is attractive and young, yes -- but Lea is a high-class courtesan of long standing, and has extracted tens of thousands of francs from better men than him before breakfast. He's the son of one of her few friends, former courtesan Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates, unacountably overemphasizing too many syllables in her speeches), and Peloux more or less asks Lea to take Cheri and educate him.

She supposedly does this -- they're together for six years, from when Cheri is nineteen -- but he's just as unpleasant and tedious at the end as at the beginning. We see no sign that he's gained any maturity or poise, and he never treats Lea well. He's mildly obsessed with her, or at least with keeping her from having affairs with anyone else, but that's as far as his interest in anything outside himself goes.

Pfeiffer is radiant, and allows herself to age (gracefully) as the movie goes on. But she's emoting in a void, since Friend's part is written (or acted, or edited -- it's difficult to see exactly where the fault lay) entirely in one note. Cheri does not seem to want to be the story of how one aging woman makes a horrible mistake in her love life and never realizes it, but that's the story it ends up telling. The intrusive narration, which also attempts to tell us what to feel without much effect, doesn't help the cause.

Cheri does have several nice sex scenes, demurely staged, between Pfeiffer and Friend, who are both quite attractive. For some viewers, that will be enough. But those who are interested in the story, and who like to see a little reciprocality, or plausibility, in their love stories, will end up disappointed.
Listening to: Immaculate Machine - Roman Statues
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Until the Umpire Calls "Hot Box"

One of the best movies I've seen this year is Fantastic Mr. Fox; if you have a chance to see it, do so. (If you can see it in the next 24 hours or so, even better, since that will increase the all-important Opening Weekend Box Office.)

If you can't see the movie, at least play the game -- Whackbat! (And be sure to listen carefully to Coach Skip's explanation -- there will be a test later.)

Movie Log: Star Trek

J.J. Abrams's new Star Trek movie functions as an unlikely primer in one contemporary movie-making technique: the lens flare. No, I have to admit that I wasn't hugely familiar with lens flare before I saw Star Trek -- I'd heard of it, and I'd also heard that Star Trek was absolutely infested with it, but I wasn't 100% sure that I'd know it when I saw it.

I shouldn't have been so tentative; Star Trek is a wonderfully designed tutorial in the uses and abuses of lens flare, suitable for bringing even the most dilettantish of Big Summer Movie watchers -- myself and The Wife, for example -- into a state of utter awareness of, and complete jadedness with, the Cosmic All of lens flare.

Every single surface in Star Trek is shiny, not excepting the ridiculously young and pretty lead actors themselves. And, since those surfaces are shiny, it only stands to reason that they must emit light at random times -- and so they do!

I pick on J.J. Abrams -- and he definitely does deserve it -- but this movie was planned as a way to bring a new audience to the Trek movies, and it has definitely done that. (I personally hadn't seen one of these films, despite working in the SF field, since 1986's The Voyage Home; watching Trek movies was something I gave up when I went away to college. I saw very little of the TV shows, either, and I'm a happier and better socialized man today because of it.) This Star Trek is definitely a reboot; it starts over from the beginning to make it new-viewer friendly.

At the same time, it reboots itself as part of the plot of the movie, which uses some of Trek's most skiffy (and least SFnal) time-travel tropes, and vast stretches of the dialogue and situations are more "Easter Eggs" for long-time fans than engines to move the plot forward. It's big and shiny and overwhelming, but it's also hollow, with the shiny bits not actually doing anything -- to be a massive Trekkie about it, this is a V'ger of a movie.

Also, the villain is a massive disappointment. If I followed the growling dialogue correctly, Eric Bana's Nero is the random Romulan commander of a mining vessel who was really pissed off when an attempt to save his home planet failed and then somehow blundered a hundred and some years into the past, where his non-military craft had overwhelming power. (And massive numbers of guided missiles, which would seemingly be of little use to a mining craft.) He's a whiny nobody with a huge snit against Spock just because Spock didn't manage to save his planet. (Nero, of course, didn't even try to save his own planet, and there's no sign any Romulan did -- or even tried to evacuate the place.) Abrams is clearly trying to make Nero into Spock's Khan, but it just doesn't work.

If I had been the development executive in charge of Star Trek -- and there's no conceivable universe in which that would be the case -- this script would be the one we'd all laugh at, say positive things like "you're really getting the characters down now," and then ask for something new and original with a real plot and slightly less genocide. (Filmed skiffy has been on a genocide bender for several decades now, but it's about time to put it on the wagon.) The movie we have is OK, and probably was quite impressive on the big screen, but it indulges itself in at least a dozen ways, to the detriment of its strengths as a movie.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blackest Night Is Totally The Emo Version of Star Comics

The funniest thing I've read today is here -- Shaenon Garrity read Blackest Night so you don't have to.

No, wait -- she talked with someone who read it. Um, hold on, he didn't read it, either. But he's keeping up on Wikipedia.

Look, nobody needs to read Blackest Night, OK? But Shaenon has thought about it more than any sane person should, either....
Listening to: Glen Hansard - Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy
via FoxyTunes

Saturday Is Bond Day, #18: Goldeneye

After a long hiatus, my older son (Thing 1) requested that we get back to the Bond movies, and so we hit Goldeneye this past weekend. (Yes, we did give the two Timothy Dalton movies -- The Living Daylights and License to Kill -- a miss for now, though we may go back and pick up Daylights at some point. The boys are still not going to see the Daniel Craig movies. We may see the '60s Casino Royale if I feel in the mood to utterly confuse them some day.)

Goldeneye is PG-13, and clearly is aiming to be much more "serious" and "real" than the general run of the Roger Moore films. One of the things that means is that Pierce Brosnan's Bond, more often than not, is toting a semi-automatic rifle. (That doesn't say much for his stealthiness or marksmanship, of course, but Big Action Movies require lots of bullets flying about.) It also means that the Bad Bond Girl, Famke Janssen's Xenia Onatopp, is an over-the-top sadist with literally killer thighs. That wouldn't be out of character for one of the Moore movies, but it would have been humorous there, and here it's just meant to show how tough and nasty she is. You can actually feel Goldeneye clenching its teeth at times, which is distracting.

This was the first post-Cold War Bond movie, though the plot is entirely concerned with Russians and only the iconography shows a difference. There is a doomsday machine -- it's always good to see one of those in a Bond film; it shows the writers are trying -- but it's only moderately exciting, a single-shot orbital EMP device that the Secret Villain is using to cover his actual get-rich-quick scheme. Honestly, it's a bit wasted here, and I started wondering what a real evil genius like Blofeld could have done with it. Trying to make Bond movies fit into the real world is a futile exercise; they really need to get back to serious villains and allow European actors to emote wildly and chew the scenery again.

The action set-pieces are fine here -- the tank chase through St. Petersburg is a lot of fun, though, like all of the similar moments in Goldeneye, it shows Brosnan's Bond using a sledgehammer where previous Bonds would use a scalpel -- and the supporting cast, particularly Alan Cummings as a computer programmer, are all entertaining. (Though my young sons were surprised, and possibly appalled, to see that M was now a girl. They'll need to get over that reaction if they hope to get anywhere in life!) Oh, and it was great to see Joe Don Baker as a CIA agent.

Goldeneye is too long and too full of itself, and Brosnan too reserved -- he's just there a lot of the time, rather than centering the movie and action on himself -- but it's a solid Bond movie, and I suppose it must have come as a relief after the high camp of many of the Moore films and the wilderness years of Dalton. At this point, with three more Brosnans to come, I'm just hoping he lightened up a bit and removed the pole from his nether regions.
Listening to: Anna Ternheim - No Subtle Men
via FoxyTunes

A Frenzy of Consumerism

A certain Internet retailer from the Pacific Northwest sent me an e-mail overnight to remind me that they, too, have "Black Friday" deals, and that they would really appreciate a piece of the massive retail pie that is today.

Since they've promised me their standard teeny-tiny kickback, I figured I might as well slap in a banner here...particularly since I expect most of you (like me) have ad-blocking software to keep you from even seeing it.

If you happen to want to buy things today, and simultaneously want to avoid leaving the house, may I suggest clicking here? (Amazon does still seem, at least to me, to be less predatory and evil-seeming in the American psyche than traditional competitors like Wal-Mart, though shopping at Amazon isn't the "blow against the man" it was in the late '90s.)

Quote of the Week

"No one survives untreated septicemic plague, the third form of the disease. The shocklike movement of massive amounts of plague bacili directly into the blood system creates such enormous toxicity that even insects normally incapable of transmitting Y. pestis, such as body lice, can become disease vectors. During one outbreak of septicemic plague in the early twentieth century, the average survival time from onset of symptoms to death was 14.5 hours."
- John Kelly, The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time, pp.22-23, at the end of an explanation of the three forms of Yersina pestis

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Incoming Books: 25 November

My employer told us all we could leave at 12:30 yesterday...but the first train after that heading out to my station wasn't for two hours. Now, I could have stuck around the office -- fighting against the tide of those few people who didn't take the day off running out the door right on time (or, I noticed in some cases, slightly earlier than that) -- and tried to get whatever work I could get done in an empty office.

But I realized instead that I could jump onto the PATH subway, have about an hour in Jim Hanley's Universe -- a comics shop in Manhattan with excellent selection that isn't displayed or organized as well as it might be -- and get back in time for the train. And so I did.

I didn't find the books I was most looking for -- The Cartoon History of the Modern World, Part 2, Popeye Vol. 4: "Plunder Island", B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess, or Spectrum 16 -- but I did find some good stuff:

Sparky O'Hare, Master Electrician -- a little book (smaller than a mass-market paperback, about the size of those impulse purchases by the cash register) by Mawil (whose Beach Safari I read and liked last year). It's got a main character who looks like the rabbit-man of Beach Safari, so this may be a standard Mawil character...though I hesitate to generalize too much from two books. Sparky is from a British company, Blank Slate, and difficult to physically see on a shelf, so it may be hard to find in the states.

Sundome, Vol. 6, the latest in the creepily intimate teenage sex-comedy series from Kazuto Okada. I've been fascinated with this series from the beginning, and I guess I'll keep reading it as long as it keeps hitting that sweet spot between too-real and too-broad. (I had a short review of the fifth book recently, which links back further to my more detailed thoughts on earlier volumes.)

Jamie Tanner's The Aviary is a 2007 book from AdHouse that happened to catch my eye on the shelf. It looked interesting, it was cheap ($12.95), and I trust AdHouse, so it came home with me.

And last (besides some floppy comics for my sons) was Tom Neely's The Blot, which I heard about when it was published two years ago but which I'd never seen in person. (To forestall the inevitable "but you can buy anything on the Internet" arguments: with a graphic novel, I want to see the art and feel the paper, not to mention get a sense of what the book looks and feels like in person. The format can be so varied, particularly with small-press books, that I want a better sense of what this book is than I can get online.)
Listening to: Okkervil River - The Velocity of Saul at the Time of his Conversion
via FoxyTunes

Laws of Retail

I've mentioned before that I don't like to shop at Wal-Mart -- there's just something soul-destroying about it, even in an affluent Northeastern suburb like mine -- but that I keep finding that when I go out to shop for something specific, I don't find it at Target (or wherever) and then I do find it at Wal-Mart.

So yesterday's Shortpacked! was particularly funny, even outside of the current plotline. Click on it to blow it up, or go here to read more of the strip. (It's focused on toy retailing more than will appeal to most people, but it's very funny a lot of the time, including the great "Funky Cancercancer" strip from two years ago that I bet a lot of you have seen.)
Listening to: Southeast Engine - We Have You Surrounded
via FoxyTunes

Fridays, Black and Otherwise

Most of the many ways to divide humanity split the world into two groups -- as Benchley archly said, there are those who split people into two groups, and those who don't -- but, in this season, I'm fond of one I heard twenty years ago that had three groups, like Caesar's Gaul.

In this formulation -- and I'm sorry to say that I don't know who originated it -- modern Westerners can be separated by the work they did when they were young and unskilled. One great mass worked in retail, selling goods of one kind or another. A second cohort worked in food service, waiting tables or working a grill. And the third group, seemingly the lucky ones, were those rich or privileged enough not to have to work at all -- the ones who were children, then entirely students, and then set off on their careers, without ever having had "just a job."

That division is most clear and stark among the young, of course -- college students know which of them jet off to Aspen on breaks, which of them have to work a double shift at the Rathskeller on Thanksgiving, and which will be getting up in the middle of tomorrow night to be perky at 4 AM when Sears opens. But it never quite goes away, either.

The second cohort generally overtip throughout their lives; the first group shop online as much as they can, and never violate the law of the "Twelve Items or Fewer" lane. And the third group, never having had to do anything physically dirty or unpleasant in their working lives, run the big offices and make trouble for the first two groups until they finally die from the withering of their black and twisted hearts.

Every year The Wife and I have a conversation about the stores that are open at ridiculous hours on "Black Friday," and, these last few years, we're also reminded of the stores that don't even bother to close for Thanksgiving at all. We're not planning on going shopping ourselves; we're from the first group and we remember getting up early for our own Black Fridays and war-zone Sundays, so we're mostly thinking about how horrible it is for the employees.

(I saw one article in this morning's paper where the apologist for some retail behemoth -- and, sadly, the reporter did not think to ask her if she and the home-office staff would be hard at work today -- proudly stated that their New Jersey employees would be making time and a half today. Feh. I don't know if the laws have completely changed, but we used to get time and a half every single Sunday, and holidays were double time and a half, since there was an additional required holiday rate. Perhaps the union was stronger then.)

I don't want to be King Canute, but please do not encourage this behavior. When societies encourage bad behavior -- like "door-busters" that lead to part-time security guards being trampled to death, or just requiring workers who would really rather be with their families, or still asleep, to be at work at ridiculous hours of the night -- they get more of that bad behavior. If you must shop tomorrow, wait until normal hours to do so. Better yet, take a day to relax -- if you're lucky enough to have that day -- and do your shopping a bit later.

So this year I'm thankful that I don't work retail anymore. But I'm also thankful that I did work retail, once upon a time, and that I can still remember what it was like. And, even if by some miracle I have enough money to keep my sons from having to work when they're teenagers and college students, I'll make sure that they do get "real" jobs -- someplace where they can learn that the world isn't fair, and it isn't consistently fun, but that doing things right can be a great reward in itself.

I hope that you all have things to be thankful for as well, whether you're here in the USA, or elsewhere in the world where November 26th is just another working day.
Listening to: Kate Tucker & The Sons Of Sweden - The Hours
via FoxyTunes

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/21

The following is an annotated list of books that arrived in my mailbox last week -- both the publishers of those books and myself hope that I'll eventually review those books and greatly enjoy them. However, this is a fallen world, so it's likely that I'll never get to many of these books and dislike several others. But I can give them all at least a little bit of mostly positive attention now.

In other words: I haven't read any of these yet, but, right at this moment, I still have hopes that I will read them all. You may be more excited about any one of these books than I am; that's one major reason I do these lists -- we don't all have the same tastes.

Anyway, here's what I saw this past week:

The third of Alex Bledsoe's "Eddie LaCrosse" hardboiled medieval detective thrillers, Burn Me Deadly, was published by Tor on November 10th. They sound like the kind of thing I'd like, but I haven't tried them yet -- perhaps in part because they also sound like Glen Cook's "Garrett Files" books, which have never worked for me. (Despite liking a number of Cook's other, more traditional, fantasies.) Anyone out there read both and willing to make a comparison in public?

Brenda Cooper's Wings of Creation is also a sequel -- to Cooper's Endeavor Award-winning The Silver Ship and the Sea -- and it also was published by Tor on November 10th. This one is medium-future SF, set on a world with a subspecies of humanity manipulated into "fliers" -- the backstory seems to involve a mildly technologically-speciated human race, and possibly a overall polity organizing and controlling all of the groups -- whom the series hero, Joseph, must free.

Speaking of sequels, Divine Misdemeanors is the eighth book in Laurell K. Hamilton's "Meredith Gentry" series, about an elf princess in the human world and the various sex acts she gets herself caught up in. (There may be more to the plot of the series than that, but that's what it's always looked like from my POV. Also, I note that Hamilton has gotten important enough that this book has the subtitle "a novel," perhaps because "a series of sex acts, all of which involve at least one participant with pointy ears" would look silly on a book cover.) This one is coming December 8th from Ballantine.

And back to Tor for a book that begins a series -- it's all series this week, isn't it? -- Lawrence Watt-Evans's A Young Man Without Magic. I like the title, I like the cover, I like I hope I manage to read the darn thing. If I remember right, the plot is influenced by Sabatini (though the title, obviously, has an echo of Austen), which also makes it sound like the kind of thing I should like.

The rest of this week's list is from a single box of recent Philippine SF and comics, sent to me by the inimitable Charles Tan. I'm sure they're difficult or impossible to obtain on this side of the Pacific, but -- if these are half as good as the comics I reviewed for ComicMix back in April -- they're worth searching for. All of them are already published (obviously, since I have real books, and they had to make their way across an ocean and a continent to reach me), but mentioning the names of the publisher probably wouldn't help much. Only a couple of them -- and none of the graphic novels, sadly -- are available from the usual supposedly-carries-everything bookstore that I regularly link to, so I'm afraid you're on your own to find Trese and Elmer. (Though you should.)

First is Waking the Dead and Other Horror Stories, the first collection from Manilla writer Yvette Tan. (No apparent relation to Charles -- or to Cecilia, to stretch to the only other person named "Tan" in the field I can think of -- but I expect Tan is a more common name at that end of the world. Witness the several "Smiths" in the SF field over the years -- E.E., George O., Cordwainer, Clark Ashton, David Alexander, Dean Wesley, etc.) Two of the ten stories here were honorable mentions in the 2008 Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and several won or were mentioned by various local awards.

A Time for Dragons is an original anthology edited by Vincent Michael Simbulan, with stories by Dean Francis Alfar, Paolo Chikiamco, Dominique Cimafranca, Apol Lejano-Massebieau, Elyss Punsalan, and Yvette Tan. (There are seventeen stories in all, plus an essay from Charles Tan.) The theme is dragons, if you didn't get that from the title. I would usually grump about yet another anthology about dragons, but I don't think the Philippines have had one yet -- and I'm willing to allow each country in the world to have one anthology about dragons at some point. I think that's only fair. So it's now the turn of Brazil, or Zimbabwe, or Kazahkstan.

Hey! There's a third Treese book! This one is Mass Murders, and it's written by Burdjette Tan with art from KaJo Baldismo, like the first two (see my link above for a review). The Treese stories are excellent urban fantasy stories, very similar to the North American standard for the subgenre -- down to the tough female main character -- enlivened, for a jaded American audience, by the fact that the supernatural entities are Philippine and thus unfamiliar to us. These stories would be strong urban fantasy even without that edge, but their originality makes them even better. Hellboy fans in particular should try to track these down.

I've also got the third issue of the quarterly Komikero Komiks Anthology (which also has a website), featuring new work from Gerry Alanguilan, Hazel Chua, Jason C. Torres, Ariel Atienza, and a number of others.

Also in the floppy category is PGS: The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories. The issue I have here doesn't seem to have a number on the cover, but it is "the special horror issue," edited by Yvette Tan and featuring six new stories.

Where Bold Stars Go To Die is a sexy short graphic novel written by Gerry Alanguillan with art by Arlanzandro C. Esmena (pretend that there's a tilde over that n), about a young man obsessed with an '80s porn star. The art is both crisp and lush, and the writing looks to be up to Alanguilan's usual high standard.

Also from Alanguilan is a collection of his Elmer comics series -- which I also reviewed at that ComicMix link up above, and which I also recommend wholeheartedly. I can't add anything more than the great quote on the front cover, from Adam David of the Philippines Free Press: "It's the Great Filipino Novel, with chickens." Well, maybe I can add one thing: they're talking chickens!

Moving back to prose, there's Philippine Speculative Fiction IV, edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar, the latest in an annual series. It has twenty four stories, all but one of them original, but also serves as a kind of "best of the year" for Philippine SFF. It has stories from -- going in reverse alphabetical order for once -- Kenneth Yu, Isabel Yap, Celestine Trinidad, Maryanne Moll, Crystal Koo, Erica Gonzales, Monique Francisco, Kate Aton-Osias, and many others.

And last for this week is another Philippine graphic novel -- an anthology called Underpass, with stories from Alanguilan, Budjette Tan and Baldisimo, plus two more stories by other hands.
Listening to: The Octopus Project - Loud Murmuring
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Exceptionally Unlikely Titles for Children's Books

Instead of writing a new post for today, I spent the last hour cleaning up and adding content to my "Reviewing the Mail" post from Monday; I guess I am obsessive. So, have some old content repurposed, so that there's an Antick Musings post dated today.

This is another post I'm exhuming from the Straight Dope Message Board, where I used to spend a lot of time in the early aughts. Again, the topic wasn't my idea, but there was a thread on this subject in 2002, and these were my contributions:
  • Eric Carle's The Very Tourette's Angleworm
  • Mercer Mayer's Little Critter and the Too-Friendly Babysitter
  • The Berenstein Bears Learn About Date Rape
  • One Little Whore: A 9th Avenue Counting Book
  • Pus Is Yellow: A 9th Avenue Book of Colors
  • My Little Golden Book of War Atrocities
  • Marc Brown's Arthur's Mother's New "Special Friend"
  • Divorce Means That Your Parents Hate You
  • The DK Complete Suicide Handbook
  • I Spy Naked Boobies
  • Blue's Clues: Blue Goes Into Heat
  • Dora The Explorer: Over Sendero Luminoso Mountain
  • Bob the Builder: Gay Subtext? What Gay Subtext?
  • Jesus Died So You Could Eat White Bread: A Baptist Book of Guilt
  • You Know, Your Grandmother Would Have Killed To Have Had That Gefiite Fish When She Died in Auschwitz: A Jewish Book of Guilt
  • The Virgin Sees What You Do With Your Private Parts And Cries: A Catholic Book of Guilt
  • Harry Potter and the Succubus

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'll Stand Down By The Door

We're coming into a very important and meaningful season in the Western world -- I'm referring, of course, to the frenzied shopping season that salvages the accounts of most major retailers, running for approximately the next five weeks.

The detached but reportedly benign intellects at Amazon want to get their piece of that huge retail pie, and so are promoting their very own "Black Friday" store. In keeping with the modern degradation of everything, it's not terribly black, nor is it restricted to Fridays. It begins on Monday, and runs for a week -- so at least it includes a Friday, even if it neither begins nor ends on one.

But they will be selling many things at quite low prices, and, if there are those among you who like things, this could be a good place and time to get them. You could either click here -- for those of you using the popular "ad blocking" software -- or use the glistening banner I will insert below:

Listening to: Steely Dan - Black Friday
via FoxyTunes

Quote of the Week

"We can all agree that children are ugly. Their heads are to big, their legs are too thin, their fingers too fat and grasping -- they are a complete mess. But what's most shocking about them is that their greatest ugliness is on the inside. I speak, of course, of their bigotry. I shouldn't even have to mention this, because it is a natural extension of their stupidity, Stupid people are bigoted because they don't know any better. I am amused when goody-goodies proclaim, from the safety of their armchairs, that children are naturally prejudice-free, that they only learn to "hate" from listening to bigoted adults. Nonsense. Tolerance is a learned trait, like riding a bike or playing the piano. Those of us who actually live among children, who see them in their natural environment, know the truth: Left to their own devices, children will gang up on and abuse anyone who is even slighly different from the norm.

I happen to be slightly different from the norm."
- I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President, p.17
Listening to: Math The Band - It's Gonna Be Awesome
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Man, I Am A Crappy Blogger This Week

And so I'll give you a sneak preview of the reviews I should be writing, in reverse chronological order as I read them:

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President by Josh Lieb -- It's published as YA (which means it's a really cheap hardcover) and it's exactly the kind of book I love: a first-person novel with a snarky, smart, very idiosyncratic voice. Oliver Watson is a genius of unspeakable evil -- though no one knows it, or that he's the 4th richest man in the world -- and he does want to be class president at Gale Sayers Middle School. It's one of those YAs that might read better as an adult, actually -- if the title makes you laugh, take a look at it.

Killing Castro by Lawrence Block -- a paperback quickie from 1961, reissued by the inimitable Hard Case Crime. It's very much of its time, but it's a fast noir-ish read, and it's a Block book most of us never suspected existed.

The Cutie by Donald E. Westlake -- one of Westlake's early serious crime thrillers under his own name; this was usually published as The Mercenaries. It's not as good as he got later, but it's a very solid piece of pulp from its era.

Replay by Ken Grimwood -- It won the World Fantasy Award back in 1988, and deserved it. If you've kicked around the SFF field at all, you probably know the premise -- a man dies of a heart attack at 43 (in 1986) and wakes up in his eighteen-year-old body (in 1961). Who wouldn't want to live again? Grimwood nearly exhausts the possibilities of his story without exhausting the reader; this is a book that says pretty much everything that can be said about its subject.

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg -- The copy I have was originally sent to somebody as a sample of paper stock -- it's marked "40# Stone Mando Supreme 300 PPI" on the first page -- which is incredibly appropriate for this inside-baseball look at possibly the greatest book editor of the 20th century.

Fierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from The New Yorker edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder -- Just what it says on the tin; if you don't find New Yorker humor funny (hi, Sharyn!), stay far away. Even if you do like New Yorker humor, it's best in small doses -- I read this in dribs and drabs over the past five years, and then the second half on and off during my recent vacation. It's got all of the usual suspects doing all of the stuff you'd expect.

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer -- There is an excellent fantasy/noir hybrid novel this year, but it's this book, not China Mieville's flawed and frustrating The City and the City. Go read it.

That's what I've read so far this month; there are also eleven books from earlier that I haven't gotten to, plus another dozen on the graphic novels already-read pile (which mostly turn into ComicMix reviews). I've been too busy with day-job and real-life stuff to get to them so far -- but the long Thanksgiving weekend is coming up, and I'm now nearly caught up on work e-mail, so I may have time for other things Real Soon Now.