Monday, September 20, 2010

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 9/18

It's been another week, full of visits from the people my sons are annoyed that I call the Package Fairies, and so it's time for me to tell you all about my mail once again. Since this kind of thing is much more common in the blog world than it was when I started [1], I'm not sure my disclaimers are necessary anymore, but here they are anyway: I haven't read any of these books. I may never read some of these books. But I will tell you what I can about them right now, based on what I know and what I can tell, since the books you crave are not necessarily the ones I love.

First up this time is Dreadnought, Cherie Priest's second novel set in her loose "Clockwork Century" alternate history (after Boneshaker). Dreadnought looks to take place soon after (or contemporaneously with) Boneshaker, around 1880 in a North America still fighting a bloody Civil War and struggling to incorporate various kinds of clanky new technology. But Dreadnought sets out for different territory than its predecessor: while Boneshaker was set primarily in Seattle, Boneshaker takes place on the Union train of the same name; Boneshaker was about a mother and her endangered son, while Dreadnought is about a daughter and her dying father; and the zombies of Boneshaker are replaced here with...well, I guess we'll all have to find that out as we read Dreadnought. Dreadnought is coming in trade paperback on September 28th from Tor.

John Trevillian's The A-men is the first in a medium-future trilogy that looks to combine gritty noir with technofantasy -- looks like a different ingredient mix than Shadowrun, but a recipe somewhere along the same lines -- centering around a rag-tag group of dangerous and mysterious characters, led by a man with a forgotten past. Trevillian is a journalist, short story writer and "creator and designer of AEs Mail Adventure, the award-winning interactive writing game;" this is his first novel. The A-Men was recently published by Matador, the self-publishing arm of the UK's Troubadour Books. I would expect distribution on this side of the pond to be pretty spotty, but the Bookstore Named After A Big River In South America has it, so it's definitely findable for those who don't insist on physically holding a book before they pay for it.

Some titles -- particularly in epic fantasy -- just beg to be made fun of, but I resist that urge as strongly as I can. Still, when a book comes in with the title Tome of the Undergates, it's difficult to stay serious. (Though the dude on the front cover with the wet shins and the heavy-metal hair would presumably be less than pleased with me if I were to make fun of his exploits.) Tome is the first book of the very violent and gore-filled "The Aeons' Gate" series by Sam Sykes -- apparently his first novel, as well -- a demon-fighting tale in the martial, gritty tradition of Joe Abercrombie. Lenk -- the guy on the cover, I assume -- is the leader of a small band of nasty, borderline-psychotic "adventurers" who have been hired "to track down a missing book stolen by a zealous foulness [2] risen from the depths of the ocean" but must battle "titanic, fishlike beasts, psychotic purple warrior women, and the ferocity of an ocean that loathes [Lenk] as much as his own people do." So expect big, wide-screen action and characters whom you'd never want to meet. Tome of the Undergates was published in trade paperback by Pyr on September 7th.

I've been a fan of Loren Estleman's Amos Walker series of hardboiled PI novels -- I went on a reading binge of the series a few years back, in fact -- but, in the way that often happens in the mystery field, I haven't read much (if any) of his other work. (And Estleman's written a lot of other things -- a series of major more-or-less mainstream novels about his home city of Detroit, whole bunch of westerns, plenty of standalone thrillers and mysteries, plus shorter series and other things.) So I was intrigued to find that Forge had published (at the end of August, in trade paperback) the first book in a new series about a Hollywood film archivist named Valentino. Frames is this first book, and this series is in a quick, funny caper style -- Valentino has to solve a murder in three days to save the lost reels of Erich von Stroheim's Greed -- that, I hope, is something like Lawrence Block's great "Burglar" books. The time to jump on a mystery series is with the first book, so maybe you'll join me with this one?

Twelve is a historical novel -- well, it's being published by Pyr (on September 14), so the way to bet is that it's a historical fantasy -- from Jasper Kent, set during Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. The main characters are Russians, army officers desperately trying to find a way to stop the relentless French forces -- and they find it in the Oprinchniki, a group of twelve mysterious mercenaries. The book description also throws in some atmospheric prose about "the voordalak -- a creature of legend, the tales of which have frightened Russian children for generations." So I assume that these twelve mercenaries will both be successful in their Napoleon-foiling mission and that their Russian hosts will then be desperate to find a way to get rid of them. That is, I'm assuming that this is a historical fantasy -- one that follows our history -- and not an alternate fantasy...if the latter, anything at all could happen.

Steve Alten -- probably best known for his "Meg" series of thrillers about giant killer prehistoric sharks -- is back with Grim Reaper: End of Days, the first in a planned trilogy based on Dante's "Divine Comedy." (I always say, if you're going to steal borrow, borrow from the best.) Grim Reaper seems to be an apocalyptic thriller set in the modern world, which doesn't exactly match my memory of Dante, but there are almost certainly more people who want to read stories about tough-but-tender Iraqi war veterans making their way through a plague-devastated USA than who are excited about reading about some poet having a guided tour of hell. Grim Reaper is being published by Variance, and it looks like it's already available.

Nabuaki Tadano's new manga series 7 Billion Needles has an odd origin: it's inspired by (or perhaps loosely based on) Hal Clement's classic SF novel Needle, in which a boy on an isolated Pacific island is infiltrated by an alien symbiote "cop" to catch a "criminal" alien from the same species, hidden in some other being on that same island. In Tadano's updated version, the "cop" alien is Horizon, which has merged with disaffected Japanese teenager Hikaru Takabe to stop another alien entity, Maelstrom, which threatens all life -- not just on Earth, but everywhere in the universe. It's from Vertical -- which specializes in smart manga and other translated works from Japan -- so I expect this will be quirkier and more distinctive than the usual generic shonen or shojo manga. And it'll be in stores on September 28th.

Last for this week is the second collection of Cyanide & Happiness strips, Ice Cream & Sadness. As with the first book, it's collected from the online strip by the four random far-flung creators ("Kris, Rob, Matt, & Dave"), and it's filled with jokes that you'll laugh at and then say, "Oh, that's so wrong." Cyanide & Happiness is in the proud comic tradition of Sam Gross, John Callahan, and 101 Uses for a Dead Cat -- proving that tasteless cartoons will survive through the 21st century and beyond. (I reviewed the first book about six months ago.) This book also includes 30 never-before-seen cartoons, and a section of new "Interactivities" ("for Kids and Slow Adults!" the cover proudly says), meaning you can't just read through the archives and get all this stuff. Yes, there still are reasons to buy physical products, and you'll never get to download your brain into UNIVAC -- suck it up, nerd. (Oops, I think this strip is rubbing off on me.) Anyway, it books (a division of HarperCollins) will publish this on October 5th.

Oh, and no one's yet quoted my line about Cyanide & Happiness's creators, but I like it so much I'll inflict it on you again:
If John Callahan were Voltron, these four guys would be the robots that come together to make him.

[1] I'm not claiming to be the original; I know other people did this before I did. But I thought it was a good idea, and I'm glad to see other people agree with me -- it's comforting to be in a majority, isn't it?

[2] Zealous foulnesses are the worst kind, and the hardest to clean out of your carpets afterwards. Oh, damn! I said I wasn't going to make fun of this book....

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