Monday, August 29, 2011

Horrible Vacation Update

Well, it turned out to be about five feet of water in the basement, which actually was a good thing -- we were worried that the water might have reached the first floor.

Electricity, water, and gas are all off right now -- but we have hopes that we can turn the first two back on tomorrow morning, once our newly-bought pumps get most of that water out.

It's a huge mess, but one house down the street actually blew up, and another one came off its foundations. All our neighbors are in the same mess, which makes for a trench-warfare cameraderie.

But the books are toast -- a handfull may be still on high shelves and salvageable, but most of them are just garbage now, along with most of everything else that was in the basement.

Next is the cleanup.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Not the Vacation I Wanted

I'm supposed to be on vacation this week, with some quick trips and a big two-day venture to the mighty Hershey Park.

Unfortunately, a hurricane roared through my area over the last twenty-four hours, dropping more rain that anyone has ever seen in my area, which of course meant that the river rose.

And rose. And rose.

When The Wife and I left about four hours ago, the waters were up over the bottom of my driveway and touching my lawn. (And several inches deep in the basement, which is vastly worse.) We're now holed up at my in-law's place, which is on top of a hill in a nearby town.

My house has the gas and power turned off, and we're definitely going to have to buy a new furnace and water heater, washing machine and dryer. (I'm more worried about my books, of course -- I have several thousand books in that basement usually, and my triage efforts didn't go as far as I hoped. I was only able to drag a few hundred books upstairs, and get nearly everything else up a shelf or three or on top of the desk -- so anything left in the basement may be a complete loss.)

I've said "blogging will be sporadic" before, and sometimes it's been true. I'm saying it again, and it will be vastly more true this time, I'm sure.

The good news is that we're all fine, and the floodwaters should be starting to recede any minute now. The Wife and I will get back to the house tomorrow morning to see what we need to do, and we've already got a call into an electrician that we trust. But I do want to warn anyone thinking about living near a river in New Jersey that the weater has gotten very amplified in the past few years, and that I would very much not reccomend doing so.

Rivers are tricksy, nasty things, and we hates them.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Movie Log: Rapid-Fire Catch-Up Edition

I've seen a number of movies over the past couple of months -- not as much as I saw at the same time last year, possibly because I'm frenzied at work, or because my other blog (Editorial Explanations) is taking too much of my time and mental energy, or just because my time management skills have gone all to hell -- and neglected to inflict my opinions about them on you folks. But perhaps I can fix that now, and perhaps babbling about minor movies will help take my mind off the hurricane bearing down on me and the twenty million people closest to me.

So, in no particular order:

I saw Rango longer ago than I care to say, and it's not a movie that should be contemplated at leisure after much deep thought. Johnny Depp is the voice of a lizard who is not named Rango -- I don't think we actually ever learn what his real name is, or if he even really had one -- but who takes that name for reasons that the movie belated realizes it should have explained to us, once it's almost too late. Rango is a talking-animal movie set in the desert Southwest, and it looks wonderful, as long as you're fond of beiges, greys, and browns. The lizard who is not Rango, following some well-paid hack's theory of story-making, gets rudely ripped from his cushy but spiritually unfulfilling existence, wanders into the requisite Crooked Town, and bounces off things for a while before meeting the Spirit of the West and learning his True Destiny as a Hero. (He's gets the girl -- well, the female lizard -- along the way as well, because a movie like this can't have any surprises in it.) It hits all of the beats that the suits at whatever this studio this is required, and will reliably entertain anyone who has seen more than five American animated movies.

Love and Other Drugs is the first of several major "she just wants to have sex; he wants a Real Relationship" movies that have been flung at the American public over the past few months; I've got one more immediately below this, and the Mia Kunis-Justin Timberlake incarnation is still slouching through movie theaters at this very moment. It's possibly the best of those movies, partly because it has Anne Hathaway in it, partly because it has a real plot and a real reason for her not to want that Real Relationship (she's very ill with the modern version of Ali McGraw Disease, and wants no part of your pity, no sir!). It starts off shaky, though, with Jake Gyllenhaal careening around as a glad-handing drug salesman in the go-go '90s -- betraying this story's origins in the memoirs of an actual glad-handing drug salesman in the go-go '90s -- and only settles down somewhat once Hathaway fixes her fiery eyes on the camera. It goes pretty much where you expect it to go -- this is an American movie, and true love will win out over all, or it won't get funded -- but it's pleasant to look at all the way. Speaking of pleasant to look at, both Gyllenhaal and Hathaway spend an extensive amount of time naked or partially so, and if there's someone who doesn't like to look at either of those bodies sweaty and thrusting, I feel deeply sorry for you; they're fine, impressive specimens.

No Strings Attached is somewhat of a roadshow version of Love and Other Drugs; Natalie Portman is as good an actress as Anne Hathaway (and Ashton Kutcher, astonishingly to me, can stand up to her in every scene), but she's vastly less physical here, and unwilling to be naked, physically or emotionally. The story here is much more obvious -- clearly coming from a screenwriting workshop rather than the mess of an actual life -- with pat parental conflicts (with the charming Kevin Kline as Kutcher's father), and work-life drama, and other Movie of the Week stuff. Portman and Kutcher are both good and engaging, though, so watching them wander around each other for nearly two hours is plenty of fun.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about as exciting and adventurous as the first two movies -- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian -- which is to say, not nearly as much so as anyone would like. (Unless one is a timid and easily frightened Christian child.) Most of what was dull and unexceptional about the first two movies is repeated here, though there are no tedious scenes of armies gathering, and the Christian proselytizing is almost entirely absent. In fact, if you happened to find yourself back in the last summer, and wanted to spend a few hours indoors, looking at vaguely adventurous happenings on a very large screen with good sound, Dawn Treader would not at all have been a bad choice. At home on video, though, what virtues it does have are very muted and unexceptional; this is a movie that means well but doesn't really produce.

Cedar Rapids is a funny fish-out-of-water movie that doesn't really aim any higher than that, and that's just fine. Ed Helms is the fish in this particular case, a small-town insurance salesman sent to the slightly larger city (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) for the big convention of his peers, where he quickly runs into his first African-American (Isiah Witlock, Jr.), his first loose cannon (John C. Reilly) and, though he doesn't quite realize it, his second loose woman (Anne Heche). He rooms with two of them and sleeps with the third, and, in best naive-guy fashion, agonizes and feels guilty about all of the parts of that equation. Whitlock is possibly even more square than Helms -- and a movie like this with someone like Whitlock at the center would have been even more interesting -- Heche is smart and sexy in a businesslike way, and Reilly is his usual big-comedy raucous persona. The secondary characters (including Sigourney Weaver, Rob Corddry, and Stephen Root) also work well -- it's an overdetermined movie, but one with a good heart and a strong sense for what it should be doing at any particular moment. It's also one of the sweeter of the recent slew of raunchy comedies; it does have a soft spot for the traditional Midwestern virtues of hard work, sobriety, honesty, and determination.

A Summer in Genoa pretends to be a movie about Colin Firth, but it isn't, at all. Firth plays the father of the real center of the movie, two daughters -- teenaged Kelly (Willa Holland) and ten-ish Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) -- whose mother we see die in a car crash in the excruciatingly extended opening scene. That scene sets the tone for the whole movie -- it runs on too long, it's shot with a shaky hand-held camera that will give us headaches, and it doesn't quite come to any conclusion even at its overextended length. The movie is about those two girls, and how they cope with their mother's death -- and, particularly, with their guilt about that death. Firth's Joe -- and if there ever was an actor less able to play a standard American named "Joe," it's Firth -- decides to accept an offer to teach in Genoa, Italy, for a year, to get the girls away from the Chicago scene of their mother's death, and they all go off in early June to have a summer together there. But the girls don't want to leave everything they know, and Firth seems to be teaching the minute he gets into town, so the girls are left to themselves. Kelly discovers boys, and Mary, often left behind and, the camera movements and music cues insist, in danger of getting lost, sinks deeper into herself and her guilt. The movie mopes along for far too long, with those too-extended scenes and bouncy camera shots becoming more and more tedious every minute, until, finally, the family comes back together so that the movie can finally, thankfully, end. I saw it because The Wife loves Firth, but I think even she loves him slightly less now than she did before this movie.

I haven't seen the Dudley Moore version of Arthur in at least twenty-five years, if I ever did. (Memory is fuzzy on that point.) But I'm willing to bet that it's better in nearly every way than the recent Russell Brand version of Arthur, down to the fact that the new movie neglects to have the romantic lead on the poster, giving our alcoholic boy-man instead a choice of nanny (the stern but loving Helen Mirren, trying not to be compared to John Geilgud) or shrew (the game Jennifer Garner, as the girl this Arthur is supposed to marry, or forfeit all his millions). This one is cartoonish at every turn -- pleasant and aggressively unoffensive, but never as exciting or interesting as it should be. When you have a movie about a rich, self-absorbed, and childish drunk, you have to let him be less than perfectly likable at least once in your movie, but the makers of this Arthur would not agree; Brand remains pixieish and brightly smiling throughout, except during the laughable "everyone is moving at high speed around me to indicate that I Am Sad" scene. Oh, and I should mention that Arthur's true love -- the one left off the poster -- is played gamely by Greta Gerwig, who nearly makes us believe that she can see something good in Brand's Arthur. This is another agreeable way to waste time, if necessary, but nothing more than that.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Quote of the Week: Beholders

"Love is the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl and discovering that she looks like a haddock."
- John Barrymore

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Corpse of a Bookstore

Borders is one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead -- though, unlike Gully Foyle, it will die, before very long. And I took another weekly trip to my local, to survey the wreckage and to buy yet more books; the discounts increased again late last week and there was a special offer to Borders Plus members for an additional 15% off.

I came home with ten books, the most yet, including several things that I would have bought somewhere else if I didn't find them  in the wreckage. That counts, I think, as finding a way to make a small triumph out of a giant calamity. Those books were:

Cake Wrecks by Jen Yates, the first book incarnation of the popular blog. I'd gotten it from the library at least once, but I bought a copy primarily because my younger son (Thing Two) had loved it then, so now he can have it to keep and chortle over whenever he wants.

Write More Good, a fake writing stylebook by the folks behind the Twitter account @FakeAPStylebook (whom I discovered, in turn, through their member Mike Sterling, who blogs about comics).

Nightschool, Vol. 4 by Svetlana Chmakova, continuing an urban fantasy western-manga series that I quite liked but hadn't previously managed to spend my own money on. (I saw the first three volumes as a reviewer, but I fell off of Yen's lists sometime in the past year or so.)

Neverisms is a book of quotations, explained and explicated by Dr. Mardy Grothe, all of which are about things you should never do. I've been out of the bookclubs for four years now, so my supply of books of oddball facts, quirky quotes, or unlikely connections are running low, and I'm hoping that the Borders wreck will replenish that shelf. (I don't like spending a lot of bathroom reading, particularly since I was used to getting them free for over a decade and a half.)

Philosophy in the Boudoir is a "classic" from the Marquis de Sade -- yes, him -- in a gorgeous, sexy Penguin Classics edition. And the prices at the Borders bankruptcy sale are now hitting the point where it's worth buying the "what the hell" books -- the ones that look nice, or that you think you might read someday, or just because they're slim and you already have them in your hand.

Similarly, Melissa Katsoulis's Literary Hoaxes is exactly what it says on the tin, though I found it lurking in the "Fiction & Literature" section. (As usual in going-out-of-business sales, my local Borders is seeing entropy creeping up a bit each week; by the time of the final sale, nothing will be reliably findable and browsing will entail looking through every book just to see what's there.)

Disquiet, Please! -- edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder -- is the second book of humor writings pulled from the New Yorker. I read the first volume, Fierce Pajamas, about two years ago, and thought it might be a good idea to have the second volume in the house, just in case.

Charles Stross's brand-new novel is Rule 34, and I was very surprised to find it sitting quietly on the "Sci-Fi" shelf. I decided someone had to give it a good home, and mine was as good as anyone's.

I've picked up 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth, a collection of humorous lists and other materials from the website The Oatmeal, several times without actually buying or reading it. But now that its section was 50% off, I had no excuse.

And last was I Kill Giants, a graphic novel by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura, which I remember hearing good things about. And Kelly seems to be one of the more interesting writers working in and around the modern superhero genre (along with obvious names like Grant Morrison and less obvious ones like Jonathan Hickman), so I figure I should read something by him when I have a chance.

That's what I found; I hope you folks are similarly digging through the flotsam and jetsam at your local dying Borders and grabbing books of interest to spirit them away.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/20

Once again, "Reviewing the Mail" will be delayed, since my mail is in rainy New Jersey and I am in never-rains-at-all Reno, Nevada.

As I type this, it's Sunday night, and I'm looking forward to spending nearly all of tomorrow getting home. (This is one of those uses of "looking forward" that does not imply happiness, mind you.) At some point during the next few days, I will both be home and have time to type away about whatever arrived during that time -- and, when those two things coincide, this post will be updated.

Keep watching this space until then.

Hugo Winners!

First of all, before I get into my usual bile and spleen, huge congratulations to Gay Haldeman for winning the Forrest J. Ackerman Big Heart Award; she's one of the very nicest people in the entire world, and no one deserves it more than she does.

Unlike everyone else, I'm going to list the winners in the order they were announced, rather than the order of the official announcement, because that's just the kind of guy I am. Full details of both the voting and the nominations is available on Renovation's website. (And I will admit that I was one of the people poring over those results and calling out interesting facts to each other, rather than grabbing drinks right away at the Hugo Loser's party last night.)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo): Lev Grossman

I still think that the Campbell shouldn't have a "only skiffy counts" loophole -- Grossman had two novels prior to The Magicians, stretching back to the previous century -- so I have to grumble about that. An award for new writers should go to new writers. But Grossman is definitely a worthy recipient otherwise.

Fan Artist: Brad W. Foster

There was a really strong groundswell, particularly among the fan artist community, against what they called "the stick figure guy" (Randal Munroe), and it's clear in the voting pattern. That's unfortunate, since Munroe is more SFnal than all of them put together, though he's definitely less fannish and not part of the requisite crowd. Note, though, that Munroe lost by one vote; he could come back next year.

Fan Writer: Claire Brialey

I voted for her, so I'm happy. This is also the first year that I felt like I had a decent handle on the nominees, for which all praise to the Hugo Packet. Her closest competition was Steven H. Silver, who also really should win one of these years.

Fanzine: The Drink Tank, edited by Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon

At this point I should probably mention that I'm one of the people that Garcia has already approached to write something for his 300th issue -- he wants 300 contributors, which is an insane but thrilling goal -- and that I, like everyone else, thought that he was the most appreciative and surprised winner since Neil Gaiman. It's also interesting to note that the closest competition in the first round of voting was StarShipSofa, a podcast that gerrymandering at the Business Meeting is in the process of getting booted from the category.

Semiprozine: Clarkesworld, edited by Neil Clarke, Cheryl Morgan, Sean Wallace; podcast directed by Kate Baker

Neil's from my home state, and I know and like both Cheryl and Sean, so I'm not unhappy. (I also know and like JJA, Ann VanderMeer, and some of the Locus crew, so my biases and spread thin.) It will be interesting to see what emerges from the tinkering with the category; the fact that Locus has consistently won this category for three decades has obscured the fact that it's nearly as much as a rag-bag as "Related Work," putting criticalzines, newszines, and fictionzines in competition. And, as usual, when Locus doesn't win, it's a close #2.

Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)

It's really unfortunate that the same work won a new Hugo for the first three years of its existence, and even the Foglios realize that -- they've declared that they won't accept a nomination next year. But this category will be eliminated unless it actually turns into a real competitive category. (To help that along, I intend to make sure to nominate myself this year, and to blog loudly about eligible works.)

Editor, Short Form: Sheila Williams

Hugo voters have been throwing Hugos disproportionately at Asimov's stories for quite a while now, and yet had ignored Sheila until last night. (Liking particular stories doesn't necessarily mean that the person who chose them is the best editor -- just as the two editors of The Drink Tank were both unsuccessful nominees in Best Fan Writer -- but it should at least be a major consideration.) I was sort-of rooting for Jonathan Strahan here, since I've worked directly with him, but they're all great editors and at least convention acquaintances, so any of them would have been a fine winner.

Editor, Long Form: Lou Anders

All of the nominees were worthy, and Lou has had a great string of books the last few years. (There's a part of me that wanted to see Beth Meacham or Ginjer Buchanan win, based on their long history of editing great work and being "due," but that's not supposed to be the way we vote on the best editor of 2010, is it?) And he certainly had the best outfit of any winner this year. Lou also does a lot of books that are very much to my own personal taste; I need to read more Pyr.

Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: "Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang," written by Steven Moffat; directed by Toby Haynes (BBC Wales)

I was really disappointed, though not surprised, that "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" didn't win. And I will note that the other folks that have won their categories three or more times have declared that they will decline nominations next year. (Hint, hint, Mr. Moffat.) But I'm not a media fan to begin with, so my opinions on this and the next category can be discounted or ignored.

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Inception, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner)

Hugo voters are very, very frivolous in this category, as seen by the fact that the exceptionally minor 3D children's entertainment How to Train Your Dragon came in second. Again, I don't think this category does anything but pad a long ceremony -- the people nominated in this category hardly ever attend, which shows how important it is to them. That said, if you had to give an award to a movie, Scott Pilgrim was the only reasonable choice.

Professional Artist: Shaun Tan

Tan is a wonderful talent, and I spent much of the convention talking up his magnificent The Arrival, one of the best graphic novels of the past decade. But I still think the body of work that he produced in 2010 was primarily made up of the short film "The Lost Thing," which was itself nominated in its proper category. So I'm not entirely sure what to think about this award -- it looks a bit like a consolation prize after losing what he should have won to the Who-steamroller. I also note that the extended list of nominees is very much the same crew as always; I don't think nominators are actually looking at specific works from the year in question so much as writing down the same list of their favorite artists every year.

Related Work: Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea (Mad Norwegian)

My standard metric in this category is that the book by or about the oldest and best-loved SF writer always wins, so I was expecting the Heinlein bio. (I've still only read a bit of it, so I'm strongly trying to maintain a lack of opinion about it.) But I didn't remember that one can never bet against Doctor Who these days. The winners were very appreciative, and the book is deeply fannish -- so yay for them, I suppose.

Short Story: “For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)

Last night I tweeted that the most sentimental stories won in all of the fiction categories, and that's still my take on it: Hugo voters went for bathos this year. This wasn't my choice in the category, and I think the world has some ridiculous aspects, but it looks like Kowal is turning into one of this decade's Hugo darlings.

Novelette: “The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s, June 2010)

Speaking of bathos, this story was a shameless tug at the fannish heartstrings in the most obvious ways possible, and shame on all of us that it won. Newsflash to Hugo nominators and voters: you are old people in bad physical shape, with generally crabby attitudes (I've just spent a long weekend with you), and you are never going to space. If anyone is going to space, it will not be you. Please get over this.

Novella: The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Subterranean)

I was not a fan of this story; I'll say that much.

Novel: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Ballantine Spectra)

I don't want to say anything personal here, since Connie is one of the sweetest people in SF and has written a number of actually award-quality stories. But come on! Every single other option on the ballot was vastly better than this mess, and I even count Feed in that. (I'm mid-way through writing a review of Feed that I'm afraid will be even more bile-tastic than this post; it's sitting in hopes that I can tone it down to something less actionable.)

Hugo voters, I am very disappointed in you. You have one year to do better than this, or There Will Be Consequences.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

An Unpleasant Realization

So I'm stuck in Reno for one last night, with nothing in particular to do.

And I've just realized that everything I vaguely want to do -- watching something streaming on Netflix, being virtuous and poking through my work e-mail, even just catching up on my feeds -- will be frustratingly stuttering via the Peppermill's gasping Internet.

I'm also about done using my iPad as my main computer; it's fine for a few days, but the limitations really pile up when that stretches to a week or more.

All in all, I wish I was gone already; I should have taken a closer look at the program and realized this con ended on Sunday when I made my reservations.

So, my lessons to you today:

1) the old tower of the terminally tacky Peppermill Casino/Hotel in Reno has lousy WiFi; avoid it if you can.

2) an iPad and Bluetooth keyboard can be very close to a real computer, but that gap widens over time.

3) always get out of town before you get sick of it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's Hugo Day!

As I expected, I am not blogging much from Worldcon; just keeping up with work e-mail on top of the general frivolity was plenty (and I just spent two hours this morning getting back to even on my other blog, Editorial Explanations), leaving little time and energy for anything else.

I also realized that I neglected to do my "Handicapping the Hugos" post this year -- though I did that long series of posts about my personal thoughts on all of the nominees, which isn't the same thing, but it's probably more than enough of me blathering about those stories. You might not know exactly what I think will win this year, but it's pretty clear what I'd like to win, and I'm now sick of my own opinions, so I know you must be.

I will blog the winners, eventually, but that might take a while -- it probably won't go up until tomorrow, when everyone else will already have them. You see, I'm the escort for one of the presenters this year (you can probably guess who; I worked with one of the GoHs for sixteen years), and so I'll be at the pre-Hugo mingle beforehand and then, afterward, I get to check off one of my great fannish dreams and go to the Hugo Losers party. (It's even better because I don't have to actually lose a Hugo to do so.)

So this post is mostly me gloating, for which I apologize. I'll probably have a long post tomorrow complaining at great length about Hugo winners, but we'll all have to wait and see which categories are the most egregiously wrong.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Have Arrived

In Reno for Worldcon, that is.

I had a quick flight up from Las Vegas this afternoon, after two frantic days of handing out magnetic clips and scanning badges in the deepest depths of the Caesar's Palace conference center. (Seriously, I didn't get out of the hotel at all in between the taxi in and the taxi out, which is vastly out of character for me in any strange city, even one as hot and pedestrian-unfriendly as Vegas.)

By the way, Southwest manages to take the usual practice of most modern airlines -- to board passengers in order of the amount of money they've spent, counting down, which tends to mean starting from aisle seats in the front -- and add its own silly Byzantine fillip to it, by making their planes into flying Greyhound buses. I won't say I'll never fly them again -- the world is wide, opportunities are fleeting, and I have a reservation for Monday -- but they're certainly not up at the top of my list.

I got to the Peppermill -- which, especially coming straight from Vegas, looks like a smaller, sadder, shabbier cousin of the humorously over-the-top "resort" I was just in -- went straight to my room, had a long call with The Wife, and decided tomorrow was soon enough for skiffy frivolity. (Besides, registration is closed, and the other main hotel has all of the parties, anyway.)

But I may start seeing many of you tomorrow -- those of you in Reno, at least. Hope it's a good con so far. I expect updates here will be even scarcer than they have been recently -- but, if the WiFi in the convention center is any good, I might just take this keyboard along later in the weekend and complain about SFnal events right as they happen!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/13

I've had a bad case of Blogger's Ennui in recent weeks -- the feeling that nothing matters, and what little scraps of insight I might have are dropping into a vast bottomless pit without echo or result -- which, in the way of such things, feeds on itself and spirals ever larger. Like most writers' maladies, Blogger's Ennui can only be combated by work: the only cure for not being willing or able to write is to write anyway. Pointless rituals, required posts, and all the mechanisms of getting one's butt into the chair and one's fingers moving are what's needed now.

And so, luckily, I have books that came in this past week, all clamoring for me to write something about them. I haven't read them (yet?), but they're all on track to publication in the next days or months, and I'm sure some of you would like some of them if only you knew about them.

First up is a graphic novel from the fine people at First Second (who have done a lot of interesting comics work, most of it broadly "all ages" or for younger readers) with the exceptionally awesome title Orcs: Forged for War. It's based on the series of Orc novels by Stan Nicholls -- which I know slightly; I did the first trilogy back in my SFBC days -- and this book is written by Nicholls himself, with art by Brooklyn's own Joe Flood. It'll be out as a trade paperback in October, just in time to fill your fall Orc-based needs.

Speaking of books for young readers -- well, readers somewhat younger than I am, at least -- I also have here Brenna Yovanoff's novel The Space Between, coming in hardcover from Penguin's edgy YA imprint Razorbill in November. It's the story of a young woman from Hell: literally, since she's described as the daughter of a demon and a fallen angel. (It's been a while since I read Milton, but I wasn't aware that there was a generally accepted distinction between the two.) I would not at all be surprised if it contained a generous helping of angst, and it also looks like an interesting sideways take on the currently super-popular trend of teen dystopias, since our young demoness comes to Earth to find her missing brother.

I also have here the three mass-market paperback that one of my favorite three-lettered SF imprints, DAW, will publish in September:
  • One Salt Sea, the fifth in the "October Daye" series by Seanan McGuire, in which the heroine settles in as Countess of Goldengreen, starts dating again, and tries to find some kidnapped boys to stop an impending war.
  • The Truth of Valor, the latest book in Tanya Huff's MilSF "Confederation" series, which sees Marines fight space pirates, the way God and John W. Campbell intended.
  • Coronets and Steel, a new novel by Sherwood Smith in which a young woman -- with the passion for fencing required for all protagonists who may find themselves plunged suddenly into a fantasy world -- tries to trace her family's roots in Europe, and finds instead something the back cover only hints at.
And then, from Vertical, comes Velveteen & Mandala, the first manga by Jiro Matsumoto to be translated into English. The title characters -- two girls in their school uniforms -- are manning a tank, somewhere in a bucolic landscape that is also the front line of a nasty war with brain-eating zombies. But, from a quick look at it, the existence of zombies is probably the only even halfway conventional aspect of Velveteen & Mandala; the two girls are repressing or ignoring most of the important facts about their world, and there are clearly secrets and surprises nestled inside like concentric shells. Most of all, it looks quirky and distinctive, so I hope to find time to read it soon. It officially publishes August 30th as a trade paperback.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Borders Vulturism, Part Three

So the going-out-of-business sale of the once-mighty Borders chain continues, in what I think is the third week. (I've been to my local three times at about once a week; that's how I'm tracking their progress.)

This time around, the sales are finally hitting beating-Amazon levels, at least in some categories, but savvy shopping is still required -- most of the store, including all front-of-store stuff, is still only 30% off. But I poked through the 40% and 50% sections, and found a few gems. (And I'm also noticing that there's a larger number of books that I'm "watching" -- I see them each week, and, if they stick around long enough and the discounts get high enough, I'll eventually buy them. But that point has not yet come.)

The business section is now 50% off -- perhaps a sign that section has not been selling well for Borders in general, which fits my Secret Publishing Knowledge -- so I spent some time there. It was bittersweet, since I saw a lot of "our" (Wiley's) books, and I'm sure the company has already written them off. But I did grab Ken Auletta's Googled, since I've liked his shorter journalism, and we more and more seem to live in the world that Google made.

The other sections I spent the most time in -- Fiction and Biography/Memoir -- are both 40% off, better than most of the store (including SF/Fantasy and Manga/Graphic Novels, the two sections I'm really waiting to hit serious discount levels), and definitely beating the competition in most cases. Perhaps egged on by a couple of reviews of his newest book, I found Nicholson Baker's first novel, The Mezzanine, which I've been meaning to read for at least a decade now. (I read his similarly minimalist novel A Box of Matches a few years back, and his nonfiction screed about library archives, Double Fold, back in 2001, before I was blogging.)

Back over in Biography/Memoir, I found Ray Davies's X-Ray: The Unauthorized Autobiography, an odd memoir (written as if by a hostile biographer) from the Kinks frontman that I've also been vaguely thinking about reading for a decade.

On the more recent side, I also grabbed Peter Hedges's The Heights, which was the obligatory well-written witty cautionary tale of boring married people's foibles and pitfalls from last summer; I must have picked it up at the library a dozen times last year without ever reading it. So now there's a copy in my own house I can read, or not.

And last was another big novel from last year, Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets, which is supposed to be funny, touching, and wonderful and which I sincerely hope lives up to the hype. And I have to admit the financial aspect actually makes it more interesting to me; my day job has crept into the darkest recesses of my skull by now, and there will be no getting it out, ever. (And I did get the blue cover, as seen here -- it comes in three flavors, a sign that some other book marketer has a much happier life of getting stores to carry multiple copies of his books than I do.)

That's what I found at Borders this week; in another five or seven or eight days they'll have another round of price cuts and I'll be back again. With any luck, I'll have read some of these books by then.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Complaining About Cover Art, Once Again

I still have a few moldy oldies buried here and there, the stray survivors of my attempts to bring everything I've ever written online onto Antick Musings, and, as I discover that I've missed them, I'll be remedying that problem.

Some ideas never get old -- such as saying "my favorite author's new book has a horrible cover! X'thor the Undaunted has three horns, arranged in a spiral shape, and Missy, Princess of Goats not only is much prettier than that, but she has green eyes! Why didn't the author set the artist right?" One such occasion came in April of 2002 on the Straight Dope Message Board, where I replied -- after several others saying similar things -- thusly:

Most authors have about as much control over the covers of their books as Juan Valdez does over the design of the coffee can.

RealityChuck [1] has already said most of what I could say, but let me just repeat that the point of a cover is not to accurately represent anything in the book. (Though it would certainly be nice if it did.) The point of a cover is to get people to a) pick the book up and then b) buy it. A cover that does this is a success; a cover that doesn't is a failure. Other considerations are secondary, but the next most important one is "will the reader think the book fits the cover." Angry Lead Skies has a guy in a fedora staring moodily at a whiskey glass while two fantasy types pose in the background; the book is a Chandleresque PI story set in a fantasy world -- so the cover does tell the reader what kind of book it is. Other points: Some artists and designers are better than others. The better ones tend to be more expensive and busy -- and they can't work on all the books that exist. So some books (especially mass-market midlist genre stuff, like the book in question), get covers done by people who aren't at the top of their field. (Though this obviously isn't a simple metric -- there are always great new artists starting out, and older artists coasting on their previous work.) Books that are cheaper and will make less money don't usually get the more expensive artists. Only a couple of genres -- SF/Fantasy and Romances (and not all of the latter, either) -- get the painted cover look to begin with. Most novels have stock photos or other "evocative" looking bits of art that tell the reader even less about the book. Glen Cook is a nice guy (and a good bookseller, too), but he's a very small fish in the publishing pond. He might get to recommend an artist occasionally, but that would be as far as his involvement in the cover goes. And I'd say that Garrett has a hat on the cover of most of the books because a fedora says "private detective." The only real alternative would be a trenchcoat (actually, both plus a cigarette would be the best), and I don't remember if he ever wears one of those. 

[1] Schenectady's own Chuck Rothman; as usual, the people making sense in an online discussion were all connected to science fiction.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Good News, Bad News

Good News! There's a launch event for one of the books I'm working on.

Bad News! It's in Washington, DC, on a day I don't expect to be there.

Good News for You! (possibly) It's open to the public.

Good News for You! (if you're a fiscal-policy wonk) The book is Chipping Away at Public Debt, about several recent fiscal adjustment plans (such as stimulus spending programs), by a star-studded group of experts mostly connected to the IMF.

Monday, August 08, 2011

What He Didn't Do

A quote from the middle of Lawrence Block's absolutely excellent mystery novel A Drop of the Hard Stuff, the book that has nearly restored my faith in fiction after a disastrous Hugo-reading season. If it doesn't entirely make sense in context, then, you'll just have to read the whole thing, won't you?

But if the deceased takes his last breath in a Bowery flophouse or an SRO welfare hotel, if the cops zip him into a body bag and cart him down a couple of flights of stairs, then anything worth the taking is pretty sure to get taken. The little stash of emergency cash, the couple of bucks left over from the most recent government check, the folded ten-dollar bill in the shoe -- if a relative does turn up, it will have long since disappeared. The cops take it.

I always did. I learned from a partner, who explained the ethics of the situation. The ethical thing, he told me, was to divvy up with your partner.


I was partnered with one prince of the city who took a pair of hoop earrings from the ears of a dead hooker. "These look like eighteen karat," he said. "What does the poor darling need with gold earrings in potter's field?"

I told him to keep them. Was I sure? Yes, I said, I was sure. Be a shame to split the pair, I said.

Noble of me. Maybe that'd be enough to get me into Heaven. What did I ever do that was good? Well, St. Peter, one time I could have stolen the gold from a dead whore's ears. But I restrained myself.

-- pp.185-186

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/6

It's the dog days of summer; the time when it's been hot for long enough that nobody feels like doing much of anything, when half the people you work with are out on vacation this week and the other half will be out next week, when even picking up a moderately heavy book can feel like too much effort, when all we want to do is sit somewhere (by a pool, by an air conditioner, by a glowing box of piped entertainment) and not think until we get tired of that as well.

So, if I don't show a whole lot of energy or enthusiasm for these really nice books that have arrived in my mail this week, please take the time of year into account, willya? They're all perfectly cromulent in their own ways, and I bet many of you would love many of them.

I'll lead off with something I've already written about once, to ease myself into it gently: Kitty's Greatest Hits, the first collection of Carrie Vaughn's short stories set in the world of werewolf radio host Kitty Norville. It collects twelve stories from various anthologies and other publications, adding in two brand-new stories, and Tor has just launched it in trade paperback. If there's still a bookstore near you getting new books in stock, you'll probably find it there.

Tom Pomplun's Eureka Productions has been adapting classic literature -- "classic" here meaning "excellent old stories," rather than "dull museum pieces that only professors like" -- for ten years and twenty previous volumes now, and they're celebrating in the appropriate way: publishing a brand-new collection, Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery, a twenty-first volume of "Graphic Classics" that looks back to the very first volume, Edgar Allan Poe. The new book adapts Poe's stories "Murder in the Rue Morgue" (with art by Reno Maniquis), "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," (art by Michael Manning), "The Masque of the Red Death" (art by Stan Shaw), and several more. Expect to see lots of red in the full-color art when this hits book stores, comic shops, and your favorite Internet seller this month.

Down to the Bone is the fifth novel in Justina Robson's near-future technomagical "Quantum Gravity" series, and I have to hang my head and admit I haven't read any of them. But they all have neat covers, and they sound like a hell of a lot of fun. If you, like me, haven't read any of them, I bet it would be better to start with the first one, Keeping It Real, but, if you're better than me and have been keeping up, you'll be happy to know that Pyr will have Down to the Bone out in stores tomorrow.

Speaking of series that I haven't been reading -- hey, it's a big field, and no one can read all of it (except maybe Don D'Ammassa) -- I also have Out of the Waters by David Drake, second in the "Books of the Elements" series set in a fantasy version of the first century Roman Empire. (The first one is The Legions of Fire, and, again, I suspect Book One is generally the best place to start. And Drake is really good at Roman stuff, so go ahead and check it out.) This one's from Tor, and came out last month in hardcover -- so it should already be everywhere you might want to find it.

Last for this week is a book from the fine old British publishing house of Hodder, which recently wrote to ask if they could send me books. (And how would anyone react to a question like that? "Can you send me free stuff? Oh, no thank you, I don't like getting free things." Of course not!) So I was really happy to see a package from them -- the one that contained Outpost, which appears to be the first novel by Adam Baker. It's an end-of-the-world story, focusing on the fifteen people living on a remote, semi-mothballed oil rig up in the Arctic circle when something horrible -- the copy mentions "a global pandemic" and "the deadly infection" -- happens to the rest of the world, and then they have to first survive and then make their way back south to find out what happened. (I have my suspicions, which mostly involve the z-word.) My British (and Commonwealth) readers could probably find Outpost very quickly and conveniently; readers in my part of the world might have to use a foreign online retailer (I recommend the ones located in Canada, since the shipping costs are lower) to get it.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Random Thoughts for a Sunday Afternoon

Because sometimes thoughts come in bunches, but refuse to organize themselves.

If you elect representatives on a platform based on their ignorance of and disdain for governance, you shouldn't be surprised when they're no good at it.

Democracy is a really ugly, unpleasant thing. Too bad all of the alternatives are vastly worse.

We used to complain that Congress was full of incumbents -- good 'ol boys who spent too much time in Washington, were too clubby with each other, and were too good at manipulating the strings of government. And now we've had three wave elections in a row, and can see how good we had it.

It's very difficult to negotiate effectively with someone who would be quite happy to walk away and have everything fall apart. But one does have to wonder if the people who elected those folks agree with the "letting everything fall apart" thing.

We also used to be in awe of the Republican party discipline in Congress -- again, it can really suck to get what you ask for.

Watching politics, and actually caring about what happens, is the most frustrating thing in the world: no one has any leverage at all to speak of, and nobody ever gets what they want.

Huh. "Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful." I guess so.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Quote of the Week: Fools

"It may be true that you can't fool all the people all the time, but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country."
- Will Durant

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

I'm Still Here

At one point, I updated this blog every single day -- no matter what. If I was going to be away from a computer, I cued things up to post -- there had to be a post date-stamped every one of those days, or else!

Or else what?

I don't have a good answer to that question, and it is a good question.

Lately, when I read other blogs, I find myself getting more and more annoyed with "guest bloggers." I'm not reading Blogger X to get the thoughts of someone else, I want Blogger X. And, being a demanding little Netizen, I want Blogger X for real, and not just a drive-by post, clearly designed to show that Blogger X is still around and cognizant of his web audience

For example, I read the blogs of both Neil Gaiman and Charles Stross. (And I bet most of my readers read both of them as well.) Stross is currently away from his own blog, but he has two fill-in bloggers diligently ladling in content -- and I find that I'm not reading a word of it, primarily because it's not Charlie. Gaiman, on the other hand, doesn't write classical blog posts -- little essays, with an clear argument and through-line, the way Stross does very well -- but just meanders about, in a free-form journal style, when he does have time to post. But Gaiman has the great virtue of never turning over his web presence to anyone else, except very briefly and informatively. So I find each of Stross's real posts more satisfying, but a Gaiman post is more special. And I read all of Gaiman's posts, while I skim or pass by the guest-written Stross posts often.

It took a while, but eventually I connected my own dots: I thought I had to post every day, but I was annoyed by bloggers who posted just to post. So I was annoying myself. (That, as anyone who knows me will realize, is nothing new -- I'm annoyed by so much in this world I can't help but be pissed off at myself at least once a day.)

I'd like to post something substantial every day, but I don't always have the time -- especially in summer, when my kids are up late, and it's too hot for sustained sitting and thinking down in my bloggy basement. So I've quietly decided -- without actually saying so in public, until now -- that it's OK to skip days. (And I suspect the people who actually care about a blog are reading it via feed or some other aggregator anyway -- so they'll see it whenever it does update.)

So this all is just to say -- I do a lot of long-winded posts "just to say" things, don't I?; I'll have to work on that -- that Antick Musings may be skipping days more than it was formerly wont to do, but that's in the aim of focusing on the topics we all really care more about anyway. (Namely, books, publishing, and a smattering of movies and random other stuff.)

My hope is that, once summer is over and it cools down -- or if it ever gets less crazy and hectic at work -- I'll have more time, and more free mental cycles, for blogging, and post frequency will go back up. But it's been crazy and hectic at work for a good year now, so that may not be the most likely hope. And the fall is busy for family life in its own way -- my boys are now in 8th and 5th grades, with more and more homework that requires my help/input/opinion.

So who knows what will happen? I'll keep blogging, about SF and comics and movies and books and publishing and the stupidities of the world and the stupid rapacity of consultants and whatever else comes to mind. And I'll do it as much as I can, as best as I can.

Who can promise to do more than that?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/30

For the last week of July, these are the new books that showed up at my house. Nearly all of them came in the mail, sent by publishers hoping that I would review or otherwise promote them -- savvy readers may note that I'm doing the latter right this minute -- but I did also make it up to my local Borders to see the first throes of the going-out-of-business sales, and of course I didn't leave without buying things.

(And, yes, I felt both like a vulture -- picking through the twisted wreckage of Borders' many many corporate mistakes over the past two decades -- and like a patsy, since most of the store was only 20% off, which means those same items were still cheaper on Amazon.)

Borders does have Blu-Ray discs at 40% off, so I grabbed a copy of Kenneth Branagh's wonderful Much Ado About Nothing, two manga volumes for my sons, and:
  • Empire State, a new semi-autobiographical graphic novel by Jason Shiga, author of the absolutely amazing Meanwhile
  • Manga Sutra, Vol. 2, by Futari H and Katsu Aki, the second in a not-really-pornographic (but mildly explicit) manga story about the early married life of two very young and very sheltered Japanese everypeople.
And then, from the mail, I saw The Watchtower, second book in an urban fantasy series (after Black Swan Rising) by "Lee Carroll" (an open pseudonym for mystery novelist Carol Goodman and her husband, poet/hedge fund manager Lee Slonimsky). This series is about a jewelry designer who is the latest Slayer in a long line of women who fight evil, and, this time, she's searching for her ancient vampire mentor in Paris. (Life is really, really tough for urban fantasy heroines.) Watchtower is a trade paperback from Tor, officially publishing tomorrow.

Also from Tor is the third book in a space opera series, The Unincorporated Woman, which follows the previously non-corporatized Man and War. The whole series is by brothers Dani and Eytan Kollin, and I suspect the series has something of a libertarian slant, from the title and from the fact that the first book won the Prometheus Award. Woman is an August hardcover, available in about two weeks.

Pyr brings us The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell, another in the line of epic fantasies from the other point of view, like Mary Gentle's Grunts and Eve Forward's Villains by Necessity. This time, the shiny-haloed heroes are pushing towards the final strongholds of Morthul, the Dreaded Charnel King, and he's not at all happy about it. But perhaps, he has one last hope....

I'm probably not at all the right reader for the latest heavily-hyped dystopia, Hillary Jordan's When She Woke, since it looks to me like just a very unsubtle liberal version of the current "and then the religious lunatics take over everything and make us follow their evil, unjust laws forever!" hysteria. (Liberals believe it's Christians that will do this; conservatives think it will be Muslims; both are tedious and annoying.) In this novel, "the separation between church and state has dissolved," which naturally means that the usual repressive, bigoted, hypocritical media-parody of 1980s TV preachers are running everything. And criminals have their skin color genetically altered to match their crime -- the science of that is the least of my problems with the scenario -- which means that our poor, poor, suffering heroine has been turned red for Murder after the death of her unborn child -- the cover letter coyly never says "abortion," so I'm sure the situation is even more manipulative than it seems at first -- which was, of course, the product of the tediously standard Forbidden Love with a Powerful Man. My ribs are already aching from the nudges, and I haven't even read one word of the novel yet. But if you like to have your prejudices reinforced at great length, this will be in stores on October 4th.

Last this week, though, is a book I am hugely looking forward to reading: Matthew Hughes's The Other. It's another of his endlessly entertaining Archonate novels -- all of which stand pretty well on their own, so you really should try to read at least one of them, if you like to read books that are fun and enjoyable and witty and sparkling -- featuring Luff Imbry, the not-entirely-reformed con man who previously was a main character in Black Brillion. I will keep burbling about Matt Hughes's books until you all finally break down and make him a huge bestseller, so you might as well get it over with now. (Really, it's easier for all of us.) See my reviews of The Damned Busters, Hespira, Template, The Spiral Labyrinth, or Majestrum for more details about how much fun his books are, and be ready when The Other hits stores in November from Underland Press.