Saturday, September 29, 2012

In Which Robots Are Not As Effective As They Think They Are

Inspired by James Nicoll, I ran my two blogs through two sophisticated analysis engines of the Internet -- aw, who am I kidding? They're both probably hack-jobs put together by a couple of geeks in their spare time, like everything else on the 'net. But it's amusing anyway.

Antick Musings:
Editorial Explanations:
  • GenderAnalyzer: 88% -- as close to "ineluctably" as you can get -- masculine
  • AgeAnalyzer: I am still between ages 36 and 50
That's a huge gap in my gender between two things I write regularly -- 39% of difference. Is it because EE is mostly made up of short posts and dripping in sarcasm? Or is it the stench of politics that drives women away?

Interestingly, the collective wisdom of the crowd is that AgeAnalyzer is less correct -- 59% of the votes are currently "no" -- even though that's not my experience, and it has some wide bands (though still not as binary as male/female).

Does this mean anything at all? No, of course not. But it's yet another tool to poke through things that look like data, which I suppose is moderately useful, at the very least as a way to waste time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trillions! Trillions! Trillions!

Most of the projects I work on for my day job never get mentioned here, because they're deeply technical and only of interest to accountants, CIOs, and similarly specialized business folks. But, once in a while, I do have something that's more exciting that that, and this is one of those times.

Yesterday was the official publication date for Trillions, a great book on what pervasive computing will mean for business and society, from three very smart and very savvy technologists/designers/thinkers, Peter Lucas, Joe Ballay, and Mickey McManus. They're all part of MAYA Design, a Pittsburgh firm that does amazing work on interface design and other things I don't even have the terminology to describe. (When I visited them last year to talk about marketing for Trillions, they showed off an amazing system called Visage that they created for DARPA to manage and control manifold real-time dataflows for a battlefield.)

So Trillions is genuinely visionary, and comes from three guys who really know and live this stuff. It's an exciting book to be (a tiny) part of.

I'd like to get more copies of Trillions out there, particularly in the hands of SF folks and influential Internet people. (And who else would be reading this blog?) In the past, I've sent out queries to people I knew on books of less direct interest to the field, but I think I've already outstayed that welcome. So, this time, I won't spam anyone; I'm just looking for inbound interest. I'll be happy to send a copy of Trillions to you if you'll read it and possibly blog/talk/write about it -- I'm not looking for guarantees, just interest. I might be able to swing e-books in some format as well, though it's still much easier to ship blocks of dead tree.

Check out the website, which has a bunch of fascinating videos about what MAYA has done and the topic of the book, and shoot me an e-mail if you're interested in a copy of Trillions.

C'mon! It's the only book at Wiley I've worked on that has a quote from a SF writer! (And probably the only one that ever will!)

"Trillions is bold, unabashed, ingenious, and absolutely fizzing with insights about the new-modern process of blending design, high-tech, and commerce. Always entertaining and mostly right on topic."
 - David Brin

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top Shelf Sale Extravaganza Aftermath!

Hey, remember a couple of weeks ago, when I told you Top Shelf was having a big sale, with lots of great books cheap? Well, the package I ordered -- that very day, for I am one to put my money onto the place where my mouth already is -- has just arrived, and you can see a picture of the awesome treasures it contained off to the left.

These amazing riches of comics cost well under a single C-note, which is a damn fine deal.

Normally, I would include links to Amazon for all of my new books, to make a few pennies for myself, but, this time, I want you to go to Top Shelf and buy comics from them. Quick -- the sale ends on Friday.

Tell 'em Hornswoggler sent you, and they'll just look at you funny!

Freeway by Mark Kalesniko

No matter how hard storyboard artists and other animation types try, a graphic novel is not the same as a movie, and limiting a comics page to entirely film-derived effects is just as crippling as any other unnecessary artistic limitation. (Writing a novel without the letter 'e," or an opera without the key of C, or trying to tape a live-to-tape sitcom with only one camera -- they can be interesting experiments, but the focus will always be on that live-wire act of the experiment, not the resulting product.)

Freeway is a graphic novel that feels like it desperately wants to be an animated movie, full of camera moves and pans and dissolves, caught up in an entirely film-derived visual vocabulary that denies the physical, tactile possibilities of page-turns and transitions. Mark Kalesniko does use varied panel sizes and placements, but those feel like camera motions -- zooming in and out, changing scenes with establishing shots, making very visual transitions into flashbacks or alternate possibilities -- rather than like pure comics. (Although I may think that because I know Kalesniko is an animator; an actual animator could disagree with me.)

Freeway is the story of both one day -- one morning commute, to be more precise -- and of the whole failed and shattered career of Alex Kalienka, who (like his creator) came to southern California as a young man to work in animation. Alex drives his AMC Pacer to his job as a layout artist at Walt Disney Studios Babbitt Jones Productions, a job that was his dream as a child but which is soul-destroying now for both personal and artistic reasons. Kalesniko doesn't explain anything, and I wasn't always sure what was a flashback, what was real, what was an alternate version of Alex's life, and what was pure fantasy. But Freeway dips in and out of all of those things, showing Alex's arrival in LA in 1979 as the requisite dewy-eyed Canadian youngster, how he got his job at Babbitt Jones -- and how his artistically-driven but politically unwise choices of friendships slowly got him into trouble -- how he met his girlfriend, and how their relationship suffered from the onslaught of her large Chinese family, and other events in his working life. But it also shows what seem to be entirely fantasy sequences -- as when Alex imagines his own death on the highway several times -- as well as a perfect version of his own life, lived in the late '40s, in which his girlfriend and work are both perfect and he's always happy. And the end of Freeway jumps ever-more-quickly among these different levels of reality -- often panel-to-panel -- leaving the reader confused about what "really" happened.

More frustrating is the timeline of Freeway. Both the fantasy life and Alex's first visit to LA are closely fixed in time -- in the late '40s and 1979, respectively -- but his Babbitt Jones career is fuzzier. He clearly didn't start working there until some time after that first trip -- but is "some time" one year? Five? A dozen? Any of those are plausible. And his career at Babbitt Jones doesn't seem to have lasted more than a handful of years -- so does that mean that the "now" of Freeway is set in the late '80s? Or the mid '90s? Or really "now"? (How old and decrepit are we meant to take that AMC Pacer?) My impression is that Freeway is meant to take place only about a decade or so after that first visit, that Alex is having his first crisis about the value of his work and the purpose of his life, some time in his early '30s. But the book never says that, and never makes it clear -- this is a book published in 2011, so the default reader assumption is that it's happening "now".

So Freeway is a frustrating book: lovely and thoughtful, but one that keeps the reader thinking about technical and story considerations (when is this taking place? is this scene real or memory or fantasy?) when he should be falling into Alex's life and experiencing his crisis directly. Freeway is very ambitious, but perhaps a little too much so: a little more clarity, and a little less flashy camera-work, would have made it flow better and punch harder. (And its lesson is unfortunately banal for anyone Alex's age or older: the working world, and the world in general, is not a wonderful, special place full of love and light and happiness, but work -- often unpleasant and always directed by someone else -- full of people that we don't get to choose.) Read Freeway for those masterful shifts of focus, from reality to fantasy to flashback, but keep your eye on it and all of your attention, so that it doesn't get away from you.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 9/22

I have no particularly amusing opening for you this week, and for that I deeply, humbly apologize. Really. But we must soldier on anyway, and so I'll tell you that the below are the books and other ephemera that arrived on my doorstep over the past week, which I have not yet read. Here, then, is what I can tell you about them, in hopes that one or more of them will be your favorite whatever-it-is of the year or decade or week or hour.

First up is a comics collection, Wings for Wheels: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen, which comes in a neat pseudo-LP format, with a red 36-page "record" with six comics stories sitting inside a white "sleeve" with that swell wraparound art from Dan McCool that you can see above and to the left. Wings for Wheels is edited by Nomi Kane, who also contributes one of the six pieces as well -- other contributors are Todd McArthur, Jen May, Josh PM Frees, Jen Vaughn, and Pat Barrett. I imagine I got this because I'm a Jersey guy who reviews comics, and I'm very happy to see it: it's a great package with work by cartoonists I'm not familiar with, so it'll be a great sampler. My quick web research shows that it debuted at the recent SPX small-press comics show, and that you can get it either at other shows attended by the contributors or online at Kane's Brew for Breakfast webstore.

Along completely different lines is the young-readers "choose-your-fate adventure book" Wonder Woman: Power Outage by Michael Teitelbaum. It's one of those "if you go through the right door, turn to page 17" books that people my age remember from the '80s, with a storyline centered on Wondy losing her powers at random times for unknown reasons and a number of puzzles in the middle of the story. It's for readers from age 8-12 (or possibly strong readers a bit younger than that, and WW fans above that age), and will be published by Tor's Starscape imprint in paperback tomorrow.

Vertical, a prominent publisher of smart and interesting books from Japan in translation (including a lot of Osamu Tezuka books over the past few years) has a couple of new manga series starting this month, and first up is Keiko Suenobu's Limit. It's a look at bullying and cliques in a high school setting, and -- since Suenobu is best known for her Kodansha Award-winning shojo story Life (which included elements of self-mutilation, rape and suicide), it's not likely to be a quiet or renormalizing story.

Also from Vertical and also set in a highschool -- though looking to be slightly less dramatic, is a new edition of Paradise Kiss from AiYazawa (best known here for Nana). This classic josei story of high fashion will be published in three volumes this time around.

Max Gladstone's first novel is Three Parts Dead, which clearly spurns all conventional pigeonholes to instead strike out on its own: it seems to be, more or less, a necromantic steampunk legal thriller set in a quirky secondary world. Our heroine, Tara, must resurrect the fire god Kos before his city falls apart -- and, of course, it will not be that simple. Three Parts Dead has admiring quotes from writers as diverse as Carrie Vaughn, Jerry Pournelle, James Morrow, and John Crowley (whom I don't recall seeing blurb anything for a long time, if ever), and will be a Tor hardcover hitting stores October 2nd.

I have to admit I don't really understand the thrust of Walter Mosley's current writing project for Tor, "Crosstown to Oblivion," which will eventually consist of six novellas published in three volumes -- probably because I haven't yet read the first duo, The Gift of Fire/On the Head of a Pin. But the second volume -- again, two novellas, this time entitled Merge and Disciple
-- will be published by Tor in hardcover on October 12th, and Mosley remains one of the most interesting contemporary American writers, so it's certainly worth a look. (See the opening paragraph of my review of Mosley's novel Killing Johnny Fry for a sketch of my brief for Mosley as a major American writer; I don't think it makes sense to continue to qualify him as "mystery" or "African-American" at this point.)

And last for this week is The Skybound Sea, the finale of Sam Sykes's Aeons' Gate trilogy. It's big, dark epic fantasy, and it has one of the best blurbs I've seen in a long time: "I do not wish Sam Sykes dead." -- John Scalzi. How can you resist that? Skybound Sea is a trade paperback from Pyr, which hit stores two weeks ago.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dapper Caps and Pedal-Copters by David Malki!

I find it very hard to fault a man who includes an exclamation mark in his name, so don't look to me for serious criticism of David Malki!'s latest Wondermark collection, Dapper Caps & Pedal-Copters.

Dapper Caps is the fourth collection of the Wondermark webcomic, and -- like all collections of periodical comics, though even more so since webcomics started outcompeting newspaper strips -- it's basically a compendium of stuff you could have read, or perhaps already did read, elsewhere. But if that didn't stop your kid brother from amassing the world's largest collection of Garfield books, why should it stop you from getting a Wondermark collection?

As usual, Malki! takes old art, primarily Victorian, and twists it to his own ends, creating quirky, unconventional dialogues among diverse creatures and people -- his humor is often dark, and always at right-angles to expectations, which is just what I look for in humor. There are rarely continuing characters -- except the alien Gax, for some reason -- so you can start reading Wondermark anywhere: the beginning, this book, today's strip, or a random point in the archives.

Dapper Caps is funny, and weird, and overdesigned in that silly Wondermark way -- if you're not familiar with that, check out the online strip to see if it hits your particular funnybone.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Most Meta Post Yet

Blogger, in its relentless Googleicious quest to make everything as stark and white and difficult to navigate as possible, has made the new design mandatory, as of a couple of days ago.

But it's still ugly, and still more difficult to use, and all of the problems it had before. It's dull and bland and I hates it.

(And now I have a new excuse for not blogging! Yea me!)

Friday, September 21, 2012

In Which a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

All that talk about the 47% not paying taxes and being "takers" is bunk -- you know that, right? (See Ezra Klein for the details, if you disagree.)

And, also from Klein, is this graphic, which combines all US tax burdens (state, local, and federal) to show that we'll all paying tax, and that the very rich are actually paying slightly less, as a percentage of income, than those of us in the middle. (You may think that's hunky-dory, which I respect, but you do need to admit what is actually true.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 9/15

It's Monday once again, so I'll regale you with details of the stuff that arrived on my doorstep last week. (Yes, it's a man's life reviewing books on the Internet.) As usual, I haven't read any of these books yet -- in fact, what I've done with them, up to this second, is opened their packages and placed them gently onto a pile on my desk -- so what I have to tell you has the slight chance of being somewhat inaccurate. But I'll do my best to avoid that, and to tell you whatever are the most wonderful/interesting/compelling things about each of these books, since your favorite book is not necessarily the same as mine.

But, just in case your favorite book is the same as mine: I'll start with that. Chris Ware's most recent massive comics project (after Rusty Brown and Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth and the various other things he's bundled into ACME Novelty Library over the years) has been Building Stories: a series of separate stories about the residents of one apartment building, appearing in different publications over the past decade. But now Building Stories has completed construction: it will be published, as a single artifact, by Pantheon on October 2nd. But Building Stories is not a book: it's a box containing 14 different comics objects (two hardcover books, one softcover, several pamphlets of radically different sizes -- including a couple at broadsheet size -- and a fold-out printed in what looks like a board-game format). It's a fascinating experiment in narrative, and many people will try to convince you over the next few months that it's not "comics" or a "graphic novel" because of that. But it is comics -- a massive, proliferating, expansive exploration of many of the ways comics can tell stories -- and so you must deny anyone who says that: this is comics, it's just really good comics.

It's also time for the monthly mass-market paperbacks from DAW, and the three that will be hitting shelves and wire racks near you in October are:
  • Changes, a Valdemar novel by Mercedes Lackey, and the third in her "Collegium Chronicles" sub-series -- I see from the card page that there will be at least one more, Redoubt, so this is not the end of a trilogy.
  • The Ninth Circle, fifth in the Military SF adventures of the redoubtable ship U.S.S. Merrimack by R.M. Meluch.
  • And Sand Witches in the Hamptons, fifth in Celia Jerome's urban fantasy series about a comics-artist-turned-magician named Willow Tate, which is, as the astute reader may have realized, set in New York City's playgrounds of the rich, the Hamptons.
Clay and Susan Griffith's alternate-historical vampire epic Vampire Empire hits its third book with The Kingmakers, which was published by Pyr on September 3rd. (This is the series where the vampires have conquered the temperate regions of the world, and regular humans -- who, from the covers of the books, all look to be pretty pale themselves -- are fighting back from the hot tropical regions.)

Swedish horror writer John Ajvide Lindqvist is still best known for Let the Right One In, his novel about a boy's unsettling friendship with an ancient vampire who looks like a girl his age (partially because that novel was made into movies both in Sweden and the US), but he's written a number of other novels (I saw his Harbor in a trade paperback edition just a couple of weeks ago). And his 2010 novel Lilla Stjarna has been translated into English as Little Star, publishing from Thomas Dunne Books on October 2nd. This one is about a baby girl, found in the Swedish woods in the early '90s, and the teenager she becomes fifteen years later, when she enters a TV singing contest. And it is a horror novel.

Steven Erikson has not let the end of his main "Malazan Book of the Fallen" series slow him down -- barely a year after the end of that series with The Crippled God, he's back with the first book in a new trilogy in the same world. Forge of Darkness, the first book in the Kharkanas Trilogy, is set in the deep past of the original series, in the warren of Kurald Galain, apparently at a time when the Tiste people had not yet been split into three. It's a Tor hardcover, available September 18th.

And last for this week is the newest book from Tom Pomplun's Graphic Classics line, Halloween Classics, which has 140 pages of comics based on classic tales of monsters and mayhem from writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Washington Irving. Creators involved include Matt Howarth, Rod Lott, Simon Gane, Jeffrey Johannes, Nick Miller, Antonella Caputo, and Pomplun himself. It'll be in comics shops and other retailers any day now -- in plenty of time for the holiday -- and, like the others in the series, it can be a great way to introduce reluctant prose readers (possibly including yourself) to the work of great writers while still being very entertaining at the same time.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Incoming Books: September 14th

It's been a hectic and busy week -- I had jury duty Tuesday-Thursday, and then was at a conference part of the day on Friday (on top of a major quarterly project at work being due Tuesday) -- but, on the way out of NYC yesterday, I did manage to stick my head into a comics shop and buy some books.

And this is what I found:

Gloriana, a small-format book of comics by Kevin Huizenga, mostly about his semi-autobiographical character Glenn Ganges. (See my review of his Curses, which also featured Ganges. I also looked at The Wild Kingdom, which was less definable.)

The third of Darwyn Cooke's adaptions of Richard Stark novels about a particularly focused criminal, Parker: The Score. (See my reviews of the first two: The Hunter and The Outfit.)

The fifth of Rick Geary's "Treasury of XXth Century Murder" books -- which followed eight similar books of Victorian murder and an initial larger-format collection -- is Lovers' Lane, about a dual murder in New Jersey in 1922. (I've reviewed a bunch of them: The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans, The Lindbergh Child, Famous Players, The Case of Madeleine Smith, The Saga of the Bloody Benders, and The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti.)

Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 5, the latest in the current annual series from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. (I reviewed 1, 2, and 3, but still haven't read 4 -- I might end up holding it for my massive re-read of Love and Rockets, or maybe not.)

Michel Rabagliati's The Song of Roland, another in his series of semi-autobiographical stories about his stand-in, Paul. (See my reviews of Paul Goes Fishing, Paul Has a Summer Job, and Paul Moves Out.)

And last was another Love and Rockets book, the all-Jaime collection with the jawbreaker of a title God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls. I wasn't as thrilled by this superhero/women's wrestling story as most Internet commentators were -- possibly because I have very little residual affection for superheroes, unlike most of the comics world -- but I do want to see how it reads as a single book, and as part of the overall L&R experience.