Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Daniel Handler Gives the Best Quotes Ever

I've already set one quote from this interview to run as "Quote of the Week" this Friday, and here's another wonderful thing that works perfectly well out of context:
So my best job that I had before I was published was when I was an executive assistant to a man that was dying in the hospital. So I had absolutely nothing to do but sit in an office, and occasionally the phone would ring from increasingly distant business acquaintances, and I would have to explain to them in muted tones that he was sick and not likely to come back to the office at all. But the rest of the time I worked on my novel. And I actually think the kind of aura of doom that hung over it was very helpful to me as a beginning novelist as well. So I guess I could suggest: Try to work for someone who’s dying. You get a lot of time.

Honestly, you should just go read the whole thing. (Says the man who plans to both read "Who Could That Be at This Hour?" and re-read The Basic Eight on his upcoming vacation.)

Like a Hurricane

To make this short and sweet: the Wheeler household came through Hurricane Sandy vastly better than we got through Hurricane Irene last year. The basement is still bone-dry (even after we took almost everything out of it Sat/Sun), and we only lost power for a few hours Monday night.

In fact, if I can believe the newspaper, we're now -- for the first time in our lives -- part of the 1%, since JCP&L, our electricity company, says that 99% of their customers are down right now.

I'm actually getting more work done at home this week than I expected -- I don't have access to a lot of my company's systems, so I can only do some things, but I'm trying to power through as many of those as I can.

Much of the rest of New Jersey is a huge mess, though -- even up in my area, where we didn't flood this time, there are plenty of big trees down and other problems. (And I have no idea when Hoboken will be un-flooded enough for me to actually go to the office and get some desperately needed stuff done before my looming vacation.)

But, if there's anyone out there worried about me, don't. Worry about those other people, like the ones in Little Ferry who got walloped when a tidal surge took out levees in the Meadowlands and swamped the first floors of their houses in minutes. Or most of the Shore, too. They've got it tough this time around.

Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot

Mary Talbot is a professor and scholar with a long list of academic publications; she's also the daughter of noted Joyce scholar (author of The Books at the Wake, still a standard reference to Finnegans Wake) and general unpleasant person James Atherton. Bryan Talbot is the noted graphic novelist and comics-maker behind the Grandville books, Luther Arkwright, Alice in Sunderland, and others.

With Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, they team up for the first time -- as will inevitably happen in the world of comics, though these two didn't, as far as I can tell, fight each other first -- to tell the intertwined story of young Mary Atherton (mostly before she met Talbot, though his long-haired hippie self does show up in the later parts of the book) and of Joyce's daughter Lucia, frustrated dancer and eventual mental patient. The clear connection is their cold, obsessive fathers -- "my cold mad feary father," to put it, as the Talbots do, in Joyce's own words -- and Mary Talbot makes use of that in this heavily narrated book (presented in a typewriter font, as if it were the manuscript the elder Atherton was banging away at for most of Mary's childhood), switching regularly from past to present, from Joyce to Atherton, and around again.

The Talbots don't deliberately try to aggrandize Mary's troubles with her father, and they can't help but seem trivial compared to what Joyce did to his daughter: stifled her career, and any chance at an independent life, and drove her into an asylum for the rest of her life. James Atherton might have been a cold British mid-20th century father, but he wasn't the self-obsessed monster Joyce was -- or, perhaps, Mary Atherton had opportunities in the '60s in England that weren't available in the same way to Lucia Joyce in the '30s. Either way, Mary Talbot makes Mary Atherton look like the lightweight side of the comparison, which isn't good for the book -- Dotter could have been stronger if it had focused entirely on Lucia, whose life provides more than enough drama for a story twice the length.

Of course, that would be a sadder and drearier Dotter, which clearly wasn't the Talbots' intention -- comparing Mary with Lucia allows Mary's life to be a positive example and a potential escape. Still, it does feel unbalanced: Lucia's is clearly the deeper, more dramatic story, and Mary's life, in this context, is interesting mostly due to the parallels, which isn't entirely fair to the writer telling the story of her own life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Two Small Guidebooks to the City of Angels

My family will be spending some time in Southern California in the near future -- mostly for theme-park activities in the Anaheim area, but with side trips elsewhere -- so I've been reading up on the various tourist traps in the vicinity. Along the way, I read two directly competitive pocket guides to Los Angeles, and thought that I might as well look at them together.

Frommer's Los Angeles Day by Day was written by Garth Mueller, and -- at the time it was published, last year -- came out from a venerable publishing house with which I am also associated. (Said venerable publishing house has since sold off that piece of its operations to the not nearly as venerable but vastly cash-rich data octopus Google.) It's pocket-sized -- slim but taller than a mass-market book, with a large fold-out map in a pocket inside the back cover and several other maps of specific areas in a three-panel fold-out from the front cover.

It's organized by interest rather than geographically, with chapters on shopping, dining, lodging, nightlife, outdoor activities, and arts & entertainment. But it opens with the author's curated "best of" recommendations -- first, suggested itineraries for one-, two-, or three-day trips, and then a half-dozen specialized day trips for particular interests (fans of movies, architecture, rock music, art, shopping, eating, or those traveling with kids). Assuming that Mueller's expertise is what it should be -- which I can't evaluate at this point since I haven't made the trip yet (and I don't expect to follow any of these suggested tours explicitly, anyway) -- this is the most useful part of Day by Day, giving travelers a template to start from when they plan their days in LA.

It has a crisp, authoritative look, with "tabs" for each section embedded in a color bar to make thumbing through easier, and there's a lot of color photos, though many of them are presented postage-stamp-size. The two-column layout presents a lot of data in a way that keeps it all easy to follow, and occasional sidebars give more detail on specific points.

The bulk of the book is written in capsule-review style, like listings in Time Out -- entirely useful, highly factual, but a bit dry to read straight through. The day-trips are more lively, with more anecdotes and factoids to spice them up. But this isn't a book to be read straight through to begin with; it's meant to be a reference and a guide, with each reader gravitating to the sections that she is most interested in. And, for that, it's very usable, with good maps embedded in the text to show where various places are in relation to each other. This book would be a bit bulky for a pants pocket, but it could easily go into a jacket, purse, or glove compartment for a trip around the city. Between the maps and the curated tours, it's an excellent (and clearly opinionated) guide to LA.

Lonely Planet Pocket Los Angeles has a similar form-factor: it's shorter (closer to the height of a mass-market), and both slightly thicker and deeper, with marginally thicker paper than Frommer's. Its inside-back-cover fold-out map has more density -- one side is mostly taken up by a listing of places, so it can function semi-independently from the book -- but lacks the large area maps Frommer's does. (Lonely Planet's map is also paper, and tears out from the book, while Frommer's is plasticized and sits in a clear plastic pocket in the back of that book.)

Lonely Planet is also clearly hipper than Frommer's is, from the open-shirted author photo of Adam Skolnick to its focus on neighborhoods (the trendier the better). It does have a quick "do this each day" section up front, possibly to compete with Frommer's, but the book is primarily organized geographically rather than by interest, starting with Hollywood and circling around to hit Beverly Hills, Downtown, Santa Monica, Burbank, and excursions to points further away.

Lonely Planet feels like it gives more space to shopping and nightlife -- again, aiming at a hipper crowd than Frommer's -- so visitors with those items high on their agenda will want to gravitate in this direction. It also is quite thorough in differentiating between the different strands of nightlife: old Hollywood, new Hollywood, LGBT, and so on -- to give the reader the best guidance as to exactly which trendy club she will be most comfortable in. But all that hip trendiness can make an older, stodgier, less shopping-obsessed reader -- your humble correspondent, for one example -- feel bored and out of place; this is not a guide for those who don't intend to make hitting boutiques and/or nightclubs a major part of their LA itinerary.

The design is bright and modern, with pastel headers and sidebars to organize sections, and lots of color photography -- as expected from Lonely Planet, it's entirely up-to-date in both tone and style. For readers who are equally up-to-date, this is the perfect guide to LA. (The rest of us may want something a bit more sedate.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/2

I regret to inform you that this will be likely another quick 'n desultory run through a stack of books, since I've spent most of this weekend battening down various hatches in preparation for Hurricane Sandy, and there are still plenty of hatches that need battening. (This computer, for example, is located in a basement, which flooded to the height six feet last summer during Hurricane Irene, so there's a slight chance it may happen again.)

As usual, these are the books that arrived in my mail last week, sent by the lovely and personable publicists at the various publishing houses responsible for sharing them with the world. Every single one of them will be someone's favorite book in the whole wide world, and that may just be you. (Even if I seem to hate it.) I have not read any of these, and my glances at them may be even more cursory than usual this week. But, with that being said, let's take a look at:

The Emperor's Soul, a new novella-as-a-book by Brandon Sanderson (author of the Mistborn series, hand-picked to finish Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series, and general Big Name in the epic fantasy game), in which a thief is captured while replacing a priceless artifact of the obligatory Empire with her own nearly-perfect forgery, and must bargain for her life. To survive, she must create a new soul for the secretly comatose Emperor. Soul is a trade paperback from Tachyon, publishing in December.

Also from Tachyon is the anthology Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution, from the estimable Ann Vandermeer (lead editor of the first two Steampunk anthologies). It contains twenty-seven reprinted stories -- from such be-goggled luminaries as Garth Nix, N.K. Jemisin, Bruce Sterling, Nick Mamatas, Catherynne M. Valente, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Carrie Vaughn, Cherie Priest, and Lev Grossman -- and several brand-new essays on aspects of steampunkery of interest to aficionados. It will descend from its aether-powered blimp to book dealers near you in December.

A month earlier, Tachyon has another anthology in a different genre: John Joseph Adams's Epic: Legends of Fantasy. As the title implies, it collects seventeen previously-published stories by big names including George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Orson Scott Card, Kate Elliott, Ursula K. Le Guin, Tad Williams, and Melanie Rawn. Most of those stories are pretty recent, but there's a '60s tale from Michael Moorcock, and Le Guin's story is "The Word of Unbinding," of the same vintage. (So potential purchasers would be wise to check the Table of Contents to avoid potential disappointment.)

From Vertical -- hitting stores tomorrow -- is HeroMan, Volume 1, the English-translation of the manga version of an anime created and written by Stan Lee (via the BONES studio), which just shows how gosh-darn global the comics biz is these days. Art is by Tamon Ohta, and the story is about a boy who becomes a hero through his toy-turned-giant-robot, the title character. (If I had a dime for every time one of my old toys turned into a giant robot, I'd have twenty-six dollars and forty cents.)

I have the monthly stack of fine manga published by Yen Press in front of me -- the month being, of course, October -- and, as usual, I'll run through it organized by the volume number of the books included. Thus, I will most likely become more and more confused as I go on, since a lot of plot can happen in a dozen two-hundred-page volumes...
  • Shouji Sato's Triage X debuts this month, with the fan-servicey story of buxom nurses who battle crime by night and sickness by day (and the tensile strength of their clothing every single moment).
  • The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan -- which is itself a sidebar story to the popular Haruhi Suzumiya empire -- is written by Nagaru Tanigawa and drawn by Puyo from characters created by Noizi Ito; this month sees the second volume, where Haruhi makes a major appearance.
  • The fourth volume of Durarara!! -- created by Ryohgo Narita, character design by Suzuhito Yasuda, and the actual art on the pages done by Akiyo Satorigi -- hits shelves and virtual spaces in October as well, in which a lot of stuff happens, some of which centers on the fan-favorite headless motorcycle assassin Celty. (See my review of the first volume for more.)
  • Yana Toboso's Black Butler -- which I've generally assumed to be a bizarrely Victorian mystery series -- continues with an eleventh volume (or "XI," as the cover puts it), in which Earl Ciel Phantomhive (no, really!) and his butler set to sea to investigate a sequence of mysterious resurrections.
  • Pandora Hearts, from Jun Mochizuki, hits a twelfth volume -- I reviewed the first, a few years back, for ComicMix -- which seems to mostly be about a tea party and the picture taken there of the attendees. (I don't write 'em, I just do my best to report on 'em.)
  • Last from Yen in the popular manga trim size this month is the seventeenth volume of Dall-Young Kin and Sung-Woo Park's energetic and violent Black God. (I reviewed and liked the early volumes, and then came back last year to check out the fifteenth book.) I have no idea what's going on in this volume; the back cover copy is entirely mythology.
Also from Yen, but in a more traditional trade-paperback size, is The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel, a graphic novel adapation (in an exceptionally manga-influenced style) in Cassandra Clare's Young Adult novel of the same name. Clare is credited as the writer on this book (which may be because she adapted it into comics, or may be just because she wrote the original), with art from Hyekyung Baek.

You may have read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. You may have read the sequels. You may have seen the movies. (You may have read a certain popular smutty series that started as Twilight fan-fiction too, but that's beside the point.) You may even have read the graphic novel adaptation of Twilight, written by Meyer with art by Young Kim. But, until this month, you haven't had a chance to read the Collector's Edition Graphic Novel of Twilight, which I hold in my hands right now. And you haven't gotten sated with Twilight yet, have you?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Two Graphic Novels With Nothing in Common

I read both of these books last month, and -- even with my new "everything will be done by the end of the month, no matter how slipshod and hasty" policy -- haven't yet written about them. And I do have to admit that they really, really don't go together in any coherent way at all. In fact -- if I wanted to make a fault into a purpose -- they could be a great object lesson in how wide the world of comics can be, since neither of them is a "standard" comic, either superhero or manga, and yet they each diverge from that standard in vastly different ways, by audience, art style, tone, emotional register, and provenance.

Gosh, it's almost like graphic novels are real books, and can be as different as other books are!

Anyway, first is Raina Telgemeier's Drama, the follow-up to her comics memoir Smile, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller, an Eisner winner, and several other awards (and which both I and Thing 2 really enjoyed) -- not that there was any pressure of Ms. Telgemeier to produce, I'm sure!

Drama has a similar tone and feel to Smile while telling a completely different story: Drama is fictional, to begin with, the story of middle-schooler Callie, who is in love with drama and stagecraft (and possibly in love with one or more cute boys connected with her school's drama department). This year, Callie is in seventh grade, and she'll be designing sets for that "old classic, Moon over Mississippi" (which seems to be somewhere in between Showboat and Gone With the Wind) while dealing with a love...well, it's definitely not a triangle, since there are more people than that involved. Telgemeier keeps it all very real and easy to follow -- no small task with a cast of at least a dozen that includes a set of twins. It's all very middle-school-y (and, even more so, the kind of story librarians and teachers are comfortable giving to middle schoolers) in its love plots: a few kisses and held hands, lots of "does he like me like I like him," and not a whisper of anything more than that.

But it's sweet and true and energetic and funny and just great comics; Telgemeier is expert at telling real stories about interesting, quirky kids, and this is just as lovable as Smile while being more complicated -- bordering on screwball -- and broad in its view of kids' lives, loves, and passions.

And then there's Richard Stark's Parker: The Score, the third in Darwyn Cooke's pitch-perfect translations of the early novels by Donald E. Westlake alter ego "Stark" into comics that almost could have been produced at the time, if the '60s comics world was more amenable to crime stories utterly tough, true, and unsentimental.

At this point in the series, the origin was over: Parker had been introduced, gone through his initial confrontation with The Outfit, and was going back to what he did best: using cold violence and careful planning to expropriate a lot of other people's money for the use of himself (and, where necessary, the other professionals in his team for that particular job).

(Parenthetically, there could be a great MBA project in comparing Parker's philosophy to modern management practice -- he's a one-man corporate raider, thirty years before his time.)

The Score is one of the great set-piece books of that series, and of crime fiction in general: Parker happens into a plan to take an entire town -- a mining town out west, in a box canyon, with banks and department stores and jewelry shops and all -- over one night, and get away with it all. The novel -- and Cooke's comics adaptation -- follows that plot closely, telling its one story economically, precisely, and tautly. I won't tell you how it works out: the fun of a story like this is following it as it all goes down, bit by bit. "Stark" was an expert at telling those stories, and Cooke is equally good at making those virtues work in comics form.

Cooke's neo-New Frontier stylings work exceptionally well for the Parker stories -- this one has an orange wash, as the earlier two books (The Hunter and The Outfit) had their own distinctive colors. Parker and his compatriots are hard, tough men, and Cooke lets them be tough and of their time -- there are some scene-setting moments to remind the reader this is the early '60s, but those are few. Mostly, they're just hard men doing hard, nasty work in a time and place that is almost as fictional to us as Middle-earth or Trantor. This is genre fiction as it should be: specific, smart about itself and its place in the genre, instinctively contemptuous of cliche and flab.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/20

It amuses me to see what books I receive -- partly because I know that publicity efforts are only very vaguely about matching media outlets (and that's what I am, in my own tiny way) with the right content, and much more about sending out the "big" things as widely as possible; and partly because I just like seeing what's coming out, particularly in areas where I'd usually have no interest in following personally.

Which is to say: two of the three books I got this week are YA dystopias, showing that today's teens are vastly more emo and tormented than they were in my day, when we just had "problem novels" (about actual, real-world things that the readership might conceivably be going through -- divorce, drug addiction, poverty, coming out, bullying, and so on). These days, apparently, you're not really in bad shape unless an entire oppressive future government is trying to kill or mind-rape you.

(TL; DR version: teens are self-absorbed and have still-defective senses of proportion; we know this.)

So here are three interesting books that hit my desk this past week. I haven't read any of them yet, and might not read any specific one of them. But here's what I can tell you about them from a glance and a deep thought and some time.

Slated is a first novel by Teri Terry (and I do not envy the childhood that name probably gave her), and it's one of those dystopian YA novels I was just muttering about. In this one, the Oppressive Evil Government® has wiped clean the memory of a sixteen-year-old girl, for reasons she obviously does not remember. And, of course, she's meant to Straighten Up and Fly Right after her "slating," but living under an Oppressive Evil Government® means nasty things are happening, and what self-respecting YA protagonist can just sit by? There will be sequels, you can bet on that. Slated is coming as a hardcover from Penguin in January; it's already been published in the author's native UK.

The other dystopian YA is already a sequel: Marie Lu's Prodigy, which continues the story of her debut novel, Legend. In this one, America has balkanized into two countries -- at least one of which has an Oppressive Evil Government®, with added militarism -- and two fifteen-year-olds, the prodigy good girl and the criminal bad boy, fell in love in book one while learning the secrets of their very, very rotten world. The package for Prodigy doesn't give any hints of what happens this time out, but it's the middle book of a dark, dystopian trilogy, so I wouldn't hope for anything happier than Empire Strikes Back. Prodigy is a hardcover coming in January from Putnam. (And also a dead online service which I suspect Lu is too young to remember.)

And then the third book is the latest emanation from metafictionalist Mark Z. Danielewski, best known for 1999's House of Leaves. The Fifty Year Sword has previously been a large-format limited edition and a "live shadow show," but now it's a widely available book, which tells the story of an East Texas seamstress, five orphans, and the creepy tale told to them by a mysterious storyteller in black -- not to mention the ominous box he lays down in front of them as a prop. Fifty Year Sword contains illustrations stitched by three seamstresses, a novella's worth of text, and a very bumpy cover -- and it promises as immersive and complicated a reading experience as Danielewski's other books. Pantheon is publishing it in hardcover on October 16th.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Why I Am Not a Hollywood Mogul

Because I am befuddled that this song -- Fountains of Wayne's cover of the Kinks tune "Better Things" -- hasn't been used as the end-credits anthem of any movie yet.

I may have already made this point once, but it bears making again -- this song is perfectly crafted for such a use, and that lack is glaring. C'mon, Hollywood, get it together!

Words Blogger's Spell-Checker Does Not Know

...are probably myriad, but "dystopian," "balkanized," and "immersive" are definitely among them.

In fact, I'm surprised to see it knows "myriad."

I may, perhaps, be more in love with ten-dollar words than I should be, but I don't see those as particularly obscure or useless terms. Once again I feel superior to my blogging platform.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/3

Um, so like here's my mail and stuff.

(Translated out of teenagerese -- I've got a high school freshman, so I'm working to become fluent in it these days -- that means that below you will find descriptions, and possibly a smidgen of analysis, of a number of new and forthcoming books that were sent to me by their respective publishers over the last week. I have not yet read any of them. We return you to Antick Musings in progress.)

...passersby were amazed by the unusually large amounts of blood.

Home is not officially a zombie novel. Matthew Costello's second novel -- a sequel to his first, Vacation -- is set in an apocalyptic near-future where there are flesh-eating formerly-human monsters have overrun society, destroyed the rule of law and order, torn families apart, and made getting a decent tee-time a thing of the past, admittedly. But they're called Can-Heads, so they are most assuredly not zombies. But, if you like to read about a small band of plucky survivors killing lots and lots of people -- and feeling morally superior because they're not really "people," so killing them is just fine -- you'll have another opportunity to indulge your baser instincts when Thomas Dunne Books publishes Home on October 30th.

DAW is publishing it's usual three mass-market paperback in November, and I have copies of them in my hot little hands right now:
  • Shadowheart is the fourth and concluding book in Tad Williams's big epic-fantasy series "Shadowmarch"
  • Polterheist is the fifth book in Laura Resnick's ongoing urban fantasy series about Esther Diamond, struggling actress and reluctant fighter of supernatural evil
  • And The Wild Ways, from Tanya Huff, is a sequel to The Enchantment Emporium, continuing the story of matriarchially-run magic shops across modern Canada.  
Since The Tao of Pooh -- and possibly earlier -- certain writers have mined popular fiction for rules to live by and attempted to hitch their own wagons to already established stars. (And sometimes, the the aforementioned Tao of Pooh, written really insightful, useful books along the way.) In this year of Hobbit-fever, there's a new entry in that genre: Noble Smith's The Wisdom of the Shire, a slim book that harvests rules for living from J.R.R. Tolkien's tales of Middle-earth. (Presumably "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger" is right up top.) There is an introduction by Peter S. Beagle, and an associated website -- but the book itself could come your way on October 30th, when Thomas Dunne Books publishes it.

Peter Ackroyd, noted novelist (Hawksmoor) and historian (London: The Biography), has translated and retold Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur as The Death of King Arthur, which has now been published in a handsome Penguin Classics edition, with French flaps and a gorgeous illuminated-manuscript-style cover. (Of course, you e-book types lose all of that, but you're probably all reading mommy porn anyway, if the bestseller lists are any indication.) That handsome edition hits stores on October 30th.

I have just read the flap copy for HALO: The Thursday War (a novel based on the videogame series, and written by Karen Traviss) and understood perhaps one word in three. So I can tell you that there are people fighting very hard about things that you probably care about vastly more than I do. (And doing so on a Thursday, apparently.) I can tell you that this is in the "Kilo-Five" trilogy -- I suspect the middle book, since it's Traviss's second Halo novel, but don't quote me -- which may affect your buying decision. And, lastly, I can tell you that it's a Tor hardcover that published on October 2nd. If you like reading novels based on videogames -- an idea which, frankly, confuses me, since playing videogames mostly makes me want to play more videogames -- here is one to read.

Speaking of novels based on other things, I also have here The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury, a novel by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga that both follows the previous novel Rise of The Governor (and tells another aspect of the back-story of that popular villain of the series) and leads up to events in the main comics series. It's a zombie story, which means you know what it's about: the living dead will eat your flesh, but the real humans are even worse, those power-grubbing, nasty, scheming bastards. If that's the kind of world you like to immerse yourself in, I won't judge you. (Well, not to your face -- that would be rude.) Road to Woodbury is a hardcover from Thomas Dunne Books, coming on the 16th (which would be tomorrow).

And last for this week is an adaptation in the opposite direction: Blood Crime is a graphic novel in Kim Harrison's "Hollows' contemporary fantasy series, written by Harrison with art by Gemma Magno. As has become usual for such graphic adaptations, Blood Crime is a prequel to the main series (though a sequel to the first graphic novel, Blood Work), telling the story of an early case of series heroines Ivy Tamwood and Rachel Morgan. Blood Crime is from Del Rey, and hits stores on October 30th.