Monday, February 18, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/16

This is one of the periodic "Reviewing the Mail" posts that falls on a holiday -- at least where I live, in the country that low-information voters believe their sky-god gave to them personally -- which means I still do everything exactly the same, but I suspect most of you don't see it for a while. (Because my assumption is that Antick Musings generally falls into the "distract me at work" category, rather than "I must read it right away!")

With that in mind, I wish you a Happy Monday, with local variations.

This week I've got six books to babble about -- none of which, of course, I've read yet. Two of them are impressively large, and so I'll use them as bookends for the novels in the middle. As usual, my hope is that at least one of these books will be something that you (yes, you!) will absolutely love, since that's the whole point of entertainment. If you don't, well, there are millions of other books out there, so keep looking.

On the Ropes declares itself on the cover to be "a novel," though savvy readers will see its large squarish size and poke inside to see panels lurking on the pages and realize that this is the kind if novel usually prefaced with the word "graphic." (If such things give you cooties, run away now, and leave us more evolved types to continue.) On the Ropes is indeed a graphic novel, the long-awaited sequel to 1988's Kings in Disguise, one of that initial mid-80s flurry of Anglo-American stories pushing the comics medium in new and exciting directions. Writer James Vance and arts Dan E. Burr are back, twenty-five years later, to tell another story of Freddie Block, an orphan in the Depression. Block is now almost eighteen and working in a traveling WPA circus in the Midwest as the assistant to alcoholic escape artist Gordon Corey -- while also working secretly as a labor organizer and trying to write a novel. On the Ropes will be published March 11th by W.W. Norton -- which also has an edition of Kings in Disguise in print, if anyone wants to start there.

Homeland is Cory Doctorow's second novels for teens, after Little Brother (to which Homeland is a sequel). It continues the near-future story of teenagers battling an oppressive government seeking to control everyone in the name of "freedom" and "safety" after a second devastating terrorist attack in San Francisco. But Homeland appears to have slightly different targets: it has an afterword by Jacob Appelbaum and Aaron Swartz (yes, that Aaron Swartz) and focuses on a WikiLeaks-style unauthorized release of information to Marcus, the young hero of the first book. I expect Homeland is much like the first book -- see my review, linked above -- in pitting a young, ferociously self-righteous and incredibly resourceful young man against all of the oppressive apparatus of the modern state, with a crystal-clear sense of where the author falls on every issue. If you like your agitprop utterly up-to-date, this the book you want to read in early 2013. Homeland is a hardcover from Tor Teen, and went on sale February 5.

John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, two of my generation's premier gatekeepers for short genre fiction, have a new anthology from Amazon's 47 North imprint: Oz Reimagined. And, of course, it contains stories about Narnia! No, wait, let me check that again -- it actually has 15 original stories set in the (now solidly public-domain) world of L. Frank Baum's Oz, including contributions from Seanan McGuire, David Farland, Rachel Swirsky, Jeffrey Ford, Jane Yolen, Tad Williams and Orson Scott Card. There's also a foreword from Gregory Maguire, the current leader of the Oz-reappropriation industry. It all hits Amazon -- and possibly some other bookstores that don't mind participating in their own demise -- on February 26th.

Gillian Philip's novel Firebrand -- beginning of the Rebel Angels series and a finalist for the adventure-fantasy David Gemmell Legend Award in 2010 for its British publication -- comes to the US from Tor on February 19th. It's set in the world of the Sidhe, immortal faery folk separated from the world of mortal men by the Veil -- which is, as it must in stories like this, starting to tear at the edges and in danger of failing entirely. Philip is Scots, and her character names (and, perhaps, her plots) reflect this, as Seth and Conal MacGregor are outcast into the mortal world in the 16th century due to political machinations and find themselves chased by witch-hunters.

Also from Tor and also hitting stores on February 19th is Evie Manieri's Blood's Pride, a first novel and the first in the Shattered Kingdoms series. It's a big epic fantasy series set in a pseudo-Mediterranean world, twenty years after the not-Vikings invaded a peaceful country, conquered it, and forged an alliance with the not-Arabs to maintain their power. There's no conquered country that doesn't want to kill its conquerors, so the oppressed Shadari have mustered their forces, hired the frightening mercenary called The Mongrel (I believe that's her in the eyepatch on the cover), and spit on their hands in preparation for the slaughter to come. All the quotes on this one talk about the big cast and widescreen action, so this is big-scale epic fantasy -- the kind that so many of us love.

Last for this week is the new book from quirky cartoonist Ben Katchor, best known for his long-running alt-weekly strip Julius Knipl, Real Estate Phototographer. Hand-Drying in America And Other Stories is a large square object, about a foot on a side, with lots of Katchor's loose, sketchy art and elusive stories, in what its publisher calls "a collection of graphic narratives on the subjects of urban planning, product design, and architecture." Well, OK. Katchor's appeal has never quite made sense to me, which has been frustrating -- I know why people like James Patterson and Johnny Ryan and Tom Cruise and Beyonce and Kevin James and Geoff Johns and LeBron James and Rob Liefeld are popular, even if I don't particularly share in that love, but Katchor seems to appeal to people like me for reasons similar to the ones that make me like things, and I don't get it at all. I hope to spend some time with this book to riddle out that mystery; if you want to do something similar -- or you honestly like Katchor's work, which I know many people do -- you can find Hand-Drying in America available from the fine folks at Pantheon Books on March 5th.

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