Monday, April 29, 2013

What Becomes of All the Little Monsters Who Run Away From Home?

The Internet is, as we keep learning over and over again, so big that anything you can think of already exists on it.

For example, someone has already made two videos lipsynching Cookie Monster to Tom Waits songs, and here's the new one, Hell Broke Luce." (If salty language offends you, don't click. For that matter, if gravelly-voiced singers offend you, ditto.)

Oscar the Grouch would seem to be the natural Muppet soulmate for Waits, but there's clearly a strong case to be made for the CM here.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/27

Below I've listed the books that arrived in my mail over the last week. Publicists sent me these books, to review, thinking you readers are a large enough audience to try to reach.

(Which tells you, as much as anything can, what the Internet has done to media. God help us all, I am a media outlet.)

I've been doing these lists weekly since January of 2008. I started out of guilt and uneasiness: if people send me things for free, I must owe something back. I can't possibly review every book I see. Lately, I don't seem to be able to even review the books I read, and I'm reading fewer books, too. (But we must remember that life is pain -- if anyone tells you otherwise, they're trying to sell something.)

Some bloggers take pictures of the stack of books, which is quick and easy. Some copy the descriptions from the books, which can be long and tedious (if they're retyping) or nearly as quick (if they find those descriptions online). I write a paragraph or so on each book, trying to be objective and positive, because I am obsessed with doing things the right way, and because I have the usual obsessive's idiosyncratic definition of "right."

So: this is not precisely what their publishers wanted to say about these books, but it is, I hope, both moderately accurate and moderately entertaining.

First up is Two Serpents Rise, the second novel by Max Gladstone. It looks to be a secondary-world fantasy, without an obvious quest or Maguffin to drive the plot -- and that's a very big plus in my book. It's also set in the same world as Gladstone's first novel, Three Parts Dead (link is to my review), without being a direct sequel, which is a massive plus in my book. If you ever complaint about the proliferation of closely-tied series, consider buying this book purely pour encourager les autres. Two Serpents is a Tor hardcover in July, and it's the story of a risk manager in a fantasy world, on a job to clean a city reservoir of shadow demons. (And the combination of "secondary-world fantasy" and "risk management" makes me love this book even more.)

Somehow, I simultaneously got two copies of New Moon: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 1, in which Young Kim adapts the first part of Stephenie Meyer's second "Twilight" novel. This is sad, because I'm really not a great audience for even one copy of it -- but the fans do seem to like Kim's manga-esque take on this very popular story (even though her versions of the characters don't really look anything like Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, etc.). If you're either a huge Meyer fan or the odd person who thinks a comics adaptation is the best way to first encounter this story (and, who knows? it just might be), Yen Press published this earlier this month in hardcover: go forth and find it.

A Private Little War is the first novel from Jason Sheehan (who is well-known in other writing circles: he's a James Beard-award-winning food critic and food editor for Philadelphia magazine), coming in trade paper from Amazon's SF imprint 47North in June. It's a military SF story, in the subset about pacifying an alien planet inhabited by low-tech natives, and so likely falls somewhere into the territory marked by The Word for World Is Forest and Avatar.

Knights of Sidonia, Vol. 2 continues Tsutomu Nihei's manga saga of a rag-tag band of hardy human survivors, racing across deep space in search of a safe place and battling nasty aliens in gigantic battle robots. (So this one is something like Macross's bastard child out of Battlestar Galactica.) I read the first one, but haven't managed to review it yet -- it's dark, and pitched at a serious level, without the  lazy genre fripperies that US readers are used to seeing in popular manga. Vertical published this on April 16th.

From Yen Press, earlier this month, comes Bunny Drop, Vol. 8, a slice-of-life-ish manga by Yumi Unita focusing on a bachelor raising a young girl quirkily related to him (she was his grandfather's very late-in-life illegitimate daughter). The series is also apparently complicated by a big Funky Winkerbean-ish time jump in the middle, as the girl went from being a toddler to a teen between stories. This volume, from Yen Press, continues the post-time jump story, as romances develop for both father and adopted daughter.

And last for this week is Deborah Harkness's Shadow of Night, sequel to the bestselling A Discovery of Witches and a bestseller in its own right, which possibly marks the beginning of the next big fantasy wave, as witches follow zombies, sparkly vampires, and emo werewolves. Shadow of Night is hitting paperback (from Penguin) in late May, but I have to admit that I haven't read either of them.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Because I Haven't Done a Silly Quiz Meme in a Long Time

And via James Nicoll:

I Am A: True Neutral Human Bard (5th Level)

Ability Scores:







True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Bards often serve as negotiators, messengers, scouts, and spies. They love to accompany heroes (and villains) to witness heroic (or villainous) deeds firsthand, since a bard who can tell a story from personal experience earns renown among his fellows. A bard casts arcane spells without any advance preparation, much like a sorcerer. Bards also share some specialized skills with rogues, and their knowledge of item lore is nearly unmatched. A high Charisma score allows a bard to cast high-level spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus
From the full report, I'm only very slightly more a Bard than any other class, and most of the fighting ones are hugely negative. I think the game needs a Businessman class, honestly. I was thisclose to being a dwarf, though.

James Patterson Is Unhappy

So the book business is all aflutter about a recent advertisement by ex-ad man James Patterson, in which he demanded that someone (unspecified) do something (unspecified) about the horrible problems in publishing (unspecified). The ad is histrionic, hectoring, and utterly vague.

(If this is emblematic of the keen sensibility and razor prose that Patterson commands, I feel better for never having read one of his books.)

I don't seem to be the only one confused about his aims; Patterson spoke to Slate yesterday to insist that he has no plans and can't really articulate exactly what the problem with "books, bookstores and libraries" is, but he definitely wants someone to do something to maintain the industry that pays him millions of dollars a year.

On the very unlikely chance Patterson sees this, let me make some suggestions:
  • If the problem is that libraries are underfunded, then the solution is to find stronger and more stable streams of funding. Libraries in the US are traditionally maintained and funded on the local level, but a federal program or private foundation could certainly step in to add broad financial support to the entire sector. Such a foundation could be set up relatively quickly by an individual or group of individuals with high personal wealth, and would enjoy broad support in the publishing industry and among the general public.
  • If the problem is that bookstores are closing, then the solution is to get more people to buy books in bookstores -- this is a capitalist economy, so demand rules. If that doesn't happen, the next most plausible option would be some kind of non-profit status or preferential tax treatment for physical locations for selling printed matter, to help make those businesses more viable. But, as Yogi Berra said, if nobody wants to come, you can't stop them. And Patterson seems to have missed that large swaths of middle-class retail -- from JCPenney to Best Buy to Staples -- are also in trouble; this is likely a big-box retail problem rather than a book problem.
  • If the problem is that big publishers -- primarily among them, the major competitors to Patterson's longtime publishing company -- are merging to better negotiate terms with ever-larger partners and retailers (e.g., Amazon and Apple), then someone first needs to articulate exactly how that is damaging and to whom. There are a lot of medium and small publishing companies; there has not been a notable flood of bankruptcies in that sector recently. If Hachette becomes somewhat less powerful in an industry dominated by Random Penguin on the one hand and Amazon on the other, that may be less than pleasant to Patterson, but it's difficult to see why the rest of us should care.
In short, Patterson needs to first define the problem. There can be no solution if we don't know what we're trying to fix. "Things are changing" is not a problem; it's a description of the world.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What Is the Deal With LeaderShift?

It's some kind of business parable that suddenly sold lots of copies last week -- and the Amazon comments on the one low-ranking review imply that there's an astroturf campaign in place to give it lots of good reviews quickly. (Not that that's anything new or notable.)

There's a weird stew of "take our country back" and multi-level marketing here, and the book itself clearly has some political slant, but it's hiding that slant behind code words. (Or perhaps the word I mean is dog-whistles.)

One author, Orrin Woodward, is head of a current major multi-level marketing scheme called LIFE, and seems to have been a bigwig in another one called MonaVie. His co-author, Oliver DeMille, has a long Wikipedia page that doesn't say much, and which claims his politics are "independent" while listing a bunch of Republican codewords.

Best of all, the book is a "parable" -- which is what business books call themselves when they're fictional. (Business readers are serious, serious folks, with no time to waste on stories, so you need to pretend that you're Aesop if you want to sell fiction to them.)

Anyone seen this book in real life yet? It looks like something very, very special.

A Useful Op-Ed Strategy

Whenever reading an opinion column or signed editorial, it's always wise to consider what benefit the writer could get from the course of action he's suggesting.

For example, just this morning, here's the head of a company that provides bomb-detecting equipment insisting that the federal Office of Bombing Prevention needs to have a major increase in funding.

Hmm. I wonder where that money would go? Perhaps to buy more of Mr. Liscouski's wares?

That's only one very blatant example; in our modern, commoditized "news" economy, there are a thousand more subtle expressions of the same idea: we must do this very urgent thing...which will benefit me.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Today's Political Thought

Say, aren't bombs just as much military weapons as guns are? Even more so, in fact.

So if the Second Amendment is really meant to allow ordinary Americans to have military-grade armament, why on earth wouldn't it cover bombs as well?

It's a shame that ordinary patriotic Americans have to make their own bombs crudely by hand, simply because a fascist repressive government won't let them buy grenades and fuses. I'm sure the Republican leadership in Congress will get right on correcting that horrible imposition on the rightful liberty of patriots.

Monday, April 22, 2013

An Excellent Example of the Misleading Statistic

I came across this graphic today, at an ExxonMobil blog designed to showcase how nice and wonderful they are:
And it's a lovely piece of misdirection, as is the post it's embedded in.

Did you catch the slight-of-hand? Exxon only counts their profits, but they're comparing that to the revenue going to US government entities. They of course aren't explaining how those profits are determined (or even which piece of the multi-company ExxonMobil entity those profits are attributed to -- there could be a quadruple Double Irish Dutch Sandwich in there, with a couple of trips to the Caymans and Luxembourg to boot), but just holding their hands out, pleading poverty and saying that they only make seven cents in profit on a single gallon of gas.

Note that the US consumed 134 billion gallons of gas in 2011, and ExxonMobil has roughly a 6.8% share of that market -- figures from California, which releases those publicly; it looks like most state-by-state figures are figured by consultants and sold to industry. So that's only about $638 million dollars in profit, for what may be only the retail consumer-sales operations of ExxonMobil.

Must be nice to be in the "awl bidness".

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/20

Considering this post has a "4/20" date in the title, I could do some really embarrassing pseudo-stoner intro here, but I'll rise above the temptation. Instead, I'll just leap right into the explanation: since I review books online (though I'm far behind right at the moment), publicists send me books to review, and I want to make sure I give all of those books at least some attention. (I'm grumpy and misanthropic and hate lots of things that you might like a lot.) These are the books that arrived over the past week, with as much detail as I can work up from a cursory websearch and a fervent wish that at least one of them will turn out to be a good that you, personally, will read and really enjoy.

I'll start out this week with the book I'm most thrilled to see: Necessary Evil, the third book in Ian Tregillis's "Milkweed Tryptych." (The first two are Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War -- links go to my reviews -- and if you enjoy Charles Stross's "Laundry Files" books or Tim Powers's Declare, you should check out Tregillis.) Necessary Evil is a Tor hardcover, hitting stores on April 30th, and it finishes up Tregillis's exceptionally dark and utterly compelling tale of a darker, colder WWII and the unearthly forces it unleashed.

I have somehow gotten onto the mailing list for the mighty Ace/Roc list -- I'm not sure what happened, but it's welcome, since I've been a fan of Ace since I was a wee lad in the early '80s -- and so I have their May mass-market paperbacks here to mention:

Steven Harper's The Havoc Machine (Roc) is the fourth in the "Clockwork Empire" series, which, as you may have guessed, is steampunk. (I remember back when "steampunk" meant two odd novels by K.W. Jeter and a scattering of minor Blaylock/Powers projects; I am now officially old.) This is somewhat of a reboot for the series with a new central character, but it's the same old high-tech (clockwork-style) 1860, a hundred years after a mysterious plague created millions of zombies and a few mad geniuses (briefly).

Also in the steampunk wheelhouse is A.A. Aguirre's Bronze Gods (Ace), which apparently launches the series "Apparatus Infernus," about two police investigators in a steamy city. (The prologue also seems to promise elves, of a kind.)

Generation V (Roc) is a slacker vampire novel by M.L. Brennan, about a guy named Fortitude (what you get for being born into an old vampire family, I guess) who lives the twenty-something life (useless degree, low-paying service job, and probably a lousy apartment in the outer boroughs of Wherever) until a a new, nasty vampire shows up in his territory, and he has to do something about it.

And The Mist-Torn Witches (Roc) begins a new series from Barb Hendee, co-author of the long-running Noble Dead series -- which these new books are connected to. The heroines are two sisters from a small village in what seems to be another cod-medieval world (full of warlords, castles, and swords), who must use their witchy powers to save themselves and their new home from a serial killer of young women.

Roc is also publishing Tales of Majipoor by Robert Silverberg as a trade paperback on May 7th. Now, don't confuse this new book with Majipoor Chronicles, as I almost did -- Chronicles is the middle book of the loose original trilogy, beteen Lord Valentine's Castle and Valentine Pontifex, but Tales is a new collection, collecting seven stories published between 1998 and 2011. Silverberg seem to have retired from writing novels now -- and he's got ever right to, since he's already written about two dozen of the best the 20th century has to offer -- so it's wonderful to see a book of basically new material with his name on it.

And last for this week is a hardcover from Roc in May: S.M. Stirling's Shadows of Falling Night. It's the finale of his "Shadowspawn" contemporary fantasy trilogy, following A Taint in the Blood and The Council of Shadows. There's a secret shape-shifting, blood-drinking race that rules the world -- in this series, I mean, not any real-world conspiracy-theory stuff -- and our Stalwart Hero is a nearly fullblood member of that race who turned against his own kind for the love a good human woman and the cause of righteousness. This time out, I suppose, he finally fixes everything and saves the world for good (Or until Stirling gets another idea for a sequel.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Things Tom Waits Has Taught Me

"Don't you know there ain't no Devil; that's just God when he's drunk."
 - "Heartattack & Vine"

"There's a lot of things in this world that you're gonna have no use for. And when you get blue, and you've lost all your dreams, there's nothin' like a campfire and a can of beans!"
 - "Lucky Day"

"The women all control the men with razors and with wrists."
 - "In the Colosseum"

"If you want money in your pocket and a top hat on your head, a hot meal on your table and a blanket on your bed, well, today is grey skies, tomorrow is tears. You'll have to wait 'til yesterday is here."
 - "Yesterday Is Here"

"All the good in the world you can put inside a thimble and still have room for you and me."
 - "Misery Is the River of the World"

 "So what's become of the little boys who run away from home? The world just keeps gettin' bigger, once you get out on your own."
  -  "On the Nickel"

"Uncle Biltmore and Uncle William made a million during World War Two. But they're tightwads, and they're cheapskates, and they'll never give a dime to you."
 - "Cemetary Polka"

"And all the rooms they smell like diesel and you take on the dreams of the ones who have slept here. ... And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear -- "One for every year he's away," she said. Such a crumbling beauty, ah there's nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won't fix."
 - "9th & Hennepin"

 "They're alive, they're awake while the rest of the world is asleep. Below the mine shaft roads it will all unfold. There's a world going on underground."
 - "Underground"

And, most importantly:

"Nothin' else matters in this whole wide world when you're in love with a Jersey girl."

All Too True

God help me, this is my life.

(comic source: Sheldon, which is always funny and smart but rarely anatomizes me so precisely)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Free Music I Like and Think You Will Too

NoiseTrade offers a lot of free music -- usually samplers or live EPs -- but occasionally there's a full album up there. Now is one of those times.

The entire debut album of Kate Tucker & the Sons of Sweden -- quiet, melodic depressing music, the kind I love -- is available, along with two tracks from their upcoming new album and two live cuts, all in a single package and all utterly without costs (unless you feel like tipping).

Need I repeat this is all free? All you need is an e-mail address, and it's yours. There's no deal better than that.

A Sad Realization

I am not, by temperament, an "idea person."

What I am, if I'm not careful about it, is the person who tells you exactly why your idea sucks.

This is not quite as useful as you might think in a corporate setting.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


It's WTF month over at DC Comics -- well, now it isn't, exactly, since everyone made fun of them when they announced it, but it was going to be, and it sort of is, so go with me -- and Bully, the greatest Little Stuffed Bull on these here Internets, has made a shocking discovery.

Well, a whole bunch of shocking discoveries, since every WTF cover has one. But this particular shocking discovery is that all of the shocking discoveries are interchangeable -- they work even better when slapped onto the "wrong" comic.

For example:
I trust this meta-shocking discovery, and its implications for all marketers everywhere, will be treated with just as much grace and nuance and good taste as DC has done with these covers.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/13

It's a small batch this week -- two books and one promotional thingy for a book -- which means I should have more space and time for tomfoolery up here in the intro. But, unfortunately,  I don't have any particular tomfoolery in mind this week, so instead you get the facts:

Fact the First: Publishers send books out to various people (usually considered to be influential in some way) to raise interest and awareness, so that in the end the larger public will know about that book and buy lots of copies.

Fact the Second: I am one of those people, for very minor values of "influential."

Fact the Third: This is what I got over the past seven days.

Fact the Fourth: I haven't read any of 'em yet.

I'll start with the thingy, which is what we in the biz call a "blad" -- a small promotional pamphlet for an upcoming book, sent because the book itself is heavily illustrated or otherwise specially printed and the usual bound galleys/ARCs/whatever the jargon is this week wouldn't really reflect the way the book will look. This particular blad is for an October 2013 hardcover from Norton for a book called How Are You Feeling? by David Shrigley, author of the similarly odd book What the Hell Are You Doing? It's a pseudo-self-help book, or perhaps a parody of a pseudo-self-help book (or, perhaps even more likely, a pseudo-parody of a self-help book), with hand-lettered text and big blocky crude illustrations on brightly colored pages. Individual pages make this thing look weird, but I expect it has a stronger impact when read straight through; I don't think this format presents it in its best light. But it is a weird thing that will soon exist, and that's particularly nice for those of us who like weird things.

Next up is something called Witch & Wizard: The Manga, Vol. 3, an adaptation of the James Patterson novel of the same name (credited to Patterson with Jill Dembowski, with art by Svetlana Chmakova). There's an interesting media-studies thesis for someone in why it's valuable for an American-published right-to-left graphic novel by a mostly American team (Chmakova is Russian-Canadian) is called "manga," but that's not me today. We're far enough into the story in this volume that the back-cover copy doesn't make much sense to a new reader like me -- I can understand that "Whit and Misty's magic and their control of it have matured," but it's less clear what "helpless to prevent the one who is the one from destroying everyone and everything they hold dear" means at all. But: this is near-future YA dystopian fantasy from a bigfoot writer, so there's already a lot of people who are fans of it and him, and they'll be happy to see this paperback, which Yen Press published in March.

Last for this week is a new book from Vertical: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Vol. 1- Activation, the first publication in English of the recent manga version of the classic anime series of the same name. Since this is a thirty-year-old property, the credits are complex: the manga is by Yoshikazu Yashuiko, the original story was by Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yataka, and mechanical designs are by Kunio Okawara. If you like your space adventure with giant robots fighting each other, you'll want to check this out.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Things I Haven't Commented on Yet

I had a very nice comment yesterday, asking my thoughts about the Night Shade firesale. (The best link round-up to date I've seen is from Publishers Weekly's blog.)

That reminded me that I also haven't said anything about the slate of Hugo Nominees -- I gather there is the usual ranting and rending of garments about them, though I've mostly just marked those posts to read later so far.

There's several other award things that I haven't weighed in on, either.

I may get to all of this stuff soon, but I have to admit, I've been really busy lately -- work and life and everything else, with a long Saturday trip into NYC with my sons last weekend that stole what would have been blogging time. (And, of course, when I have free time right now, what I really want to do is play some more Lego City Undercover.)

But, just in case I don't have time for a longer, more thoughtful post later, some quick takes on La Affaire de Nightshade:
  • I don't know Jeremy Lassen and Jason Williams well, but I do know them, from my SFBC days, and they're deeply passionate and devoted to what they do. What I've seen written about their very generous royalty rates matches what I know of them -- and, I suspect, they also paid advances somewhat higher than warranted even by their royalty rates. Those points have been often forgotten in the kerfuffle, but I'll be blunt: Night Shade probably went under because they were too generous to authors. (Or, to be more nuanced, because they've spent 10+ years trying to punch above their weight, and you get awfully battered doing that.)
  • I also know Tony Lyons from those same days -- my other hat in my last five years of bookclub duty was for Outdoorsman's Edge, which sold books on huntin' and fishin', and Tony ran Lyons Press before he founded Skyhorse. He can be a tough negotiator, but he's a great publisher with a strong sense of markets and an eye for a good business -- he's built that company very strongly through a recession, which is no small feat. (And I'm amazed at the implication that he did it entirely through dead-tree books.)
  • Actual bankruptcies, that go through courts, are horrible for authors. Really. It's been a while since we had one in the field, so you folks might have forgotten, but contract provisions mean nothing in a bankruptcy, and your contracts could be sold for pennies with no money coming to you for years, if ever. Avoiding that is a huge deal.
I do have to dig in more, though -- I've only seen the broad outlines so far. It's possible that authors are being utterly shafted, but that's always the standard narrative of any publishing story, so I tend to doubt it.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Magical Thinking and the Modern World

I just had to re-connect Excel to the local printer; when I went to print a document, I got an error. So I pushed the "connect to printer" button. That didn't work. I pushed it again. A slightly different error, but still no connection. One more push, and the printer was re-connected.

And now I wonder if we moderns are training ourselves to be more susceptible to magical thinking than people living with more obviously mechanistic technology. We turn USB drives over three times before they finally insert, we ritually unplug and plug, turn off and on, and repeatedly hard-restart devices that operate in ways we really don't understand.

We just know the rituals -- if the computer freezes up, try this key combination, then that one, and finally hold down the button if you have to. (And make sure you never let the magic black smoke out of the box; that means it's broken for good.) We know what works, eventually -- but we often have to do the same thing several times, or work down an opaque list of odd button combinations before something does work. But we never get a good sense of the connection between what we did and what happened.

I have no solution for this; I'm just another person who has only a slight, foggy notion of how a computer chip works. But, as those chips, and the rituals that make them work, become ever smaller and ever more embedded in all of the things we touch, this will happen more and more.

What happens when your hoodie has a color-changing chip in it, but that chip will only turn from black to red when you zip and unzip twice quickly? Or your shoes keep losing track of your total distance walked unless you whack the heels together three times? What kind of a world will we have then, and what stories will we tell each other to explain our devices?

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/6

As always, below are some kind of descriptions for a passel of books that either just came out or are coming soon. They were all sent to me by their respective publishers, who would dearly love it if some or all of you bought and read and loved those books (preferably in that order). I haven't yet read any of them, but my hope is that I can tell you what's interesting about them here -- let's see how that goes.

Without a Summer is Mary Robinette Kowal's third novel, continuing the story of a slightly alternate fantasy Regency period and of the two talented "glamourists" who met, married, and honeymooned in the first two books, Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass (links go to my reviews on Antick Musings). Summer sees Jane and David (or, to be more period-appropriate, Mr. and Mrs. Vincent) return from Belgium to visit Jane's family, and then up to London with Jane's younger sister, Melody, in hopes of catching her a husband. Of course, international intrigue is also promised -- as in Glamour -- but I trust Kowal to keep it in scale with the domestic, personal, specific style of the series. Without a Summer is a Tor hardcover; it hit stores last week.

(And I'd show this cover to anyone who complains of the many book covers that chop off people's heads -- the heads here are perfectly agreeable, and the look of the art is perfectly appropriate, but it's all a little too specific and modern for my eye. These people are a little too much models in 2012 to quite make me believe they're real people from a fantasy 1812.)

I also have three books published by Yen Press this month -- all manga, since that what Yen does:

Pandora Hearts, Vol. 15 continues the series by Jun Mochizuki that I have to regretfully note that I haven't actually read. The series is some kind of retelling of Alice in Wonderland, I think, perhaps mixed with other stories -- the back cover of this one promises Humpty Dumpty -- but I can't be much more of a guide than that.

I'm similarly innocent of knowledge about Black Butler, whose thirteenth volume is here as well. Yana Toboso's series is set in a typically manga-fied Edwardian era, with a young nobleman and his omnicompetent butler, but, at this point, the main cast is on a ship which I believe is besieged by zombies.

And the third Yen Press book I have this week is Doubt, Vol. 1, a big fat book launching a series by Yoshiki Tonogai. It's another game-come-to-life book, and also a distant descendant of Battle Royale and/or And Then There Were None -- a group of players of a popular mobile game decide to meet in person to play a live version, but find themselves kidnapped to the usual inescapable place, faced with a corpse, and forced to figure out which of them is the real killer.

Walter Mosley has had an interesting little series going with Tor for the last couple of years, under the overall title "Crosstown to Oblivion." Each volume contains two ostensibly unrelated short novels, and the whole thing will add up to "entertainingly [explore] life's cosmic questions." The third and final book is Stepping Stone/Love Machine, which follows The Gift of Fire/The Head of a Pin and Merge/Disciple. They seem to be more thematically connected than otherwise, so a new reader could start as well with the third book -- just out last week in hardcover from Tor -- as with either of the previous two.

Also from Tor -- coming at the end of the month -- is Freda Warrington's Grail of the Summer Stars, finishing up the "Aetherial Tales" trilogy that began with Elfland and continued with Midsummer Night. It looks like a loose series -- perhaps entirely connected by a common background, rather than characters or action -- in which the Aetherial folk (aka the fay, or fairies, etc.) come into the lives of normal humans -- in this case, the manager of an art gallery who finds a disturbing painting by her estranged ex-boyfriend. There are admiring quotes from Charles de Lint -- whose work may be one touchstone here -- as well as Liz Williams and Chaz Brenchley; this looks to be a smart fantasy rather than a purely generic one.

I saw Paul Cornell's London Falling -- the beginning of a dark contemporary fantasy series about a group of London cops facing unexpected supernatural evil -- a few weeks ago, in a perishable advance-reader form, but it's back this week in final hardcover, as it will be published by Tor in another week.

And last this time out is Bart Simpson: Big Shot!, the latest book reprinting the stories from Bongo Comics. This one reprints what looks like five random issues of Bart Simpson (plus a Simpsons Summer Shindig for spice), but all of the stories are standalone -- like in the good old days of comics, when millions of regular people read them all the time -- so that won't matter. There's work in here from Sergio Aragones, Carol Lay, Gilbert Hernandez, and other unexpected folks, too. It's an affordable trade paperback from Harper, officially hitting stores tomorrow.