Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

Daybreak is the world's only second-person zombie apocalypse graphic novel: the main character is "you," whose face or body Ralph never shows, whose viewpoint frames the entire story and whose voice is never heard. You begin the book by meeting a friendly one-armed man, and spend most of the rest of the book in his company -- dodging zombies (whose faces are almost never seen, as if You spend all of your time looking at the ground to keep your feet), scrounging for food, and having variously tense meetings with other still-human survivors.

Ralphs has a detailed, textured art style that works well for this story -- he's really good at drawing rocks and rubble, broken machinery and tangled junk, rain and darkness, grubby hide-outs and makeshift shelters. His dialogue is serviceable, but it gets choppy -- he's only showing one side of a conversation, but still wants the entire thing to be clear. Daybreak has a clever idea, but it never transcends the level of "clever idea" -- the story is just fine, entertaining on a picaresque zombie-story level -- but the reader has to assume that Ralphs was aiming at something more than that, and Daybreak doesn't deliver on that level. Still, it's a fun graphic novel with zombies and an interesting organizing idea, which is pretty good.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Life and Death of Fritz the Cat by R. Crumb

I didn't start reading Crumb until I was old and grumpy and embittered -- which does match Crumb himself these days, so it's appropriate. But his biggest fans, I think, found his work when they were young and impressionable and enthusiastic, the way Crumb was as a young cartoonist in the '60s. So I've looked at a bunch of Crumb books over the past few years -- his interesting Book of Genesis, the mostly illustrative Sweeter Side, the aptly named Odds & Ends, and the very '60s Mr. Natural -- but not really clicked with any of it -- he's an interesting cartoonist of historical importance, but there's nothing that I really loved.

The Life and Death of Fritz the Cat is one of Crumb's central suites of stories, with the indomitably self-obsessed title character at their heart. Crumb's early work was all about screwing ever deeper into his own psyche -- which, luckily for him, both fit the mood of the age and featured a psyche very much in vogue -- and so each of the stories here sees some version of Fritz, a young man on the make in a world of anthropomorphics, haring off in a million directions at once (college student, rock star, CIA agent, revolutionary, etc.) to fit the fever dreams of a generation that didn't know what it wanted but was sure it wanted that right now.

The stories don't fit together in any coherent way; they're barely about the same character. Fritz is just one side of Crumb's desires, the semi-controlled id, always wanting to run off and do something more interesting than whatever's already in front of him. The stories also span nearly a decade, from the very scratchy, barely intelligible art of "R. Crumb's Comics and Stories" in 1964 to the mature full Crumb look of "Fritz the Cat 'Superstar'" from 1972 -- there's nothing at all consistent about this book.

I suspect that Crumb is highly regarded mostly for his work ethic -- he's produced vastly more work than his peers of the early underground scene, consistently for forty-plus years -- for the sensuousness of his mature art, and for the fact that he's been so willing to push boundaries his entire career. He wrote and drew stories about sex and drugs and angst and alienation, in immediate and obvious terms, and the Baby Boomers both knew just what he meant and felt he was talking right to them. That doesn't mean, unfortunately, that those stories work all that well for a different audience forty years later -- if you're my age or younger, I wouldn't expect you to ever love Crumb.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/27

I have no specific attempts at humor to lead off with this week, so I might as well just get right into it. These are books that I got last week, all sent to me by publicity folks at publishing companies. They'd very much you to buy and love the books they publish, since that's what pays their salaries -- and, on top of that, no one goes into publishing just for the money to begin with. I haven't read these books as of this moment -- and, given time constraints and my already full shelves, I might not read all of them before the Heat Death of the Universe -- but here's what I can tell you about them right now.

I like to lead off with something specific and interesting, and I've seen Chuck Wendig's Under the Empyrean Sky around a bit lately, so it gets the top slot. I haven't read Wendig before, but he's written a few books -- I think mostly SF for Angry Robot, though he's got a lot of very different projects linked on his blog -- and is a well-known blogger. This particular book begins a YA fantasy series called "The Heartland Trilogy" for Skyscape, the new Amazon imprint. (So you might not have much luck finding this in your local B&N or indy store.) It's publishing in hardcover and the usual digital formats on Tuesday, and looks to be one of those trendy dystopias, with the rich folks floating above in palatial "sky flotillas" and Our Heroes mucking about near the ground in scavenged tech, trying to control the nasty engineered monoculture crop that covers all of The Heartland. Don't expect too much subtlety, I guess, is what I'm saying.

Box Office Poison is the first novel by ex-TV writer (story editor, actually, which is something like "head writer," more or less) Phillipa Bornikova, and will probably turn out to be the first in a new urban fantasy series. Bornikova takes the usual UF setup -- there really are vampires, werewolves, and elves, pretty much all exactly as you think of them, but they've been hidden for most of human history -- and throws it into legal-thriller territory. Linnet Ellery, a human lawyer at a vampire-dominated firm, has been hired to arbitrate a dispute within the Screen Actors Guild between the unearthly beautiful elves and the humans who are steadily losing jobs to them. Of course, there's skuldugggery and secret factions running around, too -- it wouldn't be a legal thriller without at least one murder -- so Ellery has her (exquisitely manicured, I'm sure) hands full. Box Office Poison is a  Tor hardcover, coming August 6th. (And, looking at it more intently, it either changed title from This Case Is Gonna Kill Me much too late in the process or is actually the second book in the series -- because many of the quotes on this book are attributed to Gonna Kill Me.)

Also on August 6th in hardcover, from Tor's less-fantastical cousin Forge -- home to legal thrillers without vampires, mysteries without werewolves, or, in this case, sword-slinging without magic -- comes Jack Whyte's new historical novel Robert the Bruce, second in "The Guardians" series after The Forest Laird. Robert, as we all should know by now, was King of Scotland at the end of the turbulent thirteenth century, and this book traces wee Robbie's journey from a ten-year-old boy to that king. This is the kind of thing Whyte is famous for, so if you can stand your medieval intrigue and battles to be sans dragons, jump right in here.

The next book is not titled Super Heroes, possibly because that's a trademark of the Marvel and DC comic-book companies. It is actually titled Super Stories of Heroes & Villains, but the cover might make you believe otherwise. It's edited by Calude Lalumiere, and is a reprint anthology coming from Tachyon in September. Inside are 28 stories, ranging from Kim Newman's "Ubermensch!" to Gene Wolfe's "The Detective of Dreams," with stories by Kurt Busiek, Kelly Link, Chris Roberson, Rachel Pollack, Carol Emshwiller, Jonathan Lethem, Carrie Vaughn, Tim Pratt, and many others in between -- and all of those stories, obviously, are about the kind of people we in SF used to call Wild Talents before comic-bookishness completely took over the world of nerdity.

Last for this week is another book from Tachyon, Deadman's Road by Joe R. Lansdale, coming as a trade paperback in August. It collects a series of weird western tales -- gunslinger horror, to put it another way -- about the Reverend Jebidiah Mercer, the hard-drinking and gun-slinging preacher of the Old West. Lansdale's intro declares that these stories were created in the spirit of the old pulp magazines -- so, if you're looking for something like that, here you are.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

All the Awards in the World

Or at least it feels like that many. These are the recent award announcements that I've missed pointing out here -- many (most? all?) of you will have heard of some or all of them already, but I hope there's something new or surprising below:

2012 Shirley Jackson Awards

This is a new award -- so new, in fact, that it popped up after I lost my SF job, so it confuses me every year. It's an award for literary horror, more or less -- creepy/uneasy/weird stories written well, in the vein of the award's eponymous writer -- and there's a site for it here. This year's winners are:
  • NOVEL: Edge, Koji Suzuki (Vertical, Inc.)
  • NOVELLA: “Sky,” Kaaron Warren (Through Splintered Walls, Twelfth Planet Press)
  • NOVELETTE: “Reeling for the Empire,” Karen Russell (Tin House, Winter 2012)
  • SHORT FICTION: “A Natural History of Autumn,” Jeffrey Ford (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July/August 2012)
  • SINGLE-AUTHOR COLLECTION: Crackpot Palace, Jeffrey Ford (William Morrow)
  • EDITED ANTHOLOGY: Exotic Gothic 4: Postscripts #28/29, edited by Danel Olson (PS Publishing)
Congratulations to all of the winners, and just one question to the organizers -- do you really have to specify an "edited" collection? I'm not aware of any spontaneously published anthologies out there....


2013 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards

This is a long list -- I grumbled about the number of categories when I was a judge, a few years back, and the categories have only proliferated since -- so I'll just give a few of the biggies.
  • BEST CONTINUING SERIES: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)
  • BEST NEW SERIES: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)
  • BEST GRAPHIC ALBUM -- NEW: Building Stories by Chris Ware (Pantheon)
  • BEST GRAPHIC ALBUM -- REPRINT: King City by Brandon Graham (TokyoPop/Image)
(via Comics Reporter, though every other comics site has it somewhere as well)

2013 Prometheus Awards

These are given by the Libertarian Futurist Society each year to, as far as I can tell, the book that they really like that will most confuse the people who look at "Libertarian" in their name and go extremely literal. There are two awards: one for a new work, and one for an old one:

  • BEST NOVEL: Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow (Tor Books)
  • HALL OF FAME: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
 These awards will actually be given at LoneStarCon 3 at the end of August, so, if you see Cory or Neal in the meantime, keep it quiet, OK?

(via Science Fiction Awards Watch)

Science Fiction Awards Watch also updated with several other awards -- I'd call them minor, but I'm trying to be tactful here -- like the Seiun (the Japanese Hugo, though the name means "Nebula"! Ha ha ha!), Scribe, and Sunburst. But my fingers are getting tired, so I'll just link 'em.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Incoming Books: July 22

These are all comics -- bought by mail from one of this nation's finer such sellers (and, as usual, packed to within an inch of their lives, because comics shops are hardcore about that shit), and mostly to replace books I had before the flood.

So these are pretty much all things I think worthy buying at least twice, which is a pretty good recommendation, I think.

(And they did arrive on Monday, but it took me until tonight to write about them, due to a big semi-off-site meeting at work Tuesday-Wednesday. Life is too damn busy, and it's too damn busy with the wrong things.)

It's Science with Dr. Radium, Vol. 3 by Scott Saavedra -- Saavedra doesn't seem to have done much cartooning over the past decade or so, or, at least, not things I've noticed. (Please tip me off if there's some great body of recent Saavedra stuff.) But his '80s and '90s work on Dr. Radium was inspired nuttiness, the kind of thing I'm surprised in retrospect didn't become a short-lived cartoon around about 1994. With this book, I've re-acquired the whole series, such as it is. It's not high art, but it is high fun, and mad science, and a lot of other wonderful things.

Paris by Andi Watson and Simon Gane -- see my review of it back in 2008. Rebuilding the Andi Watson shelf, even if this is pretty minor Watson.

The Legend of Grimjack, Vol. 1 by John Ostrander and Tim Truman -- here we see my comics OCD in full force; I do have most of the books in this series (re-acquired post-flood), but I have the later omnibus instead of volumes 1 & 2, and so I'm fixing that, so all of the books line up nicely in the shelf.

Flaming Carrot's Greatest Hits: Collected Album No. 3 by Bob Burden -- My sons have never read Flaming Carrot comics. Do you believe that? I have to fix this.

Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson, Vol. 1 -- I lost the first three of these to the flood, and am re-acquiring. Again, I think both my boys will love these stories, so I can count this as a cultural enrichment process for my family.

Two Love & Rockets collections -- Heartbreak Soup and Amor Y Cohetes-- by Los Bros Hernandez, as I inch closer to getting the whole thing again for a massive re-read. (Not as big an inch as hoped, since my long-delayed and half-forgotten Fantagraphics order, which arrived last week, also had Heartbreak Soup in it. I'll have to figure out how to deal with that.)

And last is Skin Deep, a collection of Charles Burns's "Dog Boy" stories from the '80s. In this case, I didn't have a copy of this book before the flood, though I think I had all of the stories in other things (probably comic-shaped stapled collections of paper) that were drowned.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of July 20

It's been scorchingly hot in my neck of the wood this past week, which has kept me out of the basement office -- basements are cooler than the outside, but that's only a minor consolation when the temperatures are in the mid-90s -- and that only adds to my typical blogging lethargy. But I'm here now, with a stack of books to tell you about, and a hope that it's slightly less hot wherever you are (or that your climate control is better than this room's).

These books are arrived on my doorstep over the past week, sent by publicists working for their respective publishing companies. I haven't read any of them yet, and some of them may not be things I'd personally love -- but your tastes aren't necessarily mine, so here's what looks most interesting or amusing about these books:

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has been chronicling the adventures of her fictional version of that historical con artist the Count Saint-Germain for about thirty-five years, to the point where I expect a lot of readers believe she invented the character herself. Yarbro's version of Saint-Germain is an immortal vampire, and her novels are scattered across his long life and not organized in any specific chronological sequence. The new one is Night Pilgrims, set in Egypt and the Holy Land during the time of the Crusades -- I think specifically the early 13th century due to a reference to "Jenghiz Khan" -- in which the Count guides a group of pilgrims to some hidden holy sites, possibly seduces a noblewoman, and deals with various kinds of intrigue. It's a Tor hardcover, on sale the 30th of July.

Ace -- which was my favorite publisher for a long time in the '80s, and still does a lot of books I love -- has three mass-market paperbacks coming in August:

Pile of Bones launches the "Parallel Parks" series by Bailey Cunningham, in which a group of graduate students spend their nights in a local park-cum-alternate-world, where they become DD&Dish adventurers. Of course, things don't stay simple -- or contained -- for long.

Ilona Andrews is back with the sixth book in the "Kate Daniels" series in Magic Rises. Daniels is some manner of shapeshifter in Atlanta -- and is also apparently a "mercenary," which I guess doesn't mean she works for Blackwater guarding supplies in Iraq, but I have no idea what it does mean -- and fantasy-married to "Curran, the Beast Lord," because that's what happens to an urban fantasy heroine. This time out, she and her Beast Lord are trying to get the fantasy medicine needed to save juvenile shapeshifters, which they can only get from the usual ancient and sneaky Europeans.

And the third Ace paperback is Jean Johnson's Hellfire, third in a military-SF series called "Theirs Not to Reason Why." The heroine is a prophetic starship captain named Ia who needs to "save the galaxy" -- possibly from the invading Salik, but it sounds like something bigger than that. There also seems to be a near-Thomas Covenant level of doom lingering in the air, for those looking for that. There's nothing that says this is the end of a trilogy, but it is a third book.

To change gears entirely, next I have Simpsons Comics Colossal Compendium: Volume 1, a new collection of the comics -- launching a new series, it says, though it's not terribly different from the other reprints of the comics series. Still, it's 176 pages of Simpsons comics, by a whole bunch of people (each story has credits, but the book doesn't compile them in any way). It's a trade paperback from Harper Design, hitting stores on July 30.

I saw a pre-publication promo piece for Joe Sacco's new "book" (more on that later) The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme about a month ago, but now the actual object itself is in front of me. As I just implied, it's an odd package: a slipcase containing a single wordless 24-foot long drawing (accordion-folded between heavy boards) by Sacco and a booklet with an essay about the battle by Adam Hochschild and notes on the drawing by Sacco. It's certainly an interesting object, and I look forward to staring at for a while. It's coming from Norton on November 4th.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Incoming Books: July 19

Hey, remember when Fantagraphics had that big sale for Memorial Day? (Don't worry if you didn't; I didn't, until the box arrived yesterday.) Well, the response was so good that some things had to be reprinted, and I gather that took a while.

Two things I ordered -- the second hardcover Feiffer collection and the second "McConey" graphic novel by Lewis Trondheim -- weren't available at all, and two more are still on backorder. But here's what did finally make it to my door. (And I'm not complaining; if you could see the invoice and knew what prices Fanta charged for these things, I doubt you'd complain either -- this is a steal.)

Peculia and Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires, both by Richard Sala -- More replacements of books lost in the flood of Hurricane Irene; I read these two before this blog existed, so there is no record of my opinions on them. (But see my reviews of the other Sala books The Hidden, The Chuckling Whatsit, and Cat Burglar Black as a consolation prize.)

Betsy and Me collects the entirely of the 1958 syndicated strip of that name by Jack Cole, which ended with his sudden death (by self-inflicted gunshot to the head) -- and Cole is the kind of quirky, weird comics creator that I'd like to dig deeper into.

Queen of the Black Black was Megan Kelso's first major collection of comics (before The Squirrel Mother and the recent full graphic novel Artichoke Tales -- I reviewed the latter for the August 2010 Realms of Fantasy, so I can't link here), and now I have my own copy of it.

Celluloid is "an erotic graphic novel" by Dave McKean, cartoonist of the excellent (if elliptic) book Cages and most famous as the Sandman cover artist. I don't think I've ever seen anyone write about it, but it intrigued me.

Two more "Love & Rockets" collections from the Hernandez Brothers -- the shelf is filling up, and I might be read for a re-read by the end of this year -- in Jaime's Maggie the Mechanic and Gilbert's Heartbreak Soup. Coincidentally, those are the first books in sequence from each of them.

A Shroud For Waldo by Kim Deitch -- another creator whose work I'll have to re-create after the flood, and I'm working on it.

And last is Harum Scarum, the first "McConey" graphic novel by Lewis Trondheim -- close readers will have noted that I also ordered the second, The Hoodoodad, but that it's no longer available. (Luckily, I guess, I have a really lousy copy that I got from an Amazon seller a couple of years back.)