Monday, March 17, 2014

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/15

This weekly post always begins with some version of a disclaimer: that these books just arrived in my mailbox, sent by their publishers, and that I haven't read any of them yet. Well, this week, that's not true for one of them, since I'm in the middle of reading it right now. (It still applies to everything else, though: even with my current Book-A-Day pace, I'm not reading as much or as quickly as I did fifteen/twenty years ago, before kids and responsibilities and Internets.)

So I'll lead off with the book I'm reading now: Terry Pratchett's new Discworld novel, Raising Steam. I got the galley a few weeks back, and the final hardcover arrived early this week. It's being published by Doubleday on the 18th, as part of a full-court blitz on Pratchett from Doubleday and related imprints over the next year and a half: besides this, they're also bringing out all four Science of Discworld books for the first time in the US, collections of Pratchett's short non-fiction and fiction, The Compleat Ankh-Morpork, the second Discworld-related picture-book-that's-not-really-for-kids in The World of Poo, and a book that I'll discuss immediately below.

(Pratchett is a decently strong seller in the US these days, but, since he's a massive cultural institution in the UK, there's always a sense from his US publishers that they should do better. That's of course good for Sir Terry's profile, and he could definitely sell better -- every writer could sell better, since there are so many people who only read a couple of books a year -- but there's no way he could ever be as big in the States as he is in the UK, so I hope they're all reasonable in their dreams.)

Raising Steam is another Moist von Lipwig book, which is mildly disappointing: his name is silly and distracting, and isn't representative of most of Pratchett's humor, on the one hand, and he's actually a thin and not particularly interesting character on the other hand. In the usual vein of the recent "X comes to Discworld, making people more tolerant and modern and good" plots, this is the book about railroads. Expect a full Book-A-Day post within the week.

(And I see that Pratchett is still getting odd covers in the US. The type is bland and slapped on, and the art is too cartoony, without any energy or tension. No one has managed to find a really good and appropriate cover style for him here, and so the US tends to go either too cartoony -- misunderstanding what has made Josh Kirby and then Paul Kidby's covers work in the UK for so long -- or aggressively iconic, like the Harper covers around 2000. The UK, by comparison, has a nice Kidby cover and a solid series design. Yet another thing I would fix if I were King of Publishing.)

The other Pratchett-related book I have on hand is The Folklore of Discworld, which Pratchett wrote with Jacqueline Simpson and which was published in the UK back in 2008. This one seems to be a revised edition, since it declares that it covers all forty Discworld books to date, and is copyright both 2008 and 2014. It's non-fiction, connecting the Discworld stories with real-world folklore and vice versa. And it's an Anchor trade paperback, on sale March 25th.

I have three manga volumes from Vertical, all of which I think are March publications:

First up is From the New World, Vol. 3 written by Yusuke Kishi and drawn by Toru Oikawa. I reviewed the second volume last month if you want more details, but this is a YA dystopia set in a devastated future Earth with only a few humans (all Japanese, with supernatural powers) and a massive underclass of animal-like Morph Rats.

Then there's Tsutomu Nihei's Knights of Sidonia, Vol. 8, continung the dark story of the sole remnant of humanity fleeing the usual creepily-organic superpowerful aliens in a single ship, protected by a few young pilots and their giant robot starfighters. I reviewed the first book last year, if you'd like more. 

And last from Vertical this week is Moyoco Anno's Insufficient Direction, which I was actually thinking about buying myself after seeing other reviews. (Thanks, Vertical!) It's a fictionalized version of Anno's life with her anime director husband Hideaki Anno, with Moyoco depicting herself as a bratty toddler, Rompers, and her husband as a slobby otaku. Anno's best known for her series Sugar Sugar Rune, and I reviewed her standalone book Sakuran as Day 51 of my current Book-A-Day run.

Michael J. Sullivan is best-known for his epic fantasy series The Riyria Revelations -- originally self-published and now available from Orbit in omnibus editions -- but he's branching out into science fiction with the upcoming novel Hollow World. Sullivan ran a very successful Kickstarter to fund this book -- he was 1008% overfunded, one of Kickstarter's top ten fiction projects -- and now the print edition is coming out from Tachyon Publications as a trade paperback on April 15th. Hollow World is some sort of time-travel story with a terminally ill hero; I suspect it is not the hardest of SF.

Of all the things I could have expected from publishing this year, a new edition of stories by Clark Ashton Smith was far down the list. A Penguin Classics edition of Smith stories seemed even less likely, but here's one in front of me: The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies, selected and introduced by S.T. Joshi, will be hitting stores on March 25th. I haven't read Smith in ages -- he's probably the most-forgotten of the major Weird Tales writers of his era, not as horrific as Lovecraft or as adventurous as Howard -- but this looks like a great excuse to read him again.

And last this week is Mentats of Dune, the new novel by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, which I believe is the fourth in the sub-series telling the story of the Butlerian Jihad. (Which was hundreds of years before Dune, and had nothing to do with that planet, but let's not dwell on that.) This is a Tor hardcover, arriving March 11th.

And, just because I was wondering myself: Frank Herbert wrote six Dune novels over twenty years, during which time he also wrote about a dozen other novels. This is the thirteenth Dune novel by his son -- more than twice as many as Frank -- in about fifteen years. Publishing is indeed ravenous for product.

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