Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #271: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

It's not every day a literary generation arrives. (If you want to be pedantic, it only happens roughly every twenty years.) But, in 1984, literary Generation X -- my generation, the ones who were the losers and slackers who could never be as special as the Baby Boomers, before that generational burden passed to the Millennials -- was suddenly on the map, young and snotty and complaining like all of the other new literary generations before them.

Tama Janowitz and Bret Easton Ellis and many others would come later -- and some of them would eventually be from the actual demographic Generation X -- but what kicked it all off was one slim novel about an unnamed second person narrator having one very bad week in early '80s New York City. Like all smash-hit artistic works, it wasn't as groundbreaking or different as it was billed, but Bright Lights, Big City still is a fizzy, conversational novel with closely examined characters and a tight grip on the zeitgeist of the time.

Jay McInerney's first novel is probably more Catcher in the Rye-manque -- with its sad-sack hero moping around New York for a few days, dragged here and there by his own indifferent uncertainty and the influences of others -- and less a roman a clef about McInerney's own life, but the latter was the story that helped put it over the top in 1984. McInerney was a former fact checker for The New Yorker; his cocaine-abusing protagonist had a very similar function at a teasingly unnamed highbrow Manhattan magazine. And so all of Bright Lights' early readers speculated how much of the other details of the protagonist were true of McInerney -- the runaway model wife, that unremarked addiction to any substance he can get his hands on, the tragic backstory that finally comes out at the end of the book. But even without knowing for sure, those elements all feel fictional: they're the stuff of a thousand mid-century novels and late-'70s writers' workshops, the stew McInerney was simmering in as he worked on his own version of all those ideas.

Frankly, Bright Lights should not be as good as it is: it's very much a first novel, with a hero who is all yearning and passivity, a sequence of frankly familiar scenes, and a tattered heart firmly stuck to its sleeve. It works because of McInerney's sentences, two or three steps away from really colloquial, and because of its setting, the collision of high art and low culture as its hero's days shade into nights and vice versa. For it to work at all, it needs a reader who can sympathize with that hero in all his neediness and unfiltered emotion, who can take scene after scene of him thinking about things and not doing them, who wants to hear more about that world and the people in it. 

The story is that old stand-by, the week in which everything falls apart. Our hero has been screwing up at work since his model wife left him -- in another cliche, she did it on a phone call from Paris -- and running around every night through a succession of neon-lit clubs filled with people he doesn't like, dragged by the inevitable confident, sharklike friend, Tad Allagash. He burns the candle at both ends, and this is the week it burns him back.

Bright Lights probably won't be read in a century, at least not in a literature class -- I can easily see it, Slaves of New York, and Less Than Zero being the core of a cultural studies course -- since McInerney didn't have the brilliant career expected of him at the time, and because the best things about Bright Lights are from other, better books. But we're still close enough to its world that it has a crackling energy, and I expect a lot of people will keep reading it for a while for much the same reason I did: to remind them of when they were young and invincible and at the center of the world.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

Vintage Contemporaries: An Irregular Series

Later today, my post on Bright Lights, Big City will go live, launching a new irregular series of posts here on Antick Musings. Instead of burdening that post with a load of explanatory nattering, I'm moving it all here, so I can refer to it as needed as the series rumbles forward, and readers can safely ignore it as much as they want.

The Vintage Contemporaries series was launched in September of 1984, thirty years ago, by editor Gary Fisketjon, with an initial list of seven titles. It never had a mission statement or other reader-facing definition, but it was clear what it wanted to do: present the best of contemporary writing, both originals and reprints, in a striking and modern series design, to both codify and define the great writers of that time. (There's a good oral history of the series from 2012 available online at Talking Covers; interested folks should go there for more details.)

I was a young man in the heyday of the VCs -- I'd just turned fifteen earlier in 1984, and I read a fair number of them over the next few years, as I finished up high school and went on to get a BA in English from Vassar in 1990. A few were supplemental reading, but most of the VCs I saw I just bought because they looked interesting -- I discovered Steve Erickson (the original one) and James Crumley that way.

Like all successful publishing projects, the VCs changed and mutated as the years went on: there was a redesign around 1988 that moved to full-bleed art and eliminated the emblematic dot-grid pattern, and then the tight series look itself started to dissipate entirely in the early 1990s before the series itself faded into the larger Vintage paperback empire. But there were four years of the original VCs, tightly series-branded, with forty or so books published over that period.

What I aim to do with this series is revisit as many of those books as possible, as closely to the thirtieth anniversary of their initial VC publication as possible. Luckily, the mid-80s were another era in publishing, and it looks like the VCs were originally published in seasons -- after that first burst of seven in September 1984, the next cluster didn't come along until what was probably the spring season.

Bright Lights, Big City will be first, as it must be: it was the original in that launch list, and its huge success bootstrapped the whole series. After that, I want to at least read all of the originals, and as many of the reprints as I can, balancing re-reads (like Bright Lights and Crumley and Erickson) with writers I've never encountered before (especially women, like Gladys Swan and Emily Prager and Janet Hobhouse, since the holes in my reading history are larger there).

These posts won't go up at any specific time or schedule; the next few will slot into the larger Book-A-Day structure for 2014, but I expect I'll continue reading VCs through at least 2018, and likely longer than that. All of them will be tagged "Vintage Contemporaries" so they can be found easily. If anyone has any particular favorites -- or books they loathed and want to talk about -- please add your comments; I'd be very interested to hear about them.

Edit, six months later: This series has landed in a pattern of one book a month, generally on the last day of a month -- though sometimes delayed to day two or three of the next one. I expect to maintain that pattern through 2018 or so, gawd willing and the creek don't rise.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #270: Korea As Viewed by 12 Creators

In a world as large and filled with oddities as ours, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that there's such a thing as a public display of affection between nations -- as if they were teenagers trying to slip each other the tongue in a darkened corner somewhere.

Korea As Viewed By 12 Creators is a bit loftier than that, but it's still a hearty Gallic kiss -- both cheeks, with possibly a tighter and more lingering hug than is strictly necessary -- between the fine nations of France and South Korea. (The book itself treats Korea as if it were one indivisible nation centered on Seoul with no geographic designation in its name, which is entirely forgivable.) It was originally commissioned to celebrate the one hundred and twentieth anniversary of Franco-Korean diplomatic relations, in 2006, and translated into English as an exercise in parallax in 2010. There's clearly some government aid lurking behind it, to fund the project -- which included several junkets by French creators to Korea for the experiences that informed this book -- and the lack of any credited editor also tends to make it look like a bureaucratic project.

But any bureaucracy that can bring forth art is to be celebrated, and Korea is full of interesting art. The twelve creators here are evenly split: six Korean natives, telling stories about their own country; and six Europeans (there's one non-French ringer, an Italian), who mostly tell stories about their trips to Korea and what struck them about the country. Korea alternates their stories, so we see Korea from the inside, then the outside, and so on, flipping back and forth for six iterations. The French tend to be excited and happy -- they're on a working vacation, going to a new interesting country on someone else's dime, remember -- telling stories about themselves or their stand-ins experiencing Korea. The Koreans, by contrast, seem to be under no pressure to explain their country or make sweeping generalizations, despite the title: they all just tell specific, individual stories of Korean people living Korean lives. (And, of course, that's what makes it all work.)

I know a few names of Korean manwha artists and French BD creators, but the cast here was completely new to me -- and that's one of the great joys of an anthology, to dive into a bunch of stories by new and exciting artists. The Koreans are Byun Hi-Kyun, Chaemin, Choi Kyu-Sok, Lee Doo-Ho, Lee Hee-Jae, and Park Heung-Yong. The Europeans are Bouzard, Catel, Igort, Matthieu Sapin, Tanquerelle, and Vanyda. (And from that we can very unscientifically note that the French appear to be more fond of single-name noms de plume than their Korean counterparts.)

I don't intend to anatomize each story; that would go too far towards dissecting the frog. They're all good, in their own way, and they're quite varied, from a wordless travelogue of an anthropomorphic mouse to the folktale-esque story of a remarkably lifelike painting of a tree. And they all live up to the title: each one is a view of Korea, from one particular creator. This book may be a love letter from a relationship most of us are outside, but we can still enjoy it -- and I recommend that you do.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

Schadenfreude Alert!

Bloomberg Business Week has an article about Amazon's preparations for this Christmas shipping season -- looking at it through the lens of last year, when a sizable fraction of packages were delayed beyond December 24th. Amazon is doing all of the expected business things -- opening more warehouses, to be closer to more customers, and building redundancies into their supply chain -- and doing it in their usual smart way.

However, what's delicious about all this is the clear indication that Amazon got burned by over-reliance on a single shipper, UPS, and that they're trying to avoid having all of their eggs in one basket this season.

Why, it's almost as if they've discovered that monopsony is a bad thing!

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 9/27

There's a nice varied stack of books to write about this week, so let me run through the explanation quickly: the wonderful publicity industry of modern publishing sends out books, in actual physical form, to lots of people all over the place, because then some of them will write about those books and induce readers like you to buy and read and love them. Yes, even Antick Musings counts as a media outlet in these fallen times -- I'm continually surprised by it as well.

So I haven't read any of these books yet: they just arrived. But I can (and will) write a bit about them based on a quick glance and some deep cogitation. Here's hoping one of the following will be your new favorite book this year:

I have a pile of books from Yen Press, all of which I think are coming in October, so I'll take those first -- as usual, in the order of volume number, so they should go from least to most confusing.

First up then is something I haven't seen in manga before: a zero issue. Ubel Blatt, Vol. 0 begins -- or pre-begins -- an epic fantasy cod-medieval series by Etorouji Shiono, with elves and cursed swords and a lot of semi-translated German for atmosphere. The book itself doesn't make any fuss about its zero-ness; perhaps it just wanted to get a jump on the traffic?

Barakamon, Vol. 1 is a new series by Satsuki Yoshino that give me a definite Yotsuba! vibe from the cover, though the book itself seems to be very different. It's a fish-out-of-water story about an urban calligrapher who moves to a rural island, and whose primary guide to the ways of the islanders is a first-grader. (So Northern Exposure, but with more kawaii.)

Bloody Brat, Vol. 2 continues the sidebar 4-koma and other humorous stories related to Yuuki Kodama's Blood Lad series; story and art for this series is by Kanata Yoshino. (That's one of the weirdest things about the manga world to me: that they'll just farm out a goofy line-extension series to some random other manga-ka, just to get more product out there.)

Deep breath before this next one: Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Different Story, Vol. 3 retells the original Madoka Magica series with a different artist, because they don't have enough of your money yet. Art this time around is by Hanokage (or maybe HANOKAGE), and the original art and story was by the Magica Quartet; I haven't read or compared the two, so I don't know if HANOKAGE is following the same script or hitting the story beats in a different layout.

Speaking of confusing: I still don't know why this series title works the way it does, but here's Kingdom Hearts: Three Five Eight Days Over Two, Vol. 4 by Shiro Amano. (And, yes the cover does write out the numbers like that -- and then also presents them as a fraction for good measure.) This continues the story of the manga and video games, mashing up manga and Disney story world, and the fate of the multiverse is probably at stake.

I don't think I've seen this next series before, but Akira Ishida's Oninagi, Vol. 4 is the last volume. It seems to be a demon-fighting manga with a female lead character, which, I suspect, is why it ended so early: Japanese readers mostly like their genre walls airtight, and the main characters of demon-hunting stories must be boys.

Coca Fujiwara is back with Inu x Boku SS, Vol. 5, the latest is the saga of the secretly magical scions of the great families of Japan and their creepily too-protective bodyguards. (See my reviews of the first two volumes, and then number three.) I will note that Yen is cranking these out, probably to catch up with the Japanese publication, and I know fans always love to see books come out quickly -- I think all five volumes have come out this year.

If you like your Battle Royale with a side order of torture porn, you're probably happy to see Judge, Vol. 5 by Yoshiki Tonogai, continuing the story in which a dozen or so loathsome people are locked into a warehouse and forced by shadowy figures to murder each other if they want to get out. I'll leave you to it.

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan, Vol. 8, is, I think, a side-story to the main Haruhi Suzumiya manga, or maybe just an extension under a slightly different title and focus. This one is writen by series creator Nagaru Tanigawa, with art by Puyo -- and the characters don't actually look as chibi-esque as the cover on the interior pages. At least most of the time.

Black Butler, Vol. 18 continues Yana Toboso's story of the very oddly-names Earl Ciel Phantomhive and his super-butler, doing various odd things in pseudo-Victorian England. (I haven't read this series, and I've never managed to figure out what the point is.

And last from the world of Yen manga is Umineko: When They Cry, Episode 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch, Vol. 2. It has a story by Ryukishi07 and art by Soichiro, it's adapted from one in a series of murder-mystery video games, and I really can't tell you any more than that about it.

Beth Bernobich has been writing a series of stories about time travel and the Irish empire for a few years now, and those four long stories -- I believe the last one is original to the book -- are collected in The Time Roads, a Tor trade paperback hitting shelves in October. Oh, and it's steampunk too, because of course it is.

Another by Yujito Ayatsuji is a horror novel translated from the Japanese -- it comes from our friends at Yen, who I guess I wasn't quite done with -- about a boy who transfers into a rural middle school, and discovers that he's in the cursed class. (Isn't that always the way?) That boy then has to get to the bottom of the mysterious deaths and lay the vengeful spirit forever -- but probably not before a lot of other people die in horrible ways. This is coming in hardcover in October, though it's already available as a two-part ebook, which was serialized last year. (And there's a manga adaptation available too, because that's just how Japan rolls.)

I'm happy to say that Dan Krokos's new young-adult SF novel The Black Stars is not about the red-lined portion of the galaxy, because that would just be bad. Instead, it's a continuation of his prior novel The Planet Thieves, in which one boy brokered peace between humanity and an alien race. This time out, that same boy has to go undercover at the alien's military school. The Black Stars is a Tor hardcover coming October 14.

Tachyon Publications has re-issued their 2009 anthology The Secret History of Science Fiction, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. That book collected nineteen stories of SF by either fairly literary genre-SF writers (Le Guin, Wolfe, Willis, Shepard, Disch) or by writers respected for literature with a capital LIT (Atwood, Boyle, Saunders, DeLillo). There's a few middle-ground people as well, like Karen Joy Fowler, Carter Scholz, and Jonathan Lethem -- you can categorize them how you will. It aims to construct an alternative history of SF -- one where the quality of prose is as important as the quality of the ideas.

Tachyon also has a new anthology coming out: Ellen Datlow's The Cutting Room, which reprints nearly two dozen stories of horror related to the movies. It has stories by Peter Straub, Genevieve Valentine, Kim Newman, Laird Barron, David Morrell, Howard Waldrop, Ian Watson, F. Paul Wilson, Dennis Etchison, and about a dozen more.

John Twelve Hawks is back with Spark, which seems to be a standalone modern-day thriller about surveillance and corporate skulduggery -- it follows his initial trilogy starting with The Traveler. (His publishers seem to have toned down all of the hoo-hah about how he "lives off the grid" and is completely unknown to the mind of man this time around.) Spark is a Doubleday hardcover, coming October 7th.

And last for this week is Ben Tripp's The Accidental Highwayman, which is one of those rare special books that comes with multiple covers. (I got the black one, which I'd prefer, but the red version looks pretty good, too.) It's the first YA novel from a man who's done a few books for adults, but spent most of his adult life building theme-park rides and similar experiences, which is an interesting and unique background for a novelist. This book is about highwaymen in 18th century England -- you probably could have guessed much of that from the title -- and will be the first of a trilogy. It's out in hardcover from Tor Teen in October.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #269: The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

It's a real treat to watch a skilled writer flash his cards once and then pocket them: he's secure in the knowledge that you saw and noticed them, and you know that those few specific and casually-dropped references will pay off in the end. And seeing a writer do it in a book for young adults is doubly nice, since it shows that writer has faith in his young readers; even if they haven't read as many books yet as their grizzled elders, they can pick up the hints and piece it all together.

The third book in Jasper Fforde's "Chronicles of Kazam" series, The Eye of Zoltar, has those pleasures and more. It follows The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast and will have at least one more book to complete the series -- not to put too fine a point on it, but Zoltar has more of a stopping point than an ending. It's not a cliffhanger -- anyone near a precipice is either safely away or assuredly fallen to their doom -- but it clearly calls for another book.

Things seem to be relatively normal as this book opens: Kazam Mystical Arts Management is left as the only magical company in the Ununited Kingdoms, after the failed schemes of their rival, the Amazing Blix, in the previous books. Sure, Kazam's interim manager, Jennifer Strange, has to quickly organize an expedition to capture a dangerous Tralfamosaur and send it off to the wild neighboring Cambrian Empire, but that goes off relatively smoothly. She does have to sacrifice her beloved Volkswagen Beetle as the bait that lured the Tralfamosaur, but Kazam's headquarters Zambini Towers has dozens of working vehicles in its basement that she can use instead.

Unfortunately, the Cambrian Empire has a thriving business in ransom -- practically the only thriving business in the Cambrian Empire, besides danger tourism -- and the Once Magnificent Boo (in her youth, one of the great wizards of the world; since the theft of her wizidrical index fingers, a misanthropic expert on nasty beasts) has been kidnapped while trying to settle the Tralfamosaur.

Even worse, the greatest wizard of all time, the Mighty Shandar, is unhappy with Jennifer, because she upset one of his greatest achievements. Centuries before -- Shandar spends most of his time in stone, to prolong his life, and only emerges to work -- he took a very lucrative job to rid the world of all dragons. Jennifer foiled that plan in the first book; there are now two young dragons, who will grow and eventually reproduce. But Shandar has a proposal: if Jennifer finds the Eye of Zoltar for him -- a powerful dark magical talisman lost for ages -- he'll forgive the transgression. If not, he'll have to attack the dragons, and anyone who tries to stand in his way -- such as Jennifer and the entire staff of Kazam -- will be destroyed along the way.

By an amazing coincidence, the only clue to the Eye's location is also deep in the Cambrian Empire. So Jennifer sets off in an old tanklike Bugatti Royale, armed with a letter of credit and everything everyone knows about the Eye, which is practically nothing. With her are Perkins, a wizard who's just passed his exams and who might be her boyfriend if things ever settle down, and Laura Scrubb, the brain of the spoiled Princess Shazza placed into the body of her handmaiden for a while so she can learn a little humility and useful skills.

The Cambrian Empire is a dangerous wilderness, populated primarily by squabbling ransom-happy tribes and a wide variety of extremely deadly fauna. It's also cut off almost entirely from the outside world: all air traffic (including birds) is shot down at the border on orders of the Emperor, and no news from beyond the borders is allowed in. But Jennifer's hard-bitten and experienced guide -- who is approximately twelve -- declares that she can give their team 50% odds of survival: a good half of them will make it out alive.

And then things get really hairy....

The Eye of Zoltar is a slight departure in style for this series: the first two book were like an escalating juggling act, with complications piling on top of each other until a final crisis threatened everything. This time out, Fforde uses a more linear one-damn-thing-after-another plot, as Jennifer's expedition gains and loses members and fights through more travails and dangers than can be described here. But all along, there are those little hints -- a close reader will be able to guess what else is going on at the same time, and how it all fits together. I wouldn't recommend any reader start the series with this book, since it depends heavily on the earlier ones -- and the impatient should probably wait until the next volume is out as well. But it's a heartfelt, funny fantasy novel for teens with a great main character, a quirky world, and a deep sense of how the world isn't fair but can be made better by hard work and clear sight. And, as usual, I mean "for teens" to mean anyone who ever was one, or is close enough to being one.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sentient Viruses and Other Boogeymen

I posted a review of Jeff Lemire's graphic novel Trillium earlier today: it's a good book that I thought was unfortunately marred by a cartoonish and thought-starved depiction of a "sentient virus." The review wasn't about the virus -- and the book really is pretty good despite it -- but it turns out I have more to say about it.

In Trillium, The Caul -- that's the name of this virus -- operates on thriller logic. It infects every single human being it comes in contact with, it's very quickly fatal in 100% of cases, and it's utterly unstoppable. (The text explicitly says that space doesn't stop it, which implies it's impervious to radiation, too. Perhaps it's even meant to be physically unbreakable, which would be a different kind of silly pseudo-science.) Lemire doesn't make it clear if The Caul can also infect or be carried by other organisms, but, under typical thriller logic, it would pretty much have to: a killer virus has to be able to lurk anywhere and everywhere, to pop out like a axe-wielding maniac in a dead-teenager movie.

This is very, very different from the behavior that an actually intelligent parasite would likely exhibit, and very different from what most viruses actually do. Organisms want to reproduce themselves and grow, and it's difficult to do that if they keep repeatedly destroying all of their habitats (human beings). Viruses do end up killing their hosts, a lot of the time, but they mostly wouldn't want to: they'd want to keep the host alive as long as possible, providing a refuge for the virus and allowing it to reproduce and spread.

In fact, a truly sentient virus could be a vastly scarier thing: combine the horrors of an infectious disease with the neurotoxins and puppet-mastery of something like a parasitic wasp, and The Caul could be an alien hive mind that takes over your body and kills you slowly while pumping out millions of copies of itself to conquer even more people.

If Lemire had thought through his ideas a bit more, he could have had a much stronger work, and there would have been room to contrast a forced gestalt of The Caul (human minds ruled or controlled by the virus) with the consensual sharing of consciousness mediated by the title flower.

Oh, well: there are a million books never written, and every book is the sole survivor of a vast lineage of books that didn't make it. It's probably better to celebrate the good parts of the books that did come into existence, but sometimes cursing the darkness is just more satisfying. I really would have liked to have read the book in which The Caul made sense.

Book-A-Day 2014 #268: Trillium by Jeff Lemire

Science fiction doesn't need to be all about the science. There's a long history of outdated, dodgy, and outright bad science in excellent SF works, so simply ignoring the inverse-square law or being a little fuzzy on what relativity means for FTL travel is excusable. And leaving things vague is often a good solution: it will be more difficult to nitpick what your super-nanotech does if your own characters don't really understand it. But sometimes a scientific element is so central, and so vaguely defined, that it causes problems for an entire work -- and that's annoying and distracting when that element is really just a MacGuffin to set your plot in motion.

Unfortunately, Jeff Lemire's recent SF comics miniseries Trillium falls into that category. Perhaps it's because Lemire hasn't done space-based SF before -- his The Nobody is an invisible-man story, and most of his other work has fantastic elements that fall on the magical/psychological side -- but this time out, he's got an antagonist that's hard to take seriously.

Trillium is a story set in two time periods: in 1921, William Pike is a shell-shocked WWI vet along on an expedition deep into the Amazon, under the leadership of his brother Clayton, to find a fabled Incan temple. (So far, so good.) The other half of the story is set in 3797, among a humanity that made it to the stars and was shattered there by an implacable enemy: Nika Tensmith is a scientist in one of the few outposts left, trying to find a way to help her people survive. (Also fine.) She's on Atabithi, where a white trillium flower grown by the natives (the usual primitive-and-tribal-looking aliens, familiar from late '60s SF and guaranteed to have Hidden Depth) just might stop humanity's enemy. But there's no clear communication with those natives: Nika is close to cracking their language, but right now she can only get scattered words, even with the aid of her AI Essie. Nika's superior, Commander Pohl, pushes to take the trilliums, with any force necessary: they're needed for humanity's survival. But Nika has the protagonist's instinct that failing to understand the natives will have massive consequences.

The natives' land is inside a walled area, with a field of the trilliums surrounding a temple -- one that looks remarkably like the Incan structure Pike finds after his expedition is attacked and mostly slaughtered by bloodthirsty locals on his end. Nika meets the natives on her side on last time, before Pohl's heavy-handed tactics take over, and they want her to eat a trillium flower.

Nika does, of course, and that sets the whole plot in motion. It's not a hugely original plot -- she meets William, via the linked temples, there's a lot of hugger-mugger on both sides, including a period where they switch worlds/lives, and in the end there's a transcendent moment that saves the two of them and at least some of the human race. But Lemire tells it well, with a real feeling for characters and his usual gritty art style, here enlivened by a new flair for imaginative page design and panel flow.

So what's the problem? It's that antagonist: Lemire describes it early on as a "sentient virus" -- it doesn't take over the bodies of humans like a parasite or zombie-creator, just kills them. He also says that nothing will kill it, not even space, which is bad-science enough. But all a star-spanning civilization needs to stop a virus is good quarantine protocols. Surely at least one human outpost decided to close itself off entirely and blow up any ships that dare come nearby? (That's a foolproof way to stop a virus: if there's no contact with outside life, it just won't get in, period.) It is difficult to believe in a story whose entire premise is silly: this virus is only dangerous to humans who allow others in -- it could rage across Asimov's Spacers universe and not hit a single human being.

Trillium was then a disappointment, for me at least: the science was just too dodgy and jury-rigged to believe in. All of Lemire's other strengths are strongly on display here, though: wounded, realistic characters; doom-laden plots; atmospheric locations. And his page design is more energetic here than I've ever seen him before. It's just a pity he didn't have a SF-savvy friend look at his plot early in the planning stages.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

Incoming Books: Week of September 27

This week, the books came in from two directions -- first, most of the stuff I ordered from the big Top Shelf sale arrived, in a flood of cheap indie comics, and then I had to drop off my younger son at a Magic: The Gathering tournament yesterday evening, and that just happened to be in a comics shop, so....

And here's what's new -- several of them are re-purchases after the flood, but a sale like Top Shelf's is excellent for that:

Three more B.P.R.D. volumes, following up on three that I've read and reviewed. (Though I just realized that, since I'm working ahead, that review hasn't gone live yet.) These three are all in the current overall B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth super-series, and are:
Gilbert Hernandez's new standalone graphic novel, Bumperhead. This is another story of growing up -- the main character here is a sullen punky teen, showing Beto is further encroaching on what we all assumed was his brother Jaime's turf -- following the somewhat similar Marble Season from last year. I don't think this one is semi-autobiographical the way Marble Season was, but Beto is a sneaky and intricate creator, so the possibility of deeper complexity is always there.

Two books by Nicolas Mahler -- Lone Racer and Van Helsing's Night Out -- both of which have a uniquely odd drawing style and an amusingly dour and quirky sense of humor. I bought both of 'em, I read both of 'em, I liked both of 'em, and now I bought 'em again to complete the whole circle-of-life thing. (Links are two Top Shelf roundups with reviews of the respective books.)

August Moon is a 2012 graphic novel by Diana Thung, and that's most of what I know about it: it was in the Top Shelf sale, so I took a chance on it. It looks to be somewhere in between magical realism and Miyazaki, which is an interesting territory to be sure.

Matt Kindt's Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers, the sequel/expansion/sidebar to his great graphic novel Super Spy. Don't read this one on its own, but it's well worth reading in tandem with the main book. (Links are to my reviews.)

Alone Forever: The Singles Collection, a collection of comic strips by Liz Prince, creator of Delayed Replays. This looks to be more of the same sort of thing -- scratchy autobio stories by a young creator, this time focused on love and relationships. (And, from the title -- and from the genre, since autobio comics are nearly always about failure in one form or another -- you can assume that things don't work out well.)

Mawil's Beach Safari, a quirky little book about a little rabbit guy and the teen surfer girls he befriends on a random beach somewhere. Amusingly, the only uncensored cover I could find online -- all the others have quietly added a top to the redhead on the cover, to avoid the menace of public sideboob -- was from my own review six years ago. The actual book has the cover shown here -- sideboob, apparently, is only a problem on the Internet, not live.

Shuck Unmasked, another graphic novel I know next to nothing about. It's by Rick Smith (co-writing and art) and Tania Menesse (the other half of the co-writing), and is about a retired demon trying to live quietly in suburbia, and the little girl next door who befriends him. It's also written in Herriman-esque dialect at least part of the time: it's looks beguilingly weird.

The Collected Essex County a big graphic novel from Jeff Lemire, which incorporates three interrelated stories and a bunch of additional material. (Two of the three -- Ghost Stories and The Country Nurse -- are books I reviewed for ComicMix, but I've never gotten back to the first third of this story before.)

Nate Powell's mesmerizing, magnificent graphic novel Swallow Me Whole -- it won the Eisner for best graphic novel in 2009, and could have deserved it for a longer stretch than just one year -- is another book I had to get a new copy after my flood, and now I do. You can also see my old ComicMix review.

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin, continuing the sidebar "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" story by Alan Moore and Kevil O'Neill. This one is set during WWII in this particular alternate world, with Captain Nemo's daughter -- now the captain herself -- as our lead character.

And last are two books by James Kochalka, in very different modes: Superf*ckers is bratty and rude and piss-taking, a parody of teen superheroes taken in a very Kochalka direction. American Elf, Book Two is the 2004-2005 strips from his daily diary strip, which he did for more than a decade. Both of them are re-purchases; both of the links above lead to my reviews here of those books.