Monday, November 17, 2014

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/15

I'm writing this early on the morning before it goes live, trying to get it done before I run off with Thing 1 (now a large but deeply goofy high school junior) to a what-is-this-college-thing-anyway? two-day program at the alma mater (Vassar) that I haven't been back to in twenty-five years. So to say I'm distracted would be an understatement.

But here are some books anyway: books keep being written and published, no matter what else is going on in the rest of the world. And one of those books could just be your favorite of the year, or your life. (No pressure, authors!) So here are the things that showed up on my doorstep over the past week: I haven't read any of them yet, but I can tell you various things about them based on my secret mutant power of squinting really hard and communing with the Cosmic All.

We start off with a big interesting SF novel, because I'm old-school enough to think any book like that deserves to go first: The Three-Body Problemby Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu (no relation, as far as I know). Cixin Liu is China's most popular and prolific SF author, leading a big surge in that genre over the past decade or so and winning China's major SF award (the Galaxy) eight times. (China has SF magazines that sell millions of copies -- in a country of a billion people, there are really exciting scales.) Ken Liu is one of the top SF short-story writers in the US, and the winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards. And The Three-Body Problem, the first in a trilogy, is a first-contact story that takes place over a couple of generations, as a dying alien civilization seizes on a Chinese transmission from 1967 and beings a long game of recruiting humans to their world-conquering plan through a philosophical-historical online video game. It's a Tor hardcover, and officially hit stores last week. It's the novel all of your mainland Chinese friends were raving about in 2006, and now you can finally read it too.

The Garden of Words is a manga volume by Makoto Shinkai and Midori Motohashi, which seems to stand alone. (It says something about the commercial landscape when the assumption is that any manga will stretch for endless volumes, but it's true: people do want the same thing over and over again.) It's from Vertical (available now in paperback), which implies it's a bit more literary and sophisticated that the bulk of manga that we see in the States -- but it does begin with a high school boy playing hooky from his first period at school because his shoes got wet on the train. (Even literary manga are required to be about sixteen-year-olds; perhaps there's a very draconian law?) While playing hooky, that boy meets an older woman in a park, who gives him an ancient poem -- and the boy must figure out the correct response "before it's too late."

Also from Vertical is the latest in another series about high school kids, Shuzo Oshimi's The Flowers of Evil, Vol. 11. This is another one not really for high-schoolers, from what I've seen: the story of a creepy teenage relationship.

K.V. Johansen returns to the Marakand series with The Lady -- the first book was The Leopard. It's a trade paperback from Pyr, arriving on December 9th. And, as befits the middle book in a secondary-world fantasy series, the description is full of people and places I don't recognize, though they all seem to be doing very exciting, plot-important things -- ghost-possessions, necromancers enslaving people, invulnerable enemies, entombed gods, shapeshifters, and much more.

From the other end of fantasy -- the kind that comes with a letter from a publicist that insists that a real fan of fantasy only likes the very, very rare books that (one might infer) always comes from outside that genre and don't have any grubby fantasy cooties on them -- comes B. Catling's The Vorrh, a very literary fantasy novel about a mysterious, possibly endless forest just outside of a small African colonial town. It comes with great praise from Alan Moore, and will be published by the very respectable Vintage Books in trade paperback on May 5th. (Literary books are assumed to be difficult to read, so they have to be sent out to the world far in advance, so reviewers have time to fight through them.) Also, this probably isn't the real cover -- I think it's the UK edition from 2012. But the US edition will be similarly classy in its own way, I'm sure.

And last for this week is the new Count Saint-Germain book from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Sustenance. I have to admit that I've never read any of these books, despite the fact that there have been a dozen or more of them and that we had a big clump of them in the SFBC for most of the time that I was there. Anyway, Yarbro's Saint-Germain is a real vampire, not the conman and fake of the real world, and her books pick him up at various points in his life over the past millennium or so. This one is set soon after WWII and will be a Tor hardcover on December 2nd.

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