Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Giant Days, Vol. 2 by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, and Max Sarin

I will keep telling you to read John Allison's comics until either you do so or you stop listening to me entirely. So take that part as read -- like Scarygoround and Bad Machinery, Giant Days is a lovely mix of smart dialogue and real characters and quirky situations. Though Giant Days, being set away from Tackleford, those quirky situations are less likely to involve dimensional portals and selkies and alien potato creatures. (At least so far....)

Volume Two finishes up the first term at an unnamed British University for our three main characters -- Susan and Daisy and Esther -- who have a big formal dance, and a big visit back to Susan's hometown during the break, and the big finals, and big new boyfriend for Esther? (Parallelism can only go so far, it seems.)

These four issues also see the big art hand-off, as original artist Lissa Treiman bows out after what was supposed to be the six-issue mini-series and Max Sarin steps in. To my eye, Sarin's lines are a bit thinner than Treiman's, and his her art seem to have less depth...but, then, when does anyone ever think the new artist on a favorite comic is an improvement? He She does a good job, and I'm sure I'll bitterly resent it if he she ever leaves Giant Days and someone else takes over.

So: female-focused writing, with believable people and real-world situations and some of the best dialogue available in comics anywhere. What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Over Your Dead Body by Dan Wells

John Wayne Cleaver has it tough. He's still a teenager -- though officially adult as of this book -- and he's already lost his family, the love of his life, and the special Federal taskforce he was briefly part of. Oh, and he's a sociopath with well-founded fears of becoming a serial killer.

On the other hand, the demon-hunting gig has been going really well. So well that's he's running out of demons to kill, even with the aid of his childhood friend Brooke. Brooke was briefly possessed by one of those demons -- they all have somewhat different powers, but all are parasitic on human lives in one way or another -- and was left with the memories of that demon and all of the other girls that had been possessed over the years. Since "those years" add up to several thousand, that's a lot of voices in Brooke's head, which means John is now the sane and stable member of the group now.

That's where Over Your Dead Body starts -- some time after the fourth book, The Devil's Only Friend, with John and Brooke criss-crossing the country and using her second-hand memories to find and kill demons. But their money -- stolen from caches that the dead demons won't need any more -- is running low, and so is the list of potential targets. And there's another Federal team getting closer, possibly to capture John for the death of his previous team. And the one personality John never expected has resurfaced in Brooke: Marci, the girl he loved back before he knew the demons even existed.

I'm very fond of this contemporary fantasy/horror series, mostly because of John's voice. He's a great conflicted narrator, and Wells does a great job of showing him struggling with his urges and the horrible situations that Wells keeps thinking up for him. (This book has some more of them!)

The first book -- I Am Not a Serial Killer -- was turned into a movie starring Christopher Lloyd this year, so this would be a great time to jump into the series and catch up before all of your indy-movie-watching friends declare it their favorite thing ever. Here: go read my review of the first trilogy; maybe that will convince you.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/27

I'm on vacation this coming week. I say this not to gloat -- well, not entirely -- but to let you know that there just might be some more posts this week than usual, since I'll have slightly more free time and a large stack of books calling out to be written about.

But speaking of stacks of books calling out to be written about, I have a short one here as well. As on every other Monday, these came in my mail, and I haven't read them yet. But here's what looks interested about them.

I'm surprised to see that Everfair is Nisi Shawl's first novel; I thought I'd just managed to miss her previous books. (She does have a Tiptree-winning collection, Filter House, and is the co-author of the nonfiction book Writing the Other: A Practical Approach with Cynthia Ward.) [1] Everfair the novel is the alternate-history story of Everfair the place, a planned Utopia carved out of/bought away from King Leopold's Congo in a world at least as intriguingly complex as our own but with added steam-powered technology. I don't know if everything turns out according to Utopian hopes, but it can hardly end up worse than what happened in the Congo in our own timeline, can it? It's a Tor hardcover coming on September 6th, and I expect will be one of the major first novel of this year.

And I also have a very different book, one officially published for younger readers (though there's nothing stopping the rest of us from reading it!) Alcatraz Vs. the Evil Librarians, Book Five: The Dark Talent is the latest in Brandon Sanderson's series about the evil librarians who secretly rule the world (at least the parts of the world we know about) and the plucky young hero who battles them. This one is threatened to be the last in the series -- so this is my usual call-out to those of you who wait until things are over to begin enjoying them. This comes from Tor's sister imprint Starscape, and is also on sale September 6th in hardcover.

[1] Back in my old life, Shawl was a freelance reader for the SFBC for at least a while, and I had some contact with her then. She seemed too busy and her writing too publishable and smart for the frankly low pay of that gig, though.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/20

As usual, this post will list book that arrived unexpectedly in the prior week. And, yes, I said "book," because there's only one this week. (One free surprise book -- a wonderful thing.) I also bought two books that came in the mail, so I'll stick them in as well, and maintain my meager posting schedule.

The surprise was K. V. Johansen's Gods Of Nabban, a big fat trade paperback from Pyr that officially hits stores on September 6th. It's an epic fantasy complete in one volume, which is a rarity these days -- or any of the days of the past forty years, actually. It's also a what-happened-after-that book, since the backstory saw a runaway slave save a super-assassin from the evil ghost that had possessed him for a century. (And that would be the climax of most epic fantasies using that idea.) Don't worry -- it sounds like both of them have plenty of other supernatural and human nasties to battle in this book.

And then the two books I paid for, starting with...

Crooked, the third novel from Austin Grossman. His first two books were the excellent super-villain character study Soon I Will Be Invincible and the meditation-on-video-games novel You, both of which I read, enjoyed, and recommend. And I'm really happy to see that he's continuing to write very different books each time out: Crooked is a vaguely Tim-Powersian novel, a secret history of the Cold War told in first person by Richard Nixon, explaining how he saved us all from what I understand are slavering Lovecraftian many-angled ones that lurk beyond our world. I waited for it to come out in trade paperback, since I don't get bound galleys regularly these days -- actually, I'm not sure if anyone regularly gets them anymore, since ebook proofs are so much cheaper and easier to control -- but I hope to get to it soon.

And going along with that -- and fitting thematically even better with it that I thought about when I bought them -- is the new Charles Stross "Laundry Files" novel, The Nightmare Stacks. I read the previous book, The Annihilation Score, a few months back, and realized at that point that Stross had nearly lapped me -- so I'm catching up. (By the way, that link to TAS can lead you back to my babblings about the prior books in the series, if you care.) This is the definitive Lovecraftian series of our time, written with a science fiction sensibility (much like ol' Howie himself, back in the day) and grappling with the actual modern world, in a darkly funny and amazingly twisted way. I've said it before -- Stross is inherently a deeply pessimistic writer, but this series about inevitable supernatural doom brings out his best whistling-past-the-graveyard style.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/13

Howdy, folks! Below are some books that showed up on my doorstep this past week, and I thought some of you might like to buy or read or know about some of them. This time out, all of them superficially resemble novels, but none of them are -- exactly.

One is a short-story collection, and the other two are light novels, which are like regular novels, but with aspartame rather than cane sugar. So they have the same great novel flavor, but half the calories! (Also: pictures. They may or may not avoid using "hard words," too.)

The collection of short stories is Michael Swanwick's Not So Much, Said the Cat, a trade paperback from Tachyon publishing this month. It collects seventeen stories, all from this decade, since Swanwick is not only a really good writer of short stories, he's awfully prolific as well. Even without having read this yet, I recommend it: anything by Swanwick is well worth reading.

Next up is The Devil is a Part-Timer!, Vol. 5, the latest in the light novel series about the Lord of Darkness (or a Lord of Darkness, at least, who nearly conquered his home universe and plunged it into a thousand-year rule of terror and evil) and his new life as a wage-salve at a fast-food restaurant in Tokyo. I haven't read any of these books -- by Satoshi Wagahara, with art by the entity designated 029 (Oniku) -- possibly because I love the premise so much I don't want to sully my love of it with any actual knowledge of the plots. If you are less puckish than me, you may enjoy this -- this latest volume is available now from Yen Press, who also publish a manga adaption, for those who prefer more pictures in their devil-flipping-burgers stories.

And last up for this week is another book from Yen: Baccano! 1931: The Grand Punk Railroad: Local, Vol. 2, by Ryohgo Narita. And I have to admit that I'm not sure I have that subtitle in the right place...which implies there is a right place for something so sprawling and odd. This series is set on a train crossing the USA in the year 1931, and I suspect this is as culturally accurate to Depression-Era America as Frank Miller's Ronin was to Japan. (Turnabout, as they say, is fair play.) I'm not sure what the audience is for light novels about gangsters on trains, but if that describes you, I'm happy to tell you that there's finally something fitting your very picky needs.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Incoming Books: Oh, The Last Two or Three Weeks, I Think

I haven't been posting much here, but I have been reading books, and I have even been buying books. I got a bunch of graphic novels, for example, from a couple of sources recently, and have so far neglected to mention them here. So, now I'm mentioning.

Trashed is the new GM from the guy who now bills himself as Derf Backderf -- I believe his real first name is John, but he's been the single-named cartoonist Derf for most of his career. It's inspired by his own life, since he did work as a garbageman in his youth, but this particular story is fictional.

There was a Black Kiss II some years back -- from Howard Chaykin, if you don't know -- and I got a copy, out of mostly prurient interest. But I didn't have a copy of the first one after my flood (and I think what I had were those tiny floppies from back in the dawn ages, anyway -- not the most useful format.) So I finally got a copy of the somewhat recent edition of Black Kiss, and may someday read the whole sordid saga together.

Rules for Dating My Daughter is a new collection of comics from Mike Dawson, a fellow New Jerseyite. (And so clearly a superior person because of that.) I think of him as a journeyman cartoonist -- he's done some interesting books like Freddie & Me (and others I haven't read), but no single book that really broke out or clearly identified him as that guy, Maybe this will be the book; the title essay was moderately viral sometime recently -- last year, maybe? -- when it appeared online.

Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky are back with Sex Criminals, Vol. 3, which is still about a couple who have sex, stop time, and burgle banks. This time out, I think both the "have sex" and the "stop time" bits are causing them trouble.

Marvel must be thrilled to get to Miracleman: The Golden Age, so they can finally credit a writer. This is the point at which Original Crank Alan Moore handed over the keys of Utopia to Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham (the latter on art, in case that wasn't clear). After this one, I guess there will finally be a Silver Age book, collecting stories written or half-written twenty years ago. I have no idea if there will be further ages, but publishing companies exist to publish things, so I wouldn't bet against it.

(By the way, the book I have looks mostly like this, but not exactly. Since Marvel has to have multiple covers for everything, finding the actual book cover you have in your hand online can be nearly impossible, so I used the single-issue version of the same art.)

Dylan Horrocks has some Incomplete Works, and I now own them. He's the author of Hicksville and Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen and some soul-destroying (his soul) mainstream comics in between. But I understand he's better now.

Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen's current SF series is back in Descender, Vol. 2. I have very low expectations for SF in comics form -- if it's not too egregiously stupidly space-operatic, I'm OK with it -- but Lemire seems to be setting the bar somewhat higher here.

Then there's Hellboy in Mexico, one of the odds-and-sods Hellboy collections, mostly filled with Richard Corben art and stories that don't have a whole lot to do with the central Hellboy plotline. And, you know, I'm fine with that: I used to dislike Corben's art (back in the Heavy Metal days), but it works for the kind of Hellboy stories he does.

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples brought me (well, not personally, you know) Saga, Vol. 6, which I hope does not suck. (I have the sense that Vaughan is much better at beginnings than endings, and this has been running long enough that it's no longer a beginning.)

Last is Andi Watson's Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, his GN-for-kids that came out last year. While searching this blog to see if I reviewed it then (I did), I found that I claimed to have bought it soon after I reviewed it, which surprises me: I didn't think I had a copy. (And, if I do: where is it?) So, anyway, I may now have two of these.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/6

Another big stack this week -- this time, all comics or things related to comics (i.e., light novels) -- so I'll waste no time in fripperies here up front.

  • these books came in my mail
  • I didn't expect them
  • I haven't read them yet
  • but here's what looks interesting about them
(Most of the below are from the hard-working folks at Yen Press, so I'll lead off with the other things and then indicate when this list becomes all-Yen all-the-time.)

First up is the new book by the mad genius of comics, Jason Shiga. It's called Demon, Vol. 1, the first of four volumes collecting the webcomic of the same name. It's a trade paperback from First Second, on sale in October, and it's got something to offend you. (I've only read the webcomic intermittently -- I was waiting for it to be collected like this -- but I read enough to know that much.) Shiga constructs his stories, and the implications of his character's choices, with the precision of a great mathematician, and has a joy in both complicated construction (see Meanwhile) and massive destruction (see later in this series, and, more conventionally, his great library-cop graphic novel Bookhunter). What is Demon about? It's hero, Jimmy Yee, commits suicide on the first page...and wakes up in bed a few pages later. All of the rest of Demon is a working out of what that means, and what Jimmy Yee can do with the power of not dying. One small spoiler: he can do a hell of a lot.

Also from First Second: The Last Man, Vol. 6: The Rescue, the latest in the manga-inspired series from France about high-stakes fighting tournaments in a dystopic world. Like always, the series is by the single-named triumvirate of Balak, Sanlaville, and Vives, and it will be available in November.

Next up are three books from Vertical, continuing popular manga series. Nichijou: My Ordinary Life, Vol. 4 comes from Keiichi Arawi, and it's...about kids at school, I think? The back-cover copy is aggressively opaque, starting off "the denizens of the fey kingdom must placate their princess," but the book seems to be about kids in school.

And from Ryu Mizunagi (again, via Vertical) comes Witchcraft Works, Vol. 9, which is presumably about witches doing witchery, which they wouldn't wish on a wench. Or something like that.

Then there's Tokyo ESP, Vol. 6, by Hajime Segawa, in which people with ESP live in Tokyo. Oh, and fight monsters, I think. They don't just have ESP; that would be boring.

From here on it, it's all Yen Press. I believe all of these books publish this month, too, so they should be available via your pointing device immediately. I'll list these in mostly alphabetical order, broken up by size, which won't make sense to those of you not looking at the large stack of books on my desk. (And those of you who are look at the large stack of books on my desk: stop spying on me!)

So I start with Cotoji's Anne Happy, Vol. 2, which seems to be about a group of unlucky girls in high school. (Presumably, massively, comedically unlucky.)

Then we get Yuji Iwahara's Dimension W, Vol. 3, which has an admirably trippy cover. It seems to be set in a world full of servitor robots, which may or may not be murderous -- and there are also ghosts, or at least rumors of ghosts.

Dragons Rioting, Vol. 4 is by Tsuyoshi Watanabe, but does not contain, as far as I can tell, actual dragons or an actual riot. I think this one is about a school for tough girls, into which our nebbishy male hero is thrown for plot-sufficient reasons in the first volume.

Want your manga to be about making manga? Then check out Monthly Girls' Nozaki-Kun, Vol. 4, in which the title character is a manga-ka and the rest of the cast (mostly) is his assistants. It's from Izumi Tsubaki.

Want your manga to be about the zombie apocalypse? But want it to be funny? Well, then you might like School-Live!, Vol. 4, though I think it's not wall-to-wall ha-ha. It comes from Sadoru Chiba on art and Norimitsu Kaihou (Nitroplus) on story, and is about the last surviving club in a Tokyo highschool and the few young women who belong to it.

And then there's Trinity Seven, Vol. 6, from Kenji Saito and Akinari Nao, which is about a magical school, the impending apocalypse, and other related matters.

(The books from here on are both from Yen and larger in format. Exciting!)

The Asterisk War, Vol. 1 is subtitled "Encounter with a Fiery Princess," and is a light novel by Yuu Miyazaki, with illustrations by okiura. (A manga based on the novel came out a month or two ago, so you might have heard about it already. It's about a city full of magical schools, and the magical battles that everybody engages in all of the time -- I think in an organized, tournament-style system. Our hero is the usual ordinary guy thrown into the deep end.

Deeper into a light novel series is Black Bullet, Vol. 4, by Shiden Kanzaki with illustrations by Saki Ukai. In a post-apocalypse world, a few humans skulk around Tokyo (of course), either hiding out from or battling the bizarre monstrous things that destroyed/conquered the rest of the world. Our heroes are cops -- I think, more or less.

More light novels! Kazuma Kamazhi brings us A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 8, about yet another school for magicians. Gosh! I have no idea what might have inspired all of these stories!

This next book is a manga, and I don't think the word "light" should be used to describe it: Corpse Party: Blood Covered, Vol. 2 by Makoto Kedouin and Toshimi Shinomiya. A group of middle-school kids decided to do a harmless little ritual in their school at the end of a break period, which called up the previous school on that location, which was haunted and evil and all that kind of bad stuff. The title tells you the rest of the story.

Somewhat more happily, here's also the conclusion of a popular love story: Kaoru Mori's Emma, Vol. 5, finishing up the reprinting of the story of a Victorian maid and her lordly boyfriend in larger hardcovers.

Also reprinted in double-size books: Fruits Basket Collector's Edition, Vol. 4, from Natsuki Takaya. This one -- about people who change sex when they have water thrown on them, or something like that -- is in the middle of its reprinting here.

The very best rhetorical question disguised as a title is back in light-novel form: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 6 by Fujino Omori with illustrations by Suzuhito Yasuda. I have no idea which dungeon the characters are crawling through, or how many girls have been picked up (or left sitting there, since the picker was unsure of the etiquette).

One last light novel for this week: Sword Art Online, Vol. 8: Early and Late, by Reki Kawahara with art by abec. This series started out about a group of intrepid adventurers trapped in an online MMO and threatened with real death there -- you know the drill -- but those characters seem to still be playing those kinds of games, despite being trapped and nearly/actually killed several times. Guess adventure heroes are required by law to be slow learners.

And last last is a big fat manga volume: Wataru Watanabe's Yowamushi Pedal, Vol. 3, continuing the thrilling story of a nebbish and his school bicycle-racing club. And, no, I am not kidding.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/30

Here we are at Monday once again -- it's not the best day of the week, but let me share with you some books that came in my mail, to see if that eases the pain.

(As always, these books showed up on my suburban doorstep over the past seven days, unexpectedly, and I haven't read them yet. I'll tell you what I can figure out about them from a cursory examination, a puckish sense of humor, and a general desire to see people read lots of books they like.)

First up is Eterna and Omega, because how could I not, with that title? It's the new novel from Leanna Renee Hieber, and a sequel to her earlier The Eterna Files, coming as a Tor hardcover on August 9. Hieber is one of the major lights of "gaslamp fantasy" -- which I believe is distinguished from the slightly more established steampunk fantasy by being more based in the real world of the time...if you ignore the fantasy bit of the name -- and this is set in the world of all of her fiction to date. The secret magical agency of the US (Eterna) and the secret magical agency of the UK (Omega) have been manipulated to each think the other is trying to destroy it, by the usual shadowy evil mastermind, in the year 1882. So expect a superhero-comic style meet-and-fight, and then a team-up to battle the real villain, whoever that turns out to be. (This is a little early to be Edison, though he turns up a lot in Victorian historicals, and everybody seems to hate him because Tesla is wicked kewl.) Anyway -- warring magical secret agencies + evil geniuses in the shadows sounds like a good mix to me.

The Irregular at Magic High School: Enrollment Arc II: Vol. 2 (I think those dueling number 2s are saying the same thing) is a light novel from Tsutomu Sato, with illustrations by Kana Ishida, and the fine folks at Yen Press will be happy to sell it to you as soon as you can scrape up the shekels. It continues the story of Tatsuya Shiba, unlucky enough to be enrolled at the same high-powered school for magical types as his overachieving sister, when he just wants to scrape by with his low-level power and have an ordinary life. I trust I'm not giving any spoilers if I say that he doesn't get his wish.

And I also have The Sword of Midras, which I believe begins a new epic fantasy series. (The cover calls it "A Shroud of the Avatar Novel," but doesn't tell us about any other such novels, and implies it's the first book this writing team has done together.) It's from long-time fantasist Tracy Hickman (you might remember him from DragonLance, if you have a long memory, or from any of a dozen other things over the past thirty years) and Richard Garriott, [1] who seem to be a first-time novelist here out of the fields of video games. (No judgements there; some of the best dialogue I've seen in the past few years has been in games, and world-building is a major part of that skill-set as well.) By the way, the book itself doesn't exactly tell you what Shroud of the Avatar is, but I will: it's an upcoming/early-access online RPG with both single-player and MMO elements, and which seems to be at least partially crowdfunded. One of the developers is also "Lord British," which should mean something to the same people who remember DragonLance -- that is, those of them who are as old as me (and, also, dirt). The novel itself is about a guy who finds a magic sword only he can wield, and decides to make the world a better place, one chopped head at a time. (I may be simplifying immensely.)

[1] Whose bio on the back-flap describes him as, among other things, a "private astronaut." I personally translate that to "made a pile of money in some IPO or another, and is spending a significant fraction of that pile to get into space personally at some point," but your, and his, definition might slightly differ.

Read in July

I'm typing this opening bit in early September; yes, I'm still far behind. I just caught up one month while I was on vacation, but that's not a sustainable plan. I have no idea how I'm going to do this going forward, so let's just see what happens.

In any case, here's what I read in July:

Marc Hempel, The 4-Fisted Misadventures of TUG & buster (7/1)

Howard Anderson, Albert of Adelaide (7/11)

Ray Davies, X-Ray (7/14)

Peter Kuper, Ruins (7/15)

Merrill Markoe, Cool, Calm and Contentious (7/20)

Evan Dorkin, The Eltingville Club (7/22)

P.G.Wodehouse, Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets (7/26)

James Morrow, City of Truth (7/27)

Richard Tames, Shakespeare's London on Five Groats a Day (7/29)

That's fewer books than June, which might mean I get through writing about them more quickly. Or maybe not: I'm trying not to make predictions these days.