Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Home Fires by Gene Wolfe

There are things you can depend on from Gene Wolfe. The book will be told by a man (with very rare exceptions): one who knows more than he says, and is skilled at more things than he even knows. There will be long conversations that break off suddenly and never quite address the point you thought was at issue. There will be female characters who don't quite seem human: overly emotional, mercurial figures who sometimes are said to be loved by the hero and sometimes seem to be burdens to him. (Or, often, both.) That hero will never have any real emotions expressed through his actions. He may say that he has them, and you get to decide if you believe him.

You get to decide if you believe the hero about a lot of things in a Wolfe novel.

You will figure out much of what is going on by yourself -- not in the way of a mystery novel, exactly, but more in the way of a child moving into an unfamiliar new life situation, full of strange adults with agendas they will never explain to you. Events will happen swiftly and unexpectedly, and the plot you were anticipating will fail to happen, perhaps repeatedly. The ending will not necessarily be a dying fall, but you should prepare for one.

With that in mind, then, this is Home Fires, his novel from 2011. (I'm running behind: he's had two since then, The Land Across and A Borrowed Man.) It is both a hundred years or so in the future and a pastiche of the 1940s, as often in recent Wolfe books. Wolfe never stoops to an infodump, but we readers learn that this is a moderately dystopian world, possibly overpopulated, possibly post-Peak Oil and definitely run by corrupt hereditary politicians from top to bottom. In what is perhaps an echo of 1984, our main characters are from the North American Union and occasionally talk about the two other great powers in the world, the EU and Eurasia. (I am sorry to say this seems to be a EU as conceived by paranoid right-wingers; in a throwaway detail we learn that sharia law is practiced there. But all the pieces of this world seem to be horrible in their own ways, so that does not necessarily indicate Wolfe's personal politics circa 2010.)

A quaint, pulp-era interstellar war is raging, and has been for at least a few decades, between the nations of Earth and an alien race called the Os. Both races need the same kind of habitable world, and so infantry forces battle on the surfaces of those worlds, across the galaxy, to secure them for one race or the other. Neither force seems to use anything like armor (personal or tank), let alone unmanned devices. This war may not be precisely a stalemate, but it certainly doesn't seem like anyone is winning. Somehow, spying -- both among the supposedly-allied human nations and across the species barrier -- is really important and common.

(I pause for bemused laughter.)

The economy is similarly pulp-era, with no sign of automation even to the level we have it today. Our hero is the managing partner of a law firm, and has a secretary, who herself has an assistant. (There may be a global CEO or two who have two PAs these days, but that would be rare. And law firms have been getting leaner with the sharpest of razor blades for the last two decades.) But, for some reason Wolfe does not state, this administrative overstaffing on top of the pressures of a people-intensive galactic war have led to a massive oversupply of workers, so that there are thousands of applicants for each open positions, leaving poor job-seekers routinely out of luck for years at a time.

With Wolfe's modern novels, the reader has to tease out the background information that is pertinent to his plot from the background information that is not: Wolfe was born in 1931, and his worldbuilding more and more shows his age. Most of the things I've been mentioning for several paragraphs are unlikely and anachronistic, but they are not important. This is not a story about the interstellar war, or the unlikely economy, or the sail-powered globe-trotting ultra-luxury cruise liners that are nevertheless repeatedly attacked and conquered by murderous pirates.

No, it's a story of a marriage -- or, rather, of a contract, since this is a world where marriage is personal and religious, while contracts are the public things done at the courthouse with real legal power. (Once again, one scratches ones head and wonders if Wolfe deliberately made this world a pseudo-libertarian nightmare, or if those were just ideas he was toying with at the time. But speculating on Wolfe's motivations is never useful.)

Twenty years ago, two young people -- undergraduate Chelle and law student Skip -- made a binding promise to contract, as Chelle enlisted in that war. Due to the usual time-dilation effects of '70s-style interstellar wars, she's now about eighteen months older and at the end of her service, with scars physical and mental. But he lived all of those twenty-plus years, and is now, as I noted above, moderately rich and powerful, though his firm seems to be a small litigation boutique and his practice not particularly focused on things that would bring in a lot of money (class actions, if those even still exist in this world, or defending local legitimate businessmen who are always being accused of running some criminal enterprise or another).

I do need to note here, again, that Home Fires kept tossing details at me that I knew enough to look askance at. Wolfe novels are always tossing off seemingly-minor details like that, but it's less appealing when the reader knows how such things work in the current world and can't make the fictional world cohere given the facts stated.

Anyway, Skip goes to meet Chelle as she disembarks from the giant spaceship back from wherever. For no reason he tells us, or that makes much sense later on, he brought along her mother Vanessa -- whom Chelle divorced years before she even met Skip -- even though that meant hiring a company to decant Vanessa's stored memories (she's dead) into a borrowed body for the occasion. Vanessa is needy and manipulative and demanding, but it at first seems to have been a good idea, since Chelle doesn't even seem to notice that Vanessa is an entirely different person twenty years younger than she should be.

(No, Wolfe doesn't ever explain any of that. Or even, as far as I could see, give details that could build an explanation. In general, it does not pay to spend much mental energy working out motivations and mental models for Wolfe's female characters: they are flighty, unearthly creatures, outside the ken of men such as Wolfe and his readers.)

Skip and Chelle's relationship needs to be rekindled, obviously. (Both of them seem totally outwardly committed to that rekindling while simultaneously internally assuming that it won't work and working assiduously to ruin the relationship.) So they set off on a round-the-world year-long cruise to get to know each other again.

But Chelle has not yet gotten out of the habit of random casual sex with fellow soldiers. And Skip had a decade-plus affair with his assistant Susan -- he seems to be able to emotionally separate from that, if he was ever emotionally connected to a single thing in his life to begin with -- but it brings along other complications, because, as usual with Wolfe, women are crazy bitches.

I pause here to note that Susan and Chelle and Vanessa are all women. Just a note.

Oh, yeah, and remember the pirates? There are pirates.

And the people who rented Skip a new body for Vanessa want it back, because he tried to pull a lawyer trick to "save" her and he's apparently not as good a lawyer as he thinks he is.

So the story of a couple trying to find out if they still have anything in common turns into the usual Wolfean stew of gunfights, tense verbal negotiations that cut off suddenly, chapter-ending knockouts, and repeated kidnappings. This may all be a good thing, because, as Wolfe presents them, the answer to the question "Do Skip and Chelle have any future" is clearly "Oh hell no."

Three hundred pages later, the novel ends. The women still don't make much sense as human beings, and Skip is still a cold fish who has more skills than are plausible. But it was an interesting experience along the way, and Wolfe is never boring -- confusing sometimes, baffling occasionally, and quirky always, but never ever boring.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Distant Neighhborhood, Vol. 2 by Jiro Taniguchi

Hiroshi is still stuck in his middle-school self as the second half of this story begins -- he was a salaryman in his mid-forties, as the first book set up, who accidentally went to his childhood home on the wrong train and fell asleep on his mother's grave -- but he's mostly learned to act like a normal young man and to stop telling people about the future.

A Distant Neighborhood is a quiet story, for all of the time-slip fantasy behind it: the story of one man getting a chance to see his young parents through adult eyes, and finally understanding them because of that. Taniguchi presents that story deliberately and naturalistically; Hiroshi gets worried and upset by the coming day when he knows his father will disappear forever, but Taniguchi uses that to drive Hiroshi's inner narrative and feelings, not to motivate external action. This is a story that takes place primarily within Hiroshi -- the story of how he learned things and re-evaluated a pivotal time in his young teen years.

Taniguchi ends this precise story the only way he can, balancing the beginning exactly with the end. Hiroshi can only take back memories and realizations -- but that's more than enough. A Distant Neighborhood is a manga mostly about children in middle-school and one boy's family, but it's vastly different from most of the manga on those themes that get translated here: this is a book with adult concerns and ideas, thoughtful and still and lucid as a deep pool.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/27

Sometimes I dream of the perfect books-in-the-mail week: I get exactly the books I'd want to read next, and precisely as many books as I'd read the next week. Since the universe is infinite, it's theoretically possible, but since even I don't know what I'll want to read three days from now (or what will affect my reading time and inclination), it's practically impossible.

But, some weeks, I get just one book, and it's practically begging me to jump the queue and read it that's pretty close.

(In case you're confused: I review books, so publishers send me books to review. Fewer now than in the past, since blogs are pretty 2006 these days, and my traffic is not setting the Internet on fire. But free stuff is a wonderful thing in any circumstance, so I celebrate those books every Monday morning.)

This week, that book was Nothing Left to Lose by Dan Wells.

It's the sixth novel about John Wayne Cleaver, and, I suppose, the end of the second loose trilogy. (Each book is a standalone, like a mystery novel, but they tend to cluster.) John is a teenage sociopath -- diminished emotional affect, urges to kill, voices in his head, the whole bit -- who has tried his whole life to keep himself controlled and good. Unfortunately, John lives in a dark-fantasy universe, where a group of people got supernatural powers thousands of years back and have been predating on humans ever since, in various horrible and unpleasant ways. John has been tracking and killing these monsters for several years now, since they wrecked his young life back in the first three books. Along the way, he's lost just about everything but himself, and all of his hopes for anything else.

John has a great voice, and Wells lets him tell the stories directly -- they're compelling, page-turning stories that move well and and bleakly excellent. See my reviews of the first trilogy, The Devil's Only Friend, and Over Your Dead Body for more details.

Nothing Left to Lose is a trade paperback from Tor, coming on June 6th. It may be the end of John's story.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Snotgirl, Vol. 1: Green Hair Don't Care by Bryan Lee O'Malley and Leslie Hung

Sometimes, a main character is the entire book. A reader's reaction to her determines everything. If you sympathize with her, you sink into the book and are swept along. If not...well, in that case, things are rockier.

I have to admit that I didn't warm to Lottie Person, the tediously self-centered, vain and shallow main character of Snotgirl. She's a fashion blogger in LA, the epitome of the empty-headed young person who lives 24/7 with a phone in her hand, an emoji in her heart, and an uplift at the end of her sentences. I won't say that I hate her, but I'd rather not spend any more time in her company than I have to, and if I knew her in real life, I probably would hate her.

(She reminded me of Stephanie Plum, the similarly ditzy heroine of a series of novels by Janet Evanovich. I hate-read five or six of those books, back when I read much more and when I was reading professionally, always with the hope that Steph would finally wise up, even just slightly, and get the least clue about herself or her life. I am older and less tolerant of the travails of the young and fabulous now.)

Snotgirl is entirely from Lottie's point of view: it's deeply invested in her and her view of the world. If you're not willing to deeply believe in this neurotic young woman, and insist along with her that blogging about clothing is a serious and worthy pursuit for an adult, you will be left cold, grumpy and entirely outside the story.

As I was.

I am impressed that this is written by Bryan Lee O'Malley, cartoonist of Seconds and the mega-popular Scott Pilgrim stories -- it has the focus on youth and complicated, flawed protagonists of those previous books, but it digs much more directly into a very female life and world-view than he's one in the past. My opinion is probably not that believable on this subject, but Lottie felt deeply real to me: not a person I want to spend time with, admittedly, but like someone I could easily see existing in the real world.

It looks gorgeous, too, as a book about fabulous people and their fabulous clothes should -- artist Leslie Hung and colorist Mickey Quinn create a crisp, larger-than-life world of gorgeous clear-skinned people in outfits that pop and a vibrant, energetic color palette.

But I just don't like Lottie at all. I don't care about her massive allergy-driven self-doubts, and I'm not intrigued enough by her new frenemy Caroline's obvious gaslighting and negging to want to keep up with more Snotgirl. Lottie is shallow when she isn't mean, and mean when she isn't shallow, and occasionally both at the same time. I just don't want people like that in my life, even fictionally.

That's totally fine -- there need to be more comics not for middle-aged white guys like me -- but I'm a little sad that I bounced off it so hard. I'll have to see what O'Malley does next -- and maybe see what else Hung has done, since I'm not familiar with her work.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

The trilogy begun in The Nameless City continues here in The Stone Heart -- and, as we all know about trilogies, that means that this book will be darker than the first and have less of an ending. Both of those things are true, and I'll also note that some of the things I grumped about in the world-building of the first book are muted or explained otherwise here -- I don't think Hicks even knew my post existed; just that those are obvious questions that she either already had in mind or had raised to her by librarians or readers or her editors.

So: we're still in not-13th century China, in the city that is officially Nameless in this book (I don't think anyone calls it DanDao, the official name under the current conquerors). Our heroes Kaidu (teen son of a conquering general) and Rat (orphan teen daughter of locals killed by those conquerors and raised by the local monks) saved the life of the General of All Blades in the previous book, making them moderately important and influential. That General, in fact, has come around to the idea that Nameless should be governed by an independent council, made up of representatives of the great warring nations and the locals. It hasn't happened yet, but the current set of conquerors are moving forward to make it happen -- if one of the other major warring nations can be brought on board.

Not everyone agrees with that utopian dream, of course -- particularly not young Dao lordlings who currently expect to grow up to rule this great city and who would be exiled from it under the proposed plan. And lordlings in a feudal society have violent options to stop changes they don't like.

Things get dark -- again, this is the middle book of a trilogy, so that's to be expected. Our heroes can't save the day if the day doesn't need to be saved. There is a lot of age-appropriate death and destruction before the end of The Stone Heart, and there is a day that is definitely endangered. It will probably be another year before the concluding third book, The Divided Earth, which may test the patience of some younger readers (and, who knows? older ones as well). But, from the evidence here, Hicks will reward that wait -- she's been telling great comics stories for a while now, and this trilogy shows her stretching to a larger canvas and doing a great job of it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Underworld: From Hoboken to Hollywood by Kaz

Everything declines and falls; everything takes ship for the West and its inevitable end. But sometimes things can be reborn, as the Age of Gold turns to the Age of Silver. So underground comics died, as their audience aged out or grew up or got real jobs or got embarrassed or just went somewhere else. But much of the same energy and subject matter and style came back in comics that ran in the burst of weekly free newspapers that sprang up in the late '80s and flourished in the '90s.

(And some of that, in turn, went into webcomics when those weeklies, in their turn, were strangled by market forces.)

One of the most aggressively underground of the strips in those papers was Kaz's Underworld -- a weekly strip with no continuity, just a collection of grotesque lowlifes who swore and killed each other and did drugs and parodied themselves and older comics. (Kaz is the working name of a cartoonist with the jaw-buster moniker Kazimieras G. Prapuolenis; if I had a name like that, I'd want to work under something shorter as well.) And that strip apparently is still running, though I can't imagine where -- those free weeklies are pretty much all gone.

Underworld: From Hoboken to Hollywood collects what seems to be the full run of the strip, incorporating six earlier books that chronicled the strip from 1992 through 2008 and three sections (also originally separate books?) titled "Underworld USA" from the years since then. The strip might have been re-launched, in the same venues or somewhere else, in 2009 as "Underworld USA" -- the book isn't entirely clear there. (There are also a few strips that are repeated; I suspect because they got accidentally duplicated in the original books and this new compilation didn't go back to the original strips.)

Underworld is a wallow in the gutter, deliberately. The characters are lovably horrible people, murderers and drug addicts and sex fiends and creeps and scumbags. That's the point. And they inhabit something like the world of classic comics or early black-and-white cartoons, where anything can happen for a gag and it all goes back to the way it was for the next installment. So the strip is remarkably consistent over the twenty-plus years collected here -- Kaz's art got somewhat more expressive and precise along the way, but that's the main difference -- as the characters do the same things in the same ways, for mostly humorous purposes.

I read Underworld, on and off, throughout the '90s in the New York Press, more or less its home paper. So I have some nostalgia -- nostalgie de la boue, I suppose -- for Kaz and his creations. But three hundred pages of the same thing is a bit wearying; I don't know if anyone who doesn't already like and remember these characters will make it through to the end. Frankly, I think the smaller books are a better format for a strip like this -- some things just aren't made to be entombed in a giant hardcover slab.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/20

Hey! You know how I list and summarize/pitch the books that show up in my mailbox here? How I do it every Monday? That whole thing?

Well, obviously I can only do it if I get books in my mailbox.

Last week I didn't.

So, instead, I'm going to spend the time this lovely cool Sunday morning by trying to finish up posts on the books I read last week. That might be of more or less interest to you particularly; I don't know. But it's what I can do, and it's what I will do. See you here next week for another mailbox check.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Other Chain

So a week ago the family went off for Mother's Day festivities, our choice of which might seem odd to some. (We did the dinner-out thing the night before, because we are neither crazy nor fools, and didn't want to fight the crowds of those who are one or both.)

What we did was see a movie. A big Hollywood blockbuster movie, which you may have heard of, about a group of misfits guarding a galaxy, the sequel to a similar movie about the same people. We did this at 11:15 in the morning, so the price was at the level my '80s-born heart still thinks is the right price for a movie, and that price made me and The Wife happy.

(The Wife avoided that original movie when my sons & I went to see it in the theater, because she thought it would be too boyish, and then did not believe us when we told her she would really like it. She subsequently watched it on TV and had to admit that once again, as usual, I was right in all things.)

That movie features really prominently a song called "The Chain." That song was rolling around in my head for several days, along with several others from aforesaid movie.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about.

On shuffle in my car, a couple of days ago, this other song called "The Chain" came up in the rotation. It's more my style to begin with -- I never completely get into songs about happiness and success and things like that -- and the juxtaposition amused me more than it should have.

So here's Ingrid Michaelson with another tale of bad love -- about a girl, a boy, some promises, and something locked up tight:

Friday, May 19, 2017

Gobler Toys: The Fun We Can't Remember by Steve Casino and Steve Fink

I've mentioned before that I'm a sucker for fake non-fiction: the kind of books that barefacedly claim something untrue, and spin that out at great length, completely straight-faced. It can be a serious history book like For Want of a Nail, or a puckish natural history guide like Dragons: The Modern Infestation, or an encyclopedic takedown of an entire genre like The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

Or, as here, a heavily-illustrated nostalgic guide to the best-known products of a post-war toymaker that is slightly hampered by the fact of never actually existing.

Steve Casino and Steve Fink -- both of them equally toilers in the toy mills and collectors of brightly-colored plastic crap from their own late-Boomer youths -- have constructed the story of a company only a little too silly to be real, and its weird genius of a founder, Ira Gobler, in Gobler Toys: The Fun We Can't Remember.

The toys here are almost plausible, like a Weeble-esque toy for kids to climb into and drive around called Gobler's Wobblers. They all look like the detritus of some slightly quirkier universe, where a pull-toy called Senor Sandwich -- which smells like real salami! -- could have been a smash hit in the early 60s.

And the quirky head of that company also is nearly believable, with his penchant for publicity and knack for creating popular fads -- though his insistence that all of his genius comes from tugging on his "neck skin" (six inches of excess flesh hanging below his face) will make all but the most gullible suspect something is up.

As you might imagine, this was a website first, and the site is still up -- the book is from 2003, so this was an Internet 1.0 (or maybe 1.1) play, back when Microsoft was the only evil overwhelming tech monopoly. The book is different from the site, and has a lot of material not on the site, though the site does have some video (which books, sadly, still can't provide). It's an obscure book, more or less self-published and over a decade old, but worth searching out for those who like fake history and quirky jokes.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Terms and Conditions by R. Sikoryak

Sikoryak has made his comics career out of taking words and pictures from other people and mashing them together -- most notably collected in Masterpiece Comics. His thing generally is to redraw famous comics pages -- sometimes new pages in the style of someone old and/or dead, but usually the famous art itself -- and put different words into the balloons, for amusing, satiric, and or artsy purposes.

A couple of years ago, he decided, for whatever reason, to abandon high literature and take his text from much duller reality -- Apple's iTunes Terms and Conditions, a legal document that millions of us have accepted without actually reading. The book Terms and Conditions explains, in a short postscript, how he went about working on this project, and which iterations of the changing legal document were used for various versions of these pages, but it never actually tells us why he did it.

The book also never mentions that Sikoryak replaced the main characters in all of this redrawn art with what looks like a Steve Jobs figure -- the name Jobs is never mentioned, nor the fact that this book has a single main character throughout all of its hundred art styles. But it's what he did, and you can see many of the styles of Job on the front cover.

Sikoryak's postscript also notes that he worked on his book in batches of pages, a dozen or so at a time. He would draw those page and then shoehorn some T&C onto them, and then go onto the next batch. So he didn't pick pages to coincide with the text; he just redrew a bunch of famous comics pages to star Steve Jobs instead, and then tossed what is essentially lorem ipsum text onto those pages.

It's all very arty. But I don't really see the purpose or use of it. Terms and Conditions can have no artistic unity in any way -- each page in completely independent, and the text is pure legal boilerplate. The enjoyment in reading it is primarily in recognizing each page (if you do so instantly) or in trying to figure out the source if it's vaguely familiar. It is a cold and pointless thing, of interest primarily to people who like conceptual art.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Amadeo & Maladeo by R.O. Blechman

Blechman has been making comics and related art for six or seven decades now, going back to 1953's The Juggler of Our Lady. Most of that stuff was collected a few years back in Talking Lines -- but Blechman is still around and still making art.

(If anything below ends up sounding critical -- I never know which way my fingers will tend -- let me say up front here that it's really damn impressive that Blechman is still around, still working, and still getting books published. This is a man who was born in 1930 and got into the Art Directors Hall of Fame nearly twenty years ago...and he had a new book out in 2016. I only hope I can be around when I'm 86.)

Amadeo & Maladeo is a historical graphic novel, something of a compare-and-contrast about two musician-composers in the late 18th century, loosely inspired by the life of Mozart. And it looks like it will have a crisp, defined contrast between the two of them, but then...wanders off into specifics on both sides that make that comparison muddied.

I'm torn on whether that makes this book stronger or weaker -- on the one hand, the book it seemed to be heading towards could have been dull and obvious, with the rich prodigy brought low in the end and the poor kid finding fame and success in America. On the other hand, their careers aren't particularly parallel, and there's a moment where something bad happens to a middle-aged Amadeo -- a carriage accident of some kind -- that Blechman never quite explains.

But, anyway, Amadeo is a prodigy, performing for the crowned heads of Europe in the 1750s, before the age of ten. Maladeo, born on the other side of the blanket to a servant girl who had a happy night with Amadeo's violin-teacher father, performs on street-corners and is shanghaied to New York at a young age.

In the end, we are with Maladeo as a happy old man, which I suspect is the big clue -- Blechman himself lived to an impressive old age, and he had Amadeo die at an age similar to Mozart's. Neither man could choose his life, of course, and both had successes and happiness along the way -- but Maladeo is still going at the end, and that has to count for something.

So there may not be a moral here, just the story of two contrasting lives. The world has enough morals, though, so the lack here is not a problem. And Blechman's trademark "shaky line" is as expressive and wonderful here as ever -- note that it's not because of age; he's always drawn like that on purpose. If you're not expecting something stark and classical in its construction, you'll likely enjoy Amadeo & Maladeo a lot.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Brody's Ghost Collected Edition by Mark Crilley

Brody's Ghost was a six-book series that came out from 2010 through 2015; I saw the first volume and then lost track of it. Crilley, of course, first came to comics-readers' attention with his series Akiko, an all-ages series that ran for a decade starting in 1995 and spawned a series of prose novels as well as the comics stuff.

And, since time wounds all heels, I'm chagrined to realize that Akiko ended a good decade ago, and that Crilley, who I thought of as a young guy, is actually a couple of years older than me (and so is young slightly less than I am, which is already not much at all). It really is horrible how we all keep on getting older and more tired and how good things we enjoyed move further into the past and away from us.

But Crilley doesn't need my ennui. He spent the first half of the current decade writing and drawing this series, and it's now assembled -- nearly six hundred pages of main story, sidebar color extras, covers, sketchbook pages, and similar stuff -- in Brody's Ghost Collected Edition.

Brody is a slacker and a loser, living in a dump of an apartment and getting by on busking and the oddest of odd jobs, pining over Nicole, the girlfriend he lost most of a year ago and resolutely not getting on with his life or doing anything constructive. (He also seems to have been dumped for a scary anger issue, and not his general mopery, which makes him that much worse.)

His world is a mildly dystopian near-future city, all ruin and corruption and piles of junk, though Brody never has to worry about finding food and there's no sign the corrupt cops specifically target any particular populations, or are corrupt in any more corrosive ways than simply taking bribes to let criminals sell their illegal wares to a willing population. This is not a story of world-building, so a reader should just take the signposts and leave it at that.

One day, Brody sees a ghost -- Talia, who was sixteen when she died six years ago and who claims to have been kept out of Heaven until she accomplishes one major Good Deed on earth. That good deed is to stop the Penny Killer, a particularly unpleasant serial killer of young women, and she needs a ghost-seer to do it, since she can't directly interact with the physical world. Brody, since he can see her, is by definition a ghost-seer, and so she intends to haunt the hell out of him until he does what she wants.

Brody's Ghost was originally published as six books, so each book has a definite shape, and leads to a major change or shift in the plot. As you might have guessed, Talia does recruit Brody in the first book, since it would be tedious to have six hundred pages of a mopey guy refusing to help out a cute goth ghost girl.

I shouldn't tell you too much about the later plot twists, though I can gesture in the direction of saying there will be some -- fairly conventional, nothing that breaks suspension of disbelief -- and that the second book is mostly about turning slacker-Brody into ripped ghost-seer Brody through intensive training by a samurai ghost. (Crilley has always had a tropism towards Japan and japonaiserie, as seen both in the character of the sensei and the fact that his character has a sensei to run him through a hundred-page training montage.)

Brody's Ghost is a solid comics story in a pretty conventional idiom: guy discovers he has a mysterious power that he has to use to make the world better, and fights against it (and his mentors) for a while before finally doing the thing he was Meant To Do. I'm not crazy about the Brody-Nicole relationship: we don't see it ever being particularly healthy, so I tend to think of it as purely Brody projecting his own neediness and demands onto the more stable and grounded Nicole. (I suspect Crilley did not want to reinforce this interpretation.)

Crilley tells that story in his mature style, one part manga-inspired and one part animation-crisp. His lines are always clear and communicate instantly, which is a rare gift. The dialogue is also quite good: his characters are real and living (well, some of them are dead, but you know what I mean). If you grew up on Akiko, you're right about the age to really like Brody's Ghost.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/13

This is one of the weeks where I have just one book to tell you about -- so, just to remind you, this Monday-morning posts lists whatever books I got in the mail the week before, with whatever interesting facts I can glean from them without actually trying to speed-read them on a Sunday.

This week, the book is Thornhill by Pam Smy, a novel/graphic novel hybrid from Roaring Brook, a young-readers imprint of Macmillan. Smy is an illustrator based in the UK, and this is her first novel -- though it's not a traditional all-words novel, but more along the lines of Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck (or his earlier The Invention of Hugo Cabret), in which one story is told in words and a contrasting story is told in pictures, and the two stories merge at the end because otherwise it wouldn't be a novel.

This may be a larger sub-genre than I'm aware of, and possibly Selznick is not even its originator -- but it's clearly a small thing, since writing basically a whole novel and also drawing a hundred-plus full-page illustrations require a particular set of skills that not very many people possess. (From the evidence here, Smy does possess all of those skills.)

The Thornhill of the title is an imposing Victorian edifice, an orphanage in 1982 when Mary is an unhappy inmate there and an abandoned ruin in 2016 when Ella moves in down the street. Mary's story is told in her diary entries; Ella's is told in full-page illustrations that are not entirely unlike comics. I expect there is a supernatural element in play here, but I won't make any predictions as to what that is.

Thornhill is available in hardcover on August 29th -- but you might have to go over to the kids' section of the store to find it.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Spanish Fever edited by Santiago Garcia

In 2013, Santiago Garcia edited a collection of comics by mostly younger creators from his native Spain, under the title Panorama. Three years later, the US publishing outfit Fantagraphics got Erica Mena to translate all of those comics and issued it in an English edition under the title Spanish Fever, burying Garcia's name deep in the book so it looked like it sprang forth fully-formed.

(I'm not sure if the title change is a subtle indication that Americans are too stupid to recognize translations without being hit on the head, or a smart way of flagging it to the audience that might care about it. And it's not like Panorama is the greatest, most specific title in the world to begin with.)

So Spanish Fever (nee Panorama) contains twenty-six stories by just about as many creators -- there's one writer-artist pair, but all of the rest are portmanteau cartoonists doing all of the work themselves -- most of whom are from Generation X or younger, and so came of age after the end of Spain's repressive Fascist dictatorship in the 1970s.

(It still surprises me, when I realize it again, that an honest-to-God fascist dictatorship was still ruling a major country in the heart of Europe within my lifetime. And, without getting political here, it shows the need to be vigilant against the rise of fascist tendencies and groups in our own countries at all times.)

I would love to point out my favorite stories and creators in Spanish Fever -- that's why I read books like this -- but nothing has stuck in my mind strongly (and poking through it again to write this post, I'm just feeling "oh, that was an OK story" or "I kinda like that art style; it reminds me a bit of Dash Shaw" rather than anything more energizing). Maybe I was just in the wrong mood, or I'm not the right reader. But nothing really lept out at me as a story I loved or a creator I wanted to see more of. That could be an artifact of reading all of the stories back-to-back, on a train -- I don't want to place the blame on the book. But it does mean I don't have anything to point at and gush about.

Spanish Fever is a nice collection of quite varied work by a group of creators I didn't know at all. Several of them have had book-lengths work out as well, for further reading, and a couple of those have even been translated into English. All of these pieces, though, seem to be full works -- there's no excerpts, which I greatly appreciated. (Too many English-language anthologies of comics are full of ten pages from the middle of this and a vignette ripped from the other.) If you're interested in Spanish comics, or in broadening your comics-reading horizons more generally, it's a great book.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Carpet Sweeper Stories by Julie Doucet

Julie Doucet hasn't made comics for publication in a decade -- and hasn't done it regularly for nearly two. Every reader is now expecting the sentence to announce "until now!", but Carpet Sweeper Tales isn't actually comics itself.

The problem is that I'm having a hard time saying just what it is.

Doucet took images from 1970s Italian fumetti -- comics-like stories told through captions over photographs -- and reconstructed them into short comics-esque pseudo-narratives, overlaid with her own ransom-note-style cut-and-paste captions. Those captions are, as far as I can tell, supposed to be read in English -- Doucet is Canadian and bilingual in French, so that could be an option -- but they don't actually make sense much of the time.

Doucet has been making gallery art since she left comics, so my suspicion is that each piece is supposed to be much closer to an art installation than anything resembling a story. Her captions delight in the sound of words rather than their meaning, and the flap copy specifically says Carpet Sweeper is meant to be read out loud. So the fact that I can't tease a coherent narrative out of most of the short stories in this book might be a feature rather than a bug -- I think that's what Doucet wanted.

Look, I'll give you an example -- here's a page near the end of the piece "Brdd and Catalma," which the two characters are having an incomprehensible conversation in a car. (Many of the photos are of people in cars, and a number are named after cars...that may mean something, but it's not clear what.)

That's what Carpet Sweeper looks like: full-page grainy photos from what look like '70s car ads, overlain with deliberately ragged cut-and-paste type. It's clearly what Doucet wanted to do, and it's definitely idiosyncratic.

But it makes Carpet Sweeper Tales awfully esoteric and artsy, yet another vague criticism of mid-modern life and ideals that doesn't make those actual criticisms clear and precise. Doucet used to make great, visceral, immediate comics, full of life and fantasy and held together by her strong voice and vision. This is no way looks like a step forward from what she used to do.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How Fiction Works by James Wood

I'm well out of my weight class here, and I know it. Wood is a heavyweight literary critic and has been so for a couple of decades now, while I'm a former reprint editor who has degenerated so far as to run a book-review blog. So what I can I tell you about his 2007 book about how good books work?

Well, I can tell you that Wood has some pretty serious blinders in How Fiction Works. He's swallowed the canon whole, and is good at articulating how a large number of worthy writers achieve the aims he's interested in, but there's no sign that he's ever read anything else. From the evidence of this book, there are no fiction genres, and writers abandoned the first-person narrative long ago, never to return to it.

Even if a reader thinks Wood is a thoughtful and interesting writer, this is an awful lot to swallow.

Admittedly, How Fiction Works is a slim book, not a catalog. But it does aim to show how modern fiction achieves its aims, so one could reasonably expect Wood not to focus on just a tiny slice of that universe of fiction and declare his task done. There are a hell of a lot of professional writers out there who don't give a shit for Flaubert, and Wood's theories ignore all of them. (And probably a whole bunch who appreciate and respect Flaubert but are trying to do something very different.) Not all of those writers are genre, either -- there are major territories of the literary world where Wood's postulates do not hold.

Now, there is an argument that can be made that the stuff Wood focuses on is more important and worthy, that it's the central work of the novel and the spine of the prose literary world for the past few hundred years -- and I'm not entirely dismissive of that argument. But Wood doesn't even gesture in the direction of that argument; he just assumes it as he assumes his readers breathe air. And that, in the early 21st century, is simply not tenable. No respectable theory of fiction can ignore most of fiction.

So I can only say this: this book should rightfully be called How 20th Century Post-Flaubert Mimetic Literary Fiction Works. If it were, I would have no objections to any of Wood's postulates or arguments or ideas. As it is, though, it claims a massive territory it doesn't even try to cover.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Ares, Apollo, and Artemis by George O'Connor (three books)

I've written about George O'Connor's great series of books Olympians -- retelling the stories of the Greek gods for an audience not yet old enough to drive -- several times before, but now he's clearly getting to the A-team!

(Pause for laughter for a very, very weak joke.)

Actually, the previous books are Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Aphrodite, so the A-team has been featured twice before...but there are a lot of Greek gods beginning with A to begin with. You also could note that this planned twelve-book series is now three-quarters complete, leaving O'Connor with Hermes, Haiphestos, and possibly Dionysos and/or Hestia to finish up the set.

Like each of the preceding books, Ares, Apollo, and Artemis each presents the titular god at the center of authentic mythological action, somewhat opaqued to make certain elements more acceptable to a middle-school audience (or, more precisely, to the librarians, teachers, and purse-string-holding school boards of those young people). O'Connor doesn't exactly bowdlerize, but he doesn't dwell on the gore and rape -- though his annotations and notes at the end are specific enough to explain to all but the dullest middle-schoolers what was actually going on.

Some of the books dramatize one major myth or story about that god, while others have taken a more holistic approach -- you can't encapsulate Zeus by telling how he seduced one particular mortal women, for example.

So Ares is set at the climax of The Illiad, tightly focused on the squabbles among the gods over their demigod children and favorites, while Apollo and Artemis are more like mosaics, telling many stories to fill in the lives of their title characters. Apollo is told by the nine Muses, each telling (alone or in tandem) one story of this most Lannister-looking of gods, from his birth through his pursuits of various women to his defiance of Zeus. Artemis's story is told by a wider chorus (and, yes, a Greek one, har har), but similarly covers the major myths about her.

O'Connor clearly loves this material and has spent a lot of time and effort to present it well. And he has detailed notes on his story, plus an actual bibliography to send interest readers back to the originals. This is pretty much the Platonic ideal of a series for young readers: detailed, exciting, colorful, well-researched, and connecting back to works with more depth. And it's of serious interest even to readers who are old enough to drive.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/6

Nothing this week, I'm afraid.

Well, that's not quite true. I did get two books by Rick Geary, but I got those because I ordered and paid for them. (The Secret Door at the White House and Early Stories: 1977-1988.) And they're only available from him directly, not through any of your usual corporate purveyors of culture.They don't even have ISBNs, which means they don't really fit my personal definition of "book," either.

(When you work in an industry, you tend to internalize the norms of that industry in sometimes unexpected ways.)

So they don't really count.

Anyway, I'll be back next week, with whatever came in in the intervening days.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Damn Everything But the Circus

I don't know why, but running through my head today are the two spoken-word pieces by Ken Nordine from the great Stay Awake album from the '80s. (It had the oddest collection of covers of Disney songs that ever was, or could be, assembled.)

So here's his opening:

The closing, sadly, doesn't seem to be available online at all. So I'll just have to ask you myself:

do you see the noses growing?

Friday, May 05, 2017

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, and Maarta Laiho

As an adult and the owner of a penis, I am not the person who should be telling you about Lumberjanes. So I'm going to assume that you all knew about it already, and were just waiting for me to finally come around, since you knew it was wonderful already. (Hey, guys! You could've told me!)

Lumberjanes is a comics series that feels like it wants to be an animated TV series -- you know, one of the good modern ones, from that channel you like, officially for kids but with a huge fanbase of adults who are generally not embarrassing in public, either. It's got the diverse cast of friendly energetic kids -- Jo, April, Molly, Mal and Ripley -- and their quirky-but-interesting milieu, here the Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types.

To underline the point, these "kids" are all girls. There have been plenty of all-male groups of kid adventurers without anyone complaining, and an equally large number that's mostly boys with with a token girl. Lumberjanes can't reverse hundreds of years of sexism all by itself, obviously. But it stands athwart that history yelling...well, it's too good-natured to yell, actually, and it's not telling anyone to stop. Instead, Lumberjanes will go its own way, and make that way look so enticing that we all just have to follow.

Those five girls are all not-Girl Scouts and are at not-Girl Scout camp for however long this summer can last. (Ask Phineas and Ferb how long one summer can be.) They're bunkmates and best friends when the series opens; we don't get the usual camp-story move-in and getting-to-know-you stuff. No, Lumberjanes is full-bore for friendship and female empowerment, so it skips over that phase entirely to get to the more important elements of getting away from their counselor, having adventures with strange creatures in the woods, and starting to peel away layers from what looks to be a very big and weird mystery.

The fact that I can see the keys being played doesn't change the fact that I do enjoy the tune: from these first four issues, Lumberjanes is fun and positive and lovable and entirely a Good Thing. There have been a bunch more issues since this, and I gather the people that loved the beginning still love it, so my assumption is that it's still doing the same thing, and still doing it just as well.

I'm left, then, to provide the consumer information. Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy does collect the first four issues of the ongoing series (37 issues plus some specials as of this writing), and provides four mildly standalone stories that are clearly part of a larger overall arc of discovery. It was written by Noelle (Nimona) Stevenson and Grace Ellis, and the art for all of these stories is by Brooke Allen. (I gather other artists take over later.) Maarta Laiho provided the colors. The book also includes a whole lot of regular and alternative covers at the end; these comics have been reprinted a truly heroic number of times for different organizations with different pictures on the front.

If there is someone you want to grow up into a strong independent woman in your house, or of your acquaintance, this would be an excellent gift to that person. You may even find you love it yourself.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Thimble Theatre Presents Popeye by Bobby London (two volumes)

There are times when you can't merely resign, for whatever reason. No, you have to make the bastards kick you out. And, if you have the right kind of personality, you might take a twisted glee at how hard you can get them to kick when they finally do. Anything else that happens along the way may be regrettable, may be collateral damage, but the important thing is to get that kick.

Bobby London got kicked in 1992, from the daily Popeye newspaper strip, which he'd been writing and drawing since 1986. (London took over from the aging Bud Sagendorf, Segar's former assistant who took over the strip in 1938. Sagendorf held onto the Sundays through his own death in 1994.) London's Popeye was both very much of its time -- yuppies! home shopping! fern bars! gentrification! -- and a return to the long adventure continuities of E.C. Segar after a few decades in which the newspaper Popeye was as dull and inoffensive as the various animated spin-offs that were most people's major impression of the character.

Almost twenty-five years later, the complete London run of Popeye was collected in two volumes by IDW, as part of their Library of American Comics imprint, including several weeks that London's syndicate pulled, in process, from newspapers as part of that big kick. There are also six additional weeks that didn't even make it out to papers -- London did them to finish out his contract, and the syndicate spiked them as soon as they came in.

And now the rest of us -- those who don't have access to the King Features vault -- can read this late flourishing of Popeye, in something like a Segar mode, from the cartoonist of Dirty Duck, and finally see both what got him canned and how he brought down the curtain on his version of the cast for an audience that, at the time, he must have assumed was only himself and his editors.

It opens as the gag-a-day strip that Popeye (everyone had long forgotten that it once was called Thimble Theatre, though London would pull that out for the title panels of his longer continuities a bit later) had degenerated into over the past several decades. London's line give it energy and some current pep, but it wasn't great stuff. London combined '30s sight gags and characterization with trendy topics and King-approved "family" jokes into an amusing mish-mosh that was inoffensive and pleasant enough, but little more than that.

But then, a little more than a year after he took over Popeye, London launched into a long continuity, featuring the Sea Hag as a real estate shark taking over Sweethaven, and the real London Popeye snapped into focus. For the next five years, London spun out long stories -- most of them with title cards to launch them -- over the course of months of two-panels-a-day comics, throwing in a satire of '80s-era go-go capitalism and consumerism that clearly wasn't always appreciated in the King offices.

They're not Segar, but they're Segaresque, the kind of stories a creator like Segar would have made in the '80s, looking at the world around him and asking how the cantankerous, underdog-loving Popeye would react to it. And London's energetic cartoony line -- and his few additions to the cast, like Olive's voluptuous cousin Sutra Oyl -- made it a joyful, smart piece of the comics page.

So of course it couldn't last.

I can't say that London deliberately tweaked the King censors to get himself fired. But the last full continuity before the final strips -- the last one to get a title card -- was "Stupid Little Hat!," five months of strips explicitly about Popeye being forced to act inoffensively and look like he did in '60s cartoons. "Stupid Little Hat!" ended with a showdown with the King of Licensing, the one forcing Popeye to act like that in order to make more money off of him. Again, I can't prove that this was London trying to get himself fired, but he went from attacking his own licensing department to a series of thinly-veiled abortion jokes, so I've got a strong hunch.

However it happened, London was kicked. His Popeye ended in the summer of 1992, after roughly six years of comics. It was just a bit dull in its inoffensiveness in the beginning, and a bit too obviously combative in its end. But in between, for around five years, it was a great adventure strip full of excellent humor, several decades after that form was supposedly dead. And it's available again these days, in a permanent form, for later generations to discover after reading the Segar originals -- I hope many of them do.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Chicago Days, Hoboken Nights by Daniel Pinkwater

For four years in the late '80s -- and apparently never again, alas! -- the novelist Daniel Pinkwater, best known for his magnificent books for people shorter and smarter than mere adults, did commentaries for the NPR show "All Things Considered." The first two years of commentaries, mostly miscellaneous, were collected in Fish Whistle.

And then, in 1991, the back half of his NPR work turned into Chicago Days/Hoboken Nights, the closest thing to an autobiography that Pinkwater has yet given us.

I read both of those books back in the early '90s, since I'm a Pinkwater fan from way back and I had the full panoply of the publishing industry behind me at that time to find books I expected to like and the energy to gather as many of them to me as I physically could. (I had a flood in 2011 that destroyed something like ten thousand books, and I'm older, out of publishing and more tired now, so I'm no longer in that mode.) I re-read Fish Whistle last year, semi-randomly, because that's what you do with books you remember loving. So, of course, that meant I got back to Chicago Days/Hoboken Nights this year.

It's a slim book, barely 160 pages. And it's made up of many small parts, each one originally a separate short spoken piece on the radio. So it's a mosaic rather than a narrative, a view of the life of the young Pinkwater from dozens of different perspectives -- as a teenager, as a young man trying to make art, and just a bit of the slightly older man who started writing books for kids (mostly, as he tells it, because his pictures were of interest to an editor of childrens' books, and they needed some text to go with them).

I don't think you need to know Pinkwater to enjoy Chicago/Hoboken -- he's a wonderful storyteller, and has had an interesting, quirky life to draw material from. I still have hope that he'll write something more conventionally like an autobiography -- or just tell enough different stories of his life to fill another book -- but this one exists, and that's a happy thing.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Midnight of the Soul by Howard Chaykin

I had no idea what this would be. I hadn't heard of it when it came out in comics form, and got it from the library while trawling randomly through their comics collection online -- I just saw that Chaykin had a new standalone story in 2016, noted that it was available, and so I grabbed it.

If I'd been more prescient, I would have made some standard-Chaykin predictions before even seeing the book, to see how correct they would be. I could do that now, of course, but I've already read the book -- my predictions would be self-servingly correct.

I'd like to think I would have expected Midnight of the Soul to be a historical story, set in the mid-20th century. I know I would have said the hero would look like Dominic Fortune and a thousand others, because that's a given with Chaykin. I probably would have called for a blonde bad girl who does the hero wrong and a dark-haired good girl who does him right, and some nasty types doing nasty things to keep the plot moving. I'm sure I would have remembered garter belts -- it's just not a Chaykin story without garter belts peeking out from under billowing skirts or worn with matching lacy lingerie for the obligatory sleazy bedroom scene. I likely would have expected a healthy serving of sex that's not nearly as much fun for anyone as it probably should be, along with some potentially offensive gay characters -- who get to be fey and bitchy on-page but not have any depicted sex, unlike the hets.

I don't think I would have said the hero would be as damaged or self-loathing as he is. And I don't think I would have remembered to mention the undercurrent of misogyny, since I usually just remember that while reading a Chaykin book. And I might have expected some level of nihilism, but I never would have expected Chaykin would have tried for a moral point -- something about WWII and survivor's guilt -- and utterly muddled it with the usual Chaykin ending of shooting dead as many people as possible to clean up the plot's loose ends.

But those are the main elements of Midnight of the Soul, as written and drawn by Chaykin (and colored by Jesus Aburtov in a crisply modern style that works well for Chaykin's detailed art): one damaged man on his motorcycle, chasing across Manhattan one night in the very early 1950s, following the wife who did him wrong (while at the same time entirely supporting him for several years, partially by that wrong-doing) and the gangsters she got caught up with during the wrong-doing. The people we're supposed to sympathize with come out well, and the people we're not supposed to sympathize with -- guess where that wife falls? should I mention she's blonde? -- end very badly.

My sympathies didn't entirely fall the ways Chaykin intended -- or, rather, they were spread more widely than his plan, since I didn't have to spare as much for his grumpy, whiny, tediously macho hero (who doesn't manage to accomplish much, either) as he intended. Joel Breakstone has had some bad breaks, yes, but he's also an alcoholic anti-social prick who thinks wanting to be a writer forgives all of his horribleness. (Though that was a common literary excuse around that time, cf. Bukowski and Miller.)

Midnight is a solid Chaykin story, delivering well the things we've expected from Chaykin for thirty years or so. There's no reason to think he'll ever metamorphosize those elements into something that transcends them again, as he did with American Flagg!, but getting just one masterwork is still a huge achievement. As usual, I expect women will find less to like here than men, and realists less than romantics.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/29

Another week has passed, so it's time once again for me to tell you about the books that came in my mail. This week, I've got four of them, all from different publishers, which is a nice thing. So I'll run through them as they're currently organized into a neat stack -- note that this is purely by size, and not by any more serious sorting mechanism.

So first up is a new edition of Patricia A. McKillip's World Fantasy Award-winning 1974 novel The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, coming from Tachyon in trade paperback on September 19. You know, I'm not sure if I've ever read Eld -- I know I haven't read as much McKillip as I think I should. (I had a bad reaction to the end of the "Riddle-Master" trilogy when I was a young and stupid teenager and avoided her for far too long after that.) Anyway, I expect to read this edition, and maybe you should, too.

And then there's Nebula Awards Showcase 2017, edited by Julie E. Czerneda. It features all of the winners of the 2015 Nebulas -- the ones published that year, and awarded the next May -- and it will be out in time for the next round of Nebula Awards later this month. (May 16, to be precise, and to avoid you camping outside your store of choice for too long.) This one comes from Pyr, and is the latest in a long series of annual Nebula anthologies stretching back to the beginning of that award in 1965. It has all of the Short Story nominees, the Short Story, Novelette, and Novella winners (by Alyssa Wing, Sarah Pinsker, and Nnedi Okrafor, respectively), plus related poetry winners. It also has an excerpt from the winning novel, which is traditional, and excerpts from the other nominated novels, which is not -- and which also seems to have crowded out any other nominated short works. I'm not crazy about this choice, but it's not my anthology.

Next up is a new standalone graphic novel by Svetlana Chmakova, Brave. Chmakova is previously the author of the similar Awkward, which I liked. (And a manga-esque series called Nightschool for Yen, which I read some of and then lost track of, but enjoyed every piece I did read. And something called Dramacon before that, which I know has a lot of fans but which I never actually saw or picked up.) Brave is about a group of middle-school kids, seems to be loosely related to Awkward, and will be out from Yen on May 23rd.

Last is a new hardcover from Sherrilyn Kenyon via Tor, Deadmen Walking. The cover calls it "A Deadman's Cross Novel," but the card page lists it at the end of her main series, "Dark-Hunters." So my best guess, as someone who knows of Kenyon's works but never really read them, is that this is the beginning of a new sub-series in her most popular world. It also seems to be a historical -- all pirates and so forth -- rather than being contemporary like the bulk of the series. Walking is a hardcover, available May 9th.

Read in April

Well, that's the cruellest month gone by for another year, so the rest of the year will be a cakewalk, right?

Meanwhile, I ignored the real world for a while this past month by reading the following books, most of which (maybe all of which) I recommend to you. (Hey, I don't know you, do I? Maybe you have an irrational passion against mooncops or, like a friend of mine from high school, have eaten so many hot dogs that the mere sight of one induces mild nausea.)

John Allison and Max Sarin, Giant Days, Vol. 4 (4/3)

Tom Gauld, Mooncop (4/4)

Jiro Taniguchi, A Distant Neighborhood, Vol. 1 (4/10)

Kelly Link, Get in Trouble (4/10)

Paul Tobin and Collen Coover, Bandette, Vol. 3: The House of the Green Mask (4/11)

Lisa Hanawalt, Hot Dog Taste Test (4/12)

P.G. Wodehouse, Bachelors Anonymous (4/12)

Howard Chaykin, Midnight of the Soul (4/19)

Daniel Pinkwater, Chicago Days, Hoboken Nights (4/19)

Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, and Maarta Laiho, Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy (4/20)

Bobby London, Popeye, Vol. 2: 1989-1992 (4/22)

George O'Connor, Ares (4/24)

George O'Connor, Apollo (4/25)

James Wood, How Fiction Works (4/25)

George O'Connor, Artemis (4/26)

I'm setting this post to go live at the usual time, even though I haven't actually written about a number of the books listed above. My entire system may be about to come fulling catastrophically down. (Or maybe not.) Come back next month to see the wreckage, if it does.