Monday, July 09, 2018

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 7/7/18

I'm writing this on Sunday morning, the last day of my vacation -- so if I get wistful or melancholy, that's my excuse. But I hope that won't happen: I have a varied stack of books to write about today, most of which I just bought. (Because vacations are the time to go book shopping, of course! Other times can also be the time to go book shopping -- don't get me wrong.)

But first up is a book that came in the mail just yesterday; since that's in the title, those books always get priority:

Keepers is the second book in Brenda Cooper's "Project Earth" series, after Wilders; it's coming from Pyr on July 31 as a trade paperback. The series is set about fifty years in the future, in the middle of some variety of eco-catastrophe; almost all of humanity has been forcibly relocated into megacities and forbidden from leaving, unless they're special novel protagonists NGO-aligned "Wilders." The landscape between the cities is being mildly terraformed by massive robots, to erase all trace of humanity. (It's not clear from my quick glance where food comes from, in a world divided between megacity and wilderness.) There are, of course, people who are unhappy with this -- they're called Returners, and are out in the wilderness illegally. They are our villains, since only the correct people are allowed to be out in the wilderness. Presumably they will all be killed or re-educated by the end of the series, to usher in the glorious utopia.

And from here on I'm listing stuff that I bought -- one book by mail from that giant hegemonic bookstore that is supposedly taking over everything (though you folks don't use my links to it much these days, so maybe not) and the rest from the Montclair Book Center, my local indy store.

Eurekaaargh! by Adam Hart-Davis is a book about inventions that went wrong, featuring a title quite difficult to ensure you spell it correctly. It looks silly -- it's illustrated with old clip art, reminiscent of Wondermark -- and I think it will be a suitable book for the smallest room in the house.

One for the Road, a travel book about Australia by Tony Horwitz. I picked it up because I read Bagdad Without a Map a couple of years ago, and liked that, so I wanted to see what Horwitz had done since 1991 when Bagdad came out. I was surprised to see that Road is from 1987; there's an author photo of Horwitz looking very young and sunburnt and barefoot. So this is instead what he was doing before that.

Apologies to My Censor is another travel book; Mitch Moxley was a reporter from English-language publications in China for at least six years (went there in 2007, book came out in 2013, for all I know he's there still). This is a then-new collection of his stories about being in China, I think, rather than a fix-up of his actual reportage.

Mrs. Fletcher is the most recent novel by Tom Perrotta, who I have the vague sense is in that weird twilight realm between popular and literary fiction -- selling too well, and a bit too glib, to be "really" literary, but more serious than the usual airport novel. I found his early novels really close to my personal experience of life -- Perrotta writes about suburbanites in New Jersey, generally from Generation X -- which was exciting and eerie at the same time. I still have The Leftovers, his previous novel, sitting on my shelf: I guess either the Rapture plot or the fact that it was quickly turned into a TV show turned me off. But this new one is about a middle-aged woman's porn addiction, I think, so maybe I can get to it.

Everybody Lies was one of the big, talked-about books of last year, from reporter and former data scientists Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. I suspect it's going to be more glib than I'd like, in that Explain Everything bestseller non-fiction style, but I'll give it a try. It's about what Big Data is telling us about what people actually do, as opposed to what they tell us they do. (Hint: the title gives away the size of the gap between those two things.)

Is Sex Necessary? was a quickie book in 1929, written by James Thurber and E.B. White to capitalize on the then-current trend for pseudo-Freudian "serious" books about sex, love, and relationships. Since it was by Thurber and White, who both got much more famous afterward, it's survived much better than most quickie books. I've never read it, but it's short and silly, so I just might get to it this year.

Annihilation is the first book of Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy. I was a World Fantasy judge with Jeff, a decade ago, and liked bouncing off his ideas a lot as the panel argued about books over email. Since then -- hell, since before then, if I'm honest -- I've felt guilty about not getting around to actually reading his books. This one is short, pretty famous, and became a shiny movie this year. (I oddly both gravitate to books turned into movies when sampling writers I haven't read and avoid books turned into movies from writers I've been following. I can't explain me; I can barely describe me.)

Artificial Condition is the second of Martha Wells's books about Murderbot, after All Systems Red. I'm happy to read more in this great series, but also melancholy because, if the world hadn't changed, I bet I'd be vaguely planning to do a 4-in-1 of the series for the SFBC as The Murderbot Diaries, and I'd rather be living in the world where I'm doing that. (If I haven't said it before: fuck Jeff Bezos.)

Blackbird Days is a collection of comics stories by Manuele Fior, who I believe is Italian and who I've never read before. It's pretty new, and it's gotten good reviews, and it was half-price.

Tubby is a collection of comics about the title character, a secondary personage from the Little Lulu comic books, written and drawn by John Stanley. It took me a while to click with Stanley -- I still haven't read any of his Little Lulu comics, supposedly his best work, though I really liked the collection of his manic teen comic Thirteen "Going on Eighteen" -- but I guess I have now, since I'm looking for more of his stuff.

And last is Lewis Trondheim's Mister I, a companion to Mister O, which I read and wrote about here many years ago. Like O, I is a silent simple figure in a cartoony world, just trying to do ordinary things and getting killed in inventive ways at the end of each single-page story. O was as stark and funny and precise as the best Chuck Jones Roadrunner cartoons, and I have hopes this will be the same.

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