Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/28

Normally, since I missed yesterday for lazy-on-vacation reasons, I'd just roll these books over to next week. But next week is an entirely different year, and I'm also trying to procrastinate slightly less these days.

So enjoy this unprecedented Tuesday edition of Reviewing the Mail!

This time out, I have two books that came in the mail, in radically different genres, and four graphic novels that I bought for myself so that The Wife could give them to me for Christmas. (It's not the most surprising way to get gifts, but it can't be beaten for receiving things you actually want.)

From the Mail:

Peter Watts is an Angry Sentient Tumor is a collection of "revenge fantasies and essays" by the title character/individual/writer. I think it's just a quirkier take on the standard "fiction writer's random nonfiction works" book, but it could, I suppose, be a themed series of very detailed murder plots against people he hates. (That would be out of character for a Canadian, I suppose. Probably isn't.) From a quick glance at the intro, it looks like these pieces originally appeared on Watts's blog over the past decade and a half or so. And now they're all in this book, which was published by Tachyon in November.

Real Pigeons Fight Crime by Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood is one of those pseudo-graphic-novel thingies -- lots of illustrations on each page, with dynamic art that has some sequential elements but isn't laid out as panels, and typeset text running around and between that art -- for younger readers that are so popular these days. It is, as you might guess, about talking pigeons, and I gather that they do fight crime. It's also the first in a series: Eat Danger and Nest Hard are promised as forthcoming. It's coming from Random House Books for Young Readers in January 7, and it looks like a hoot for a certain kind of younger reader (or maybe a no-longer-younger reader, I won't judge).

Pressies (No, the other kind of pressies!):

Maria M. by Gilbert Hernandez -- the full noir story, originally promised as two volumes but eventually (after the first volume was published, and I bought it, and it sat on my shelf for several years waiting for the end so I could read the whole thing) published as one book this past year. I think this is part of his "fictional movies from the world of Palomar" series, or maybe an even weirder variation on that: it may be the movie Killer made about Maria, or an alternate version of that movie without Killer. I dunno; I'll have to read it.

O Josephine! is the latest collection of comics stories by Jason, the Norwegian cartoonist who is nearly impossible to Google. It has four roughly album-length stories in its hundred and eighty pages, three of which seem to be his usual fiction and one the non-fictional story of a walk he took in Ireland (either a follow-up or warm-up to his book On the Camino).

How I Tried to Be a Good Person is a big fat graphic memoir by Austrian cartoonist Ulli Lust, and so basically a sequel to Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, covering a polyamorous love triangle she was involved with some time ago -- the book seems to be vague about exactly when, but I'd guess late '80s or early '90s given that Last Day took in place in 1984, when she was 17.

And last is Glen Ganges in: The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga, which includes the title character's name in the title as if it were a Batman comic when it is in fact about as far from a Batman comic as it is possible to be. (And that is a good thing.) Huizenga is thoughtful and philosophical and grounded and deeply human, and this book has gotten great reviews -- I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Musica, Dein Kannst Lieblich Kunst

No, I don't speak German. (My younger son does, kind of. At least he took it for five years in school.) But my high school Madrigal group -- did I ever mention I was in a madrigal group in high school? I wasn't very good, and am retroactively surprised that they kept me around -- did that song, and it's been stuck in my head ever since.

It emerges randomly for no good reason, and I can't even sing the thing because I 1) don't remember the German well enough b) can't pronounce the German even if I did know the right words, and III) I can't now sing even as well as I did in high school, which (as I noted above) was not that good to begin with.

For instance, right now, when I'm trying to introduce a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite songs of the past decade, instead I'm rambling about a german choral piece that has nothing to do with any of it. One might think I'm doing this deliberately.

One might even be right....

A lot of people do lists like this at the end of a year, but I don't really listen to enough new music in any one year to make a decent list. However, I saw that the estimable John Scalzi (of whom you may have heard) recently did one for the last decade.

And I thought: "Aha, that's a trick worth stealing." And so I did.

Since the calendar is turning over two digits instead of one in about a week, suddenly any list covering 10 years is just as good -- maybe better -- than one covering this current year. (And, frankly, it wouldn't be hard for anything to be better than this current year.) So here I am.

I'm shamelessly stealing Scalzi's shtick: only one song per performer, that being my favorite for the past decade (but standing in for a lot of other stuff, obviously), and even using Spotify as my widget of choice, since it's free. My list however, is longer than his, because I'm lazier: my initial list had 56 songs, and after a first cut I had exactly fifty, which was such a nice round number I stopped.

The widget seems to default to the order I put them in, which isn't definitive by any means. And I have no way of knowing if you will share any of my musical tastes: I go for either talky stuff or noisy instrumentals, across a few musical subgenres.

I hope you enjoy this; I was just reminded I wanted to do it by seeing webcomics genius John Allison do his list of forty albums for this year alone. And if you don't enjoy it...oh weell.

After the widget: three songs I would have added, but Spotify didn't have them.

The sadly missing:

Empty Space Orchestra, "Exit Strategy"

Yellow Ostrich, "'Til I Disappear" (the album version is longer, but this is the version I like better)

Harvey Danger, "The Show Must Not Go On" (their break-up song, released online something like a year after they actually broke up)

Monday, December 16, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/14/19

I have a book to write about this week as well: a new SF novel.

Lost Helix is by Scott Coon, and I think it's his first novel. (The materials don't mention any earlier novels, and do mention multiple short fiction publications.) It's coming from Dancing Lemur Press in trade paperback, and will hit on June 2, 2020.

It sounds like general SF adventure: our hero is a young man named DJ, who grew up on an asteroid mining facility but isn't interested in any of the obvious life-paths on offer there. But he gets thrown into intrigue when he learns some things he wasn't supposed to, and is soon on the run from the relentless Agent Coreman. (DJ is also a musician, which looks like it could be important to the book -- he's not just some general slacker, but a specific guy with specific dreams.) This all sounds interplanetary rather than interstellar, but the description doesn't make it clear either way.

You will have to wait a bit for Lost Helix, I'm afraid, so if that sounds intriguing, set your calendar now.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/7/19

I aten't dead.

But this blog only exists in as much as I have something to say here, and I haven't had a lot of that lately. Work has been weird this year, in all sorts of ways, and that's disrupted my reading. And the outside world is even more of a dumpster fire in 2019 than it was before...and I don't want to go directly political here. So I've been quiet.

But I'm still here, and this blog will pick up when and if I have things to write about. If I start reading more, for example. Or if I get shiny new books.

As it happens, I have a shiny new book today: The Deep & Dark Blue, a middle-grade graphic novel by Niki Smith, Lambda-award-winning (well, as part of an anthology; does that count? maybe I should say "nominated" to be more strictly accurate) creator of Crossplay and other comics stories.

(I saw an early galley of the book back in the summer; that copy is still sitting unread on my shelf but will be replaced by the shiny new one in a moment...and I'd like to promise that the shiny new one will get read quickly, but...well, you know.)

This is an adventure story mixed with coming-out; twin tween nobles Hawke and Grayson are forced by a coup to flee and hide as Hanna and Grayce within the Communion of Blue, an all-female magical order whose powers manifest in weaving and other textile work. The coming-out part is that while Hawke seems to think of this as just a disguise, becoming Grayce is much more important, and central, to her. I expect it all ends up super-happy, since that's what middle-grade GNs do these days. (Woe is reserved for prose, and for a slightly older audience.)

The Deep and Dark Blue will be published in hardcover on January 7 by Little. Brown.