Monday, June 15, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/13/20

I had a birthday at the beginning of this month -- not a big milestone, just another step deeper into middle-age -- which meant there had to be a small celebration and a few presents to open. Since I am middle-aged, I've hit the point where I buy my own presents and let The Wife wrap them, which is oddly one of the most efficient ways to handle it. (Though not particularly surprising, obviously.)

Among those presents were these three books. They were both bought by me for me and given to me by someone else, which must be some kind of Schrodinger thingy, right?

Knickers in a Twist is a alphabetical compendium of British slang from 2006 by Jonathan Bernstein, who is himself Scottish but had been living for some time in Los Angeles at that point. (I have no idea where he lives know, or even if he lives now, and frankly the question is moot.) Obvious language changes and evolves, so there will be plenty of Internet or otherwise new terms that won't be in this book, but half the point of a book of words is to see whether you agree with the definitions for the words you do know, so that's not a big deal.

Early Riser is, I think, Jasper Fforde's latest novel, and his first for adults in a few years. I believe it is actually a standalone -- though I still have hopes his last "standalone," 2009's Shades of Grey, will lead to the sequels it promised at the time. As usual for Fforde, it's in the fantastic sector of literature without being part of any established genre: it's vaguely SF, set in a world (or at least a nation; Fforde is often British enough that the rest of the world is essentially superfluous) where the vast majority of the population hibernate through the winter each year. Our hero, though, is one of the few awake in the cold, dealing with various problems.

And last was Flaming Carrot Comics: Omnibus 1 by Bob Burden. I used to have a complete run of the comics -- well, not the super-rare appearances in Visions, and I'm not sure if I had the oversized one-shot from the late '70s -- before my 2011 flood, and it's sad to think there haven't been any new Bob Burden comics since then. The series was collected into trade paperbacks once, about twenty years ago, but I'm not sure if everything was included then, and I never managed to get all of those. This one is bigger than the old ones -- 400 pages -- but oddly collects issues 1,2, 4-11 and 25-27 -- which implies at least one more for the stuff in the middle and probably one for the later comics. I'm not enough of an optimist to assume I'll ever see either of those, but I grabbed this one.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

The Envious Siblings and Other Morbid Nursery Rhymes by Landis Blair

So I wanted to like The Envious Siblings. And I did, I guess, somewhat, but not to the level that I hoped. It's interesting and dark and well-drawn and has what I think of as the second-writer problem [1] -- there are good things about it, but I was left a bit flat.

Landis Blair is an illustrator and graphic novelist from Chicago; he seems to be a fairly young guy. This is, as far as I can tell, his first entirely-Blair book, though he did illustrate a couple of other people's books: The Hunting Accident and From Here to Eternity (not the one you're thinking of).

Envious Siblings is very much a second-writer book: it has eight semi-comics stories (full-page illos, text on the opposite page) in a crosshatched style, told in verse, about grinning children doing horrible, generally violent, things to each other and the world around them.

The first artist in this case is Edward Gorey, obviously. The cover makes that clear, and the rest of Blair's book leans into the comparison strongly. Blair is deliberately creating a Goreyesque collection here: he's not trying to hide his influences.

Blair is more bloodthirsty and perhaps less subtle than Gorey: the first story here, for example, is "The Malicious Playground," in which a group of fiendish youngsters gleefully maim each other while playing. And the title story is a Grand Guignol -- or maybe a traditional nasty fairy tale, since it feels like something that could have been collected by the Grimms in a particularly nasty German village -- in which two sisters progressively maim each other while grinning maniacally the whole while.

Here's the point where I don't want to spend all my time comparing Landis to Gorey, even though the book is begging for it. Blair is clearly reaching back further to the roots of fairy tales and nursery rhymes, while Gorey was more interested in late-Victorian and subsequent children's fiction, in adding back danger and fear to the deracinated latter-day products he saw. Blair has a heavier touch than Gorey, but I think that's entirely on purpose: he's not trying to be Gorey, but to take the Goreyesque format in a different, even more violent direction.

Blair's art is sprightly and amusing; his people grin unnervingly like no one else's. His monsters, especially in the wordless "The Awful Underground," are excellent. His verse rhymes and scans and supports his stories -- it's not great poetry, but it's not trying to be, and that would be entirely against his purpose anyway.

Envious Siblings is very bloody, in its inky splendor. Anyone who thinks Gorey sometimes went too far will want to avoid it. But if you found yourself wishing for a bit more bite in your darkly humorous rhyming stories about nasty children, take a look at Landis Blair.

[1] If you're the hundredth person to write a particular kind of book, you're in an established genre. If you're the second one, you're stealing from the first guy.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Reviewing The Mail: Week of May 30, 2020

Two books this week, both from the fine folks at Tachyon Publications and both in my hands in advance reader copy form. (I'd vaguely thought the Current Crisis would finally kill physical ARCs -- though I might have called them "bound galleys," to underline how old I am and how long it's been since I worked in trade publishing -- but, even if it's trying to, it hasn't managed yet.)

On the SF side, we have Sea Change by Nancy Kress, a short novel about biotechnology and the near future that begins with a woman being amused by a lost self-driving house in 2032. Intriguingly, it seems to be about an underground organization that is continuing research on GMOs after they were outlawed after a massive crisis the decade before. Sea Change is available in trade paperback (and several equivalent electronic formats) as of April 24th.

Over on the mystery end, there's Of Mice and Minestrone, a collection of short stories by Joe R. Lansdale about the early years of his most popular characters, Hap and Leonard. Inside are five stories, one of which appeared in Full Bleed 3 last year and the others of which appear to be originals, all of them with recipes included. There's also an introduction by bestselling crime writer Kathleen Kent and an afterword by Lansdale that explains the deal about the recipes. This one hit stores (physical and virtual) on May 14th.

In case I buried the lede above: both of these books are fully available out in the world already, in case you're interested in either or both of them. So go check 'em out.

Oh, and because the title of the Lansdale book reminds me of it, have a Fujiya & Miyagi song: