Friday, October 30, 2020

Quote of the Week: Political Theory

The Same Man/Crazy Man Theory had been explained to me over margaritas in an L.A. Tex-Mex restaurant a few weeks before by novelist and essayist Michael Ventura. Put succinctly, this theory says: the sanest candidate wins the nomination, the craziest candidate wins the election.
Sure enough, as far as I could see, this theory had never been wrong. In 1992, when George Bush ran against Pat Buchanan on the Republican side and Clinton against Jerry Brown for the Democrats, the "sane" guys won the nominations only for the cracker son of an abusive drunk stepfather and hedonistic horse-betting mother to take the election. In 1988, while the tediously stable Michael Dukakis survived a megalomaniacal Jesse Jackson in the Democratic contest, Bush ambushed the clearly unhinged Bob Dole for the Republican nomination, and then babbled wanton gibberish at flag factories all the way to triumph in November. Walter Mondale, altogether too well-adjusted for American politics, beat preternatural loose-cannon Gary Hart in 1984 for the Democrats, only to lose the general election to the reality-challenged Ronald Reagan, who four years earlier beat Jimmy Carter after Carter beat back an existentially flipped-out Edward Kennedy. Carter versus Ford in 1976, Nixon versus McGovern in 1972, Nixon versus Humphrey in 1968...thirty years later, did anyone now doubt that, initial appearances to the contrary, Lyndon Johnson was always screwier than Barry Goldwater in 1964?
In a race involving two undisputed psychotics like Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, for example, the degrees of sanity between them were as pointless to calibrate as they were impossible, which only left people arguing for decades whether the winner really lose and the loser really won. At any rate, applying the Sane Man/Crazy Man Theory to the Republicans in 1996, Lamar Alexander looked pretty good: Dole was a brooding paranoiac, Buchanan an inspired sociopath, and while it might not be fair or exactly accurate to say Gramm was crazy, when a man has a hole where his soul is supposed to be, it suggests a madness almost too profound to measure, except perhaps by the sort of relentlessly sadistic demeanor that Gramm exhibited on a round-the-clock basis. Which left Alexander, since anyone boring enough that he had to wear a flannel shirt and slap an exclamation point after his name to make himself interesting was either sane to the point of inertia, with an id as flat as the Mojave, or so metaphysically, bone-chillingly demented as to evoke the Void and a universe utterly bled dry of God and hope.
 - Steve Erickson, American Nomad, pp.52-3

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Corrupting Dr. Nice by John Kessel

I'm still not sure if I ever read this book before. Corrupting Dr. Nice was published in 1997, and the trade paperback I have came out a year later. I think I've had that trade paperback nearly that long -- or, rather, that I had a trade paperback that long ago, since I lost a lot of books (10k, by my estimate) in my 2011 flood.

So, looking at the shelf, I kept hesitating over Dr. Nice. Didn't I read that once already? I thought. Did I like it? I can't remember it.

I poked through my reading notebook for the eight months or so around that 1997 publication date -- the times I might have been reading it for the SFBC -- and I definitely didn't read it then. Whether I got to it between 1998 and 2011 is a question that would take a lot more running down a long list of handwritten book titles, and I don't actually care that much.

I'm still not sure, but at least I can say I read in it October of 2020, and until this blog is nuked by a random worm, there will be proof of that fact the next time I can't remember.

John Kessel is not a prolific writer: his first story was published in 1978 but he's only published five novels (one of them a collaboration). Corrupting Dr. Nice, at the moment, is the middle one -- he had two books in the '80s, then this a decade later, then another novel-sized silence for twenty years until two recent books I haven't seen. Luckily, he doesn't go in for series.

Dr. Nice is a screwball time-travel comedy, explicitly a homage to a slew of '30s and '40s movies, man of which turn up as chapter titles. It's set in a near-future that's probably deeply horrible to most of the people who have to endure it -- and that number is exponentially higher than you might think, since the variety of time-travel used here exploits "moment-universes," meaning the people of Kessel's 2063 have already colonized several dozen past Earths of various eras, with the promise of strip-mining hundreds or thousands of them down the line.

But our main characters are mostly insulated from any such unpleasantness, as they must be in a romantic comedy. (Well, a major secondary character is a "historical" from 40 CE, whose perspective Kessel does not skimp on. Don't get the idea that Kessel is unaware how horrible the world he's constructed is.) Genevieve is a time-hopping con artists, working in the company of her father August. And the eponymous Owen Van Nice is the heir to a multi-billion-dollar fortune, back up the line, though vastly more interested in his studies of dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous.

They meet cute on a time-travel platform in Jerusalem, stumbling into each other in a minor transport mishap that eventually turns out to be the first step in a terrorist plot hatched by a group including the historical I alluded to in the previous paragraph. But first they run into each other, and Gen sizes up Owen as a massive mark: rich, distracted, somewhat unworldly, and in possession of a potentially fabulously valuable baby Apatosaurus megacephalos he calls Wilma.

Gen and August start to reel Owen in, during an enforced short shutdown of the time-stage while the authorities investigate that mishap that introduced them. Owen does start to fall in love with Gen.

And, maybe, she with him, which is unexpected.

But then the terrorist plot hits, right at the moment the con is supposed to also conclude. Gen and Owen are both hostages of those terrorists, whose plots also rapidly go sideways. Owen's expensive on-board bodyguard AI, Bill -- installed as an anti-kidnapping measure, among other protections -- saves the day, more or less, and Owen comes out looking like the hero of the event...and still in the possession of Wilma.

Screwball love cannot run straight and true, of course, so there must be a surprising reveal. And, not quite half-way into the novel, the action jumps a year forward, and up to 2063. Owen is under pressure from his separately horrible parents to marry, and Gen is looking for revenge. Plus, the trial of the 40 CE terrorists is about to begin, in a media landscape where public sentiment counts for a carefully-measured 20% of a judicial AI's decision.

Various hijinks then ensue. Well, there have been hijinks throughout, as has probably been clear. On the evidence here, Kessel is quite good at hijinks. (As I recall, his 1989 novel, Good News from Outer Space, has somewhat more subdued hijinks, but he was still good at them then.) This is a screwball comedy, so you can probably guess the general outlines of the ending: Kessel knows his form.

Dr. Nice also has a strong strain of nasty satire, which is clearly from the '90s -- our media and political landscape has mutated a lot since then, and the horrible things about 2020 are different from the horrible things about 1997 -- but it's sadly all very relevant, from the "sexual de-liberation" movement to the judicial AI I mentioned above. We could very easily still be on the path to the world of this novel, absent some specific time-travel breakthroughs (which I think, actually, only start hitting in the mid-20s anyway).

This novel does not feel twenty years old. Some parts of it were deliberately retro, for the screwball ambiance, and some parts of it have barely dated at all. It's still funny and cutting and full of interesting characters doing particular things for well-defined reasons. It also has a really interesting quick curtain-down closing that I won't describe further, but that I really liked. It's a random minor SF novel, sure, but it's a damn good random minor SF novel.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/24/20

This irregular post lists all of the new books I get, however I get them -- it started out to catalog review copies, but expanded, when that first source started drying up, to cover books I bought, got from the library, or that were handed down to me on sheets of gold from celestial beings.

I've never had any from that last category, but I live in hope.

I do have two kinds of books this week: ones I bought and ones that came from the library. (I've been reading a tiny bit more recently, and any uptick in reading always leads me to buy more books, as if I'd suddenly run out of things on the three bookshelves behind me. You may have a similar tropism yourself, for books or whatever else.)

I'll start with the library books; there's only three of them and I need to read them quickly and send them back. (I've read one already, actually)


A Time to Scatter Stones by Lawrence Block -- A novella about his series character Matt Scudder, published by Subterranean, a publishing house I always think has impeccable taste. (Which here means that I want to read nearly everything they publish, or at last am intrigued by those books.) Block seems to have stopped publishing novels through big NYC houses this past decade, but he hasn't stopped writing, or writing good stuff -- my guess (or hope) is that he's past the point where he cares about the market, and is now just writing what he wants to.

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone -- I've read Gladstone before, but not El-Mohtar. I'm a big fan of twisty time-travel stories, of first-person narration, and of books built around tricky premises -- so this one, which is all that, sounded great when it was published last year. I also want to read more contemporary SFF, especially books not written by the same guys I've been reading for thirty years. (And most of them are guys, I notice.) Plus I think it's officially a novella, too, and I really like short books these days.

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol -- A somewhat autobiographical graphic novel about a girl named Vera going to a camp that she expected to love but very much did not. Brosgol's previous book was Anya's Ghost, and I'm afraid I can't link you to me gushing about it, since I reviewed it for Realms of Fantasy, during the brief period I was writing stuff that appeared on actual pieces of paper. But trust me that Brosgol is good; this is also from First Second, who have curated a great list of graphic novels loosely aimed at teens (and people who remember being teens) over the past decade or so.


Obligatory plug: I got all of these from the awesome remainder dealer HamiltonBook, and if any of them look interesting, you should check there first before you use the Big River links (which, as I should say more often, gives me a couple of pennies if you actually buy them from those links).

Time Pieces by John Banville -- A memoir focused on the city of Dublin. Banville grew up in the Irish countryside, went elsewhere for a while, and moved back to live in Dublin as an adult. He's a fine writer who I haven't entirely kept up with, and I have a long-noted tropism for reading the random nonfiction of novelists. This is also fairly short, and (I think) somewhat bulked up even to that shortness by a bunch of arty photographs by someone else. I've never been to Dublin, but I'm happy to let a literary chap tell me about it and an artsy photographer chap show me his snaps.

Cox's Fragmenta edited by Simon Murphy -- So this guy, Francis Cox, filled ninety-four big books of random newspaper clippings and related reportage (all by other people; he wasn't a reporter) from roughly 1759 to 1832. Then he willed it to the British Library, where those books have sat, mostly unread, on a shelf ever since. This is a bunch of excerpts from that mass -- presumably, some of the most interesting and quirky news stories from a seventy-year stretch about two hundred years ago. It is probably not as crazy as I am imagining, but I'm hoping for weird angles on How We Lived Then.

Americana by Ray Davies -- His second volume of memoirs, after the metafictional X-Ray. This one looks to be somewhat more standard -- Davies writes it in the actual first person, for one thing, and it seems to be set in our actual continuity, not a SFnal near future -- and it came out a good two decades later, covering what I think are the big crowd-pleasing years of the late '70s and '80s. I'm not expecting anything as interesting as X-Ray, since the stadium years were less interesting than the early years of the Kinks to begin with, but Davies is a smart, deeply quirky guy, and I'm sure there will be plenty of good bits.

Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys -- The sequel to Winter Tide, a Lovecraftian reconfiguring set in the 1940s. I still haven't read the first one, but I have it on the shelf, and this was super-cheap for a hardcover.

I notice that the new Blogger interface, like so many new things on the Internet, has made laying out blog posts more cumbersome and difficult -- I used to be able to yank images around, WYSIWIG-style, so that the text would flow around them. Now each image needs its own space, possibly for complicated behind-the-scenes responsive design. So I am adding some text, here and there, in this post to help avoid big chunks of ugly white background. This is the most obvious such addition.

Fifty Shades of Dumb by Leland Gregory -- My stash of books suitable for reading in the smallest room has dwindled, so I've been on the lookout for book of dumb facts or other snippets I can buy cheaply. This is a collection of supposedly true stories (from news media and so forth) about people doing dumb things during and/or in pursuit of sex.

There really isn't that much more to say about this book, so it's particularly difficult to fill this big chunk of ugly white background. I hope you don't mind.

None of My Business by P.J. O'Rourke -- I used to love O'Rourke's work, even when I couldn't entirely agree with him. He was a cutting, smart writer who both did the tough work of reportage -- talking to people who knew things and asking them serious questions -- and could construct nutty humorous flights of fancy. But he curdled with age, retreating to a rural holdfast in New Hampshire and emerging only to hurl tediously boilerplate right-wing jeremiads at whatever everyone else in the Republican party were hating that year. This was his new book for 2018, and I expect I'll hate-read it, mourning the writer he used to be -- but at least I got it cheaply.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson -- Ronson is a good, fairly serious writer of meaty nonfiction books, and I'm surprised to see that I only seem to have read his The Psychopath Test. This one was published in 2015, when we thought that white people being taken to account online for their failings was a horribly bad thing -- it will be interesting to see how it has aged.

Again, just adding a few words here, to make it less obvious that the current Blogger interface is horrible at handling images. Why does tech have to relentlessly move backwards so much?

Figures in a Landscape by Paul Theroux -- A collection of travel essays by the grouchy master of the form; his third book collecting magazine-length pieces. I like Theroux's travel books, and I'm still a few behind (I've had a bookmark in his previous travel collection, Fresh Air Fiend, for at least five years, and it doesn't move very often), but it will be nice to have this one waiting for me.

I only actually need about three lines here, to fill in this gap. Should I list all of the Theroux books I plan to read? I can also see Happy Isles of Oceana from here, and there seems to be a mass-market paperback too far back to be made out.

Double Feature by Donald E. Westlake -- A new edition from Hard Case of two unrelated Westlake pieces, in a package previously titled Enough, when it was originally published in the deep 1970s. There's an editor's note about the title change -- Westlake's previous book, the first time around, was Two Much, so it was a minor ha-ha -- but for Westlake fans who have read Enough, and think this might be something different, it's still deeply annoying. I have read Enough, and I suspected this was Enough once again (without having clear memories of the library copy of Enough I read fifteen years ago), and I am still annoyed. Let me set this in bold: Books Should Not Change Their Titles Without Clear Notification.

Elektra: The Ultimate Collection by (in huge type) Greg Rucka and (much smaller) Chuck Austen, Joe Bennett, Carlo Pagulayan, Carlos Meglia, and Greg Horn -- Many years ago, in a magical land called Vassar, I was friendly with Rucka; we were on a student security force together. (That sounds weird, and it's probably even weirder in the context of such a feminist school as Vassar. It was really just another work-study job, putting people at random spots on campus to ostensibly keep an eye out for problems and actually to let them do some homework while getting paid badly.) I've tried intermittently to keep up with his writing since then; I really liked his early novels, but haven't kept track of most of his Big Comics work. So, when I saw this book cheap, I decided I owed it to my old compadre to spend far too little money in a way that meant none of it would get back to him.

This looks...interesting, with art that I would not generally characterize as "good," particularly the glossy stiff Horn covers. I'm hoping Rucka's writing makes it all work, since we want our old friends to be accomplished and awesome in all things.

Peter Bagge's Other Stuff -- A collection of random comics by Bagge, many of them with various collaborators. It is the obligatory "odds & sods" collection that anyone who does a lot of different things will eventually have.

Collaborators here include R. Crumb, Alan Moore, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, Johnny Ryan, Danny Hellman, the Hernandez Brothers , and a few more -- and it seems to be pretty evenly divided between Bagge-written and Bagge-drawn stuff, which makes for a diverse mix.

Blitt by Barry Blitt -- This is a 2017 collection of cartoons and covers, mostly (entirely?) from the New Yorker, with some commentary from Blitt. Blitt is a political cartoonist (two words) without having ever been a political cartoonist (phrase), which is an interesting position. And this is an attractive, large book of his work.

If you don't know who Blitt is, and the cover doesn't help place him, he did the Obama/Michele fist-bump cover for the New Yorker, back in the day. And a whole bunch of others -- hence, this book.

Love and Rockets: The Covers by Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez -- It's what it says it is: a large-format hardcover book collecting the covers from the original magazine-size run of L&R, along with some trade paperback covers of the same era. There's probably as many more covers since that era, but no one has nostalgia for middle-age, so we'll never see that book.

Man, that's a lot of books. Hope I actually keep reading at my current pace. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Quote of the Week: Emotional Support

Before I could, Overse caught up with me and asked "Are you all right?"
I was absolutely great. It wasn't like this situation needed to get any more emotionally fraught, or anything. I said, "I am functioning optimally." (This was a line from Valorious Defenders, which is a great source for things humans and augmented humans think SecUnits say that SecUnits do not actually say.)
Overse made an exasperated noise. "I hate that show." I'd forgotten that it was one of the shows I'd pulled off the Preservation Public Entertainment feed. The other humans were listening on the comm so hard I could pick up their breathing. Thiago pretended not to listen, flashing his helmet light over the stations on the upper tier of the control area. Overse added, "Just remember you're not alone here."
I never know what to say to that. I am actually alone in my head, and that's where 90 plus percent of my problems are.
 - Martha Wells, Network Effect, p.242

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Reading Into the Past: 2001

 This will be two weeks in a row, which I count as some kind of win. As before, "Reading into the Past" is a dive into my reading notebooks -- I generate a random year from 1990 to 2010 and then write here whatever I can remember/figure out/discover about the books I was reading this week that year.

This time out, it's 2001:

Stephen Baxter, Manifold: Origin (typescript, 10/14)

This was the third book of Baxter's then-current trilogy, a near-future Lebensraum view of the galaxy as a fallow field demanding humanity come right now and exploit every last bit of it. In retrospect, the main character Reid Malenfant looks like an Elon Musk type, but I seriously doubt Baxter could have meant that comparison when planning out these books in the late '90s. Baxter always wrote zippy space adventures with variable level of SFnal plausibility, but he went really hard into the "mankind must CONQUER THE UNIVERSE" message for a long stretch of years, including the usual Boomer nostalgia for the '60s space race, which soured me a bit on his work. (There's only so much you can hear the same message, especially if it annoys you the first time.)

Thomas M. Disch, The Brave Little Toaster (10/15)

See below.

Joel Achenbach, It Looks Like a President Only Smaller (10/15)

I'm pretty sure I know who this was about, but I have no memory of the book itself -- not surprising, since I bet it was a quickie and probably at least mostly meant to be funny. But let me look it up and see what it really was: Oh! It was not a super-quickie "pick on Bush" book, it was a semi-quickie "wasn't the 2000 election a total shitshow?" book. Achenbach was a newspaperman, probably best known for the "Why Things Are" column, who wrote some serious books and some silly books in the '90s and Aughts. (He seems to have stopped with a book about the BP spill a decade ago, though he's still a newspaperman.) I also had a vague sense of him as a Dave Barry associate, which is true: the two worked together on the Miami Herald early in Achenbach's career, though he's been at the Post (the real one, in DC) for three decades now.

We've had much shittier elections since then, though not one so blatantly stolen by the Supreme Court, and are in the midst on a epically shitty one that I certainly hope will never be topped. (But the thing about the world is that it always tops the things you hope it won't.) This is probably a nostalgia item these days.

Thomas M. Disch, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (10/16)

I seem to have been on a kick to read a lot of short books this week, which is convenient for nineteen-years-later me looking for blog content. I'm not sure why else I read the two "Brave Little Toaster" books: they weren't new and weren't in consideration for the SFBC. My guess is that they went home with me because of general office clean-up -- what was then Bookspan moved offices in the late fall of 2001 to consolidate the former Doubleday clubs (my home base) with the Book-of-the-Month Club folks over in the Time & Life Building. Every time a publishing company moves -- or at least, the way it worked in the days of giant piles of paper everywhere; it may be different now -- there are shelves and drawers full of books that will not move for various reasons, and the staffers take home the ones they want.

Anyway, what about this plucky toaster? They're two short little books, ostensibly for younger readers, with Disch not quite playing it straight but basically delivering on that promise. I don't recall them well, and my copies are long-gone. (They wouldn't have been destroyed in the flood -- read hardcovers up to Fritz Leiber survived, being upstairs -- but they're not here now.) So my guess is that I was not overly impressed.

Mark Caldwell, A Short History of Rudeness (10/17)

I really want to just write, "Oh, fuck him" and leave it at that.

You know, providing something short and rude?

But now I've explained the joke, so I might as well go on. This is another one I don't remember at all unaided. It seems to be actually a history of books of manners -- Emily Post and the like -- and some related topics, focused on NYC. Amazon reviewers are generally mediocre on it, but when are they not?

I have no memory of it, and no urge to ever re-read it to see what I found in it then. I do find it interesting that I've been reading a lot of random, semi-light non-fiction for ages; I sometimes think of that as the kind of reading middle-aged white men fall into inexorably, like a black hole. I've been circling that event horizon most of my adult life, I suppose.

Andrew Porter, editor, The Book of Ellison (10/18)

I know what this is -- a collection of Harlan Ellison stuff edited by Andy Porter -- but I'll have to dig to figure out what's actually in it. Oh, wait -- I probably still have it on the shelf. (Goes to look.) Nope -- it was a trade paperback, so I lost it in the flood. According to the infallible Internet, it was published in honor of Harlan's Guest of Honor appearance at the 1978 Worldcon, and the front half of the book was appreciations of Harlan and the back half was random Harlan nonfiction. (Well, probably not random, but the reviews make it sound that way -- the usual ranting-about-stuff that he spent so much of his life doing to so little actual effect in the end.)

So this is a very minor Ellison piece. The essays by Ellison may be worth chasing, depending on what they were and if they were ever reprinted elsewhere. Someday there may be a Collected Rants of Harlan book, which would be gigantic and exhausting, but probably also an immense amount of fun -- I hope to live long enough to see that book.

Henry N. Beard & Douglas C. Kenney, Bored of the Rings (quit unfinished on 10/19)

I'd read Bored of the Rings before, but this time I just couldn't get through it. Since it's so short, and I was reading so much so fast, that's pretty damning. I haven't tried to read it since, so I bet it's the puerile attitude of it that got to me: it's full of cheap, childish jokes and random cultural references that are even more out of date now than they were in 2001.

For those who don't know, Bored of the Rings was the Harvard Lampoon's parody of Tolkien's trilogy, published in 1969 when the Ace paperbacks were hot. It was written quickly, and is about the most surface-y satire you can imagine. I suspect the only people who enjoy it now are those who read it then; it's not a book that will live for the ages.

Stephen Jones, editor, The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories by Women (photocopies of UK edition, "not all," 10/20)

And here we see more of my little notes on what format I read books -- I left it silent if I was reading a real published book, but was a lot more specific about the stuff in the pipeline. I'm not sure why, other than having an excessively tidy mind: the differences between "typescript" and "unbound proofs" are mostly in the number of typos to be expected. And I don't know what I meant by "not all," there -- either that I read the first few stories and formed an opinion or that I read anything I hadn't recently read somewhere else. (As You Know Bob, some stories are frequently anthologized, and reviewers may not waste their time reading the exact same words one more time.)

Anyway, at this point the UK Mammoth series was running hot: they kept putting out random anthologies of stuff (in SFF and out of it), edited by everyone within a half-brick's throw of their offices, and those books came to the US, mostly from Carroll & Graf. (Which was basically a "grab UK books and do quick US editions" publisher in those days -- dunno what their list looks like now.) They were very fond of line extensions, so if a Vampire Stories was successful, a Vampire Stories by Women, a Vampire Stories of the 19th Century, and a World Vampire Stories would inevitably follow.

So I don't know what was in this, but it's probably the people you would suspect -- a few women safely dead and in the PD, plus a lot from the '90s horror boom -- with stories that Jones could get without blowing his budget. I am going to assume "The Master of Rampling Gate" was prominently cover-featured, so let me go see if it was....well, not cover-featured in the current edition, but it is the first story in the book. So I claim half-credit.

And that's what I read in the days leading up to October 20th, nineteen years ago. Join us next week for another random excursion into things Younger Andy read in bygone days!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Quote of the Week: Never Thought You'd Be Alone This Far Down the Line

And, to her surprise, she could now see that their photograph collection was really pretty good. She stopped before her favorite, a picture of a sand castle competition that must have been held at the turn of the last century. There were very few children visible -- one little girl in the foreground, wearing a knee-length dress and a sun hat that might have been made out of newspaper -- and the competition seemed to have drawn a crowd of thousands. (Would Ros tell her that this, too, was the best day in some poor coal miner's life, the day he had a front-row view of the Gooleness sand castle competition in 1908?) But Annie's eye was always drawn to a woman over on the right, kneeling on the ground, working on a church steeple, in what looked like a full-length overcoat and a peasant sun hat that made her seem as sad and as destitute as an old peasant in the Vietnam war. You're dead now, Annie always thought when she saw her. Do you wish you hadn't wasted your time doing that? Do you wish you'd thought, "Fuck the lot of them," and taken your coat off so you could have felt the sun on your back? We're here for such a short amount of time. Why do we spend any of it building sand castles? She would waste the next two hours, because she had to, and the she would never waste another second of however much time she had left to her. Unless somehow she ended up living with Duncan again, or doing this job for the rest of her working life, or watching EastEnders on a wet Sunday, or reading anything that wasn't King Lear, or painting her toenails, or taking more than a minute to choose something from a restaurant menu, or.... It was hopeless, life, really. It was set up all wrong.
 - Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked, pp.147-148

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Reading into the Past: 1999

This is something I used to do, back in the early days of the blog. I thought it was fun, and a silly way to look at a random grouping of books -- something like taking a picture of a shelf and writing about the books there.

It fell out of the rotation pretty quickly, particularly as I started writing more seriously about the new books I was reading, but it's been in the back of my head as something I should try again. So here I am.

I'm still not reading at a volume that regularly gives me books to write about -- I will probably finish a novel today (Sunday, October 11), but I'd like to write a blog post before that. And I didn't write anything yesterday; if you want to do something regularly, you need to make mechanisms to keep you doing that, so it becomes a habit.

For all those reasons, I'm looking to bring Reading into the Past back, and do it once a week. I'll be using a random number generator to pick a year between December of 1990 (when I started keeping up a reading notebook, six months out of college and freshly laid off from an office that moved itself bodily to Detroit) to 2010 (roughly when I started writing about everything I read, and giving me a 20-year stretch).

This week, it's 1999, a princely year. Here's what I was reading in the days leading up to October 14, 1999:

Peter Cannon, Forever Azathoth and Other Horrors (unbound signatures, 10/7)

Cannon wrote Scream for Jeeves, a very funny Lovecraft/Wodehouse mashup, a few years before this, and I did it in the SFBC along with Cannon's somewhat straighter Pulptime (also Lovecraftian) in an omnibus called The Lovecraft Chronicles. Forever Azathoth was a new collection of humorous takes on Lovecraftian themes, and, as I recall, was also quite good -- not as sublime as Scream for Jeeves, but that was a short tightrope act to begin with. I clearly was reading this for work, but I know I didn't buy it for work, so my guess is, twenty years later, that the huddled masses of SFBC members did not buy Lovecraft Papers in the quantities they were supposed to. I'm pretty sure I don't have a copy of Forever Azathoth anymore: it went beneath the waves in 2011.

A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young (10/8)

See below.

A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six (10/9)

At this point, I had one son, who was just eighteen months old. I wasn't actually reading anything much to him yet -- toddlers are not the most engaged audience -- but I was clearly preparing for that. I think of myself as not super-sentimental, but I do love the four little Milne books: these two books of poetry (well, doggerel, mostly; you love these only if you encountered them first when you were too young to know better) and then the two, much better, books of Winnie-the-Pooh stories. These were lying around my sons' rooms during their childhoods, so I've read bits and pieces of both of them a lot more than most things. I imagine I was reading them at this point since I was running a Book-A-Day streak, and short books of verse for children is an easy win there.

Deborah Christian, The Truthsayer's Apprentice (bound galleys, 10/10)

No unaided memory of this at all, I'm sorry to say. I'll Google and then type some more...Oh, this is sad. Christian wrote a few SFF novels in the mid-90s, starting with Mainline, and this book was supposed to launch her big fantasy series. But there was no second book -- though it does look like she came back with a new novel last year, Splintegrate (though the SFE claims that was originally published in 1997, so ???). Anyway, this was some manner of secondary-world fantasy, probably somewhat epic. If I still had my reader's reports, I'd tell you more -- but I lost all of them in the 2011 flood as well.

Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (10/11)

The memoirs, mostly of The Great War, from the author of I, Claudius (and a bunch of other stuff that is mostly not read today). As I recall, there were warring editions around that time -- perhaps a newer critical or corrected edition had just come out, or differences between the US and UK editions were still ranging seventy years later? I remember reading one version of it and then seeing a clearly different version in a bookstore a year or so later, and having that moment of wondering if I wanted to read it again. That aside, I understand that this is still one of the great WWI memoirs.

(After poking about: there's a 1929 edition and a 1957 edition. In the eternal way of the world, older Graves toned down some of his commentary about specific people in the 1957 edition, perhaps because they were then rich and/or influential. I think the one I read, sadly, was the 1957 -- so I may need to revisit this eventually.)

Rudy Rucker, Saucer Wisdom (10/12)

I have trouble remembering which Rudy Rucker novel is which: he's a writer with a distinctive style and set of concerns, so, except for obvious things like The Hollow Earth (a Poe sequel, more or less), all of Rucker's novels are about semi-bohemian people in the near future engaging in odd adventures with mathematically unlikely creatures and realms, often with mildly dystopian backgrounds which are only rarely the focus of the books. I'm sure this was one of them; it was new at the time. I suspect from the fact that I read it as a finished book that it was not being considered for the SFBC, which is slightly sad: Rucker is a zany, unique, wonderful writer whose work I've loved for thirtyish years but he's never been as popular as I think he should be. (Rucker is, to be really reductive, the bastard stepchild of John Sladek and Robert Sheckley on one side and Edwin Abbott and Lewis Carroll on the other.)

This reminds me I have two Rucker novels on my shelf that I could read -- they might come up in the rotation.

Jim Paul, Medieval in LA (10/13)

No memory at all, so off to Google to figure out what this was: Ah! Paul is the author of Catapult, a wonderful mid-90s book about building a siege weapon with a buddy and then testing it. This was his follow-up, a narrative non-fiction book organized around a weekend trip to LA and mostly consisting of digressions about the differences between the medieval world-view and the one he saw in the world in 1997. I still don't remember it, but I have a vague Catapult-shaped memory that may incorporate things that were actually in this book.

Italo Calvino, t zero (10/14)

If there were any questions that I tended to skew to the literary side of SFF, I trust this will prove it. I haven't read as much Calvino as sometimes I think I'd like to, but I've enjoyed his game-like story sequences, particularly the ones that are closest to "science fiction." This is one of those collections.

I'm also surprised to see that Calvino had been dead for a while when I read this: he died in 1985, at only 61. I forget that his major works were from the '60s and '70s; maybe because that was my own childhood, so that era is baseline "normal" to me in a way, and everything else since then is lived history.

That's what I read this week, twenty-one years ago. The younger Andy Wheeler got through a lot more books than the 2020 version does: he had a long commute, eyes still able to focus on a page for hours at a time, and the habit of sitting down, every day off, in a chair and powering through five hundred pages of manuscript. I miss being that guy, for (some of) those reasons and several more.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

I am quite possibly the last person in the world to read Nick Hornby's 2009 novel in bound galley [1] form. My copy of Juliet, Naked doesn't have a publisher letter stuck in it, so my guess is that I picked it up at BEA at the Javitz center back in May of 2009 -- it's not a book I would in any reasonable world be sent for review, but definitely one that would have large stacks at BEA for the massed hordes to make off with.

Juliet, Naked was published in September of 2009. I didn't read it then. A paperback edition came out about a year later, but I already had this sort-of paperback and didn't read it then, either. Hornby's next novel, Funny Girl, came out in 2014. I bought that in hardcover and still haven't read it, either. And I see that he's had new novels last year and this that I didn't even know about.

But, as I'm fond of saying these days, the earliest you can do anything is today, and I did now read Juliet, Naked. (In a format that definitely has more typos and formatting errors than the standard, and may also be missing other last-minute edits to the final book.)

Like Hornby's other books, it's about people's messy lives, primarily their romantic entanglements, without being anything like a romance or a break-up book, either. Hornby characters are all at least borderline obsessives, when they have something to be obsessed about, and they're deeply real people in the way they put their heads down to get on with their lives and then blinkingly realize a decade or so has passed with seemingly nothing to show for it.

(His people are all also typically white, hetero and middle-class, which may be one reason why I've been drawn to his work: we read the books that mirror us. Not saying this is a great thing, but signposting it, particularly for those of you looking for different mirrors.)

Juliet, Naked is the story of a love triangle. Annie, the curator of a small seaside museum in the dull town of Gooleness (somewhere in the North of England), has been living with Duncan for fifteen years, and loves him, she supposes, basically, as one does.

Duncan teaches at some kind of institution in Gooleness: probably whatever the British equivalent of a community college is, since it seems to be post-secondary. The great passion of his life is for the music of Tucker Crowe, an American singer-songwriter who had five albums over the course of a decade but then dropped out of public life suddenly during the tour for his greatest album, Juliet, in 1986.

Duncan is one of the leading lights of a website devoted to Tucker, the kind of thing that has probably migrated to Facebook these days. Duncan, and perhaps a hundred others (all men, primarily in their thirties and forties now, twenty years after Juliet), obsessively talk about those five albums, about various bootlegged concerts and the difference in live versions of songs, about rumors of what Tucker has been doing since then, and similar things. Tucker is generally assumed, Salinger-like, to have been creating stuff since then, which his fans are dying to see and critique.

And then the first new record by Tucker in twenty years is announced: Juliet, Naked, a collection of Tucker's original solo demos. Duncan gets an early copy, and writes the first review of it anywhere: he loves it and thinks this is Tucker's real masterwork.

Annie is not a Tucker fan at Duncan's level: who is? (No woman, for one thing.) But she has been listening to Juliet for ages, obviously, and she has surprisingly strong opinions on Naked. So, after some mildly contentious conversations with Duncan, she writes up what she thinks (TL; DR: sketches are inferior to the final product) and posts it to the same website.

And then, a day or so later, she gets an email from Tucker, agreeing with her.

Tucker has been living with various women for the past couple of decades -- he seems to settle in with one, have a child or twins, and then let the relationship sour over the course of four or five years until she kicks him out. He refers to these as marriages, but there seems very little actual legal structure to any of these relationships. His current marriage, to Cat, is circling the drain, though it did produce a son, Jackson, now six years old -- and Tucker's self-worth is pretty inextricably bound up with being Jackson's dad, since he has nothing else.

He hasn't been secretly writing and recording songs. He hasn't been secretly doing anything. As far as I can tell, he hasn't even worked a day at any kind of job, creative or otherwise, since he famously walked out of a club in Minneapolis on that Juliet tour. He has been existing, and creating offspring -- he now has five, from four different mothers -- but that seems to be it. (This is perhaps the least likely aspect of the novel; it's difficult to picture an American man spending more than two decades doing absolutely nothing.) Well, he did get sober at some point during that stretch, which is not nothing.

Annie falls in love with Tucker's emails, before too long. Well, he's charming: that's his fatal flaw.

Annie's relationship with Duncan frays and severs. So does Tucker's with Cat. Tucker's relationships with his older children and various exes become more important, with that break and other shifts -- they all stay in touch, more or less, sharing the parental responsibilities he's been dodging for years.

Eventually, Tucker and Jackson end up in England, for a good-enough reason. In Gooleness, because Annie came to see Tucker, and that gave Tucker one more chance to run away from something.

And, at that point in the novel, it's pretty clear Tucker has been running, whenever he had a chance, since that day in 1986. But the novel Juliet, Naked might just be the story of how he stops running.

Maybe. Or maybe he just walks, at a slower pace.

Hornby's characters are rarely "happy," in the same ways people in real life aren't "happy." Happiness is a moment, not a state, and life is full of a million other less-pleasant moments, too. So a reader expecting Annie to "cure" Tucker or for the two of them to settle down blissfully together on either side of the Atlantic is looking in the wrong book.

Juliet, Naked, again, is the story of a love triangle. And of a much more complex love shape surrounding Tucker, including the twenty-years-dead relationship with the woman who inspired Juliet and may, perhaps, not have been the amazingly wonderful perfect goddess that record seems to imply. (And who is?) But, mostly, it's the story of people who got stuck in their lives, and what happens at the moment they suddenly stick their heads up, realize how stuck they are, and try to do something about it.

[1] This is an antiquated term, and was an antiquated term when this edition was available. Then, it was an "uncorrected proof" or an "advance review copy." These days, I wonder how many books get a physically printed pre-publication publicity edition at all.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Quote of the Week: Mourning

They buried Parradan Smith in a separate grave and piled a cairn of stones to mark it, on Burnbright's advice, she being the nearest expert on Mount Flame City gang customs. They felt badly leaving him there, in the shadow of the black mountain. Still, there is only so much one can do for the dead without joining them.
 - Kage Baker, The Anvil of the World, p.57

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Uncle Fred in the Springtime by P.G. Wodehouse

I've written a lot about P.G. Wodehouse here over the years, mostly in reading through Overlook's marvelous Collector's Wodehouse series -- I believe they republished all or basically all of his hundred-plus books over the first couple of decades of this century in matching small hardcovers.

I've even written a bit about Wodehouse's series character Uncle Fred (the puckish Earl of Ickenham, who can accomplish anything, absolutely anything, in the springtime), with the novels Service with a Smile and Uncle Dynamite. But I seem to have read this book, the last time around, well before I started this blog fifteen years ago.

And, frankly, I don't think I can do justice to Uncle Fred in the Springtime here: it's one of Wodehouse's best novels, in which all of the gears of his plots mesh perfectly, his characters are amusingly quotable, the random observations are funny and true, and the sunniest of all possible worlds shines before us as if it could possibly be real.

It's about young people in love, of course, as with the best of Wodehouse. But also about the old people around them: the friendly ones, like Ickenham, trying to help them along to bliss. The grumpy ones, like the Duke of Dunstable, who must be gotten around to allow his nephew to marry. And the scatterbrained ones, like Lord Emsworth, who would be far happier if left just to think about and care for his beloved prize-winning pig, the Empress of Blandings.

There are impostors and the theft of the aforementioned pig. There is a major betting flurry on the clothing worn by a random gent temporarily trapped in a phone booth in the lobby of the Drones Club. There is a private detective who does not fit quite so smoothly into polite rural society as one might wish.

I'm not sure if Uncle Fred counts as a distinct series in Wodehouse's work, or if it's best characterized as an offshoot or cadet branch of the Blandings stories. There may perhaps be a major scholarly disagreement on exactly that point. But Uncle Fred is a wonderful character, and a character who shows to Jeeves-and-Wooster fans that Wodehouse had other arrows in his comedy quiver: he could spin complications almost as easily out of a man who could always talk his way out of trouble as he could with a man always talking his way into it.

This is a marvelous, funny book. Would that we all had Uncle Freds to smooth our paths, and that we could live forever in the Wodehousian springtime.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Earworm of the Day

We all get songs stuck in our heads. And when we do, we have the bizarre urge to share those songs, as if it were a parasite that could be induced to jump hosts.

So: here's what's been stuck in my head all day:

Note for people of my generation: yes, that is Merv Griffin singing; his first career was as a singer. The world is weird.

Note for people younger than me: yes, this is precisely as bizarre and random as you think it is. It's a novelty one-off song, despite sounding like it came from the middle of some 1950s musical.

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

Funny can age badly, because what each generation thinks is funny changes. The more generations, the more change, and eventually we need learned professors to explain to us that Shakespeare is approximately 15% dick-and-vagina jokes by volume.

The Dud Avocado is a humorous novel, in the based-on-my-life style, set in the early 1950s in Paris, narrated by a madcap young would-be actress named Sally Jay Gorce. How much of it is "really" what happened to author Elaine Dundy and how much is a fictionalization...who can say at this point? And who would care? What matters now is whether the people still connect, whether the funny stuff is still funny, the thoughtful stuff still thoughtful, and the emotional stuff still true.

The edition I read, the 2006 New York Review of Books trade paperback [1], notes that Dud Avocado is one of those cult novels that gets re-issued with minor fanfare every decade or so, and then mostly sinks beneath the waves before the next burst of cult interest. (Of course, most sixty-year-old books don't even get that: they got a first publication, and maybe a paperback, and possibly a reissue with the next book from the author, and then nothing at all from then on.) Terry Teachout, who said that in his introduction, makes it sound like a sad thing, but it's actually how novels live, for all but the biggest, most ubiquitous writers. They pop in and out of print, in and out of public discourse, because we can't think about or talk about everything at once.

So Dud Avocado has stayed alive. It's been rediscovered multiple times, by two more generations, including a lot of people who didn't get to run off to Paris on family money the way Sally Jay (and maybe Dundy) did. So no matter what I say about it, my questions above about people and funny and thoughtful and emotional are "yes," for a sizable number of people, as recently as 2006. (And, to be frank, "people" is me being deliberately vague: I think Dundy and Dud Avocado speak more clearly to women than to men, more directly to young people than older people.)

Sally Jay is willful and scattered and free-wheeling and all-too-easily led, enthusiastic and prone to fall in love at the drop of a hat and enamored with her own bohemianism. She's also not nearly as self-reflective as she seems to be: I'm not sure whether that's Dundy's point or not. Even this far back, the scatterbrained young woman -- pretty enough for a lot of men to be interested in her, nutty enough to drive a lot of them away, clumsy as the standard endearing/quirky trait -- was the model, though I don't know if modern romantic comedy got that from Dundy or if there's an earlier incarnation I'm forgetting at the moment. She's a modern enough woman to fall into bed without much trouble, and Sally Jay seems to enjoy it though Dundy (writing in 1958, let's remember) leaves it clear that there was a falling-into-bed without saying much more.

The story of Dud Avocado is Sally Jay: her voice, her misadventures, her emotions, her love-affairs, all in one tangled ball. The through-line, such as it is, is bound up in an old friend named Larry Keevil: she meets him again in Paris on page 1, falls in love with him in the first chapter, gets pulled into his schemes (and vice versa) for a few hundred pages, wanders through Paris and some provincial towns doing things that may be scandalous to herself or her relatives back home or even the locals, and eventually learns unpleasant truths about Larry near the end. Those are all things that happen; what matters is how Sally Jay tells us about them and how she feels about them.

She's a mess, in that unformed early-twenties way: unsure what she wants but determined to get it right now. The whole book is in her voice, and the reader has to be able to go with that: to sympathize with what a less kind reader might call a sex-mad spoiled rich white girl on a tear overseas, sowing wild oats madly before inevitably settling down to domesticity and a blandly conventional American marriage. (Spoiler alert: there is something like settling down at the very end of the book, somewhat abruptly, though I misrepresent it here. It feels like Dundy knew she needed to end the book and wasn't able to figure out something more plausible than her own random marriage to theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, and so just fictionalized that as best she could.)

I found Sally Jay a fun protagonist to spend 250 pages with, though she'd be exhausting in real life. (I went to Vassar; I knew girls not a million miles from Sally Jay.) I'm a huge fan of novels written in distinctive voices, and Dud Avocado hits all of those buttons. And, frankly, a lot of it was still funny, to a man born twenty years later, who never had a rich uncle to send him anywhere. I imagine even more of it would be funny to readers closer to the life Sally Jay lives, and I expect there will be another new edition of Dud Avocado in 2025 or so, popping it back up for the attention of yet another generation.

[1] For the people like me who wondered: no, the cover photo is not Dundy. It's an unnamed model in New York in 1962, photographed by Erwin Blumenfeld. I guess mid-century is mid-century, right? 1951 Paris, 1962 New York, comme ci, comme ca?

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Bad Machinery, Book 8: The Case of the Modern Men by John Allison

I always ponder how far to get into history and minutia when I'm writing about, say, the eighth volume collecting a webcomic.

I mean, on the one hand I can just say go read the webcomic already, which is perfectly legitimate. But it makes for a very short post, if nothing else.

Or I can delve into the history of Bad Machinery, linking to my posts on the previous volumes (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven), talking about how it was the follow-up to creator John Allison's previous webcomic Scary-Go-Round (q.v.), and possibly even sidetracking into a discussion of the only-vaguely-related Giant Days (viz.).

It is a puzzlement.

So, instead, I'll pretend to consider both options while actually putting them both in this post, and then dive into the current book: The Case of the Modern Men, the eighth case of the Tackleford Mystery Tweens Teens. It ran in the webcomic in early-mid 2014, with the core cast clearly teenaged and (as usual for teens) somewhat less interested in solving weird external mysteries and somewhat more interested in the more fleshy mysteries of their various innamorata (which, as also is usual with teens, were sometimes each other, though, also sadly usual, never reciprocally).

This story combines French exchange students with the thrill of the Mod lifestyle, in clothing and scooters and the music of The Whom. (Allison's world is much like, but not exactly the same as, our own.) Lottie's family hosts Mimi; Little Claire's hosts Camille. Those two young women had a previous conflict which flourishes quirkily in the fertile Tackleford soil. There is a fabled scooter that may perhaps be cursed, so that every rider becomes King of the Mods and is eventually beheaded.

The Mystery Teens do not exactly try to solve the mystery as try to help their friends, to stave off a riotous Rocker-Mod conflict throughout the surrounding borough, and to foil one of those French young women in her fiendish plans. In the end, at least no one is beheaded, and there have been some kisses exchanged.

In retrospect, this (or possibly the prior story, The Case of the Forked Road) is where Bad Machinery started coming apart. Allison always sets his stories in something like real time, so his cast will inevitably grow and change -- and he tends to write about young people (tweens, teens, twenties), so they have a lot of changing to do, and can do it very quickly. So when I say "coming apart," I mean the premise -- kids solve crimes -- rather than anything on the story level.

Here they were no longer kids. After an event in this story, solving crimes had much less appeal. And that's clear from the Bad Machinery page on Allison's site: right after this case, there was a sidebar story about Lottie and Shauna called "Space Is the Place," then one more case, then another sidebar (more of a Bobbins story, actually) under the ominous title "The Big Hiatus," and then the final Bad Machinery case.

Some creators -- naming no names here -- are content to keep their characters exactly the same age, in exactly the same relationships, for decades at a time, and many of them rake in buckets of sweet, sweet syndication money. (Or the trusts established to keep their descendants from ever working again do, in some cases.) John Allison will have no truck with that, and his work is vastly stronger for it. Every Allison story is set in a moment that will not recur -- just like every moment in each of our own real lives.

So I'm sad, even re-reading half a decade later, to remember that Bad Machinery must inevitably end. But all things must inevitably end. Allison is just better at the process along the way than many others.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Fifteenth Anniversaries

Yesterday, while doing something else, I realized today was the fifteenth anniversary of this blog.

Now, I was once in the habit of writing long, discursive, link-filled posts for anniversaries -- see the entries for the first, second, third, fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth years. But last year I dropped the ball, and (quirkily enough) I also bobbled the supposedly-significant fifth (missed entirely) and tenth (forgotten until a month later) years as well, as if some part of my brain was quite clearly sabotaging me.

I would typically list the number of posts by year after that, know what? I will update that here:

2019-2020 -- 55 posts
2018-2019 -- 178 posts
2017-2018 -- 368 posts
2016-2017 -- 263 posts
2015-2016 -- 144 posts
2014-2015 -- 258 posts
2013-2014 -- 434 posts
2012-2013 -- 285 posts
2011-2012 -- 332 posts
2010-2011 -- 445 posts
2009-2010 -- 711 posts
2008-2009 -- 880 posts
2007-2008 -- 834 posts
2006-2007 -- 841 posts
2005-2006 -- 809 posts

I would previously then add in the posts from my other blog, Editorial Explanations, which ran from 2011 through 2013. But those numbers will not change now, so anyone who cares (no one) can look at one of the older posts to see the numbers.

And then I'd link back to posts of the past year, indulging myself by quoting sentences I particularly liked. Since the pickings are pretty meager the past couple of years -- not to mention the fact that my fingers are racing to get done before The Wife and I run out for the weekly grocery-shopping -- I'll leave that off this year.

But I'm counting this as not a failure this year, since I actually remembered ahead of time. It might be smaller, it might be less impressive, but it is a thing that exists, and that's good enough for me in the annus horribilis 2020.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Quote of the Week: Did Not Even Adjust Its Blood Level Away

(If I got angry at myself for being angry I would be angry constantly and I wouldn't have time to think about anything else.)
(Wait, I think I am angry constantly. That might explain a lot.)
 - Martha Wells, Network Effect, p.205

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Carrizozo: An Illustrated History by Rick Geary

Carrizozo is the country seat of Lincoln, which comprises a full quarter of the state of New Mexico. But it's a small town, once a moderately important stop on a then-important train line and now a place best described as quaint and artsy, cheap enough for artistic types from across the country to move to and make their stuff there.

This book exists because of one of them: the cartoonist Rick Geary. Geary moved to Carrizozo a decade or so ago -- I think from San Diego, though he was originally born in Kansas City. And he clearly likes the place enough to research and draw a sixty-page book about it.

But, for the rest of us, this is the cartoon version of those small-published books that sit in the Local History section of the independent book store,  the ones typically with old-timey sepia photos of local landmarks on the cover and a lot of random local trivia (local famous families and how long some of them have been mayor! what that big stone building in the center of town was originally! careful tap dancing around a despicable history of racial animus! historical photos of groups of people, some of whom you may be distantly related to!).

Which is to say: this is a book that I assume will be sold in Carrizozo's local tourist office, and was sold to Geary's nutty fans [1], and otherwise will be beneath the notice of everyone else in the world. (And, let's be honest: every single book is beneath the notice of the vast majority of the world. Only a tiny few of them will ever hit 10% market penetration, the marketer in me wants to point out.)

So: Carrizozo! Jewel of the Tularosa Basin! Named for a local plant, with an extra "zo" thrown on the end for emphasis! Once site of a major roundhouse for the mighty El Paso and Southwestern Railway! Peaking in population at 2000 in 1920! [2] This is the book that will tell you all those things and more.

I can honestly say that this is the only book about Carrizozo you will ever need, unless by some bizarre quirk of fate you are the town historian of Carrizozo. If, by some bizarre chance, you are the town historian of Carrizozo, please update your website to include your name.

I don't have my usual Amazon link this time, but, if you are as nutty as I am, Carrizozo: An Illustrated History can be purchased directly from the author's website.

[1] Of whom I clearly am one. I debated backing the Kickstarter for quite a while: I usually back Geary's as soon as I see them, but I was close to the deadline on this one. Of course, how long you debated before doing a silly thing is obviously not evidence that you didn't do the silly thing.

[2] I live in what's considered a small town in New Jersey, and we have 10,000 people here. You likely live somewhere as large or larger; most people do.