Monday, December 28, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/26/20

Nothing actually in the mail this week, but I do have three books that I bought myself got as Christmas presents bought myself and got as Christmas presents! (At my stage of life, if you want the right presents, you need to buy them yourself.)

The Iron Dragon's Mother by Michael Swanwick -- I'm a year late for this one, but I've read all of Swanwick's novels (and most of his short fiction, too), and didn't want to miss the third novel in the world of Iron Dragon's Daughter and Dragons of Babel. I wouldn't call this a trilogy, though I bet the publisher does: my understanding is that they're three separate novels (the first two definitely were) written years apart, about different people in different parts of this world.

Swanwick has been one of my favorite writers since probably Vacuum Flowers (I think I read that before In the Drift, and it's a more pyrotechnic, instantly lovable novel), and I acquired a bunch of his books for the book clubs for a decade or so. (In fact, there's one Swanwick book, Jack Faust, that I acquired there even though at the time and afterward I wondered if the book wouldn't have been better served if it were offered by The Other Folks. But I couldn't have made that happen; you can never make other people do things. All you can do are the things in front of you.)

So: fantasy novel set in an industrialized, dystopic world of traditional folklore. By one of our best writers. I can't recommend it until I actually read it, but I bet it's well worth reading.

Dead Lies Dreaming by Charles Stross -- The author says that this is not actually part of the main "Laundry Files" series -- the protagonists do not belong to that UK government organization, not that the same organization even exists as it did before The Delirium Brief -- but his publishers know the lure of a series title, so it's badged that way so his fans can find it. It is set in the same world, and that's Stross's most popular world, which is good for we readers and (we all hope) similarly good for the bank accounts of Stross and the publishers.

(I also get the sense that Stross has traditionally been a writer who finds himself cramped and shoehorned by his previous choices when writing sequels, so long series may annoy him more than some writers. If sidebars and new sub-series like this allow him to create a series more like Discworld than like Foundation, that's good for all of us.)

So this is a caper novel, set in a world on the precipice of a Lovecraftian apocalypse -- well, of one particular Lovecraftian apocalypse, with several others bubbling along at various levels as well. The UK, for example, is now ruled personally by Nyarlathotep in one of his slightly more personable and reasonable forms. My traditional answer, when someone asks if the Laundry books are SF, fantasy, or horror, is to say "Yes. Yes, they are. But 'and' rather than 'or.'"

Paul at Home by Michel Rabagliati -- This is the most recent book in a sequence of semi-autobiographical graphic novels by a French Canadian (it's translated from French by Helge Dascher and Rob Aspinall), following Paul Up North, Paul Joins the Scouts, Paul Has a Summer Job, and several others -- not all of which have "Paul" in the title, actually. The main character is "Paul Riforati" rather than "Michel Rabagliati," but, otherwise, Rabagliati seems to have stuck very close to the details of his own life, fictionalizing only as much as any other memoirist does, to protect others or just because memory is always faulty.

Most of the Paul books have covered "Riforati's" younger years -- childhood, schooling, meeting the woman who became his wife, some of his early career in the printing business. But Paul at Home has a middle-aged Riforati, divorced and with his single daughter now grown and moved out. This Riforati, for what I think is the first time, is a published and popular author -- the previous books were all about a Riforati who had not yet created his world's equivalent of the Paul books. (And I wonder how metafictional Rabagliati will get here? It would amuse me, if maybe no one else, if Paul's fictional alter-ego was named Michel.)

So this may be a tougher book, emotionally, than most of the ones about a young Paul venturing out into the wide world -- maybe closer to The Song of Roland or even more death-haunted than that. Rabagliati knows this character well, and I'd like to see how he handles bringing the character closer to his present-day life.

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