Monday, May 31, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/28/21

I'm rationing again this week: I got a box of graphic novels that I ordered from an Internet seller (no, not that one, this time - one of the bigger online comics retailers, nicknamed for its state), which I'm going to keep holding until next week, because I can do that.

Instead, I'm going to list two books that came in from Tachyon - brand-new SFF books publishing any minute now, and clamoring for your attention - and then three from the library, since the library ones will get read first for obvious due-back-soon reasons.


Jillian vs. Parasite Planet is a SF novel for younger readers by Nicole Kornher-Stace about the eleven-year-old of the title who travels to an alien world with her family for what's supposed to be a fun camping trip, but...well, the author's afterword (which I glanced at) includes the phrase "mind-control parasites," which can't be a good sign. Jillian is also loosely based on the author's son, and has anxiety, so this is not going to be the usual save-everyone-with-my-daring-do skiffy adventure, I think: it's something more specific and modern. Jillian is suggested for ages 8 to 12, and publishes on July 16th.

The Tangleroot Palace is a collection of short stories (I'm going to guess mostly fantasy from the cover) by novelist and comics writer Marjorie Liu, whom I think I've only encountered from Monstress. (Parenthetically, her blurb says that she was the first woman to win an Eisner for Best Writer, which, decades later than the first woman should have been? I mean, don't get me wrong, she deserves one, but first is mind-boggling and not in a good way.) The seven stories here are mostly from 2009-2013, with one from 2016, and originally appeared in various anthologies. This collection will hit stores on June 15.


Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board is, as I hope will be obvious, Kristen Gudsnuk's sequel to Making Friends. In the first book, seventh-grader Dany dealt with uncomfortable changes in her life with drawing a best friend, Madison, in a sketchbook...which turned out to be magic, and brought Madison to life. As is usual with magical tools, Dany has not exactly learned her lesson, and it looks like, in this book, she decides to make a copy of herself to help with homework and the usual not-being-able-to-be-in-two-places-at-once problems. And I'm sure it all goes absolutely fine, and the book is an endless sequence of Dany triumphing over life, he said sarcastically, looking forward to the opposite.

Black Hammer: Secret Origins is some kind of superhero comic; I've seen it praised a lot, so I think it's generally considered pretty good. (Chime in with a comment if not.) My sense is that there's been a bunch of semi-random Black Hammer stuff, but that this is at least a beginning. (But my sense was also that "Black Hammer" was a single hero with a somewhat darker skin tone than any of the people on this cover, so I'm not paying attention the way I should.) It's written by Jeff Lemire, whose personal and SSFF work I've generally liked, and whose superhero stuff I'm almost entirely avoided. And it's drawn by Dean Ormston, about whom I know nothing. But it's colored by Dave Stewart, who did a lot of great moody stuff for Hellboy and related projects, and also seems to be Dark Horse's go-to color chappie.

Invisible Differences is a graphic novel with odd credits: story by Julie Dachez; adaptation, illustration, and colors by Mademoiselle Caroline; and inspired by and in collaboration with Fabienne Vaslet. (I think that means Dachez wrote the whole thing, but not in comics form, Caroline turned it into actual comics, and Vaslet kibitzed and/or vaguely edited and/or is the comics equivalent of an executive producer.) That was all in French, so this edition was translated by Edward Gauvin. It's the story of a young woman named Marguerite, who discovers in what seems to be her mid-twenties that she has Asperger Syndrome [1], which, I gather, gives her a framework to understand who she is and why she's different from the people around her. I'd thought this was entirely non-fictional, but I gather it is thinly fictionalized: Dachez was diagnosed at the age of 27, so this is mostly but not exactly what happened to her. 

[1] I don't have a dog in this fight - though I do have a son on the autism spectrum - but Asperger's is no longer a separate diagnosis in the DSM-5, for about a decade. It's all now "autism spectrum disorder," rather than being a series of checklists to drop people into smaller boxes. I gather this is controversial. As I say, I don't have a side; my son has gotten multiple diagnoses in that region; the one that stuck was the least helpful, PDD-NOS, which basically means "in there somewhere, vaguely, but nothing else specific."

Friday, May 28, 2021

Quote of the Week: There's Always That Guy

To anyone unfamiliar with the setup of the show, this next bit is going to be a little bit baffling. There's this guy, and he's an alien. But he's a very British sort of alien. He is, in fact, more British than the British people he takes with him on his travels, and you know this because he most often dresses like an Edwardian dandy with a serious frock coat addiction. He's the archetypal British eccentric, a boffin, an inventor, and because he is a figure of authority and one of the good guys (mostly), his name is the Doctor.

 - Fraser McAlpine, Stuff Brits Like, p. 79

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Complete Peanuts, 1953-1954 by Charles M. Schulz

This will probably be short and desultory; I've thrown a lot of words around in these parts about Peanuts in the past (see my posts on the first volume from 2016 and two weeks ago if you want to dive in), and the strips here are more transition: a lot like what I said about the first volume recently, only a little more so, and with a few more elements of later Peanuts starting to emerge.

So The Complete Peanuts, 1953 to 1954 includes a strip where Lucy holds a football and Charlie Brown fails to kick it, and several in which the round-headed kid attempts to fly a kite...but the gags here are not the gags Schulz would use later on. Pig-Pen appears, and is used for sequences of dirty-kid jokes. Linus is getting more prominent, but is still a little kid: he stands up, but doesn't walk, and hasn't spoken yet. Snoopy is still clearly a dog, though an energetic, fun-loving one with more intelligence than most and some unexpected abilities - mostly around detecting candy and other sweets.

Charlie Brown has transitioned away from being the trickster he was intermittently in the first few years, and is mostly a sad sack, the butt of other kids' insults. There's no sense yet, though, that's he's internalized that, or that he's inherently a sad sack. He's just filling that role in the jokes.

Lucy similarly is midway in her transition from fussbudget to tyrant: she starts this period clearly smaller and younger than the other kids, but is aging up to them by the end. That's the core pattern of early Peanuts, which somewhat recurred later with characters like Rerun: kids appear as babies, grow up to "little kids" quickly, and eventually transition to being the same age as the existing cast.

For fans of the strip, or (even more so) students of it, this is a fascinating period. It's a solid, very entertaining gag-a-day strip, very much of its time in its view of an endless adult-free '50s kid-playland suburbia, that intermittently shows flashes of what Peanuts would become starting a few years later: the deep sadness and characterization, the longer story sequences, the recurring motifs and ideas.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Born a Doofus by Adam Huber

Gag-a-day cartoons are a wonderful and mysterious art, a triumph of style and viewpoint, precise phrasing and engaging drawing, with a clear point of view and a world that can be encapsulated in four panels but expands with four new panels every day for as long as the cartoonist is inspired.

Well, good gag-a-day cartoons are like that. We also have Blondie and Garfield.

Bug Martini, though, is a good gag-a-day cartoon. It's been running for about a dozen years, and its creator, Adam Huber, finally put together a physical-book collection of the strip this past year, gathering the first year of strips under the title Born a Doofus.

So this book starts with the first strip (October 19, 2009) and runs through the strip for October 18, 2010. It also includes, in the back, about a dozen sketchbook pages about the pre-history of his "bug" main character, but the real draw is the comics themselves, which were funny and smart right from the beginning. (Huber's art has evolved a bit - his bugs were chunkier, with smaller eyes, at the very beginning - but his writing was basically fully-formed from strip one. He may have gotten slightly denser with jokes as he went on, but that's about it: this was really funny from launch.) I was chuckling all the way through Born a Doofus, and only avoided trying to read out a dozen or so random strips to The Wife out of my finely-honed sense that reading the words from a comic are not the preferred experience...especially to a woman trying to make dinner for her family.

But, Andy, you say. You're linking to those strips, which are still available online. Why would I buy a book when I can just read straight through the archives, and hit another ten years of strips after that?

Aha! There is a fatal flaw in your plan: you can't buy this book. It's not available to you. It was funded by a Kickstarter, and you are too late. So it's not a case of "should I get this book," but instead a case of "you missed out on this awesome book, so sad for you."

So I am not recommending this book to you. I am gloating that I just read it, that it is wonderful, and that you cannot have it. Oh, maybe Huber will deign to open sales of Born a Doofus in the future - check out his webstore, and live in hope - but, for right now, I have it and you do not.

(Or maybe I'm joking, and I do hope you can buy this someday, and Bug Martini will become an empire to rival Paws, Inc. Maybe.)

So that is Born a Doofus. It is funny, and I hope the stress of making it didn't turn Huber off making further books, since he could do at least half-a-dozen more out of his archives. And maybe, just maybe, if you're really good and the world is better than it usually is, you will be able to get a copy yourself someday. But, for now: you missed it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists edited by Ted Rall

Any book with "new" in the title will age really badly: it's just inherent. If what it's trying to do is present something fresh and immediate, that will just be less compelling fifteen years later. No one can do anything about that effect.

So it's a pretty quixotic thing to read Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists in 2021, since it's a book from 2006 about a world that was fast-moving at that point and has only sped up since then. Attitude 3 was the last of the series -- the first Attitude profiled new political cartoonists and the second one new "alternative" cartoonists" (primarily those of the weekly newspapers that flourished in the '90s, I think), and all of them were edited by Ted Rall, at a moment in his career when he seemed to be working more as a connector than he looks to be doing now.

(Parenthetically, Rall - as the sourest, most uncompromising and most ideologically leftist cartoonist in the US - now looks like an odd person to do something this broad and inclusive, but, again, fifteen years can change people and worlds and industries. Early-Aughts Rall is not the same person he is today; none of us are.)

So Attitude 3 interviews and profiles twenty-one relatively prominent webcartoonists of the time, mostly focusing on political/personal cartoons - things closer to the editorial end of the world, or gag-a-day in some cases, rather than the kind of webcomics that are basically long serialized stories formatted as comic-book pages presented in electronic form. Some of them will be familiar, some of them will be lost to the mists of time. (Well, they were for me; you might be intimately familiar with every single one of these and know exactly what they've all done in the fifteen years since. If so, you are creepy and I am unobtrusively moving away from you.)

Cartoonists I recognize/follow/enjoy include Richard Stevens of Diesel Sweeties, Matt Bors (more recently of The Nib), Dorothy Gambrell of Cat and Girl, Nicholas Gurewitch of Perry Bible Fellowship, and Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics. A couple of others - Mark Fiore in particular - are names I've seen since then. But the majority of the book was made up of cartoons and creators I'd never seen before and hadn't heard of: my guess is that some of them are still going, in their own corners of the Internet, and some have moved on to other art-adjacent things, and most have moved on to work that's nothing like making pictures on the WWW.

Each cartoonist has five or six pages, including a decent selection of cartoons in black-and-white - this is an issue for some, since most were in color on the 'net, for obvious reasons - and the interview with Rall. It's all professional and well-done and informative, but it does feel like a moment frozen in amber this many years later.

I think we're at the wrong time to look at a book like this again. One the one hand, it's too long for most of these people to still be doing the same work, though a few are. On the other, they were all very young then (mostly mid-twenties) and so now are mostly in the middle of their careers - so it's too early for this to be useful as parallax to evaluate anything like their whole oeuvre.

Still, it's a moderately heroic book, trying to gather a vast, massively-distributed world and get it between two covers for posterity. It is a serious accomplishment, and it will be there for that re-evaluation in another thirty years or so, if any of us are there to look at it again.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/22/21

Have I mentioned how annoying Blogger's current interface is? There are no keyboard shortcuts for labels or publication time - arrows, tabs, whatever; none of it does anything, so you have to click your mouse like a monkey - and it inserts a space at the beginning of every single post for no damn good reason.

It is horrible, and I suspect it's to do with responsive design somehow: Blogger provides a horrible experience on desktop for a text-based long-form content-creation platform so that it can also provide an inevitably horrible, in different ways, experience on mobile. This is me shaking my fist at the clouds, and insisting that tools should be designed to do specific things in specific ways, not to be loose collections of stuff that works everywhere, sort-of, maybe, kind of.

Anyway, I have some new books this week. I actually have more than this already, but I'm rationing so I have stuff to write about next week and to keep from spending too much time in a basement on a sunny Saturday morning. So I will tell you about one book I bought and six more that came from the library.

The book I bought is Stories from the '90s by Rick Geary, which explains itself very well in its title. It contains stories by Rick Geary, which were written and drawn and published in the 1990s. There's no table of contents, but the credits at the end list twenty-seven issues or publications, so I'm going to guess it has at least twenty-seven stories in its hundred-and-twenty pages. Geary is a fun, quirky comics creator, and his short stuff has always been his quirkiest. This is the period when I think he transitioned from doing a lot of short strips for various outlets (in this case: Heavy Metal, Dark Horse's Cheval Noir anthology series, Dark Horse Presents, a few Geary one-shots and odder places) into doing the book-length explorations of historical murders, which I have to assume paid better and was more dependable. So there may never be a similar book for the Aughts - even if so, this one exists, which is great. The only way to get it is right from Geary himself; he published it and sells it in his webstore. He's been Kickstarting books for about a decade now, and the package is entirely professional  - my only quibble is that the spine has no words on it.

And the rest are books from the library:

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist is a major memoir from Adrian Tomine, who previously mostly told stories about people like him. (Though I should mention Scenes from an Impending Marriage from a decade ago, which was an expanded version of the comics-format favor from Tomine's own wedding.) I think Tomine himself is as conflicted and confused by his life as his characters are about theirs, so I'm not expecting vast changes in style - though the tone looks to be more conversational and the style more personal.

All Together Now is a YA graphic novel by Hope Larson and the sequel to All Summer Long; it came out last year and I realized it existed while poking through some library lists recently. The first one, as I recall, was very clearly not about romance - thirteen-year-old Bina wasn't interested, wasn't ready, and had better things to do - but this one looks to be set during the school year and to see that romantic world affect Bina, whether she wants it to or not. (I'll have to see whether she wants it to when I read it.)

The Man Without Talent is a single-volume manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge, originally published around forty years ago. It's on the literary side - this edition is published by New York Review Comics - and it looks like Tsuge basically stopped making comics soon after this one. I've heard about this for a while, and it sounds like my kind of thing, so a library copy is exactly perfect.

The Contradictions is a graphic novel by Sophie Yanow, about a young American woman in Europe, ostensibly to study but really looking for herself - for the person she wants to be, was meant to be, wants to become, yearns to turn into. I believe it's already won an Eisner award, so I'm expecting something good.

Ascender, Vol. 1 begins a new series by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen which some people, having seen my post on Descender, Vol. 6 a couple of months ago, will be surprised to see me read. Well, I do have to admit I have the usual human moth/flame attraction, and that I am not above hate-reading something if it turns out that way. To be more positive about it: I've liked literally every other thing I've read that Lemire wrote, and Nguyen is a talented artist. I'm willing to give them another chance after the "let me just murder 99.9% of all sentients in this universe, just to do a fun different story next!" bullshit ending of Descender. One chance.

And last is Derf Backderf's doorstop Kent State, a major non-fictional comics look at the famous massacre. This book has had lousy luck: it was scheduled to come out on the fiftieth anniversary, which was May 4 of last year, and a certain health crisis meant the book was delayed and the publicity tour was (as far as I can tell) entirely cancelled. I hope it's still doing well; Backderf has matured from an interesting alt-cartoonist (The City, which ran in alt-weeklies for a long time) to a solid graphic novelist with an engagingly lumpy drawing style and a working-man viewpoint rare in comics.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Quote of the Week: Human-Proofed

This junction, and Preservation Station in general, were weird places for humans to get killed; the threat assessment for both transients and station residents was low anyway, and mostly involved accidents and cases of intoxication-related stupidity/aggression in the port area. In this specific junction, threat assessment for accidental deal was even lower, close to null. There was nothing here except the lights in the high ceiling and the standard silver-blue textured wall panels, marked with some old graffiti and drawings that were actually being preserved as part of a station-wide history exhibit. I guess if you were really determined, you could find a way to get yourself killed by exposing the power connectors under the panels and shielding and, I don't know, licking them or something, but this dead human clearly hadn't.
 - Martha Wells, Fugitive Telemetry, pp.2-3

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Would you believe: Murderbot, Consulting Detective?

I hope you will. That's what Fugitive Telemetry is, with a little license granted for me making it sound more generic than it really is for dramatic effect. 

Martha Wells returns to Murderbot, the rogue SecUnit (autonomous, human-level-intelligent, mixed mechanical and biological construct that provides security for human groups and individuals in this lumpily crapsack medium-future galactic SF setting) in a sixth book and fifth novella - the previous volume, Network Effect, being a full-length novel.

All of the previous stories were personal for Murderbot, in one way or another. This time, though, it actually gets a choice, which it turns out to be not as happy about as the reader might have assumed. (Murderbot, like so many of us, is not as clear in its own head about what it wants as it thinks it is.)

There has been a death on Preservation Station: this is rare. It's a mysterious death as well, so the Station Security team, mostly used to tracking down missing/stolen/smuggled/hidden cargoes and dealing with various corrupt or obfuscating or stupid cargo-vessel crews, are out of their depth. And so Supervisor Indah offers Murderbot a contract as a consultant, to help solve the cause of death.

It may be a murder, after all. It may even be related to the ongoing attempt of the nasty corporate entity GrayCris to escape its impending slow-motion corporate death, which was caused by all of its previous nasty activities. But, right now, the death is mostly mysterious: a dead body in a place where it clearly didn't die, having been surface-cleaned of DNA after death, so at the very least moved by someone who didn't want to be traced.

I will not tell you if it was GrayCris. I won't tell you any more about the investigation at all, though if you've read any mysteries in your life I think you'll realize that a mysterious death is always just part of a larger tapestry of skullduggery, mayhem, and fiendish doings. (But, again: don't assume you know what kind of skullduggery.)

Wells continues to combine the external story of "Murderbot solves problems and is good at violence" with the internal story of "Murderbot is a unique person trying to build a life as a thing no one ever anticipated or built plans for." That internal story may be resonant for a lot of readers, and Wells is really good at telling it sideways, through Murderbot's tone and parenthetical comments [1].

Murderbot has a great voice and a great story: none of us may be designed entities who hacked our own governor modules to free ourselves, but we're all people who have done something to become the people we are today, deliberately or accidentally, and we're all living with those choices, and lack of choices, every day. And Fugitive Telemetry is another great entry in that story, particularly interesting because it shows a way Murderbot can be part of other stories as well. Everything doesn't have to be "how is GrayCris, or a similar nasty corporate entity, going to try to kill the leaders of Preservation Station this time?"

Don't get me wrong: I liked that story, and I wouldn't mind seeing GrayCris finally go down for the count. But I'd love to see more of this complex future, too, and Murderbot would be a great viewpoint to see ever more parts of it.

[1] I love love LOVE the way Murderbot's voice uses parentheses for sidebar comments, sometimes multiple semi-independent snarky thoughts in a row.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Complete Peanuts, 1950-1952 by Charles M. Schulz

I have the suspicion that I have a copy of this book already, so I've bought and re-read it for "nothing." I see that my old post is from 2016, well after the 2011 flood. But my graphic novels are upstairs, in my two sons' bedrooms - because if there's another flood, I want the most expensive stuff to be the best protected, and maybe because I thought they might want to read some of them, too, ok, yeah - so I don't actually look at those shelves much in these lockdown days.

"Much" as in "ever." My younger son was briefly off at college - made it one and a half semesters on campus before he was bundled home, and is now nearly done with a totally remote sophomore year - so I haven't been in his room in all that time. Used to be, he was off in Hoboken (or, before that, at high school and/or work) and his older brother was similarly working a lot of the time, so I could re-shelve and find time to check in and remind myself of what I actually have. Now, as we all know, everyone is home, in their one room, all of the time.

So I have the sense that I bought and re-read The Complete Peanuts, 1950-1952 for pandemic reasons. That's a million miles away from the worst thing that's happened for that reason, so that's fine with me.

Oh, the comics themselves? This time, I was struck at how mid-century they were, how little like what we think of as Peanuts, and how these first two-and-a-quarter years are really the first phase of a long, slow "assembling the crew" montage. It's not done at the end of 1952, but Charlie Brown is in place (from Day One) and is starting to shift from "sarcastic trickster" to the saturnine kid we know better. And then, over this stretch, we see first Schroeder and then Lucy appear - like in real life, they are first babies, but quickly grow into older kids with specific personalities. Like the round-headed kid, Lucy is still here a different person: wide-eyed, innocent, mischievous in a babyish way, and more than a little bit '50s-style "girly." But Schroeder snapped into place immediately once he got a personality. And we see Linus appear, again as a baby, in 1952 - he doesn't have any lines yet, but we know that's coming.

So the gang isn't all together yet. Most of the gags here are with what I think of as the placeholder characters - Violet, Patty, Shermy - who were "regular kids" of their time, doing "regular things." They faded into the background later as Schulz developed a deeper and deeper bench. But they were the place Peanuts started, and their gags are pretty good kid-comedy of its era. Even before this strip became what we think of as Peanuts, it was a strong, funny strip: that's the lesson of the first two years. This is what Schulz was born to do, maybe - or, at least, one of the things that he could dig into and do really well for a long, long time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Love and Rockets: The Covers edited by Eric Reynolds

You can't tell this from your side of the screen, but my reserves are running low and my scheduled posts are getting dangerously close to the current day. This is because I'm still not reading all that much these days - oh, sure, I'm probably reading more than 90% of Americans, but it's vastly less than the rate I read in my, um, teens through mid-forties, so it's still shocking and annoying to me.

Since I'm not going to start commuting any time soon, or change jobs to something that gives me vastly more free time and mental energy (or something where I'm reading for a living again), this is the new normal, and I'm just living with it.

But it does mean that, every so often, I find a way to momentarily fall into one of my tricky old Book-a-Day habits, and find something I can breeze through almost immediately and blather here about equally quickly.

Hence Love and Rockets: The Covers, a coffee-table book from 2013 that collected the magazine and collection covers from the first series of Love and Rockets, 1981-1995. Yes, there was nearly another twenty years of covers available at the time this book was assembled, but making every book is a complicated matter of cost and projected return, so I have to assume the hope was that a second and maybe even third volume were hoped for in time. They have not emerged.

I'm crediting it as being edited by Eric Reynolds, but it's much more the kind of "edited" you see from the guy in the publishing house (getting everything organized, dealing with printers, color-correction) than the kind of "edited" a book of prose would have (writing words, editing words, arranging words in a pleasing order). This is an art book: the words are few and limited to a single-page Editor's Note up front to introduce it and short notes from the artists on each of the covers in the back.

I see I've neglected so far to mention who those artists are: I hope you know that Love and Rockets is by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, occasionally also their brother Mario Hernandez, but, if you didn't, you do now. This book has a lot of Jaime, a lot of Gilbert, and three pieces by Mario in its 144 pages.

There are at least four covers in this book I consider iconic: #1, of course, #24, maybe even more so, and then the one-two punch of #31-32. That doesn't include the collections; from those I'd add at least Death of Speedy, maybe Flies on the Ceiling some days. Your list may be different: it may have a lot more Gilbert in it, for example.

But this is great art, presented well, in an excellent package. It's no substitute for the stories themselves, obviously: it's inherently a secondary, ancillary work. But it is great for what it is.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/15/2021

One book this week: I backed it in the Kickstarter, and it arrived a few days ago. I don't have any other purchase link, but I think the creator is or will be selling copies directly once he gets all of the pre-orders out, so check that out if you're interested.

Born a Doofus is the first collection of the Bug Martini webcomic, which has been running since October of 2009. (So...maybe slightly later than expected to finally collect those strips. On the up side, I started reading it way later than that, so everything here will be new to me.)

So this is a 120-page book, on nice glossy paper, including a bunch of early sketches at the back and (obviously) a year's worth of a gag-a-day webcomic. I'm reading Bug Martini regularly now, so I expect I'll enjoy reading it in its early formative form. And, as I say pretty regularly: if you like something you get for free, try to find a way to give back to the people that make that thing, so they keep doing it. (Assuming the free thing isn't, like, Facebook or ABC or something, where you're the product and they're already making boatloads of money from your eyeballs.)

Friday, May 14, 2021

Quote of the Week: Achievements

The horse had to succeed. It would mean so much. It would mean everything.

We live in a miserable world, where the best we can honestly hope for is that one empty, meaningless day will follow another without things getting actively worse. A great man once said that the beating of the heart and the action of the lungs are a useful prevarication, keeping all options open. It's a good line (though it doesn't scan properly, in the original), but it presupposed that at least some of the options are good. I'm not convinced. Maybe it's because I've spent so much of my life around immortals (creatures, by definition, of pure evil); the way I see it, when you've got only seventy-odd years maximum, and half of those are going to be spent gradually sliding downhill into arthritis and senility, how the hell can you expect to achieve anything worthwhile?

Unless you happen to be a genius, like Master Prosper.

 - K.J. Parker, Prosper's Demon, pp.91-92

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Elektra by Greg Rucka Ultimate Collection (with various artists)

I'm going to try to be quick with this one: it's very much not my thing in multiple ways, and I read it to sample both what my old college buddy Rucka has been doing and what mainstream Marvel comics are like. The answer, in both cases, is: still things I'm not all that interested in, and which I do not enjoy, which is totally fine.

Elektra by Greg Rucka Ultimate Collection collects more than a year of the title comic about the ninja super-assassin, issues 7-22 from just over a decade ago. The art is by a whole lot of different people, most of which was in styles I found actively off-putting. (Worst: Greg Horn, whose glossy photorealism seemingly only comes at the expense of composition and energy and movement and human body proportions. Best: Carlos Meglia, with two great cartoony issues full of zip and vigor. Everyone else was variously muddy and dull and generically gritty, to my eye.)

This is the kind of comic that aggressively insists that it's nothing like superheroes as it features an unstoppable overpowered killing machine wearing a silly unfeasible costume and fighting against magic ninjas. I have never found any part of that argument compelling. And the fact that the overall plotline here is, more or less, "maybe, Elektra, spending your life murdering people for money in job lots is not the greatest thing you could possibly be doing" adds to that great-power-great-responsibility hoo-ha.

Anyway, Elektra is the world's greatest assassin, who kills people in that stripper costume she's wearing on the cover (and often other clothes; she's an equal-opportunity murderess) in various inventive ways and, at this point, was completely separate from the regular Marvel Universe so she could be grimmer and grittier. Although the trained-by-good-and-then-evil-ninjas thing, and the whole she-was-dead-for-a-while-but-got-better deal, are still baked into her backstory on a molecular level.

These are crime stories about a globetrotting international assassin, and they are never as fun and thrilling as that phrase makes them sound. As usual, Rucka focuses on the mental trauma his characters face, and Elektra has been brainwashed so many times it's a wonder she can cross the street without a Boy Scout. They are largely "about" the kind of serious "issues" that superhero comics get into when they're feeling expansive: life's purpose and meaning, how glorious and intoxicating it is to murder a whole lot of people, the difficulty of maintaining a steady clientele in the international-assassin business, and so on.

I'm already running on too long, and getting too snarky: the stories here are solid of their kind, but they're very tough-guy stories, in the old paperback thriller mode. It is nice to see that Marvel can publish stories in which people in funny costumes kill each other, instead of just punch each other through buildings and then take each other to super-jail, I guess.

This sequence of stories seems to have largely been Rucka trying to reset from "Elektra kills people for money and is a total badass about it" to "Elektra feels bad about having killed lots of people and might possibly be looking to do Good Things to redress her karmic balance," but the moment of reset, if I'm right, is at the very end of this book. So I don't know if it stuck, and frankly I don't care enough to investigate.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Hewligan's Haircut by Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett

Peter Milligan was always the goofiest, oddest of that pool of British comics writers that arose in the '80s and '90s. (You know, like Power Rangers: Moore was the Self-Proclaimed Magician, Gaiman was the Cool One, Morrison was the One Who Tried Too Hard and Ellis was the Creep.)

And, as usual, creators can be goofier and odder in their home milieu than abroad, in shorter forms than as the main deal, and in serial format rather than big books. So Hewligan's Haircut, serialized in 2000AD magazine "progs" 700-707 and drawn by Jamie Hewlett, was already poised to be at least moderately goofy.

Reader, you do not know the half of it. Let's start from the fact that our main character transparently has the portmanteau names of our two creators, for no obvious reason, and that the story is about his haircut causing a major break in reality.

There are weirder comics than Hewligan's Haircut. But not many of them, and few have aimed as squarely at being weird than this eight-part story, although it does shove all of its goofiness into the expected race-and-chase plotlines, with poor just-got-out-of-an-asylum Hewligan fleeing various horrible forces in the company of the obligatory manic pixie girl as all of the goofiness goes on around him and his fabulous coif.

I have to admit that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it is stylish and bizarre in the manner of the young creators Milligan and Hewlett were in 1990. And it is an interesting warm-up exercise for other, somewhat more serious things that Milligan did not long afterward -- Shade the Changing Man in particular. But, in and of itself, this is just a big goof, though an enjoyable and amiable one.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Prosper's Demon by K.J. Parker

Every reader has weak spots: kinds of books that reader is always a sucker for. If you read in public, the way I do, it's important to make that clear: it's entirely possible that you love something vastly more than other people just because it's so exactly the thing you love.

Prosper's Demon is a novella published as a book: other people have said for several generations that's a perfect length for great SFF; I agree with them. It's a dark fantasy, told in an engaging first-person voice by a character who is not a good man at all, is tolerably honest about what kind of man he actually is, is sneaky and smart and twisty in telling his story but not generally over the actual line of being unreliable. And he does some very bad things over the course of this story, for what he firmly believes are good reasons -- or perhaps because that's all he can do, being who he is in the world and place he is.

And it pushes a good half-dozen of my buttons along the way: it is exactly the kind of book I love. (I've read some K.J. Parker in the past: I was a big fan of his early Scavenger Trilogy, and bought them for the SFBC, but have not kept up with his novels since. I get the sense that I would enjoy his longer books nearly as much as I liked this one, and I have several on the shelves to read "someday," like so much else.)

This may not be your kind of thing: it is dark, and it is short, and it is fantasy, and it is entirely in the mind of a narrator who works exclusively as a exorcist in a semi-Renaissance secondary world. So keep that in mind as I praise it.

We don't know his name: he is our narrator, the lens through which we get the story. Call him the exorcist; it's what he does. It's what he's had to do, since he was very young. There are demons -- 72,936 of them, according to the Church, which would know -- and they are indestructible and eternal. They can possess humans, and a few humans have the power to speak to them and compel them to come out.

Demons can do a lot of damage on the way out, though, especially if they've had time to get established. But, on the other side, demons have some sort of grand, incredibly long-term plan to destroy humanity, so even if leaving a demon in place might be better for the individual human, it could have bad consequences for humanity.

Exorcists each have a territory, and a group of demons that they tend to see over and over again: to find, and then cajole or convince or order out of their current host. They are always successful, in that the demon is cast out. If you count success as the life or health of the host, the metric would be different.

And exorcists, or at least the one we follow, are exorcists perhaps because their minds are particularly easy for demons to enter. Oh, they can kick the demons back out quickly, once they realize what has happened, without any mental consequences themselves. But if a demon takes over while the exorcist is asleep, that demon could do an awful lot of horrible things before the exorcist comes to the next morning.

And they do.

This exorcist has tangled with a demon he calls Him -- demons don't have names, or genders, but are individuals -- since the very beginnings of his career. (No, earlier than that. The earliest possible beginning of a career casting out demons.) You might say they are each other's nemeses, or archenemies. The exorcist goes out of his way to torment Him when they meet again; He goes out of his way to set up complicated plots that could cause the exorcist's death.

This time, it's a doozy. The greatest mind of the age, Prosper of Schanz, has been entrusted with raising the newborn son of the Grand Duke Sigiswald of Essen into a perfect philosopher-king: given immense latitude in all things.

And there's more than one demon mixed up in the situation. Him, of course. And another demon, one the exorcist has never met before: polite and refined and smart and interesting and perhaps even seductive in an intellectual sense. That demon the exorcist comes to call Her. (He's not a good man in oh so many ways, some of them more self-damaging than others.)

It's clear this is part of that long-term demon plan to destroy humanity. Maybe not quickly, maybe not even speeding things up all that much. But definitely something sneaky aimed at causing mass death and pain some time in the future.

So the exorcist needs to talk to Prosper of Schanz, his world's foremost rationalist, about demons. And the exorcist needs to find a way to thwart the plots of these demons: that's his job.

No matter what it costs.

As I said, this book is dark. I found it a fun, zippy kind of darkness: Parker doesn't dwell on the pain and death that demons and exorcists bring; he just makes it clear those things happen. And the prose is bright and wonderful as well; I've marked several quotes in this short book to post on this blog later.

So I need to read more books by this Parker person, I think. I knew that already: but I have a new example to make it clearer. And if this sounds like your kind of thing as well, I can tell you it's really, really good of its kind.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Reading Into the Past: Week of May 10, 1998

Without any new books to write about this week, I'm thrown back to old books. So the RNG gives me 1998, and here's what I was reading this week twenty-three years ago:

James Clemens, Wit'ch Fire (bound galleys, 5/2)

This was Clemens' first novel, launching an epic fantasy series that I did not personally love but I'm pretty sure acquired for the SFBC. (Memory is fuzzy and I'm trying to be kind to a first novel, but this may have been something I made fun of at the time - the apostrophe in the title is giving me vague flashbacks, or perhaps I mean headaches.) Clemens (which was itself an Anglicization of his real last name, Czajkowski) has since rebranded as the thriller writer James Rollins and made a much bigger name for himself; another case of someone who learned his trade in the SFF mills and then lit off for the territory to make his fortune somewhere else. Good for him: I think I was the wrong reader for all of the things he's wanted to write in his career but I'm happy he's still doing it and hitting bestseller lists.

Also, and not really related to Clemens' writing or anything else: this book has a great cover, which definitely did not hurt. Really striking, and a great way to launch a series and a career. Del Rey was really good at this kind of fantasy in those days, all the way through the process.
 Tad Williams, Otherland: City of Golden Shadow (5/7)

Let me hit this below with the sequel.

Scott Adams, I'm Not Anti-Business, I'm Anti-Idiot (5/8)

Similarly, what I have to say about late-90s Adams is better served all in one wodge.

Scott Adams, Seven Years of Highly Defective People (5/9)

So this was long before Adams became a right-wing crank - that may be overly reductive; I get the sense he's a crank in lots of ways that aren't clearly right-wing, too - but he'd already quit his cubicle job to cartoon full-time. I have a theory that people who work alone on things they make entirely out of their own heads have a strong tropism to crankdom: it's seen most clearly in comics, especially among the self-educated, and I like to call it Dave Sim Disease.

Adams has an advanced case. But that was not yet apparent in 1998.

Anti-Business was the annual collection of the regular comic, which was still pretty well tethered to real life and actual work concerns. It was less than a decade into the run, and Adams's art had plateaued at its current generally-professional level. He seemed to have a great network of readers who would feed him ideas, which made Dilbert feel like a secret communique from random workplaces across the country, when it was at its best. That all went to hell later, but everything does.

Seven Years was the "how I got here and what these jokes mean" book, in the larger format; I don't have any independent memory of it. So I could claim here that it clearly showed that Adams would become a crank, or insist that he was still a thoughtful, connected creator and so it shows the essential tragedy of his work...both of those would be me making things up twenty years later. I don't know, now, what this book is like, and, since I don't have a copy anymore (blah blah, 2011 flood, blah blah), I'm unlikely to ever look at it again.

Tad Williams, Otherland: River of Blue Fire (bound galleys, 5/10)

Otherland was a four-book SFF series - I think we considered it SF at the SFBC for which-page-to-put-it-on purposes, but it was a fuzzy sort of mostly-in-VR SF by a writer who has spent the entire rest of his career writing fantasy - that came out between 1996 and 2001. Author Tad Williams was very important to his then-publisher DAW, and my memory is that they wouldn't even let us consider the first book when it came out in 1996. (So we didn't: the world is big, and full of books, and there was no one book that was a must-have. We didn't even have Lord of the Rings for several decades until I did a deal in about 1999, ahead of the movies.)

When the second book was coming up for publication, two years later, I believe DAW allowed for the possibility that a sufficiently large truckload of money might convince them to let the crummy SFBC purchase rights to their perfect darling. So I read the first two books, back-to-back, with an eye to making them what we called a Dual Selection.

Now, we already always had two selections per magazine: one SF and one fantasy. (And, yes, both of those definitions are infinitely arguable. But we aimed for one book most sane people would consider SF and ditto fantasy each time.) But, once in a while, one of those "books" was gigantic enough that it was more than one volume. As I recall, that's what we did for Otherland volumes one and two; the back half of the series was offered, when they emerged, more normally.

That's all inside baseball, and a million years old. What about the books themselves?

I haven't read all that much by Williams, I have to admit. He was a particular favorite of my boss, Ellen Asher, so she grabbed most of his books. (And he's a slow writer of fat books, so they didn't come every year.) I'm not sure why I got this one: Ellen might have still been annoyed at the you-can't-even-consider-it diktat, and left it to me as a less invested party. Or maybe we had concerns about how skiffy this SF was, and if it would appeal to a new audience for Williams.

So I read this series, and (somewhat earlier) Caliban's Hour (which I loved, and still love), but not a whole lot else.

I remember enjoying these books, but I plowed through long books at speed in those days, scribbling down notes for readers' reports to make sure I had all of the names spelled correctly and the details of the plot straight enough for our descriptive copy. And these were very long books, full of lots of people running around doing things. So I think I liked them for what they were, but what they were for me was work: pleasant work, done well, but still work.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Quote of the Week: Kipple

Getting rid of clutter is hard, even for the most unsentimental and meticulous householder. You can't just throw stuff away; some of it might be worth something. Some of it could have great sentimental value or become a family heirloom, with time, and some of it might even be of use in the future, assuming there's a sudden and unexpected global crisis that can only be solved by a heroic act involving two types of unfashionable hat, a selection of tiny ceramic statues, and a huge pile of dog-eared paperbacks.

 - Fraser McAlpine, Stuff Brits Like, p. 242

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Wicked Things by John Allison, Max Sarin, and Whitney Cogar

I have to assume the plan - or maybe the hope - was that this would replicate Giant Days's success, and turn into a long-running comics series. And maybe it still will: I get the sense that the days when a publisher could say, mid-run, "hey, the numbers are great, and we're just going to keep on going with this book!" are now over, and were even basically over in 2013 when Giant Days started. So there could be another Wicked Things series: we're still in early days, since this paperback came out (checks planned posting day) last month.

Anyway, Wicked Things. It collects a six-issue series from 2020 about Charlotte "Lottie" Grote, the biggest character from writer John Allison's Bad Machinery webcomic, who also made a few appearances in his popular Giant Days comics series. He's joined here by the core end-Giant Days crew, with Max Sarin on art and Whitney Cogar on colors.

(I pause here to mention that I've seen reviews of Wicked Things issues that refer to Lottie as a fan-favorite who first appeared in Giant Days and thus afterward appeared in Bad Machinery, which betrays an essential lack of understanding that time is a thing that goes forward.)

Anyway (once again), Lottie has spent the few years since Bad Machinery ended still solving odd crimes in Tackleford, even if the rest of the Mystery Tweens gave up and went on to more normal teen lives. As this book opens, she's on her way to the gala Solver Awards in London, where's she's nominated in the Teen Detective of the Year (16-18) category. She is also accompanied by Little Claire, the only other character old fans will recognize.

And, as the reader settles in, expecting a biting satire of comics awards and related stuff, the whole story shifts: Lottie wins her award, but isn't there, because she's being framed for a murder.

Well, attempted murder. Luckily for her, the victim is alive. Unluckily for her, the victim is also in a coma, and unable to report that Lottie is not the (attempted) murderess. And one of the top coppers on the case is convinced enough by her protests of innocence - no one else is; it's a very good frame - to put her on a kind of work-release to "assist the police with their inquiries."

In this case, that means spending her nights in a kind of halfway house, locked in with a few other possibly-reformed criminals and monitored by ankle bracelet, and spending her days at the cop shop making tea and being ignored by the actual police as she spins crazy but generally-correct theories about the crimes those cops are investigating. She does remarkably little investigating of the actual murder she's accused of, possibly because Claire is digging into that (not well) and possibly because she's more excited by the other crimes the cops around her are working on.

It does all come together in the end, more or less. (The moment where Lottie is cleared of the attempted murder seemed less than definitive to me.) Lottie's crime-fighting instincts are nearly always correct, but nearly always unheeded, which is amusing but would need to be adjusted if Wicked Things turns into an ongoing series.

And it reminded me that Allison keeps doing big action stuff - Scarygoround was full of it, and Bad Machinery measured it out more carefully in bursts at the end of each case - but not always successfully in an American floppy-comics context. (It's one of the things that I thought made his By Night, which also tries not-entirely-successfully to translate his essential Britishness to a middle-American setting, not as strong as it could have been: he's just not the guy for the big fight scene.) It works reasonably well here, but Wicked Things, if it returns, would be less slice-of-life and "bigger" than Giant Days was, so I do wonder if his current audience would be as interested.

I would love myself more Lottie Grote, especially on a regular basis, so I hope they would as well. Globe-trotting teenage detectives - or even mid-England-trotting - would be a lot of fun. Let's hope Allison, Sarin and Cogar get to do more.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Stuff Brits Like by Fraser McAlpine

I have to wonder if other countries have anything similar to the Anglophile Empire of the USA. Is there a thriving industry in France about "Understanding your German cousins?" Do the Thai spend a lot of time working out the intricacies of Filipino life? Do Venezuelans take courses in traditional Brazilian-style meals and have little afternoon parties to celebrate?

I tend to doubt it. It feels like a bizarre post-colonist thing, the kind that only emerges long post-colonialism, after the new nation considers itself not just independent, but equal or even better than its founding nation. And few countries have hit that point, or have anything like the boundless (and often groundless) self-confidence of Americans, to even think a platonic love affair with the old motherland would be a good thing.

But it does exist in the USA. It's a big deal. There are a sizable number of actual Brits - expats and even people still living in the old country - gainfully employed at packaging the details of British life for American consumption. The two countries are close enough, with enough important differences, to make those cultural products interesting and zippy, but the same thing could be said of, for example, comparisons between Australia and the USA (which might actually be more interesting), and those are much rarer.

One of the emanations of that urge was Fraser McAlpine's 2015 book Stuff Brits Like, which has an admirably concise and on-the-nose explanation of its appeal for a title. (Phrased in an American way, of course.) I read it because this kind of stuff is fascinating to me, because it looked breezy and fun, because I got it cheap, and because, inevitably, I'm a consumer of the vast Anglophile Empire myself.

McAlpine is Cornish - he makes a point about this several times, so that even dim Americans are not likely to miss it - which gives him a somewhat different viewpoint into the multiple nations that make up the so-called United Kingdom. (The Home Counties English, the usual producers of cultural products like this, will always give lip service to Scotland and Northern Ireland, and usually to Wales as well, but are less likely to mention Cornwall and Northumberland and the other pockets of pseudo-nationalism bubbling deep in the British stew.) Related to that, his book is more modern and multicultural than the similar book of a generation ago would have been: being British here doesn't mean "a pale person whose ancestors have lived on this patch of land since the bloody Jutes came through" the way it might have in the past. The actual cultural products, though, are the same, because they're all British (the people and the cultural artifacts): it's just that the darker-skinned Brits also watch Downton Abbey and the pale people, as we all know, love to murder a curry.

So McAlpine provides more than a hundred short chapters - there's no table of contents, and I'm not about to count them, but each one is three or four pages long and the book has 360 pages, so you do the math - about those things that, as he says, British people in general mostly like. First, though, is Pedantry, which lets him get in early with the point that British people love to argue about things and love to be performatively unhappy about things, and so pre-emptively cover a whole range of objections to any or all of his choices.

I am not British. None of the audience of this book is British. My cynical side wonders if McAlpine was editorially guided to focus as much as possible on British cultural and social products that Americans have actually heard of, but it's pretty big and full of odd things, so, even if so, it was not a strong guiding hand. And my guess is that this is pretty much the book McAlpine wanted to write: semi-random, wandering, celebratory but in a tasteful, quiet British way.

McAlpine is a witty, amusing writer: he has the dry wit that a Brit writing for Americans about the British is expected to deliver. I dog-eared half a dozen pages while reading this for quotes to post here; they might not actually work that well out of context, actually, but I hope the impulse says good things about the book.

If you, too, spend much of your time living in the Anglophile Empire, you will enjoy this book. If you hate all things British for whatever reason, you should stay far away.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Bad Doings & Big Ideas by Bill Willingham and various artists

The odds-and-sods collection has a long and glorious history, which I'm not going to get deeply into here. But I will say that in comics, and especially DC Comics, it's a way to squeeze another piece of product out of a current top performer, since that top performer probably did a bunch of random shorter stuff that can be slapped profitably between two covers.

(Previous examples of the form: The Sequential Art of Amanda Conner, DC Universe by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days and The DC Universe by Neil Gaiman. No, I don't know why Gaiman gets the definite article when creating the DC Universe, and Moore does not.)

In 2011, Bill Willingham was the biggest creator DC's Vertigo imprint had, smack in the middle of the hugely popular Fables series and spinning off sidebars mostly co-written with others (Jack of Fables, Fairest, Cinderella). But no corporation is ever happy with what it has: it always wants more.

And so, somewhere, in some office high above Manhattan, the idea of a Willingham odds-and-sods collection was born. It turned out he had a lot of DC odds, mostly related to the Neil Gaiman Sandman-verse, the previous heavyweight Vertigo champion. And it was the era of big bug-crushing omnibi, so DC was presumably happy to see they had enough to slaughter several beetles at once.

Bad Doings & Big Ideas came out at the end of 2011, collecting basically the Venn diagram of "by Bill Willingham," "from Vertigo," and "not Fables." It has over five hundred pages of comics from roughly the decade 1999-2009, including three graphic-novel length stories (of six, four, and four issues each), three more full-issue stories, and eight more shorter pieces. It has both a general (though short) introduction by Willingham and notes on each story, along with detailed who-did-what credits for every story and a detailed table of contents. And it was all wrapped up in a new James Bennett cover, which is good and eye-catching and yet makes me wonder if Willingham offered to make a cover himself and was let down gently. (On the other hand, I don't think Willingham has ever been a painter, and a book like this just looks classier with a fully-painted cover rather than a drawn-and-colored one. So maybe it was even his idea.)

The first big story is Proposition Player, a comics series drawn mostly by Paul Guinan (it started off as an all-Willingham joint, which lasted not quite halfway through the first issue) about a professional poker player who gets mixed up with the supernatural in a very Vertigo way. It was intended to be an ongoing series, but the market did not agree, so it got just the initial six issues to set up the premise and has sat dormant ever since. It's a decent set-up, with that core Willingham cruelty baked in around the edges, but, in retrospect, might not have given as much scope for additional stories that Fables did, just three years later.

The second and third big stories are the two "Thessaly" miniseries, about an ancient witch who showed up in Sandman and walked out of that series still alive and mostly untouched, which was rare. Shawn McManus, who also worked on Sandman, illustrated those two stories, which are a little bit too tight and plotty for their own good: Willingham throws out hooks for things he doesn't have space to reel in, but the stories themselves are solid in that neo-horror Sandman style.

And then the rest is partly comedy (a one-shot about Merv Pumpkinhead as a "spy" in the real world) partly horror (several of the shorter pieces), partly already odds-and-sods (a one-short with multiple artists called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Dreams But Were Afraid to Ask), and then partly more-or-less just adventure stories ("The Further Adventures of Danny Nod, Heroic Library Assistant," from the miscellaneous book The Dreaming). Some of the short pieces I didn't call out specifically fit into multiple of those categories, or not clearly into any -- there's a short series of backups from House of Mystery that seem to be mostly "Willingham gets to work with artists he loves and has never collaborated with before."

It is miscellaneous; that's the point. And it's very much for the audience of people who found Willingham through the Fables door and want more kinda like that. (People who found Willingham through the Elementals door are older, crabbier, and still waiting for our collection.) Whether that's much of an audience a decade later, I can't say: I was vaguely looking for this for several years, finally found it cheap, and then it sat on the shelf for a while after that. I am happy I finally found and then read it, though: I'd missed Proposition Player at the time (pretty much everyone did) and didn't even know about most of the short stuff.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/1/21

One book this week: I bought it, and actually even pre-ordered it, which is vanishingly rare for me. (I was ordering other stuff, saw this was coming out in about a week, and figured I might as well order it then rather than forgetting about it. But I still generally don't think of myself as a person who would ever pre-order things: I used to get stuff well ahead of publication, he said, shaking his fist at a cloud, so I'm not going to turn into that kind of uber-consumer if I have any say in the matter.)

The book is Martha Wells' Fugitive Telemetry, the sixth book about Murderbot. It's novella-length, matching all of the books aside from the immediately previous one, Network Affect, which is mildly surprising. (Usually, when a series makes the jump to novel, it doesn't typically jump back.) From the card page, it may be that the novellas are "The Murderbot Diaries" and the novel is its own separate thing, which would be deeply weird...but so is book publishing in general.

In any case: new book about Murderbot, about 190 pages long, hit stores earlier this week. The cool kids probably read it Tuesday and posted quick takes on Insta, but I'm a lot slower than that these days. (He said, starting to wax poetic about the days he used to hang an onion from his belt, and reminiscing about how he used to get a manuscript in the mail in the morning, read it that night, and write the reader's report first thing in the office the next morning.) I do expect to start it this weekend, which is the past weekend as you're reading this. So I may actually already have read it, though I doubt I have managed to finish it. (And now I'm starting to dive into time-travel tenses, which is a sign to end this post.)

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Books Read: April 2021

Here's what I got through this past month, listed here mostly for my own reference in Latter Days:

George R.R. Martin and Raya Golden, Starport (4/3)

James Gleick, Time Travel, (4/3)

Bob Eckstein, editor, The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons (4/4)

Herge, Land of Black Gold (in The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 5, 4/10)

Herge, Destination Moon (in The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 5, 4/11)

Herge, Explorers on the Moon (in The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 5, 4/10)

Bill Willingham and Shawn McManus, The Thessaliad (in Bad Doings & Big Ideas, 4/18)

Bill Willingham and Shawn McManus, Thessaly: Witch for Hire (in Bad Doings & Big Ideas, 4/23)

Fraser McAlpine, Stuff Brits Like (4/23)

John Allison, Max Sarin, and Whitney Cogar, Wicked Things (4/24)

K.J. Parker, Prosper's Demon (4/25)

Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett, Hewligan's Haircut (4/25)