Monday, June 29, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/27

Yep, it's the same ol' thing once again: books in the mail, I write about 'em here, yadda yadda yadda. And so I'll dive directly into the probably vaguely accurate description of things I will take my first serious look at in about five seconds:

The Philosopher Kings get to go first because it's the new Jo Walton novel, and she's an interesting and quirky writer who does different things each time out and has written a number of excellent novels (e.g.: Among Others, Half a Crown and the rest of that loose trilogy) in recent years. This one is the sequel to last year's The Just City, in which the goddess Athena set up a city in the distant past as a utopia to educate intelligent youngsters from all of history, with a faculty of robots and philosophers. Things apparently did not go entirely to plan in that first book -- if things did got to plan all of the time, our novels would be very boring -- and so now the situation is much more complex and dangerous back in that supposedly perfect city. And there's at least one book to go -- I read Walton's blog, where she's been talking about writing the third book -- so this will not be the end of the story. I've still got The Just City on my shelf to read, but I would recommend not waiting as long as me. Philosopher Kings is a Tor hardcover coming June 30th, and I hope I don't have to try to spell "philosopher" again for ten years.

Changing gears entirely, how about a graphic novel for kids? Judd Winick, who would probably prefer if people like me didn't point out that he began his media-figure career as a contestant on the show that spawned the entire hideous "reality" genre, and so is partially responsible for the horrible state of the world today, is back with Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. The title character is a Zot-ish blond-haired innocent with some manner of superpowers, but a few years younger and vastly more innocent than Scott McCloud's '80s hero. He arrives on Earth, meets the obligatory completely normal kid, and wacky hijinks ensue. There will clearly be more of these -- the numeral "1" in the title is the big clue there -- but this first one is coming from Random House's Young Readers operation in hardcover on the first of September.

Chris Willich is back with the third novel about the poet Persimmon Gaunt and the thief Imago Bone -- and, from the cover, the Viking-looking guys with big axes that want to kill them -- in The Chart of Tomorrows. The previous books in the series were The Scroll of Years and The Silk Map, our married heroes are still trying to keep their baby son from being the locus of all evil on their particular secondary world -- as you do -- and this book promises to have war-balloons in it. How can you turn aside a book with war-balloons, I ask you? This one is a Pyr trade paperback, available July 7th.

Who says steampunk is just for adults? Certainly not Alan Gratz, who is back with the second novel in his "League of Seven" series (after the eponymous first book), The Dragon Lantern, which comes complete with extensive illustrations by Brett Helquist (whom some of us remember fondly from Lemony Snicket's "Series of Unfortunate Events" and others probably remember fondly from other stuff). This series is set in an alternate 1875 powered by steam and where Native Americans seem to be at least nominally in charge of the United Nations of America, and whose world is periodically threatened by the evil Mangleborn and then in turn saved by the resurgent of a League of Seven, who always follow exactly the same template, because this is a book for middle-school kids, and they love specific rules and details. This is from the Tor Starscape imprint, and should be already available from your favorite retailer. (If not, why are they your favorite, exactly? It came out on June 9th.)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What the Hell?

From this post by Zara Sternberg at the Melville House Blog, interviewing Prof Daniel Donoghue of Harvard:
Donoghue: If you are ever reading out loud, there is a time lag – your reading is about 2 words behind the uttering of the word, and as long as there is a time lag, you have a moment of silent reading. Do you hear a little voice in your head when you read silently?
Sternberg: Yes.
Donoghue: Most people do. They also often move their lips as well, especially when trying to absorb difficult material.

Let me pull out the essential part of that: "Do you hear a little voice in your head when you read silently?" "Yes." "Most people do."

What the everlasting fuck? I've never heard a voice in my head while reading, and never even considered that anyone might. Is this actually a real thing? Am I some sort of weird outlier because I actually read instead of listen to things?

You know what -- this calls for a poll. Folks, let me know if I'm crazy or not:

Do you hear a little voice in your head when you read?

Yes -- all the time, my own voice
Yes -- all the time, another voice
Yes, sometimes, but not always
No, and I agree with you that this is utterly insane.
Poll Maker

If you have any trouble using the poll as an embed, this link should take you to cast your vote, and this one should link to the results.

Edit: I thought this poll would show results within the widget, but the "Results" button opens a new window on the host's site. I guess that's what happens when you use free web content without investigating too closely. Anyway, if you're having trouble seeing results, check your pop-up blocker.

Posing for Vengeance

So this here new Avengers cover hit the intertubes this week, revealing the new team that apparently is exactly the same one everyone assumed it would be. (I don't pay close attention to long-underwear comics these days.)

I'm not here to berate or praise the racial/gender mix of the team -- there are plenty of other places filled with people who have scarily strong opinions on the subject -- but I do have a question.

Where are they?

They seem to be standing in a cloudbank, and I'm pretty sure several of those characters don't fly -- Spidey and Ms. Marvel, in particular. I don't know if the current Thor can hover, either, though I wouldn't be surprised if Vision, Nova, and ol' Shellhead can do so. They're also strangely crowded around the camera, though at very different levels -- are they on cloud risers?

Also, while I'm at it, what the heck is Captain America doing? Is he supposed to be coming in for a landing on his cloud riser, or just showing off his muscles?

Yes, I know it looks cool: they're all glowering menacingly at the assumed reader, and Cap gives it some movement. But what does it have to do with anything, and why should we care that they're giving us the stink-eye?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Memories and Memes

So I noticed that a book cover I was responsible for was memed recently -- that's it at the top of this post.

I say "I," but Jim Butcher wrote the actual books, and Dan Dos Santos did that great cover -- and I think it was Toby Schwartz who was the art director at the time, so she contacted Dan, negotiated the deal, and worked with him to develop the cover. I did make the deal for the omnibus -- Wizard at Large, the third Butcher omni I did, back in 2006, collecting books seven and eight -- and had the idea for the cover, though.

(I can't claim much credit for that, though. I think my brief to Toby was pretty much "Dan's done two of these already, and he knows what he's doing. But there's a scene where Harry rides a zombie T-Rex, and I think Dan would do a killer job on that. But you and he might have other ideas.")

Still, it was a hoot to see my old life pop up unexpectedly: that is a great cover, and I hope Dan is selling a lot of prints of it. Who knows? Maybe some day I'll be lucky enough to walk by it on the side of a van.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/20

Do I need to explain this all every week? I doubt the audience changes much.

But the Internet is wide and lasts forever, so context is always useful. At this point, I've been doing these weekly posts for around eight years -- each time listing the books that came in the mail and attempting to make sense of them. As always, I haven't read any of them, and anything I write below about them is subject to being entirely wrong.

But, with that danger in mind, let's see what I have for you this morning....

Falling in Love with Hominids is the third short-story collection from Nalo Hopkinson, collecting eighteen stories from the last dozen years. It's a trade paperback from Tachyon, coming on August 15th.

Also from Tachyon -- but publishing sooner, on July 14th -- is Peter V. Brett's The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold, collecting two sidebar novelettes to Brett's Demon Cycle novels that were each originally published as pricey limited-edition hardcovers in the UK.

(Tachyon seems to be concentrating on writers that I've met and feel guilty about not reading more of -- probably not on purpose!)

And I also have what I think is a first novel this week: Robert Brockway's The Unnoticeables, a contemporary fantasy that comes more out of the mainstream than the genre. There is a supernatural world, but they operate like a really nasty consulting firm: their own job is to find and eliminate "problems," and make the universe operate more efficiently. And every human being has a problem of one kind of another -- everyone is inefficient. Unnoticeables is the story of a punk in 1977 and a would-be stuntwoman in 2013 who each discover the truth of the universe, and what they do about it. This one is a Tor hardcover, available July 7th.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Picture this: a world were most of the people are obsessed with a particular game, with quirky rules that forbid the use of hands except in special situations. Teams wear distinctive colors adorned with the logos of commercial enterprises that want to harness their popularity, and are beloved in their communities -- and, in some cases, worldwide. Individual players are often larger than life, drawing massive media attention and adulation for their elan and skill.

And the whole enterprise is organized into a complex structure of leagues within leagues, all carefully orchestrated and managed to benefit a small elite of managers, who, it is rumored, are deeply corrupt and have gained massive fortunes from their positions.

The head of this world-spanning game, the man with his hands in all of the pies and his whims translated into instant action, is smooth and deeply personable in public, but ruthless behind the scenes. No reforms can take place as long as this charismatic figure is in place, and he's cruising to an easy re-election even in the face of proof of massive scandals. His name is Sepp Blatter.


We're living in a Jack Vance novel, aren't we? Some tough agent of an interstellar polity is going to smash this system, on his way to killing the fiend that torched his planet thirty years ago, right?

It's the only explanation I can see: it all looks too Vancean to be the real world.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Charlotte Grote Is My Spirit Animal

And this is why:

That's only one-third of today's Space Is the Place comic from John Allison.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/13

I'm back again with a few books that showed up on my doorstep this week, like foundlings of the publishing world. I didn't expect any of these, which makes them more interesting, and it's entirely possible that one of them will turn out to be your favorites book of the year.

As usual, I haven't read any of these yet, but here's what looks interesting and/or amusing about them to me:

The Stellow Project is, I believe, the first novel from Shari Becker, who has written picture books and done other things related to the entertainment world. It's from Amazon's newish YA imprint, Skyscape, and is available June 23rd in trade paperback and electronic formats. Unexpectedly, it seems to be set in the modern world and not a dystopian hellhole, which is refreshing. Our heroine is sent away from the family's Manhattan home in an unexpected "killer storm" (which reminds me of the song "Wildfire" and its tragically killing frost, because I am old) with her younger sister, and left without the experimental drug that keeps her alive. This is a YA book, so I'm sure she both survives and learns that Everything She Knows Is Wrong -- primarily concerning the evil and duplicity of adults.

My next book here is for slightly younger folks: Life of Zarf: The Troll Who Cried Wolf continues Rob Harrell's middle-grade series (after The Trouble With Weasels) about a troll kid trying to survive in a fairy-tale school. Harrell is the creator of the syndicated Adam@home newspaper strip, as well as the graphic novel Monster on the Hill, and he makes this book into something in between a novel and a graphic novel: each page has at least one spot illustration, which are part of the flow of the story, usually showing a line of dialogue or a moment of action. Troll Who Cried Wolf is coming in September -- just in time for a new crop of anxious middle-schoolers -- from Dial Books for Young Readers.

Nick Harkaway is a British writer who works with SFnal and spy-story ideas but gets published mostly on the "general fiction" lists -- possibly because his father is the writer John le Carre, so he knows how the business works from the inside -- and his third novel, Tigerman, is hitting paperback here in the US on June 23 from the good people at Vintage. Tigerman, unlike his first two books, doesn't seem to have any fantastic elements: it's about a British soldier given a quiet last job before retirement, watching over things on the backwater ex-colony of Mancreau. But, of course, books about quiet tropical paradises always turn out to be really about the things lurking beneath the surfaces of those seeming paradises, don't they?

And last for this week is an unabashed fantasy novel, The Hollow Queen, coming from Tor in hardcover on June 30. It's the eighth in the "Symphony of Ages" series by Elizabeth Haydon, and finishes up the current trilogy. (There was a long gap between books two and three, which I looked up after seeing Haydon thank her original editor, my old SFWA-party buddy Jim Minz, in her acknowledgements -- that surprised me, since Minz left Tor a good decade ago.) I haven't read Haydon in a while, but I have good memories of the first trilogy in this series -- starting with Rhapsody back in 1999 -- since I read and bought them for the SFBC back in those days of the earth's youth. This is big fantasy in a world where magic relies, at least some of the time, on music, and Haydon, as I recall, was good at characters and relationships and actually had a number of important women in her books.