Monday, May 25, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of May 23

I suspect most of my readers for these "Reviewing the Mail" posts are Americans -- because the books I get in the mail are about 99 44/100% American-published, because of shipping costs and territorial rights and other boring things -- so you're probably out enjoying the holiday.

(If, like one of my my new colleagues at TR, you're not American and aren't sure what "Memorial Day" is all about, it's the general patriotic holiday vaguely focused on veterans and/or "the troops." More or less the US-specific version of Armistice Day, but with more focus on soldiers/sailors/aviators/marines who didn't necessarily buy the farm Over There.)

But I do this anyway, because I want to get the books off my desk and because I love consistency. So here's what I've got this week: three books in the tune of skiffy, as a counterpoint to all of the Souza marches being played elsewhere today.

Oathkeeper is the second novel in the epic fantasy trilogy named after the first novel, Grudgebearer, by J.F. Lewis. (I was surprised to look at the author bio and see that J.F. is clearly a guy named Jeremy; I guess he just isn't that fond of his first name.) (Also, I would love if the concluding book was named Nitpicker, but I'd bet money that it won't be.) It's got a redheaded elf girl in sensible armor and a friendly-ish dragon on the cover, which pegs its appeal pretty closely. And it's a Pyr trade paperback, available June 9.

I have not read The Banished of Muirwood-- nor have I read any of the author's previous six novels with "Muirwood" in the title -- but I can say it must be absolutely fabulous, because it's author is Jeff Wheeler, and everything done by a Wheeler must be assumed to be world-class. It's epic fantasy in the usual medievaloid secondary world, with a spunky young princess whose been Cinderella-ized and a social setup that seems even more hostile to women than usual. Amazon's 47North imprint will bring this one out in the usual paper and electronic formats in August.

And then there's Kevin J. Anderson's Blood of the Cosmos, the second book in the series that began with the currently Hugo-nominated Dark Between the Stars. It's meat-and-potatoes space opera, with somewhat less tech-porn than the average Baen book but plenty of intrigue and complication and physics that is not precisely accurate. This Tor hardcover is available on June 2nd.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Incoming Books: Week of 5/23

I've hit another of the periods when all I seem capable of posting here is lightly annotated list of books. It's not my preference, but the new job gets me out of the house at 6:40 and not back home until 20:05, so time for thinking and writing are very slim right now.

But I did read eight books this week -- all short, and mostly comics, but definitely books -- which is an improvement over my days of unemployment. And so, to keep the cosmic balance, I ended up buying eight books this week as well: also mostly comics.

Those books were:

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, the second full-length graphic novel from Brian Fies (after Mom's Cancer, which I read way back in the misty early days of this blog when I didn't write long meandering posts about books all the time). It's about the dream of the future from the 1939 World's Fair, and it seems to be fictional, unlike Mom's Cancer.

Satellite Sam, Vol. 2 from Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin. This is a complicated mystery story set in the world of early TV in the '50s, with lots of Chaykin dames in their over-constructed lingerie (and not much else, much of the time). I mostly enjoyed the first volume, despite admittedly not entirely understanding it.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 7: A Cold Day in Hell by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Lawrence Campbell, and Peter Snejbjerg. I'm trying to keep up better with Hellboy-verse stories these days, and I might just sit down for a big week of B.P.R.D. soon. (This was one I was missing in the middle; it's not the most recent book.)

Over Easy, a memoir-ish graphic novel -- or maybe a graphic memoir with some degree of fictionalizing -- from Mimi Pond, who did a lot of great work for National Lampoon in the '70s and whom I haven't seen much lately. (I see that she did a long-running strip for Seventeen magazine for part of that time, which was way off my radar.)

Dungeon: Twilight, Vol. 4: The End of Dungeon, the last book in the series -- well, more will be published, but this one is at the very end of the internal timeline -- which is written by series creators Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim. The two individual French albums collected here are drawn by Alfred (of Why I Killed Peter fame) and Mazan (who seems to have had several long-running series in Europe that have never been translated into English).

Bandette, Vol. 2: Stealers, Keepers!, the second book collecting a comic by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. I really enjoyed the first one, and I always like Coover's sunny, expressive art.

Grendel vs. The Shadow by Matt Wagner. I probably heard about this at some point -- I'm not completely cut off from all sources of information about the usual comic-shop stuff -- but I was surprised to see it on the shelf. I like Wagner, though I think he's spent too much time this century doing Hunter Rose stories -- and I also think that's what the market-slash-editors keep asking him for. And I guess I'm the problem, because I keep buying them, and providing financial incentive to keep making them.

Last is the one book with only words on the pages: Defender of the Innocent, a complete collection (so far) of Lawrence Block's stories about Martin Ehrengraf, the criminal defense attorney whose clients are always innocent, no matter what else has to happen for that to be true. Block's short stories are sharp and sneaky -- possibly even better than his novel -- so this should be fun.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/16

In a world of uncertainty and strangeness, there are only a few things you can count on. And one of them is that every Monday morning, I'll post a list of the books that arrived in my mail the prior week. You might not be interested in any of those books, and I might not make them sound enticing, but, by gum!, that post will go up on time!

(There might not be many other posts here on Antick Musings, since my new job is both time-consuming in itself and is at the end of a substantially longer commute than I've been used to from the last few years, but this one string you can count on for as long as I keep getting books in the mail.)

This week, I have four books: two that I've seen before, now returned in perfected published form, a la Gandalf the White. And then I have two books I haven't seen before, though they're both in series and by familiar authors. As always, I will point out that I haven't read any of these, and anything I say about them could easily be wrong because of that.

First up is Darwin's Watch: The Science of Discworld III, from Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen. Like the first two Science of Discworld books (and the fourth, which hit the UK several years ago and is still forthcoming on my side of the pond), it combines alternate chapters of a Pratchett-written Unseen University story about wizards poking at a created "Roundworld" with chapters about the actual science implied by those pokes, written by working scientists and popularizers Stewart and Cohen. I don't remember if I read all four of these books, but they start very strong and glide gently downhill, as the authors have less impressive material each time out. Darwin's Watch is a June 2015 trade paperback original from Anchor in the US, only ten years after the UK publication.

And then there's (R)evolution, the first novel from TV writer PJ Manney, coming on June 1st from Amazon's 47North imprint. (So you might have trouble finding it in any smaller independent bookstores that Amazon hasn't managed to drive out of business yet.) It's a technothriller in the vein of Blood Music, with the plucky genius researcher who injects himself with his own creation and then gets caught up in the usual evil conspiracy to control everything.

Long Black Curl is the third novel in Alex Bledsoe's Tufa series, about a secret race of musically magical people in a (hidden?) county in Tennessee, and their intrigues and problems. (I suspect there's an influence from Manly Wade Wellman's "Silver John" stories here, since Bledsoe is also working with authentic American legends.) In this one, one of the two Tufa ever stripped of their powers and exiled is back, and of course she's pissed. Long Black Curl is a Tor hardcover, on sale May 26.

And last is a big fat fantasy novel from Peter Orullian: Trial of Intentions, the sequel to The Unremembered and the continuation of the "Vault of Heaven" series. It's one of those books where there's an ancient evil god out there, and his millennia-old magic chains are failing, so Bad Stuff is ramping up and will keep doing so until the Cast of Thousands travels across the entire map, learns Important Lessons about themselves and the world, gathers all of the Plot Tokens, and reassemble in the last book for a few of the less important characters to die and the rest to be triumphant. (I may be slightly flippant about epic fantasy here. I may also be less than accurate about this particular series.) Trial of Intentions is a Tor hardcover, also available May 26th, and the cover letter insists that it works perfectly fine as an introduction to the series.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/9

For the past eight years -- yes, I know, that surprises me too, when I come to think about it -- I've posted every Monday morning about the books that came in the mail the prior week. And I'm back for another week today.

I haven't read these books yet, and might not manage to read any specific one of them (even the ones I really want to -- there's already a pretty large collection of books I really want to read). But I can tell you things about them from a quick look, and those things will follow. Are those things guaranteed to be entirely correct? Well, no: but I try not to misrepresent any of the books in front of me.

First up is a new short novel by Alastair Reynolds, Slow Bullets, coming in a trade paperback edition from Tachyon in early June. Like all of Reynolds's work, it looks like smart hard-ish science fiction, set in the medium future among former soldiers from both sides of a long, huge interstellar war who wake up on a ship where things are going badly wrong.

Also from Tachyon is a collection by Hannu Rajaniemi, under the easily-remembered title Collected Fiction. Rajaniemi has written several novels, though I've only managed to read the first one (The Quantum Thief) so far. And this book has about a dozen and a half stories -- and a couple of odder things as well -- from the last decade. Rajaniemi is also a pretty hard SF writer when he wants to be; he has a doctorate in Mathematicial Physics and has run what sounds like a think tank for tech innovation.

And then there's Press Start to Play, an original anthology of SFnal stories about videogames edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams. It'll be an original trade paperback from Vintage, hitting stores on August 28. And it has new stories from twenty-six very diverse writers, from editor Wilson to Charles Yu, from Seanan McGuire to T.C. Boyle, from Hugh Howey to Catherynne M. Valene, from Rhianna Pratchett to Cory Doctorow, all of whom tell stories inspired by videogames in one way or another.

Deborah Harkness finishes up her bestselling trilogy about witches with The Book of Life, which hits paperback from Penguin on May 26th. The first in the series is A Discovery of Witches, and I'm afraid I haven't read any of them, so I can't tell you much. But this one does see our heroes -- "spellbound witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont" -- return from Elizabethan London to the modern day and the characters from the first book.

And last for this week is a SF novel from James L. Cambias, Corsair. It's set in the near future, when asteroid mining has become big business, and top computer hackers battle over the systems dropping the payloads into the ocean -- some on behalf of their employers, the mining companies, and some on behalf of pirates and thieves who want to divert and steal the payloads. (I'm surprised that there's not a stronger regulatory structure around an activity theoretically capable of destroying cities, but that may come up later in the book.) Corsair is a Tor hardcover, and is available now.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Hugo Categories We Probably Don't Need

Some time ago -- I keep meaning to save this here, but keep also forgetting again -- there was a Twitter hashtag #newHugocategories, which was generally an outgrowth of the Puppy eruption.

I had a bunch of suggestions of my own, and since I think I'm witty and smart, I still like them. So I wanted to preserve them somewhere more searchable than Twitter.

Anyway, here were my modest suggestions, in order:

My New Gig

I've been coy over the past two weeks, because I didn't want to say too much too early, but my long national nightmare is over as of tonight: I begin my new job tomorrow morning.

I'll be joining a great marketing team on the Practical Law product at Thomson Reuters, and I'm thrilled about all of it: joining a big, smart company with great resources and reach; working on a major product that provides real value to a professional audience; and both using the things I've already learned and learning more about methods and audiences and marketing tools.

Even more interesting, I'm diving right in: there's a big marketing summit for the Legal division of TR on Tuesday and Wednesday, so my first business trip will be on Day Two of the job, which may be a record. (I'm going to Minneapolis, which is where most of this division is headquartered.)

The Practical Law offices are in Manhattan -- Third Ave in the forties, which I'm amused to remember was the big publishing neighborhood back when I started in the business, twenty years ago -- so I'll be back in town all the time now, and might even start showing up more regularly to events there.

Anyway: I've got a great new job at a great division of a great company, which I hope will lead to less grumpiness here than there's been for the past three and a half months of unemployment. It may also lead to fewer posts here, since obviously real work is always the first priority. But we'll all have to see how things shake out: getting back into the commuting habit will probably mean I'll be reading more again.

(And, since I like to track everything, I'm also happy to note that my unemployment time is on a downward slope, though there are very few datapoints. I was out for 20 weeks in 1990-91, 17 weeks in 2007, and now 14 weeks this year. From this, I can project with presidential-election-level confidence that I will next be unemployed for 11 weeks in 2019.)

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

This book, for me, shares something very specific and personal with Ted Heller's Funnymen and Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday: I read each of them intensively while stuck in a hospital overnight for no good reason. (An irregular heartbeat can completely freak out doctors, and doubly so if the patient seems to be perfectly normal while the expensive machines are beeping like crazy. And I think my heart reacts badly to beeping machines, so there's a whole unpleasant feedback loop thing going on there.)

That connection will be entirely besides the point to anyone who isn't me, but I am me, and this is my blog, so that's how I'm leading off. Suck it, everyone else.

It's possible that Paul Theroux's legendary curmudgeonliness is rubbing off on me from reading Dark Star Safari so intensively (though it was the night of March 26-27, so it wasn't that recent), but I think it's more likely the opposite: I like Theroux so much, and keep returning to his work, because we're similar types of curmudgeons, and have compatible views of the worth of humanity. I still haven't read any of his novels, despite meaning to do so, but I get to one of his travel books at least once a year [1] and always deeply enjoy them.

This one is the story of a trip down the East African coast nearly fifteen years ago -- the book was published in 2003, and I suspect the trip itself took place in late 2001. (And it's a testament to how deeply Theroux does get into the bush and the wilderness that a certain event in early September of that year happens offstage and, as far as I can recall, is not mentioned once in the book.) Theroux started in Cairo and ended up in Cape Town, traveling through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa along the way.

Theroux isn't quite as disgusted and appalled by the state of African cities and their mean money-grubbing ways (from the ubiquitous beggars to the corrupt functionaries) as he was in the aborted trip up the opposite coast a decade later in The Last Train to Zona Verde, but Theroux has depths of disgust and pall that most men only dream of. And we read Theroux in large part for that viewpoint, that jaundiced look at humanity at its civilized worst, so those readers will not be disappointed by Dark Star Safari.

As usual, Theroux also meets a lot of interesting people, and draws his interactions with their often larger-than-life personalities quickly and vividly: he might hate humanity en masse, but he's great at finding and cultivating individual characters during his travels. And he's got strong opinions on Africa in general and its countries in particular: he lived for several years as a Peace Corps teacher in Tanzania in the 1960s and has stronger ties to East Africa than you'd expect of a white guy from Massachusetts.

So Dark Star Safari is concentrated Theroux: lots of muck and danger and hard travel, lots of characters, lots of horrible places and the horrible people who make them worse, lots of railing against most of the above, and not all that much hope for better. A new Theroux reader should not start here; I'd recommend one of the train books (Great Railway Bazaar or Old Patagonian Express, for example) to begin with. But he's a great travel writer -- he goes to interesting places, gets deeply into them, and reports on what he sees vividly and enthrallingly.

[1] See my prior posts about The Last Train to Zona Verde, Ghost Train to the Evening Star, The Imperial Way, and The Pillars of Hercules.

Friday, May 08, 2015

F My Life by Valette, Passgalia, and Guedj

There are times when my pledge to turn every book I read into an Antick Musings post is particularly silly: today is one of those times. The current book is F My Life, the print manifestation of a once-zeitgeisty website of sad, amusing and Schadenfreude-ian real life stories, and it is the thing that it is and no more than that.

So, since I work by day as a marketer, I will do the rest of this review in quick, zippy, impactful bullet points!
  • F My Life is edited by the three French creators of the site: Maxime Valette, Guillaume Passaglia, and Didier Guedj
  • The site launched in 2008 as Vie de Merde, and the book followed the next year
  • The book contains illustrations by Marie "Missbean" Levesque
  • Like the site, the book is all user-contributed
  • It's divided into six chapters with vague themes about aspects of life
  • All of the stories are embarrassing, humiliating, soul-destroying, or worse
  • But none of the stories happened to you, so you can enjoy them!
Reading the book of a website is an odd thing at the best of times, with only a few major reasons (to support the creators, to have something easier to read in the john, etc.). When the site is full of such short content to begin with, it feels even odder. But, if you like stories of woe happening to other people, this is a great compendium of them.