Friday, December 29, 2017

The Belated and Unnecessary Twelfth Anniversary Post

This blog came into existence on October 4th, 2005, and I keep forgetting that exact date as each Fall rolls around and it's time to look back on the past Year in Blogging. This year, as you can plainly see, is another example.

I decided, after only realizing I'd overrun the date two weeks later, that I'd give myself a month's leeway, instead of trying to bash out this post on the day I noticed I'd missed it. I had no idea if you folks would see any difference -- even more, how can you see a difference between this post and the one I didn't do? -- but it was a reasonable plan, and I love plans.

Then, when I overran that deadline, I figured what trouble could another month do? And when that deadline loomed, well, the end of the year was in sight, and isn't that time more suitable? Of course it is. And so here we are now, in the cold dark of late December, exactly the right time to look backwards and wonder where the hell we went wrong.

Following last year's precedent, this year's post will have SEO-friendly bolded keywords rather than headings, because we're in Internet 3.0, goddamn it. Perhaps this will aid you as you scan the trackless sea of text ahead of you and heave a sigh, or even entice you to read a bit instead of immediately moving on to that next cute picture of a cat or explanation of why {insert opposition political party} is the very worst thing that has ever existed in the world.

In case anyone out there is bad at math, let me say for the record that I've now been doing this for twelve years. And I thought I would be better at it by now, or at least managed to keep up a routine.

I always begin this post about looking back by looking back: so here are links to the previous anniversary posts: the plain first, the hoopla of the second, the hullabaloo of the third, the excitement of the fourth, the missing fifth, the razzamatazz of the sixththe fantabulous sevenththe gala eighth, the splendiferous ninth, and the delayed and rushed tenth and the muted and melancholy eleventh. Among them, they represent a massive amount of time-wasting, which you will certainly not need unless you are the Chris Pratt character in Passengers.

Next up, always, is the legend of the founding of the blog. Long ago, in the before-time, the great warrior Hornswoggler delved deep into the Swamp of Google, seeking the Blog Template that would grant him vast fame and riches and the hand of the king's daughter. Sadly, he didn't find it, and so Antick Musings instead came to be. But that mighty warrior is still using that template that he did find on October 4, 2005, perhaps in hopes his constancy will prove an acceptable replacement for good taste and usefulness.

Then we need to get into the ritual comparing of post counts, which is exactly as much of a dick-measuring contest as you fear it will be. (I'm deeply sorry.) Since I had the bad judgment to begin a blog in the middle of a year (October 4th, in case you've forgotten), each year is substantially disjoint from the calendar.
  • 2016-2017 -- 263 posts
  • 2015-2016 -- 144 posts
  • 2014-2015 -- 258 posts
  • 2013-2014 -- 434 posts
  • 2012-2013 -- 285 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 332 posts
  • 2010-2011 -- 445 posts
  • 2009-2010 -- 711 posts
  • 2008-2009 -- 880 posts
  • 2007-2008 -- 834 posts
  • 2006-2007 -- 841 posts
  • 2005-2006 -- 809 posts
Then I have to complicate the matter by throwing in my second blog, Editorial Explanations, which ran for nearly three years (February of 2011 through the end of 2013), since it started as a series of posts on Antick Musings.

Editorial Explanations:
  • 2012-2013 -- 560 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 802 posts
  • early 2011 -- 760 posts
And that means, when you put all of it together, you get:
  • 2016-2017 -- 263 posts
  • 2015-2016 -- 144 posts
  • 2014-2015 -- 258 posts
  • 2013-2014 -- 434 posts
  • 2012-2013 -- 285 + 560 = 845 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 332 + 802 = 1,134 posts
  • 2010-2011 -- 445 + 760 = 1,205 posts
  • 2009-2010 -- 711 posts
  • 2008-2009 -- 880 posts
  • 2007-2008 -- 834 posts
  • 2006-2007 -- 841 posts
  • 2005-2006 -- 809 posts
While we're waiting for the highly-paid stats experts to explain what that all means -- spoiler alert: they never will -- we can see clearly that this blog has been diminishing and going into the West. (Though there is a bit of a bounce this past year -- perhaps a dead-cat bounce, but a bounce nonetheless.) But I hope that it has remained Antick Musings and will always continue as it began: random, desultory, odd, unreliable, and defiantly un-pigeonholed.

Antick Musings was meant to be the place where I wrote about things other than books, because I did books for a living. Well, I haven't done books for a living for a while, and haven't done the books I really liked for a living for a decade now. So it's probably not surprising that it turned into a book blog along the way. I do miss writing about movies (and watching them, more than a few times a year), and I do wonder why I keep rotating the places I dump large clusters of words. (Most of the '90s were Usenet, specifically rec.arts.sf.written. Then came the Straight Dope Message Board, then here. Most recently, I seem to be typing stuff into web boxes on Quora. One might think I would keep those clumps of words here, in a place I control, but one would evidently be wrong.)

So, then, to make up the bulk of this anniversary post, here are some of the sentences I wrote about books in the past year, linked to the longer collections of sentences about those books:

I don't know if comics needs another chronicler of low-key business failure and despair, but we seem to have just gotten one.

We all know That Guy: the one who always has a plan to get ahead, a scheme to get rich, a quick shortcut onto Easy Street, and a boundless optimism that he can do it all with just the tiniest bit of help.

Um, we all know what it means when a middle-aged creator does a book-length story about a body part, right? OK, maybe it could be some thing thrillingly obscure, like body integrity identity disorder, but 99 times out of a hundred, it means The Big C.

All of these are unpleasant people who do dull things in annoying ways and are both deeply horrible and deeply boring.

The four Eltingville lads are deeply horrible people, but they're verbally horrible in that pop-culture way, all references and insults and mean-spirited trivia contests and in-group insults. Each story is draining, as it must be -- the expression of another year's worth of anger at the stupid things that comics/SF/gaming people do to each other and the world.

I like to think I'm a thoughtful reader.  Not perfect, of course -- who is? -- but good at working out metaphors and allegories and fictional schemas of all kinds. If I can see that there's a shape moving under the surface of a book, I can usually make a decent guess at what kind of leviathan lurks down there. 

There's a standard for autobiographical comics: they have to be about "you," obviously, but that "you" must be larger than life. Whatever your actual flaws are, make them bigger and funnier -- your cartoon avatar must be a cartoon, in all of the senses of that word that you can manage.

A metaphor has to become concretized in a story, to be something other than the words that make it up -- it has to mean actual things that happen in the story or underpin it.

I don't know if I completely understood it -- I'm the kind of reader who wants to know how worlds work, and this isn't a world that can be clearly explicated -- but I liked it, and respected it, and cared about the people in it.

But there may be something like an ending not too far in the future, and not just an endless stream of cliffhangers for as long as people keep buying the book. I hope so: I like stories that have endings. It makes them stories.

You might have heard that Alan Moore does not have the best relationship with DC Comics recently. (For values of "recently" that include the last twenty-plus years, and values of "not the best relationship" that include Moore hurling actual attempted magickal spells at them from his secret base in darkest Northampton.)

In every group of close-knit friends, there's always one -- at least one -- not as tightly connected as the others. That's the friend who would be thrown out of the sleigh first when the wolves get closer, the comic relief who the slasher picks off before the opening credits, the one who was always there and dependable but somehow no more than that.

Something in this world does not want you to read Miracleman stories, and each one must be snatched from the claws of that something and dragged out into the wider world.

I wish I could just hand this book to you so you could go into it as ignorant as I was.

Hellboy was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that.

(Look, folks: dressing up in colorful clothes and running around beating up people is essentially silly. Please stop calling attention to how silly it is!)

I like to think I'm good at talking about narrative -- I was an editor for a long time, and have been deconstructing stories in my head since I learned those tools. I'm not necessarily right, or even in the right neighborhood, since no one ever is. But I'm usually plausible, which is what talking-about-narrative game aims for.

(And "near the end," for a strip that ran fifty years, still means there were four years to go. And four years, as we're all about to learn, can be a really long time.)

In a world overrun by dirty hippies, grubby hicks, P.C. killjoys, sickos, ex-wives, and today's angry teens, we all need someone to tell us what is right and true.

I've been giving the various Hellboy books a pass from one of my core reading rules -- I don't like to read books that murder me or my family just to make a dangerous background for the heroes to wander through -- but I'm having less and less patience with each new story.

Friendly comedy is "look at what a goof I am," while hostile comedy is "look at those jerks over there."

If you're looking for the usual superhero fare, where violence solves problems...well, you probably should read Plutona, because that's not what violence actually does.

In retrospect, this set the tone for a lot of writer Grant Morrison's later work: portentous superhero operas, with characters emoting in high style, skating by on charm and flash and eye-candy to distract from the fact that the moments of the story don't entirely track and that sensible human beings would never actually act in these ways.

But it does seem to me that every Moebius epic inevitably ends with a big-nosed Everyman on the run from a totalitarian strongman in a dream world, pursuing the image of the perfect woman, who is not so much a character as an idea, even if she's supposed to be a real person.

It was as weird and exhilarating as it sounds, and if it made it difficult for anyone to follow, well, that's the problem with metafiction. It's difficult to step back down to plain old fiction afterward.

I do not think I'm doing a good job of making this book sound appealing. Maybe I should come in at this from a different direction.

If Jim Ballard had mellowed into a gentle wryness in his extreme old age, he might have provided a script for a book like Mooncop, the story of a man left behind by a now-fading space age, one guy left to do a pointless job in a place beautiful and hard and cold and alien.

This is not a story about the interstellar war, or the unlikely economy, or the sail-powered globe-trotting ultra-luxury cruise liners that are nevertheless repeatedly attacked and conquered by murderous pirates.

If you're not willing to deeply believe in this neurotic young woman, and insist along with her that blogging about clothing is a serious and worthy pursuit for an adult, you will be left cold, grumpy and entirely outside the story.

And, since time wounds all heels, I'm chagrined to realize that Akiko ended a good decade ago, and that Crilley, who I thought of as a young guy, is actually a couple of years older than me (and so is young slightly less than I am, which is already not much at all).

This is no way looks like a step forward from what she used to do.

There are times when you can't merely resign, for whatever reason. No, you have to make the bastards kick you out.

At some point in your life, you either realize that punching people is not the solution to problems, or you become a full-blown psychopath.

I really do not want to be that guy.

His world is more Phildickian, if you want to reach for a prose SF equivalent: full of people just scraping by, slaves to their obsessions and circumstances, capable of love but often hobbled by it, human in the most basic and humbling ways.

Forty years in the MU has ground him down enough that he can appear in Secret Wars, or whatever bullshit crossover it is this year, and make a few more cents for his corporate masters.

The great thing about life, though, is that it's never too late to read a good book as long as you can read: any book that is worse read later is not that good to begin with.

You goddamn asshole, P.J. O'Rourke.

So the fact that any one of us is not diagnosed with autism doesn't mean we're "normal" -- it just means we think in ways that haven't caused this particular kind of problem yet, or that our differences are less diagnose-able, or just that we're functional enough that it's not worth the resources to investigate us.

I've tagged this book as "Fantasy," but I don't think it really is. But it's a book about the fantasies that we have, and about how fantasy creatures can make real life bearable.

That's just one example: death and pain and destruction lurk around every corner, and the people who are responsible so often skate on blithely while the people around them pay the price.

It's good to know our limits. If this is outside yours, good for you.

But, still, the spectre of English Fascism in 1937 is a creaky, anachronistic thing to read a long screed against, and Wigan Pier is more than 50% screed by volume.

It's important to check your assumptions against reality regularly: we often find that what we think is true actually has very little do with with what really happened.

If you're the kind of American whose conception of "comics" is entirely filled by people in bright colors punching each other, this is very much not the book for you. I hope there aren't actually that many of you, but -- since I'm a pessimist -- I tend to assume you're the majority, you thick-knuckled vulgarians you.

In Murderbot, Wells has created the first slacker killer-robot, which I deeply love.

There are immediate meanings, the implied history of this world, deeper satires of academic life and the foibles of humanity in general, plus silly pictures that have circles and arrows pointing to places where a dragon is lurking unseen.

Every so often a reader needs to take on a masterpiece. You can only bump along with decent or pretty good books for so long: once in a while you need to open the floodgates wide and let a writer at the full tide of his powers wash over you.

The great thing about history is that it never stops being history. It might technically get older, but, realistically, a hundred years is the same as a hundred and twenty. Old is old, dead is dead.  

As I noted above, this has basically turned into a book blog. One major part of the book-blog is the criticism of what one has read; I just listed far too many examples of that. Other major parts of a book blog are the author interview (but I don't like talking to people), the book giveaway (which, again, requires talking to people), and the regular Presentation of The Swag (which I can actually do). In my case, I call those posts Reviewing the Mail and run them every Monday morning. I used to make a rigid distinction between books I got for free, which went into that post, and books I bought, which went into different posts, and books from the library, which I mostly neglected to mention until I read them, and books given to me as gifts, which...yeah, it was too complicated. Everything is now going into the same Monday-morning post, for my own sanity. 

I have mostly avoided writing about politics here, for which forbearance I'm sure you thank me. But when politics wanders into places where I used to live, such as the publishing world, I sometimes toss out some ill-informed opinions. And so I did back in January, about Milo Yannopolous, who we've probably all forgotten about already.

I wrote about the record Charming Tales by the Brooklyn-based musical act Charming Disaster back in April, and I'm still listening regularly to songs from that record. And I'll repeat that their densely allusive lyrical style and often-genre subject matter is just the kind of thing that a lot of people who read the kind of books I read would also enjoy a lot.

I had an annoying computer issue with my work laptop this year, and complained about it. (The alt-tab switcher would default to the older, less useful style after sleeping.) After that post, I figured out how to fix it: use Task Manager to kill and restart Explorer every time it happens. The solution to every computer problem, I think, is to stop something and restart it.

That was what I was nattering on about during the Twelfth Year of the Blog. Look for a similar post covering the thirteenth year on October 4, 2018...or possibly somewhat later than that.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/23

Merry Christmas! [1]

It would be amusing and oddly appropriate if I had a whole big stack of books to write about here, having gotten them as "gifts" over the past week. However, I didn't get much work done last week, and I think that was pretty common. Plus, the mail system here in the US is solidly jammed up with actual presents at this moment.

All that is to say: nothing to report this week. If you celebrate today, I hope it's a good one. If you don't, I hope you at least have the day off for a movie and some good Chinese food.

[1] If you don't celebrate Christmas, please replace with the seasonally-appropriate greeting of your choice. If you are currently at war on Christmas, best wishes for an early armistice.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Quote of the Week

"I was knocked outta bed late last night.
I was woken up by the sound of dynamite.
I ran downstairs to find an army man,
He said 'we gotta blow those things we don't understand'."
 - Dead Milkmen, "Big Lizard"

Monday, December 18, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/16

Hey there! Once again I'm going to list the books that came in during the past week, in hopes you -- yes you, no one else -- will find something fun to read next. I do this out of the pure goodness of my heart, out of inertia, and out of an overpowering guilt that I need to do something with these free books that come in the mail. (And that I don't manage to read as often as I want to.)

First up is a new novel from Ben Bova, yclept Survival. It's the fourth in his current hard-SF series, which began with New Earth and seems to be about preparing humanity (and whatever other civilizations they can contact and aid) to survive an upcoming gamma-ray pulse from the center of the galaxy, which would otherwise do nasty things to organic life. In this book, the guy who seems to be the series hero -- Alexander Ignatiev -- is off to make contact with another civilization and warn them about the burst. Unfortunately, that civilization is a secretive one of machine intelligences, who think they will survive the burst just fine and are not happy at all with meat-bags knowing they exist. So things look rough for Alex and his crew, though I'm sure they make it through in time for the next book. Survival is a Tor hardcover, available the day after Christmas in all of the usual places.

Also from Tor -- as a trade paperback , hitting stores last week -- is the new Ellen Datlow-edited anthology Mad Hatters and March Hares. Do I need to tell you the theme is Alice in Wonderland? I hope you figured that out on your own. It has eighteen brand-new stories from authors including Ysabeau S. Wilce, Jane Yolen, Catherynne M. Valente, Delia Sherman, Seanan McGuire, Jeffrey Ford, Andy Duncan, and others.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/9

I have thoroughly run out of ways to open this weekly post, so now each Sunday I sit and stare blankly at a computer screen, hoping to think of another way to say the same thing once again. Eventually, I write something like this, and I can keep going. But I want to warn you that, some day, I might just give up and never be seen again.

But not this week!

This time out, I got one book in the mail, so I can tell you about that. It's Mississippi Roll, the twenty-fourth book in the long-running shared universe "Wild Cards" series. This one is credited as edited by George R.R. Martin, who has been running the whole shebang since 1987's Wild Cards. (Always, I think, aided to one degree or another by Melinda M. Snodgrass, whose credit appears and disappears semi-randomly.) Wild Cards is set in a universe where first contact was made soon after WW II in a rather unpleasant way: an alien spaceship set off a "gene bomb" that caused mayhem worldwide. If I remember the percents correctly, 90% of the people affected just died immediately. Then about 90% of the survivors were hideously deformed in one way or another, becoming "Jokers." About 1%, then, got at least somewhat useful superpowers and still looked like normal human beings. I'm not quite sure how new Jokers and Aces are created at this point in the timeline, sixty-some years later -- maybe the bomb created some endemic pockets of contamination that people stumble into, or if everyone now has some chance of Joker-izing or Ace-ificating at birth or puberty or whenever. But, in any case, this is a world with superheroes, and supervillains, and mutated freaks, and odder things, and has had them for three-plus generations by the start of this book.

Mississippi Roll starts up a new trilogy, which makes it a decent starting point. I personally read the first dozen or so -- all of the Bantam series, which descended into the usual shared-world problem of "my villain is even worse than yours!" iterated several times with body-swapping rapist fiends trying to conquer the world -- and petered out somewhere in that very dark period. I have no idea if the evil body-swapping has died down, but it's been close to two decades and ten more books, so I certainly hope so.

Anyway, this new one is a Tor hardcover and hit stores last week. I used to really like this series, and may dip back into it once again. Maybe you'd like it, too?

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Madwoman of the Sacred Heart by Alexandro Jodorowsky and Moebius

Twenty-some years ago, it was reading a bunch of random Moebius books that convinced me that French comics were all about philosophical bullshit. I've since been convinced otherwise, through the work of Jason and Trondheim and Kerascoet and Vehlmann and a number of others, but damn if this dull turd of a book didn't cut through all of that good stuff with a new load of weapons-grade bullshit, and almost changed my mind back again.

Moebius is not solely responsible for Madwoman of the Sacred Heart. He was just the artist this time out, so he's only responsible for what's good about this book: the clarity of line and real space that the first two-thirds of the book has (before it starts become a cramped mess of way too many small panels stuffed with far too many stupid words). The script here comes from screenwriter and international goofball Alexandro Jodorowsky, well-known for the quality of his philosophical bullshit across several media.

As usual with French comics philosophical bullshit, there's a bunch of religious loonies who talk far too much about things no one is interested in reading about and the one supposedly normal guy at the middle of it all who gets dragged along, presumably to be the audience's view into this "exciting" and "revelatory" and "mind-expanding" warmed-over '60s merde. Unfortunately, the one sane guy in Madwoman is the deeply unlikable Alan Mangel, a massive prick of a philosophy professor who starts the book with a cult-like student following and spends most of it with a diarrhea problem. (No, I am not joking. Much of his dialogue is dedicated to informing the reader that he has shit his pants once again. Lo! How transgressive is Jodorowsky!)

One of Mangel's students decides she's the reincarnation of the mother of John the Baptist -- or something roughly congruent to that -- and that Mangel is the destined father. This of course means there must also be a Joseph (a local pusher) and Mary (daughter of a South American drug baron, currently institutionalized either because she's actually crazy or her father thinks she is), and those four form our merry band of completely insane people, whom the reader is forced to follow for the entire book.

The crazy people aren't interestingly crazy: they're French crazy, which means they make long speeches about the way the universe works and the power of love and their place in the scheme of things and other things that will cause an American reader to lose consciousness rapidly. Even worse, their pseudo-philosophical bullshit seems to be right within the context of the story, inasmuch as it can be understood at all. (Which is not very far.)

So nutty things happen, and the crazy women talk too much. Then more nutty things happen, Mangel shits his pants, and they talk too much again. Repeat for nearly two hundred pages.

Just when you think you've got the rhythm down, we drop into the third section of Madwoman -- I think this was originally three French albums, though this 2011 Humanoids edition doesn't explain that in the slightest -- which is cramped and awkward, and, if this is even possible, more boring and stultifying than the first two. Perhaps Jodorowsky took a look at his notes, realized he still had eighty or ninety pages of philosophical bullshit to cram into fifty comics pages, and told Moebius to draw smaller. Whatever happened, suddenly there are twice as many panels to a page, and the pages are duller -- the one strong point Madwoman had up to that point was Moebius's layouts and art, so clearly that could not be allowed to stand.

This book is the kind of thing that makes you stupider as you read it: it not only wastes your time, but actively destroys brain cells along the way. I cannot in good conscience recommend it for any purpose; the coated paper would make it unsuitable even to use to start a fire. Moebius has done better work -- his "Blueberry" westerns are particularly good, and some of the comics he wrote himself are only slightly tinged with philosophical bullshit. I can't speak for Jodorowsky, but I hope not everything he touches turns out this bad; it would be difficult to sustain a career if that were the case.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Herbie Archives, Volume One by Shane O'Shea and Ogden Whitney

Yeah, it did take me until now to finally read Herbie. It is so much exactly the kind of thing that I would like that the delay seems weird, but it's a big world, and you can only do one thing at a time. I finally got to this particular thing, and can finally talk about it.

But wait! You say. Did I come in the middle of something? What on earth are you going on about?

All right, all right. Herbie Popnecker was the "hero" of a series of stories from the American Comics Group, for about a decade from 1958 through 1967 -- first as one-off stories in anthologies, then as the star of twenty-three issues of his own comic in 64-67. He's a short, fat, torpid, laconic kid with heavy-lidded eyes, a bowl haircut, and a lollipop always in his mouth, whose father is constantly complaining about him and calling him a "little fat nothing." He doesn't like sports or schoolwork or playing with other kids; at home he tends to sit in a straightback chair and doze, and we don't see him at school or interacting with his peers.

So far, so promising for a humor title, right? Sounds just like the thing in the '50s-'60s burst of teen-interest comics, with Archie and Binky and Scooter!

Well, Herbie was more than just a little fat nothing, luckily. He was also world-famous, almost omnipotent, and oddly resourceful. His lollipops gave him superpowers -- this is slightly inconsistent, since sometimes he seems to have power merely because he is Herbie -- and his aid is regularly sought by US Presidents and UN Secretary-Generals. Gorgeous women swoon at his approach. Vicious animals flee when they realize who he is. He travels in time, via lollipop and a flying boat-like grandfather clock, and can walk under the oceans and across empty space to reach distant planets.

And, if threatened, all he needs to do is ask "You want I should bop you with this here lollipop?" Herbie's bop is a force that can frighten the greatest forces in the universe -- in just this book, we see suns, dragons, and Satan himself cowed by it.

That is one weird mix of elements, and it doesn't seem like it should work. But ACG editor Richard E. Hughes (writing as "Shane O'Shea") kept a deadpan tone around Herbie, making it all strangely plausible. And Ogden Whitney drew all of the stories in a solid, straightforward style -- both of them as if to drain any possible insinuation of imagination out of the stories, as if to prove Herbie's adventures must be plausible if they are this normal-seeming.

It worked. It still works, now: some elements are a little outdated (the supernatural creatures are somewhat comic-booky and of their time), but most of Herbie is unique and sui generis. And many individual panels are still laugh-out-loud funny after fifty-plus years.

The first third of the Herbie stories were collected in 2008 as Herbie Archives, Volume One, which is what I finally read. There are two more volumes, collecting the rest of the Herbie stories, which I now need to dig up and read. If you like weird comics, you probably already know about Herbie. If you've never read him, you'll probably want to move him up in the queue -- this is still really good stuff, nutty and crazy in all the best midcentury ways.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/1

This time of year, a lot of businesses slow down, under the weight of holiday parties and darkness-induced depression and everyone's sudden desire to use their vacation days before they lose them. [1] Book publishing can be like that, since it relies on getting product out into retail outlets (physical or digital) and then trying to drive consumer interest.

Which is a long way round to saying that I don't have any new books to write about this week, and I'm not expecting the weeks between now and the end of the year will be any more fruitful.

But I know I have far more books than I can read in any reasonable time (probably 3-5 years worth, even if I was back up at my reading prime), so not getting new ones if not a huge burden. And there will be new books eventually: there always are.

So check back next week to see if "eventually" has come around yet.

[1] Some businesses, or portions of businesses, actually speed up, especially sales organizations with a calendar year-end. My current employer has pieces like that, but they're mostly too busy to even engage with other departments (like me) at this time of year.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Not So Much, Said the Cat by Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick's last big collection of short stories was 2007's The Dog Said Bow-Wow, which somewhat explains the title of last year's Not So Much, Said the Cat.

(Note: there may be a talking cat somewhere in this book, and possibly even one that says "Not so much." But I can't recall what story that cat could possibly be in, so I will leave this as a possibility rather than a reality.)

It collects seventeen stories -- some may actually be novelettes, but none seem long enough to be novellas -- originally published in this last decade. Close to a majority came from Asimov's, but others were in F&SF, on, and in various anthologies. So it is possible that a very assiduous SFnal reader could have read all of these already -- perhaps more likely if that reader were a big Swanwick fan -- but it's not very likely.

As I've said several times before: there are two ways to write about a book full of short fiction: you can either (as I did for many years at the SFBC, writing internal reader's reports) run down story-by-story, giving thumbnail plot descriptions and canned literary judgments, or you can talk vaguely about the book as a whole. "Real" reviewers tend to do the latter, and not just because it's easier -- the former tends towards the tedious and unnecessary at the best of times. So I stick to the easy style these days, and not just because I don't read with a notebook open and full of scribbles anymore. (That's how I read, a lot of the time, for sixteen years. I miss it, now and then, but the feeling passes.)

The stories here are mixed SF and fantasy. I felt it tilted towards a fantasy feeling, but that's in large part because the SF is mostly post-apocalyptic, either part of Swanwick's "Darger and Surplus" series or similarly motivated, with mysterious superpowerful AIs serving as "gods" and "demons" and along the way proving Arthur C. Clarke's famous dictum.

More important than genre -- for me at least, and I hope for any self-respecting reader as well -- is the question of how good the stories are. They're very good: emotionally resonant, pointed and precise, carefully crafted for maximum impact. Swanwick is one of our best short-story writers, in genre or out of it, and this is yet another example of why.

I don't read a lot of short fiction these days -- I read a lot less of everything than I did, back when I read for a living -- so I'm not in any position to say any of you need to read anything in particular. But Swanwick is vital and important and great; if you read SF/fantasy short fiction at all, he's someone to know and keep track of.

Red in November

This might be another slim one: on top of my current issue of figuring out when and how to read when I'm not commuting as much (oh horrors! what a problem to have!), this is a month with a major holiday and a whole lot of college visits with my High School Junior second son.

I might be busy with things that aren't books -- this what I'm saying.

But when I was busy with books, these are the books I was busy with:

Charles M. Schulz, Schulz's Youth (11/1)

S. Gross and Jim Charlton, editors, Books, Books, Books (11/7)

Anonymous, editor, National Lampoon's Truly Sick, Tasteless, and Twisted Cartoons (11/8)

Bill Willingham, Phil Jimenez, and others, Fairest, Vol. 1: Wide Awake (11/14)

John Layman and Rob Guillory, Chew, Vol. 6: Space Cakes (11/15)

Lawrence Block, Campus Tramp (11/15)

Michael Swanwick, Not So Much, Said the Cat (11/17)

Shane O'Shea and Ogden Whitney, Herbie Archives, Vol. 1 (11/28)

Alexandro Jodorowsky and Moebius, Madwoman of the Sacred Heart (11/29)

That was November. As I expected, it was a bit light. I want to read more books, but when I pick up specific books, or try to find time for them, it hasn't been working out lately. Again, if this is the worst problem I have in my life, I'm doing pretty damn well.