Read in June

With 2012 now halfway done, it's time for me to concede defeat by my read-and-unreviewed pile. I clearly cannot manage to write separate posts for every book I read while still doing everything else I do (the other blog, family stuff, and the actual bill-paying Day Job), and so I think I'm going to drop back to the methodology I tried to implement just before the last bout of Book-a-Day: the end-of-month roundup is the time to write something about what I read, before I forget it entirely.

(I'm still not sure how I'll deal with the backlog -- perhaps some summer vacation time will be eaten up by plugging through some capsule reviews. I really wish I had more time for reviews, and I live in hope that someone will one day want to pay me to review stuff again -- actual money is a powerful motivator, and I never missed a deadline for my paying gigs.)

So here's what I read this month, with either links or a quick take. It's not what I would want in a perfect world -- but who ever said this was a perfect world?
  • Matthew Stover, Caine's Law (6/6)
    I've been an unabashed Stover booster since the days of his first two novels from Roc, Iron Dawn and Jericho Moon, and I bought everything he published for the SFBC when I still worked there. And his "Caine" novels -- Heroes Die, Blade of Tyshalle, Caine Black Knife, and now this one -- are the books he clearly cares the most about, and pours the mot of himself into. (I've reviewed a couple of Stover's books here -- a Star Wars novel with an improbably long title, and Caine Black Knife -- and I'd recommend that second link for a longer explanation/advocacy of what the Caine novels are and why you should read them.) Caine's Law is officially the second half of the duology that Caine Black Knife began, but it's less specifically tied to Black Knife and more deeply enmeshed in the whole series than that would imply. I wouldn't start here, though -- this is the fourth novel about a complex character in a complex world, told in an even more complex way that the prior novels, and a new reader will miss a lot of nuance jumping in here. Luckily, since I last complained about Stover's unavailability, all of the earlier books have come out in electronic form, so just plop down your $7.99 (cheap!) for Heroes Die and start there. Trust me -- if you like tough, bloody, morally complicated fantasy of the George R.R. Martin/Steven Erikson style, you will eat up the Caine novels.
  • John Scalzi, Redshirts (6/12)
    An actual, standalone review of this novel is really, really coming -- honestly, it's more than half done already, and it may even post today -- in my last-ditch attempt to remain relevant as an actual reviewer of recent books. Watch this space for a link to that review once it appears.
  • Donald E. Westlake, The Comedy Is Finished (6/14)
    In the late '70s, Westlake began writing a novel -- using his serious tone, like Kahawa or High Adventure -- about a middle-aged TV host (somewhere in the territory between Dean Martin and Bob Hope) who is kidnapped by a group of leftover '60s radicals. It was still unpublished -- though apparently finished -- when Martin Scorcese's 1983 movie The King of Comedy, with a somewhat similar premise, was released, and so Westlake shelved the book and it was forgotten until a photocopy turned up after his death in the basement of a friend and fellow writer. Thirty years later, The Comedy Is Finished slots in well with the tougher Westlake books of that era -- it's psychologically smart (though stuck in the idiom of the time, of necessity), full of cracking dialogue and some dark, sly humor, and strongly plotted with some excellent scenes. It's not right up at the top of Westlake's work, but it's close -- this isn't the typical trunk novel, just a book that missed its best window and then got forgotten for too long.
  • Frank Miller, Holy Terror (6/16)
    I am very sorry to report that Frank Miller is Not Kidding here -- or, if he is, he's buried it so deep as to make no difference. This -- as reported, and derided, widely when originally published in 2011 -- is the story of not-Batman and not-Catwoman defeating the ridiculously over-the-top and entirely silly plot of not-al-Quaeda to randomly destroy stuff in not-Gotham City. Not-al-Qaeda does this because they are Evil, in the way that all Muslims (or possibly everyone not Frank Miller; this part isn't entirely clear) are. The art is full Late Miller -- big slabs of black relieved by small pops of color and what appears to have been a small troop of infantry walking over the completed pages in not-quite-clean boots. So that's dynamic, though often silly -- it's worth looking at, at least. The story, though, is a complete mess: a loud, incoherent rant about the necessity of ultraviolence in the service of one's cause -- which, with only minor tweaks, could as easily serve as an advertisement for al-Quaeda. It's always sad to see an artist who used to be at least moderately intelligent -- if never what one would call moderate in anything else -- turn so fully into a frothing parody of himself, but if this is what Miller wants to do, it's our duty to point and laugh as loudly as possible, in hopes that it will eventually penetrate.
  • Jean Shepherd, In God We Trust -- All Others Pay Cash (6/18)
    This was the first of the five books collecting Shepherd's occasional magazine pieces, shoehorned into a fix-up to make them look like a single narrative. It's also entirely focused on Shepherd's childhood -- or rather the lightly fictionalized childhood of "Ralph Parker" of Hohman, Indiana -- during the Great Depression, unlike some of the later collections, which ranged more widely through Shepherd's work. (I reviewed The Ferrari in the Bedroom here, some years back.) The fix-up frame is a very light one; Ralph has returned to Hohman and landed in the bar run by his childhood buddy Flick, and each of the (very short) interstitial chapters basically sees Ralph and Flick say "hey, remember that thing?" before the next chapter goes into detail on that thing. Several of those chapters will be familiar to fans of the movie A Christmas Story, which was scripted by Shepherd based on stories of his childhood from this book and others. (The movie focuses on Ralph at about the age of ten, though, while the book ranges more widely, including several exploits from his teen years.) The whole thing is entertaining Americana, with only a minor undertone of cornpone -- Shepherd and his stand-in Ralph were fancy-pants New York writers revisiting the scenes of their unlikely childhoods, which led to the usual nostalgia, but even more a sense of "hey, remember that great story." Shepherd, luckily, was more interested in rolling out a great yarn -- he's a storyteller in the great 19th century American tradition of Twain -- than in polishing the image of his childhood. This isn't a great book, but it's a decent humorous look at How We Lived Then and a nice line extension for folks who only know Shepherd from A Christmas Story. Also: this is the book with the story about the Red Ryder air rifle (with a compass and sundial in the stock), which formed the spine of that movie.

Yes, that's pretty pitiful. I had three trips this month -- two for work, one to chaperone Thing 1's class trip to Washington, DC -- and also read essentially no comics/graphic novels/manga, but that's still a lousy showing. We'll see if I can do better next month.

Ovanliga tankar vid 16 års ålder

"These days I seem to think about
How all the changes came about my way
And I wonder if I'll see another highway"
- och -
"Don't confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them"
- Jackson Browne

Jackson Browne formulerade sig redan vid sexton års ålder som en man som blickar tillbaka på sitt liv... Hör denna mycket intressanta intervju om att skriva sådana låtar vid så tidig ålder:

Get More:
O Music Awards

"Bring my dreams to me
Bring them from the darkness
Let the minutes and hours
Show my mind strange new flowers
But I'd like to know where they go
when the morning comes"
- Jackson Browne

Greetings from High Above the Fabulous Las Vegas Strip!

I just spent the last hour cursing and trying to populate my other blog (Editorial Explanations, check it out regularly...just not right now, since there won't be any new posts until I can get back to a real computer), without much luck. The sticking point is images -- I can't seem to get them into the posts using my iPad, and that's all the computer I brought this time out.

This is deeply frustrating, since I know that I was able to blog -- including images, though the layout got a bit wonky -- last year from my conferences, and I hate to think that I've gotten technologically dumber in the past year. (I'm going to blame software updates, and not my fallible memory, if anyone asks.)

Anyway, I'm here in Las Vegas -- that most quintessentially American city, where everything is larger and flashier than a healthy person would want it to be -- and it, as usual, exacerbates my usual grumpy tendencies. I don't like people much to begin with, and, in Vegas, there are so many loathesome types of people -- ball-capped yahoos, pneumatic young women on the make, dull middle-aged losers on expense accounts, and far more corn-fed god-fearing middle Americans with kids in tow than I would have expected. (Especially in a casino hotel whose room keys promote its topless beach club.) I recognize that this is entirely my problem, but that doesn't actually help much.

The conference went well, as such things go: it's embarassing but wonderful to see how many financial professionals (here at IMA and at other shows, like last week's ACFE) know and respect Wiley as a publisher; they know our name and associate it with authoritative content and useful works, which is a tremendous compliment and goad to live up to those expectations. (Now, if only everyone were buying books the way they were a few years back, everything would be hunky-dory.)

Tomorrow is one of those unfortunate days eaten up entirely by travel that happen when going from left coast to right; my flight isn't until 11-something, so I don't get into JFK airport until nearly 8, so the day will be just about a total loss.

Now, I expect none of you actually care about any of this -- except perhaps my mother, who does read this blog; Hi, Mom! -- but inaction feeds on inaction as action feeds on action, so I want to get my fingers typing into this little Blogger box more often again, and build from there back to something worth reading. (I've got a long essay that's been half-written for nearly year; I need to get back to that, and everything else I want to do.)

I could waste time and space here attempting to be lyrical about the planes taking off from McCarran -- I can see it out of my 31st-floor window -- and the helicopters that similarly never stop buzzing by, and the mountains in the distance, and the city and suburbs bracketed by those landmarks, but I think I've rambled pointlessly long enough. The next blog entry should be from a real computer, back in my home, and, with any luck, it will also have more substance than this one.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/23

This is the second week in a row which sees me jetting off to exotic locations early on Sunday morning, and so typing up these notes a day early. (And, along the way, becoming the latest excuse for Why I'm Blogging So Little Lately -- excuse #2 these days is Lego Batman 2.)

Luckily, it's a short pile this week, so this should be quick -- unless there's a flood in the late mail delivery, which would be awesome and annoying at the same time. (There should be one word for that sensation -- awe-noying? annoysome? -- because the English language needs more bizarre portmanteau words to make purists grind their teeth in anger.)

These two books both came in this last week. I haven't read either of them -- and, looking at them, neither looks like my usual kind of thing, to be honest -- but perhaps one or both of them will be your favorite book of 2012, so I'll try to be honest, fair, and only mildly sarcastic.

First up is a horror novel from the wonderfully named David Moody, Them or Us. It's the conclusion to the "Hater" trilogy, also including the novels Hater and Dog Blood, about a deeply crapsack near future in which some sufficient reason has changed a large portion of the human race into "Haters," who apparently spend all of their time either killing the Unchanged or fighting with each other for dominance. (I find dystopias, especially horror dystopias, intensely dull.) Them Or Us was originally published in hardcover last November, but the trade paperback edition will be available on July 17th from Thomas Dunne Books.

Speaking of crapsack post-apocalypse near futures -- and we seem to be doing nothing else in the fields of spec-fic these days, leaving me grumpy and disconnected -- I also have in hand an anthology called 21st Century Dead, edited by Christopher Golden. And, yes, it's another collection of stories about zombies -- all originals in this one, 19 of them from folks including Orson Scott Card, Dan Chaon, Chelsea Cain, Jonathan Maberry, Simon R. Green, and Amber Benson. This one is from Griffin (a different imprint of the same company that publishes Them Or Us), and will also arrive in stores on July 17th.

And, if someone could explain the appeal of written zombie fiction -- in a way that I'd actually accept -- I would be...well, probably annoyed, actually, since I'd prefer to keep complaining in a quizzical manner, and an explanation would throw a spanner into that.

Al Lewis gör det igen

Al Lewis, walesaren jag träffade på Half Moon i Putney för ett par år sen, släpper en ny EP
"Our Lines Remain" om en dryg vecka. Givetvis är Sarah Howells från Paper Aeroplanes med och förgyller inspelningen med sin röst. Den nya videon för "Lines Upon the Sand" visar att Al kan skriva melankoliska sånger lika bra som de allra främsta. Så rörande vackert och så sårbart ulämnande att jag hoppas att det inte är självupplevt. Stor musik av en kille som kan nå hur långt som helst...


6 nya skivor i korthet

Franka De Mille - Bridge the Roads
Imponerande debut av en sångerska från London. Klar och distinkt röst som ibland har ett stänk av Patti Smith, smakfullt arrangerat med cello och inte en enda svag låt. Har blivit usedd att vara med i kampanjen "Why Music Matters".
Calum & Rory Macdonald - The Band From Rockall
Runrigs låtskrivar-bröder har gjort den skiva de drömt om att göra, inspirerade av den musik de växte upp med och som formade deras musiksmak. Har klingar det Shadows-gitarrer och glädjen sipprar ur varenda ton.   

West of Eden - Safe Crossing
Det är obegripligt att Göteborgs folkrockare inte har nått större framgångar efter så många otroligt bra skivor. Jag har ibland önskat att de skulle tuffa till sig något och det har de gjort här till viss del. Fortfarande fantasifulla irländska tongångar och med Jenny Schaubs suveräna röst. Mycket bra, med lite tema-stuk, men ändå inte deras bästa skiva... Det säger dock mest om hur bra de alltid är!

Luka Bloom - This New Morning
Varje ny skiva med Luka Bloom brukar sitta mitt i prick... Christy Moore's lillebror har en klang i både röst och gitarr som är så definitiv, så omöjlig att inte ta till sig. Den här gången tog det några lyssningar innan jag upptäckte en del låtar, men som de sitter nu! Låtskrivare av rang med mycket att säga. Klass rakt igenom.

Fairport Convention - Babbacombe Lee Live Again
Ännu en live-inspelning av folkrockarnas grundare och som alltid kompetent och närvarande. Temaskivan om Babbacombe Lee var Dave Swarbricks skötebarn och ett riktigt bra album och det håller än idag...

Kenn Morr Band - Worth Imagining
Lågmäld och trevlig roots-rock med rötter i samma mylla som The Band, fast mer akustiskt. Kenn Morr pratsjunger så intimt att man nästan tror att han krupit upp i ditt knä... Ruskigt stämningsfullt och lunkar på utan att störa, men ändå påträngande. Tror att texterna har mycket att berätta, men det är stämningen som fångar min uppmärksamhet.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/16

By the time you read this, I'll be far away, in another state, cheerfully manning a booth at the annual meeting of the ACFE. But the mail continues on, no matter what else goes on in the world, and so there are books to write about. All of these arrived in my mailbox over the past week, and I haven't read a single one of them yet. So what I'm about to tell you is compounded from educated guesswork, prior knowledge, and whatever publicity materials the various publishers saw fit to include in their packages.

But here's what I've got:

Lou Anders's [1] Pyr sent me a couple of things, including Ari Marmell's False Covenant, the second novel (after Thief's Covenant) in a secondary-world Young Adult fantasy series about a thief who calls herself Widdershins (she's young; what can you expect?). It's the kind of book that has a Church with a capital C, and a Thieves' Guild with a capital TG, not to mention a Guard ditto. It's been available in hardcover since early June.

Also from Pyr is Hunter and Fox, by Philippa Ballantine. (No relation, apparently.) This is another epic fantasy with a lot of Capitalized Names -- Hunter, Kindred -- and made-up names -- Vaerli, Casiah, Talyn, Byre -- and more than the recommended dose of angst and protagonist-torture (she "lost her people and her soul working for the man who was their destruction," to be precise). It came out in trade paperback last week -- but UK readers may find it familiar, since it was originally published there in 2006. (So how did the series turn out, O UK readers?)

The Young Adult graphic novel trilogy called "Resistance" -- about teens in France during WWII, with a focus you can probably guess from the series title -- concludes with Victory, publishing in July from First Second. (It's written by Carla Jablonski and illustrated by Leland Purvis, like the first two volumes.) I reviewed the first one, Resistance, here during my last run of Book-A-Day in early 2010. (And I still have the second book, Defiance, sitting on my you-really-should-read-these-soon shelves.)

And from the fine folks at Vertical comes GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, Vol. 3, a side-story to the popular Great Teacher Onizuka manga by the original creator Toru Fujisawa.

Grant Morrison's paean to all things superheroic and Morrisonian, Supergods, was published to general acclaim and strong sales last year, so it's time for it to hit paperback -- and so it does, in a new Spiegel & Grau edition coming on June 26. I didn't read it in hardcover -- it would be more accurate to say I deliberately avoided it in hardcover, since I suspected I would have Strong Views about it -- but now a copy is in my home, and so alea iacta est.

Andrea Cremer wrote what her publisher describes as the "internationally bestselling Nightshade trilogy," so I feel kinda bad to say that I've never heard of it. (On the other hand, I haven't heard about a lot of things -- and, since Cremer writes for teens, I have a built-in excuse for not hearing about here.) Anyway, Cremer is following up that trilogy with a new prequel, Rift, which I have sitting in front of me right this second, even though it won't publish (from Penguin) until August. Rift is some kind of supernatural story -- with a healthy dollop of romance, if I know my YA trends -- about a feisty heroine. I'm not entirely sure of the setting, though, and the book isn't much help -- I'm going to guess that it's late-medieval (historical fantasy division), but it could easily be secondary-world, alternate-history, or something even more baroque than those possibilities.

From Amazon's new SFnal imprint, 47North, comes No Peace for the Damned, the first novel by Megan Powell. It's a contemporary fantasy with secret groups wielding supernatural powers, but I'm not getting an urban fantasy vibe from it -- it looks more like early Stephen King (Dead Zone or Carrie). The heroine, Magnolia, escaped from her horrifying family and immediately was captured by a mysterious organization devoted to stopping people like (exactly like) her horrible family. Of course, it's not utterly unlike modern urban fantasy -- the back cover copy hints of a romance for Magnolia, as well. This is available from Amazon -- and any other retailers willing to collude in their own demise -- in July.

Also from 47North is B.V. Larson's Technomancer, a cross between that old chestnut, the waking-up-with-amnesia book, and the supernatural-investigator book, as epitomized by Jim Butcher. Quentin Draith -- supernatural investigators always have pretentious names! -- wakes up in a creepy private hospital, under the care of people who don't mean him well, and must reclaim his identity as an investigator (and blogger, I chuckle to note) of the supernatural, and re-learn his particular secret special powers. It's the first in a series called "Unspeakable Things," and it'll be out in July.

[1] Pardon me -- Hugo Award-winning editor Lou Anders's

Three Things Make a Post

Thing the First: Holidays
I hope you all had a happy Bloomsday, and are looking forward to a particularly festive Juneteenth.

For myself, this is one of the less impressive Father's Days I've had, since I had to get up at oh-dark-hundred to get to the airport for an 8 AM flight to lovely Orlando. (And, as long as I'm complaining, let me mention that I'll miss Thing 1's 8th-grade graduation ceremony on Tuesday, as well.) Woe, woe is me; I am made of woe. Someone pass me some ashes, and give me a hand over here rending my garments.

Thing the Second: Automobiles
Down here in Orlando, I'm driving a Ford something-or-other (whatever the full-size car is these days) that's probably supposed to be wine-colored, or dark purple, or something along those lines. But, to me, it looks exactly like the color of a bruise.

I'll try to get a picture of it with my iPod camera, and upload that once I'm back home.

I don't mind it as a car -- it's bigger than I'm used to, and the back window is too small, but it gets the job done. It's just that the color is more and more disconcerting as I go on; it's looking more and more thuggish by the moment.

Thing the Third: Amateurs
I never hate humanity more than when I fly, and the higher the proportion of people who don't know how to fly, the worse it is. Being stuffed into a metal tube with a hundred strangers is bad enough, but when those stranger don't even understand metal-tube etiquette, it's much worse.

I was particularly annoyed at the family who didn't realize that their toddler would be much happier sucking on something (to help pop the tyke's delicate ears) on the descent -- and even the kid knew what would help, since the rugrat was clearly screaming "baba" all the way down. The baby was in pain, and all the rest of us were annoyed -- perhaps it's a minor failure of parenting, but it's still a failure.

Amateur flyers don't know how to get on or off planes, or how (and when) to sit down. They don't know how to move through an airport. They never get out of anyone's way.

And I am now in Orlando, the Mecca of the amateur flyer, staying at a tourist hotel and commuting to a conference in a giant hotel/convention center that's about half tourist itself.

The only bright point is that I can remember last year, when this conference was at the end of a two-week, three-conference death march across the USA. This year, I'm only doing two of the three, and I get to go home for a few days in between.

Molasses Search Detail

So one of my many excuses for not blogging more is that my home computer -- that should be "my," since there's also The Wife's laptop, the Mac used by the boys, and the even older Mac that's officially The Wife's but doesn't get used much, all in the same house, and for all of which I'm all the tech support they get -- is running very slowly a lot of the time lately.

I've been trying to figure out the problem -- today I ran a big virus scan, which didn't turn up anything serious -- and have decided that it's one of the three programs I have running pretty much all the time. (Well, the other possible reason is that the machine -- a 3.06 GHz Mac i3 with 4GB of memory running OS 10.6.8 -- is just too old and slow, but the boys' Mac seems to be doing pretty well, and it's about three years older. And I'm really just using it for websurfing, blogging, and other highly non-processor-intensive tasks.)

So the three possible culprits are:
  • Firefox, which used to be a great, stable browser with wonderful plug-ins, but has turned into a weekly-updated house of horrors that freezes for minutes on end for no clear reason. (I'm on the beta update channel, so maybe I just need to step back to a stable version -- but, even there, they're updating the damn thing almost every month, which is way too often for a browser.) I'm currently on 14.0 beta 6, for my sins.
  • Entourage, my e-mail program -- the problem here is possibly the opposite of Firefox, since I'm still on Office 2004 (and I don't really feel like spending $200 to update to something that I'll mostly use to work on documents for my job).
  • And then iTunes, which takes about five minutes to open each day, while it's doing something. (I suspect it's checking every single song in my library -- and there's over 23,000 of them -- for signs of piracy.) If this is the problem, I really don't know what to do -- I'm pretty locked-in to Apple's plug-and-play music ecosystem, with two iPods and an iPad.
I don't seriously expect anyone out there to have an answer -- though I more and more suspect it's Firefox, and that I should shift over to Safari and see how that works. (I already use Chrome and Opera for browsing occasionally, and have radically different sets of bookmarks in each of those.)  I think I even still have Mozilla installed, though I bet that hasn't been updated in a long time.

No, really, I'm just venting, since I am a blogger and that is what we do. This also looks like content to a cursory glance, and I have been feeling guilty about how empty Antick Musings has been recently. But commiseration and/or suggestions are certainly welcome.

Storstadens puls

Nyligen hemkommen från Paris reflekterar jag om vad det är som gör storstadens puls så enerverande men lockande, så vidrig och ändå så inspirerande. En hatkärlek med inslag av båda ytterligheter. Lika mycket som storstadens hysteriska puls lockar och bjuder på allt du kan önska dig av kultur och fart, lika mycket irriterar den med alla avarter av stressande, avfall och hänsynslöshet. Alla rosförsäljare som tror att jag köper en ros om de bara trycker upp den mitt i ansiktet, ficktjuvar, prostitution och bilförare utan det minsta omdöme. Alla sopor och dessa oräkneliga souveniraffärer med ren dynga och dessa stressade kostymnissar som tror att de är världens centrum och bara kan ta för sig...

På motsatta sidan alla caféer, muséer, alla oväntade möten som skapar kultur och förståelse, denna gryta av liv och rörelse. Härligt att besöka, men lika härligt att lämna.

Ingen har skildrat detta bättre musikaliskt, text- eller stämnings-mässigt än Bruce Cockburn i "Tokyo" från mästerverket "Humans" 1980:


When Is Spam Not Spam?

So I recently [1] had an apologetic e-mail from someone I suspect may be a fellow marketer.

He was trying to promote a project, and hired an Internet marketing company to do that...and, only later, he learned that by "promote" they meant "spam on unrelated places in not-particularly-useful ways." And so he was running around, apologizing for those spammy bits of outreach and asking for them to be taken down. (I've just deleted the comment in question.)

That particularly mildly spammy comment had slipped by me, so I went to check it out, and found it was a link to an infographic on the History of Logistics and Supply Chain Management. Now, neither the original apologetic guy nor his too-slipshod Internet marketers apparently know this, but I, too, am a marketer, and one area I work in is supply chain management.

So, yes, I was spammed, since the link wasn't related to the topic of this blog. (Whatever that is on any given day.) But I was pointed at an well-crafted resource, in an area which is not uninteresting to me.

So then the question becomes: was that link actually spam, since I was interested in it once I noticed it? And is there a fuzzy border, where spammy content bumps up against content-y spam, and nothing is quite clearly one or the other?

[1] "Recently," in this context, means "about a month ago." E-mails often sit in my inbox to simmer in their own juices for far too long.

A Little Levity for a Friday

These may not actually be the absolute 10 Worst Book Covers in the History of Literature, but they're definitely on the shortlist.

My favorite is right here:

Double Penetrator! Try to tell me that was inadvertent! Just try!

Movie Log: Catching Up Once Again

I haven't seen a movie in over a month -- at this point, I'm paying Netflix a substantial sum so I can hold onto a copy of The Descendants in case of emergency -- and I'm still a dozen movies behind. So it must be time for another speed round. Here's what I can recall about the movies I've seen in the last six months or so:

We saw Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses within a week, and don't they just sound like they deserve to be reviewed together? Of course they do. And they're very similar movies: medium-dumb comedies with a lot of earthy humor and just enough titillation to ensure an R-rating. Horrible Bosses is the better of the two, with an ensemble of good actors all having fun and selling the premise -- Strangers on a Train, only they're already friends and want to be rid of their respective supervisors -- pretty well. Bad Teacher is louder and even less subtle, relying primarily on Cameron Diaz's willingness to be unlikable in a horribly wonderful way, and the title is the pitch: she's a really, really rotten teacher, and a worse human being, but (as all protagonists must in modern movies) she Comes To Learn Better by the last reel.

The fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, On Stranger Tides, has very little of the excellent Tim Powers novel that supplied its title visible. (Probably the most Powersian thing is that an important mermaid is named Serena -- yes, that's how much of the novel survived.) It's better than the flabby second and third movies, with some good scenery-chewing work from Ian McShayne, Penelope Cruz, and (of course) Johnny Depp, and decent action-movie set-piece scenes. But the Lego video game is much, much better.

I nominated Paul for the Hugo last year. It's not that good, honestly, but it was pleasant, and it was an honest-to-God SF movie that I actually saw. And it's not like I have so much respect for the Dramatic Presentation Hugo in the first place, so I'd be happy if it went to pleasant junky entertainment rather than to equally junky entertainment that fans believe is Important and Meaningful. Seth Rogen doing fart jokes in voice-over is what should win that Hugo, in my mind.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is a good movie that hasn't stuck much in my mind; it had a complicated structure (that didn't seem complicated while watching -- a good sign), a passel of fine actors doing mostly subtle work (the big brawl scene being the major counter-example), and stories that were both about and appealed to grownups. There should be more movies like that.

Friends With Benefits was yet another one of those they-start-fucking, he-wants-to-have-a-relationship, she-balks-and-acts-fratboyish comedies that are popping up like weeds. (The best, so far, is the one with Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs, because the girls actually has a good reason there, the plot is specific rather than generic, and the sex scenes are actually sexy.) FWB was a perfectly cromulent date movie, particularly for the younger folks, but nothing more than that.

The Muppets, on the other hand, was totally wonderful and fun, in that inimitable Muppet manner. It has excellent cameos, a great sense of humor about itself and everything else, and could have been perfect if it weren't quite so Mary Sue-ish and the main Muppet character so colorless.

Harry Potter 8 -- don't expect me to type out the full, far-too-long title -- finally ended the series, with lots of action and Mr. Potter acting just as dull and mildly stupid and thoughtless as in the books (and as like far too many real teenagers, I suppose). It's a thing, and that thing is now finally over. Kids 5-10 years older than my sons will be obsessing about these movies for the rest of their lives, which kinda sucks for them, but they're gonna obsess about something, right?

Midnight in Paris is another movie I nominated for the Hugo, and wanted to win (as much as I wanted anything to win that award). I haven't kept up with Woody Allen's movies the way I'd have liked -- some day I need to sit down and run through all of them in order; that would be a great project -- but he's always a smart, thoughtful filmmaker, and stories about stories and art tend to bring out his better tendencies. And Owen Wilson is just fun to watch -- I don't know what it is about him and that marble-mouthed, loose-limbed slacker sensibility, but he just makes the movies he's in more enjoyable just by being there.

50/50 is a Message Movie about a Serious Thing, and also a comedy, which made for some tonal whiplash. It's somewhat above the level of a Lifetime Movie of the Week, but not so far that you couldn't see it from there.

Three and Out was a fun little British movie about a London underground driver who accidentally kills two people with his train (both suicides), and then is told that, if he hits a third within a month, he hits the subway-driver lottery, and is pensioned off with a nice package to assuage his presumed broken spirit. So he sets off in search of that third person to kill...and the movie gets more conventional and less black-comic than I was hoping, since he finds that candidate in Colm Meaney, who wants one last piss-up weekend before he jumps in front of the cow-catcher. I'm afraid this movie has Life Lessons as well, but it's pretty good despite that.

Quote of the Day

"If state and local governments had followed the pattern of the previous two recessions, they would have added 1.4 million to 1.9 million jobs and overall unemployment would be 7.0 to 7.3 percent instead of 8.2 percent."
- Ben Polak and Peter K. Schott, "America's Hidden Austerity Program"

Terry Goodkind to Self-Publish

Publishers Weekly reports today that Terry Goodkind will self-publish his next book, The First Confessor, in July.

No word about format, pricing, or retailers, but one assumes that you'll be able to get it, somehow, from that big online bookstore named after a river. (The title leads me to assume it's a prequel to the "Sword of Truth" books, but I could very easily be wrong; I haven't read any of them in quite a while.)

Goodkind is can I put this delicately?...perfectionist in his dealings with publishing companies, so perhaps he will be happier being his own production manager, copyeditor, marketing director, publicist, cover artist, shipping coordinator, editor, publisher, shipping clerk and general factotum. Good luck to him, I suppose: the most successful self-published authors tend to be those that already have an established audience, and "multiple New York Times bestseller" is definitely an established audience.

(Other things that characterize highly successful self-publishers, which may be less germane to Goodkind: being female, writing romance, being highly and directly engaged with one's readers.)

The Uncut, Unbelievably Awkward Elevator Scene from “Return of the Jedi”

What it says on the tin, from Francesco Marciuliano, writer of the Sally Forth comic strip (and other stuff, too).

It's funny, it's flat pictures, and it's geeky: what more could you want?

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/9

Here comes another week, I'm afraid -- but, before it really gets started (at least in my time zone), here's a short listing of books that arrived in my mailbox last week, with my hopes that one or more of them will be so appealing to you that it will automatically brighten your outlook and get you whistling a happy tune.

(Results not typical, or guaranteed. Consult your physician if whistling a happy tune persists for more that four hours.)

David Brin is back with his first new novel in a decade (Kiln People was way back in 2002), Existence. It's a big near-future novel with many viewpoint characters and what may be an Enigmatic Alien Artifact -- so my guess is that this is Brin back in Earth-mode, concerned with the future of mankind, privacy, life in the universe, and similar weighty topics. It's coming as a Tor hardcover on the 19th.

I also have July's paperbacks from DAW books, and there's a momentous change: there's only two of them. There's the usual reprint from a 2011 hardcover, and a brand-new novel, but, for the first time in I-don't-want-to-bother-to-look-up-how-long, there's no anthology from the Tekno Books mills of Green Bay. Time will only tell if this is a momentary hiccup in the pipeline, or the beginning of the end. (Well, asking someone at DAW would probably also provide some sort of answer, but I'm just a guy blogging his mail, not a reporter!)

Anyway, the two DAW mass-markets for next month include Diana Rowland's Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues, the second in the contemporary fantasy series that began with My Life as A White Trash Zombie. And, yes, they're about a young female zombie -- who still has most of her own brains, despite her desire for eating brains -- who is not overly refined. (That's her, presumably, on the cover.)

And the other DAW paperback this month is Citadels of the Lost by Tracy Hickman, the second in the epic "Annals of Drakis" series. (The first book was Song of the Dragon.) It's an epic fantasy series, of course, with a cruel elf empire, plucky human slaves battling long odds, and, most definitely, dragons.