Read in February

I didn't specifically plan to start reading a book every day this month, but (as I write this), I'm tracking at that level for the first time in about two years. Now, I'm not complaining, just surprised at my own actions -- as I so often am. I expect there will be a lot more short reviews below than the recent standard, but I've also learned not to make predictions or promises.

Jimmy Gownley, Her Permanent Record (2/1)

Paul Collins, The Murder of the Century (2/1)

Chip Kidd & Dave Taylor, Batman: Death by Design (2/3)

George O'Connor, Poseidon: Earth Shaker (2/4)

Michael Goodwin & Dan E. Burr, Economix (2/4) -- Goodwin is a freelance writer who clearly was influenced by Larry Gonick at an early age; this book takes Gonick's approach to history and applies that (also organized historically) to the dismal science. Along the way, Goodwin (with expressive, data-packed art by Kings in Disguise artist Burr) shows a surprising amount of love for Adam Smith, though he comes down on a somewhat lefty, pro-economic-intervention viewpoint. (Of course, the pure laissez-faire types are either deeply stupid or mendacious, since no human system runs perfectly without any controls -- and Goodwin is good at making the necessary cases against those very self-centered folks.) Though, since Economix is organized historically, it will only be the very most Whiggish of readers who find anything at all to complain about before the last couple of chapters -- and so Goodwin sets his trap. Because if you agree with him about the causes of the problems of the Gilded Age and the Great Depression -- and, even more so, if you agree with him about the successful solutions to those problems -- then he's halfway to convincing you that our era, with very similar problems, should call for similar solutions. I should be clear: there is some axe-grinding here, but Goodwin does present the ideas of laissez-faire economists honestly and appropriately, and embeds those ideas into the fabric of their times, from Ricardo through to Friedman. In the end, Economix is about as detailed and funny and thoughtful a look at economics as anyone could have hoped for.

Jacob Chabot, The Mighty Skullboy Army, Vol. 2 (2/5) -- Skullboy is a great comic creation -- a grade-school would-be world conqueror with, yes, a skull for a head and two main minions (a robot and a monkey) who are not nearly as competent as Skullboy hopes they would be. And Chabot's appealing clean, newspaper-comics-inspired lines makes their adventures (mostly misadventures) just as lovely as they are funny. (I saw the first volume of his adventures back in 2007, and everything I said then still applies.) This book collects Chabot's Skullboy minicomics from 2007 through 2011 -- in other words, from after the first book until there was enough for a second book. There are stories of mixed length here -- some quick strips and some longer adventures -- plus a few extras, like the slightly related "Renegade Cop," which has a lot of fun with exactly the cliches you expect it to. The cover is also not just fun in itself, but acts as something like a table of contents -- you can track every element to a particular story by the time the book is over. This is funny and smart and appropriate for even grade-school kids, and I hope ten years from now I can complain how the Skullboy TV show isn't as good as the comics were, even though millions of people love it.

Roger Langridge, SNARKED!, Vol. 1: Forks and Hope (2/6) -- Langridge, who's been kicking around comics for a couple of decades doing interesting, quirky (and usually based on deeply old-fashioned and unusual media and styles) stuff like Fred the Clown and (more recently) a bunch of surprisingly excellent Muppet Show stories, decided to launch his own series, with characters and settings he could own himself. Of course, being Roger Langridge, he apparently couldn't do so simply, and so this is a fantasy-world version of various Lewis Carroll verses, mostly (so far) "The Walrus and the Carpenter" and "The Hunting of the Snark." This collection gathers the first five issues of the series, which is mostly scene-setting: we meet the rascally inventive Wilberforce J. Walrus and his compatriot, the easily-led carpenter Clyde McDunk, as well as the missing Red King's heirs, the feisty young Princess Scarlett and the toddling Prince Russell. It's not as convoluted or slapstick or silly as some of Langridge's other work -- it's swashbuckling, but so far pretty sunny, with that Victorian sense that the odds are completely stacked against Our Heroes, but that they will of necessity prevail in the end because their hearts are pure. (That's Scarlett and Russell, mind you -- Walrus and McDunk are as impure as it's possible to be in a book with an intended audience that can't get into PG-13 movies.) So far, it feels like a weak-tea version of Langridge to me, but I have to admit I'm no expert on his work. And it is still early days. But, so far, the art is lovely and the story is pleasant but no more.

Gilbert Hernandez, Love from the Shadows(2/7)

Jim Butcher, Cold Days (2/8) -- It's the fourteenth book in a long-running and extremely popular urban fantasy series, so anything I could say about it would be beside the point. (I've also spilled quite a bit of ink on Harry Dresden and his world over the past few years, with reviews of the novels Small Favor, Turn Coat, Changes, and Ghost Story and the collection Side Jobs.) The escalation of Dresden's power that's been going on the whole series continues, but Butcher has whole vistas of enemy power that he can reveal -- this book in particular sees Butcher's love for epic fantasy deeply influencing this series, with an artifact that could have George R.R. Martin cocking an eyebrow, among several other new big pieces of series furniture -- and the enemy will always vastly overmatch Harry Dresden, no matter how much power Harry ever gets. That's the whole point of Dresden: he's tough, cocky, plucky, and always the underdog. And, despite what some fans might think, these books are popcorn, and are filled with easy answers to hard questions, so the appropriate response to this one is: it's a hell of a ride, a wonderfully enjoyable pulp adventure.

Lucy Knisley, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (2/11) -- This publishes in early April, so I've scheduled my review post to go live then. (Since I know how much it annoys me and my colleagues when reviews run too early.)

Ayun Halliday & Paul Hoppe, Peanut (2/12)

Jack Vance & Humayoun Ibrahim, The Moon Moth (2/13)

Kaoru Mori, Kaoru Mori: Anything and Something (2/14)

Lisa Lutz, The Spellmans Strike Again (2/14) -- The fourth book in the humorous mystery series (I read the first one in November and the next two last month) continues Izzy Spellman's long-delayed, and long-fought-against, maturation: she's 32 here, and almost ready for a normal adult relationship. Of course, the rest of her family is no better -- her parents somehow can stay together, though they don't deal with the rest of the world healthily at all -- especially her incredibly self-motivated younger sister Rae. In this book, Lutz continues to shake up the series -- I'm quite impressed how she doesn't allow any of the relationships or trigger points to stay stable from year to year, since they usually don't in real life. And, for a mystery, the series is still focused on what PIs really do: trace missing people, work for lawyers, try to dig up dirt on their competition. (Well, maybe not the last quite as much.) It's smart about people, it's funny, it's set in what feels like a real world, and there's an overall arc to the series -- that's already vastly better than what usually passes for a "humorous mystery" these days. I'm nearly caught up now, which is a shame -- particularly since I'm sure this is a series that can't run for decades; Lutz's story will go somewhere in particular and then end, as all stories must.

Jody Leheup, editor, Strange Tales II (2/15) -- Every successful genre story has a sequel, even if it isn't really a "story" to begin with, and so 2009's Strange Tales begat 2011's Strange Tales II, more stories of the Marvel superheroes by indy-comics writers and artists. See my review of the first collection (linked in the previous sentence) for details of the concept and execution; this one is pretty much just more of the same, by some of the same people and some new names (Harvey Pekar! Kate Beaton! Jeffrey Brown! Ivan Brunetti! Rafael Grampa! Nick Gurewitch! Shannon Wheeler! Jhonen Vasquez! Los Bros Hernandez! David Heatley! Terry Moore! Alex Robinson!). Only a few of the pieces are legitimately alternative -- rather than the kind of thing that could have fit into the intermittent Marvel-making-fun-of-itself comics like Not Brand Eccch or What The-?! -- like Tony Millionaire's vision of Thor running a cheap roller-coaster. In fact, a lot of these stories could actually be in-continuity: they're cutesy or "emotional" moments about the big franchise characters, who all act recognizably as their heroic, Universe 616 selves. In short, these tales aren't particularly Strange at all; they're just drawn in styles that the long-underwear crowd is less familiar with.

Junya Inoue, Btoom!, Vol. 1 (2/19)

Tsutomu Nihei, Knights of Sidonia, Vol. 1 (2/20)

Lawrence Block & Donald E. Westlake, A Girl Called Honey (in Hellcats and Honeygirls) (2/20) -- There was a time when sex couldn't be depicted in art directly. If you're my age or younger in the Western world, you've never lived in that society -- but you've seen its artifacts, and the cramped and twisted ways artists tried to fit what they wanted to say about sex into what they could legally say about sex. The "sex novels" of the post-war era -- so lurid for their time they had to be sold under the counter, produced by shady companies with mob ties, and written by hacks under pseudonyms -- were one of those twisted forms, though a number of good writers came out of that world. Two of them were Block and Westlake, and Hellcats and Honeygirls reprints the three books they wrote together, alternating chapters, as quickly as possible to get it done and get paid. The prose is a bit rougher than their later work, understandably, but there's flashes of both men's insight and wit along the way. What soured me after reading just the first of those three books, though, was the poisonous gloom of the time, the relentless subconscious moralizing, of that world back when women had to be chaste (and never caught) to preserve themselves for the marriage that would be the only possible good thing they could ever aspire to. It looks like the other two books in this omnibus, So Willing and Sin Hellcat, might not be quite as gloomy or end as moralistically as Honey did, but I think I need to put this aside for a while, and come back, maybe, some day later. Both Block and Westlake have written a lot of books -- dozens, each of them, better than any of these -- so I'll have plenty to choose from until that day. (See also my review of Block's two pulp novels Strange Embrace and 69 Barrow Street, for similar issues in slightly later, slightly more mystery-focused novels.)

MiSun Kim, Aron's Absurd Armada, Vol. 1 (2/21)

Yuuki Kodama, Blood Lad, Vol. 1 (2/22)

Mari Yamazaki, Thermae Romae, Vol. 1 (2/25)

Lucius Shepard, The Taborin Scale (2/25) -- This was one of Shepard's periodic stories about the malevolent, and nearly dead, dragon Griaule, who lies dominating a valley in a world only slightly removed from ours -- a novella published as a book in 2010 by Subterranean. (I see that there's a big collection of all of the Griaule stories now; I must get that.) Shepard was one of my favorite writers even back before I worked for the SFBC, but I haven't read as much of his work over the past decade -- I've been focused on novels, and he's mostly been publishing novellas-as-expensive-books -- and I lost all of my Shepard books in the flood of 2011. So perhaps it's time to start again with one of the speculative fiction's fields best writers, and this dark story of the influence of Griaule -- and you can take him as a metaphor for anything you wish, or for nothing at all -- is a sharp place to start.

Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, & Ramon K. Perez, Jim Henson's Tale of Sand (2/26) -- Henson, the puppeteer and impresario, wrote three drafts of a heavily stylized, symbolic screenplay with his writing partner and employee Jerry Juhl in the late '60s, but Tale of Sand never got made, pushed aside as Henson's Muppets generated more work and ideas and projects than even Henson could juggle. Forty years later, those screenplays were turned into a graphic novel by Perez, under the beady eye of Henson's family and corporate apparatus, which is an odd afterlife for what would have been an aggressively artsy, "difficult" movie. Tale of Sand is the story of an Everyman named Mac who is chased through a heavily symbolic series of adventures in the American Southwest by a frankly devilish figure, with minimal dialogue and what would have been maximal imagery. Perez creates the paper equivalent of a mind-expanding '60s story, and keeps it only mildly of its time, which is a serious achievement. (One major plot point centers on Mac trying to light his single cigarette for what would be a reel or two of the movie, for example.) This never was going to be a major piece of the Henson oevure, but it now has something like a finished form, and it's amusingly weird. It could have done much worse.

Faith Erin Hicks, The Adventures of Superhero Girl (2/27) -- I've seen a bunch of Hicks's books before (The War at Ellsmere, Friends With Boys, Brain Camp, Zombies Calling), and generally liked them, but this is the first book of hers that I've unabashedly loved. It collects the webcomic of the same name, a slice-of-life series of single-page looks at one young superheroine and her not-so-exciting life in a small, mostly peaceful Canadian city. Superhero Girl dresses sensibly, fights the crime she can find, worries about getting a real job to cover her rent, learns knitting, has a bad hair day, meets her nemesis, suffers when her does-everything-better older brother Kevin comes to town, and generally lives her life. Each strip is individually funny, and the whole thing is even better than that -- it's an image of a kind of comic that isn't about sex and violence for the sake of shock, but about people and their lives. It's fun and funny and wonderful, and it makes me wish I had daughters so I could gleefully give it to them. (So my sons will just have to do, I suppose.)

Lisa Lutz, Trail of the Spellmans (2/27) -- The fifth and most recent in the humorous mystery series, which I've been reading for the past four months. Everything I've said before still applies: Izzy Spellman is an terribly engaging, realistically screwed-up narrator, and her family is worse -- though they're another couple of years older here, and continue to change in ways that neither match conventional sitcom plots (everything put back in the box at the end) or the endlessly-accumulating nice things of so many long-running series. This series is a template for not just how to write funny, entertaining stories, but how to do so honestly, and to do them as novels rather than just disposable entertainment. These books are something really special, and I'm sorry to realize that I'll have to wait another year or so for the next book from Lutz now.

Bryan Talbot, Grandville Bete Noire (2/28)

And that was February -- look for reviews of the missing titles to show up over the next week or so (I've got a long weekend coming up to get them done, and they're nearly all stuff sent for review, so I'll fell guilty until I do it!)


Someone with a lot of time, patience, and LEGO on her hands -- if I'm reading it right, her name is Alice Finch -- has recreated the movie version of Harry Potter's Hogwarts School in over 400,000 LEGO bricks.

This thing is absolutely stunning, and seems to be essentially created to scale, as well. I can easily believe that it took a year to build. Very, very impressive.

There are lots of stunning pictures at the link above; this isn't just a big thing, it's an insanely detailed, carefully created big thing, which is doubly awesome.

(via Laughing Squid)

Love From the Shadows by Gilbert Hernandez

This is another one of Hernandez's oddball side projects -- Love from the Shadows is not actually set in the world of Palomar and his other Love & Rockets stories, but it's the retelling of a fictional movie from that world, starring Hernandez's character Luba in a prominent role. (Clear?) It follows the similar graphic novels Chance in Hell and The Troublemakers as well as Speak of the Devil, which has an even more complicated relationship to Hernandez's usual fictional continuity. (If any alt-comicker ever goes full Crisis in his stories, it will be Gilbert Hernandez; he's always had a fascination for metafiction and a willingness to be as complicated as he can.)

So this particular story is meant to evoke a dark, elliptical indy movie -- made by the Hernandez-world equivalent of David Lynch, perhaps -- in which style is as important as substance, and the most important things are never actually said or shown. (Although there's more on-panel sex and nudity than probably any director could get away with.) There's a dysfunctional family -- aged, sour novelist widower father; promiscuous hitting-middle-age daughter; tormented gay nurse son -- a mysterious and vastly symbolic cave, religious scam artists, an odd near-future religious sect of Monitors, and the usual torment, betrayal, and death you'd expect from a small, serious movie.

The plot isn't the point, but the point is opaque -- after all, this is meant to be the print version of a non-existent movie, so the particular artistic point the movie could have made is not quite what the book can convey. Hernandez puts together compelling pages, and creates characters with intriguing   quirks, but the whole thing feels more like an exercise than a creative work.

Batman: Death by Design by Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor

Chip Kidd is a smart guy who does some great work (many of his cover designs, as collected in Book One; his first novel, The Cheese Monkeys) and who also gets in his own way by being too smart all too often (his second novel, The Listeners; most of the books of comics he's designed, like Bat-Manga!, Jack Cole and Plastic Man, Peanuts). So I was somewhat sanguine coming into Batman: Death by Design; I wasn't sure which Chip Kidd would show up.

But Good Chip Kidd is usually in control when he's telling his own stories -- it's primarily when he's packaging someone else's material that Bad Chip Kidd assumes control -- and so Death by Design, though a bit cluttered with Kidd's enthusiasms and not really, at its core, a Batman story, turns out to be an entertaining graphic novel set in a vaguely mid-century out-of-continuity Gotham City obsessed with architecture. It's a quite wordy book, and Batman isn't nearly as central or important as he usually is in a story with his name and face on the cover -- it could almost serve as a launching point for Exacto, the vigilante architect, if DC or Kidd wanted it to.

I was also amused that one of the primary figures of evil here is the union boss who ruined the old Wayne Central Station of Gotham; who says that those effete New York types are all reflexively leftist? But, in the end, it's the usual thing for an out-of-continuity superhero story: set in a romanticized and simplified version of the creator's favorite past era, with lots of appropriate baubles and gewgaws, only as much characterization as is required to keep the story going, some sturdy superhero-ing, and whatever semi-extraneous enthusiasm the creators bring to it: in this case, mid-century architecture.

Basse Wickman solo en trio-upplevelse

Basse Wickman, Big Ben, Stockholm 2013-02-25

 foto: Fanny Holm

Redan när Basse Wickman tar de första ackorden förstår jag att det här kommer bli en härlig kväll med en sångkonstnär utöver det vanliga. Det är nästan 20 år sedan jag såg Basse solo. Då på ett litet musikfik i Linköping, "Big Bang". Nu på trevliga "Big Ben" på Söder i Stockholm. Mycket har hänt sedan dess, Basse har sedan länge börjat skriva på svenska och gjort några imponerande skivor. Ändå är det mesta sig likt, Basse är fortfarande lite av en doldis och det är fruktansvärt orättvist.

Jag tror jag tar det i punktform:
 Basse sjunger ruskigt bra och har en egen klart personlig klang. Eric Andersen sade en gång: "He's a very, very good singer".
 Han är en riktigt bra gitarrist som varierat kompar sig själv och dekorerar därtill smakfullt sina låtar.
 Basse skriver melodiösa och medryckande melodier som fastnar och växer ju mer man lyssnar. "Sailing Down The Years" känns än idag fräsch.
 Han skriver sina texter, framför allt sedan han började skriva på svenska, med en poetisk elegans som få andra här i landet, med oväntade motsatser och träffsäkra ordval.
 På scen berättar han roligt och personligt om låtarnas uppkomst och det finns inga onödiga dödpunkter, utan rakt vidare till nästa låt. På så sätt hinner han med ovanligt mycket under en kväll.

På Big Ben får han efter en stund delikat support på scenen av Totte Bergström på gitarr och Christer Jonasson på slide. Både gör sina solon så suveränt, om än helt olika. Publiken är inte sena att visa uppskattning.

foto: Helena Eija Hjelm
Vi får höra både gamla och nya låtar, både på svenska och engelska, både egna och några kända covers, till och med Alf Hambe och Dan Andersson finns med på ett hörn. Basse börjar med ett par sånger jag tror var nya och som jag definitivt vill höra igen.

"Bilderna Bleknar" och "Flammande vind" tillhör de bästa sånger som skrivits på svenska och Basse gör dem bättre än någonsin. "Fönsterbord Mot Världen" och "Mitt Nakna Hjärta" är inte långt efter. Jag önskar att vi fått höra "På Väg Igen" och "Dit Vindarna Vill", eller hans fina tolkning av Iain Matthews "Rhythm of the West", men det är faktiskt så att han har alldeles för många bra sånger för att alla ska rymmas under en kväll.

Jag ska sluta gnälla om att fler borde upptäcka hans musik.... Jag är glad att jag gjort det, för länge sen, och att de som var på Big Ben också gjort det. Eller för att återknyta till Eric Andersen under sitt framträdande i Linköping på 80-talet: "You never heard of him? Welcome to Sweden...!" Han kunde för sitt liv inte begripa att vi bara var några få som hört talas om Basse... Inte jag heller! Än idag...

Basse Wickmans hemsida - med biografi, diskografi och lite att lyssna på.

"Utan drömmare, visionärer, sällsamma existenser – gud vad fattigt musiklivet skulle vara. Den på myter så fattiga svenska rockmusiken behöver alla de särlingar den kan få. Alla de som verkligen vill gå sin egen väg, alla de som vägrar ge upp hur smal än gränden blir.
- Frank Östergren om Basse Wickman i Hifi & Musik.

Carving Out a New Nook in the Market

When Barnes & Noble hints that they're going to slow-track their Nook e-reader business and "focus more on licensing their content to other device makers" -- as reported by The New York Times on Sunday -- what on earth are they talking about?

B&N is a retailer; they don't own the content they sell. They don't even own the relationship with the content providers -- that's all on the publishers. So how can they possibly find a successful business strategy out of trying to shove themselves into the middle of a marketplace that has been aggressively shedding middlemen for several years?

Are they trying to imply that they think Nook technology is so special and unique -- unlike a thousand other e-readers, most of which failed -- that they can live on licensing it to some other company that wants to beat its head against Amazon's predatory discounts for a few years?

Seriously, is there any strategy that could conceivably work behind that quote, or is it just bland waffling to hide the true cluelessness beneath?

A Short Political Comment, In Re the US 2nd Amendment

Directed to whoever needs to hear it:

Look, nimrod, no part of the Constitution gives you the right to rebel against the government. No part of any legitimate country's legal framework could do so, and, in the case of the US, rebellion is specifically outlawed in the Constitution -- Article III, Section 3, under Treason: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

If you declare that you need guns to battle against the government, you are not protecting your rights under the 2nd Amendment; you are actually declaring your intent to betray your country. Perhaps it's time to empty the prisons of drug criminals so we can fill them up anew with traitors.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/23

One of the fun things about "Reviewing the Mail" is how the flow of mail is radically different from week to week -- some times I'm buried, and some times (like this week) there are two swell little books to write about.

Either way, the same caveats apply: these just arrived, so I haven't read them yet. Anything I write below could be wrong -- I certainly hope not, but the Vatican hasn't yet approved my application to be Pope Hornswoggler I, so I'm not officially infallible at this point. But here's what I can tell you this week:

Matt Kindt has been recently stretching his talents beyond his original WWII-era spy milieu (see his excellent Super Spy, the nearly as excellent warm-up 2 Sisters, and the sidebar Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers), with the historical but not spy-focused 3 Story, the SFnal multiple worlds puzzle Revolver, and his current ongoing SF saga, Mind MGMT. But he also found time to do another standalone book, Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes, coming in May from First Second. Red Handed is a detective story -- also apparently historical, set in what looks like the postwar era -- following Detective Gould (and I can't believe that name, in a comic, could be accidental) as he traces the eccentric and random crimes of the town of Red Wheelbarrow.

Also from First Second in May is Odd Duck, a graphic novel for younger readers from writer Cecil Castellucci (The Plain Janes, Janes in Love, and other comics work, as well as young adult novels) and artist Sara Varon (creator of the deeply sweet graphic novels Bake Sale and Robot Dreams). It's about Theodora, a perfectly normal duck (she's the one with the teacup balanced on her head), and Chad, who is quite bizarre (he's the other fella). I suspect there may be A Lesson here, but Varon's drawings are so charming I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe

Teenagers are trying to invent themselves, more than anything else: to become who they want to be, just as soon as they can figure out what that is. And how better to do that then to just announce who and what you are? Sadie decided that's what she'd do, when she started her sophomore year at a new high school: she'd start off by telling all of her new classmates about her life-threatening peanut allergy.

There was just one catch: Sadie didn't really have a peanut allergy. It was just something to make her more interesting at the new school, a way to attract attention and new friends. But a peanut allergy doesn't go away, so she was stuck with living her lie -- as long as she could.

Peanut is a graphic novel for teens, written by indy cartoonist Ayun Halliday (East Village Inky) and drawn by illustrator/cartoonist Paul Hoppe -- and, although Halliday's previous comics work (and a lot of her other books) were autobiographical, this one is purely fiction, as far as I can tell. (So many comics aimed outside of the long-underwear ghetto are memoirs these days that I won't be the only one wondering about this.)

Hoppe uses a crisp, entirely realistic style to tell this story -- mostly thin blue lines, with a splash of red for Sadie -- and Halliday's first-person narration lets Sadie tell her story in a similarly clear, direct way. Sadie finds attention -- and a new boyfriend -- with her new peanut allergy, but of course she doesn't know if she'd have those friends, and that quirky boyfriend (he sends her notes in origami and refuses to use a cellphone) without the big fake revelation.

Peanut is a closely observed story of modern suburban teens, with nasty queen bees, friends as devoted as only fifteen-year-olds can be, and one very conflicted teen girl at the middle of it all. It's heavily narrated by Sadie, as focused through her point of view as a traditional first-person novel would be, so the reader stays in her head (and, presumably, on her side) the whole time. The stakes aren't particularly high here -- just Sadie's honesty and happiness, though that's not nothing -- unlike so much of the popular current teen fiction. It's a bit conventional -- it doesn't go in any of the interesting directions that a more fantastical book about a lying teen girl like Justine Larbalestier's Liar does -- but it has a good heart, it tells a good story, and it looks good along the way.

Skåpmålarmusik del 10: Jim Hanft

Skiva 10: Jim Hanft - "Weddings Or Funerals" från 2010

Jag såg Jim Hanft och Samantha Yonack i Örebro i oktober 2010 och slogs av det nästan brutala anslaget och intensiteten utan ett uns av tvekan. Då hade han nyligen gett ut sin andra fullängdsskiva "Weddings Or Funerals". När jag sammanfattade det årets bästa skivor föll den bort ur minnet och min äldsta son blev lite irriterad, eftersom han såg den som den kanske allra bästa det året.

Förra sommaren hade jag skivan i bilen och föll definitivt. Starka låtar rakt igenom, spännande och varierade arrangemang och ett intensivt utspel, som om det gällde 'allt eller inget'. Jim Hanft sjunger och spelar gitarr, och Samantha Yonack bidrar med sångstämmor och även lite egen sång. Skivan är faktiskt inspelad i Sverige och det låter väldigt bra och samarbetet med producenten Lasse Mårtén och de svenska musikerna blev en lyckoträff. Lyssna på gitarren på videon ovan: Så ödsligt och så dramatiskt! "Weddings Or Funerals" är full av musik som glöder och som förtjänar all uppmärksamhet!

Sen dess har det varit ganska tyst om paret Hanft-Yonack, men går man in på deras blogg märker man att de stretar vidare. Då och då lägger de ut någon ny video med både nya låtar och en del covers, samt även en del skämt. Jag ser fram emot nästa skiva, för jag hoppas verkligen att det kommer en sådan!

Jim Hanft's hemsida - med intressant biografi. Hanft har prövat både baseball och komedi.
We Sing Along - Jim och Samanthas blogg med massvis av videos.
Recensioner av "Weddings Or Funerals" - sammanställda på ett ställe. T.ex. säger David Hedin i Ikon så här: "Det är alltid trevligt när man får recensera opretentiösa skapelser som ändå får en att lyfta på ögonbrynen och le vid varje ny detalj som smyger sig in i bakgrunden"

Free Matt Hughes!

Free him from the drudgery of having to do anything else but write his books, by causing immense piles of money to head his way from his massive sales!

How can you do this? It's easy -- first, download the sampler of his new book, Hell To Pay. (You may wish to consult reviews of the first two books in that trilogy, The Damned Busters and Costume Not Included. We'll wait while you do.)

Then, thrilled by the wonder that is Matt Hughes, go out and buy all of his books right away! Buy them for all of your friends and family members! Buy them as gifts for that old codger at the golf club! Buy them to hand out at the next Rotary Club meeting! Buy them until Matt Hughes is rightly regarded as one of our best writers, as he so obviously is!

Yes, you can Free Matt Hughes! All you you need to do to begin is download and read!

Impressing People Who Can't Do Math

I got an e-mail with this message in it some days ago, and it rolled up in my inbox until I had time to properly focus scorn upon it.

Oooh! I'm one of the top twenty million profiles! Let me drop everything and start celebrating.

If your marketing communications assume that your customers can't do basic math, you're doing it wrong.

Oh, and the Nebulas, Too

There was another set of award nominees announced this week -- not nearly as exciting as the Diagram Prize, but pretty swell nonetheless. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (whose acronym is still SFWA, because shut up) have passed through their first round, and brought forth the following nominees, which they will then vote on:

  • Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)
  • Ironskin, Tina Connolly (Tor)
  • The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
  • Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
  • 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
  • After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
  • “The Stars Do Not Lie,” Jay Lake (Asimov’s 10-11/12)
  • “All the Flavors,” Ken Liu (GigaNotoSaurus 2/1/12)
  • “Katabasis,” Robert Reed (F&SF 11-12/12)
  • “Barry’s Tale,” Lawrence M. Schoen (Buffalito Buffet)
  • “The Pyre of New Day,” Catherine Asaro (The Mammoth Books of SF Wars)
  • “Close Encounters,” Andy Duncan (The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories)
  • “The Waves,” Ken Liu (Asimov’s 12/12)
  • “The Finite Canvas,” Brit Mandelo ( 12/5/12)
  • “Swift, Brutal Retaliation,” Meghan McCarron ( 1/4/12)
  • “Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia,” Rachel Swirsky ( 8/22/12)
  • “Fade to White,” Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 8/12)
Short Story:
  • “Robot,” Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12)
  • “Immersion,” Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12)
  • “Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12)
  • “Nanny’s Day,” Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12)
  • “Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream,” Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12)
  • “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species,” Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/12)
  • “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” Cat Rambo (Near + Far)
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
  • The Avengers, Joss Whedon (director) and Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (writers), (Marvel/Disney)
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin (director), Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Abilar (writers), (Journeyman/Cinereach/Court 13/Fox Searchlight)
  • The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard (director), Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (writers) (Mutant Enemy/Lionsgate)
  • The Hunger Games, Gary Ross (director), Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray (writers), (Lionsgate)
  • John Carter, Andrew Stanton (director), Michael Chabon, Mark Andrews, and Andrew Stanton (writers), (Disney)
  • Looper, Rian Johnson (director), Rian Johnson (writer), (FilmDistrict/TriStar)
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book
  • Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
  • Black Heart, Holly Black (McElderry; Gollancz)
  • Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
  • The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
  • Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
  • Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
  • Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
  • Every Day, David Levithan (Knopf)
  • Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
  • Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
  • Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
  • Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)
Congratulations and good luck to all of the nominees, though I have to admit that I look at that Norton list and wonder what the hell happened -- was there an 8-way tie for fifth place?

Winners will be announced at the annual Nebula Awards Weekend, starting May 16th in lovely San Jose, California. During the same ceremony, Gene Wolfe will be officially invested with the full power and grandeur of a Grand Master, and may thus ascend bodily into SFnal heaven. You wouldn't want to miss that, would you?

(via most of the Internet, though I saw it first at

Diagram Prize Time Again

There's only one award in the book world that I love with all my heart, and that's the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. So it's great to see that it's that time once again: the indefatigable Horace Bent, "diarist" for The Bookseller (which is too stuffy and British to have a "blogger") and his colleagues have assembled their usual bizarre selection of topics that no one suspected needed to be written about:

My rooting inclinations are horribly torn this year -- my employer distributes Polity, so I like their Was Hitler Ill?, but David Rees comes out the webcomics world, which I also want to support. Goblinproofing sounds like a fantasy book, which is wonderful. But I think I have to come down on the side of How Tea Cosies Changed the World, simply because it is the oddest title of the bunch.

You can go through your own torments, if you like: voting is open to the public, and the results will be announced on March 22nd.

(And, on a personal note, I'm glad to see the odd titles coming back after what I thought was a disappointing outing last year.)

Skåpmålarmusik del 9: Karla Bonoff

Mitt skåp börjar nu bli ganska klart, men det finns fortfarnade lite musik att redovisa:

Skiva 9: Karla Bonoff - "Live" från 2007

Karla Bonoff är extraordinär låtskrivare och bland de mest kända av hennes alster är Bonnie Raitt's tolkning av den underbara "Home". Även Linda Ronstadt gjorde flera av Karlas låtar:
"Loose Again", "Somebody To Lay Down Beside Me" och "If He's Ever Near".

Karla Bonoff har själv gjort flera bra skivor, men den klart lysande är den dubbla live-skivan. Kvalitativa låtar fyllda av kärlekslängtan och hudnära förtröstan, framförda ytterst känsligt av Karla med Kenny Edwards på bas och bakgrundssång, samt den helt otroliga Nina Gerber på elgitarr. Hon står oftast utanför strålkastarljuset, men spelar så häpnadsväckande fint utan att egentligen kräva så mycket plats.

Karla Bonoff's hemsida - med bl.a alla låttexter och en utförlig biografi.

Bryndle - Grupp som bestod av Karla Bonoff, Wendy Waldman och de nu avlidna
Kenny Edwards och Andrew Gold.

Traveling by Map

I'm probably the only one who uses Google Maps to create completely implausible journeys, right?

What I mostly try to do is concoct the longest trip possible, and I think I've got a new high score -- walking directions from "Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa" to "Mataram, Indonesia." Total of 18,120 miles.

For those who like cheating, Google currently has a glitch (or hack, or feature -- take your pick) that allows "kayak across the Pacific" from the US West Coast, so I also worked out a trip from St. John's in Newfoundland to the furthest point in China I could find. (The cross-Pacific hack works for locations in China, but not for anything further West -- I tried to use Beijing as the mid-point of a Kansas City-to-London trip, and Google denied me.)

Oh, like your hobbies are so productive!

Borrowing E-Books

PW today has an article with lots of numbers -- though surprisingly little analysis or thought -- about Amazon's e-book borrowing program, part of its Amazon Prime subscription business. It burbles about how "the monthly pool for borrowed e-books in January grew to $1.7 million, the largest in the history of the program" without ever explaining how this pool is defined, how and why the value of the pool fluctuates, or how it works.

I assume this is because Amazon, as usual, is being deeply opaque, and only releasing a few numbers carefully chosen to make them look as good as possible. As far as I can tell, the "pool" is set by Amazon fiat -- they decide how much money they feel like spending on ebook "borrowing" that month, and then divide it up according to some unspecified algorithm. (There's clearly at least a breakdown geographically, since there's both a "global fund" and a "monthly pool," though their relationship is not made clear.)

I would have to dig into the Kindle Direct Publishing agreement to be sure, but my guess is that Amazon has not promised to give any money to the authors of these ebooks, and that they're papering over that in their ongoing attempt to convert as many of their customers as possible to Prime. (Because subscription revenue is what everyone wants -- particularly when you run a website and no one can call you on the phone to cancel.)

So authors should take note: Amazon may have decided to give you $2.23 per ebook "borrowed" in January, which is potentially higher than you would have made from a sale in that same period. But every piece of that transaction -- and every penny of resulting revenue -- is under Amazon's complete control; it looks like they don't have to pay you a cent for that "borrow" if they decide (after the month is over, like this time) not to.

And don't get me started on "borrowing" ebooks. Do you have a digital file in your possession? Then it only expires and leaves your possession if you (through choice or laziness or ineptitude) let it do so -- once you have a digital file, there are plenty of tools for any of us to copy and save and transmute it. So it's only "borrowing" by courtesy -- or only "borrowing" in the legal language laid out by the people giving you contracts to sign.

Poseidon: Earth Shaker by George O'Connor

I've said it several times and several ways, so I might as well be blunt this time: George O'Connor, with this series, could and should be to the current generation of young readers what Edith Hamilton was to mine and the generation or two before that. He's in the middle of a series of graphic novels about the Greek gods -- so far there have been Zeus, Athena, Hera, and Hades, with Aphrodite promised and, with luck, another half-dozen or so to follow that -- that combine deep scholarship, a thoughtful attention to the core elements of stories, a master draftsman's eye and hand for pages that tell those stories brilliantly, and a narrative voice that speaks straight to younger readers without ever talking down to them.

This time, with Poseidon, he takes on one of the least relatable of the Olympians -- sure, Hades seems cold and distant, but his story is all about wanting some human contact. Poseidon, on the other hand, is a figure of power and distant wrath in the myths, but rarely if ever descends to the human level -- he doesn't chase mortal women like Zeus, or bless a chosen city like Athena. O'Connor turns that around by letting Poseidon tell his own story...and we still don't get that close to him, but that's on purpose.

So Poseidon tells us how he, Hades, and Zeus split the world three ways -- the earth would be common to them all, but Hades had the underworld, Zeus the sky, and Poseidon the seas, as it must be. And then he tells the stories of some of his children -- as he says, "my children have tended to be monstrous" -- from the cyclopes Polyphemos to Theseus, and other stories, of how he contended with Athena for the patronage of the city that would become Athens, of how he and others rebelled against Zeus, of his dream of being free of his father Kronos's belly. And through it all, Poseidon is distant, mercurial, changing -- like the deep sea itself.

This book has a palette filled with deep greens and blues, as it must -- and O'Connor's art is both supple and muscular to show the battles and confrontations of this most contentious of gods. These books are really good -- O'Connor provides extensive annotations to his pages, plus thoughtful afterwords on the sources and stories, plus lists of further reading, plus discussion questions (suitable for book club or classroom), so you really couldn't ask for more. These are some of the deepest, best stories the human race has, and O'Connor is doing a magnificent job of bringing them to new life.