If you've made it past ten or more turns around the sun, you've probably figured out by now that a terrifying majority of your fellow travelers are far less removed from their animal forebears than they'd like to pretend.
In other words, way too many of them are horrible, scrabbling for anything they can get as long as the gettin's good. They're happy to pollute the planet, embrace a comforting ignorance, sell out their fellow human beings, and otherwise steal from the future to pay for the luxuries of the present.
And even the ones who aren't doing all that don't seem to be doing much about the ones who are.
Friday, May 28, 2010
If you've made it past ten or more turns around the sun, you've probably figured out by now that a terrifying majority of your fellow travelers are far less removed from their animal forebears than they'd like to pretend.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Forget Columbus or that Leif fellow. How about an explorer who was a eunuch? A Chinese eunuch commanding a regal fleet to cross the oceans. No, this isn't a Chinese food delivery joke.
While I adore fiction, some stories are true and weird. Such as: In the 15th century, China was one of the most advanced nations in the world and a naval power. Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming ruler sponsored seven expeditions. The emperor wanted to spread the influence of China, through controlling naval trade in the region. Zheng He, who, when he was eleven was captured and made into a eunuch (ouch, times were tough for prisoners back then), was a favored advisor to the Emperor, who appointed him as admiral of a huge fleet. Nowadays, if you lack balls, people razz you.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Nailer's world is bleak. He lives on the Gulf Coast, working on a light crew that salvages metal from wrecked ships. It's difficult, demanding work, pays barely enough for Nailer to survive, but provides the best life he can hope for. Until, in the aftermath of a deadly storm, Nailer and his crew boss, Pima, find a freshly wrecked clipper ship.
The clipper ship holds more wealth than Nailer and Pima have ever seen before: silverware, china, gold rings still stuck on the swollen fingers of a girl. The rings won't come off, and, believing the girl dead, Nailer is about to cut her fingers off when the girl blinks. She is still alive, and as she gains strength, she tells them that people will be searching for her.
The girl leaned forward, her face lit by the fire, her features suddenly cold. "If you hurt me, my father will come here and wipe you and yours off the face of the earth and feed your guts to the dogs." She sat back. "It's your choice: Get rich helping me, or die poor." (p. 113)But can Nailer trust Lucky Girl, as the girl with the gold rings was quickly named? And is she worth the risk? The clipper wreckage is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, while forgoing the wreckage and helping Lucky Girl will not only mean facing the dangers of Lucky Girl's secrets, but the wrath of Nailer's alcohol- and drug-addicted father, as well.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Philip Reeve's Fever Crumb is a book to sink into. For some of you, all I really need to say is "Prequel to the Mortal Engines Quartet" and you won't feel it's really necessary to read any more of this review. That would make you already a Philip Reeve fan. That would mean that you know that a Philip Reeve book is all about amazing world-building, creative vision, and characters as quirky and rounded as they come. A Philip Reeve book is a truly transporting experience. If you haven't yet read any of his work, I'd say Fever Crumb is a fine place to begin.
Fever Crumb takes place far in the future, a few centuries before the first book in The Hungry City Chronicles. Fever is a girl who was abandoned while she was still a baby, and raised by the Order of Engineers, scientists for whom logic is all. Years before this happened, Auric Godshawk, a powerful ruler and member of a strange social class known as the Scriven, was deposed during a violent uprising. Things haven't really been stable in London since that time. When she's nearly grown up, Fever is sent to work with an archaeologist named Kit Solent who believes that he may have found Godshawk's secret laboratory, where he hopes he may uncover amazing scientific secrets. At the same time, invaders are drawing closer to London's borders, and they have plans of their own for the city's future.
Where to start with why I loved this book? First off, there's an appealing Dickensian quality to it. I think it has something to do with the way that the atmosphere is alternately gritty and then suddenly funny, and how the characters are perfectly captured in their smallest gestures and interactions with other characters. You will feel like you are reading a real tale, a little bit old-fashioned in feel and grand in scope. And the world-building. One word: incredible. Every aspect of the London of Reeve's imagination is right there for you to picture and smell and hear. Reeve is one of those amazing authors who manages to convey attention to the smallest details (the Scriven's facial markings, the scent of a summer night), the kind of small details that make a world come to life for the reader, but at the same time, his big-picture world-building is remarkable and consistent. The story moves at such a pace but you never feel that you aren't getting a sharp, fully-realized picture of things. His inventiveness is apparently unending. One of my favourite examples of this? There are these spooky/fantastic paper assassins that feature at several points in the plot. Just when you thought the mail slot was safe.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Here’s the skinny on all you really need to know: The Goats is a great book. There, now go read it. But maybe you want to know what it’s about, and maybe after you hear what it’s about you’ll think twice about reading it. After all, that’s what I did when I was in high school. But it turns out, I was a schmuck who wouldn’t know how to find a good book if it hit me upside the head. Don’t be a schmuck.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
It's always amazing to think that at one time Matt Groening and Lynda Barry could meet as equals. Just two people with massive talent and stories to tell that would go way beyond funny. Each totally dug the other's crazy comics and frequently told the world so.
Groening's "Hell" comics have, of course, been overshadowed by his great gift to the world: "The Simpsons." But the "Hell" comics are still kung-fu and they're still out there and if you haven't read them what are you waiting for?
Meanwhile, Lynda Barry has just kept on keeping on.*
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I planned to review E. O. Wilson's excellent Anthill today, but instead, I want to point out an article Jason Pinter wrote for the Huffington Post late last month titled, "Why Men Don't Read: How Publishing is Alienating Half the Population".
The article recounts the difficulty and blank stares Pinter faced when, working for Grand Central Publishing, he pitched an autobiography by professional wrestler Chris Jericho to the editorial board.
Like many boys, I grew up watching pro wrestling. I knew that Jericho was not only a huge star, but a genuinely smart, charismatic guy who had some incredible stories to tell. In an attempt to convince the editorial board, I brought in Chris's videos, action figures, CDs, anything I could think of to prove to a skeptical room that this guy was a big deal and his book would work. Nobody was buying my pitch. Nobody had heard of Jericho. . . If you've worked in publishing, you've heard the tired old maxim: Men Don't Read. Try to acquire or sell a book aimed predominantly at men, and odds are you'll be told Men Don't Read. This story is not an isolated incident. And while the book I'm discussing is not everybody's piece of cake, is is a microcosm of what I believe is a huge problem within the industry.
It's just a single, introductory-priced issue as a I write this, and not a collected GN yet (larger question: Are there really such things as "single issues" of comics now, or are they essentially individually released chapters of longer books, since the graphic novelization/collection is nearly inevitable in most cases; and if so, will it affect the way "prose" books are someday released? I gotta teach a seminar in this kind of prognostication two days after I post this!), but there's a just-out-of-YA ethos permeating this new Vertigo release, that it's worth a quick yack here on GLW...
Monday, May 17, 2010
People often surmise how earthlings would be perceived by an alien race that has little context into our strange world. David Klass experiments with this thought in Stuck on Earth.
Tom Fiber is a nerdy 14-year old who will be passively watching the new school year after an alien takes over his brain. The alien, Ketchvar, is a snail type creature who is evaluating whether humans should be eradicated or left on their own. Meanwhile, a space ship is hovering above earth ready to use its Death Ray on the planet. As Ketchvar makes his report, he can ask Tom for advice, which is a great storytelling device. Otherwise, the alien is on his own as he goes through the normal ups and downs as an American teenager.
Ketchvar thinks his mission will be easy and quick, but little did he realize how tangling with bullies, Tom's family and the beautiful next girl will take a toll on him. This is a really funny book and while it is quite predictable it is still an enjoyable read. There are some great peripheral characters and an environmental sub-plot that all work well with Klass' light and humorous writing style. And I have to mention that one of the funniest kissing scenes ever is also in Stuck on Earth.
Fans of other humorous coming-of-age stories like Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford will enjoy this as well.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Any guess where the idea of the heroic adventure story had its foundations laid in recognizable form for the first time? Probably poetry wouldn't be your first guess, but -- while mythology introduced numerous elements -- the first true heroic adventure narrative was in the form of epic poems. Every comic you read, every summer blockbuster you see, owes a direct debt to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. So, in a deft move of cutting out the middle man, All-Action Classics have adapted Homer's Odyssey (by Mucci and Caldwell) with the pulse-pounding adventure intact and combined it with the crackling energy and imagery of a Samurai Jack cartoon. It's all here: Odysseus's battle with the giant cyclops, his breathless course between the vast whirlpool Charybdis and the tentacled monster Scylla, and his clobbering of oafish suitors with their eyes on his land and his wife. What might take you by surprise though, is the underlying characteristics of the tale and how they differ from the values and virtues of today's heroic adventure. Odysseus's quest was nothing more than desperate journey to get home to his family; his greatest battles were against temptation; his greatest strength was his faith in the gods who watched over humans like they were children and often played with them like pawns; and though he was a great veteran of the Trojan War, his greatest weapon was guile. This one proves both a great adventure and a fascinating glimpse into the dogma of a bygone era. And there's no need to stop there. Have a look at All-Action Classics' first adaptation, Bram Stoker's Dracula (by Mucci, Halliar and Caldwell). Same faithful but energetic re-telling, same vibrant, modernized graphic sensibility, but fittingly atmospheric with its Gothic castle, its monstrous count and the desperate hunt through shadowed subterranean passages.
Now, speaking of heroism old and new: there's an awful lot of super-hero comics out there, and plenty do fun, exciting stuff with classic characters and situations. But it sometimes comes to the point where you feel like everything's been done, everything's been tried . . . and then someone comes along with a new twist, a fresh way to look at the tried and true metaphors. Such a book is Forty-Five (by Ewington), which is a crackling original in both its conception and its execution. A journalist who is about to be the father of a baby with the Super-S gene (the gene that gives humans super-powers) and sets out to interview forty-five super-powered people at various stages of their lives. Add to this ingenious hook the work of forty-five very talented artists who each contributed a splash page to go with a character/interview and you've got a whole new way to explore these powerful ideas. Character, narrative, emotion and a beautifully constructed fantasy world emerge from this combination of interview and art, and it reminds you that no matter how many times you may have seen something, there's always room in the collective imagination for something new. Apparently, you can tell a good super-hero story without poetry, as well.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
While visiting Bosnia-Herzegovina in June, 1914, the heir to the Austrian Empire and his wife were assassinated. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany urged his Austrian ally, Franz Josef, to attack Serbia.
Jim Murphy begins his book, Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting, by showing how World War I began even though "...there was no evidence that the Serbian government had been involved in the assassinations."
"On July 28, the Austrian army marched to Serbia's border and set up its artillery. As this was taking place, Kaiser Wilhelm picked up the full text of Serbia's reply to Austria's ultimatum. Incredibly, he hadn't bothered to study it before, preferring to let his advisors read and interpret it for him. What he read astonished him so much that he hastily scribbled in the margin of the Serbian reply: 'A great moral victory for Vienna; but with it every reason for war is removed... On the strength of this I should never have ordered mobilization.'
"Wilhelm then shot off an urgent message to his foreign diplomat in Austria in an effort to avert war. But it was too late. Austrian artillery began shelling Serbian troops on July 29, setting other armies in Europe into rapid motion."
Gregory Bateson argues convincingly, In Steps to an Ecology of Mind (pages 469-477), that the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, "led fairly directly and inevitably into World War II." Neither world war should have happened. Just like Iraq.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
"If I'm going to tell you how I killed this kid, I can't start on the day it happened. It won't make any sense, and you'll just think I was some psycho teenage boy with glue for brains." With an opening like that the book can go one of two routes, either down the road of troubled sensationalism or not-my-fault apologia. Instead, what we get is closer to a sort of road movie, like something that might have been made by Monte Hellman or Wim Wenders.
Straight-A Charlie, about to get beat up at school for the offense of inviting the bully's girl to prom, is rescued by his ex-best friend Jake in the principal's stolen '67 Mustang. After a couple local detours to visit some dead-end friends of Jake'e, the boys find themselves on the road to bring Charlie to reconcile his relationship with his divorced father several states away. Along the way they dump the car and hitch a ride with a suicidal girl who they attempt to rescue. A few more detours, a few more slip-ups caused by Jake's devil-may-care attitude, and the boys finally make it to Denver where things don't go as Charlie had hoped for. And then there's the kid who gets shot...
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Despite the cover prominently featuring Abraham Lincoln, I can assure you that the graphic novel, BOOTH, is really and truly about Lincoln's assassin: the compelling, dark & twisty stage actor named John Wilkes Booth. The script was written by author C.C. Colbert, the drawings are by the French illustrator Tanitoc, and the color - which is worthy of a sonnet in its praise - is by Hilary Sycamore.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Today we have an interview with Spring Lea Henry, cofounder of Grumpy Dragon, a small publishing company based in Colorado. Ever wondered what it was like to run a publishing company? Want advice on how to get started? Read on!
GLW: How did you decide to start a publishing company? What challenges did you
face in the beginning? What education/experience did you have to prepare
you for this venture?
SLH: As an author, I found myself dissatisfied with several aspects of
publishing that seem to be industry standard. I've never really thought
the usual 10-15% of the coverprice of a book was a fair cut of the profits
for an author, and I really didn't like the fact that authors rarely have
a say in the coverart that goes on their books. I basically got the
impression that most publishing houses were coming at it from a pure
profit point of view, and I just thought there needed to be a different
model, one that is based on helping authors feel their dreams are coming
true. My husband and business partner agreed with me on this, so we
started the Grumpy Dragon as a way of putting these beliefs into practice.
The creators of our books get a full 50% of the markup for their books,
and they also have input into the book design and coverart. We work hard
to make our books ones that that authors can feel proud of 100% so that
they will do their share of the marketing. I've met too many other
authors who just shake their heads about the coverart or some other part
of their contract, and that little head shake makes me feel like they
aren't happy with the book. As a reader, I don't want to read some thing
that even the author doesn't fully endorse!
It's funny you should ask about challenges in the beginning because I feel
like we still are in the beginning! We're only 3 years old, and we're
still working hard to get our company to a state of self-sufficiency.
It's especially difficult because neither of us believes in taking out a
business loan to fund this venture. Debt is something that kills so many
small businesses. So honestly, the challenge is to time our success
just-so. We can't grow too slow, or all the money we've invested won't be
enough to keep us afloat, but we can't grow too fast, or we'll have more
work on our table than we can handle. It's been a process of little
successes, one at a time that keeps us moving forward. We've also had
quite the learning curve as far as technology goes. In our first two
years, we went through three printers before we found one that meets our
I didn't plan to be a publisher when I was in college, but as it turned
out, the skillset I acquired turned out to be the perfect formula, as did
my husband's. I do all the editing work for our company, and my
preparations included a double-major of psychology and English. The
psychology actually comes in very useful for discerning character
motivations and being able to explain to an author when those motivations
are unrealistic. I also worked as the copy editor for the newspaper,
which was very good for my grammar and punctuation. I was the editor of
the school's literary magazine, which has taught me a fair bit about the
approval/rejection process and how to layout a publication. My masters in
library science helped to sharpen my writing skills and learn how to work
with people one-on-one. My husband brings business education and computer
science to the table. He's the one who handles sales-tax licenses,
royalties statments, contracts, graphic design, and getting our books
ready for the printer. Even with all that, we could stand to have someone
in the mix with some marketing experience!
Friday, May 7, 2010
As you already know, our book drive for Operation TBD was an enormous success, sending over 700 books total to Ojo Encino Day School in New Mexico and Alchesay High School in Arizona. We were a sellout, thanks to all of you who donated and helped spread the word--and thanks in no small part to Mr. Neil "Himself" Gaiman, who tweeted multiple times and brought even more traffic to our little corner of cyberspace (a fortuitous occurrence that made us squeal like fanboys and -girls).
We were, frankly, floored by everyone's generosity. By way of thanks, we want to feature some of the comments and notes that really made this process worthwhile for us. We may have set up the donation process, but all of you--you are the stars of the show. You sent the books. Thanks to you, these kids have amazingly well-stocked libraries, and in this day and age when school libraries are suffering funding cuts and (in some sad cases) closing down entirely, a good library is a blessing.
--insert comments from school librarians here--
Here's what some of you had to say about the book drive:
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold:
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
- "The Destruction of Sennacherib," by George Gordon, Lord Byron
Sydney-born author Judith Clarke is my favorite of the YA Oz novelists, and she's not as well-known or squeal-inducing as some. This is a real shame as her literary talent transcends trend to reveal a real skill with words, whether in comedic stories, as in her Al Capsella series, or in more serious work. Her writing has a resonance that leaves the stories echoing in your ears for months and years after you've read them.
Judith Clarke's Wolf on the Fold is a collection of six interconnected short stories opening in 1935, and ending in 2002. The title suggests an outside threat to a defenseless group, and indeed, the novel chronicles generations of a family's struggle, beginning in the Great Depression in the 30's, continuing with various wars, divorces, deaths and financial woes. Through it all is woven a theme of survival.
The tautly written title narrative tells the story of fourteen year old Kenny Sinclair, who, in the middle of a desolate, cold winter after the death of his father, goes out to find a job to prevent his family from being divided, and he and his brothers ending up in a Home. Grieving, depressed yet finding himself needing to be the man of the family, Kenny sees his mother starving herself in order to provide for the kids, sees the baby wordlessly studying the faces of the older children, and knows he can't let it go on. He leaves school (which he hates anyway), squares his shoulders and sets out, knowing that there are dangerous drifters on the road of the isolated town where they live; knowing that he might find nothing. He goes out in hope and in hopeless terror.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen
"Mason has never known his father, but longs to. All he has of him is a DVD of a man whose face is never seen, reading a children’s book. One day, on a whim, he plays the DVD for a group of comatose teens at the nursing home where his mother works. One of them, a beautiful girl, responds. Mason learns she is part of a horrible experiment intended to render teenagers into autotrophs—genetically engineered, self-sustaining life-forms who don’t need food or water to survive. And before he knows it, Mason is on the run with the girl, and wanted, dead or alive, by the mysterious mastermind of this gruesome plan, who is simply called the Gardener.
Will Mason be forced to destroy the thing he’s longed for most?"- summary from Amazon
This was an intriguing novel and had me turning pages very quickly. The premise is interesting and pretty original and I enjoyed reading a bit about the science behind it. Bodeen spends quite a bit of time explaining the process of taking the autotroph aspect and applying it to humans.
The book got a bit slow at times because the chase starts fairly early on, so there are parts where it's boring and not much happens. The mystery is unraveled slowly throughout most of the book, then a lot of things happen at the climax. But I really enjoyed the moral issues and arguments it brought up for both sides of this, and it makes for some interesting discussion.
The ending was a bit too tied up nicely for me (I know I said before I like things tied up nicely, but it depends on the book!) and seemed a bit out of place considering the rest of the novel.
The Gardener will be out in stores everywhere in hardcover on May 25!
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
BoingBoing creator, author and agent provocateur Cory Doctorow has posted a lengthy missive on Boing Boing pointing out all of the reasons he (and by extension, you) will not buy an iPad. Some of the reasons I agree with and some I don’t, but since this is a book blog I thought I would take Doctorow to task regarding his stance on the Marvel Comics iPad app from Comixology, an app that aims to finally bring digital comics and digital distribution to the masses.
One of Doctorow’s major points is that the Marvel app has locked down content so that a user cannot freely share comics with friends. This is of course true, but the problem is that I don’t see a sustainable model for digital comics that doesn’t impose SOME restrictions on user sharing – at least not until the notion of buying comics online has become as ubiquitous as, say, iTunes. Every digital distribution method I’ve seen for comics thus far (and this includes several iPhone apps such as Comixology’s, Longbox and others) involves some measure of DRM. I don’t like it, but I can see the necessity of it until digital comics become the mainstream. Yes, this does mean that kids won't (for the time being) be able to share comics like they used to in the old days, but I'm not so sure it's still kids buying comics anymore anyway.
Doctorow also waxes nostalgic about the mom and pop comic book stores that have been the mainstay of many comic book geeks (myself included) over the years. Yet there are many details left out of this fond remembrance. Ever seen how much a direct market comics store marks up books just a week or two after they have been released? Ever seen a speculator clear the shelves of books before anyone else can get their hands on a single copy? Ever walked into a comics store to buy an issue, only to find out that you have to have a subscription with the store to get a copy of what you want? At my local store, the shelves are clear of most new issues by the time they arrive. The stores can’t afford to hang onto back stock, so there’s no room for issues that might attract a casual or even a new comics fan. These so-called mom and pop shops have been mistreating and alienating customers for decades. Is it any wonder, then, that more and more fans are looking to purchase digital comics – where prices aren’t arbitrary (and generally are lower than the skyrocketing prices of print comics) and where issues are available when they want them? Isn't this just the sort of distribution channel that might encourage new readers to try out comics? Isn't it time for comics to exist outside of the "bag it, board it, box it" subculture that has kept its audience limited for years?
Like Cory Doctorow, I’ve been reading comics for a long, long time (going on close to 30 years now) and I’m more excited about the future of comics than the past. Maybe he likes musty, ramshackle stores with rude and often dismissive (if not strangely elitist) employees, but I don’t. I don’t have room for that kind of business in my life any more than I have room for dozens of comics-filled longboxes in my house.
Bring on the digital age!
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Pssssst. C'mere. Shh—see that guy Alex Bledsoe? Did you know he's not just any old GLW contributor (not that ANY of our contributors are "any old" contributor) but an actual published author?
Yep, he sure is. And since Colleen just posted about a new noir graphic novel, I thought it would be a good time to let you know that Alex writes noir, too…noir FANTASY novels.
You heard me. I never would have thought a fantasy setting and noir detective fiction would make such a good blend, but they do. As someone who used to read a huge amount of fantasy series fiction (Piers Anthony and David Eddings, anyone? Don't laugh, this was a long time ago), I enjoyed seeing the classic tropes put to new and humorous use. Just listen: when your detective wields a sword and lives above a disreputable inn; when your dangerous dame has illicit magical secrets; when your bad guys are part of a mysterious criminal underworld of gamblers and hired killers; you've got all the elements of both a noir mystery AND a sword-and-sorcery fantasy. That's The Sword-Edged Blonde.
This is a blog for readers. But out of any group of readers, you will find a few--or more than a few--who aren’t content to just read, who want to try out the craft themselves and become writers.
Writers burn slowly. Writing takes a long time to master and very few writers get off to a quick start when they are very young. More often they are heavy chunks of coal at the center of the fire, the ones that took forever to light but then crackled on through the night and were still glowing just a little the next morning. Why writers are so slow to mature compared to, say, musicians or mathematicians or chess players (fields in which prodigy is virtually a requirement) is an area for speculation. Where sheer passion and brilliance can fuel a musician or chess genius, good writing, it seems, requires more emotional experience behind it.
Which isn't to say a writer can't write a lot of great stuff while young, and some have launched careers even in their teens. Just be forewarned. These writers are the exception rather than the rule. If you are a young writer looking to make a mark in the world, look to these examples as inspiration, but not as a goal to mark your progress against.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Since the death of Robert B. Parker in January 2010, I've been re-reading his Spenser novels. The earliest ones, written in the 1970s and 80s, staked out his moral as well as physical territory, revolving around classical ideas of masculinity coming into conflict with the more modern world. And in 1981's Early Autumn, Spenser demonstrates how his code is built and applied in the life of a clueless teenage boy. It's a book of its time in the particulars of setting, plot and society, but it touches on universal ideas that may be more applicable than ever.