Mur Lafferty is one of the worst-kept secrets in science fiction and fantasy publishing. "Secret" in that her fiction has not been widely published (until now). "Worst-kept" in that she has been such a force of nature -- the podcaster's podcaster, author of a huge corpus of excellent self-published work, and a skilled editor currently running Escape Pod -- that anyone who's been paying attention has known that there were great things coming from her.
Great things have come from her. The Shambling Guide to New York City is the first volume in a new series of books about Zoe Norris, a book editor who stumbles into a job editing a line of travel guides for monsters, demons, golem-makers, sprites, death-gods and other supernatural members of the coterie, a hidden-in-plain-sight secret society of the supernatural.
The volume opens with a desperate, out-of-work Zoe prowling the streets of New York, looking for a publishing job -- any publishing job. She finds herself chasing down a mysterious advertisement for an editor for Underground Press, which turns out to be the hobby-business of an ancient vampire with a modern idea. Phil, the owner, wants to produce the first-ever line of tour-guides for travelling coterie. And it just so happens that Zoe's last job was editing a successful line of (human) travel guides, a gig she excelled at and would have held still save for her philandering boss, who neglected to mention that he was married (to a psycho police chief!) before he seduced her.
After being rebuffed, Zoe bulls her way into the job, only to discover that she has bitten off more than she can chew -- or rather, that several monsters are vying for chance to bite off a rather large chunk of her. Chief among them is a sleazy incubus who is fixated on having sex with her and feeding off her sexual energy (workplace harassment is complicated in the coterie).
From this, the story is off and running, and it never pauses for breath -- there's love, war, humor and a lot of heart, and by the time it's done, you know exactly why so many writers have been buzzing about Mur Lafferty for so many years. It's as strong a debut as I can remember reading, and I can't wait for the follow-on volumes.
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a recent graphic novel adaptation of the classic 1928 HP Lovecraft story of the same name, masterfully executed by INJ Culbard.
The dirty secret of the Cthulhu mythos is that their originator, HP Lovecraft, wasn't a very good writer. In addition to his unfortunate tendency to embrace his era's backwards ideas about race and gender, Lovecraft was also fond of elaborate, tedious description that obscured the action and dialog. Which is a pity, because Lovecraft did have one of the great dark imaginations of literature, a positive gift for conjuring up the most unspeakable, unnameable (and often unpronounceable) horrors of the genre, so much so that they persist to this day.
Enter INJ Culbard, whose work adapting various Sherlock Holmes stories into graphic novels for Self-Made Hero press I've reviewed here in the past. Culbard is a fine storyteller and artist, and makes truly excellent use of the medium to deliver a streamlined Lovecraft, one where the protracted, over-elaborated descriptions are converted to dark, angular drawings that manage to capture all the spookiness, without the dreariness.
This is really the best way to enjoy Lovecraft.
Daniel Pinkwater's Bushman Lives is another of Pinkwater's marvellous novels for young adults (and adults!) in which a misfit narrator embraces his inner weirdo and finds odd joy. Harold Knishke is a young man in late 1950s Chicago who finds himself with a lot of spare time thanks to weird political patronage at his high-school, which results in him serving as a corrupt hall monitor who can excuse himself from school grounds on his own recognizance. One day, he quits flute lessons, sells his flute to his relieved instructor, and uses the money to take up life-drawing classes at a beatnik art school across the street from a mysterious whitewashed house whose paint is constantly being replenished by mysterious, hissing humanoids all dressed in white wrapping.
Woven into this narrative is the story of Geets Hildebrand, Harold's best friend, who runs away to join the Navy. Geets and Harold share an obsession with Bushman, the Lincoln Park Zoo's storied gorilla, a tragic and dignified figure. Geets is discharged from the Navy and discovers a secret society of rural misfits in a state park who tell him about a hidden castle on a hidden island in the middle of a lake.
Harold's life is one odd thing after another. He meets a young woman training to be a wise-woman who hips him to Willem de Kooning and then gets him a mentor who is obsessed with mural-painting and baking potatoes. He is inducted into an artist's workshop in a mysterious transdimensional building. He learns that there is a folk song about him, but can't make out the lyrics.
But most of all, Harold learns about art -- about the techniques of visual art, about the weird phonies that haunt the art world, but most importantly (and movingly) about the drive to make art and the thing that art does for its audiences.
Daniel Pinkwater and his wife Jill are both visual artists, and Bushman Lives is, more than anything, a book about art, and a very good one. I'd read Pinkwater all day long even if his absurdist fairy tales were nothing more than odd little stories, but as Bushman Lives (and his other works) proves, Pinkwater's absurdism is a delivery system for profound and important insight that stay with you for years and decades.
Bushman Lives was serialized online prior to publication, and really rewards your attention.
I wrote about Sailor Twain, Mark Siegel's beautiful, haunting serialized graphic novel when it began. Since then, the story of a New York steamship captain who is haunted by his love for a mermaid has run its course, and today it has been published in a single, handsome hardcover volume from FirstSecond.
Sailor Twain tells the story of Captain Twain of the Lorelei, which plies its trade up and down the Hudson valley, while the ship's owner, a dissolute Frenchman, seduces the wives of the gentry in the owner's cabin. Captain Twain's own beloved wife is wasting with some unspecified disease on land, and he works to raise money to send her to specialists. He's a good man, beset with tragedy, and he has forgotten how to write the poetry he once loved.
And then comes the day when he spies a mermaid clinging to the deck of the Lorelei, gravely wounded. He pulls her from the sea and into his cabin, and everything changes for Sailor Twain. The poetry comes back, and at his request, she never sings for him, never puts him under her siren spell. But still, he is hers.
Out spills a mystery, a story about seduction and duty, mythology and gender, dreams lost and dreams forgotten, and the lure of magic and wonder. Siegel's illustrations are charcoal drawings that fearlessly mix highly detailed, realistic depictions with cartoons, impressionistic smears, and caricature, and they are moody and grey and dreamlike, the perfect match for the story.
This is a stupendous work, a beautiful and sad and lovely thing. If you don't believe me, go read it online for free and see for yourself.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle's justly loved young adult novel about children who must rescue a dimension-hopping physicist who has been trapped by a malignant intelligence bent on bringing conformity to the universe.
Hill and Wang's A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel is Hope Larson's really wonderful and worthy adaptation of the original. Larson is very faithful to the original text, and the graphic form really suits the story, as it allows for direct illustration of some of the more abstract concepts (such as the notion of folding space in higher dimensions to attain faster-than-light transpositions of matter).
But Larson does more than capture the abstract with her graphics. L'Engle's charm and gift was in her ability to marry the abstract with the numinous -- to infuse stories about math and physics with so much heart, heartbreak, bravery, sorrow and joy that they changed everyone who read them. Larson does a brilliant job of capturing this crucial element of L'Engle's style.
I read this book aloud to my four year old daughter over a couple weeks' worth of bedtimes. There were plenty of times when I was sure that the nuances of the story were going over her head (she didn't come out of the experience with any sense of what a tesseract is!) but her interest never, ever wavered. That's because Larson's illustrations do such a fine job of showing the emotional arc of L'Engle's characters that even a small child could not help but be drawn into the drama. In fact, reading this book turned out to be both a treat and a chore, because every night's session ended with her demanding that I read more. And when we finished the book and closed the cover, she took it from my hands, turned it over, handed it back to me and said, "Again."
Hard to argue with that.
Hill and Wang were kind enough to give us exclusive access to chapter two, which you'll find below, past the jump!
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is the long-awaited sequel to Cat Valente's debut novel The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and it delivers on all the promise of that book, which is one of the strongest fantasy novels for young readers I've had the pleasure of getting lost in.
September, the young heroine of Circumnavigated, is back in the mundane world when she chases a green wind across the Nebraska prairie and returns to her beloved Fairyland. But it's not Fairyland as she remembered it: her shadow -- lost on a previous adventure -- has become the Hollow Queen of the Underworld, and is using her minion, the terrible Alleyman, to steal all of Fairyland's shadows and with them, Fairyland's magic. Equipped with a magic ration-book and a few scant adventurer's supplies, September runs to the Underworld for a series of Adventures, in an attempt to foil her shadow's evil and restore the natural order to Fairyland above.
But this is a Valente novel, so nothing is at seems. There's as much Phantom Tollbooth here as there is Narnia, a disorienting but familiar sense of story-ness as September travels slantwise through the underworld, shot through with menace and heroism. You never know what's coming next in Fell Beneath, and the most roundabout and whimsical turns always come back around to the main story and its payoff.
As masterful as the first novel, and with a reprise of Ana Juan's illustrations, this is a most worthy sequel. I'm also excited to note that there's an unabridged, DRM-free MP3CD audiobook edition, because this is one of those fairytales, like Gaiman's Stardust, that you want to have read aloud to you.
If your fancy is tickled by this, don't miss Deathless, Valente's fantasy for adults about the Siege of Leningrad.
Former Talking Heads frontman and all-round happy mutant David Byrne has written several good books, but his latest, How Music Works, is unquestionably the best of the very good bunch, possibly the book he was born to write. I could made good case for calling this How Art Works or even How Everything Works.
Though there is plenty of autobiographical material How Music Works that will delight avid fans (like me) -- inside dope on the creative, commercial and personal pressures that led to each of Byrne's projects -- this isn't merely the story of how Byrne made it, or what he does to turn out such great and varied art. Rather, this is an insightful, thorough, and convincing account of the way that creativity, culture, biology and economics interact to prefigure, constrain and uplift art. It's a compelling story about the way that art comes out of technology, and as such, it's widely applicable beyond music.
Byrne lived through an important transition in the music industry: having gotten his start in the analog recording world, he skilfully managed a transition to an artist in the digital era (though not always a digital artist). As such, he has real gut-feel for the things that technology gives to artists and the things that technology takes away. He's like the kids who got their Apple ][+s in 1979, and keenly remember the time before computers were available to kids at all, the time when they were the exclusive domain of obsessive geeks, and the point at which they became widely exciting, and finally, ubiquitous -- a breadth of experience that offers visceral perspective.
There were so many times in this book when I felt like Byrne's observations extended beyond music and dance and into other forms of digital creativity. For example, when Byrne recounted his first experiments with cellular automata exercise for dance choreography, from his collaboration with Noemie Lafrance:
1. Improvise moving to the music and come up with an eight-count phrase (in dance, a phrase is a short series of moves that can be repeated).
2. When you find a phrase you like, loop (repeat) it.
3. When you see someone else with a stronger phrase, copy it.
4. When everyone is doing the same phrase, the exercise is over.
It was like watching evolution on fast-forward, or an emergent lifeform coming into being. At first the room was chaos, writhing bodies everywhere. At first the room was chaos, writhing bodies everywhere. Then one could see that folks had chosen their phrases, and almost immediately one could see a pocket of dancers who had all adopted the same phrase. The copying had already begun, albeit in just one area. This pocket of copying began to expand, to go viral, while yet another one now emerged on the other side of the room. One clump grew faster than the other, and within four minutes the whole room was filled with dancers moving in perfect unison. Unbelievable! It only took four minutes for this evolutionary process to kick in, and for the "strongest" (unfortunate word, maybe) to dominate.
Read the rest
Jason Mazzone's Copyfraud and Other Abuses of Intellectual Property Law isn't just another book about how the expansion of copyright and trademark law has harmed innovation, free speech and creativity. Instead, Mazzone -- the youngest faculty member in Brooklyn law school's history to hold an endowed chair -- argues that the real problem is that copyright law isn't enforced enough. Mazzone persuasively argues that the room that copyright makes for public expression and innovation -- through fair use and other defenses -- offer exactly the kind of safety valve that copyright's monopoly on expression demands.
However, as Mazzone points out, there is virtually no penalty for unjustly claiming that these public freedoms don't exist. The entertainment industry can slather its products in dire warnings that ignore fair use and make misleading threats for users who lend, re-use or sample the media they buy. They can demand licenses for minimal uses, for works in the public domain, and for fair uses. They can assert absurd trademark claims. They can threaten baseless lawsuits by the bushel-load -- and all without any risk to them.
Mazzone's point is that without a robust set of regulations and punishments for companies that claim to own what rightfully belongs to the public, this will only expand. After all, falsely claiming that your public domain sheet music can't be copied by a choir means that you get to sell a lot of copies of your sheet music -- absent a penalty for such a fraudulent claim, who would abstain from it?
Mazzone writes with the clarity of Lessig, Samuelson and Boyle -- the gold standards for public, lay-friendly copyright writing -- and uses infamous cases to make his point, from the scam that cost George Clinton his copyrights to the fraudulent claims made by Mattel against artists who make fun of Barbie. He unpicks the intricate tangle of state and federal law, precedent and norms, and sets out a series of problems and then proposes a set of sane, implementable solutions that could be turned into law today.
By offering simple solutions to these problems, Mazzone shows that the theft of the public domain isn't due to the impossibility of getting the law right. Rather, it is a combination of depraved indifference by lawmakers and unchecked greed by corporations. Reading Mazzone gives you the idea that the technical question of solving copyright is actually rather simple -- though finding the political will may prove much harder.
9/7/2012: Updated with feedback from moot
4chan, the Internet's long-time dumping ground and butt of many a joke, is getting serious about software by making their biggest public-facing code change in nearly a decade, introducing an API and a bunch of new functionality.
Given its reputation, many commentators have already written this off with a shrug and a laugh. But 4chan is also one of the web's most popular and influential communities. It's the source of so many Internet-age cultural trends that even your grandma may be dimly aware that the clever picture she posted on her Facebook was trawled a thousand copies ago from the dark depths of /mlp/. Given that there's big money in all this, the API offers businesses a direct line to the heart of the machine.
As a professional software developer and long time 4chan user, I think this is a pretty interesting development. I talked yesterday afternoon to some of those who worked on 4chan's code over the years and know a little about why this is such an important development.
Hal Johnson's Immortal Lycanthropes is a YA novel unlike any other. It's the story of Myron Horowitz, a horribly disfigured amnesiac orphan whose nice adoptive parents can't protect him from the savage beatings administered by the school bully every day. But then the bully is found bruised and battered and hurled through shatterproof glass, and Myron is found on the floor of the cafeteria, naked, with no sign of his clothes anywhere. And the adventure starts.
You see, Myron is an immortal lycanthrope, part of an ancient mythic race of human/animal hybrids -- one for every species of mammal -- who date back to the dawn of humanity. Nothing can kill him save another immortal in animal form, and there are plenty of those around, as it turns out. They have all come out of the woodwork to attempt to kidnap/kill/rescue/brainwash/claim/manipulate him, because he appears to be the first newborn immortal lycanthrope since the dawn of history.
Myron is off on a madcap trip across America, variously beaten and nearly killed and tricked and conned and even worshipped as he discovers the true nature of his race, and speculates about what animal might lurk within him.
Johnson has taken a slight idea -- his editor says that the book's genesis was a sarcastic remark about writing YA fiction, as in, "What, you want me to write about immortal lycanthropes or something?" -- and made something perfectly wonderful and wonderfully perfect out of it. A few chapters in, I flipped to the beginning of the book looking for an "about the author," only to notice that he'd dedicated the book to Daniel Pinkwater, who is the all-time world champion of weird amazing mind melting brilliant YA fiction. I knew then that I had found a writer who was going to pierce me like a very funny, very weird arrow.
And pierce me he did. Take one part Lemony Snicket, one part Boy's Life adventure, three measures of Daniel Pinkwater, a dash of Tex Avery mixed with Carlos Castenada, and you'd get something like Immortal Lycanthropes.
When I was twelve years old, my brain was blown clear out of my skull and into an erratic orbit by a Daniel Pinkwater novel called Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars. If I wanted to have the same effect on a bright 12 year old proto-mutant today, I might just hand her or him a copy of Immortal Lyncathropes. For the win.
It's my great pleasure to welcome Wendy and Richard Pini to Boing Boing, where they'll be publishing the next chapter of their long-running fantasy epic Elfquest—online-first for the first time!
You may also know Wendy from her anime-style retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's Masque of The Red Death — which even got her in trouble with Facebook over cartoon boobs.
The first page of Elfquest: The Final Quest's prologue will appear here at Boing Boing on Monday. In the meantime, catch up with the story so far (all 6000 pages of it!), free of charge, at the series' official homepage.
After the jump, I've pasted in part of an item I once wrote (for the late, lamented Ectoplasmosis (Update: reborn on tumblr!)) about why this comic series is so awesome. Then follows our press release. Read the rest
Read the rest