Five Unique Books: Ducornet, Agus, Appanah, Chapman, Kang

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Five rather intriguing and unique books have entered the house the past few days, and I’d like to put some special emphasis on them. I haven’t read them yet, but have sampled all of them.

Netsukeby Rikki Ducornet—One of our iconic surrealists, Ducornet has gone very dark this time, with a tale of a psychologist who “seduces both patients and strangers,” in a feat of very deep characterization. A strange and unusual book.

From the Land of the Moonby Milena Agus—Set in Sardinia, this is another treasure from Europa editions by the looks of it. A young woman reflecting on the life of her grandmother, telling a sweeping story that’s charming and painful. A short novel but a grand scope.

The Last Brother: A Novelby Nathana Appanah—Set during World War II on Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, this novel, from a sampling, is both devastating and beautifully written. The book follows the life of nine-year-old Raj who is put in a prison camp and meets a Jewish refugee named David. The novel focuses on Raj’s life in the camp and the two boys’ attempts to escape.

Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imaginationby Minsoo Kang—A wonderful short story writer, Kang has turned his hand to nothing less than a history of automata that looks absolutely fascinating. There are chapters on Alexandria, Masahiro Mori, Vaucanson, Borelli, Kempelen, Capek, Metropolis, and more. (I’m honored that my “Dradin, In Love” is mentioned on page 46.)

Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto: A Novelby Maile Chapman—I’ve read Chapman’s short stories and they’re brillliant, especially the one we reprinted in Best American Fantasy. This first novel made a Guardian list of best first novels while being criminally under-appreciated here. Junot Diaz says it best: “Maile Chapman is one of my favorite writers and in [her novel] she has given us an eerie gift…It is a superb hallucinatory piercing, an ominous dispatch from that Gothic frontier of the Female Body.” The novel’s set in a convalescent hospital in Finland and the writing, again from a sampling, is brilliant. Compared also to early McEwan and Highsmith.

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Three Bloggers Blogging: Gerry Alanguilan’s Elmer

This is the fourth in a series of reviews done by myself, Larry Nolen, and Paul Smith. Each of us (along with the occasional guest reviewer) reads and reviews the book selected independently of the others’ opinions. Larry and Paul’s reviews may be found at the respective links above, along with a summary post on Amazon’s book blog. Next up: the work of Eric Basso.

Gerry Alanguilan’s Elmer, first published by Komikero in the Philippines, was finally picked up by SLG in North America last year. The four-book comic now collected as a graphic novel tells the story of a family of chickens and their interactions with human beings in the aftermath of chickens everywhere mysteriously becoming intelligent. Thankfully, Alanguilan doesn’t waste time trying to explain why chickens have become intelligent. Instead, he employs a structure that follows chicken Jake Gallo’s quest years later to understand his father, Elmer, and also to understand the horrors and mercies of the past. Elmer’s left behind a diary, and Jake reads through it, Alanguilan using flashback sequences to devastating effect, their power in part due to the contrast with the scenes set in the relative normalcy of the present.

There are many moments of pathos in Elmer, scenes that will stick with me for a long time, but perhaps the one that got to me the most also explains why Elmer is so effective in presenting seriously and with great skill an idea that in summary seems destined for humor. Jake’s sick mother, from her bed, recounts what those first moments of sentience were like: “It was as if someone turned on a light. Like waking up from a long sleep and you don’t remember who you are, where you were…and what time or day it was. I couldn’t really remember anything. Except that I was hungry. As if I was always hungry. I wanted to eat. It was a desire that seemed to completely consume me. Then the screaming began…”

This leads to one of the great page-turns in recent comics history, when she realizes she’s in a poultry kill line.

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This style used by Alanguilan is so important to Elmer. It is detailed but clean, never cluttered. It allows the text to support a realism in the art that makes the reader move past any doubt about the seriousness of the intent. This style also allows Alanguilan to give his chicken characters personality without reducing them to caricatures. The faces are expressive while still being specifically chicken-like. Some readers will want to read parallels to real-life bigotry and real-life events, and I think this is secondarily Alanguilan’s purpose. But the primary challenge he faced was to tell a story about chickens that become intelligent, and it’s from the foundation of making the reader believe in that story that any other effects are at all possible. In other words, Elmer can become metaphorical only after it’s become real.

Elmer is also solidly about family. All the great art in the world wouldn’t matter if Alanguilan didn’t keep the spotlight firmly on this family of chickens and their bond to human allies. Son Jake is a good kid, the father is admirable if at times distant, the rest all have their quirks, their foibles, the things that make them distinctive. You genuinely care about these people, and you worry terribly about what they go through. A real depth of feeling comes through on the pages, a sense of the author knowing these characters very well. To accomplish this in the short span of a relatively slim graphic novel is nearly miraculous and speaks to the level of the creator’s skill.

I have to admit that I teared up a few times reading and re-reading Elmer, something that almost never happens to me.

Note my prior post about the limited edition version of Elmer that the creator so kindly sent to me.

Awards

It’s pretty simple. If you list your work so readers can remember what you had out that’s eligible in a given year, great. That’s kind of a public service, and if many people are going to do it, then everyone should do it or it becomes a potentially unfair advantage. John Scalzi also provides a a blog post where you can comment to recommend things. That strikes me as helping those who don’t have a strong blog presence make sure people remember. It’s also important to study awards you’re eligible for and make sure your publisher sends your work to any judging panels.

However, if you’re on twitter or facebook urging people to vote for you, I’m deeply unsympathetic. If you’re emailing people saying to vote for you, same thing. If you’re asking people in person to vote for you, that’s also not cool. If you’re suggesting with a wink that you’ll vote for something if they vote for you…not cool.

On the reader side…voting for things you haven’t read…voting in categories where you’ve read like three things that year…voting because you think someone’s cool…not cool.

This process will never be perfect, but let’s not consciously make it worse than it can be. And if you cynically think that awards are just there to be manipulated so what’s the harm…well, that does in fact make it worse.

The closest I could come to recommending my own work this year was a post about a book I had out and a free download, and giving that link to Cheryl Morgan—and even that made me feel uneasy. Anything else would’ve made me throw up a little in my mouth. It becomes more difficult with regard to anthologies because in that case we’re advocates for a lot of other writers, but it still makes me queasy.

Maybe I’m just an old crank, but that’s how I feel about it. Send your hate mail to: Get Off My Lawn, POB 1234, Sosueme, FL 54321.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities…Revealed…

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Yesterday io9 revealed the table of contents for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, our follow-up to The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases. This new anthology is out from HarperCollins in June. Thanks to our editor there, Diana Gill, as well as Will Hinton, for making it a smooth and fun process. The book is available for preorder. It will be an oversized, 7 x 10 hardcover with probably special treatment of the front cover in terms of raised surfaces, etc.

A few extra notes about the anthology. It features over 70 images, including sumptuous title page treatments by John Coulthart. The book is divided into the following sections: Holy Devices and Infernal Duds: The Broadmore Exhibits, Honoring Lambshead: Stories Inspired by the Cabinet, Microbial Alchemy & Demented Machinery: The Mignola Exhibits, The Miéville Anomalies, Further Oddities, Visits & Departures, and A Brief Catalog of Additional Items. In addition, each section is prefaced by the continuation of a brief frame story I’ve written, and the “introduction” is a reveal of further details about Lambshead not set out in the first volume.

The purpose of all of this was to create contexts for different kinds of stories. So the book includes everything from traditional fantasy to avant garde approaches, as well as stories presented as exhibit descriptions. It’s browsable or, because of the variety of the content, readable straight through.

I thought I’d set out the full list of contributors in alphabetical order, starting with the amazing artists. Most of the art is original to the anthology, including four new pieces each by Mike Mignola and Greg Broadmore. Jake von Slatt actually built two new pieces for the anthology. The plan is that readers will have a chance to win one of the pieces—not a photograph of it, the actual artifact.

ART BY:
Aeron Alfrey
Kristen Alvanson
Rikki Ducornet
Greg Broadmore
John Coulthart
Scott Eagle
Vladimir Gvozdariki
Yishan Li
China Mieville
Mike Mignola
Jonathan Nix
Eric Orchard
James A. Owen
Ron Pippin
J.K. Potter
Eric Schaller
Ivica Stevanovic
Jan Svankmajer
Sam Van Olffen
Myrtle von Damitz, III
Jake von Slatt

[Read more…]