Sunday, January 11, 2015

Murchie Plus Books: January 4th to 10th

The premise: I love my dog. I love books. I bring the two together by asking my surly wee poodle to pose beside every book I read, barring the digital comics I get through Marvel Unlimited.

Last week, that was the end of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's run on YOUNG AVENGERS. To be honest, their first five issues underwhelmed me, but holy hell did things ever pick up in the second act. I was sorry to see the creators step away from these characters, though they make an excellent point about YA traditionally running for self-contained "seasons" rather than as an ongoing thing.

I'm eager to see who picks the team up next and what they do with them. Y'all know of my great love for Kate Bishop (I've mentioned that, haven't I? Just in passing, once or twice?), and this last series gave me so many feels about Billy and Teddy. So many feels.

The photos: go live on Instagram as I take them and appear here in digest form every Sunday.

Murchie has turned into a fuzzy ball of fluff. Little dude needs a haircut, but the temperature plummeted last week and he also needs at least a modicum of protection against the cold. He's rarely been without one of his little shirts since the Weather Gods unleashed their wrath, and I'm sure he's grateful for the extra insulation his wild pelt provides.

Anyways, he was quite happy to curl up with me last Sunday morning as I read the prologue of A THOUSAND WORDS PER STRANGER by Julie E. Czerneda. Said prologue seemed promising, but three days later, I was barely a hundred pages in. Sigh. I'd rather not become a serial book-abandoner, but sometimes you've just gotta bail on what ain't working for you.

In this case, I think I failed to connect with the book mainly because I wasn't in the mood for a novel. To that end, I decided to forget about longer fiction for a while in favour of short stories and comics.

Hey, look! A short story collection! (And a dog in need of a haircut!)

I buy far fewer physical books than the average voracious reader, and I also get pretty damned mercenary about the ones I do purchase. Like, I bought THE SKY THAT WRAPS, Jay Lake's 2010 short fiction collection, mostly because it was the signed, limited, clothbound edition and I knew it was worth a lot more than the $1 I paid for it.

On a purely physical level, THE SKY THAT WRAPS is gorgeous. It's got thick, creamy pages, trim binding, and the sort of naked cover that feels good in the hand, not to mention an attractive dust jacket. (Y'all recall my fondness for matte covers and glowy green things, yes?) Mine is #159 of 1000. I don't know much about numbered editions--they're usually way out of my price range--but I think I've heard collectors like the lower numbers better.

Regarding the gorgeous object's contents, I'm pleased to report I've very much enjoyed the majority of the stories. I'm worried I'll subject the book to too much wear-and-tear if I make it my primary read (I'm tough on the books I haul around with me), so my plan is to get through a story or three per day over the next week or so. After that, I'll decide whether I want to keep it or find a new, properly appreciative owner for it.

Murchie performs downward facing dog at an angle to a white e-reader with The Memory of Stone's cover on its screen. The cover is blue-toned and depicts two butterflies in flight behind the title card.

My last dog, Babes1, never did anything remotely resembling downward facing dog, so I figured the yoga pose had been named at random. Murchie has taught me the error of my ways. Babes wasn't much of a stretcher, but Murchie performs downward facing dog at least three times per day.

In fact, it was his immediate response when I asked him to pose beside THE MEMORY OF STONE by Michelle West was to drop into downward facing dog with his stubby wee tail2 in the air. As you can see, it was pretty durned cute.

THE MEMORY OF STONE emerged as my favourite of Michelle West's short(er) stories. It's also the last one I can read before I finish the Sun Sword series, as the introduction to "The Black Ospreys" mentions that it overlaps with the final book's ending and I'd rather avoid spoilers. ("Echoes" also contains some fairly minor spoilers, but since they were along the lines of "these two characters eventually visit this place" I decided I could live with them.)

Murchie performs downward facing dog at an angle to Beautiful Darkness, an oversize hardcover comic. Its cover features a pale-skinned blonde woman peering out from behind a stone-grey hand several times her size. Green leaves to the same scale as the hand surround her.

There's that downward facing dog again.

I'd never heard of BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, a comic by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet, until I stumbled across it on a Best Of list last week. It sounded like my kind of thing, so I shot off a quick library request.

Damn, was that ever a good call. BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS is brutal. If you take a cursory browse through it, it appears to be a cute story about tiny people who live in a forest--but they're there because their world has been destroyed, and said world ain't what you'd expect.

I sort of want to write a proper post about it, particularly in regards to the princess's character arc and the significance of the destroyed world, but I also want you to come to this story more or less fresh. It'll hit you harder if you know nothing more than that it's outwardly adorable but possessed of a dark core.

You should also be aware I loved the hell out of it.

Murchie braces himself to leap off a bed. In front of him is a white Kobo with Sand and Ruin and Gold's cover on its screen. It depicts a blue merman with long, dark silver hair.

I took the above photos all in a cluster as I had some catching up to do. For his last trick, Murchie prepared to take an epic leap off the bed rather than pose nicely beside Alexis Hall's "Sand and Ruin and Gold."

Dogs, man.

The publisher gave me a copy of the story for review consideration, so it's mini review time!

Y'all are well aware of how much I enjoyed PROSPERITY and LIBERTY & OTHER STORIES, Alexis Hall's fantasies, and I'm pleased to report I loved this post-apocalyptic SF offering every bit as much. "Sand and Ruin and Gold" follows a nameless clone who runs away from home to become a merfolk trainer at the Cirque de la Mer. While he initially believes the mers to be intelligent animals, his interactions with the show's lone male convince him the mers are a sentient species who've been enslaved. And you can bet he wont stand for that.

Hall's writing is as gorgeous, evocative, and deeply felt as ever, and this shorter story gives the reader plenty to consider beyond the beauty of the language. The narrator's slow engagement with the mers takes on a anthropological feel as he parses the difference between what he's been told and what he's actually observed. It's a nice parallel to his own life as someone constructed to fill a particular role but determined to forge his own path. Hall limns this process with great care, allowing the narrator's current knowledge to colour his past experience without overwhelming it. It's foreshadowing at its finest; elegant, sad, and deeply affecting.

It's good stuff, and short enough to gulp down in an hour or less. If you want a taste of Hall's work, or if you've read his other fiction and you're eager for more, you should seek it out.

As a point of interest (and, okay, another shameless plug), it's available on Scribd if you have an account there. If not, you can try it free for two months with that link, as opposed to one month if you sign up through the service's homepage. (I also get an extra month tacked onto my subscription, which is what makes this a shameless plug rather than a simple recommendation.)

Murchie lays on a fuzzy pillow, illuminated by dim, golden light. Before him sits a white Kobo with New Ceres Nights's cover art on its screen. The cover depicts many people in 18th century garb standing stiffly in a public street. The primary colours are pale pink and glowing blue.

Look! More short fiction!

NEW CERES NIGHTS is a shared world anthology set on a planet that has chosen to embrace the trappings of the 18th century over the technological marvels that have caused so much strife throughout the rest of the galaxy. I read it in rotation with THE SKY THAT WRAPS and the issue of F&SF pictured below, and had a great time with it.

Another point of interest: I learned of NEW CERES NIGHTS because one of the stories was reprinted in BEYOND BINARY, Brit Mandelo's anthology of genderqueer and sexually fluid SFF. Ain't it great when one book leads to another?

Murchie lays on his side beneath a red comforter. His eyes are barely open. In front of him sits my Kobo with the cover of F&SF's July/August 2014 issue on its screen. The cover shows a white-suited person sitting on an outcropping overlooking a silver rocket ship.

Yeah, so, my plan to catch up on THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION by the end of 2014 failed. Miserably. I've since put my subscription on hold while I finish the unread issues crowding my Kindle app, starting with the July/August 2014 edition guest edited by C.C. Finlay.

So far, my favourite story from this issue is "A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai'i" by Alaya Dawn Johnson. I seriously need to read her novels this year; her short fiction always blows me away.

Murchie lays on his side with his chin on my Kobo. Its screen shows the cover of The Wicked + The Divine, featuring a golden feather against a white background.

Ever since Murchie Plus Books began, I've tried to persuade Murchie he should rest his chin on a book, because how cute would that be? Yesterday morning he did it all by himself when presented with the first volume of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, and it proved awkward to photograph with his current haircut. All the face-on shots I took were basically just messy fluff with a wet black nose in the middle.

Dogs, man.

As I write this, I haven't yet started the comic, let alone formulated an opinion on it, but I'll no doubt have shoved it into my eyeballs by the time this post hits your screen. I wanted to make sure I made it by Saturday night sick reading3 partly because I'm wicked eager for more from Gillen and McKelvie (see preamble above) and partly so I can tell y'all I bought it as part of the Image Comics Humble Bundle.

Y'all seriously want to check the Humble Bundle out. It's pay-what-you-want, but if you fork over at least $18 you'll get the fancy-ass collected editions of SAGA and THE WALKING DEAD as well as a bunch of other highly-regarded comics. SAGA alone is more than worth the price.

I don't get anything if you buy the bundle, unless you want to count the joy I'll feel to know you're in for some great reading.

Next week: probably some more short fiction. Definitely some more comics. I mostly just want to cram a lot of stories into my brain right now, so I'm gonna go with stuff I know I can read quickly.

  1. I feel compelled to tell you I didn't name Babes. She was six months old when my parents brought her home as my late seventh birthday/early Christmas present, and she was already used to the name her former person had given her. Funny name and all, she is totes the best gift I've ever received, even though she was really more my dad's dog than mine. Murchie, in a neat reversal, was supposed to bond with my father but instead decided I was his favourite person ever.

    Thanks, Murchie! You're my favourite dog ever, too.

  2. I feel so bad about Murchie's tail. It was already docked by the time I met him, and it's mostly gone bald in the intervening years. He does wag it an awful lot, though, so I guess he's not too put out.

  3. I've been sick pretty well the whole time since Christmas and it's starting to piss me off. Right now, my whole family (minus my grandparents, who've been quarantined) has this cold/flu thing that saps all your energy, nauseates you, and makes you cough like your lungs are coming out. It's about as much fun as it sounds. I've had a relatively mild case and I still feel like crap most of the time. My mother has had a fairly serious case and she's still unable to venture out after eight days of suffering.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! It's abating, but it still ain't completely gone.

  2. If the Image bundle could go onto Comixology, I would buy it thrice. I like to have all my comics in one place, all tidy and organized. Arrrrrrrrgh I dunnoooooo. (No, I do know. I can't buy it. I have already spent too much money.)

    ALSO: My sister and brother-in-law just got a second dog. He seems super chill. I have high hopes that he will just sit still if I try to pose him with a book, and THEN we will have some pictures. Plus, their original dog, Penelope, gets very jealous when we do things with him. Maybe she will get jealous and consent to take pictures with my books.

    1. I dearly wish they had a "redeem through comiXology" option, like they let you redeem games through Steam when you buy a game bundle. (I bought a game bundle, way back when, and have never actually played any of the games because I need to work out something with my graphics card first and I suspect that's gonna be difficult and time consuming. At least the games weren't expensive. Game bundles generally have a way lower average price than do book bundles.)

      HURRAY FOR THE SECOND DOG! You must photograph him as early as every you can.