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Everybody has their own take on what should and what should not go into book reviews. One thing I struggle with is whether reviewers should mention the publishing aspects of a book – covers, copyediting etc. – and, for the most part, I think they shouldn’t. Why? Well, firstly, usually publishers are doing the best they can in the circumstances. Time and resources are limited, and everyone usually does want to do the best book possible. Secondly, reviews are about books and writers. Readers don’t usually care about who the publisher is, and a negative review because of publishing problems wrongly victimises the author, who typically has absolutely no control over such matters.

Of course, that begs the question: why mention this now? Well, since this isn’t a review column, and because I do intend to review the book itself, I thought I’d take a moment here to mention the cover for the new Clive Barker novel, Days of Magic, Nights of War. For those who don’t recall, Barker sold his ‘Abarat Quartet’ to a movie studio and publisher based on an outline and some paintings for a ton of money. One of the main selling points for the series was the artwork, and Barker has been duly producing hundreds of color pieces, a bunch of which appeared in the first book. Now, not all of the paintings are to my taste, but some are very good indeed. The book covers, though, are very perplexing. The designer has, in both cases, placed selected images from the book in a simple 3 x 3 grid, along with some text. It’s an approach that manages to rob the art of its impact, and to really dilute the cover itself, which lacks focus, branding or message (book covers, it always seemed to me, are most like movie posters). I’m not sure why the marketing department thinks it works, but it seems unfortunate to me, and unlikely to attract readers (which is, after all, the job of a book cover).

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Young adult publishing…
…just wants to make things difficult for the few of us who are reading for ‘year’s best’ annuals and who may or may not have to do annual short fiction round-ups. They do this by publishing short story collections that include a lot of previously unpublished stories (and in some cases only unpulished stories). They then complicate things by not including bibliographic information, so that it’s hard to be sure whether the stories are new or not. sigh. This year, so far, I’ve seen Brian Jacques’ The Ribbajack and Margo Lanagan’s stunningly good Black Juice, and yesterday brought a copy of Meredith Ann Pierce’s Waters Luminous and Deep: Shorter Fictions, courtesy of the ever wonderful Sharyn, and it looks pretty fine. Wonderful cover and four original stories. As to why this happens: I assume it’s because there just aren’t that many outlets for young adult short fiction. One thing I am going to be very interested to see is Jane Yolen and Patrick Nielsen Hayden‘s ‘Year’s Best Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy’. Both have terrific taste, and Yolen particularly has so much knowledge of the YA field that she’s sure to source some interesting stuff that everyone else will overlook.

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And because I’m playing catch up…
…I only just got around to reading Andy Duncan’s “Zora and the Zombie“, from SciFiction, which is a very cool story about writer Zora Neale Thurston’s encounter with zombies in Haiti. I’m going to re-read it later in the year, but at the moment I think it starts really well, but am less confident about the back half of it. I also just read Jay Lake’s “The Rose Egg” from the first issue of Postscripts, which has to do with nanotech, graffiti, gangs and courage. Again, I really liked it, though I couldn’t escape the feeling that Lake handled the story’s voice more confidently as it progressed (though that may just have been my becoming accustomed to the voice as I read). Another one to re-read. The first issue of Postscripts also has a very good Gene Wolfe story, “Prize Crew”, which you should check out when the magazine hits the stands. What else? Um, George Guthridge’s “Nine Whispered Opinions Regarding the Alaskan Secession” is a fascinating story experiment that I think I was just too tired to completely appreciate on first reading, but some pieces of it are wonderful. It’s also a good case of maybe telling too much about something. I didn’t really think of the story as an experiment until I read Guthridge’s postscript describing how he came to write it. Doesn’t make it any less of a story, but … I’d also agree with Matthew Cheney’s point that James Stoddard’s admittedly interesting, entertaining and worthwhile “The Battle of York” is too long. It felt like it needed to be tighter to me.

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The cd of the moment…
…on my Walkman is Amy Winehouse’s debut, Frank, which is really good. She sounds like a jazz singer, but doesn’t sing jazz at all. It’s smart, sassy and sometimes funny. To be honest, one or two of the lyrics made me a feel a little older than I’d prefer, but, hey, that’s what happens. If you ever wondered what Sarah Vaughan might sound like if she’d been born in 1984, Frank might give you an idea. You can hear samples at her website.

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Got home today to find the first advance copy of both the Australian and the US editions of The Locus Awards, which was quite cool. They have different covers (both by the supremely talented Michael Whelan)and different internal designs, and look wonderful in their own way. I couldn’t be prouder of this book, and finally getting to see the finished product makes all of the work worthwhile. This is the good part! Many thanks to Stephanie Smith and her supremely talented co-workers at HarperSydney and to Diana Gill and her fantastic team at HarperNewYork. Now, go buy it!

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