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And an open mind…

…compels me to immediately add that the Birmingham novel DOES pick up. I still think the opening 100 pages contain a lot of Tom Clancy-style hooey (for reference, I thought The Hunt for Red October was unutterably boring), but it then begins to get quite interesting and Birmingham really handles his characters a lot better and exploit some of the ideas the situation opens up for him. Have to see how the last chunk of the book goes, and then will blog more on it.

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Pushing on into the past…
Some of you may recall that I posted a link to Paul Di Filippo’s review of John Birmingham’s new novel, Weapons of Choice. It’s one of several good reviews I’ve seen, and it was enough to persuade me – restricted to my sick bed – to check it out. Sigh. I’ve got to say the first 100 pages are about as dumb a pile of hoo-ha as I’ve seen in a long time. Why? Well, it’s basically The Philadelphia Experiment, with a few new whizzbang terms thrown in to update it, and so far it hasn’t gone beyond the obvious. We’ve had the “Gosh, look at my neat technology” bit, following by the endless military conflict bit (confused people running up and down confused corridors doing confused things, all of which end horribly), and I’ve now reached the part where the folk from the future get to say “Gosh, we’re from the future”, the folk from the past say “No!”, the folk from the future say “Yes!”, and am awaiting the moment where the folk from the past say “Wow!”. I’m hoping that Birmingham can add enough of sufficient interest in the next 300 pages to overcome what I’ve seen so far. At this stage, my recommendation would be that this one’s only for people who want to see how Tom Clancy would have done The Philadelphia Experiment – but, we’ll see. Keeping an open mind, and all that. Sniff. Cough.

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Hmm. So whassup? Well, the ‘flu has come to visit again, which has pretty much wiped me out for the past couple days. It’s also been Jessica’s 4th birthday, so we had a little family thing with cake and presents here yesterday, and will be having a party at her grandmother’s house tomorrow. All of which is nice. On the other hand, the reading’s stacking up (as always), and Jessica has decided she can’t sleep in her new bed. Now, you need to understand, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the bed – it’s just that she doesn’t want to be in it. Sometimes for hours. Argh.

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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).