Thursday, 7 August 2014

Why they Burned Down the Library of Alexandria

Another competitor for the late lamented Tutis: The Library of Alexandria, whose reassuring web presence consists of a Facebook page full of unsolicited legal advice. Unlike Tutis, who stole their wildly inappropriate cover images from anywhere, The Library of Alexandria mostly stick to paintings in the public domain. Fortunately for our purposes, they are choosing the images based on no sane basis.

Here's their unique approach to P. G. Wodehouse...

Mark Twain...

F. Scott Fitzgerald...

The hidden side of Antarctica...

And their strange takes on some other literary classics (the unconventional cropping is their own work)...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Cooke vs Parker

(Note: I know it's boring that every (rare) post here begins with an excuse for the long time between posts--my excuse is that once my daughter began walking and getting into everything, it became extremely difficult to find time to fart around on the internet, especially when someone three feet tall is comes along and hammers at the keyboard every time you try!)

Six years ago I admired the first in David Drummond's series covers for the Richard Stark (pseudonym for Donald E Westlake) Parker novels--perhaps the best crime books ever written. Published by University of Chicago Press, they have been responsible for a well-deserved revival in the late Westlake's fortunes.

One of the first outgrowths of this revival were the graphic novel adaptations of some of the Parker books by Darwyn Cooke, whose bold, dynamic retro-inspired illustrations are a perfect fit for the works. Here are the covers of the first four books...

..a collected 'Martini Edition' of the first two...

..and some of the two-colour interior art ...

Cooke has also produced a limited-edition portfolio of art from the series.

All of this meant that when comics publisher IDW bought the rights to reprint the original Parker series in hardcover, Cooke was the natural choice to turn to to produce illustrations to accompany the text. Turning away from the two-colour style of the comics adaptions, Cooke has produced paintings that could easily be the covers to great 1950s/60s pulp novels. Here are four from the just-released first book from the series, The Hunter. (Very much click for much bigger versions.)

It's a shame Cooke isn't illustrating the covers for the books, which, while striking, are text-only and a little bland..

..though, comics publishers being what they are, there is an expensive deluxe edition which is much more attractive...

All of which brings us to an exciting and actually new book: Donald Westlake's The Getaway Car, a collection of his non-fiction writings edited by Levi Stahl, proprietor of the excellent I've Been Reading Lately, to be published in September by the same University of Cicago Press who kicked this whole thing off. The lovely cover is, naturally enough, the work of one Darwyn Cooke. Again, click for bigger...

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Valkyrie needs food - badly!

I haven't really played video games (except for simple puzzle-type time-wasters like Solitaire and Doctor Who Legacy) since teenagerhood. This is not from any prejudice against them, just from the twin facts that I know how they would combine with my mildly obsessive personality in order to eat all my time, and that I have no computer powerful enough to actually run whatever the latest amazing reality-warping developments in gaming might be.

What I do have time for are short, clever books about the more interesting bits of pop culture. Examples are the 33 1/3 series (examples here and here) which examine single important albums, the sadly aborted Deep Focus series from Soft Skull (see here) about films on the borderline between genius and trash, and ECW's Pop Classics series (the first titles of which have examined the disastrous movie 'Showgirls' (see here) and the strange longevity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

Now add to this Boss Fight Books, an ongoing series of short books about seminal computer games. What especially nice about these is that, instead of going mental with original digital images or lurid game graphics, they've chosen a sleek, minimalist series design (the work of Ken Baumann) that refers slightly elliptically to elements of the game under discussion, with small icons to demonstrate the relevant gaming platform (PC, arcade or console). Click for bigger images:

I haven't read any of these yet--Gallaga aside, none of them cover games I'm familiar with. But the moment they put out a volume on Gauntlet*, Brian Bloodaxe, Bubble Bobble or Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart's Super Off Road, I'm there.

* This classics swords-and-sorcery game allowed four players at once, and I had three friends also obsessed with it, so the amount of money we poured into this in Adelaide's Hindley Street Downtown during the mid-1980s was ludicrous. 

To this day I find myself saying things from the game--like the title of this post--more often than is necessary (ie at all). And Bubble Bobble! The Bridgewater Pub near where I grew up had one of those machines, and I read in a computer games magazine that some cunning combination of joystick waggling and button mashing would give you infinite free games, and it worked, and so my brother and I spent hours playing it while our chicken schnitzels were left to go cold and our traffic-light drinks to go warm. Why, in those days [strokes long white beard] you only needed a 20-cent coin to play, and [mind wanders] what was I saying, you whippersnappers? Why yes, it is time for my lie-down.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Romance Novels vs Reality: Part 1 (NSFW, or human eyes, really)

The Romance...

The Reality...

..and now my internet history has a search for "Berlusconi naked" in it, so don't say I don't suffer for my art.

The Southern Reach

I'd long been aware of the writing of Jeff Vandermeer, but had always avoided it, having somehow gained the impression that it was going to be irritatingly wacky in a "Gosh, I'm Just So Crazy" way. That his own publishing company is called Cheeky Frawg didn't help matters.

But I was intrigued by the pre-publication blurbs for his Annihilation, the first book in a trilogy about a weird, possibly alien-infected, zone of danger and peculiarity and the people attempting to get to grips with it: a development of the ideas from the classic Strugatsky brothers' novel Roadside Picnic (filmed as Stalker). That all three books in the trilogy were already written and being released over a period of only nine months helped--no waiting around for years to read the end of the story, with the added worry of the author dropping dead before they finished writing it.

Annihilation was in fact very good indeed, and now I'm reading the newly released second book, Authority (the final volume comes out in September), which may be even better. I seem to have sorely misjudged Vandermeer, and I apologise.

it doesn't hurt that all three books, published by FSG in the US, have beautiful  cover designs by Charlotte Strick, making use of unsettling illustrations by Eric Nyquist. The line art is printed with metallic ink, which is very effective in the flesh. (Click all images for bigger versions.)

Nyquist is also responsible for the end papers to each volume, picturing the lush and weirdly wrong wildlife of Area X.

Nyquist has even animated the three covers for added freakiness.


The books are published in the UK by Fourth Estate, and have the misfortune to have perfectly good cover designs that are kicked completely into the shade by Nyquist and Strick's work.