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In which I discuss the allure of dystopian literature and wonder if joining Twitter was the beginning of the end

Title: Super Sad True Love Story

Author: Gary Shteyngart

What it’s about: Though Lenny has resolved to live forever, his plans for immortality are complicated by several unavoidable matters. First there’s the problem of his appearance as a visibly middle-aged, balding man whose attention to fitness and healthy eating has not been up to current standards. Secondly, though his income certainly puts him above the Low Net Worth Individuals, he still hasn’t saved enough to have Smart Blood pumped into his veins to rehabilitate his deteriorating body. And now he’s been pegged by the American Restoration Agency for potential sedition, all because he told Jeffrey the Otter he’d slept with “some Italians” and the ARA mascot logged it as Somalians. After they dragged that fat man off the plane for un-American activities, Lenny doesn’t know how he’ll ever fit in to the culture of youth, data, Images, and technology.

His one and only bright spot is the young and beautiful Eunice Price, an emotionally damaged Korean woman whose fragility attracts Lenny. He becomes determined to make her love him, not only because he is attracted to her, but because she can undoubtedly¬† increase his Physical Rating by sheer proximity. What follows is a super sad love story, told in the alternating perspectives of Lenny’s long-form journal and Eunice’s emails and chats to her friends and family on GlobalTeens. Both Lenny and Eunice hate and love one another, seeing in the other something they want but can never have. Eunice sees Lenny as cultured and smart in an almost embarrassing way, but values him as a truly good person, though his goodness leads to an intensity she’s unable to handle, as most of her interactions are via the internet. But the story is bigger than Lenny and Eunice. Around them the world starts to unravel and they will discover if their relationship is made from something real.

Frighteningly close to home: Part of the allure to dystopian literature is in seeing the similarities to our own society, in finding the breaking points. We say “we’re just like like” and that frightens us a little. But isn’t that the idea? Dystopian literature helps us find the extremes of our society and in turn stay away from them. In Super Sad True Love Story, each person carries a digital device quite similar to the iPhone, on which they spend time “emoting” and “verballing,” which basically breaks down to what we would call Twitter, FourSquare, Facebook, and blogs. People gain points by ranking one another, just as we get a high when we gain a new Twitter follower. The role of our credit rankings and the government’s ability to wipe away privacy and make judgments about our worth based on citizenship and assets also rings too close to home. Our world hasn’t taken it quite so far as Lenny and Eunice’s, but the degree of separation is quite small. It’s these types of tales, that don’t involve huge leaps in technology or transitions in values, that are the most chilling. It reminds us what we should not become…But then again, you know I’m going to Tweet a link to this blog…

Would I recommend? As you may have noticed, I am drawn to the post-apocalyptic. I loved Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood, Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey, and even The Hunger Games has a bit of that world-exploding flare. My love of this genre is nothing new though. I was reading 1984 and Brave New World long before “dystopia” was the buzzword of all things cool. So when my mother recommended Super Sad True Love Story to me I was, of course, excited. The book has not let me down. The allure of dystopia is in imagining what could be, shuddering, and becoming determined to avoid it.

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Title: The Steampunk Bible

Authors: Jeff VanderMeer with S. J. Chambers

I’m super excited for the publication of The Steampunk Bible by Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers, available May 1 (pre-order now!). As always happens when I get involved in a new project, I suddenly find myself completely immersed in that world. Since working on the book, I’ve been to Steampunk events, I spotted Steampunks at Comic-Con (my favorite was the Steampunk Boba Fett), and I’ve been introduced to some amazing writers and artists who I hope to work with in the future.

I feel lucky to have been involved in this project, because I came to this book in a fairly roundabout way. A colleague had acquired it, and only a few months later had to leave the company. Someone needed to step in as editor, and as a lover of science fiction and fantasy, I jumped at the chance. I am so glad I did. Working with Jeff and Selena was a dream. Not only are they amazingly creative, they’re also just fun to work with (very few of my authors respond to my emails with “SQUEEEE.” It’s refreshing.). Jeff also literally knows everyone in the world. I could not believe how many people he conned into being involved with this project. Every day it was like, hey guess what? Imperial Chinese Steampunk robots by James Ng? Check! Comic panels from Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius, Molly Crabapple’s The Puppet Makers, and Mike Mignola’s Amazing Screw-On Head? Check, check, check! An original project from Steampunk Workshop founder Jake von Slatt? Check! Astounding works of art from Steampunk makers, designers, photographers, fashionistas, and artists from around the globe? In spades!

Fitting it all together was definitely the hardest part. Our wonderful designer Galen Smith did a stellar job of figuring out this jigsaw puzzle, and the result is just stunning. As I am an endpaper snob, the dragon dirigible sketch and finished piece is just the perfect opening and closing to the book. The cover riffs on an old French edition of Jules Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaries (currently hidden in my office). When we asked Jeff and Selena for ideas about cover direction, Jeff mentioned the old French editions as a possible starting point. I doubt he expected us to take it as far as we did! We found a beautifully preserved copy on eBay, scanned the cover, and then digitally altered it to include modern Steampunk images and our own text. The result is set off with a spot gloss that really makes the gold pop against the red.

I’m so happy with the finished book and can’t wait to see it in stores. Here are some sneak peek spreads for your perusal and also, the very special debut of my Steampunk portrait. I asked Jeff and Selena to have their portraits done by the very talented Krista Brennan for the About the Authors page and they “forced” me to have one done as well…which I did not include in the book mind you! My colleagues are all very jealous and want robot helpers who delivery tea and biscuits as well.

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Title: I Am Plastic, Too

Author: Paul Budnitz

 

Who says toys are just for kids? I mean, seriously, you can’t tell me that you weren’t ecstatic that time you were at home digging through your old stuff and you happened upon your My Little Ponies! Or your Pog collection! Man, I had a great slammer. What I’m trying to say is, we don’t have to be satisfied with the memories from our childhood. Because there’s a whole world of toys out there made just for you and me. And the best place to look for them is at Kidrobot. Or you could get a thorough overview of the designer toy world in a new Book From My Desk, I Am Plastic, Too. The second book from Kidrobot, this volume contains all the hottest artists and illustrators pumping out creepy, crazy, and cute little toys perfect for your cubicle. I have a Santa with a skull-and-bones Santa hat and a bottle of boozy eggnog looking at me right now! He’s been celebrating all year round and is just working up to the holiday buzz.

Suddenly I really, really wanted that Smorkin’ Labbit (a rabbit with a cigar for the uninitiated). The big silver one! Or this awesome blinged-up Gorilla by Da TeamBronx. With toys from over 140 artists and companies from six continents, the book features all the latest, coolest collectibles. Some are one-of-a-kind creations that draw huge bids on eBay, while others go for a couple dollars on Kidrobot’s website. I’ve been eyeing that walrus plushie for awhile now. . . (click “Continue Reading” for pictures!) (more…)

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