Monday, December 02, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/30

These are the books that arrived the last week of November, all of them new paperbacks from major American publishers. I haven't read them yet, but here's what I can tell you about them:

I'll start out with Year's Best SF 18, because it makes me feel so very old to remember when the first book in the series came out from Harper in the mid-90s and I bought it for the SFBC. The editor is still David G. Hartwell, who is as close to the perfect SF editor (both long and short form) as it's possible to find in this imperfect world. And this latest edition of the annual series collects twenty-eight of the best stories of 2012, from writers including Eleanor Arnason and Andy Duncan, Linda Nagata and Gene Wolfe, Megan Lindholm and Paul Cornell, Pat Cadigan and Tony Ballantyne. All of those are short stories, and all are science fiction -- rather than fantasy or something else -- at least according to Hartwell's compass, since people can and do disagree strongly on the subject. Year's Best SF 18 is available as a trade paperback on December 10th.

Everything else I have this week comes from the empire of Yen, one of this country's major publisher of manga as well as related things. (They're all December publications, and all paperbacks.) And so I think I'll slip into that world through the related things -- light novels, manga-influenced comics from American sources -- and then dive into the pure stuff from the other side of the world.

So next up is Spice and Wolf, Vol. 10 by Isuna Hasekura, from a series of "light novels" (which, in Japan at least, are shorter and quicker reads than things sold as just plain "novels") about a medieval merchant and the ancient goddess embodied as a wolf-girl who travels with him. There are seventeen novels in the series in all, so we're a little over halfway at this point. If you've ever wished that your secondary-world fantasy had fewer flashing swords and more details of economics and trading, you are in for a huge treat with this series.

The Dark-Hunters: Infinity, Vol. 2 is set in the world of Sherrilyn Kenyon's urban fantasy series "Dark-Hunters," and is credited to Kenyon, with art by JiYoung Ahn. I'm not clear if this adapts part of Kenyon's sprawling series of books, or if it tells a new story set in that world -- I think it's the latter, but the book itself doesn't make the connection clear. In any case, there's a teenage boy who has recently (in the first book) discovered he has supernatural powers and Everything He Knows Is Wrong, along the usual lines of urban fantasy.

Similarly, Soulless, Vol. 3 adapts Gail Carriger's steampunk series -- I think each comics volume adapts one book, so this would be 2010's Blameless in comics form -- with art by an entity credited as REM. (Not the one with the twanging guitars, I presume.) I reviewed the first novel a few years back, if you want more details of the world and such-not. But, hey: Steampunk! Parasols! Victorian clothing! Tea ceremonies! You folks go nuts for that stuff, don't you?

And now I'll get into the actual manga, and take them by volume numbers:

Lunching this month is Shiwo Komeyama's Bloody Cross. She's a cursed half-angel, half demon! He's a full angel! They're cops vampire hunters! It's more complicated than that, of course -- her particular curse means she has to drink demon blood regularly to stay alive, and through the usual confusions at the start of a manga series, she transmits the curse to him, so they have to stay together for both of their survival.

Also launching this month is Shiro Amano's Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, and I have to admit I have no idea what the title means, even after a quick skim. But it's about Roxas, who was born as a Nobody and is now part of Organization XIII -- and if you know what that means, go for it.

Yoshiki Tonogai's psychological horror thriller Judge is back for a second volume, in which the bunch of young Japanese people kidnapped and trapped in an abandoned courthouse continue to be forced to decide which of them are the worst sinners and be killed. (So it looks like a slightly more legalistic Saw from my point of view.)

Are You Alice?, Vol. 3 is by Ikumi Katagiri and Ai Ninomiya (credited as "original story by") and is some kind of Alice in Wonderland-themed story with gangsters in a weird alternate world.

The ever-proliferating "Puella Magi" magical-girl saga is back with Kazumi Magica, Vol. 3. Kazumi, the helpful subtitle adds, is "The Innocent Malice," which makes everything all right.

And then there's Until Death Do Us Part, Vol. 5, continuing Hiroshi Takashige and DOUBLE-S's story of a blind swordsman (those are the most dangerous kind, of course, just like little old men have the deadliest kung fu) and the precognitive girl he's protecting from the obligatory evil rich man (here called Mr. Wiseman, to be that much more on the nose).

Sunshine Sketch, Vol. 7 contains more 4-koma gag strips about the six girls living at the Hidemari Apartments and taking art classes at their school, by Ume Aoki.

JinHo Ko's ultraviolent Jack Frost is back for an eighth volume -- actually, I should admit that I don't know for sure if it's still ultraviolent, but it certainly was for the first two volumes, which I reviewed back in 2009 for ComicMix. I do hope that the young heroine is not getting decapitated nearly as often by this point in the series.

My sons will be thrilled to see that Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba&!, Vol. 12 has arrived: they love this series about an amazingly enthusiastic and innocent young girl encountering new things and being amazed by them over and over again. (I have to admit that it's never clicked with me, though I'm not quite as clueless now as when I read the first volume.)

Speaking of things my sons like, there's also Atsushi Ohkubo's Soul Eater, Vol. 17, the latest in a very energetic and active boys' manga series, with all of the associated demon-fighting and details about everyone's secret moves. (I reviewed the first volume of this one way back when, as well.)

People who like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya will be happy to hear that the seventeenth volume is now out, and anyone else is advised to find the beginning and start there. It's by Gaku Tsugano and Nagaru Tanigawa, as usual, and contains approximately twelve times the recommended daily level of teen-girl energy.

And last for this week is Pandora Hearts, Vol. 19, another series (this one by Jun Mochizuki) that does weird things to Alice in Wonderland for its own purposes. I reviewed the first volume back at the dawn of the world, but I bet that things have changed and gotten more complicated since then.

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