Monday, May 26, 2014

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/24

Every month, there seems to be one week when the Gods of Mail smile upon me and shower me with their bounty, vastly more than the rest of the time. Sometimes, I'm lucky enough for that to be on a three-day weekend, so I have a little more time to pull this post together. This week, both of those things are true.
These are books that just arrived on my doorstep: I haven't read them, and any opinions below are informed only as much as I've read earlier things by the author(s) and am good at extrapolating from sell copy. In other words, if I seem to be slandering a book, you just might want to get a second opinion. I'd recommend that, if anything I mention sounds the slightest bit interesting, at least look it up and see what other people have to say; I tend to be cranky and have been known to radiate dislike even for books I mostly enjoyed.

First up is a book the author sadly didn't live to see: William H. Patterson, Jr. died a few weeks ago, just a bit too early to see the publication of the epically-titled Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Vol. 2: The Man Who Learned Better: 1948-1988. This is an authorized biography, with all of the attendant benefits and deficits: Patterson had access to Heinlein's widow Virginia and Heinlein's papers, but presumably toes the family line, which might not be the only line, or even the line a living Heinlein would have wanted. It follows the first volume, Learning Curve, which received mixed but respectful reviews. I have hopes of reading both volumes: Heinlein was an interestingly grumpy man and one of the towering figures of 20th century SF, and I hope Patterson has presented him in the round, rather than as the tin libertarian icon so many of his supposed fans feel driven to worship. The Man Who Learned Better is a Tor hardcover, on sale June 3.

One of the reasons this was a big week for the mail was a giant box of June publications from the fine folks at Yen Press -- purveyors of manga and related works for nearly a decade now -- and I'll dive into them next. As usual, I try to mostly deal with big manga boxes in order of confusion, beginning with series-openers and moving forward to end with books only otaku will understand.

(Note: Yen is an imprint of Hachette, and a certain large Internet retailer is currently having spirited negotiations with Hachette about selling terms, so the links I provide below may not be all that useful until the dispute is resolved. The books, though, will be available in all of the other places you usually buy books, even if I don't get a kickback on those purchases. So don't be dissuaded, if something looks good to you.)

The debut this month is High School DxD, Vol. 1, adapted by Hiroji Mishima from the light novel series by Ichei Ishirumi (and illustrated by Zero Miyama, here credited as character designer). It looks to be another high school harem manga, with our hapless hero this time accidentally killed on his first date and brought back to life by a devil-girl schoolmate to be her minion. It comes wrapped in plastic, so I expect this one comes with extra fan-service -- and who would want a harem manga that's rated PG, anyway?

Shiwo Komeyama is back with Bloody Cross, Vol. 3 -- I reviewed the first and second volumes for book-a-day posts in the last few months -- which continues the blasphemous adventures of two half-blood angel-demons and their quest for the Christian artifacts that will turn some lucky supernatural being into the new God at the end of the series. See my linked posts for more details.

Hyouto Fujiyama brings us Tale of the Waning Moon, Vol. 4, which completes the series. (And I'm calling it some form of BL just from looking at the cover -- I'll read the back next and see if I'm right.) Well, it's about two people, Ixto and Ryuka, who probably are the cute boys on the cover, and their complicated love and the supernatural barriers keeping them apart.

And then there's Souji Sato's Triage X, Vol. 6, whose cover scoffs at any ideas of "good taste" or "propriety." (See my post on the first five volumes.) This continues the adventures of the (mostly very busty, and not always fully dressed) vigilante nurses of Mochizuki General Hospital, and the very nasty terrorists and other villains they fight, and (I assume) almost as importantly, the long, languid baths they take naked together afterward. It's a very, very guilty pleasure, but I will admit it is a pleasure.

I've seen several reworkings of Alice in Wonderland from Japan over the years, but Are You Alice?-- now back for a fifth volume, by Ikumi Katagiri and Ai Ninomiya as usual -- is possibly the oddest, full of gangsters and guns and a boy called Alice, which is a title in this world. If you've ever thought that Lewis Carroll would be much improved by gunplay and intrigue among the tea-party crew, this is the series you've been waiting for.

Junya Inoue's BTOOOM! -- Battle Royale with bombs, that's my elevator pitch -- returns in a sixth volume, with an even nastier and tougher opponent for Our Heroes to defeat, since the opposite would be kinda boring. I reviewed the first book in a round-up, and found it a decent shonen story -- and Ghu knows that stories about teenagers slaughtering each other are very popular these days.

JinHo Ko is also back, with Jack Frost, Vol. 10. I reviewed the first and second volumes of this very violent series -- the main character is decapitated twice in the first volume, to begin with -- and it seems to have gotten only more complicated, dark, and randomly destructive since then. A fine example of shonen manga, in other words.

I don't really understand how the Puella Magi series works -- there's a bunch of interlocking series about magical girls battling evil, based on a TV series (or maybe light novels -- again, I have a hard time keeping it all straight), and some of the series are alternate-world versions of each other, and others are just side-stories. So here is Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Different Story, Vol. 2with art by Hanokage and Puella Magi Kazumi Magica: The Innocent Malice, Vol. 5with art by Takashi Tensugi. Both are written by Magica Quartet.

You might have heard of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Vol. 18; it's hugely popular and has expanded to many media and proliferated into a dozen side-stories along the way. But the main manga series is back with Volume 18, written by Nagaru Tanigawa and drawn by Gaku Tsugano, which seems to take place in at least two timelines simultaneously.

And then there's Atsushi Ohkubo's Soul Eater, Vol. 20, latest in an energetic and fun shonen series about demon-hunters and their shape-shifting sentient weapons. My teenage sons love this series, and I quite liked the few scattered volumes of it I've read -- no links, unfortunately, since Blogger's search isn't turning up my posts on those books. If you like Naruto, this scratches a very similar itch.

Yoshigi Tonogai's saga of random unpleasant people forced to kill each other continues in JUDGE, Vol. 4. I haven't read these, and probably won't, so if anyone else has, please speak up in the comments.

You don't see as many stories about blind swordsmen these days, bu Hiroshi Takashige and DOUBLE-S's Until Death Do Us Part, Vol. 6is a great exception. It also has a young precognitive girl and a shadowy evil organization bent on controlling the world -- so, if you've been craving some new '80s manga, this just might be what you've been looking for.

And last from Yen this week is Park SoHee's Goong, Vol. 15, a slightly alternate-world romance about the Korean royal family (which doesn't actually exist, hence "slightly alternate-world") and the travails of one very young woman who married into it, has now been divorced, but may now be reconciling with her rich and king-to-be ex. Oh, and everyone has eyes the size of saucers, for good or bad.

Fifteen years ago, there was a book called The Science of Discworld, one half fiction (by Terry Pratchett) and non-fiction (by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen), explaining a bunch of standard science stuff (evolution, the Big Bang, scientific laws, etc.) as the wizards of Unseen University first create and them examine a "Roundworld" which is puzzlingly unlike their own disc-shaped planet. That book has finally come to the US, as an Anchor trade paperback this June 3rd -- so late that there have been three sequels in the UK and elsewhere. Well, better late than never, I suppose, though serious Pratchett fans have had this book for a long time already (though some of us, namely me, already lost one copy in a flood).

Strange Country is Deborah Coates's third novel and the conclusion of what her publishers are calling a "rural fantasy" -- set in the modern day, with the usual supernatural trappings and a smart, tough heroine at the center, but set far away from urban centers. It's a Tor hardcover, arriving May 27th, and the prior books are Wide Open and Deep Down.

On the Steel Breeze is the new novel from Alastair Reynolds and the mid-trilogy follow-up to his last book, Blue Remembered Earth -- though this one is set two hundred years later and much further along in the human diaspora from that first book. I haven't read Reynolds in a while, which is a shame: he's a smart, interesting writer who can do both plausible science and plausible characters, and the combination is pretty rare. This one is an Ace hardcover on June 3rd.

The Boost is a first SF novel -- first novel of any kind, as far as I can tell -- by longtime technology and business journalist Stephen Baker. It's set in a world where nearly everyone has a "boost" -- a networked chip installed as a direct brain interface -- and where one man finds out the shocking secret behind the next scheduled software upgrade for that boost. What I find most interesting (or perhaps "implausible" is the word) is the idea that there's a single technology platform for these brain-chips; that's a 1970s idea, not one for our modern, competitive, networked world. Am I to believe that there's no Apple-esque more expensive and "elegant" chip that self-important types use? And no self-hackable version beloved by programmers and defenders of UNIX? Otherwise, this looks like the kind of borderline SFnal thriller that can sell a lot of copies, be made into a popcorn movie, and create a million "not really sci-fi" comments from people too dumb to know better. But it may be much better than that; I hope so. It's a Tor hardcover that hit stores last week.

Elizabeth Haydon is back with the first book in her "Symphony of Ages" series -- some of us may know them better as "the Rhapsody books," after the first novel -- for the first time in nearly a decade. The Merchant Emperor is the second book in the trilogy begun in 2006's The Assassin King, and let's home book three isn't equally delayed. It's a Tor hardcover, coming June 3rd.

Kevin J. Anderson is launching a new big space-opera series with The Dark Between the Stars (not to be confused with the Frank Robinson book; that one is about the dark beyond the stars), which is set in the same universe as his previous "Seven Suns" books. It's also a Tor hardcover coming June 3rd; that seems to be a busy day for the Toroids!

And last for this week is The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell (a writer about comics and other things for various British periodicals, and also known as a kid lurking around the edges of some of the autobiographical comics of Eddie Campbell, her father). It's a book-length look at Gaiman's work (in comics, books with just words, books with some pictures as well, movies, and various other things) over the past thirty or so years, and is a HarperDesign hardcover that was just released. Since Campbell has known Gaiman as long as she's been alive, and she's still young and energetic enough to dig up all of his quirky stuff (and there's a lot to dig up: he wrote a book on Duran Duran, of all things), so I have hopes for this one.

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