Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Business Models I Don't Get

Every morning, coming out of Penn Station in lovely midtown Manhattan, I pass a bunch of guys with signs touting their bus trips to the outlet mall in Woodbury Common. These trips seem to run about $35.

And I can't understand why this is a viable business at all.

If you're already in Manhattan, one of the pieces of land on Earth most densely packed with retail opportunities -- and which is very well covered with mass transit to get you to those retail opportunities -- why on earth would you pay that much to take a bus an hour north to a wind-swept plain where you can buy things at very similar prices to the place where you already are?

Maybe people enjoy the bus, but it looks to me like a tax on not realizing the actual opportunities in the city itself. I find it hard to believe you can't get 99% of the products for sale there as cheap or cheaper in the city itself. (Yes, if you're spending thousands of dollars, the extra NYC tax probably adds up. But if you're spending thousands of dollars, you're a) not doing it in an outlet mall and 2) not riding on a bus.)

(Note: I have been to Woodbury Common, more than once, because I live in the suburbs and own a car. But I'd be blissfully happy never to go there again. It has no appeal besides the raw ability to spend money on goods: it's generally cold and windy and mostly outdoors.)

Reviewing the Mail: Week of October 3: Large-Format Manga

Part two of this week's epic trilogy of "Reviewing the Mail" posts collects all of the large-format manga books currently on my desk. With the exception of the first book, they're all numbered volumes in fictional series, telling stories about normal teenagers and demons and blind assassins and housemaids and Satan and magical girls. And they are all from Yen Press, either very recently published or very soon to be published, so look out for them wherever you prefer to buy books.

The outlier is Yana Toboso Black Butler Artworks 1, which has a title that explains it very well: it's a book of artworks by Yana Toboso, creator of Black Butler, and those artworks all relate to that series. If you like that series, or Toboso's art, you'll want this.

The rest are all manga collections, which I'll organize in my usual way: start with first volumes of series, and move on through higher numbers, getting more complicated and less friendly to new readers as I go.

So that means The Devil Is a Part-Timer! High School!, Vol. 1comes first -- and, yes, it does have two exclamation points in the title. This is related somehow to the regular The Devil Is a Part-Timer! series, in which the Lord of Demons is reincarnated as a young Japanese guy after an apocalyptic battle in his home world, and starts working in a fast-food restaurant as part of a long fiendish plot to conquer the world (as you do). In this one, the devil and his nemesis are in high school -- so I suspect this is the same story, but focused differently into school comedy rather than workplace comedy.

Speaking of refocusing, that's exactly what Puella Magi Homura Tamura, Vol. 1 does: it takes the characters of the various "Puella Magi" series -- the magical girls, their very short skirts and shiny giant eyes, and their battles against witches -- and drops them into a 4-koma comedy series. I find these kind of stories are the hardest things to translate, since they're all about cultural assumptions and everyday life in a different country, but comedy is fun, so I hope it works.

Emma, Vol. 2 continues the reprinting of Kaoru Mori's well-loved series about a maid in Victorian England in larger hardcover editions. I still have hopes to read this series one of these days.

Ubel Blatt, Vol. 3 is a dark fantasy from Etorouji Shiono, with some very Elric-y touches (arrogant weakling with a creepy black sword most prominently). I reviewed the zeroth issue -- yes, zeroth, this series comes in 400+ books and still needed a running start to get to number one -- last year.

Kaori Yuki's series is only up to Demon from Afar, Vol. 4, but there's already a complex backstory listed in the character pages that I don't think I entirely understand. There's a guy with a weird hand emblem who will bring about the end of the world, his servant (who is actually the devil, and scheming to get loose), and an evil Baron with unspecified sinister plans. All of this takes place in an unspecified "Imperial" time, and then in the modern day -- this volume says "Modern Day" on the table of contents, so maybe it bounces back and forth.

Fuka Mizutani is back with Love at Fourteen, Vol. 4-- I've already read, though not reviewed, the first two, and the third one is probably around here somewhere -- which is a nice, low-key story of two mostly realistically depicted teenagers and their tentative, halting first love. So far, it's cute, and the narration is only slightly intrusive, with its endless repetition of how advanced these kids are. (Which seems to mean something different in a Japanese context -- the words used imply to this American that they're screwing like bunnies, which is not at all what Mizutani means.) [1]

I've got two volumes of this Satsuki Yoshino series: both Barakamon, Vol. 6 and Vol. 7. (See my review from last year for the first volume -- I'm sure it's gotten more complicated since then, because that's what series fiction does, but it seems to be the same fish-out-of-water premise, a Japanese take on Northern Exposure.

I've explained this at least a dozen times, but I'm still not sure if I've ever gotten it exactly right. The Higurashi When They Cry and Umineko When They Cry series of manga are loosely related to each other and all based on a series of text-based video games, all about variations on the same story. And now we're up to Umineko WHEN THEY CRY Episode 5: End of the Golden Witch, Vol. 2. It has a story by Ryukishi07, art by Akitaka, and what I really hope is not a pre-teen girl in an inappropriate costume on the cover.

Last for this post is Until Death Do Us Part, Vol. 10, about a blind swordsman -- they're the most deadly kind, you know, like the spindly old men are always the most deadly opponents in karate movies -- and the cute little precognitive girl he protects from the usual sinister forces. This one is written by Hiroshi Takashige and has art from something that calls itself DOUBLE-S.

[1] For some reason, Blogger doesn't like the cover for this book -- it refuses to upload the image, in two different versions saved as two different files. So you'll have to guess or google to see what it looks like.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Inadvertently Telling Quotes

"It will also require that the business people understand the long-term advantages to the company of not violating laws and regulations, including avoiding the extensive costs that come from those violations in the form of legal fees, monetary penalties and the monitor’s fees."
 -from this article in Corporate Counsel

Oh how slender is that "including," and how how little it seems to include anything other than "not getting caught and having to pay some money."

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/3: Skiffy

Some day, this blog will turn into something other than a weekly list of books that showed up in my mail box. (Really -- this has happened before, a couple of times.) But it won't be this week, and it probably won't be this month.

But you do get this, at least. This week, I'm catching up on the backlog, which is nice for me (closure!) and nice for you (a longer list!). As always, I haven't read any of these books, and I won't promise when or if I'll get to read any of them. Nevertheless, I can tell you they exist and try to find the most intriguing things about each of them.

To make it seem like I'm posting more, I'm splitting this week's "Reviewing the Mail" into an unprecedented three posts! (Note: this is not unprecedented. I've done it at least once before.) And, in honor of the field I worked in, once upon a time -- and still have vague dreams of getting back to, some day -- I'll lead off with SFF books.

A Borrowed Man is the new novel by Gene Wolfe, one of the greatest and trickiest writers in SF. (Seriously, if you haven't read his four-book "Book of the New Sun" series, what have you been doing? And if you did read that, you need to find the loosely related "Book of the Long Sun" and "Book of the Short Sun," the latter of which is possibly Wolfe at his very sneakiest. The other major contender for that crown is his novel Peace, which I also recommend.) I'm already two books behind on Wolfe, because I'm not reading as much SFF these days, but this one is short and has a neat hook: the narrator is a library copy of the downloaded brain of a now-dead mystery writer. checked out of that library to help a young woman investigate the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy father. It's a Tor hardcover, coming October 20th, and any Wolfe book will exercise your brain while you read it.

Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper is the third in a steampunk series by David Barnett about the young adventurer who went from reading fantastic adventures to living them as Hero of the Empire. (As usual, steampunk means Queen Victoria Uber Alles.) This one is the inevitable amnesia plot, with Smith thrown into London's seedy underbelly (TM) and bereft of his memories. Can! He! Fight! Back!? (Of course.) This is a Tor trade paperback, clanking its way onto shelves October 13.

An Apprentice to Elves is the third book in Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear's fantasy series about a Viking-esque society and the wolves they telepathically bond with. (There are elves, too, as the title implies, but they seem to be more saga-style and less Tolkien.) This time out, we follow the daughter of the original series hero as she runs up against all of the things her society says women can't do...and she calmly accepts that all lives have limitations, and makes the best of her situation. Ha! Of course not -- fantasy novels are entirely about destroying all limitations and becoming the most special person in all existence, because the book is about YOU. This one's a Tor hardcover on October 13.

And last for this installment is Radiance, the new novel from the inventive and surprising Catherynne M. Valente. This one is set in an alternate past in which Golden Age SF-style rockets ships ply the old-fashioned solar system (ancient desert Mars, jungle-shrowded Venus, and so forth) but the movies are still silent due to a stranglehold by Edison patents. Our heroine launches on a career to make talking documentaries about the wonders of those strange planets, and Valente tells her story in what seems to be a multiplex way, with a novel in different fonts for different kinds of texts and first-person narration alternates with excerpts from gossip magazines and screenplays. Radiance looks deeply weird and idiosyncratic, which I appreciate, and I hope you will, as well.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of September 26: Skiffy!

I suspect these are the books people actually want to see me talk about -- to the degree that anyone is interested in the first place -- so here's what came in last week. (Plus one straggler from the week before that was trapped under the large stack of Yen Press stuff and has now been liberated.)

Even after this, there's still a rump stack, which I hope to get to next week. Or maybe sooner, if my schedule ever lets up. (These days, I leave the house by 6:20 and get home at 8 PM at the earliest -- sometimes up to an hour later -- which leaves very little time for anything that isn't work or commuting.)

Anyway, these are books, I haven't read them, and some of you will love some of them. Onward!

Rising Tide is Rajan Khanna's second novel, after Falling Sky -- and, yes, your guess is correct: it is a sequel to Falling Sky. From the quotes and the description of the action in this book, it seems to be a steampunky world, with zombies in at least some corners -- and that, unfortunately, includes the island where Ben and Miranda, our protagonists. They've lost their ship, and are in the clutches of someone named Malik. This is a trade paperback from Pyr, available October 6th.

A week later from the same publisher, you can find Gold Throne in Shadow, the second book in M.C. Planck's "World of Prime" series, after Sword of the Bright Lady. This is not your standard epic fantasy series, as you might guess from the revolver held by the lady on the cover. (On second thought, I'm not too sure about calling her a "lady," either.) This series follows a mechanical engineer who went into a magical world, slightly died, was brought back as a priest of war, and is trying to survive and make it back to his own world -- as far as I can tell, there's no Dark Lord in sight anywhere, which is refreshing.

Kelley Armstrong's short fiction is collected in Led Astray, a trade paperback from Tachyon in October. It contains twenty-one stories from the past six years, including a brand-new story never published before. And it's credited as "the best of," which is a good sign -- these days, most SFF novelists don't write a lot of short fiction, so collections often are everything that can be dug up. Armstrong clearly isn't in that situation: there's over four hundred pages of stories here, and it's not digging back into her early career, either. So her fans -- and interested watchers of Bitten, the Syfy series based on her most popular series -- should check this out.

There's a new entry in that old SFnal game, The Man Who Melted Jack Dann. Sometimes, a book's title and author form a single thought -- a sentence is best, but a thought is fine -- and are arranged on the spine so they can be read that way. And we now have The Monstrous Ellen Datlow. Now, Datlow is definitely not monstrous, since she's a wonderful person and one of our best editors. And she edited this book, as you can see if you look at the small type. But she's now in the Melted Jack Dann Club. Monstrous is a new reprint anthology from Tachyon, with 20 stories from writers including Caitlin R. Kiernam, Peter Straub, Kim Newman, Jeffrey Ford, Livia Llewellyn, John Langan, and Jack Dann (him again!) and Gardner Dozois. All of those stories are about monsters, in one way or another.

And last for this installment is a new book from David Weber: Hell's Foundations Quiver, the eighth in his Safehold series. As far as I can tell, this is still set on the planet Safehold, where a remnant of humanity fled after badly losing a genocidal war with a more powerful alien race. The general plan was to stay at a medieval tech level so that the aliens would never find them, but, hundreds of years later, a secret rebuild-tech-and-beat-the-aliens plan reignited, throwing the world into war. And that war is what Weber has been writing about for eight books of about 700 pages each. (Presumably, someday, they'll get back up into space and actually start fighting aliens. But that might be another 20 books at this rate.) Quiver -- a word which always put me in mind of Amos Starkadder -- is a Tor hardcover, available October 13.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of September 26: Light Novel Showcase!

I'm still catching up from the gigantic box from Yen Press last week, so this week will be another partial report. ("Partial" meaning "only about twenty books.")

As always, I haven't read the books I'll write about in "Reviewing the Mail," and don't necessarily know all that much about them. And I might sometimes be dismissive, or just plain wrong, about something you love or just know better than I do. None of this is malicious: some things strike me as more appealing than others, like anyone, and I tend to be more interested in books that I think I would enjoy. If I'm horribly wrong about something, please do comment to say so.

But these are books that showed up in my mailbox, now covering parts of two weeks, because they were sent by the great hard-working publicists of Big Publishing. I may, someday, manage to read and even review some of these -- though the large stack on the corner of my desk of things already read tends to argue otherwise -- but, for now, I'm going to be satisfied by letting you know that they exist:

This week starts off with a Light Novel Showcase!, to help me get through that large number of things from Yen. So, these eleven books are all light novels -- less calories and fat than regular novels! illustrations! written by actual Japanese people, and so excitingly foreign to Americans! nicely written in series with numbers on the spine! -- from Yen, published either right now or in the very recent past. The Light Novel Showcase! (yes, the bang is part of my title) runs, as I usually do, in order of increasing complexity, starting with new-reader friendly items and getting hairier from there.

(Look for a follow-up post, with other things, tomorrow.)

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories The Novel novelizes the videogame of the same name -- and possibly more of the Kingdom Hearts empire, for all I know. It's written by Tomoco Kanemaki, from an "original concept" [1] by Tetsuya Nomura and Daisuke Watanabe, with illustrations by Shiro Amano, who did the manga. (I do not know if these are new illustrations, or re-purposed from box art and other things.)

Black Bullet, Vol. 1: Those Who Would Be Gods launches a new series by Shiden Kanzaki, with illustrations by Saki Ukai. (There's already a manga adaptation available, as well.) It's a mildly post-apocalyptic story, in which the usual high schoolers/secret agents (normal boy, ex-rich girl, spunky younger girl with mysterious powers and a Big Secret) battle against the parasitic virus that has already destroyed most of humanity. You know, as you do.

Then we've got Strike the Blood, Vol. 1: The Right Arm of the Saint, from Gakuto Mikumo with illustrations by the entity code-named Manyako. It's another ordinary-boy-gets-massive-powers story -- as opposed to the stories where ordinary boys are caught up with girls who have massive powers, which are totally different -- about a kid named Kojou, now the world's most powerful vampire, and the younger girl Yukina sent to watch him.

Satan [2] works in a Tokyo fast-food restaurant in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Vol. 2, from Satoshi Wagahara. (It's illustrated by 029 (Oniku). Yes, 029 (Oniku). Don't ask me what that means. I think it's one of the old children from Akira.) This time, Satan Sadao has been made store manager, the next stop in his diabolic plot to conquer all! This looks amusing, though I doubt I'm ever going to have time to dive into it.

Strange names move to the author side, as Kagerou Daze, Vol. 2: A Headphone Actor is credited to Jin (Shizen No Teki-P), with illustrations by the single-named Sidu. (Like Cher, I suppose.) This is about a girl who has a double life -- by day, one of only two students in a weird highschool, and by night a world-famous gamer. Again, as you do.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Fujino Omori is back to ask that for a third volume -- and more than that, counting manga and other tangential stuff -- so I'd hope we can answer the question soon. Illustrations are still by Suzuhito Yasuda, and the plot seems to be more focused on dungeon-crawling than girl-up-picking.

No Game No Life, Vol. 3 is set in a universe where every decision is decided by games, and our heroes are legendary gamer siblings. (Young, of course -- because top gamers are young and all main characters in Japanese stories are required by law to be under 18.) It's by Yuu Kamiya, and there's no separate credit for illustrations.

A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 4 is not about magical pole-dancers, as a quick glance at the cover might suggest -- the young lady there is pulling a sword out of its scabbard, and doing it against the side of her face, because how else would you do it? This is by Kazuma Kamachi with illustrations by Kiyotaka Haimura. And the back cover copy is no help -- there's a boy at a school, going on vacation to the beach, where everything is different.

There's Sword Art Online 5: Phantom Bullet, from Reki Kawahara with illustrations by abec. (And "Sword Art Online" is on the cover, so it looks like this book is titled Sword Art Online Phantom Bullet Sword Art Online.) This series is about hard-core gamers who escaped one immersive online game designed as a trap (die in real life if you die in the game, that whole thing) and then keep going back into other games in the rest of the series, proving that protagonists are required to be too dumb to live.

And there's also Sword Art Online Progressive 3 by Kawahara and illustrated by abec, which retells the first book in the series in much more detail. (And, I think, from a different point of view -- but the main point seems to be the more detail.)

And last in Light Novel Showcase! is Spice and Wolf, Vol. 15: The Coin of the Sun I, from Isuna Hasekura. This seems to be the last story arc of the series, with the wolf-goddess and her merchant friend getting caught up in one last mercantile adventure before their inevitable happy ending. (Note: if your masseuse is a wolf-goddess, do not ever ask her for a happy ending. Trust me.)

[1] "Hey, we could make a lot of money if we made a Japanese-style RPG with Disney characters in it!" (Note: may not be precisely the original concept.

[2] Not actually Satan, as I understand it, but a vaguely Satanic ordinary-boy hero who used to be lord of Hell.