Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Tuesday Morning

It's a dreary and rainy morning here. But this song came up in my car on the way to work, and it made everything that much better. Maybe it can do the same for you.

This is "Tuesday Morning," by The Pogues, from their album without Shane MacGowan, Waiting for Herb. (This particular version comes from David Letterman's show, so his band is augmenting the Pogues here.)

Monday, May 02, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/30

It's a long list this week, so that's my official reason for keeping the introductory stuff short this week. (I have a different excuse every week -- collect them all!) As usual, these are books sent by publicists to people like me hoping for review coverage that will lead to sales and happiness for everyone. And don't we all like happiness?

(Oh -- also, I haven't read any of this stuff. So what I say is partially informed opinion and partly raw supposition.)

This week, I'm breaking the list into three sections: heavy novels, light novels, and manga. (Heavy novels is my own retronym; I'm not wed to it but it's amusing me right now.) There are three of the former, three of the middler, and a dozen of the latter, so let me dive right in:

Heavy Novels

I'm leading off with Lavie Tidhar's Central Station because I keep thinking I need to start reading his books. He's won the World Fantasy Award, the British SF award, and he's got one of the great names in modern literature. This one is his fourth novel, either a fix-up of some of his "Central Station" stories or a brand-new story set in the same world -- I don't know yet myself, since (as I noted) I haven't actually read any Tidhar yet. But this is about some people at the base of what seems to be a beanstalk in near future Tel Aviv, and is available right now as a trade paperback from Tachyon.

Ageless is a SF novel by Paul Inman -- his first novel, I think -- from the folks at Inkshares. (Officially available on May 5th, possibly already shipping as we speak.)  It's about a woman who ages so slowly that she's effectively immortal -- but I think this is more thriller-y than philosophical, since the back cover references both her Nazi captors and an obsessed CIA agent.

Ada Palmer's first novel is Too Like the Lightning, a semi-utopian story of the 25th century coming in hardcover from Tor on May 10th. It seems destined to push a lot of buttons -- this world has complex taboos around public speech and gender distinctions that are particularly timely in these Years of Puppies. It's the first of a series, and the cover letter explicitly refers to it as "political."

Light Novels

Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs comes from Ryohgo Narita, via Yen Press, and is some sort of crime story set in 1930 New York. (The main character is one Firo Prochainezo, which may clue us in to how historically accurate this book can be expected to be.)

I have two books titled Strike the Blood, Vol. 3 to mention today, which may confuse some of us (including me). The first one, right here, is subtitled The Amphisbaena, and is a novel by Gakunto Mikumo. I don't know exactly what it's about, but it has vampires protecting people from monsters, which is pretty awesome if you ask me. (It's also from Yen -- actually, take it as read that everything from this point on comes from Yen and is available any second now.)

Speaking of confusing titles, may I present Another: Episode S/O? This is by both Yukito Ayatsuji -- the short novel Another, Episode S -- and by Hiro (or maybe hiRo) Kiyohara, who gives us a manga prequel titled Another O. As far as I can tell, this is related to the main Another novel and manga somehow, and is about two girls -- one dead, one not -- who solve some sort of supernatural mystery while on vacation. (While the live girl is on vacation, I mean -- I don't believe ghosts get vacation time.


Aldnoah Zero, Vol. 3 is one of those stories about giant mecha, and I believe it comes from some other media first (anime maybe?).  It's credited to Olympus Knights (original story) and Pinakes (art). And there's some kind of battle going on between people names Inaho and Femieanne, interrupted by a Martian Sky Carrier.

Anne Happy, Vol. 1 begins a series -- that's what "1" means, after all -- from Cotoji. It's about the class of unlucky girls at Tennomifune Academy, which I suppose means lots of wacky hijinks will ensue, along with the usual standard highschool plots.

Corpse Party: Blood Covered, Vol. 1 is brought to us by Makoto Kedouin and Toshimi Shinomiya, and it's a different kind of highschool story. This particular school was built on the haunted site of a former school -- not quite as spooky as a cursed burial ground, I guess, but it'll do -- and the ghost of a dead teacher supposedly can do horrible things if you're in the school during a blackout. A group of current kids...do I need to connect the dots? Check the title again.

Dimension W, Vol. 2 is from Yuji Iwahara, and has a psychedelically awesome cover. The back-cover copy is confusing, but this seems to be about competing art thieves -- one of whom is named Loser, so why don't you kill him? -- and there's at least one android thrown into the mix. Your guess is probably better than mine here.

Inu X Boku SS, Vol. 11 continues the story of the Tokyo rooming house for the secretly supernatural scions of Japan's top families, and more particularly their tormented love relationships (and, I wouldn't be surprised at all, plots to conquer the world as well). It's from Cocoa Fujiwara, as always, and slightly more details are available in my old review of the first two volumes. This is also the last volume, so if you're the kind of person who waits for something to be done before you start it: dig in.

I've come to the conclusion that the skimpy outfit on the girl on the cover of Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 5 is deliberately ragged around the edges, though I couldn't guess why. However, I'm quite impressed at how it befuddles censors by precisely matching the contours of her navel and yet acting as if she doesn't even have nipples. Anyway, this is about a guy in a D&Dish dungeon, partially trying to get fame and fortune and partially, as the title implies, macking on all of the hot adventurer chicks there. It's by Kunieda, adapted from the original light novel by Fujino Omori.

School-Live!, Vol. 3 is the latest volume in the school story about ordinary girls (blah blah blah standard Japanese stereotype characters) in a zombie apocalypse. It's written by the being known as Norimitsu Kaihou [Nitroplus] and drawn by Sadoru Chiba.

Here's the one you were waiting for! Strike the Blood, Vol. 3 -- the manga version! This comes from the original story by Gakuto Mikumo, adapted by the manga-ka TATE. (Which sounds like the self-aware computer from a bad '70s movie -- maybe standing for Total Access Thinking Engine.) Anyway, lots more blood is struck here, for you blood-striking fans!

Ubel Blatt, Vol. 5 continues to be one of the most metal comics available from the land of the rising sun, with medieval societies, black death-swords, oceans of angst, and exceptionally pointy elf-ears. (I reviewed the first volume -- confusingly numbered 0, because that's even more metal -- a couple of years ago.) It's by Etorouji Shiono, with extra devil horns.

Look, I've explained this many times now.. Both Higurashi: When They Cry and Umineko: When They Cry were originally video games (of the point-and-click, follow-the-linear-plot, creepy-and-scary type), with each game being a variation on the same idea. Then each game was turned into a series of manga, because you don't want to leave that money on the table, do you? So now here's Umineko: When They Cry: Episode 6: Dawn of the Golden Witch, Vol. 1, for which you can blame Ryukishi07 (story) and Hiunase Momoyama (art).

Until Death Do Us Part, Vol. 12 is from Hiroshi Takashige and DOUBLE-S, and was originally about a blind swordsman and the precognitive girl he was protecting from the usual evil shadowy organization that wanted to exploit her. It may still be about that, actually, but it's been over 4000 pages, so things may have shifted.

And last is the sweet and cute Yotsuba&!, Vol. 13 from Kiyohiko Azuma. I have to admit that I don't really get this series -- about a cute green-haired girl who is totally wide-eyed about every single thing in the whole gol-durned world, so much so that some people think she's an alien and I think she reads a brain-damaged -- but a lot of other people do, and were looking forward to this long-awaited volume. If you're one of them: jump on it.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Incoming Books: April 29

I took my first vacation day of the year yesterday, because I guess I realized I'd better start if I didn't want to lose them. (Though the new job, along with longer hours in smaller spaces and a longer commute, also features substantially less time off than the previous job. I seem to be progressing through the classical Greek ages in my own life, and have now reached the Age of Iron. [1])

But, on this rare day off, I did get over to a bookstore, and brought home some good stuff. (At least, I hope it's good stuff -- no one wants to find the book they've been looking forward to is lousy.) And here's what those books were:

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy -- a comedic young-woman-in-the-city book from the '50s; the city in this case is Paris, and I believe, as required by the form, it's semi-autobiographical. New York Review Books republished this last decade, and I've picked it up at least half a dozen times (usually at The Strand) but never managed to buy it before now. I like humorous novels, and I want to read more books by women, and I'm contrarian enough to want to read half-forgotten books whenever possible -- so this pushes a lot of my buttons.

Flashman and the Dragon and Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, both by the inimitable George Macdonald Fraser -- the last two "Flashman" books I needed to get to re-complete my set. I will re-read the whole series through at some point, but "some point" could wait quite some time.

Great Plains by Ian Frazier -- he's a New Yorker writer than I've followed for a long time, and I'm slowly knocking off the last few books of his that I hadn't gotten to yet. The two major things in that category were his major nonfiction books of the '80s and '90s: this one and Family, which I hit around the turn of this year. This is, I think, a John McPhee-esque look at the big sea of grass and corn [2] in the middle of my country.

I Was a Child by Bruce Eric Kaplan -- BEK is a well-known New Yorker cartoonist and a successful Hollywood writer (mostly TV, I think) and has made a few odd dawn books (like Everything is Going to Be Okay) and books for kids (like Monsters Eat Whiny Children). This is his memoir, presumably of a childhood that was horrible in some way -- no one ever writes a memoir about their happy childhoods -- and which I didn't know existed until I stumbled across it in the store. (Even though our current world has much more information about books available to everyone all the time, I still miss when I was hyper-connected to the book world and knew about every book I might potentially be interested in at least six months before publication. Yup, Age of Iron once again.)

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro -- you might have heard of this one; Ishiguro is a big deal, and this was a major book last year. It's now out in paper, and I do want to read it eventually -- I've liked most of Ishiguro's books, and really loved his first few novels and the dark, difficult The Unconsoled in particular. I'm still a little Ishiguro-shy after his misfired attempt at SF in Never Let Me Go. (That book had some very good things -- it was psychologically true in a way very little SF ever gets close to -- but the SFnal aspects were so bobbled that the book was horribly grating to me.)

Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami -- Murakami's first two, supposedly much more realistic novels, finally translated into English. There was a time when I'd grab each new Murakami translation and read it immediately -- hell, there was a time when I would grab anything and read it immediately -- but the Age of Iron is upon me now, and I've got at least one Murakami on the unread shelves. (Maybe two.) This is short, though, and contains two novels, so I have hopes.

Medusa's Web by Tim Powers -- Powers is one of the great writers of our time, period. He writes novels with fantasy and history intertwined in them, and is a slow enough writer that even I can keep up with him. Some of his books -- Declare, The Stress of Her Regard, Last Call -- are as good as anyone's in the world, and the rest are pretty darn good, too. I'm hoping this is one of the sublime ones; it's been a while and Powers is usually good for one of those a decade. What is it about? I don't care.

[1] If anyone wonders why this blog is so quiet lately, I offer the following math: +1.5 hours at work a day, +1 hour commuting a day, +10 days at work = a very tired hornswoggler.

[2] I might be repeating myself there: is corn grass?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/23

I've long since run out of clever ways to open this weekly post, and of excuses why it's the only thing I can manage to post these days. So pretend one or the other of those is in this space.

These two books came in my mail last week, sent by the vast publicity machine that makes American book publishing such a hugely profitable and culturally central industry today. (My sarcasm is not aimed at publicists, in case you're wondering -- they do their job very well.) I haven't read them yet, but here's what I can tell you.

Over Your Dead Body is the fifth novel by Dan Wells about John Wayne Cleaver, a young man clinically a sociopath and deeply worried he will become a serial killer. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily for John, he lives in a world where a secret group of "demons" -- humans who thousands of years ago gained supernatural powers and immortality but became obligate predators on normal humans -- are alive and active in his near vicinity. So far, he's been able to channel his homicidal tendencies in that direction, but killing anyone isn't exactly good for his stability and control. Cleaver narrates all of these books in the first person, and it's a great, conflicted, compelling voice -- I've read and deeply enjoyed the first four books. (See my big review of the original trilogy and my slightly less massive review of the fourth book, The Devil's Only Friend.) Dead Body continues from the ending of Only Friend, and is a Tor trade paperback, available everywhere on June 16th.

The other book I have is a "light" novel, which is a publishing category -- not really a genre, more a style or type of story that can run in several genres -- in Japan, which (at least from this side of the Pacific) seems to roll up into the manga/anime/merchandise media empire world, often serving as a test-bed for concepts that then become eight other media properties. (But I also think light novels are at least mildly author-driven -- they are novels, written by single people, telling stories they want to tell. So the transmedia stuff comes later, for the successful ones.) Anyway, Kazuma Kamachi created a successful series, which has turned into several other things along the way. But it started as a light novel, and here's the latest one to be translated into English: A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 7, with illustrations by Kiyotaka Haimura. The series is usually a magical-school story, but this particular volume seems to be mostly about nuns and their missing magical book (nuns are horrible at library organization, I'm sorry to say), which the series hero needs to retrieve to save the world or pass his Retrieving Magical Books course, or something like that. This is a Yen Press paperback, and you should be able to get it right now.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/16

Here I go again...these are books, they arrived over the past week, and I haven't read them. Maybe I will, someday. Maybe not.

For now, though, here's what I can tell you about them, in hopes you'll say "that sounds awesome; I've got to read that":

Nichijou: My Ordinary Life, Vol. 2 comes from Keiichi Arawi, via the fine folks at Vertical, and it's a manga that seems to be a surreal take on high school life. In fact, it looks interestingly odd to my eye, so I'm going to poke around and see if I have the first volume here. (I probably do; I have more books than I know what to do with.)

Also from Vertical is Fumi Yoshinaga's What Did You Eat Yesterday?,Vol. 10, the latest in the slice-of-life culinary-themed manga series about a gay couple and their circle of friends. I count about three things in that description that would never fly for an ongoing series in the US, so I like the idea of this series...even if I'm not into Japanese food enough to read it all that regularly.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/9

Someday I'll actually decide if Antick Musings will go back to being a book-review blog (which would require me, y'know, reviewing books) or if it will be something else. But, for now, it'll stay as it is.

The good news with that is that you get a brand-new Reviewing the Mail post for this week, with seven varied books that arrived in my mailbox last week. They're all interesting for different reasons, each will definitely be someone's favorite book this year -- and that could just be you.

As always, I haven't read any of these yet, and I make no promises as to when or whether I will read any of them. But here's what I can tell you about them right now.

First up is the new raksura novel from Martha Wells, The Edge of Worlds, which follows three earlier novels (first was The Cloud Roads) and two books of short stories. (And I used to read all of Wells's books, but I see I've fallen really far behind -- don't take that as any judgement on her work, since I still want to read them; I'm just that far behind on everyone these days.) This one is a hardcover coming April 19th from Night Shade, and it begins a new series in this world -- so it would be a great place to start reading Wells, if you haven't before (or have been away for a while, like me).

Log Horizon, Vol. 2: The West Wind Brigade is the second in a manga series about gamers trapped in an online game (yes, another one of those), adapted from the light novels of Mamare Touno by Koyuki. Despite the cover, this one does not seem to be mostly about scantily clad young women frolicking in the water, which may disappoint some of you. It's available from Yen Press right now.

Also from Yen is the hardcover omnibus Emma, Vol. 4, collecting what I think was originally two paperback volumes of Kaoru Mori's series together. And I keep hearing that this story of a maid in Victorian England is one of the better manga stories -- and Mori is definitely well-respected -- so I might have to see if I can find the earlier omnibuses and just read the darn thing.

Vertical tends to do quirkier manga than the bigger houses -- more to my taste, usually, than the standard shonen fare of teenagers battling demons between classes at the greatest magic school in Tokyo -- and so I have hopes for Riichi Ueshiba's Mysterious Grilfriend X, Vol. 1, which otherwise looks pretty standard. (Regular-guy high school hero, odd girl transfers to his school, and it turns to romance in a weird way.)

Also from Vertical is Kaori Ozaki's The Gods Lie, which is another semi-romance story about young people, though these two are slightly younger (middle school), it's a one-volume story (refreshing!), and there's a "dark secret" ominously mentioned on the back cover.

I am not generally the audience for self-published books -- being a publishing professional for many years, I have a vested interest in the vetting process of Real Publishing -- and self-published books by two authors that sound like minor '80s teen comedies are only slightly closer to my style. So I'm probably not the right person to convince you to read Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory, by Nick Scottt and Noa Gavin. But it's from Inkshares, and it's about two teens -- he's a geek! she's a cheerleader! together, they save all of the parallel worlds! -- who realize that universes are collapsing into their high school, and that they're the ones who need to do something about it. Practical Applications is a trade paperback, officially available on April 19th.

Last up for this week is the new fantasy novel from Steven Erikson, whom I'm also horribly far behind on. (He does write gigantic complex books, so I have an excuse.) Fall of Light is the middle book of his current fantasy trilogy, which reminds me that I'm still only about halfway through his gigantic ten-book Malazan Book of the Fallen, which I want to finish someday before I die. Fall is a Tor hardcover, available April 19th. And Erikson is probably the most epic fantasy writer imaginable -- his characters start at Elric-level and get more tormented, powerful, and complicated from there.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Unprivileged Communications

I find myself reading a lot more legal news these days, since law is at the core of the Day-Job. And, amazingly, I find that I can still become even more jaundiced about the world than I thought possible.

For example, I was reading this Corporate Counsel article on recent rulings on attorney-client privilege. (As you do.) And it seems to me that all of the rulings aim towards one direction: the outside counsel needs to control all aspects of an investigation, and directly control any subcontractors (accountants, forensic investigators, etc.) to maintain attorney-client privilege. (That privilege is the thing that means you or your lawyer can't be forced to testify about your conversations -- it's a big, big deal.)

A business, on the other hand, would prefer to have the choice of how to run those functions -- some companies would want to do them internally.

So it's really convenient for outside, bill-by-the-hour lawyers that the lawyer rules say they absolutely have to be in charge of everything, and bill for the hour on every last bit of them. Mighty damn convenient, if you ask me.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/2

There's no time for existential doubt -- I have a stack of books to tell you about!

(Eek, I accidentally rhymed. Oh well, leave it be.)

This week, I got a number of current books from the fine people an Yen Press, most of which are manga -- but I suspect there are a few light novels lurking in there to confuse and befuddle me. As always, I haven't read these, and have, actually, barely looked at them before this second. But here's what I have....

A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 5, a manga by Chuya Kogino based on the original (light novel, I think) by Kazuma Kamachi with character designs by Kiyotaka Haimura. This entire volume seems to take place on the last day of summer vacation, from which I deduce it's a school story. You're welcome.

The Devil Is a Part-Timer, Vol. 5 is another adapted-from-a-light-novel series, this time by Akio Hiiragi out of Satoshi Wagahara. And, yes, it's about an extradimensional Dark Lord who was cast out and now lives as a Tokyo teenager, where he works as assistant manager of a not-McDonald's. Wacky!

Deep breath for this one: Final Fantasy Type-0 Side Story: The Ice Reaper, Vol. 4 has something to do with the long-running series of FF games, but it's only a "side story," so gamers can ignore it, I suppose. It's by Takatoshi Shiozawa, with supervision (right there on the cover, which is pretty darn supervisory) by Tetsuya Nomura. And that sword on the cover has a pretty impressive beard, if I do say so myself.

First Love Monster, Vol. 4 comes from Akira Hiyoshimaru, and is apparently about a high school girl dating a fifth grader. (Yes, I know -- but that's him on the cover, so maybe he's just really dumb and has been left back a lot?) I also suspect this volume has an epic jump-rope contest, from the cover props -- or, if not, it should.

High School DxD, Vol. 8 continues the fan-servicey story of angels and devils and fallen angels (and probably even more supernatural factions by now), from Hiroji Mishima adapting the light novels of Ichiei Ishibumi. It's also probably a harem manga by now. (See my review of the first volume for possibly more context.)

It is very difficult to read the light-yellow title of Horimiya, Vol. 3, so I hope the fans of this series are particularly fanatic. It's credited to Hero -- presumably not the ancient inventor from Alexandria, but you never know -- and Daisuke Hagiwara, and it seems to be a slice-of-life school story about two girls. (I don't know who the grumpy fellow in the middle is -- those girls on the cover might not even be the two girls, since manga tend to rotate covers among the minor cast to show everyone in color.)

How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, Vol. 2 is a title that I hope sounds less creepy and sexist in Japanese, and it's also a series adapted from a light novel. In this case, the novelist is Fumiaki Maruto and the manga-ka is Takeshi Moriki. And it does seem to be a bout a highschool boy grooming some girl to be his perfect girlfriend -- in a wacky way, I suppose.

Kagerou Daze, Vol. 5 was adapted from the...do I need to say it?...light novel by Jin (Shizen No Teki-P) by the slightly more conventionally named Mahiro Satou. I have no idea what the series as a whole is about, but this volume sees the two main characters gaining eyeball-based superpowers.
So, I Can't Play H, Vol. 5 is the last volume of the series by Sho Okagiri adapted from Pan Tachibana's original story, which I believe means this finishes off the original light novel. It's some kind of harem comedy, and this piece involves a swimsuit competition and some missing pieces of swimsuit.

Taboo Tattoo, Vol. 2 features a woman on the cover who does not appear to be tattooed at all.
 But she also doesn't appear to be clothed, and I'm pretty sure she is, so maybe she's got tattoos lurking as well. The back cover copy is all about fighting and training, with not a word of taboos or tattoos. So I really don't know what's going on here.

Barakamon, Vol. 10 continues Satsuki Yoshino's story of a fish-out-of-water calligrapher and the down-home Japanese town that's humanizing him despite all his efforts. See my review of the first volume for more details -- at least, details of what this series was like about sixteen hundred pages ago.

The Devil Is a Part-Timer, Vol. 4 is not the prequel to the book above; this is the actual fourth light novel, as opposed to the fifth volume of the manga, which I expect is somewhat behind this point. One might think that it would be good to have a slightly different naming scheme for such closely related and easily-confused properties, but one  clearly would be wrong. This is by Satoshi Wagahara, has illustrations by something called 029 (Oniku) , and features the Devil King taking the summer to work at a beach house.

Handa-Kun, Vol. 2 is another highschool story, this time from Satsuki Yoshino (yes, the same creator as Barakamon). I don't really understand what's going on here -- it's in a four wide panels to a page format, something like 4-koma, but tells a continuous story -- and the characterizations are really broad and weird in ways that are clearly aimed at satirizing something, but I have no idea what.

And another light novel: Fujino Omori's Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 5. This is still the middle of the crawl through the first dungeon -- no idea how big that is, or if there's any standard dungeon measurements to compare it to.

Servant X Service, Vol. 1 is a 4-koma collection by Karino Takatsu about the new low-level employees of a local government somewhere in Japan. There are four of them, and they are presumably meant to be wacky in specifically Japanese ways.

And last for this week is Yowamushi Pedal, Vol. 2 by Wataru Watanabe, about a young would-be bicycle racer, his "granny bike," and the usual work-hard/do-your-best stuff that every shonen manga ever tries to indoctrinate its young and impressionable audience with.