Monday, December 14, 2009

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/12

It seems that I've only just finished one of these weekly posts and I'm already starting the next one; it's one of the worst parts of growing old that life keeps coming at you faster and faster until it finally buries you. (And, my, aren't I cheery lately?)

The inevitable disclaimer: these are books that arrived in my mailbox last week. Some books were expected; others were surprises. I haven't read any of them yet, and it's very possible that I won't manage to read any specific book. The thoughts below are what I can figure out or deduce (or already know) about these books, in the hopes of drawing the attention of readers to books that they might enjoy.

I have a large number of manga this week, so I'll start off with those. They're mostly from one publisher, but the outlier is Mia Ikumi's Only One Wish, a standalone manga story being published by Del Rey Manga on December 29th. It's a modern update on an old folktale-ish idea: there's a spirit that will grant any person one (and only one) wish. The modern bit is that this spirit only accepts wishes via text message. The characters in this story seem to be primarily schoolgirls, and I suspect the wishes are in line with that -- queen-bee problems and school crushes.

The rest of the manga I saw this past week are all from Tokyopop, and all publishing in January:

Happy Cafe, Vol. 1, by Kou Matsuzuki, is, as you might guess, the first in a series. This one is also categorized as "Comedy/Romance," but it looks funnier to begin with -- the main character is Uru, who seems to be a teenage girl, but lives alone after her mother's remarriage (kids living on their own is a huge trope in manga, and again I wonder if it happens commonly, or at all, in Japan). Uru is also, as required of any shojo heroine, a super-klutz and ridiculously young-looking for her age. She gets a job at the titular eating establishment, which, as required, leads to massive wackiness.

Love Hurts, by Suzuki Tanaka, is a collection of "boy's love" short stories -- "boy's love" is, as best I can see, like yaoi but not as graphic, or perhaps without the bad press, like "speculative fiction" is to "science fiction" -- that's categorized as "Comedy/Romance" on the back but opens with a story in which one young man is covered with the blood of another (dead) young man. I assume it can only get funnier from there....

From the lands of licensing -- rather than directly from Japan, like most of the other books on Tokyopop's list -- is StarCraft: Ghost Academy, Vol. 1. It's written by Keith R.A. DeCandido, with art by Fernando Heinz Furukawa (which is either a pseudonym for three people or one of the most awesome cross-cultural names I've ever seen). It's related to the StarCraft game in a way that you'd have to ask someone that cares about. And there's a woman with perfectly spherical breasts on the cover -- though, with that look on her face and that gun, I'm not going to be the one to tell her.

And then there's Re:Play, Vol. 3, by C. Lijewski, which is the finale of a punk-rock romance trilogy that reads left-to-right.

Princess Ai: The Prism of Midnight Dawn, Vol. 2 has some of the most convoluted credits I've ever seen on a manga: Created by Courtney Love and Stuart "D.J. Milky" Levy; Story by Stuart "D.J. Milky" Levy; Written by Christine Boylan; Art by Misaho Kujiradou. So this is the plaything of some famous people who couldn't even be bothered to write the story, which makes me wonder why I should bother to read it. From a quick perusal, it looks like a standard manga version of a medieval fantasy, with added singing.

Hiro Fujiwara's Maid Sama!, Vol. 3 has back-cover copy that is entirely impenetrable to the new reader -- which is an impressive trick for what's still early in a series -- with references to "the Dress-Up Race," "the Idiot Trio," "Little Sister Day" and many more flying fast and furious as your humble Hornswoggler looks on in amusement. The set-up, if I can decipher the text-filled introductory pages, is that there's a tough girl who is student council president of her highschool by day and a waitress in a maid cafe by night, and crossing the streams would be Bad. ("How bad, Egon?")

At this point, I'm getting into the higher volume numbers, and finding myself more and more at sea. But let's press on to V.B. Rose, Vol. 7, by Banri Hidaka. Um, let's see...what can I say about this? "V.B. Rose" seems to be a place -- I'm going to guess a restaurant, but I could be utterly wrong -- and the story is a romance. And that's about it.

tactics, Vol. 8 -- by Sakura Kinoshita and Kazuko Higashiyama -- calls itself "Comedy/Fantasy," and seems to be a hunting-demons story with a humorous overlay. This volume is also the last part of the Chimera arc, for those early awaiting the end of whatever-that-is.

And last from Tokyopop is Mine Yoshizaki's Sgt. Frog, Vol. 18. I know I've heard good things about this series -- though I can't quite remember where or when at the moment -- so I'd like to figure out what it's about. OK, so there are these little frog-like guys, and they all have military ranks on the map of characters at the front of the book. From the "next volume" teaser at the end, it looks like these dudes are trying to invade Earth -- or maybe some place called "Pokopen." Nope, it still doesn't make sense....

And now we move into books that aren't manga, with the new paperback edition of Lisa Rogak's biography Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King. The Thomas Dunne imprint of the St. Martin's Press division of Macmillan (itself the American arm of the von Hotzbrinck publishing empire) will release this on January 7th, to the delight of the Stephen King who really want to read a biography of him, but not quite enough to spring for the hardcover.

From another piece of that same publishing empire -- Tor Books -- comes Halo: Evolutions: Essential Tales of the Halo Universe in trade paperback on November 25th. The cynic in me wonders why, if these stories are so essential, that they weren't part of any of the games that are the center of this fictional universe? But let's leave aside that for now. This book, which doesn't credit an editor and is copyrighted by the Microsoft Corporation -- universally believed to be the sweetest, happiest, and most consumer-friendly monolith ever to bestride the globe with its sandaled feet -- contains fifteen new stories by such names as Tobias S. Buckell, Karen Traviss, and Eric Nylund. And you know that buying books like these only encourages corporations like Microsoft and pushes authors -- who might otherwise be doing books about things they thought up in their own heads, care more about, and are more invested in -- into doing more of these yardgoods, right? So on your own head be it.

Ian C. Esslemont's first "Malazan Empire" novel, Night of Knives, was relatively slim for an epic fantasy book, but his second, Return of the Crimson Guard, nearly reaches the size of the Malazan books written by his friend and co-conspirator Steven Erikson. It's coming in April from Tor -- simultaneously in trade paperback and hardcover, which is fairly rare -- and I don't expect I'll get to it any time soon, since I'm two novels behind on Erikson and still haven't gotten to Night of Knives. The important point to keep making, of course, is that Esslemont and Erikson created the Malazan world together -- Erickson just made it into print several years earlier.

And last for this week is another Tor book, Orson Scott Card's Hidden Empire, the sequel to Empire and the video game Shadow Complex. From what I have seen, these novels show Card in his primarily political mode, which will thrill dedicated readers of Baen Books and horrify anyone to the left of Newt Gingrich. There was a nasty civil war -- started by those war-mongering secular liberals, I believe -- in the first work, which was presumably put down by the god-fearing natural aristocracy of America. This book sees the shadowy figure behind that civil war installed as all-powerful imperial President, which I'm sure Card will carefully keep from having any parallels with the real world. (Damn, I'm just burning out the sarcasm key today, aren't I?) I'm being amazingly snarky about it, but I'm sure a large number of people -- many of you readers among them -- will be happy to read Hidden Empire after it's published in hardcover on December 22nd, and it may not even be as axe-grinding as I suspect it is.

1 comment:

James Davis Nicoll said...

It's coming in April from Tor -- simultaneously in trade paperback and hardcover, which is fairly rare --

If I recall correctly, Ballantine did something similar with releases way back in the 1970s, except there it was mass market paperbacks and hardcovers. I think the logic was the markets for MMPK and HC were distinct enough that the MMPK sales weren't cannibalizing the HC sales.

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