Monday, May 20, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 5/18

I need to cover two weeks this time out -- since last week's books didn't get covered in my frenzy to get ready for my employer's massive off-site meeting, and then I spent four long days at that meeting and the last two getting home and recuperating. Luckily, the current week brought only a short stack, so it's not too much to go through this time.

First up has to be Nebula Awards Showcase 2013, in honor of the most recent Nebula Awards banquet Saturday night in San Jose. This is the latest incarnation of the annual anthology thought up by Damon Knight in the mid '60s to give SFWA a revenue stream, and, as usual, it reprints the Nebula-winning stories of two years ago (2011), along with a few also-rans, and functions something like a belated "Best of the Year." (But, one could argue, this is a crowd-sourced Year's Best, and you couldn't pick a better crowd than the assembled writers of SFWA, could you?) This year's edition is edited/compiled (since I doubt she was allowed to really edit the already award-caliber stories here) by Catherine Asaro, a two-time Nebula winner and former two-term SFWA President. Showcase 2013 is published in trade paperback by Py, and hit stores about a week ago.

I also have a large stack of manga being published by Yen Press this month, so I'll dive into them next:

The first two volumes of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix are out, which reprint Shiro Amano's comics adaptation of the popular fighting-your-way-through-Disney-world-with-a-giant-sword-that-looks-like-a-key games. I am not entirely certain how this series is connected to the earlier Kingdom Hearts manga series -- my guess is that it will reprint everything we've ever seen in the US, and possibly add more than never made it here from Japan, but the book itself doesn't explain what a "Final Mix" is.

Junya Inoue's hard-to-search for series Btooom! (three Os, one bang) is back with a second volume; I read the first one a number of weeks ago but haven't managed to write about it yet. It's a pretty violent recasting of Battle Royale with a video-game overlay; our main character is a master at a competitive online game about blowing up the other players (like a much more specific Team Fortress 2), and then finds himself kidnapped to the obligatory remote island to play a real-world version of that game for no good reason by the usual shadowy forces. If you think that fighting manga have too many guns and not enough bombs, this is exactly the series for you.

Black God, by Dall-Young Lim and Sung-Woo Park, as always, finishes its run with a giant-sized nineteeth volume this month. (See my reviews of volumes two, three, four, and fifteen for a an overview.)

I keep thinking I should read more of Atsushi Ohkubo's shonen demon-fighting saga Soul Eater, which hits a fourteenth volume this month. (Both my sons love it, and have the full set -- so I could easily read them all if I wanted to.) I read and reviewed volumes one and eight, so perhaps I only look at it every seven volumes -- if so, I've only got one more to wait until it's time again.

Also hitting this month is The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 4, the latest spin-off from the vast Haruhi Suzumiya empire, focusing on one of the minor characters of the main story. (Don't ask me more detail than that; I'm not really up on all things Haruhi.) The art is by Puyo, the story is by Haruhi creator Nagaru Tanigawa, and the original character designs are by Noizi Ito.

Yuuki Kodama's Blood Lad series reaches a third volume this month -- I read the first one, and haven't managed to write about it yet. It's broad and goofy and very stereotypically shonen, about the slacker demon ruler of a piece of Hell, his otaku love for all pieces of Japanese pop culture, and the human girl who accidentally dropped into his realm. It's the kind of book that starts to ignore its supposed premise by about the hundredth page, so it'll probably turn into something very different if it runs long enough.

And the mighty Omamori Himari, by Milan Matra, reaches its tenth volume, with presumably even more panty shots to celebrate. (The book is still in its protective wrapper as I write this, but it's rated "M" for mature, the most restrictive rating of any of the Yen books this month. So anyone hoping for some fanservice should look her first.)

Durarara!! -- always confusingly styled DRRR!! on the covers -- returns with Saika Arc, Vol. 2, from the team of Akiyo Satorigi (art), Suzhito Yasuda (character design), and Ryohgo Narita (creator). Sharp-eyed followers will note that no one is credited with actually writing this story, but who needs writers?

And there's yet another retelling of Alice in Wonderland in manga form -- this must be the fourth or fifth one I've seen, which is just weird -- in the form of Are You Alice? by Ikumi Katagir and Ai Ninomiya (credited as "original story," which looks like a slam on Lewis Carroll to me). Alice this time is a young man, entering the confusing world of Wonderland, where the Queen of Hearts is a pretty young man. (This doesn't seem to be turning into yaoi, but it's early days yet.)

I need to get a running start to get all the way through the next title, so here I go... Umineko When They Cry, Episode 2: Turn of the Golden Witch, Vol. 1. The story is by Ryukishi07, the art by Jiro Suzuki, and it continues to be based on a series of murder-mystery games, much like the vaguely related Higurashi: When They Cry series.

And last from Yen this time out is Thermae Romae, Vol. II by Mari Yamazaki, the amazing story of a time-traveling Roman bath-house designer from the age of Augustus and the modern Japanese bath technology that inspires him. It's a unique idea, and the first volume -- which, again, I read but haven't gotten around to writing about -- was a lot of fun in that very earnest Japanese way.

Returning to books with only words on their pages, The Planet Thieves is the first novel in a new series by Dan Krokos (author of the previous YA novel False Memory). Planet Thieves may be YA or middle-grade, if that distinction is of burning importance to anyone. It's coming from Tor Starscape this month, and is the SFnal story of a starship on a routine training mission full of young cadets from the Academy when it's attacked and boarded by a vicious alien race that has been at war with humanity for generations. Those cadets -- led by our hero, of course -- must take back their ship and get back to Earth to warn about this new assault.

Rhiannon Held is back with Tarnished, the sequel to her werewolf novel Silver, from Tor in hardcover this week. It's urban fantasy, obviously, but seems to come more from the old hurt/comfort strain of fanfic -- focusing on alpha wolf Andrew, who finds and saves damaged Silver, who can't shift due to torture -- rather than from the more usual "all these supernatural boys love the totally awesome female protagonist" romance-influenced style of contemporary fantasy. This time out, Andrew and Silver  are looking to take over the pack he used to belong to, because that's what werewolf novels are about. (And "that" is the outdated simplification of wolf pack hierarchy, because that's more amenable to fiction than the messier actual reality.)

Last is the new Imager novel from the dapper L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Antiagon Fire, coming as a Tor hardcover next week. (I had some Antiagon Fire once, but a quick course of over-the-counter treatments cleared it right up -- ask your pharmacist!) This is the seventh book in the series, and I have to admit that I don't know what's going on -- it's epic fantasy about armies and empire clashing, with magic and skulduggery and all the rest, but that's about as specific as I can get.

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