Monday, August 12, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/11

Hey, remember last week, when I had no mail to write about? Well, this week makes up for it in spades, with nearly two dozen books (most of them from a single big box from one publishing company).

As always, I haven't read any of these particular books yet -- but I might have read other books in the series or by the same authors, or I might have unreasonable prejudices for other reasons, and I'll try to explain that as best I can. And every single one of these books is going to be someone's favorite of the week or month or year, so I hope that's you, because I want people to be happy.

Every author famous and popular enough eventually gets a Festschrift anthology, and some are lucky (or unlucky?) enough to hit that point while they're still alive. Gene Wolfe has just gotten this particular brass ring, in the form of Shadows of the New Sun, an anthology edited by the team of J.E. Mooney and Bill Fawcett and published by Tor in hardcover on August 27. (Yes, that does seem like an odd team to head up this project, though "Mooney" is a bit mysterious --  the copyright page credits "Mooney's" introduction to tie-in writer, anthologist, and erstwhile SFWA Bulletin editor Jean Rabe.) All of the stories in Shadows are written in homage to Wolfe, one way or another -- some are direct pastiches set in versions of Wolfe's fictional worlds, some have looser connections, and two stories (to begin and end the book) by Wolfe himself. Some of the names here are obvious -- Neil Gaiman, Nancy Kress, Michael Swanwick -- and some are less obvious but apropos, including David Drake, Jack Dann, and Joe Haldeman. Among the other authors featured here are Aaron Allston, Todd McCaffrey, Jody Lynn Nye, Timothy Zahn, Judi Rohrig, Michael A. Stackpole, David Brin, and the team of Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. So this may be an interesting mix of stories, is what I'm saying.

Also from Tor, in hardcover on the same day (August 27) is Douglas Lain's first novel, Billy Moon, a magic realist novel about Christopher Robin Milne (turned into a world-famous Winnie-the-Pooh character by his father before the age of ten and stuck in the public's mind as such thereafter) and the Paris riots of 1968. It has adoring quotes from Rudy Rucker, James Morrow, Eileen Gunn, and Jack Womack, all to the effect that this odd idea has turned into a wonderful, moving book. If you like your fantasy closer to the literary side -- if, for example, you're a devoted reader of Gene Wolfe, of whom we were just speaking -- Billy Moon should be on your radar.

Kindred and Wings is the second book in an epic fantasy series by Philippa Ballantine, after Hunter and Fox. It's a trade paperback from Pyr on August 6th, and the back cover is full of updates on the characters of the first book -- Finn the Fox is traveling the world via dragon-back, Talyn the Hunter is doing a semester at the halls of the Last Believer -- that puts me in mind of a Christmas letter from a family I don't actually know. So this is not the place to begin: go back to Hunter and Fox instead.

And now I'm getting into that one big box -- it's mostly manga (except for a couple of light novels at the end), and it's all from the fine folks at Yen Press. They're mostly July books, which means they're probably all available already. There's quite a lot of it, and I'll probably be at sea for large swaths of it, so here I do:

I have two more side-stories from the Puella Magi Madoka Magica series, which, as far as I can tell, is the current big Magical Girl thingy. There's Puella Magi Oriko Magica, Vol. 1, with story by the Magica Quartet and art by Mura Kuroe, and then there's Puella Magi Kazumi Magica: The Innocent Malice, Vol. 2, which has an original story by the Magica Quartet, story by Masaki Hiramatsu, and art by Takashi Tensugi. (The single different word in the titles identifies the particular middle-school girl saving the world in that particular sub-series -- I'm pretty sure of that at this point.) I suspect the Madoka books are the best place to start, but this was probably an anime first anyway, so you might just be able to grab whatever character that you like best.

BTOOOM!, Vol. 3 continues Junya Inoue's Battle Royale-esque story of a bunch of strangers shanghaied to a remote island to play a deadly, live-action version of a popular FPS game that uses different kinds of explosives -- see my review of the first volume (in the middle of a long manga round-up) for more details. This, I think, is primarily for the more bloodthirsty and games-obsessed among us, which certainly includes a lot of young men, the traditional audience for shonen like this.

Is This a Zombie? you might ask. No, it's just the fith volume of the manga with that arch title, I'd reply, by the team of Sacchi, Shinichi Kimura, Kobuichi, and Muririn, which is some kind of fan-service-y (rated "M" and sealed in plastic" harem manga with a supernatural adversary lurking about in the background. I am also informed that the story began in a series of light novels, though I'm not sure if the novels are easily available in English or on my side of the Pacific. Still, I'm certain the book I'm holding is not a zombie. You're welcome.

Yana Toboso's Black Butler is back for a fourteenth volume, in which a little-boy Earl and his demon butler continue their Edwardian adventures, doing things that I really don't know the importance or significance of.

Speaking of series that I can't describe clearly, here's a Nabari No Ou, Vol. 14, by Yuhki Kamatani. It's the final volume of this series -- which I have to admit that I've never read -- and I couldn't even begin to explain what genre it's in.

I'm on much stronger ground with Atsushi Ohkubo's energetic and enjoyable shonen adventure Soul Eater, Vol. 15 -- I've read several of the volumes, and both of my sons are big fans of this demon-fighting series. Still, if you haven't read it, you definitely don't want to start here.

Jun Mochizuki is back with a new volume in Pandora Hearts, Vol. 17. This originally was a sideways take on The Wizard of Oz, but that was about 3000 pages ago, so your guess is as good as mine about what's going on now.

The comics based on the game Kingdom Hearts II are being re-collected in two big fat volumes this month (volume one, volume two) -- the comics are by Shiro Amano, and the "original concept" is credited to Tetsuya Nomura. (That always sounds like a really weak credit -- hey, I have the idea that Wolverine should fight Doctor Doom! -- though I suspect it means something like "original writer" or "supervising producer" or even "head of the company that owns the property.") The story? Well, this kid wanders through various Disney-esque alternate worlds to save Mickey Mouse, and I am not even kidding.

The girls from the K-On! manga have graduated high school, which means it must be time for K-ON! College, by Kakifly, the creator of the series. The original K-On! was a 4-koma -- each strip was four panels long, much like a US newspaper comic printed vertically -- but I don't think this is meant to be read that way, even if most of the pages have exactly eight identically-sized panels organized in a grid. (Though some pages don't make much sense to me any direction I read them -- possibly because I'm trying to read a middle page without any context.)

Bunny Drop, Vol. 9 is fully into the plot twist that many of the fans found creepy -- the series started off when bachelor Daikichi started raising the baby girl Rin, but the series has jumped ahead to Rin's teen years and the plots started focusing on their respective love-lives -- in case anyone was anxiously tapping her feet and waiting for that. The series, as always, is by Yumi Unita.

It's really rare to see a manga series wrap up quickly, but Yoshiki Tonogai's Doubt, Vol. 2 is billed as the conclusion of its story. The first volume set up the premise -- it's another child of Battle Royale, crossed with those live-action murder mystery games, in which a bunch of online friends are stuck in a warehouse and forced to play a game in which one of them tries to kill all of the others before he's found out.

And Tonogai is back the same month with the launch of another series -- Judge, Vol. 1. The big difference is that, on the covers of the Doubt books, everyone is wearing rabbit masks, but the characters on the cover of Judge are wearing different animal-head masks. It sounds like another carefully contrived blood-fest, with a back cover promising "a group of sinners who bear the guilt of the seven deadly sins" who were abducted to the obligatory un-escapable location to decide which one of them will die for their collective sins. Pardon me: I'm certainly I should have said "which of them will die first."

Until Death Do Us Part, Vol. 4 is another big slab of Hiroshi Takashige and DOUBLE-S's story -- seriously, each volume is 400+ pages and in a larger format than the usual manga volume -- which is probably still about the precognitive girl and her blind swordsman protector, as various yakuza and other unsavory types try to use her powers to enrich themselves.

And the last of the manga is the one with the longest, most complicated title: Umineko: When They Cry: Episode 2: Turn of the Golden Witch, Vol. 2. It's written by Ryukishi07 and drawn by Jiro Suzuki, from the long-running series of atmospheric horror story-games. The main characters are called Battler and Beatrice, but, as far as I can see, it's meant to be utterly serious.

Diving into the light novels, there's the box-score style Spice and Wolf 9: Town of Strife 2 by Isuna Hasekura, continuing the story of an itinerant merchant and the slumming goddess who acts as his assistant. This time out, there's still in a town with a lot of strife.

And the other light novel from Yen is Mizuki Nomura's Book Girl and the Scribe Who Faced God, Part 1, the seventh of the original eight books in the series. (As is usual with a popular Japanese media entity, there are as many side-stories and ancillaries as there are books in the main sequence.) It's the love story of what seems to be the Japanese high-school answer to Nicholas Sparks and a paper-eating demon in the form of a cute girl (because all Japanese demons have the ability to appear as cute girls, of course!)

And then last for the week is an interestingly odd and belated tie-in novel: Dark Shadows: Wolf Moon Rising is based on, not the movie from last year, but the TV soap opera from three decades ago. (Sometimes you get the license you deserve, not the license you want.) Or maybe this exists simply because Lara Parker -- an actress on that original TV show -- wanted to write it, and that would create enough buzz among whatever Dark Shadows fans are still out there. Anyway, "Angelique" has written a novel about a teenage member of the Collins family who gets swept back in time (from what period, the back-cover copy sayeth not) to the 1920s with his girlfriend, there to encounter supernatural troubles, I expect.

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