Monday, September 29, 2014

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 9/27

There's a nice varied stack of books to write about this week, so let me run through the explanation quickly: the wonderful publicity industry of modern publishing sends out books, in actual physical form, to lots of people all over the place, because then some of them will write about those books and induce readers like you to buy and read and love them. Yes, even Antick Musings counts as a media outlet in these fallen times -- I'm continually surprised by it as well.

So I haven't read any of these books yet: they just arrived. But I can (and will) write a bit about them based on a quick glance and some deep cogitation. Here's hoping one of the following will be your new favorite book this year:

I have a pile of books from Yen Press, all of which I think are coming in October, so I'll take those first -- as usual, in the order of volume number, so they should go from least to most confusing.

First up then is something I haven't seen in manga before: a zero issue. Ubel Blatt, Vol. 0 begins -- or pre-begins -- an epic fantasy cod-medieval series by Etorouji Shiono, with elves and cursed swords and a lot of semi-translated German for atmosphere. The book itself doesn't make any fuss about its zero-ness; perhaps it just wanted to get a jump on the traffic?

Barakamon, Vol. 1 is a new series by Satsuki Yoshino that give me a definite Yotsuba! vibe from the cover, though the book itself seems to be very different. It's a fish-out-of-water story about an urban calligrapher who moves to a rural island, and whose primary guide to the ways of the islanders is a first-grader. (So Northern Exposure, but with more kawaii.)

Bloody Brat, Vol. 2 continues the sidebar 4-koma and other humorous stories related to Yuuki Kodama's Blood Lad series; story and art for this series is by Kanata Yoshino. (That's one of the weirdest things about the manga world to me: that they'll just farm out a goofy line-extension series to some random other manga-ka, just to get more product out there.)

Deep breath before this next one: Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Different Story, Vol. 3 retells the original Madoka Magica series with a different artist, because they don't have enough of your money yet. Art this time around is by Hanokage (or maybe HANOKAGE), and the original art and story was by the Magica Quartet; I haven't read or compared the two, so I don't know if HANOKAGE is following the same script or hitting the story beats in a different layout.

Speaking of confusing: I still don't know why this series title works the way it does, but here's Kingdom Hearts: Three Five Eight Days Over Two, Vol. 4 by Shiro Amano. (And, yes the cover does write out the numbers like that -- and then also presents them as a fraction for good measure.) This continues the story of the manga and video games, mashing up manga and Disney story world, and the fate of the multiverse is probably at stake.

I don't think I've seen this next series before, but Akira Ishida's Oninagi, Vol. 4 is the last volume. It seems to be a demon-fighting manga with a female lead character, which, I suspect, is why it ended so early: Japanese readers mostly like their genre walls airtight, and the main characters of demon-hunting stories must be boys.

Coca Fujiwara is back with Inu x Boku SS, Vol. 5, the latest is the saga of the secretly magical scions of the great families of Japan and their creepily too-protective bodyguards. (See my reviews of the first two volumes, and then number three.) I will note that Yen is cranking these out, probably to catch up with the Japanese publication, and I know fans always love to see books come out quickly -- I think all five volumes have come out this year.

If you like your Battle Royale with a side order of torture porn, you're probably happy to see Judge, Vol. 5 by Yoshiki Tonogai, continuing the story in which a dozen or so loathsome people are locked into a warehouse and forced by shadowy figures to murder each other if they want to get out. I'll leave you to it.

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan, Vol. 8, is, I think, a side-story to the main Haruhi Suzumiya manga, or maybe just an extension under a slightly different title and focus. This one is writen by series creator Nagaru Tanigawa, with art by Puyo -- and the characters don't actually look as chibi-esque as the cover on the interior pages. At least most of the time.

Black Butler, Vol. 18 continues Yana Toboso's story of the very oddly-names Earl Ciel Phantomhive and his super-butler, doing various odd things in pseudo-Victorian England. (I haven't read this series, and I've never managed to figure out what the point is.

And last from the world of Yen manga is Umineko: When They Cry, Episode 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch, Vol. 2. It has a story by Ryukishi07 and art by Soichiro, it's adapted from one in a series of murder-mystery video games, and I really can't tell you any more than that about it.

Beth Bernobich has been writing a series of stories about time travel and the Irish empire for a few years now, and those four long stories -- I believe the last one is original to the book -- are collected in The Time Roads, a Tor trade paperback hitting shelves in October. Oh, and it's steampunk too, because of course it is.

Another by Yujito Ayatsuji is a horror novel translated from the Japanese -- it comes from our friends at Yen, who I guess I wasn't quite done with -- about a boy who transfers into a rural middle school, and discovers that he's in the cursed class. (Isn't that always the way?) That boy then has to get to the bottom of the mysterious deaths and lay the vengeful spirit forever -- but probably not before a lot of other people die in horrible ways. This is coming in hardcover in October, though it's already available as a two-part ebook, which was serialized last year. (And there's a manga adaptation available too, because that's just how Japan rolls.)

I'm happy to say that Dan Krokos's new young-adult SF novel The Black Stars is not about the red-lined portion of the galaxy, because that would just be bad. Instead, it's a continuation of his prior novel The Planet Thieves, in which one boy brokered peace between humanity and an alien race. This time out, that same boy has to go undercover at the alien's military school. The Black Stars is a Tor hardcover coming October 14.

Tachyon Publications has re-issued their 2009 anthology The Secret History of Science Fiction, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. That book collected nineteen stories of SF by either fairly literary genre-SF writers (Le Guin, Wolfe, Willis, Shepard, Disch) or by writers respected for literature with a capital LIT (Atwood, Boyle, Saunders, DeLillo). There's a few middle-ground people as well, like Karen Joy Fowler, Carter Scholz, and Jonathan Lethem -- you can categorize them how you will. It aims to construct an alternative history of SF -- one where the quality of prose is as important as the quality of the ideas.

Tachyon also has a new anthology coming out: Ellen Datlow's The Cutting Room, which reprints nearly two dozen stories of horror related to the movies. It has stories by Peter Straub, Genevieve Valentine, Kim Newman, Laird Barron, David Morrell, Howard Waldrop, Ian Watson, F. Paul Wilson, Dennis Etchison, and about a dozen more.

John Twelve Hawks is back with Spark, which seems to be a standalone modern-day thriller about surveillance and corporate skulduggery -- it follows his initial trilogy starting with The Traveler. (His publishers seem to have toned down all of the hoo-hah about how he "lives off the grid" and is completely unknown to the mind of man this time around.) Spark is a Doubleday hardcover, coming October 7th.

And last for this week is Ben Tripp's The Accidental Highwayman, which is one of those rare special books that comes with multiple covers. (I got the black one, which I'd prefer, but the red version looks pretty good, too.) It's the first YA novel from a man who's done a few books for adults, but spent most of his adult life building theme-park rides and similar experiences, which is an interesting and unique background for a novelist. This book is about highwaymen in 18th century England -- you probably could have guessed much of that from the title -- and will be the first of a trilogy. It's out in hardcover from Tor Teen in October.

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