Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dancing Bear by James Crumley

How old is forty-seven? When I first read Dancing Bear in college, that was old -- almost inconceivably so, older than my parents, old unto geezer-dom, old like something historical. But these days it looks like tomorrow -- I'll turn forty-six myself later this year.

So Milo -- Milton Chester Milodragovitch III in full -- is much more immediate these days even if I'm not a borderline-alcoholic, cocaine-abusing ne'er-do-well scion of a rich Montana family. He's tried and failed at a lot of things in his life, and now lives as best he can as a security guard for a local company owned by a Colonel Haliburton. (Possibly a coincidence in a 1983 novel, though the Evil Empire Halliburton -- with two Ls -- has been around pumping oil and making money since 1919.)

Milo was a private eye -- Crumley's earlier novel The Wrong Case was set during that time -- and is an orphan and only child, "the last of the Milodragovitches," as he says. But now he's just counting days until he turns fifty-two, finally comes into his inheritance and, Crumley strongly implies, finally drinks and drugs himself into the grave. He's a damaged man who takes little enjoyment in anything, and drinks peppermint schnapps even though he hates it because it's the only way he's found to balance the terror of being sober with the black hole of drinking. His use of cocaine is less restrained, though Crumley shows Milo in a world where nearly everyone is willing to do a bit of coke here and there -- maybe it's the early 1980s, maybe it's Montana, maybe it's just fiction.

Milo is dragged out of that uneasy rut into a much more uneasy life by Sarah Weddington, a local rich lady who had an affair with his father forty years before, an affair Milo was often in the middle of. Sarah, now old, claims to be eccentric and bored, and asks Milo to investigate a couple she sees meet regularly at an intersection outside her window. It's a weird job, and the justification doesn't really make sense to Milo even at the time, but it's a big pile of money, and he's desperate for something to change in his life.

That's what sets Dancing Bear going: what seems like a frivolous tail job, a chance to do some surveillance, waste time, and make too much money. But Milo is soon up to his neck in murder and drugs, though he has no idea at all why. For most of the length of Dancing Bear, he's reacting and running, using his investigative skills to keep himself alive and try to dig into this strange case, without much luck. Only at the very end does it become clear -- or as clear as it will ever become.

Milo is an unforgettable character, vividly imagined. You wouldn't want to be him, but you know him deeply. Dancing Bear is more scattered and less focused than Wrong Case was -- and Crumley's thrillers would only get more so from this point, with ever more ever older men doing ever more drugs and brandishing ever larger weapons. But Dancing Bear is still a strong portrait of a broken man, showing what he can manage to accomplish in spite of the break.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Some Things You Can Rely On

I'm not posting as much as I'd like these days, so how about a nice song from Mr. John Wesley Harding?

This is "There's a Starbucks Where the Starbucks Used to Be," and it's as catchy as it's gently sarcastic. Call it the "Big Yellow Taxi" of the millennial era:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/24

Last week I had a huge list of books, mostly manga. This week I have two books -- both novels, both set in alternate late 19th centuries, both looking a bit steampunky around the edges. (Those last two things may be repetitious.) So the mail is providing me with variety -- and that's a lovely thing when it comes unexpectedly on your doorstep.

As always, these are new books, and the people who published them would love for thousands or millions of you to buy and read and love them. I'd like books to sell massive numbers, too, and I want people to find things they enjoy reading, so I describe those books here every Monday morning. I may be biased, and I may be wrong, but my plan is to make books sound interesting to the people who would like them. I should, though, admit that I'm unavoidably handicapped by not having read any of the books I write about each week.

First up is Karen Memory, the new novel by Elizabeth Bear. (She's prolific and talented and interesting, and I despair of ever catching up with her books. But I hope that won't stop me from reading this one.) The main character's name is actually Karen Memery, and she's a "seamstress" in the boom-town Rapid City in something like 1880 -- what we'd probably call a whore in a very early Seattle. She works in a good house, but bad things can happen anywhere -- and this novel seems to be about very bad things, including a serial murderer and a machine that can take over anyone's mind. Karen narrates the book directly, and I just read almost the first chapter just from glancing at the beginning of the book -- it's a compelling and enticing voice, easier to keep reading than to stop. Karen Memory is a hardcover from Tor, available February 3rd.

Also from Tor, also in hardcover, and also available on the same day is Leanna Renee Hieber's new novel, The Eterna Files, about the hunt for the thought-destroyed base of a secret US government operation to render the American President invulnerable to attack (itself founded immediately after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln showed the need). There looks to be lots of other stuff going on in this alternate 1882, including a tough London detective, a secret cabal of child-killing British aristocrats, psychics, codebreakers, and massive supernatural interventions.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Trouble With Girls, Vols. 1 & 2 by Jacobs, Jones, & Hamilton

We all dream of something -- usually what we don't have. Walter Mitty dreamed of adventure to break up his drab life, and millions of others have done the same. But what if it was the other way around? What if there was a man stuck with a life crammed full of adventure -- international intrigue, gorgeous women, exotic locales, luxurious meals and houses, ever-present danger -- and just wanted a Mitty-esque quiet life?

That man would be Lester Girls, star of the satirical comic series The Trouble With Girls. The adventures of "the man called Girls" ran, off and on, from 1987 through 1993, starting at the tail end of the '80s black-and-white boom and managing to keep going until just before the comics market imploded in 1994. Girls was burdened with movie-star good looks, a marksman's dead eye, the martial-arts skills of a little old Chinese man, and a list of enemies that ran from Terry and the Pirates (the nefarious Lizard Lady) to Daredevil (the villain called The Windbreaker) -- none of which he wanted, and none of which he could avoid. Girls only wanted to settle down in a little house in a bland town with a mousy wife and a dull job -- the dream of '50s conformism, obviously, which was central to this series written by two Baby Boomers, Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones.

Comedy is about expectations and desires thwarted, so The Trouble With Girls had a lot of material to work with in its initial premise. But Jacobs and Jones also threw in every other cliche they could think of, with two obnoxious occasional kid tagalongs (lampshaded with the two writers' names), the obligatory tough reporter Maxi Scoops, and Girls's compadre and sidekick Apache Dick. (Apache was one of a world-wide network of cousins, all named Dick, who aided Girls in his battles -- from Osaka Dick to Pampas Dick.) If an adventure-fiction cliche existed before 1993, it's in The Trouble With Girls somewhere.

The first fourteen issues -- the first run of the book, leaving out a giant-sized annual -- were collected about a decade ago, as The Trouble With Girls, Vol. 1 and The Trouble With Girls, Vol. 2. Nothing else has emerged since then; the other thirty or so issues of the series (twenty-three of the second series, a four-issue mini-series, a Christmas Special, and several spin-offs) remain moldering in the back-issue bins, having never seen a square-bound cover.  Maybe they'll be collected someday, but this is enough, actually -- The Trouble With Girls kept expanding and elaborating its premise, finding new puns and targets for its satire, but the essential set-up and conflict stayed exactly the same the whole time. (And no one needs to read fifty issues at a sitting of any one premise.)

I've slighted the art so far, which the books also do -- Jacobs and Jones are credited by the title, with penciler Tim Hamilton and more-often-than-not inker Dave Garcia getting a separate set of credits in a much less prominent position. But Hamilton's art -- clearly of its era, in a slightly rough indy-comics style -- does as much as anything else to sell the premise. Hamilton draws Girls as the perfect square-jawed hero, befuddled and valiant in equal measure, in that quintessentially comics Clark Kent mold.

Lester Girls is a great comic invention, and the world Jacobs and Jones built around him is full of equally inspired comic ideas -- this could have made a great movie, around about the first Die Hard. Or maybe even today. As it happened, it was a comic, and comics are pretty nice, too.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Unshelved, Vol. 1 by Barnes & Ambaum

I will not talk about the art in this book. There's an introduction where the two authors -- the pseudonymous librarian Gene Ambaum, who writes it, and the actually-named Bill Barnes, who draws it -- ask all their readers to be gentle, and all but admit that they're no good at what they do. (They're wrong, but that's a separate issue.) So I'll just say that Barnes has an early-Dilbert kind of style, which works for the strip, and suggest that anyone looking for Alex Toth should know better than to start with a library-themed webcomic.

As for the rest of you: well, if you're a librarian, I'm sure you know about Unshelved already; I gather it's an institution in the field, though maybe more so with the young whipper-snappers than the aged curmudgeons. On the other hand, it's been around for more than a decade now, so those original whipper-snappers have probably been ground down most of the way to curmudgeon-dom by long hours at the reference desk by now. In any case, this is from a librarian, about librarians, and at least partially for an audience of librarians -- so it's as authentic as it's possible to be.

The central character is Dewey, a young man who works (as little as possible, at least in these early strips) at the Mallville Central Library. As usual for a workplace comedy, he's quickly surrounded by a group of distinctive oddballs: Colleen, the romance-loving grumpy old curmudgeon; Marv, the kid who hates books but spends all his time hanging out in the library; Tamara, the energetic children's librarian who loves the letter T; Ned, the libertarian lawyer who hangs out naked; and Buddy, the summer reading mascot in a beaver costume who soon becomes a page...still in the beaver costume. There are some continuities -- the summer reading sequence in particular -- but it's mostly a slice-of-life strip, concentrating on the foibles of library customers, many of which will be familiar to anyone who's ever worked retail.

Unshelved, Vol. 1 collects what seem to be the earliest strips of this series -- by my count, there are 364 strips in the book, which would be about 16 months if it were updating five days a week back then -- and came out in book form in April 2003, apparently very soon after the last of these strips appeared online. The technology is a little outdated, and I bet some of the librarians' concerns are as well, but most of the jokes and observations here are evergreen, and it's all still both amusing and true, even for this non-librarian.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Would Satan Do? By Pat Byrnes

Now, here's a complicated history: I bought this book in 2006, but apparently stuck it on a shelf and forgot it, because it doesn't show up in my "books read" lists. (Yes, I have master lists of that; I have lists and spreadsheets for nearly everything.) I believe my copy perished in the flood of 2011, but I got a copy of it through inter-library loan -- before I even bothered to check to see if I owned it now, or ever had in the past -- a few days ago and discovered that checkered past through a little self-googling. (It's OK to google yourself now and then, as long as you don't make a habit of it.)

And all that's good, because it's vaguely complicated (and yet pointless) stuff to fill up an initial paragraph of this post. That's important, since the book itself is a collection of single-panel cartoons -- the kind we call "New Yorker style" these days, because no one else still does them -- and there's never a lot to say about books like that.

What Would Satan Do? was the first collection of the cartoons of Pat Byrnes, from Abrams back in 2005. Byrnes has an interestingly convoluted backstory (see his site for that) and an amusing rounded, Diffee-esque art style. This book collects about 150 of those cartoons -- the pages aren't numbered, and I didn't count them -- mostly on, as the subtitle puts it, "right, wrong, and very, very wrong." So there are a lot of demons and scenes in hell, lots of business and government types contemplating doing something horrible, and a fair bit of more domestic scenes with people behaving badly.

I liked almost everything here: a few were laugh-out-loud (always rare) and the vast majority were at least chuckles. Byrnes isn't quite at John Callahan level with his idol-smashing, but this isn't a book to give to your easily-offended maiden aunt. (But she's no fun anyway.) The world needs more books of good single-panel cartoons, so I'm happy to know this exists. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Job Hunting Again

Sadly, my seven great years at the house of Wiley are coming to an end this month -- not by my choice.

But it's a turbulent market out there for books and information products, with too many disruptions over the last few years than I could list. (Wiley has three divisions, and there's an existential threat to the business model of each one of them right now -- interesting times.) So I'm not happy, but I'm also not surprised. I have only good feelings for this place: it's still a great place to work, producing a lot of great things that materially make the world better, and I'd stay much longer if I could.

Since I can't, though, I need to find a new place to work. My hope is that this won't be as hard as last time, since the economy is booming (unlike 2007, when I was out of work right before the crash) and I now have seven years of really diverse marketing experience, including time spent on a wide range of categories (accounting, finance, architecture, public health -- to add to SF/Fantasy/comics, hunting & fishing, and general fiction from the earlier days) and pretty much every media or marketing vehicle known to man. But hopes only go so far, so I'm now knee-deep in plans and schemes and opportunities.

All that is to say that content may become scarce here, particularly once February gets under way and I don't have an office to go to everyday. Or, alternatively, I may throw myself into writing things here to keep myself busy while the mills of job-searching grind on the background. We'll have to see which one it is.

And, for you folks out there: if you know of anybody looking for an experienced Marketer --  either in publishing or out of it -- I'd be very grateful if you'd let me know about it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/17

I have a truly epic number of books to write about this week, courtesy of our friends at Yen Press -- I got a gigantic box from them this week, which seems to be their complete output for the last two or three months. It's not all manga, if any of you have irrational versions to such things, and I'll throw in an actual SF novel at the end as a teaser to liven up what will be a very long post.

As always, these are books that just arrived on my doorstep: I haven't read any of them yet, so what I have to tell you today is based on a quick glance, prior knowledge, and an occasional communion with the Cosmic All. If I accidentally slander your favorite author, please leave a comment to let us all know how very, very wrong I am. Unless I say otherwise, all of this stuff is from various parts of the fine Yen Press imprint, part of the larger Hachette empire, and is available in book or electronic form right now.

I'm going to deal with the flood of Yen in more-or-less alphabetical order by title, separated by physical size of the actual books (because that's how they're currently stacked on my desk.) So we start with the larger-format manga and light novels:

 Accel World, Vol. 2: The Red Storm Princess is the second light novel in the series by Reki Kawahara about a chunky teenage loser and his much more able avatar in the online "Accelerated World" game. As usual, there are black and white illustrations by Hima throughout, and an eight-page color section up front to introduce the characters and their relationships. This time out, our hero has developed an unexpected kid sister -- he's as surprised as you are -- and is on a quest for a rare and cursed suit of armor in the game world.

Barakamon, Vol. 2 continues the fish-out-of-water story by Satsuki Yoshino, with master calligrapher Seishuu Handa settling into a small island community, where everyone is much friendlier than he's used to (in that usual small-town way). I reviewed the first volume a few months ago.

Another light novel series launches -- at least on this side of the Pacific; the back-cover copy claims it's one of the most popular series ever, presumably in Japan -- with Kazuma Kamachi's A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 1. Illustrations are by Kiyotaka Haimura. Here we've got another sad-sack young-man hero -- the only guy without supernatural powers in the magnificent Academy City -- when he meets a weird delusional girl who turns out to be more than she seems. (Yes, that's the Japanese equivalent of "I'm a sexy young woman with complicated relationships with my vampire boyfriend -- now check out my tramp stamp on the cover" in America: they're equally common and I expect the trick is always in the execution.)

And here's a new manga series: Kaori Yuki's Demon from Afar, Vol. 1. I'm not entirely sure what this one's about -- there's a major earthquake in the opening pages, and an amnesiac boy found in the rubble, but the back cover focused on a love triangle among that boy and his noble benefactors somewhat later. And the title hints at supernatural stuff, as well.

Park SoHee's alternate-history romantic drama continues with Goong: The Royal Palace, Vol. 17. It looks like the divorced princess and prince of Korea are coming back together at this point -- the early books were about their arranged marriage, and then came the inevitable (n a soap opera, anyway) breakup.

Another new light novel series: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 1 is by Fujino Omori with illustrations by Suzuhito Yasuda. This one is set in a generic fantasy RPG world, where adventurers venture into Dungeon in search of treasure and fame -- but one guy wants to go there to save damsels in distress instead.

Some books tell you exactly what they're about, and one example is Fuka Mizutani's Love at Fourteen, Vol. 1. Yes, it's about two middle-schoolers and their first love; you get a cookie for figuring that out. Mizutani's art looks very expressive, and I like the lack of genre fripperies here -- it could be a real gem.

I missed the first book, but I do have here Milkyway Hitchhiking, Vol. 2 by a manga-ka credited only as Sirial. It's on very nice paper, and the art is impressive -- some of it looks like watercolors, but it might all be drawn using computer tools. I think this is about a cat named Milkyway that wanders through the lives of various people, but I could be very wrong; the package doesn't give a lot of details. But it's definitely intriguing: I'll have to check it out.

Yoshiki Tonogai -- creator of the popular Judge and Doubt psychological horror comics -- is back with Secret, Vol. 1, with another cover full of unsettlingly animal-headed people. It's another ticking-clock story in a small group with deep secrets and tragedy in their past: the six survivors of a bus crash are told by shadowy forces that three of them are murderers, who must pay for their crimes, and that the police will be told in a week.

And here's another light novel -- well, light short story collection, really -- with Isuna Hasekura's Spice and Wolf, Vol. 13: Side Colors III. It's got illustrations by Jyuu Ayakura, and collects a bunch of side stories from the popular series about a master trader and his sidekick, an ancient fertility goddess in the form of a wolf-girl.

More light novels: Sword Art Online 3: Fairy Dance is the latest in this series about an online MMORPG where death is real and the players keep getting trapped in gameworlds with no way out. (And yet people keep playing these games, which may perhaps show a deep understanding of the gamer mind.)

Etorouji Shiono's Ubel Blatt, Vol. 1 is not the first book in the series, despite appearances -- I reveiewed the gigantic zero volume last year. This is epic fantasy in comics form, with cursed black blades, treacherous history, a mysterious young man with elfin ears, and evil hordes poised to destroy all of the lands of man. And each volume is hefty, too, providing a lot of story for the dollar.

I think I've explained this before, but, just in case: Umineko WHEN THEY CRY Episode 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch, Vol. 3adapts into manga form one of a series of murder-mystery computer games (all under the umbrella title Umineko; this story is "Alliance of the Golden Witch") that each tell versions of a similar story. It's got a story by Ryukishi07 and art by Soichiro -- I'm not going to be able to tell you if either of those are single people or post-human swarm collectives living in the sun's mantle, or anything in between.

A more straightforward manga is Until Death Do Us Part, Vol. 8, the latest in the series by Hiroshi Takashige (story) and DOUBLE-S (art) about a blind swordsman and the precognitive girl that he protects, as they flee and/or battle the usual shadowy forces of evil and control.

Hey, remember Accel World, the light novel, up above? Well, in best transmedia fashion, there's also a manga series, and so I also have here Accel World, Vol. 1, which seems to have been adapted by Hiroyuki Aigamo from Reki Kawahara's original novel. (There's also a credit to HIMA for character designs, which makes me think there's an anime lurking somewhere in the mix as well -- but I'm not diving in there, since Ive got twenty-some-odd more books to get through.) I believe this volume adapts part of the middle of the first novel, but I don't claim to be an expert.

Then I have a couple of new series: first up is Akame ga KILL!, Vol. 1, which is by Takahiro (just Takahiro, like Madonna) and Tetsuya Tashiro. It looks to be a relatively medieval story, since there are lots of swords, and our main character is a young man who has just reached The Capital (called only that, as far as I can see) and immediately gotten confused by several factions and individuals who rob him and/or enlist him in their causes.

Also new is Ani-Imo, Vol. 1by Haruko Kurumatani, which is entirely different. It seems to be a body-swap incest sex comedy, with the two main characters being twins -- he's tall and strong, she's small and mousy -- who swap bodies and then the sexy hijinks ensue. Sounds weird and possibly creepy to me, so I'll have to read it myself. (Hey! That's what they want me to do!)

Ikumi Katagiri is back with Are You Alice?, Vol. 7, which is also credited as "original story by Ai Ninomiya." (I think this is another manga based on light novels, or animes, or computer games -- or a series of plush toys sold only in one supermarket chain, for all I know. The world is full of stories that show up in strange places.) It's still a quirky take on Alice in Wonderland, with a young man in the assumed role of "Alice" in a weird land of gangsters and parties.

And here's an even longer-running series: Black Butler, Vol. 19 by Yana Toboso. This one is Victorian England as seen by modern Japan (or, more specifically, seen by this one modern Japanese guy), and it's full of mysteries and strange goings-on for our young lord hero and his amazingly accomplished butler.

Shiwo Komeyama has a new volume out, too: Bloody Cross, Vol. 5. I covered the first three books in the series, but didn't read number four. This series has what I like to think of as the Japanese equivalent of all of our North American stories about ninjas and their secret supernatural weaponry: it's about angels and demons, with an explicitly Christian background, fighting a very plot-coupon war to be the next God (the big one, YHVH hisownself).

Junya Inoue also has a new volume in his series, BTOOOM!, Vol. 8. I read the first one, covered it in a roundup of various comics, and haven't looked into the series since. It's basically Battle Royale retold with bombs -- a bunch of random people were hijacked to a remote island, given various explosive devices, and told to kill each other until told otherwise.

A more complicated series is Durarara!!: what I have in front of me right now is Yellow Scarves Arc, Vol. 2 and it's created to creator Ryohgo Narita (who wrote the original TV series, if I remember right), character designer Suzuhito Yasuda (self-explanatory), and art by Akiyo Satorigi (which I think includes adapting everything into manga form). I did review the very first Durarara!! volume almost three years ago, but I think it's all gotten more complicated since then.

And here's another new series: Gou-dere Sora Nagihara, Vol. 1, by Suu Minazuki. I think it's pretty fan-servicey -- I say that in large part because my copy is still sealed in plastic, with a big M-rating on the back -- although the two women on the cover does give a big clue even without that. The title character is our hero's perfect woman, but, sadly, she's fictional -- until she leaps out into his world, latches onto him, and completely messes up his life. Yes, it's yet another of the many grandchildren of Lum, and we can enjoy it for that.

Also brand new: He's My Only Vampire, Vol. 1, from Aya Shouto. As the title implies, it is a vampire story, focusing on a young woman saved from death by her childhood friend/new vampire lord, and immediately plunged into the obligatory world of plots and dangers. (It looks a lot like a boys-love story, only with an actual girl in the feminine boy role -- and don't ask me if that's a quirky new twist or sadly retrograde, because I just don't know the landscape enough to have an opinion.)

I read the first volume of the High School DxD series -- by Hiroji Mishima, from a light novel series by Ichiei Ishibumi -- last year, and enjoyed it for what it was, though what it was was very blatant  fanservice, full of semi-naked teen girls and their revealing school uniforms. I've got two new volumes here now, both the latest in the main series -- High School DxD, Vol. 3, by Mishima -- and a side story. The side story is called High School DxD: Asia & Koneko's Secret Contract!?, it's by a manga-ka named Hiroichi, and it's about thw two title characters, two devil girls out to grant wishes to humans.

I think this next book is the very last one in its series, but that series has been so complicated that I want to hedge my bets. It's Higurashi When They Cry, Vol. 26: Dice Killing Arc. This, like Uminekyo's similar crying-time-based storytelling, is based on a series of murder-mystery computer games, all of which I think are about the death of the same schoolgirl. (Sucks to be her.) Anyway, this possibly final volume, which is smaller in scope and format that the earlier books, is written by Ryukishi07 and drawn by Karin Suzuragi.

And here's Inu x Boku SS, Vol. 6, continuing Cocoa Fujiwara's story about the secretly supernatural children of Japan's most powerful and rich families, as they live together in an exclusive apartment building in Tokyo. I read the first three books, though didn't quite figure out why half of these folks -- all equally from top families, as far as I could tell -- are servants to the other half.

I seem to see JinHo Ko's Jack Frost only sporadically -- either that, or I can't manage to spell his name correctly, so my searches for this series on this blog turn up bad info -- but I did review the first two volumes for ComicMix, a number of years ago. It's ultra-violent and stylish and weird, sort of an afterlife secondary world fantasy with a lot of characters who yell at each other nearly as much as they try to kill each other with various bolts of coruscating force. And the new one is now available: Jack Frost, Vol. 11.

I thought the Kingdom Hearts II manga originally came out some time ago -- when the game did -- but I can't find any reference to that in Kingdom Hearts II, Vol. 3, by Shiro Amano. So it's possible that this is the first time the comics adaptation of that game has been available in English. In either case, this is the usual Kingdom Hearts thing: a weird mash-up of Final Fantasy and Disney characters, with Mickey Mouse alongside a spiky-haired manga kid with a giant sword shaped like a key racing through various Disney-property-based worlds to save it all from the evil whatzis.

In newer Kingdom Hearts news, there's also Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, Vol. 5, also by Shiro Amano. The title still baffles me -- books only very rarely ask their readers to do math to figure out what the title is -- but I'm clearly not the audience for this to begin with. As far as I can tell, this sub-series is much more manga and much less Disney -- young folks training in a paramilitary save-the-universe organization (a la Soul Eater) with the title timing possibly being the ticking clock in which to save the universe this particular time.

And here's a new volume in a very popular series: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Vol. 20, with story by Nagaru Tanigawa and art by Gaku Tsugano. This is still about the SOS Brigade of supernatural folks in a typical Japanese high school, and the manic pixie girl of the title, but I can't tell you much about the specific plot convolutions ofthis volume.

We've also got a side-story for Ms. Suzumiya as well: The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan, Vol. 9. This one is written by Tanigawa with art by Puyo and if you think I can figure out what makes it distinct from the parent title based on the back-cover description, well, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. This is more in the same universe, possibly with a slightly different emphasis, but that's all I can tell you.

I can tell you more about Nico Tanigawa's No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vol. 6, since I reviewed all five of the prior volumes over the past year. (Those words are each separate links.) And you can check out those links for the real in-depth stuff, but, for a top-line view: Tomoko is deeply geeky, in a very Japanese female way, but is introverted and socially awkward in the way of all geeks. In the stories here, she tries to navigate the world, both the only that really exists and the one she expects based on her favorite games and stories.

And then there's Jun Mochizuki's Pandora Hearts, Vol. 22, another long-running series. I reviewed the first volume for ComicMix, back when the world was young and men were as gods. As I recall, this one is also something of a really sideways retelling of Alice in Wonderland (in common with several other things, like Are You Alice?, leading me to wonder why so many Japanese creators gravitate to it).

I've also read some of Atsushi Ohkubo's Soul Eater series -- I reviewed the first one when it came out, and then dipped into volume eight to see what the series had gotten up to while I was away -- but my sons are much more the fans of this one, devouring every volume to date. And Yen is running full-tilt on this series, because there were two different volume of the main series in my big box this week: both Vol. 23 and Vol. 24. As far as I can see, it's still about the "Death Meisters" -- or possibly just the ones in training -- who battle witches with the help of their sentient shapeshifting weapons.

There's also a Atsushi Ohkubo side story, and the new volume of that is also here: Soul Eater NOT!, Vol. 4. (One wonders if this man sleeps, or if he just has a really, really large number of assistants.) This is a less-dramatic take on the same universe, though I'm not sure if these stories are in continuity with the main story.

I had a Spice & Wolf light novel up above, and there's also a new volume of the manga: Spice and Wolf, Vol. 10, in which the trader and the fertility goddess are hunting a narwhal. (Why? I dunno.) This one's sealed in plastic, so expect the usual dose of wolf-girl nudity -- this may perhaps be a strong reason to buy, for some of you.

Similarly, there's also new stuff from Sword Art Online in manga as well. First up is Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance, Vol. 2, adapted by Tsubasa Haduki from the Reki Kawahara light novel of the same name. (So this one is volume 2 of volume 2 -- it's as two as you can get.)

And then there's Sword Art Online Progressive, Vol. 1, which has a story credited to Kawahara and art by Kiseki Himura. This one follows the girlfriend of the main character of the central Sword Art Online series -- I've heard grumbles that she's often the Princess Peach of the series, off somewhere else to be rescued for long stretches of time -- and it seems to be set in the timeline of the first novel of the series. It is nice to see a side-story focus on the female lead; I do have to give them that credit.

Sesuna Mikabe brings us Tena on S-String, Vol. 6, and ... I have no idea what this one is about. The back cover describes a love story with complications (Tena and someone named Kyousuke), but there also seems to be a paramilitary organization (maybe made up of only women? maybe using music somehow?) conquering and holding territory and worrying about the loyalty of various people.

And last of the manga -- my this is a long one, isn't it? -- is Shouji Sato's Triage X, Vol. 8. I've been reading this series as something of a guilty pleasure -- it's big and flashy and fan-servicey in really, really obvious ways, but is a lot of fun as what it is -- so you can see my reviews of volumes one through five, six, and seven.

One last thing from Yen: a big art book, in a slipcased softcover, from Jun Mochizuki, the creator of Pandora Hearts. It's called (reasonably enough) Pandora Hearts: odds and ends, and it collects a lot of art with very little text. (That's common for art books, though.) It looks like most of the stuff in here is the covers from Pandora Hearts, but they're presented much larger -- front and back covers often on connected spreads, on nice paper, with no overlays.

Very last this week is that SF novel I promised you. It has the hard-to-type title (R)evolution, and it's by TV and movie writer/producer/publicist PJ Manney; it seems to be her first novel. You can get it from Amazon's 47North imprint in June. (R)evolution is near-future SF in the vein of Greg Bear's classic Blood Music: a bioengineer finds some of his nanotech has been stole -- and then it's used to kill tens of thousands of people. This does not go well for him, as you'd expect, and he both injects himself with his own nanotech (which predictably turns him into a super-genius, because that's what always happens when you inject yourself with your experimental products) and gets caught up with the sinister, world-controlling Phoenix Club. It does sound like a story from a TV writer, I have to admit, but it's probably better than I'm making it sound. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a cover for it yet, so it will have to live here image-less.