Saturday, December 31, 2016

Descender, Vol. 2: Machine Moon by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

"Writing for the trade" sometimes only delays the worst impulses of serial fiction, instead of replacing them with the worst impulses of longer fiction. (And sometimes it can just multiply those worst impulses, but we all try not to read those books.) In particular, serial fiction loves the cliffhanger. In a traditional serial, there can be a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. Is it an improvement to hold off for a big cliffhanger at the end of each arc-slash-book-collection?

Descender, Vol. 2: Machine Moon has a cliffhanger, the same way the first volume (which I reviewed here) did -- and that makes me worry that every volume will have a cliffhanger going forward, as if the creators (writer Jeff Lemire and artists Dustin Nguyen) are worried that we readers won't keep going without that visceral pull.

When I wrote about the first volume, I called out the influence of Vaughan and Staples's Saga -- big soft-SF universe filled with conflict, a small group of heroes on the run and hunted by several factions -- but Descender is plottier and more filled with obvious hooks than Saga is. In the end, Saga is about a family that wants to find a safe place to be a family, in a galaxy that plots against them at every turn. Descender, on the other hand, is about a boy robot looking for something that may not exist (the kid he was created to be the best friend for) and about the secrets underpinning that boy robot and a host of other robots.

TIM-21 and his (allies? friends? traveling companions? captors?) escape from one set of nasty enemies early in this book, and fall in with another group that may be equally nasty -- to at least some of them -- but are not precisely enemies, certainly not to TIM-21. Complications continue to pile up, in the forms of another TIM-series boy robot with his own agenda and, in scenes set far away, of the grown-up boy that TIM-21 is searching for. Is it giving anything away to note that ex-boy has changed in the time TIM-21 was powered down? Or to say that reunions rarely go as expected?

Machine Moon is all middle and increasing complication, though if the story keeps up this pace, the original plot line might complete within another two volumes or so. There's certainly enough story-space to keep going from there: it's a big galaxy, and permutations of our current cast of characters could have adventures in it, or seek to transform it, for dozens of issues to come. But there may be something like an ending not too far in the future, and not just an endless stream of cliffhangers for as long as people keep buying the book. I hope so: I like stories that have endings. It makes them stories.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Jar of Fools by Jason Lutes

There aren't all that many stories about real-world losers in comics. Even the indy scene, which revels in oddballs and square pegs, tends to place those folks into surreal or otherwise quirky environments. So the realistic story of people who never made it and never will, in something like the real world, is mostly left to literary novels (who, admittedly, staked out that territory for their own a century or so ago and have been zealously cultivating it ever since).

But there are a few exceptions. Jason Lutes's first major graphic novel Jar of Fools is a notable one. It's full of losers.

Ernie Weiss is a failed magician and an alcoholic, haunted by his more successful and now-dead brother. Ernie's mentor Al Flosso is a once-successful magician, now going senile. Ernie's ex, Esther O'Dea is trapped in a dead-end coffee shop job. And then there's Nathan Lender, a small-time con man, and his young daughter Claire.

They're all in some minor city, somewhere in the late 20th century -- living in bad single-room apartments or battered old cars, grabbing a few bucks here and there, just holding on. They keep bumping into each other, bouncing off each other, as the story goes on. They're all broken, incomplete in some way -- but maybe, in the right combination, their missing pieces can help each other.

But not in a simple Hollywood way, and not all together -- Lutes is telling a quieter, more muted story, one where the hope is buried deep in the melancholy. The people you think should stay together, or remain together, won't.

Lutes tells this story with a precise, inky, illustrative line, full of dark blacks and crisply defined faces. He makes all of these characters, these losers, specific people -- ones you might pass on the street, and never notice. It's just up to you to pay attention to them.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

DC Universe by Alan Moore

You might have heard that Alan Moore does not have the best relationship with DC Comics recently. (For values of "recently" that include the last twenty-plus years, and values of "not the best relationship" that include Moore hurling actual attempted magickal spells at them from his secret base in darkest Northampton.) Nevertheless, he did some excellent stories for DC's various superheroes back before they started thinking of ever-more-inventive ways to screw him over, and DC has been reprinting them in various permutations over the years.

The first semi-comprehensive collection was the 2003 Across the Universe, which had all of the secondary Moore DC-universe stories from the 1980s, but left out the two longer and best-known stories: The Killing Joke and the two-part "last Superman story" Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? That was then expanded into the 2006 DC Universe by Alan Moore, which added in those two missing pieces.

That was the book I thought I was buying. Instead I got the 2011 DC Universe by Alan Moore, which leaves out The Killing Joke again (for no obvious reason), but adds in over two hundred pages of minor Wildstorm comics from the late '90s that must have been cluttering up the DC offices. There's an end-of-the-universe story that might be good if you know who the characters are (besides the central one being Yet Another Moore Superman Analog), the first four issues of Voodoo, which are decent but very '90s, a strange three-part story about someone being cloned into various other bodies to hill him/herself repeatedly, and a silly short back-up piece from WildC.A.T.S. The art in particular on the Wildstorm-era comics has to be seen to be believed, and that's not a compliment.

Luckily, no one will buy the book for that stuff anyway. We also didn't buy it for the more obscure '80s stuff -- the two-part Green Arrow story, the two-part Vigilante story, a couple of Omega Men back-ups. Most people who aren't me won't even care about the Superman-Swamp Thing team-up from DC Comics Presents, "The Jungle Line," but they're just deprived. Even the Batman/Clayface story here isn't the draw.

No, what's really important here is Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, the ultimate Silver Age story, and "For the Man Who Has Everything," possibly the best Superman story ever. (I also entertain the possibility it could be Elliott S! Maggin's novel Miracle Monday.) And the Green Lantern stories are fun, too -- "Mogo Doesn't Socialize," about the biggest lantern; "Tygers," which explains why Abin Sur was using a spaceship when he died and has the unique distinction of having Kevin O'Neill's entire drawing style rejected by the Comics Code Authority; and "In Blackest Night," about the Green Lantern who actually belongs to a slightly different organization.

Alan Moore probably doesn't really want you to read any of that. But, then, Franz Kafka didn't want us to read anything he'd written, and we don't listen to him, either. These are good comics stories in an '80s superhero mode, as "reality" was starting to be taken seriously and caption boxes were expanding to incredible dimensions. They're not the greatest comics ever -- hardly anything is -- but they're very good for what they are, and showed some light at a time when it looked like comics could keep getting better like this. That turned out to not be true, but it wasn't Alan Moore's fault: he pushed as hard as he could in the right direction for a long time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

OK, we start off today with a quiz for our fantasy readers. You're reading a book set in just-post-Arthurian Britain, and your protagonists are an old couple. This is how they are introduced, on page 2:
In one such area on the edge of a vast bog, in the shadow of some jagged hills, lived an elderly couple: Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them.
Now, do you react to this detail by thinking "their true names and identities will be deeply important before the book is over, and I should start ruminating on Arthurian characters" or do you think "huh, names, OK" and move on?

(Oh, one other point: Axl always calls Beatrice "princess." In nearly every line of dialogue. He never calls her Beatrice. Could that be important?)

I'm sorry to inform you that the latter is the correct answer; that is a Chekhov Gun that Ishiguro very carefully places on the mantelpiece at the beginning of the book and then entirely ignores from that point forward. Axl turns out to have been a mid-level soldier in Arthur's armies, actual role and title left unspecified though he did do some peace negotiations, and his full name is Axl-somethingorother. And Beatrice is just his wife.

That's a key issue with The Buried Giant: it's written in a slightly too-fussy style, it doesn't manage its genre elements particularly well, and it's clumsy in general. It's not maddeningly wrong-headed like Ishiguro's attempt at science fiction, Never Let Me Go, but it shows an essential lack of knowledge about how to present fantasy and an instinct to dull everything down and make it more tedious.

Ishiguro has a powerful metaphor at the center of The Buried Giant, and keeps obscuring that metaphor, or letting it make his book duller and less focused than it should be. Some kind of mist -- we find out the source before the end of the book -- has been making the people of this area forget their pasts. Axl and Beatrice think of this as a curse, and want to eliminate it, if they knew how. But they're old and mostly forgotten themselves, living in a minor subsistence-level village in the middle of nowhere, and they're more concerned with the fact that the rulers of their village no longer allow them to have a candle in their room at night.

But, after much hemming and hawing, and much Alphonse-and-Gaston dialogue between our old couple -- "do you want to do X, princess?" "only if you do, darling Axl" "well, I only care for your happiness, princess, so my concern is purely for your needs" and on and on and on -- they actually leave their nameless village and head across the nameless lands nearby to try to find their nameless son in the nameless village he moved to some unknown number of years ago, after he left home for some unremembered reason.

All of that namelessness and forgetting is due to the mist, of course. But Ishiguro lets it be a drag on the narrative and on his characters: it keeps him for describing the world crisply and keeps his story muddy and rambling. His tone doesn't fit a rambling, loose story, though, leaving the sense and matter of The Buried Giant continuously mismatched.

Much of what was forgotten was a brutal war between Arthur's Britons and the (invading?) Saxons, and one particular war atrocity that we learn about at second-hand, in a dull, muted form, late in this book. (If anything in The Buried Giant called out for a flashback, it was this: but it doesn't get one, or any other mechanism to make it live and command attention.) Nowadays, Saxons and Britons live amongst each other, both in scattered separate villages and even together in some of those villages. Remembering the war could threaten that peace -- but by the time Axl and Beatrice learn that, it's too late.

That, probably, is Ishiguro's point: relying on forgetting about things to make them better only works for as long as the forgetting does. And remembering can spread quickly. But, then again, the loss of the mist will probably lead to mass bloodshed -- the return of the wars at least, and possibly just straight massacres.

In their travels, Axl and Beatrice meet a few others whose paths cross and join theirs for a while -- the old Arthurian knight Gawain (who has no particular reason to be Gawain, and is just "an old knight who was sworn to King Arthur"), a Saxon warrior on a secret mission, and the Saxon boy that warrior is forced to foster when he loses his parents to monsters. There's also a dragon, Querig, supposedly terrorizing the surrounding area, though she hasn't been seen for years -- and Gawain's mission for the past however-many years is to kill Querig, which he claims he's on the verge of doing any time now.

As usual with Arthurian stories, there's an attempt to drag Christian morality into it, with a community of monks and their dark secrets. But, again, its connection to the rest of the book is muddled and confused; it's just one more damn thing Axl and Beatrice have to get through on their journey. (In a weird way, The Buried Giant is a frustrated and depressing picaresque novel -- they go to strange places, meet odd people, and keep learning more about how horrible everything is.)

There's a very good novel lurking inside The Buried Giant, and that seems to be what most of the mainstream critics reacted to when they read it. But it's obscured and damaged by the choices Ishiguro made, by the ways he deals with his material, and by his ignoring or flouting useful fantasy expectations and revelations. This is a fantasy novel for non-fantasy readers, for the simple reason that non-fantasy readers will appreciate what The Buried Giant does well, and not realize all of the things that it misses doing or trips itself up on.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hellboy in Mexico by Mike Mignola and various artists

The Hellboy empire has mostly run to sidebars for the last decade or so -- from the ongoing B.P.R.D. and Abe Sapien comics to the various comics about the big red guy not drawn by creator Mike Mignola. Oh, sure, Mignola and his collaborators did manage to finally make it to the long-promised magical apocalypse and more-or-less kill off Hellboy himself, but even Hellboy's post-life adventures recently petered out and most of the apocalypse has been seen in the B.P.R.D. series, mostly written by John Arcudi.

I've said before that, for me, the best pieces of the Hellboy saga are the short stories drawn by Mignola himself, usually based on a particular legend or bit of folklore, in which Hellboy meets an unearthly thing and deals with it. (Usually by punching it back to hell, admittedly, but not always.) Second best, I guess, would be similar stories drawn by other people.

Hellboy in Mexico is a continuity insert made up of a cluster of those stories, set during a drunken, doom-filled ramble through Mexico during Hellboy's early days, during the last few months of 1956. The stories here have been in the main Hellboy collections (Hellboy in Mexico, drawn by Richard Corben) or appeared as their own individual books (House of the Living Dead, also with Corben on art) or scattered elsewhere. But this book does pull them all together, in order, to tell the story of Hellboy's five-month-long "lost weekend" and how he befriended some wrestlers, fought vampires (and a werewolf, and a Frankenstein monster, and more), and punched out the god Camazotz.

All of these stories are scripted by Mignola, and (besides Corben, who does the two longest stories in the book) they include art by Mignola himself, Mick McMahon, Fabio Moon, and Gabriel Ba. This is very much a sidebar, obviously. But, since Hellboy is dead in the modern day, and the world he used to live in has comprehensively fallen apart and bears no relation at all to our own, sidebars are just fine.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Incoming Books: Saturnalia

There were no books in the mail this past week, but there were some books in wrapped packages yesterday. And these are the things my family thought I might like based on various on-line lists and recommendation engines:

Important Literary Journal and You Should Have Killed Me When You Had the Chance! -- two recent self-published collections of comics and related stuff by Kyle Baker, who seems to have revved up the self-publishing engine in recent years. I'm always in favor of more Kyle Baker, no matter how it happens.

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 26 by Charles M. Schulz -- this book collects all of the other Peanuts stuff: books like Happiness is a Warm Puppy (not that book in particular, I just noticed, but many others, less well known, like it), advertising drawings, stories from comic books, single-panel gags, and other random stuff. It's all by Schulz himself, and it's all Peanuts-related in one way or another.

Avid Reader by Robert Gottlieb -- I am still bitter about the way I couldn't manage to stay in trade publishing, but it doesn't stop me from sticking my nose up to the glass and peering at the lucky folks still inside there. And Gottlieb has certainly had a long and stories career, which I'm sure will not fill me with deep jealousy. Oh no.

Dungeon Monstres, Vol. 6: The Great Animator -- the most recent in the series of graphic novels from France, as always written by Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar, with art by Stanislas and Keramidas this time. I do still intend to read the whole series through at some point, though I think my son might have some of these books in his room right now.

Syllabus by Lynda Barry -- the latest in her series of books about how to write/draw/be an artist/be a better person. I'm a total grump and I certainly don't do her exercises, but I like Barry's attitude and her books are lovely and positive and helpful.

And last is an oldie: the 25th anniversary edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean. "A serious house on serious earth," as they say.

(By the way -- and this may be more for myself than for anyone else -- I was planning to review three books a day during this vacation to finish off the pile of stuff I've read in December. But yesterday was lost due to holiday festivities, and the cold that's been building for the past three days has ensconced itself firmly in my brain today. So I'm not thinking as clearly as I'd like to, and inspiration is not coming. It's entirely possible that I'll feel better later or tomorrow, so it will all look seamless from the outside. But just in case that doesn't happen, this is why.)

Saga, Vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

I originally hoped Saga had a plan to tell a single large story across some medium-sized number of comics issues -- say thirty or fifty. On the other side, my worry was that it would get dragged out for as long as it was still popular, since the set-up could lead to endless one-more-damn-thing complications.

(Why? Well, Saga is a single story: how Hazel grew up and found a peaceful place to live, and possibly how she and her parents brought peace to the galaxy, if we're being massively optimistic. Single stories can be complicated with side-plots, but do have to end. Contrast that with set-ups that can generate multiple plots from the same cast -- Fables is a good recent example of the type. Those could run nearly indefinitely, as long as there are more stories to tell or new characters to bounce around. But a single story can't be spread too thin, or it will break in the middle. Vaughan's Ex Machina badly broke in the middle, for example.)

Saga, Vol. 6 collects issues thirty-one to thirty-six of the still-popular space opera series by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, and I'm not sure whether to be optimistic or pessimistic.

On the positive side, the splitting-the-party issues in the last book have mostly been resolved, and Hazel is growing up noticeably. That tends to show that the story is moving forward, with an end somewhere (even if distantly) in sight. But we are deep into the mid-thirties, nearly five years into Saga's run, and even Hazel's hints about the future state in which she's writing the narration are pretty non-specific, leading to dark thoughts that Saga could be aiming for a hundred issues, or more, or no specific number.

I'm not going to talk about plot, because that's pointless in a long serial like this -- either I get into the minutiae of specific events in these pages, which are opaque to anyone who isn't caught up and tedious to anyone who has, or I try to drop back to the very beginning and explain everything up to this point, which is tedious to everyone (particularly me). Here's what I've written about previous volumes, in case you want to dig in or find something to yell at me about: one, two, three, four, five.

The only recommendation I can give is that I will be back for volume seven. At this point in a series, that's what counts: do you want to move on to the next piece, and see what happens next? I still hope there's a real ending somewhere out there, and not just five more years of middle, but I do appreciate that the comics-buying audience mostly disagrees with me.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/24

So this past week has been the lead-up to the single biggest holiday in the European-derived world, full of festivities and frivolities and all sorts of other things beginning with F. What it has not been, though, is a particularly fruitful day for books-in-the-mail over at the Wheeler homestead.

(This is not actually surprising.)

To be clearer: I didn't get any books in the mail. And so I will not be covering any of it here.

Reviewing the Mail is on hiatus this week, until there's some mail to review. I did get a stack of books for Christmas, which I hope to post about them later today, and I'm also still trying to finish off writing about what I read this year while it's still this year. If you're stuck in Aunt Petunia's house for the week, trying to avoid the more horrible members of your family, I hope I can give you a few moments of vague staring-at-your-phone pleasure.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sex Criminals, Vol. 3: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Serial comics revel in complication -- they have to, or they'd end, and who wants that? (Certainly not the creators, who generally want to keep working and getting paid. And if audiences actually wanted endings from every-Wednesday comics I'd think they would have made that clear at some point in the last seventy years.)

So any series that starts out as "the real world, with this one little change" finds itself elaborating that change as it goes. Relentless story logic will do that, and the terror of yet more empty white pages to keep filling up. Sex Criminals was originally the story of two young people with a shared wild talent (freezing time when they orgasm) and a combined problem (the library she worked at was being foreclosed on by the bank he worked at). Hence Sex. Hence Criminals. (See my reviews of the first two volumes for more words saying the same thing.)

But are they the only ones with that power? (That seems deeply implausible.) Are there other sex-based superpowers? (Why not?) And, if there are sex criminals, does that imply that there are sex cops?

Sex Criminals, Vol. 3 continues that elaboration, as always written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Chip Zdarsky. There are now several other time-freezers, some of whom have additional sex-powers, and the series is also dipping into metafiction -- maybe just because it's the twenty-first century, and we do that all the time now.

And, yes, still the least plausible element of the story is that Jon and Suzie regularly fuck in uncomfortable or strange places to simultaneous orgasms in order to unleash their powers. Forget bank robbery; a very lucrative career as couples sex therapists lies before them if they can teach that to other people. But I suppose mutual masturbation, though easier to manage for nefarious time-stopping purposes, is less visually appealing and dramatic in a comic.

This is still not quite a superhero comic, though there's been a steady increase in the number of punches thrown and/or threatened as the issues pile up. I would not be surprised if we have two super-teams lining up against each other for a big battle, flush from sex, in volume five or so. All Wednesday comics aspire to the condition of superheroes, as I always say -- with apologies to Walter Pater.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that Sex Criminals is getting looser and weirder and less focused. Jon and Suzie are still in the middle of the action (so to speak), but there are a number of possibly more-interesting characters circling around them, with mysterious motivations and plans. I'm not 100% convinced Fraction and Zdarsky have an overall plan for all of this: much of Sex Criminals reads like superhero-style let's-just-throw-in-one-more-complication-for-this-month-and-see-what-happens plotting. But it's still zippy and exciting, and I can forgive a lot in a comic that's more about fucking than fighting.

I don't know where Sex Criminals could possibly be going, but it's still a great ride -- though the metafiction, this early in a series's run, is a worrying sign. Metafiction can be deconstruction, like "The Coyote Gospel," but more often it's a sign of material getting away from its creators, like Steve Gerber with Howard the Duck.

(Oh, and Merry Christmas, by the way. This book has absolutely nothing to do with the holiday -- aside, maybe, from a vague shared interest in "joy" -- but it's what came up in order for today, so it's what I've got.)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

I've said many times that I'm a sucker for the occasional nonfiction of novelists; I've read a number of odds-and-sods collections by writers that I barely read in the first place -- in several cases, it's been the first thing I've read by someone, and probably more than once the only thing. It's a weird literary taste, but it's mine, and I accept it.

So when a writer I really do love and follow assiduously puts out a big fat collection of introductions and essays and speeches and appreciations and other random detritus, you'd better believe I'm going to jump on that thing. Neil Gaiman -- you might have heard of him -- had a book like that this year, probably because he's old enough that it feels like a good time and his publishers really wanted a big book with "NEIL GAIMAN" on the spine out in stores this year to help their bottom line. [1] He'll write more occasional nonfiction, I'm sure: he's at the point in his career when I expect he has to fight off introduction requests several times a week, and with any luck will be healthy and writing for another twenty-plus years. But it's far enough in to make a big fat book of just the things he wants to save.

That book, obviously, is The View from the Cheap Seats, which you'll already know if you peeked at the bookshot or read the title of this blog post. It contains five hundred pages of various pieces, originally written and published from 1990 through last year -- not everything germane from those years, certainly, but a huge pile of stuff, and nearly everything anyone would want to read and remember.

It's divided into ten generally thematic sections -- this on comics, this on movies, this on Stardust, all leading off with essays on things he believes strongly and ending up with his famous Make Good Art speech and then some of the most recent, presumably major, essays that he wants to highlight. It is a loose collection: every book like this is. What unifies it is Gaiman: he cares about the same things, and thinks in much the same ways, and has the same kinds of connections in his head throughout all of the years that this collection covers, no matter what he's writing about at the moment.

And, obviously, all these are things he cared about at the time, and still cares about enough to save in this thick book. These are the things Neil Gaiman wants you to know about: the writers and artists he loves, the work he wishes more people were excited about, the things he's done that have been interesting or strange or unique. It's mostly things in his head: he's a writer, and has always seemed one of those stereotypical writers who lives mostly in his own head wherever he is. There are no scintillating travelogues here, unless the vacation destination you're interested in is Neil Gaiman's cerebellum.

You probably already know if you want to read a book like this: if you're like me, you'd want one by just about any decent middle-aged novelist who's been in shouting distance of the skiffy field. If you're less like me, you might want it because it's Gaiman, or because he's been much closer than shouting distance. And, if you don't want it at all, I hope you've figured that out by now.

[1] His next new book, Norse Mythology, is still a couple of months out from publication. And the once-promised Monkey King book seems to have quietly died behind the scenes.

November Was White

I've just posted the index to the books I read in November, for those of you stalking my reading life.

My post title comes from this bleak but utterly captivating Say Hi song:

Friday, December 23, 2016

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

I don't know if this is true, but I'll say it anyway: it feels true.

In every group of close-knit friends, there's always one -- at least one -- not as tightly connected as the others. That's the friend who would be thrown out of the sleigh first when the wolves get closer, the comic relief who the slasher picks off before the opening credits, the one who was always there and dependable but somehow no more than that.

Tsukuru Tazaki was that guy. Growing up in the provincial Japanese city of Nagoya, he was part of a group of five -- two girls, three boys -- who were always together for years. Four of them stayed local after high school, and only he moved away -- to go to school in Tokyo to study train-station architecture. (Yes, something that specific. It's good to have a passion, yes?)

And, in the middle of his sophomore year, on a trip home between semesters, those friends told Tsukuru that they never wanted to see him again. It nearly killed him -- literally; he almost stopped eating and didn't leave his apartment for months -- and he didn't see any of them for more than a decade afterward. But then his life went on; he completed his studies and went to work in his chosen field, designing and building train stations. And, in his mid-thirties, a new girlfriend trying to get to know him better learned this story, and insisted that he needed to find out why he was shunned.

That's where Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the most recent novel from Haruki Murakami translated into English, begins. Tsukuru has realized that there's something broken, or unfinished, inside of him, and he needs to understand his past to move forward -- and, he hopes, to make a stronger and lasting relationship with this new woman, Sara.

Colorless is the closest to a mainstream novel Murakami has come since his first couple of books: there are no oracular cats here, no slips into alternate worlds, no mysterious holes in the ground, no doubles or dopplegangers. There are unsettling and odd dreams, of course -- all literary writers love dreams, even if they hate fantasy in every other form -- but those barely count in the world of Murakami. Instead, this book is the story of a man who was broken without entirely realizing it, about how he tried to find the edges of that break, and how he got to the moment where he might be ready to heal that break.

(It's still a literary novel; it ends before any possible catharsis or true indication of Tsukuru's state.)

The prose is solid Murakami, but the blander plot disappointed me: I was hoping for an eruption of the numinous, or some other unreal explanation for the shunning. Tsukuru does learn why he was cast out, and it's an adequate reason, even if he and we will never know all the details -- but it's not a traditionally Murakamiesque reason.

If I were being flippant, I'd make some kind of comment on that word Colorless; this novel has less of the wild colors and imaginative strokes of Murakami's best books. (And maybe I just did that while claiming I'm not going to.) I don't know if this novel will be disappointing to every reader: Murakami has a stronger sense of plot here, and is better at moving from present-time into flashback and back out than he did in his earlier, wilder novels. I suspect SFnal readers will tend to be disappointed, and the folks who wish Murakami would buckle down and lose the weird cats and magic girls will be happier. Let me know where you fall on that divide, if you've read this book, and if that's right.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Incoming Books: Mid-December

These are not Christmas presents, since I bought them for myself. On the other hand, the great thing about being an adult is that you can buy yourself Christmas presents to make sure you get exactly what you want.

Instead, these are books I got because my "local" comics shop -- they actually have a location less than two blocks from my office, but I never go to the actual store -- because they had a great online sale. So these are books I wasn't willing to take a chance on other people buying me or not -- which is how books usually work.

John Allison's great webcomic continues to be collected in Bad Machinery, Vol. 6: The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor. And I will continue to urge you to read it if you enjoy humor, mystery, supernatural happenings, titting about on ladders, and general horseplay. And even if you think you don't enjoy those things: you just haven't seen them done right.

I was recently reminded that I really like Kyle Baker's comics, which I'd somehow lost track of. (Probably because he has a style that I thought was totally awesome and has since moved on in other directions -- only your favorite bands can really let you down, yadda yadda yadda.) Anyway, so I got his collection of random funny stuff Undercover Genie from just over a decade ago. I'm not sure if I ever read this the first time around, so I'm looking forward to figuring that out.

Also from Baker, but far lighter on the ha-ha: his epic retelling of a 19th century slave rebellion in Nat Turner. This isn't exactly in comics form -- the pages mostly have illustrations and text next to each other, but not arranged as comics pages -- but it's a first cousin, at least. This one I know I never read.

Eddie Campbell's other big comics series has been collected, and I now have the back half: Bacchus Omnibus, Volume Two. These are great comics about life and death and gods and survival and stories and drinking that I've owned in two or three formats all ready -- but this looks like the definitive one.

Then there's Kelly: The Cartoonist America Turns To, "by" Stan Kelly -- the quintessential American political cartoonist, as seen in the pages of The Onion. Kelly's work has been edited and given to us by Ward Sutton -- nudge nudge, wink wink -- and there will never be a better collection of cartoons about sleazy anti-American liberals and upstanding white men, all heavily labeled, than this book. We may need Kelly a lot these next four years, so get his book now to be ready for them.

Plutona is a standalone graphic novel about kids who find a dead superhero, from writer Jeff Lemire (always good when he goes more indy) and artist Emi Lenox (whose autobio work I keep thinking I need to pick up). I don't know much more about it than that, but I like standalone stories better than ongoing sagas -- because I like stories better than I like endless serials -- so I have hopes for this one.

You might have heard of this next book: The Saga of the Swamp Thing, Vol. 3 by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben. I'm planning to re-read the whole series, and now I just need to find the second volume. I probably haven't read these since I got the original issues back in the late '80s, come to think of it.

And last is the recent graphic novel from Dash Shaw, Cosplayers. It's about...cosplayers, obviously. Knowing Shaw, there's probably something more to it -- not fighting crime, but something like crippling social anxiety or family drama. I guess I'll find out.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/17

The year is hurtling towards its end, but there's still time for a few books before it goes. And when those books hit my desk, I tell you about them.

There's only one this time out, but that's not too bad for such a hectic time of year, is it? Would you really have time for me to tell you about dozens of new books if they all landed on my doorstep? Probably not.

So what I have for you today is a standalone graphic novel by Cassandra Jean called Reindeer Boy. It looks to be at least mildly manga-influenced, and it's out now from Yen Press. Every year, on the night before Christmas, Quincy dreams that a a little boy with antlers is giving her a special present wrapped in tinfoil. But this year, a teen-aged Quincy meets a teen boy who looks just like that kid after winter break -- full antlers and all. Even more weirdly, that boy, Cupid, tells Quincy that she's growing antlers, too -- and he seems to be right.

I can't remember another book about antler people, so Jean gets high marks for originality here. I'll have to read the thing to figure out the rest of the marks, but her art is expressive and energetic at first glace -- a very good sign.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/10

Welcome to another week -- if you're like many of us in North America (and possibly other parts of the Westernized world), you're counting down to a Christmas/Holiday vacation of some kind, and getting less and less focused on the work you're supposed to be doing.

And so here I am with something that might be yet another distraction in this festive season: some books, just published, that you might want to read instead of doing whatever it is that you're supposed to be doing today. I haven't read any of these books yet, but there's what I can tell you about them:

First up is the fifth book in John C. Wright's big saga of post-humanity, "The Eschaton Sequence" -- The Vindication of Man is a Tor hardcover that hit stores on November 22nd. The first chapter starts in AD 68,010, but it's still a book about a guy waiting for his girlfriend to come back from a mission into deep space -- so this is on the comfortably familiar side of post-human. (I don't think the title is meant as a two-hundred-years-delayed slam on Mary Wollstonecraft, but I could be wrong.)

Everything else I have are are manga volumes from Yen Press, so take that as read from here.

He's My Only Vampire, Vol. 9 by Aya Shouoto -- he's a vampire! she's a schoolgirl! together they...well, there seems to be another "him" at this point, since the first page has two shoujo-style cute boys, one of them biting his T-shirt soulfully. So she might just be left out in the cold at this point, if you know what I mean. There's also the usual magical-conflict plot, with seven big Plot Tokens and lots of Machiavellian players maneuvering to do whatever with them.

The Honor Student at Magic High School, Vol. 5 adapted into manga by Yu Mori from Tsutomu Sato's light novel -- our heroes are the elite students of the declared "First High" of magical kids, destined to rule zaibatsu and the entire country on graduation, like generations of their families before them. But some snot-nosed upstarts from Third High are threatening to win a major competition because they work hard! Um, yeah, we seem to be supposed to root for the super-privileged class in this book, so go for it if that's the way your sympathies lie.

Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi, Vol. 5 by nanao and HaccaWorks* -- supernatural creatures are doing something, which the back cover copy boldly declares includes eating people. Again, these seem to be our heroes.

Strike the Blood, Vol. 5, adapted by TATE from Gakuto Mikumo's light novel -- Well, the bad guys here are the Black Death Emperor Front, showing that the creators here spare no effort to show how evil they are. And they've captured four of our heroes!

And last for this week is Ubel Blatt, Vol. 7, by Etorouji Shiono -- in a medievaloid world, two Marquis are fighting. I don't know if that means the army of evil elves from previous books has been defeated, or just run away from. Either way: death, destruction, angst, and a woman with really silly armor on the cover.

Friday, December 09, 2016

How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

Really smart writers are the ones who can take worn out metaphors, the kind that have become cliches through overuse, and make them vital again. And really smart artists similarly transform the stories they tell, making words into pictures that tell more than the original words ever could.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties was originally a short story -- by Neil Gaiman, obviously. Two young men: one boisterous and outgoing, the other quiet and unsure (our narrator) are in London, in the author's own youth, looking for a party where they think there will be girls. They really want there to be girls at the party -- maybe one specific one, but they're not in a position to be that picky yet -- but our narrator is also afraid, or worried.

The trouble with girls at that age -- it may be the trouble with boys as well, but that was never the way I was focusing my attention, so I have no expertise there -- is that they seem really strange and different, as if they've suddenly transformed.

As if they were from a different planet entirely.

Gaiman turned that idea, that metaphor, into a great short story, entirely dependent on that one idea and the voice of the narrator -- who, like a lot of Gaiman narrators from Violent Cases to The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is not exactly Neil Gaiman. He looks a bit like Gaiman, he acts a bit like Gaiman, he's doing many of the same things Gaiman did at the same age...and, like here, if he has a name (Enn), it doesn't seem like his real name. All stories are autobiographical; all stories are lies.

Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba -- call them the Brazilian wonder twins, because all three of those words are true -- took that story and adapted it into sixty-two pages of comics, now available as a book. It's the short story in a different form: more visual, perhaps, and slightly more obvious because of that. But it's not simplified or changed, just translated into a different medium.

It doesn't replace the story -- nothing replaces a story, not a movie or the fact that it comes true or the fact that it can now never come true -- but it's a beautiful, wonderful version of that story, with pictures as good as Gaiman's original words. Maybe read the story first, though. Some sneaky things need to come into your head as words first.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Miracleman: The Golden Age by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham

I was going to say that Marvel must have been thrilled to have the travails of Miracleman behind them -- wrangling over rights, trying to figure out how to promote a book whose writer insists that his name never appear in conjunction with it -- to settle into this run by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham, two not just excellent creators but very professional men still active in the industry. It must have seemed like a Golden Age of its own.

But in starting to write here I wondered when the next book -- The Silver Age, half-completed by Gaiman and Buckingham twenty-plus years ago as Eclipse Comics went onto the rocks -- was going to come out. And I find from a quick Google that those legal issues -- or maybe different ones; one can never assume with Miracleman -- have reared up again, and the next storyline is on hold until the lawyers finish up their work.

So perhaps Miracleman is cursed, after all, as I suggested when I looked at the first volume of Alan Moore's stories a few years ago. (See also my notes on the second and third Moore volumes -- I feel like I'm shouting his name and Miracleman repeatedly into a mirror, to see if he manifests and tries to murder me.) Something in this world does not want you to read Miracleman stories, and each one must be snatched from the claws of that something and dragged out into the wider world.

The most recent batch of things snatched from those claws is Miracleman: The Golden Age, written by Gaiman and drawn by Buckingham. It was planned, all those years ago, to be the first of three ages that this team would create for Miracleman before handing it over (possibly) to some other team to keep going forward. The Silver Age was half-done when it all went to hell in the early '90s, and The Dark Age apparently just a few pages of notes. Maybe they'll exist in full someday -- you never can tell with Miracleman.

These stories did make it out: they tell of the utopia that Miracleman and his superpowered compatriots created after the destruction of London. It's told as a series of mostly independent short stories, from the points of view of ordinary people in that world -- Miracleman and his pantheon are gods at this point (though both benevolent and active, not usual for most pantheons). The world is full of wonders and plenty, but life goes on -- couples find each other and break up, kids explore the boundaries of who they want to be, and ordinary people tell each other of their encounters with the gods. Some of those gods are their own children -- Miracleman's daughter Winter was only the first, and now, a few years later, there are hundreds of superpowered, super-intelligent, super-advanced creatures that look like small human children.

There's a lot of sadness in this Utopia, much of it from memories of the destruction in Olympus, the climactic Moore storyline. But there's a deeper melancholy as well: the Miraclepeople and the new children are not really human, and their parents can no more understand them than those parents could go frolic in the heart of a star. (But the children can do both, and a million other things besides.) The old humans get plenty and new fancy technological toys and the freedom to do and live anything...but none of it really means anything when there are gods flying around ruling the world.

This was always planned to be a transitional storyline, moving from Moore's budding Utopia at the end of Olympus to the peak of that happiness and showing the seeds of the unhappiness that would follow. It's not meant to be an ending. And, I hope, before long it won't be, and we'll finally be able to read the full Silver Age. But, for now, we have this ambiguous Utopia, with the cracks showing, and the wonder of what will happen to it.

(Note: the book I have features a cover very similar but not identical to the one above. As is too common these days, Marvel has infested the market with far too many covers for this book and its component single issues, and created a thriving market for lots of things that are internally the same but look different from the outside. There's a metaphor there, I think.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Kyle Baker, Cartoonist

Self-publishing is tough. Single-panel gag cartoons are tough. Self-publishing a book of single-panel gag cartoons while you have two kids under the age of five plus a newborn is so tough I can barely conceive of it. But that's how Kyle Baker, Cartoonist happened, a little over a decade ago.

Baker doesn't fit neatly into any of the boxes of the comics world -- well, I bet a lot of creators feel that way, but Baker's been aggressively charging into all directions of the landscape since he nearly-simultaneously drew the movie tie-in miniseries of Howard the Duck for Marvel and created his first solo graphic novel, the still totally awesome Cowboy Wally Show. So he's exactly the kind of creator that you'd expect would eventually self-publish -- probably the big project he'd been working on in the background for years. You know: that kind of interesting writer/artist, who drops in and out of work-for-hire stuff while looping back to the projects he creates from scratch.

And he did: his Nat Turner series came out from his homebrew publishing company in 2005...but only after he did some books of gag cartoons about his family. That's what I mean about not fitting into boxes: even when he zags instead of zigging, he zags somewhere else first.

This book, I think, was the inaugural publication of Kyle Baker Publishing -- again, right after the birth of his third child, for maximum difficulty -- and it offers about a hundred and twenty pages of funny. Lots of it are single-panel cartoons, though there's no indication that Baker did or tried to get them published anywhere else first. But there are also lots of longer sequences: four panels, three pages, with dialogue or without. The first half is full of random cartoons, about people and animals and a few of the usual cliches (I saw at least one desert-island gag).

The second half looks towards the next couple of Kyle Baker Publishing projects: it's all about his family. Little kids are funny when looked at the right way: they do silly things nearly every day that just need to be fine-tuned into jokes. (Note: this is not as easy as I'm making it sound. Also, people with little kids tend to be sleep-deprived and not up to heavy joke-construction in most cases.)

Baker's generally working in my favorite of his art styles here: crisp, cartoony hand-drawn lines with grey washes for depth. He does have a lot of set-in-type balloons -- Baker uses non-standard comics fonts a lot, for reasons I don't know, and they tend to look odd to my eye -- but there's many more wordless comics or captioned panels, and those are great, not doing anything to set off my nitpicky complaint engine.

Anyway: this book is ten years old, and I bet these kids would like you to forget when they were young and adorable. (I know mine do.) But Baker is pretty darn good at this funny-cartooning thing, as seen in Cowboy Wally and his run on Plastic Man and a lot of other stuff. If you come across a Baker-being-funny book, give it a close look: you'll probably really like it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Bucko by Jeff Parker and Erika Moen

I could have sworn that I read this book before. But most of the events in it were completely new. So either there's some other book inexplicably really close to the premise of Bucko (which would be really unlikely), or I read just the first few pages some time long ago, or I'm hallucinating again.

In any case: Bucko. Originally a webcomic, then turned into print. Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Erika Moen. Longer and denser than it looks, with commentary by the creators on the bottom of most pages and about twenty pages of extra stuff at the end.

It's the story of a threesome.

Well, a failed threesome. It opens with our title character -- his name is Rich, but he gets saddled with "Bucko" here, and it sticks -- waking up on a couch in the apartment of Gyp, the girl he met the night before. Her quickly learns they all got too drunk -- him, Gyp, and Gyp's mostly-lesbian roommate Dell -- for the three-way Gyp had hinted at the night before. But Bucko has no time for romance: he's already late for a job interview, so he rushes out...and walks into a dead body at the office where he interviews.

That's all in the first five pages of a 120-page story; I'm not going to get into that much detail for the rest of it, or we'd be here all day. Suffice it to say that Bucko is a very plotty book, full of colorful characters and weird situations and bizarre moments and quirky dialogue. Did I forget to mention that this is all set in Portland (Oregon), where the hipsters and goofballs roam free? Well, take that as read now.

Bucko is arrested for the murder, but doesn't stay in jail long. But finding the real murderer -- and, much more importantly, getting a job and achieving that three-way -- will take much longer (four long acts worth), and involve:
  • a Pixies cover band that performs on bicycles
  • the Queen of the Suicide Girls
  • a Maker's Fair
  • another dead body in a bathroom, found by you-know-who
  • Gyp's roommate Dell doing strip karaoke
  • a fight with Juggalettes, who in best comic-book fashion then team up with our heroes
  • a sinister bike-theft ring
  • weaponized farts
  • a wiki devoted to the search for the missing Bucko
  • a hobo jungle constructed entirely of books
Bucko is a goofy book -- Parker admits that he wrote it one page at a time, to see how Moen would adapt each idea, and then wrote the next page based on what she did. So this is a loose, shaggy story, that wanders around Portland over the course of a few weeks and brings in every cliche or actual element of Portland that either of them could think of over the course of the year that they made this comic. You do need to have a relatively high tolerance for goofiness and hipsters to enjoy it. But who doesn't like seeing jokes about hipsters?

Bucko provides a rollicking good time, and promises that failed threesome -- expanded into a foursome, since everything in Bucko is bigger and odder than you expect -- will take place just a few minutes after the last page. What more could you want?

Monday, December 05, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/3

This is one of those weeks when the wonderful folks at Yen Press (Hi, Ellen!) have sent me boxes and boxes of manga goodies, and so I have a long list of books to get through. So I'll try to do it quickly, since I need to run off with the family to get a Christmas tree in just over an hour. (It's 8:09 AM on Sunday as I type this.)

As always:
  • these books came in my mail, somewhat unexpectedly
  • I haven't read them
  • I hope you will find something to love
  • And so here's what seems interesting
I'll start off, as usual, with the non-Yen books -- first up is a new novella from Bruce Sterling, Pirate Utopia. Chairman Bruce hasn't been as active in fiction this last decade -- with The Caryatids in 2009, something I never heard of before named Love Is Strange in 2012, and now this book -- but I hope this signals that he's back; we could use the old Sterling from the '80s and '90s to make sense of our new world. Pirate Utopia comes to us from Tachyon, and is some kind of oddball historical SF, possibly steampunk -- it's set right after WW I, in the new futurist-dominated nation of Carnaro (which I keep reading as "Camaro"), and seems to be about their power struggles as they try to build a new nation with the aid of American visitors H.P. Lovecraft and Houdini.

And from Pyr in trade paperback: Judgment at Verdant Court, the third in the "World of Prime" epic fantasy series by M.C. Planck. (Insert joke about length of this book being the "Planck distance" here.) This series is about a mechanical engineer turned into priest of a war god -- I think he's a local engineer, rather than the more typical contemporary-guy-who-walked-around-the-horses. And I gather by this point in the series, he has a truly impressive prophet-of-God beard, looking at the cover.

Everything else if from Yen Press, as previously mentioned, and is rolling out to stores and electron-vending establishments this month. I'll present them in basically alphabetical order by format.

I cannot say definitively that Akame ga KILL! Zero, Vol. 4 is full of fan-service, does come sealed in plastic and features a limber young woman doing the standing splits on the cover. So I can take a guess. This come to us from Takahiro and Kei Toru, and continues the prequel series to the main Akame ga KILL! storyline.

Aoharu Machinegun, Vol. 2 is by an entity credited as NAOE [1]. It's about a team in some kind of firearms-based competition -- it seems to be real-world rather than virtual, and regular semi-auto guns rather than the highly-engineered single-shot competition rifles I'd expect, which may mean they're shooting at each other. But the back cover is vague, and there's no list of characters, so all I can say is: competition with guns. And we're still in the training-montage portion of the story.

Starting a new series from Kafka Asagiri and Sango Harukawa: Bungo Stray Dogs, Vol. 1. Our hero is a boy kicked out of an orphanage for no obvious reason -- something about budget cutbacks, or maybe they just don't like him -- and is about to starve to death on the streets when he runs into one of the agents of a fabled "armed detective agency" that takes on supernatural cases that no one else can handle. So of course he's dragged into their next case.

Another new series, from Pandora Hearts creator Jun Mochizuki: The Case Study of Vanitas, Vol. 1. The title character is a semi-crazy vampire doctor in Paris -- both a doctor and a vampire, unlike Doctor Worm -- who is trying to save the peace between humans and vampires from some upheaval or other. There's also a young man caught up in his schemes, since every manga needs the average guy to act as a viewpoint.

Diving into the oddball long titles category, there's a new volume in Wataru Watri (original story), Naomichi Io (art) and Ponkan➇'s (character design) series, My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected, Vol. 3. This is another one of those normal-buy-forced-to-be-in-a-weird-club-at-school stories, which the Japanese have turned into a solid subgenre for their own reasons.

And then there's the manga adaptation Overlord, Vol. 3, which comes from Kugane Maruyama's original light novel and has been turned into comics by Hugin Miyama. This is a I'm-trapped-in-this-videogame story, but our hero is trapped as a super-powerful Dark Lord type for added spice. It looks like this is mostly a story about fighting, in which the characters loudly announce each move as they do it.

From here on it's still Yen, but mostly light novels -- be warned! You may have to read more words!

Accel World, Vol. 8: The Binary Stars of Destiny is by the prolific Reki Kawahara, with illustrations by Hima. This is about people who aren't trapped in a big online game, but spend most of their time there anyway, just like many of us in the real world. Apparently, though, you can be permanently polluted by evil online -- I think Jimmy Swaggart warned us of that -- and our hero is fighting to save his friend from that in this volume.

Yuu Miyazaki brings us The Asterisk War, Vol. 2: Awakening of Silver Beauty, with illustrations by okiura. This one is about a school that trains people to duel, because of all of the jobs in the duel sector available to graduates.

Then there's Ryohgo Narita's Baccano!: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Express, Vol. 3, which has an extra colon in its subtitle for no obvious reason. (Unless there will be a Baccano!: The 1931 Grand Punk Railroad: Local coming along later, to be followed by Baccano!: The 1931 Grand Disco Railroad: Express and Baccano!: The 1932 Grand Punk Railroad: Express for maximum variety.) This is a story of '30s gangsters on a strain in America, with possibly less emphasis on historical realism and plausibility then you would think could be possible.

More secret societies protecting the world from mysterious hidden threats! Shiden Kanzaki (and illustrator Saki Ukai) are back with Black Bullet, Vol. 5: Rentaro Satomi, Fugitive. No points for guessing the main character's name, or the major plot event that happens to him in this book.

And we're back to manga briefly with the 4-koma series from Satoko Kiyuduki, Geijutsuka Art Design Class, Vol. 7, usually just referred to as "GA" unless you're trying to google the darn thing. The group of girls at an art college are coming up to graduation, but there's room for another hundred or so pages of jokes first.

Satoshi Wagahara's light novel series continues with The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Vol. 6, with illustrations by the creature designated 029 (oniku). The devil is still working in a not-McDonald's in Tokyo, but it has now opened a coffee shop upstairs, which he sees as his stepping-stone to management and then TOTAL POWER!!!!!!! (I may be slightly exaggerating. Or maybe not.)

Natsuki Takaya's popular manga series in being reprinted in handsome double-sized volumes, and the latest is Fruits Basket Collector's Edition, Vol. 8. As I recall, this is one of those series with a family of supernatural folks who transform when various things happen in their vicinity -- the see butter, or trip over a rug, or sneeze, or maybe experience existential ennui.

Another light novel about kids at magic school, because we all know how popular that idea is: Tsutomu Sato's The Irregular at Magic High School. Vol. 3: Nine School Competition Arc 1 (with illustrations by Kama Ishida). I believe there is a competition here among nine schools, and that it's not done in this book. (You're welcome!)

Fatter than most light novels: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon, Vol. 7, by Fujino Omori with illustrations by Suzuhito Yasuda. In this volume, our hero Bell comes out of the Dungeon and to the city of Oratorio's pleasure quarter, presumably to spend some of his hard-earned loot enjoying himself. (Why he has to go there when the entire rest of the cast seems to be attractive women who love him is a question I cannot answer here.) Sadly, it seems the pleasure quarter just gives him intrigue rather than reasonably-priced love.

And here's a new 4-koma manga series, Yui Hara's Kiniro Mosaic, Vol. 1. It seems to be about a girl who loves Japan so much, she moves there from England to go to high school. Which is...a thing that actually happens in the world? Maybe, I guess. Certainly a decent set-up for jokes.

Yet more light novels about gaming! Yuu Kamiya's No Game No Life, Vol. 5 is, I think, not about people trapped in a specific online game, but is about regular Earth-people transported to another world where everyone is obsessed by games. So entirely different. (And, yes, this is what the publisher's website has up right now for a book that I have in my hand. Oopsie.)

Back to people trapped in games with Reki Kawahara's Sword Art Online, Vol. 9: Alicization Beginning. In this one, the series hero wakes up amnesiac -- presumably in yet another game -- and starts to pursue the just-recovered memory of his childhood friend Alice. (I would not bet against this being yet another Japanese retelling of Alice in Wonderland.)

And last is a big fat manga volume with a particularly unpleasant-looking character on the cover: Wataru Watanake's Yowamuchi Pedal, Vol. 4. Our hero dreams of being a great cycling legend, but can he stand the training montages and backstabbing from supposed allies? (Well, he's the hero, so obviously he can.)

[1] Nanotech Assembly Organized for Extermination, perhaps?