Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

The fourth of Valente's Fairyland books, after The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, and The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, switches focus from September, a Kansas girl from the early interwar years, and instead shows us Hawthorn, a troll stolen away from Fairyland to be a changeling in Chicago at around the same time September was going the other way.

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland felt shorter than the September books, and also spent a lot of time getting going: it opens with Hawthorn as a tot and the switch, and continues with a couple of chapters of his schooldays in the mundane world before he finally connects (years later) with another changeling and finally finds his way back to Fairyland. As is typical for Valente's books, Fairyland is in bad shape, with a bad ruler, and the people are suffering. Hawthorn needs to find the Rebel Alliance equivalent, join up, and then go off to find the one person who can make Fairyland better again. And I wouldn't dream of telling you who that is.

It's episodic, like all of the books in this series, and the biggest draws are Valente's inventive ideas and her sly narrative asides. Hawthorn, I'm afraid, is even more of a lump than September was in the first book, but deep characterization has never been the point of these books. The next book is supposedly the last one, so perhaps Valente is tiring of the world -- there's a feeling in this book that may be the case.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Giant Days, Vol. 1 by John Allison and Lissa Treiman

This series does not necessarily have to be connected to Allison's webcomics, if the reader doesn't know of that connection. One of the three main characters -- gothy center-of-all-drama Esther De Groot -- was a major character in Allison's strip Scarygoround, but Giant Days is a mildly alternate version of that Esther, who went off to college in about 2004 from that strip and landed in college in about 2013 in these comics stories. (That's one long road trip on the way to school!) And this comic is set entirely at college so far, with no excursions back to the Tackleford of Allison's webcomics, and I don't expect there to be any.

Giant Days is about three female friends: Esther, tightly wound Susan, and happy-go-lucky Daisy. Allison is amazingly good (particularly for a man) at writing about young women and their friendships and daily life -- Giant Days is all about the small moments in life that don't feel small at the time. These three freshmen at an unnamed UK university study (or don't), have crushes and dates and boyfriends and friends who are boys, get angry and happy, and just talk to each other. It's the moments they'll remember fondly ten or forty years from now, presented cleanly and with truth, the story of three specific women and their lives.

Allison is joined here by Lissa Treiman on art -- he draws his own webcomics -- and she has a great energy and vigor that works well with his story. (But don't get too used to her; she's only on this series for these stories and the first two issues of the next collection.) Look, I'm clearly in the tank for Allison, but this series is a lot of fun -- particularly for young women, who don't get to see people like themselves in comics all that much.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

I've been reading Bill Bryson's books for years now, even though I seem to be slowly souring on them. (I originally picked up his books about language, which I later learned might be more popular than authoritative, which is reasonable and not all that surprising. And I liked his travel books from the '90s and early aughts, though I've never gone back to any of them to see if modern-me would like them as much.) The last few, I've expressed a desire to see him go back to travel books, to get out into the real world and interact with people rather than writing a book out of his own head up in his study.

Well, The Road to Little Dribbling is a travel book, but Bryson doesn't actually interact with people all that much. I suspect he may be a lot like me -- not all that fond of people at the best of times -- and seems to prefer to get on with things himself rather than chatting with the locals. But that does tend to make a travel book less interesting.

Anyway, this is a "sequel" to Notes from a Small Island, Bryson's farewell love-letter to the UK (mostly England) from the mid-90s. At that point, he'd been living in England for over twenty years -- married a local girl, had a couple of kids, the whole lot -- but was taking them all back to the US, where he expected he'd spend the rest of his life. So Small Island was a tour of all of the things Bryson loved about the UK, and consequently became a big bestseller there, because people love being told how wonderful they are, and was only slightly less successful in the more Anglophile book-buying bits of America. But Bryson moved back to the UK maybe a decade later, and has been there ever since. And Little Dribbling is thus the "all the stuff I used to like is gone, you rotten younger generations you" book that inevitably must follow the "all of this stuff is wonderful" book.

I may be exaggerating slightly. But Little Dribbling is a grumpy book, in which an isolated Bryson wanders around the country and looks for things that aren't there anymore and is thus made unhappy again. (He also, I should admit, finds many things -- mostly very old ones made out of various kinds of stone -- that are still there. But he does not show any great fondness for the actual British people he meets, as contrasted with his retrospective view of the kinds of upstanding yeomanlike Britishers that used to populate this blessed isle.) So it's not as much fun as Small Island was, and Bryson is not as entertaining in his bile as someone like Paul Theroux is -- and also aims his ire at much smaller, almost stereotypically "rotten younger generations" targets, which makes this book seem like Bryson is auditioning for a new role as Colonel Blimp.

Little Dribbling is amusing and funny in fits and spurts, but the mean-spiritedness and more-in-sadness-than-in-anger tone tend to run it down and make it less entertaining than it could be. But if you think that the UK is going to the dogs, this could be exactly the book you want.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/25

Hey! It's Monday again. Why don't you take a look at these possibly-wonderful books?

They all arrived in my mailbox over the past week, so I haven't read any of them at this moment. But one of them may be your favorite book of the year! (Or maybe not.) I'll present them in the order I have them stacked, which roughly correlates to their size.

Nichijou: My Ordinary Life, Vol. 3 continues the manga series by Keiichi Awawi. It looks like a somewhat surreal kids-in-school series -- one of the early stories in this volume seems to be about a girl chasing her detached hands (?!) -- and I don't know any more about it than that. This is from Vertical (as the next few books will be), and is available now.

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, Vol. 1 starts a new series by a manga-ka billed as Maybe (not sure if that's supposed to be the English word, or just a transliteration of a Japanese name). It seems to be very vaguely inspired by the US Civil War, only in this world the North was massively outnumbered and so only won by using super-powerful magical soldiers called Incarnates. But now it's after the war, and reintegrating giant murder machines into society is going about as well as it usually does.

Then there's Ninja Slayer, Vol. 5: One Minute Before the Tanuki, which has a uniquely odd version of the brokeback pose on its cover. (Is she playing Twister?) This is scripted by Yoshiaki Tabata and drawn by Yuki Fogo from an original work (maybe a novel?) by Bradley Bond and Philip Ninj@ Morzez...and it's all about totally sweet ninjas flipping out and killing lots of people, as far as I can tell. I am not kidding as much as you think I might be.

And the last book from Vertical for this week's list is Hajime Segawa's Tokyo ESP, Vol. 5. This is a somewhat more mainstream version of the book above, with battles and superpowers and angsty teens and interpersonal drama and the fate of the world and all that stuff.

First cousin to manga is the light novel, and I have one of those, too: Kagerou Daze IV: The Missing Children, latest in the series by Jin (Shizen No Teki-P), with illustrations by Sidu. This is from Yen Press, and I'm really not sure what the story is about: there's a group of young misfits, but I'm not sure if they're mutants (espers, aliens, demons, yokai) or just disaffected kids, or exactly what kind of society they've found/made. My advice would be to look up the first book, which is my general advice for any series.

Ben Hatke, creator of Zita the Spacegirl, is back with a new graphic novel for people shorter than me [1] in Mighty Jack. [2] This one is about a boy named Jack (naturally), his autistic younger sister Maddy, and the giant bizarre garden that grows in their backyard after Jack trades his mom's car keys for some magic seeds. (Many of you will notice a certain similarity there with a fable or two.)

I also have a real-io trulio novel -- not light or anything -- from the fine folks at Night Shade: Na'amen Gobert Tilahun's [3] The Root. This one looks to have elements in common with teen dystopias, but it doesn't seem to be specifically aimed at teens: our hero is an ex-teen star who is both a secret descendant of the gods and on the run from a trans-dimensional secret government force. He's also both gay and black, if the back cover description and front cover art are to be believed, so this is a good choice for anyone trying to read about more diverse protagonists. It's subtitled "A Novel of The Wrath & Athenaeum," which implies there will be more of 'em, and it's a trade paperback already in stores right now.

And last for this week is a collection of comics: Simpsons Comics Colossal Compendium, Volume Four, which is by a whole bunch of people and only has Matt Groening's name on the cover. (Despite the fact that it's really, really doubtful that Groening had anything to do with it other than nominal oversight.) There's no page numbers or table of contents, but it looks to be around 200 pages of Simpsons comics, originally published in fourteen different issues of variously-titled comics from the folks at Bongo. This particular book emanates from the house of Harper and Collins, and hits stores on July 5th.

[1] I'm almost 6'3", so that includes a wide swath of people.

[2] No relation to the old Japanese TV show, as far as I can see.

[3] He wins name of the week in a walk-off, and probably will take the whole year. That is an awesomely unique name.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Salvage and Demolition by Tim Powers

Powers is not particularly prolific. But, over the last decade or so, he does seem to come out with a novella or two vaguely related to his most recent novel -- perhaps reworked sections that didn't fit, or early abandoned/superseded versions of his premise, or maybe just something else he worked on while the big book was stuck somewhere. (I don't know his writing process; I just read the things.) And so Salvage and Demolition, a novella-as-book, came out two-and-a-bit years before his novel Medusa's Web, and then I read both of them, not entirely deliberately, within a month and a half.

Salvage is a time-travel story -- well, really more of a time-slip story, in which a man from the modern world is pulled back to the 1950s through some artifacts he discovers, bouncing between the two times over the course of the story, and gets caught up with a woman then and an apocalyptic cult existent in both times. I don't want to say much more, not least because the book went back to the library two months ago. It's tight and precise and lovely and has a perfect bittersweet ending. And it is a novella, of only about 21k words. So you should just read it. You should just read any Powers books, but the shorter ones take even less time.

(And, to my first point, the time-slip mechanism is very similar, but not identical, to the one in Medusa's Web, so Salvage does feel like a cousin or small sibling to the larger novel. Reading the two in close succession is recommended.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/18

Hey! It's Monday again. As usual, I list the books that arrived in the prior week from the hard-working publicists of Big Book, in hopes some of you will love some of them and take them to your bosoms forever.

(I also have a few things I bought this past week, which I'm shoving in here because I'm already writing about books. There will be a clear separator, for those of you who are persnickety about such things.)

Wolf's Empire: Gladiator is what looks to be the first in an oddball soft-SF series by actress Claudia Christian and a guy whose name sounds like a law firm, Morgan Grant Buchanan. (I'm trying not to assume that Buchanan did all of the hard work, but that tends to be the assumption when a celebrity emits a book-shaped object written with a co-author.) It's set in one of those utterly implausible universes -- the Roman Empire never fell! it now rules a Galactic Empire! a plucky noblewoman (who could potentially be played by Claudia Christian in the TV version) has to become a gladiator to avenge the wrongs done to her family! she's cast into slavery and forced to fight alongside the men she wants to kill! -- that I'm afraid I just can't take seriously at this point in my life. If you can, this is a Tor hardcover that will be officially published on June 28.

The other review copy I have this week is a manga volume from Kaori Yuki: Alice in Murderland, Vol. 4. It's another of the inexplicable rush of manga loosely -- generally very loosely -- based on Lewis Carroll that have been making their way across the Pacific lately. (I have no idea if this is an actual manga trend, or if US editors are cherry-picking the few Alice-based manga because US audiences love them -- either would be weird, and either is possible.) As I understand it, the nine children of a powerful and rich family must battle each other to the death before the eldest turns twenty, for no immediately plausible reason. Our heroine is the youngest daughter, aided by a murderous alternate personality. One suspects this family could do with a lot of intensive therapy, in some very well-guarded and secure facility far away from collateral casualties. But they'll probably just slaughter each other in inventive ways instead.

Clear Separator

Love Fights, Vol. 1 is the first half of a 2003 story by Andi Watson about superheroes in love. Andi Watson had a great stretch of really wonderful comics from the mid-90s through very recently -- I'm waffling only because I haven't seen as much of his stuff recently, though I don't expect he suddenly turned into Frank Miller -- all humanist and lovely and full of real people with real lives and relationships. I had a big shelf of Watson before the flood, and I'm building it back up as I can.

Sunny, Vol. 4 is the most recent (I think) book in the slice-of-life manga series by Taiyo Matsumoto. (See my reviews of volumes one and two.) This series is deep and real and full of very closely observed damaged kids; it's a masterpiece of world comics.

Little Star is another Andi Watson book; this one complete in one volume. Blah blah blah Andi Watson is awesome. Like I said before.

The 4-Fisted Misadventures of TUG & buster, Vol. 1 is a Marc Hempel book from the dark (or maybe light; depends on your point of view) days of the late '90s, and was his creator-owned follow-up to the Gregory books, which I recently re-read. The book has a big "1" on the spine, but I don't think there were any more TUG & buster stories...though I'd be happy to find out I'm wrong.

And then there's B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 12, from Mike Mignola and his crew. I don't have volume 11 yet, but that's OK: I tend to read these Hellboy-universe books in a big clump over a week or two, so I'll probably wait to have another two or three of these, maybe an Abe Sapien, and probably the back half of Hellboy in Hell. So I'm in no hurry.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Return With Us to the Halcyon Days of March!

I've just (finally!) posted the list of books I read in March, with words that vaguely resemble reviews following each title.

Should you wish to read those words, go here.

This is all.

Friday, June 17, 2016

I Haven't Told You To Read John Allison in At Least a Week

So here's the back half of today's Bad Machinery to entice you:
Click to enlarge, if necessary. And then follow this here link to get to the beginning of the current story, less than two weeks ago.

C'mon. It's free, and you'll like it. Have I ever steered you wrong before?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, Vol. 2 by Jiro Kuwata

Kuwata made Batman stories for the Japanese market in the late '60s, riding the wave of the TV show and DC Comics's zeal for finding as many licensing dollars in as many places as they could. Those stories were generally adapted from ideas and stories from the American comics of the time -- but the American Batman comics of the mid-'60s were already pretty weird in those pre-Neal Adams days, and turning them into Japanese comics did nothing to make them less weird, if you know what I mean. (I wrote at greater length about the history of "batmanga" in my review of the first volume.)

Either the modern editors cherry-picked the weirdest stories for the first volume, or I'm getting jaded by Kuwata, because Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, Vol. 2 felt much less crazy to me than the first one. Oh, sure, there are murderous wrestlers, crazy scientists and their amazing inventions, an actual lake monster, and the Japanese remix of the famously weird Alfred-as-villain "Outsider" story. But Batman is competent and organized throughout, and isn't wrong-footed as much as he seemed to be in the first book. The Batman of volume one sometimes seemed to be a guy who just happened to be there as crazy events occurred; this one sees a more recognizable great-detective and great-athlete Batman who is nearly always in control of the situation.

They're still nutty Japanese Batman stories, of course, drawn as if Dick Sprang and Osamu Tezuka had a really unlikely love-child and written out of a similar cultural clash. And that's pretty darn cool. But these stories are not quite as deranged and sui generis as the ones in the first book.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Deep South by Paul Theroux

We might have thought Theroux was done traveling after The Last Train to Zona Verde -- the end of that book saw Theroux almost deciding that, and definitely deciding to give up on journeys through Africa. (Which is a deeper cut for him than it would be for nearly anyone else in the world: Africa has always been central to his view of the world, from his early Peace Corps days, and was the place where he became a writer. Plus, you know, it's a gigantic continent filled with hundreds of millions of very diverse people -- a lot to give up.)

But, instead, he looked closer to home, and shifted his mode of travel. Theroux had always been a train man by preference and mass-transit guy in general, writing many times about how you really get to understand a locale by riding with the locals on their usual transport. But only weirdos and a few lefty cities use mass transit in the US: we're a nation alone in our cars. So Theroux drove through the American South -- in his own car, at his own pace, four times for the four seasons over the course of a year, driving out from his Cape Cod home to revisit mostly the same places repeatedly.

And that reinvigorates his work unexpectedly -- Theroux repeatedly comments on his new traveling style and love for his country in Deep South. But he's still the same writer, with the same concerns: the man who said the happiest humans are bare-assed is always going to be most concerned with the poorest, the most marginal, the ones on the edges and margins. (And, here as often in Africa, the ones with the darkest skins.)

Deep South is about the poor, forgotten South -- the mostly-empty towns, the struggling farms, the deep backroads, the poorest pockets of the poorest states of our nation. And Theroux doesn't belabor the point, but he knows -- and those of us who are willing to see already know -- that all of those people are black. And the fact that the poorest, most marginal Americans are black in the former Confederacy is no accident.

But it's a mostly joyful look: these aren't miserable people. Theroux talks with ministers and start-up farmers and aid-agency heads, folks who put their heads down and work hard for themselves and their communities. He repeatedly compares, say, Mississippi with Zambia, and wonders what the same amount of money we send to the latter would do for the former. He's realist enough to know it won't happen, but idealist enough to ask the hard question.

And these are interesting people. And Theroux is a master at listening to locals and making their concerns and thoughts and word choices live to a wider audience. So Deep South is almost a celebration, and entirely a loving look a half-forgotten corner of a man's own country, and the people who live there.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/11

Yup, it's that time once again. Below are some books that arrived at my house last week, among which might just possibly be something that you will love forever. (Or maybe not. Could be next week.) I haven't read these books yet, and I don't promise to read them or to write a review of them if I do manage to read them. So pay attention now -- that's all I'm saying.....

Natsuki Takaya's popular Fruits Basket manga series is being reprinted by Yen Press in large handsome omnibus editions, both on a larger page size and with more pages (380ish) per volume. Both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are in front of me now, since both are being published in June. (There were 23 volumes when they were tankobon-sized, so I expect there will be ten double-sized volumes and either an eleventh that's triple-sized, or a normal eleventh and a twelfth with extra stuff added in.) The story is a combination of "normal person thrown into wacky family with supernatural secrets" and "this person transforms into {X} when {Y} happens" -- the latter was more popular in '90s manga than one would expect. It's been hugely popular, here and in Japan, both in this form and in the inevitable anime, so I expect large sectors of the Internet are very happy to see it come around again. (The original American publication was from the late, somewhat lamented Tokyopop.)

Also from Yen this month, and also a big omnibus-sized volume, is Servant X Service, Vol. 2, by Karino Takatsu. This story about workers in a civil service office in a small provincial Japanese city is shorter, less plotty, and more focused on gags than most manga we see here -- for example, this is the end of the series. (So you're not going to be in for a One Piece-style saga that goes on indefinitely, if you're worried about that.)

And last for this week is the new fantasy novel from Elizabeth Haydon, The Weaver's Lament. It's the ninth book in her "Symphony of Ages" series -- sometimes better known as the Rhapsody books, after the title of the first book. (I once heard David Hartwell tell a convention audience that fantasy writers should make sure they're happy with their first-novel title being used to describe the whole series -- because it inevitably will be.) Rhapsody, this time around, has to choose between her husband and her two oldest friends -- and, from the flap copy, it sounds like her husband is in the wrong. This one comes from Tor in hardcover, hitting stores on June 21.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/4

This is a week with a couple of boxes full of Yen Press manga goodness, so it'll be a long post. So I won't wast time on preliminaries: these books came in the mail this week, I haven't read them, but I'm going to tell you about them anyway.

First up is the first novel from World Fantasy Award nominee Kat Howard: Roses and Rot. Two young women escaped a toxic mother, and are seeing the beginnings of professional success -- one as a dancer, the other as a writer. And so it seems like a wonderful opportunity to be together when both are accepted to a prestigious program at the artists' retreat Melete. But that wouldn't make for much of a novel, would it? Melete is creepier and more mysterious than expected, and -- since this book was sent to me, and since it's being published by Saga Press -- I expect something supernatural is at the bottom of it all. For a clue to the particular kind of supernaturalism, note that the publisher's cover letter uses the phrase "fairy tale" quite a few times. Roses and Rot came out on May 17th, and should be available everywhere.

The other novel -- you know, those old-fashioned books without pictures? -- I have for you this week is Laura Lam's False Hearts. It's a near-future SFish novel that calls itself a "speculative thriller," which usually means we're not supposed to do any math when thinking about the SF aspects. Two young women, conjoined twins ho shred a heart, grew up in an Amish-esque sect that refused modern technology, but ran away in their mid-teens for the separation surgery that saved their lives. Now, a decade later, one of them may have committed murder under the influence of a new designer drug, and the other is pressured by someone-or-other to pose as her sister to help roll up the drug ring. Thrills then ensue. False Hearts comes to us from Tor, available June 14.

From here on, everything is manga, everything is published by Yen, and everything is coming out this month. So take that all as read.

Akame ga KILL! Zero, Vol. 2 continues a prequel story to the main Akame ga KILL! storyline, written by Takahiro and drawn by Kei Toru. I believe this focuses on the title assassin during her days as an assassin, before she did her face turn in the main series to be a good guy.

Ani-Imo, Vol. 7 comes to us from Haruko Kurumatani, and continues what looks like a really wierd body-swap sex comedy (though I admit I haven't read it). Teen step-siblings Youta and Hikaru swapped bodies back in the first volume, and the girl-in-a-boy's-body has been stalking her/his sister/brother ever since. Wacky! By this point, there are also several other body-swapped folks, since that's how serialized fiction works: everything has to get bigger and more complicated.

Black Bullet, Vol. 4 is drawn (and probably somewhat written) by Morinohon from the light novels by Shiden Kanzaki. I believe this is one where most of humanity is dead, but the few survivors huddle in Tokyo, protected by a couple of superpowered folks who battle weird alien monsters. (Possibly not "alien," possibly not officially "monsters.") Will they survive? And, more importantly, what about their complicated interpersonal relationships?

Shiwo Komeyama continues with Bloody Cross, Vol. 11, a series that does to Christianity what Frank Miller did to Shintoism in Ronin. It's only fair, right?

The front cover of Aya Shouto's He's My Only Vampire. Vol. 7 features two yearning pretty boys, which may make readers think it's yaoi. My understanding is that the main character is a girl -- mousy, "ordinary," etc., as manga protagonists are required to be -- who was stuck as the eternal servant to a vampire because he saved her life. (Japanese society has just so many rules, you know?) But the cover guys may be an important subplot, so this may fill your boys-in-love fix for the month, if you're lucky.

Another book adapted from a light novel: The Honor Student at Magic High School, Vol. 3, by Yu Mori out of Tsutomu Sato. And it's honor student at a high school for magic. Honestly, sometimes it's like you folks aren't even paying attention. The school is in Tokyo, of course, because the rest of the world barely exists in manga.

The most pretentious manga title I know is back with Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi, Vol. 3, now and always by nanao and HaccaWorks*. (The title is only medium-pretentious, but add that to a lower-case single-name creator and a co-creator with a non-letter character and a '90s conglomerate's lack of internal spaces -- like BigHugeInternetCo -- and the reading shoots way up.) In this book, more things continue to be red, to be light, and to be ayakashi.

Hey, something new! Another light novel -- from Kugane Maruyama, who I'm going to pretend both you and I know well -- is turning into manga. This time, it's called Overlord, Vol. 1, and it's at the hands of Hugin Miyama. (And I have to wonder if he has a twin named Munin.) This is yet another trapped-in-an-online-game story, featuring a normal guy who gets stuck as his high-level lord-of-death game avatar when he's still playing as a game shuts down.

And then there's Rose Guns Days: Season 1, Vol. 4, by Ryukishi07 and Soichiro, which might be another "Tokyo is the only habitable place left on earth" story, or it just might seem that way, because all manga is set in Tokyo. (See below for an exception; I immediately contradict myself.)

Space Dandy, Vol. 1 is based on the anime, and if it seems to have similarities to Cowboy Bebop, it's because it comes from the same team (or some of it). The book is credited to Bones (original story), Sung-Woo Park + Redice (art), and Masafumi Harada (adaptation). So it's about a hugely self-confident guy with Elvis hair having adventures in space and hanging out with scantily clad women -- like the 1970s never ended!

More people trapped in video games! Here's Sword Art Online: Mother's Rosary, Vol. 2, with art by Tsubasa Haduki from Reki Kawahara's original story (i.e., adapted from a Kawahara light novel). I have to admit I don't remember which permutation of this story is which: is this the retelling-of-book-one-from-the-girl's-point-of-view? Or is it the gosh-we're-trapped-in-another-video-game-why-does-this-keep-happening-to-us story?

Hey! Here's a manga series that takes place in Japan but not in Tokyo! The fish-out-of-water comedy for the twenty-teens returns with Barakamon, Vol. 11, from Satsuki Yoshino. Check out the hot hoe action on the cover! (I apologize for that, but can you blame me?)

Spin-off fever grows in The Devil Is a Part-Timer! High School! Vol. 4, in which the original light novels (by Satoshi Wagaharas) that were already adapted into manga directly are re-adapted into a wacky what-if-all-of-the-characters-were-high-school-students new version by artist Kurone Mishima. (Note: it probably wasn't Mishima's idea, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was mostly written by Wagahara, or by the faceless manga editors who rule all.) If you don't know the story: Satan (or his rough equivalent) lost the big battle and fled to Earth, powerless. The head of the forces of good chased him. Both now work in a fast food restaurant in Tokyo, powerless. Wacky!

And last for this week is Satsuki Yoshino's Handa-Kun, Vol. 3, the cover of which features four people looking at you quizzically. (I hope you haven't done anything to annoy them.) It's another high school story, and this one -- maybe the whole series? -- is a battle of the sexes.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

New Content Alert!

I've been working as a marketer for long enough that words and pictures and video and audio are all just "content" to me -- or, at least, I aspire to that level of world-weary cynicism.

So I'm posting here to announce that new content is available on Antick Musings, several months late. I've just put up my "stuff I read in February" post, which you can go and read if you find time laying heavy on your hands.

Also a thing you do when you've been marketing a long time: have multiple links to your content and a big CTA button!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Read in May

I am only one month behind as I write this, which is the best in nearly six months. I won't trot out my usual excuses here, since they tire me and you don't care. But, just in case it amuses or enlightens anyone, here are some thoughts and/or links to thoughts about books I read in the merry month of May:

Ian Tregillis, The Mechanical (5/3)

Bruce Eric Kaplan, I Was a Child (5/4)

Tim Powers, Medusa's Web (5/11)

Charles Stross, The Annihilation Score (5/18)

Sonny Liew, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (5/19)

John Allison, Bad Machinery, Vol. 5: The Case of the Fire Inside (5/21)

I've spent a lot of time here writing about the joys of John Allison comics -- the first three volumes of this series, some collections of its predecessor Scarygoround, and his floppy comics series Giant Days with Lissa Treiman -- so I think I might not need to repeat myself hugely this time out. But, still: Allison makes great comics, funny and dramatic, with great naturalistic stories, quirky supernatural elements, distinctive and amusing characters, and absolutely cracking dialogue.

As the title suggests, this is the fifth collection of his current major webcomic Bad Machinery -- available to read for free online, in the traditional webcomics manner. In this one, the six mystery teens are getting a bit older and starting to look with interest at the opposite sex (well, most of them). In particular, Mildred is taken with a very loutish young man, and Sonny meets a new girl who might as well have come right out of the sea. Various amusing and interesting things happen for a while, which I would not dream of spoiling, and there's a great ending as well. Read it online if you don't believe me -- or, better yet, buy Allison's books.

Haruki Murakami, Wind/Pinball: Two Novels (5/24)

Bill Pronzini, Son of Gun in Cheek (5/27)

Bad writing is eternal. Much of it is just tedious and wretched, but some of it is entertainingly bad. And a few intrepid souls have spent time in the bad-writing mines to bring out nuggets of singular horribleness for the rest of us to admire. One such soul is Bill Pronzini; this is his second book of snippets of lousy mystery writing, after (obviously) Gun in Cheek.

I read both of the Gun books back in the '90s, but lost my copies in the great flood of '11. The only good thing about losing books in a flood is that you have an excuse to re-buy and re-read them, which is why I got back to Son of recently.

Obviously, nothing in here is good, strictly speaking. But almost all of it is very entertainingly bad, and some of it is so bizarrely wretched that it's a kind of demented poetry. You probably have to like detective fiction at least a little to enjoy this, and you definitely have to enjoy reading bad writing (rather than cringing at it, or feeling bad for the horrible writers). But if you fit those categories, this and its predecessor are wonderful.

Next up is June, which I originally thought could get done during my week of vacation at the beginning of July. (SPOILER ALERT: It is now Friday, July 8 as I write this, and only just finished May.) June will come along...sometime.