Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of September 26: Skiffy!

I suspect these are the books people actually want to see me talk about -- to the degree that anyone is interested in the first place -- so here's what came in last week. (Plus one straggler from the week before that was trapped under the large stack of Yen Press stuff and has now been liberated.)

Even after this, there's still a rump stack, which I hope to get to next week. Or maybe sooner, if my schedule ever lets up. (These days, I leave the house by 6:20 and get home at 8 PM at the earliest -- sometimes up to an hour later -- which leaves very little time for anything that isn't work or commuting.)

Anyway, these are books, I haven't read them, and some of you will love some of them. Onward!

Rising Tide is Rajan Khanna's second novel, after Falling Sky -- and, yes, your guess is correct: it is a sequel to Falling Sky. From the quotes and the description of the action in this book, it seems to be a steampunky world, with zombies in at least some corners -- and that, unfortunately, includes the island where Ben and Miranda, our protagonists. They've lost their ship, and are in the clutches of someone named Malik. This is a trade paperback from Pyr, available October 6th.

A week later from the same publisher, you can find Gold Throne in Shadow, the second book in M.C. Planck's "World of Prime" series, after Sword of the Bright Lady. This is not your standard epic fantasy series, as you might guess from the revolver held by the lady on the cover. (On second thought, I'm not too sure about calling her a "lady," either.) This series follows a mechanical engineer who went into a magical world, slightly died, was brought back as a priest of war, and is trying to survive and make it back to his own world -- as far as I can tell, there's no Dark Lord in sight anywhere, which is refreshing.

Kelley Armstrong's short fiction is collected in Led Astray, a trade paperback from Tachyon in October. It contains twenty-one stories from the past six years, including a brand-new story never published before. And it's credited as "the best of," which is a good sign -- these days, most SFF novelists don't write a lot of short fiction, so collections often are everything that can be dug up. Armstrong clearly isn't in that situation: there's over four hundred pages of stories here, and it's not digging back into her early career, either. So her fans -- and interested watchers of Bitten, the Syfy series based on her most popular series -- should check this out.

There's a new entry in that old SFnal game, The Man Who Melted Jack Dann. Sometimes, a book's title and author form a single thought -- a sentence is best, but a thought is fine -- and are arranged on the spine so they can be read that way. And we now have The Monstrous Ellen Datlow. Now, Datlow is definitely not monstrous, since she's a wonderful person and one of our best editors. And she edited this book, as you can see if you look at the small type. But she's now in the Melted Jack Dann Club. Monstrous is a new reprint anthology from Tachyon, with 20 stories from writers including Caitlin R. Kiernam, Peter Straub, Kim Newman, Jeffrey Ford, Livia Llewellyn, John Langan, and Jack Dann (him again!) and Gardner Dozois. All of those stories are about monsters, in one way or another.

And last for this installment is a new book from David Weber: Hell's Foundations Quiver, the eighth in his Safehold series. As far as I can tell, this is still set on the planet Safehold, where a remnant of humanity fled after badly losing a genocidal war with a more powerful alien race. The general plan was to stay at a medieval tech level so that the aliens would never find them, but, hundreds of years later, a secret rebuild-tech-and-beat-the-aliens plan reignited, throwing the world into war. And that war is what Weber has been writing about for eight books of about 700 pages each. (Presumably, someday, they'll get back up into space and actually start fighting aliens. But that might be another 20 books at this rate.) Quiver -- a word which always put me in mind of Amos Starkadder -- is a Tor hardcover, available October 13.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of September 26: Light Novel Showcase!

I'm still catching up from the gigantic box from Yen Press last week, so this week will be another partial report. ("Partial" meaning "only about twenty books.")

As always, I haven't read the books I'll write about in "Reviewing the Mail," and don't necessarily know all that much about them. And I might sometimes be dismissive, or just plain wrong, about something you love or just know better than I do. None of this is malicious: some things strike me as more appealing than others, like anyone, and I tend to be more interested in books that I think I would enjoy. If I'm horribly wrong about something, please do comment to say so.

But these are books that showed up in my mailbox, now covering parts of two weeks, because they were sent by the great hard-working publicists of Big Publishing. I may, someday, manage to read and even review some of these -- though the large stack on the corner of my desk of things already read tends to argue otherwise -- but, for now, I'm going to be satisfied by letting you know that they exist:

This week starts off with a Light Novel Showcase!, to help me get through that large number of things from Yen. So, these eleven books are all light novels -- less calories and fat than regular novels! illustrations! written by actual Japanese people, and so excitingly foreign to Americans! nicely written in series with numbers on the spine! -- from Yen, published either right now or in the very recent past. The Light Novel Showcase! (yes, the bang is part of my title) runs, as I usually do, in order of increasing complexity, starting with new-reader friendly items and getting hairier from there.

(Look for a follow-up post, with other things, tomorrow.)

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories The Novel novelizes the videogame of the same name -- and possibly more of the Kingdom Hearts empire, for all I know. It's written by Tomoco Kanemaki, from an "original concept" [1] by Tetsuya Nomura and Daisuke Watanabe, with illustrations by Shiro Amano, who did the manga. (I do not know if these are new illustrations, or re-purposed from box art and other things.)

Black Bullet, Vol. 1: Those Who Would Be Gods launches a new series by Shiden Kanzaki, with illustrations by Saki Ukai. (There's already a manga adaptation available, as well.) It's a mildly post-apocalyptic story, in which the usual high schoolers/secret agents (normal boy, ex-rich girl, spunky younger girl with mysterious powers and a Big Secret) battle against the parasitic virus that has already destroyed most of humanity. You know, as you do.

Then we've got Strike the Blood, Vol. 1: The Right Arm of the Saint, from Gakuto Mikumo with illustrations by the entity code-named Manyako. It's another ordinary-boy-gets-massive-powers story -- as opposed to the stories where ordinary boys are caught up with girls who have massive powers, which are totally different -- about a kid named Kojou, now the world's most powerful vampire, and the younger girl Yukina sent to watch him.

Satan [2] works in a Tokyo fast-food restaurant in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Vol. 2, from Satoshi Wagahara. (It's illustrated by 029 (Oniku). Yes, 029 (Oniku). Don't ask me what that means. I think it's one of the old children from Akira.) This time, Satan Sadao has been made store manager, the next stop in his diabolic plot to conquer all! This looks amusing, though I doubt I'm ever going to have time to dive into it.

Strange names move to the author side, as Kagerou Daze, Vol. 2: A Headphone Actor is credited to Jin (Shizen No Teki-P), with illustrations by the single-named Sidu. (Like Cher, I suppose.) This is about a girl who has a double life -- by day, one of only two students in a weird highschool, and by night a world-famous gamer. Again, as you do.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Fujino Omori is back to ask that for a third volume -- and more than that, counting manga and other tangential stuff -- so I'd hope we can answer the question soon. Illustrations are still by Suzuhito Yasuda, and the plot seems to be more focused on dungeon-crawling than girl-up-picking.

No Game No Life, Vol. 3 is set in a universe where every decision is decided by games, and our heroes are legendary gamer siblings. (Young, of course -- because top gamers are young and all main characters in Japanese stories are required by law to be under 18.) It's by Yuu Kamiya, and there's no separate credit for illustrations.

A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 4 is not about magical pole-dancers, as a quick glance at the cover might suggest -- the young lady there is pulling a sword out of its scabbard, and doing it against the side of her face, because how else would you do it? This is by Kazuma Kamachi with illustrations by Kiyotaka Haimura. And the back cover copy is no help -- there's a boy at a school, going on vacation to the beach, where everything is different.

There's Sword Art Online 5: Phantom Bullet, from Reki Kawahara with illustrations by abec. (And "Sword Art Online" is on the cover, so it looks like this book is titled Sword Art Online Phantom Bullet Sword Art Online.) This series is about hard-core gamers who escaped one immersive online game designed as a trap (die in real life if you die in the game, that whole thing) and then keep going back into other games in the rest of the series, proving that protagonists are required to be too dumb to live.

And there's also Sword Art Online Progressive 3 by Kawahara and illustrated by abec, which retells the first book in the series in much more detail. (And, I think, from a different point of view -- but the main point seems to be the more detail.)

And last in Light Novel Showcase! is Spice and Wolf, Vol. 15: The Coin of the Sun I, from Isuna Hasekura. This seems to be the last story arc of the series, with the wolf-goddess and her merchant friend getting caught up in one last mercantile adventure before their inevitable happy ending. (Note: if your masseuse is a wolf-goddess, do not ever ask her for a happy ending. Trust me.)

[1] "Hey, we could make a lot of money if we made a Japanese-style RPG with Disney characters in it!" (Note: may not be precisely the original concept.

[2] Not actually Satan, as I understand it, but a vaguely Satanic ordinary-boy hero who used to be lord of Hell.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Incoming Books: Week of 9/25

My longtime "local" comics shop -- and I actually work about two blocks from one of their locations these days, so they are physically local once again -- Midtown was having a big sale about a week ago. (And if I was more organized, I would have mentioned it then, so other people could take advantage of it. If I was more organized, I would have managed to buy the Gaiman Humble Bundle, too -- now I have to keep searching for that rare expensive copy of Ghastly Beyond Belief.)

Anyway, this is what I bought, and it's what arrived, in the usual packed-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life box, on Thursday. (The Wife and I have noted repeatedly that no one in the world packs things as obsessively as a comics shop does. Well, maybe the people who ship fine ceramics, but I have no experience there.)

Berkley Breathed's Bloom County: The Complete Library, Vol. 2: 1982-1984. I actually reviewed this (and volume one) from the library a few years back. I probably won't re-read it, but this does mean I can now buy Volume Three and continue on. (Note: I am not actually that OCD. Well, not exactly.)

The People Inside by Ray Fawkes -- a brilliant, wonderful graphic novel from the creator of One Soul, and another book that I've already read and reviewed. (But I saw it digitally in that case, so this is really completely different, he said, trying to convince himself.)

Popeye: The Classic Newspaper Comics, Vol. 1 (1986-1989) by Bobby London -- I've seen London's comics here and there (probably most often in Playboy, over the years), and I think I've read bits of this when it was reprinted before. London is an energetic cartoonist, and I'm very fond of E.C. Segar's original Popeye stories, so I thought I should check this out.

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D: 1952 by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Alex Maleev -- Hey, more Hellboy stuff! I'm still along for this ride; there hasn't been anything that wasn't at least entertaining yet.

The Complete Peanuts 1993-1994 -- We're nearly to the end now, so I won't link to all of my reviews of earlier volumes. (Search for "Peanuts" or "Schulz" if you're interested, or looking to waste some time.) I'm hoping to be slightly less far behind Fantagraphics when they do hit the end, so I've got a year or so to catch up in my reading.

And last was Zenith: Phase Four from Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell, the end of the one of the original piss-takes on the superhero world, from 2000 AD back in the halcyon 1980s. As I recall, this end of the story has never made it over to my side of the Atlantic before -- I know I've never read it -- so I'm looking forward to running through all four volumes sometime soon.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of September 19

This week you'll be spared me trying desperately not to look like I'm whining about the lack of books in the past week. (While knowing that it will come across as whining anyway, and hating that.)

After several weeks of meager or non-existent mail -- which, honestly, meant I could do this post quickly, not feel guilty about it, and move on to other things, all of which are positives in my book -- I got a gigantic box from Yen Press this week, and so I have a lot to write about.

So much, in fact, that I'm not sure if I'll get to it. I've organized about half of it -- the regular-manga-sized volumes, since they were on top -- and I'll run through them. There should be a follow-up post later this week with the rest of the box, but I've learned not to make promises.

Anyway: everything in this post is a manga-sized book -- and I think they all contain manga, though I'll look at them as I go through and note if anything is a light novel or anything more exotic -- all from Yen, all published recently. And there's enough variety that I have to believe something will look interesting to anyone out there who actually likes reading comics. As is typical for big stacks like this, I've organized it by volume number, so we'll start off with one-shots and series openers and then move on deeper and deeper into continuity as we go.

So first up is RustBlaster, a 2006 story from Yana (Black Butler) Toboso, which seems to stand alone. It's set at Millennium Academy, the elite school for vampires, in a world where vampires seem to live openly. But a big once-in-a-millennium event is coming, which may Change Everything.

Another seeming standalone is Final Fantasy Type-0 by Takatoshi Shiozawa, which is about another group of elite students -- the cadets of Akademia's Class Zero. Now, I know essentially nothing about the huge and complex Final Fantasy universe: I do know that there are a lot of video games that I haven't played and that don't have a single consistent story, but that's about it. So I will point at this and hope that those who care will know how it fits.

Puella Magi Suzune Magica, Vol. 1 is the latest in a clutch of series about a group of magical girls. The cover only credits "Art by GAN," but the inside also gives story credit to the usual brain-trust, the Magicka Quartet. This is another one of those stories that spreads across media, and this particular piece seems to be a side-story based on things the fans already know.

Rose Guns Days Season 1, Vol. 1 has an overly complicated title -- my guess is that it ties into an animated series, but I've got more than a dozen more of these to get through so no time to Google now -- and an equally complicated backstory. There's a frame story set in the modern day, but the main story takes place in an alternate 1947, three years after a "catastrophe" destroyed Japan and forced them to sue for immediate peace. Japan was massively reconstructed, with an influx of people from other countries that turned ethnic Japanese into a minority in what used to be their country. (I see big flashing metaphors there.) Our main character is a sharpshooting, fast-talking womanizer, as of course it would be. This is credited "story by Ryukishi07, art by Soichiro," in that manga style that always seems to evoke post-human entities to me.

Next up is Black Bullet, Vol. 1, whose cover I have to admit staring at to try to figure out the exact pose of the two main characters. The guy on the left seems to be spin-kicking towards the viewer, while shooting at the same time (witness the spent shell positioned carefully to suggest a cigarette in his mouth). But the person to the right -- my guess is female, but it's a very rough guess -- seems to be pinwheeling forwards, with her (?) right arm and leg extended together just below the credits.
 Anyway, this is a very kinetic cover, presumably for a very kinetic story, and the art is from Morinohon, working from an original story by Shiden Kanzaki and character designs by Saki Uaki. (Which all sounds like "adapted from light novel" to me.)

And then there's Chaika: The Coffin Princess, Vol. 2, with an original story by Ichirou Sakaki, art by Shinta Sakayama, and character designs by Namantikuatk (Nitroplus). (And if that last one isn't a post-human consciousness, well, the world is not as interesting as it should be.) I believe this is yet another powerful-gorgeous-girl-drags-ordinary-guy-along-on-her-weird-mission story.

Another second volume: Big Hero 6, Vol. 2, from Haruki Ueno. This adapts the second half of the movie of the same name.

Pandora Hearts: Caucus Race, Vol. 2 is prose somehow related to the world of the Pandora Hearts manga, written by Shinobu Wakamiya and illustrated by series creator Jin Mochizuki. The main series is a very, very odd take on Alice in Wonderland, which partially explains "caucus race." Further explanations will be left to someone who knows more about this than I do.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 2 continues yet another adaptation of a light-novel series, in this case by Kunieda from the novel by Fujino Omori, with additional credit given to the light-novel illustrator, Suzuhito Yasuda, for character designs. And the answer to the title question is, "No, as long as you're honest and don't make it a prerequisite for rescuing them."

Trinity Seven, Vol. 2: The Seven Magicians has a cover featuring a woman who I'd assume was about to sneeze if I had confidence that she has a nose at all. This is a wizard-school story, with a young male hero who just might be destined to be the Demon Lord, and a whole bunch of attractive (and probably barely-dressed) female wizard-students falling all over him to save him from Demon Lord-ship or help him on that path or both. It's by Kenji Saito and Akinari Nao, and it's rated M for mature, which means the women fall out of their clothes for silly reasons (bathing, visits to hot springs, possible a too-energetic sneeze), which certainly will help endear them to our hero.

Sword Art Online Progressive, Vol. 3 presents another art challenge -- how, exactly, is the woman on the cover posed? I've decided that the fleshy bits underneath the title are her knees, but her body seems to be twisted around enough that she might just be looking over her own shoulder. Again: very dynamic. This art is by Kiseki Himura, working from the original novel by Reki Kawahara and character designs by the entity known only as abec.

Ani-Imo, Vol. 4 continues the body-switch comedy from Haruko Kurumatani, in which highschool freshmen and step-siblings Hikaru and Youta became each other and immediately fell into the kind of sex-farce plot that only happens in Japan. (Incest is funny!) By this point, I see there's another body-switch duo of their schoolfriends, so I have confidence the entire world of Ani-Imo will find itself swapped if the series runs long enough.

Gou-dere Sora Nagihara, Vol. 4 is from Suu Minazuki, and it's another story of a schlubby guy who gets a dream girl who's obsessed with him. (And I'm not going to pretend that is a Japanese-specific idea, or even specific to schlubby guys.)

He's My Only Vampire, Vol. 4 continues the story about, um, well, it's probably not about a girl who has a few dozen werewolves and zombies and mummies, but only one vampire. If I remember correctly, this is a normal-person-dragged-into-the-secret-supernatural-world story, and I think the normal person is a girl and the supernatural world has the common Japanese thing of making "vampire" pretty much a synonym for "demon." This one is by Aya Shouto.

Shrinkwrap returns with High School DxD, Vol. 6, drawn by Hiroji Mishima from the light novel by Ichei Ishibumi and using character designs by Zero Miyama. (See my review of the first volume for more detail on this one.)

Bloody Cross, Vol. 8 feels like a particularly long installment, though it's hard to tell with the usual manga lack of page numbers. (One would think companies that publish 200+ page comics for only around ten-fifteen bucks would want to emphasize the value component, but I suppose not.) This is still by Shiwo Komeyama, and you can see my review of the first volume of this series for more details, as well.

Triage X, Vol. 10 features a volume-number placement that leaves no illusions about the appeal of Shouji Sato's series, and I for one am happy to see this kind of honesty and straightforwardness. Yes, this is a series about nudity and violence! Let's embrace that! (I reviewed the first five volumes together, and have more or less been keeping up with this, since Sato's a talented artist and it's so blatantly what it is.)

Junya Inoue is back with BTOOOM!, Vol. 11, more in the saga about a bunch of random people dropped on an island and forced to play Battle Royale with various types of explosive devices. I looked at the first one when it came out; it's not really my thing, but maybe it's yours.

And last for this installment is Spice and Wolf, Vol. 11, the latest manga volume from yet another series adapted from light novels. (This particular cast of characters: novelist Isuna Hasekura, artist Keito Koume, character designer Jyuu Ayakura.) I keep wanting to read more of this, because it's so oddly Japanese in its mix of mercantilism and fanservice nudity, but I've only looked at bits of it here and there.

With any luck, I'll cover the other roughly twenty books that came in last week later this week, but, if not, I can always hold them for next week's list. Let's see what I end up doing....