Book Review: Lambda I and Other Stories

Book Review: Lambda I and Other Stories edited by John Carnell

New Worlds was a British science fiction magazine that started professional publication in 1946.  Despite some financial hiccups, it was a reasonably good seller, and was still going in the early 1960s when the stories chosen for this anthology were published.  The editor picked stories that had gotten a good reception in Great Britain, but never before published in America.   According to his introduction, this was the first paperback anthology of “foreign” science fiction stories published in the U.S.

Lambda I and Other Stories

“Lambda I” by Colin Kapp leads off with a transportation engineer being visited by an old friend.  It turns out the friend is a psychologist, here to try to reconcile the engineer and that man’s estranged wife.  The science fiction part comes in with the Tau transportation system, which uses a dimensional shift to send ships directly through the Earth so that one can travel in straight lines from one point to another.

It turns out that the Tau system has an inherent stability problem, and if a ship ever became locked into the never-actually-seen-before Omega frequency, disaster would ensue.  The engineer’s futile attempts to forestall this problem led to the stress that caused his marriage to collapse.

Oh, guess what!  Yes, a ship has gone into Omega frequency.  Yes, if it isn’t fixed, the entire Eastern Seaboard will be destroyed.  Yes, the engineer’s wife is aboard and she’s carrying his child!   Yes, there are only a few hours before the dimensional rift, and the one thing that might have a chance of getting the two protagonists there in time is an experimental prototype without proper shielding.

There’s some hallucinatory sequences that would have blown the budget in any 1960s movie as our heroes explore the weird dimensional shift that the lost ship in stranded in.  It turns out that psychic vibrations affect the Tau system, so the psychologist is the one who saves the day.

“Basis for Negotiation” by Brian W. Aldiss takes place in the then-near future of 1971.  America and Red China are at war, with the possibility of escalation into nuclear attacks imminent.  In a startlingly tone-deaf moment, the British Prime Minister has declared Great Britain strictly neutral.  He’s ordered all American military forces out of the British Isles, and is planning to Brexit from NATO.

Sir Simon, Chair of Moral History at the University College of East Lincoln, is livid.   True, he might not currently be in the government, but he feels a deep interest in public affairs.  He must get to London and see what can be done to fix this!  The remainder of the story is his journey to Whitehall and what he finds there.

This story was turned down by all the American magazines Mr. Aldiss submitted it to, possibly because it’s a bit too “insider cricket” (there’s a very House of Cards moment at the end), but it might also have been the relatively sympathetic portrayal of gay Communist David.

Yes, David was in favor of disarmament, but as part of a global reduction of arms, not a unilateral surrender.  And yes, he’s a Communist, but he is by George a British Communist.  One can’t fault his courage or moral fiber, but his combat judgement is poor.  Also, his obsession with classism makes him a very irritating companion for long car trips.

The science part of the science fiction comes in at the last moment and puts a very different cast on what the actions of various characters leads up to.

“Quest” by Lee Harding takes us to a future where robots are everywhere and everywhere looks exactly the same.  One man senses that this is wrong, and goes in search of something, anything, real.  He may be too late.  A grim story.

“All Laced Up” by George Whitley is a comedic tale about interior design.  You may have noticed that iron lace isn’t around much any more.  Especially the really intricate handcrafted stuff.  It turns out there’s a reason for that.  Unusual for having a female…villain? whose motive is pretty much entirely financial.

“Routine Exercise” by Philip E. High involves a time traveling nuclear submarine.  Has a mandatory twist at the end, but some very evocative scenes as the submariners try to figure out what’s going on while being hunted by aliens.

“Flux” by Michael Moorcock is set in a unified Europe of the future.  Max File, prototype superbrain, is called in because the ruling council has discovered that society is going to crash in the next few years.  They don’t know how, and fear that any action by the government to stall the crash will cause it instead.  However, they have a time machine.

File turns out to be the sole living subject of an experiment in creating artificial supergeniuses through vaguely-described education of children.  All the others went mad, and File might have joined them, but the scientists purged much of the excess knowledge from his brain.  He is still, however, the most flexible mind on Earth, and the only one who can be trusted with a time machine to go into the near future to gather information.

File arrives in the ruined future, and learns of the disastrous effects of several different social experiments that collapsed civilization in various ways.  He attempts to return to his present, only to discover that time machines don’t work that way.

Things get progressively weirder as File continues his quest, and finally learns the true nature of time itself.  This allows him to accomplish his goal…sort of.

Mr. Moorcock would soon take the helm of New Worlds and turn it into a haven for the experimental “New Wave” style of science fiction.  This is definitely a forerunner of the movement.

And we finish with “The Last Salamander” by John Rackham.  A coal-burning power plant awakens something from prehistory.  A living thing that is at a temperature that no human could withstand.   One of the workers (actually a company spy) must figure out a way to destroy the creature before it destroys all the workers and surrounding area.   It’s a bit of a sad story, and would have made a good episode of The Outer Limits.

I like “All Laced Up” and “The Last Salamander” best, but “Basis for Negotiation” and “Flux” are pretty good too.  “Quest” is perhaps too predictable.

Recommended to fans of British science fiction, and especially to those who favor Michael Moorcock and Brian W. Aldiss.

 

Manga Review: Hunter X Hunter Volume 1

Manga Review: Hunter X Hunter Volume 1 by Yoshihiro Togashi

On a world a little bit like Earth, Gon Freecs has been raised on an isolated island by his Aunt Mito.  Although she told him his parents were both dead, Gon learned a while back that his father Ging Freecs was in fact still alive, and a powerful Hunter.  The Hunter Guild is a professional adventuring organization that seeks out new lands, animals, treasures or anything else that takes a member’s fancy.

Hunter X Hunter Volume 1

Having reached the age of twelve, Gon now qualifies to take the Hunter Exam and earn his license.  He corners his aunt into allowing him to try the deadly test (each year a sizable fraction of applicants die.)  Mind you, first Gon must survive the journey and find the location of the test, since finding the Exam site is part of the competition!

This fantasy adventure series is by the creator of YuYu Hakusho and Level E.  It was partially inspired by Togashi’s love of collecting things and seeing other people’s collections.  It’s still ongoing, but the creator’s health issues have caused several long hiatuses between parts of the story.

On the ship to the first destination, Gon meets the androgynous Kurapika, last survivor of the Kurta Clan.  That person’s people were slaughtered for their beautiful eyes, and Kurapika wants to become a Hunter to track down their killers and retrieve the eyes.   (Kurapika’s gender was a mystery for years until it was finally revealed in a sourcebook.)  They also encounter Leorio Paradinight, who grew up in poverty.  His best friend died from a disease that could have been cured if he’d had the money to pay for treatment.  Thus Leorio wants to get enough cash to get a medical degree and license, and then treat the poor for free.

There’s a certain amount of friction at first, but the three soon become friends.  They support each other through the journey to find the Exam.

At the exam site, the trio meet Tonpa, an experienced examinee who’s failed the test multiple times.  While he seems friendly, Tonpa is actually a “rookie crusher” who is less concerned with passing the Exam than in destroying other applicants’ hopes.   We also learn of Hisoka, who looks like a clownish magician but is in fact a ruthless killer with a cruel streak.

On the brighter side, Gon meets Killua Zoldyck, who has run away from his family of assassins to take the exam.  Despite being one of the deadliest people alive, Killua becomes a good friend of Gon’s.

The first two stages of the exam are already making people drop out (or drop dead) but then Hisoka decides he wants to have a little fun….

As is often the case in shounen manga, protagonist Gon is one of the least interesting characters.  His “find my father” motivation moves the plot at first, but it’s more of an excuse than anything else–we won’t see any movement on it for a long time.  And Gon’s mother is a non-entity, while Aunt Mito vanishes after the first chapter.

The three companions are much more interesting, with contrasting personalities.  My favorite is Leorio, who is a bit older than the others and much more of an “average joe” who barely keeps up.  The contrast between his greedy outer persona and his actual motivations makes him more complex.

There are a bunch of interesting looking minor characters, most of whom soon vanish; and the monster designs range from cool to creepy.

It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Gon passes the Exam and becomes a Hunter, at which point the really interesting plots begin.  Be prepared for characters and subplots to vanish for long periods of time, and at some point you will hit the most recent volume and then have to wait ages for the next installment.

Still, this is very good shounen battle manga, and well worth looking into.

There have also been some anime adaptations, here’s the opening from one:

Comic Book Review: Sherlock Holmes Mysteries Volume One

Comic Book Review: Sherlock Holmes Mysteries Volume One written by Martin Powell, art by Seppo Makinen

Sherlock Holmes and his good friend Doctor Watson are on the trail of Professor Moriarty, but they’ve just missed him.  The Napoleon of Crime has realized that the world’s first consulting detective is more difficult to deal with than he ever imagined, and has a new plan.  It involves a trip to deepest Rumania, and a treacherous alliance with a certain nobleman who has dwelt there a very long time.

Sherlock Holmes Mysteries Volume One

Now Holmes must grapple with something he had heretofore deemed impossible–the supernatural!  Dracula and Moriarty have unleashed a plague of vampirism on London, and even the help of Abraham Van Helsing may not be enough to turn the tide.

The script for this comic book series was developed by Martin Powell during the independent comics boom of the 1980s.  He shopped it around, finding no takers until Malibu Comics (RIP) took a chance and assigned an artist to it.  Both the Dracula-related story “Scarlet in Gaslight”, and the followup “A Case of Blind Fear” which takes elements from H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, were well-received, and they’ve gotten several reprints, the most recent from Moonstone Books.

Mr. Powell dug deep into the Holmes canon, even while violating one of its primary rules.  His Holmes is vulnerable, retreating into seeming madness at one point when his worldview shatters.  (He’s able to handle Griffin’s science-induced invisibility much better.)  But fear not, Holmes is soon back on form.

The centrality of the Holmes part of the stories does excise many of my favorite characters from the books that are being crossed over.   This is especially a pity in the case of Mina Harker, whose modernity would have clashed nicely with Holmes’ distrust of women.

Speaking of women, Irene Adler appears in the second story in what is a huge tease for those who ship her with Holmes.  It seems her husband has been tempted into trying to obtain blackmail documents Irene saved from her original appearance.  She’s contrasted with Mary Watson, who plays a more conventional damsel in distress.

The black and white art is effective.  The stories rely a little too heavily on scantily clad women and sexual violence–the independent comics boom was partially fueled by the fact that it was no longer necessary to subscribe to the content restrictions of the Comics Code to get distributed, and creators took full advantage of this.

Recommended for fans of well-written Sherlock Holmes crossovers, not so recommended for Holmes purists.

And here’s another take on Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula:

Manga Review: Black Jack 2

Manga Review: Black Jack 2 by Osamu Tezuka

Before Osamu Tezuka became a full-time manga creator, he was  a medical doctor.  He drew upon this training and experiences with Japan’s medical establishment for his work on Black Jack starting in the 1970s.

Black Jack 2

Black Jack (birth name Kuro’o Hazama) is a brilliant physician and surgeon who is unlicensed (reasons differing between continuities) and therefore operates outside the law and the established medical system.   For reasons that are not revealed until late in the manga, Black Jack requires large sums of money and will often charge outrageous fees.  On the other hand, he will also often treat a patient for free or a nominal payment if the whim strikes him.

The stories are mostly episodic, and the order of presentation is not necessarily the order they occur.  Most of them features valuable lessons about life, usually for the patient or another civilian, but sometimes for doctors or Black Jack himself.

In most of the stories, Black Jack is accompanied by Pinoko, a cyborg he created from a parasitic twin that had never fully developed.  Her artificial body makes her look like a small child, and she usually acts like one, but Pinoko considers herself a grown woman and Black Jack’s wife.  This can get pretty disturbing, but Tezuka never takes it in a sexual direction.

The first story in this volume is “Needle”, a thriller which begins with Black Jack successfully completing a tough operation.  But an earthquake causes the tip of an IV needle to break off and travel down the blood vessel.  Now Black Jack and his surgical team must try to locate the foreign object and remove it, before the heart is reached.   Truly, the human body should not be underestimated!

“Where Art Thou, Friend?” is a flashback story that explains Black Jack’s mismatched skin tone.  As a child, Kuro’o was in a horrific accident, and needed a large skin graft immediately.   The only donor available (because the other classmates either chickened out or were forbidden by their parents) was a mixed-race child named Takashi.

Decades later, medical techniques have advanced, and Black Jack could get matching skin and have his facial scars ameliorated, but feels he would be dishonoring his friend by rejecting the lifesaving gift.  This becomes his permanent attitude when Black Jack learns that Takashi died fighting for the environment in Algiers.

“Assembly Line Care” and “The Blind Acupuncturist” both have Black Jack clash with other doctors.  In the first, a hospital director is keeping  costs low by running operations like an assembly line, which is efficient, but gives an impression of impersonality.  In the second, the title alternative practitioner donates his services freely, and dislikes Black Jack’s onerous fee structure.  But he’s a little too hasty to volunteer, and makes a needle-phobic patient’s condition worse.

This volume also contains a “sealed chapter” (one that was excluded from the standard collections), “The One That Remains.”  Sextuplets are born in Germany, one hideously deformed.  The doctor in charge calls in Dr. Kiriko, a specialist in painless euthanasia.  On the plane, Kiriko encounters Black Jack who violently objects to allowing patients to die.

Black Jack gets Dr. Kiriko detained by the police, and shows up in his place.  While the sixth infant is deformed to the point of never being able to have a normal life, it’s also the most likely to survive, as the other five sextuplets are sickly.  Indeed, one has just died!  Black Jack suggests an audacious plan.  He’ll use the organs of the dead sibling to fix some of the mutant’s deformities.

In the end, all the normal-looking babies die, but the sixth sibling is now no longer deformed and will survive.  The public (who had not been told about the deformity thing) cheers, and Dr. Kiriko (finally released from custody) no longer has a patient.

The disturbing images and morbid subject matter caused the story to be pulled from compilations aimed at the original audience of young boys.

Although Tezuka felt no compunctions about just making up diseases for a good story, his anatomy is excellent and the operation scenes look realistic.  This may be difficult for more sensitive readers.

Some physical depictions of other races are done in the then considered okay in Japan burlesque style that is now seen as highly racist.   This translation has left this in place rather than have them redrawn.

Recommended for fans of medical drama.

Here’s the opening for one of several animated adaptations:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQUEZ4kGwMU

Book Review: The Invisible Man

Book Review: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

The sleepy village of Iping doesn’t get many visitors in the middle of winter, so when Mrs. Hall gets a new customer (and one that pays on time!) for her boarding house, it’s not polite to look a gift horse in the mouth.  It’s true the guest is something of an odd duck.  He keeps himself fully clothed and bandaged at all times, and wears dark glasses, performs mysterious chemical experiments in the parlor, and has a nasty temper.  But the stranger (odd, I don’t think he ever gave a name) keeps to himself and, again, pays on time.

The Invisible Man

But as winter melts into spring, the little oddities of the stranger begin to rub people the wrong way.  Plus, there are some mighty weird events in the village.  And the guest appears to be running out of money, so Mrs. Hall is running out of patience with his eccentricity.  After the vicar and his wife are robbed by an unseen criminal, the stranger suddenly has money–could there be a connection?  The Halls decide to have it out with their boarder once and for all–but they could never have guessed his secret!

The power of invisibility and its potential abuses have been the subject of fanciful stories since time immemorial.  This 1897 novel has one of the first truly thought-out considerations of how one might become invisible and the consequences thereof.  Griffin, the Invisible Man, is not so much invisible as transparent, having found a way to alter the refractory properties of human flesh, blood and bone.  He started out as an albino, so didn’t have to worry so much about the pigmentation of skin or hair.  His eyes are partially visible, so that he can see.

Griffin claims that he can treat cloth to make it invisible, but never actually does so, requiring him to run around in the nude for much of the story, a nasty handicap in inclement weather.  While the Invisible Man is certainly a threat on an individual level, his dreams of rulership require him to have visible accomplices.  Unfortunately for Griffin, his choices of lazy tramp Thomas Marvel and old schoolmate Kemp both backfire.

While it’s suggested that either the formula itself or the permanency of his invisible condition have driven Griffin insane, it’s also clear that he was not the most stable of scientists before his transformation.  When his job as a poorly-paid college demonstrator  (TA) prevented him from pursuing his experiments with optics, Griffin had no hesitation in stealing money from his father.  Griffin has no qualms when the old man commits suicide, only annoyed that he must set aside time to go to the funeral.  Griffin is bigoted even by the standards of his time, quick with ethnic, gender-based, and ableist slurs, and is cruel to a cat.

Kemp is quick-witted, and intelligently tries to stop Griffin before the Invisible Man can escalate his reign of terror.  (But it’s too late for the one man Griffin definitely murders as opposed to probably murders.)

There’s quite a bit of incidental humor in the story.  My favorite bit is the visiting American who just happens to be carrying a large firearm and starts shooting randomly in the direction of the Invisible Man, apparently in the belief that sufficient firepower can solve any problem.  (In fairness, he does manage to wing Griffin.)

Those more familiar with the movie versions might find the long early section before the big reveal dragging.  Still, it’s a classic for a reason, and the last section is genuinely suspenseful.

Recommended to science fiction and horror fans who enjoy stories of invisibility.

And here’s Claude Rains as Griffin:

Manga Review: Infini-T Force 01

Manga Review: Infini-T Force 01 Story by Ukyou Kodachi, Art by Tatsuma Ejiri

Emi Kaido is not your normal high school girl.  For starters, her father is always away on business (currently in Los Angeles) and her mother passed away, so Emi lives alone in a huge apartment.  But perhaps more important is her love of tinkering with mechanical objects, taking them apart to learn how they work and usually being able to put them together again better.  As part of this, Emi has learned how to draw, and is pretty good at it, if not professional level.

Infini-T Force 01

Emi’s a little surprised when a creepy-looking delivery guy brings a brightly-colored package to her door.  It’s not her birthday or any other special day, but no time to think, as she’s late for school!  At lunch, she realizes she brought the package instead of lunch.  Inside is an oversized, childish-looking pencil.  It’s labeled as a “Possibility Pencil” able to grant her every desire.   Which sounds pretty unlikely, but when Emi draws a picture of her missing lunch, it shows up underneath her desk!

After school, and Emi communicating with her father to learn he wasn’t the anonymous sender, Emi finds herself in a dangerous situation with a drug-crazed criminal.  Emi doesn’t have any defense training or weapons, and there’s no police in sight.   She needs a hero!  He’s got to be sure, and he’s got to be soon, and he’s got to be larger than life…anyhow, her hand takes over and sketches out four heroic figures on the floor with the pencil.  There are three flashes of light, and a strange man in a gaudy costume comes in the door.

The man rescues Emi, and turns out to be Ken Washio, “Eagle Ken” of the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman!  He’s a bit puzzled as to why he’s here, as the last thing he remembers is fighting along his comrades against the forces of Galactor.  Emi doesn’t know how to send him back, but it soon becomes clear that her Earth is faced with other threats, which will need the intervention of not just Gatchaman, but Tekkaman, Casshan and Polimar as well.

This series is a love letter to the Tatsunoko Productions superhero shows of the 1970s.  American readers may be vaguely familiar with some of them, in particular Gatchaman, which was heavily edited to become more suitable for U.S. children as Battle of the Planets.  Fortunately, their stories are recapped here for people who might not have seen the originals.    The somewhat silly magic pencil plot device makes this feel like many a crossover fanfic I’ve read over the years.

The heroes are introduced one by one in this first volume, showcasing their different personalities and philosophies of heroism.  (Perhaps a bit exaggerated to create more conflict.)   In particular, Gatchaman and Polimar clash over using lethal force on human opponents.  (All the heroes are A-okay with lethal force against monsters and robots.)

Besides nostalgic oldsters like me, this manga is clearly aimed at the shounen (boys’) market.   There are a couple of gratuitous fanservice shots of Emi, and she is generally useless outside of providing support for the male heroes.  Her magic pencil seems to have very limited power outside of summoning heroes or power-ups for heroes, and an attempt to open a gate back to Casshan’s world backfires badly.   This could in its way be a homage to the original shows, which tended to treat women as damsels in distress or the “heart” of any grouping.

It’s not clear if the villains are a team-up of past Tatsunoko enemies under a new leader, or if the new villains are just using familiar tactics.  In particular, the enemy leader is shrouded in mystery.

I’d like to see Emi’s school friend Sanae take a larger role in future chapters, just to amend the gender imbalance a bit.

Recommended to fans of Tatsunoko superhero shows, and tokusatsu (special effect show) fans in general.

Naturally, there’s an anime adaptation:

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway  by Seanan McGuire

Nancy went through a door to the Halls of the Dead.  She learned to enjoy the skill of remaining perfectly still, and wearing elegant black and white clothing.  When she asked to stay forever, the Lord of the Dead asked her to be sure–and sent her home.  The journey changed her, and Nancy’s parents can’t understand why she isn’t their “little rainbow” any more.  But somehow they’ve learned of a place that might be able to help.

Every Heart a Doorway

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a boarding school for young people with the “delusion” that they went to another world and want to return rather than stay on Earth.  It seems that a fair number of children every year walk through doors or fall through mirrors or get lost in the woods, and find Fairyland or the Webworld or the Moors.  Some of them never return and are indistinguishable from missing children that just died, but others return by their own will or another’s.  Maybe they aged out, or they broke the Rules, or they just went home to say goodbye and couldn’t find the entrance again.

And a certain number of those returnees are able to adjust to life back on Earth, and get on with their lives, but the ones who can’t and are lucky enough find their way to the Home.  There they’ll live among people who more or less understand what they’ve been through and get education until they can either live with their memories or find their way back where they belong.  (There’s a sister school in Maine for kids who went to the absolute wrong world and need treatment for their trauma.)

Nancy meets Eleanor West (who could go back anytime but no longer has the childish mindset needed to thrive in her Nonsense world), and is made roommates with Sumi, who went to a candy-themed dimension, and has become a madcap bundle of clashing bright colors and energy.    Despite their very different styles, Sumi takes a liking to Nancy and drags her around to meet some of the other students.

There’s Kade, who was tossed out when the fairies discovered he was a prince instead of the princess they wanted.  Jack (short for Jacqueline) and Jill (short for Jillian), whose mentors were a mad scientist and vampire respectively, and left their world one step ahead of a pitchfork and torch-bearing mob.  Christopher, who can make skeletons dance, and twenty or thirty others.

Nancy is just beginning to learn the ropes and settle in when one of the students is mutilated and murdered.  And that’s only the first death.  Nancy comes in for some suspicious as she’s been to an Underworld and the murders started after her arrival, but she’s pretty sure she isn’t responsible.  But who or what is, and why?

This dark fantasy young adult novel is by Seanan McGuire, who does a nice line in urban fantasy and horror.   Kids going to fantasy worlds has been a sub-genre of speculative fiction for decades; Narnia is mentioned (though it’s considered unrealistic by the students–they think it’s just fiction.)  In Japan they’re called isekai stories and are so common that one literary prize banned them from consideration for a year.   But few stories have considered that all these tales are taking place on the same Earth, and what aftereffects that might have.

The proceedings are a bit gruesome, and more sensitive junior high readers might want to skip this one until they are ready.

The writing quality is excellent, and there are a number of fascinating characters.  That said, the majority of the students are self-centered to a degree I found unsympathetic, which may make sense for troubled teens but does not please me.   The mystery aspect was pretty easy for me to figure out, and most savvy readers should figure it out a few pages before the protagonists do.

At some level, this book is metaphorically about how young people find their own identities in adolescence, often very different from what seemed to be the case in childhood, and their parents and other authority figures sometimes are not able to accept this.   This is most directly addressed with Kade, whose parents will welcome him any time he starts calling himself “Katie” again.

This book has been amazingly popular with its intended audience, and there are two more so far in the Wayward Children series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones (prequel) and Beneath the Sugar Sky (a sequel with a very surprising character.)  I am hoping at some point we’ll see the sister school and some of its students.

Recommended to young adult fantasy fans, with a slight emphasis on girls.

And here’s the Japanese equivalent, which is more heavily aimed at boys:

Anime Review: Devilman Crybaby

Anime Review: Devilman Crybaby

War, pollution, crime, climate change, general immorality–it sure seems like the world is going to Hell these days.  According to Ryo Asuka, a teen genius professor, it might be because an increasing number of humans are becoming possessed by demons.  He’s come up with a plan, though.  Ryo theorizes that by allowing oneself to be voluntarily possessed, a human of sufficient will can retain their human mind while gaining demonic powers.  And he has just the candidate in mind, his best friend, the wimpy but truly good-hearted Akira Fudo.

Devilman Crybaby

The plan involves infiltrating a “Sabbat”, a wild party where people engage in mind altering drugs, illicit sex and blasphemous dancing.  With a violent push by Ryo, the balance is tipped and demons begin possessing the partiers.  Akira is able to merge with the particularly powerful demon Amon, but retain his humanity.  He distinguishes himself from those fully taken over as not a demon, but a “Devilman.”  Now Ryo and his foster family the Makimuras (particularly his lovely foster sister Miki) become the target of demons bent on returning Amon to the fold or killing him.

This new Netflix animated series is based on the 1972 manga Devilman by Go Nagai.   Unlike the 1970s anime adaptation, which was considerably toned down for television (but still gave small children screaming nightmares), this horror show mostly follows the plot progression of the manga, including its legendarily apocalyptic ending.  It also takes advantage of not being for broadcast to go for a Mature Viewers audience, with nudity, sex, rape, gore aplenty, cruelty to animals and general nastiness.

It also does a good job of updating the setting for the current day.  A gang of delinquents in the Seventies style is replaced by rapper fans (at least one of whom is a skilled rapper himself), and social media plays a large part in certain events.  A weird touch is that some version of the Seventies cartoon exists in the backstory, causing people to dismiss reports of Devilman as other people watching too much anime.

The title refers to another change–in this version, Akira is empathetic to the point that he can sense other people’s sorrow, and cries in sympathy with them, even retaining this trait in his Devilman identity.  This makes it clearer that despite some personality changes, he’s still the same person.

Go Nagai intended the manga as a metaphor for how war destroys everything and twists human hearts.  And indeed, in many cases, the humans live down to the worst demons.  But there are exceptions, and even some characters who are initially unsympathetic show redeeming moments.

The art style and animation work very well for the type of story that’s being told, and there’s some stirring music.

Highly recommended for adults with strong stomachs and an interest in horror.

And here’s the trailer!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww06yGPM7Kc

Book Review: The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

Book Review: The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard by Elmore Leonard

Elmore John Leonard Jr. (1925-2013) started his career as a professional writer by producing short Western stories for the pulp magazines.  According to the introduction, Mr. Leonard’s first attempt was not very good and was rejected, whereupon he decided that next time he would do his research first.  He focused on the Arizona Territory, because that part of the country had a strong draw for him, and he liked the Apaches best of the various tribes of Native Americans.

The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

This volume presents the bulk of the stories in order of publication, rather than when they were written.  Thus it begins with Elmore Leonard’s first published work, “Trail of the Apache.”  Indian agent Travisin does his best to keep his Apache charges peaceful and moderately satisfied.  He keeps his wits sharp through a bet with his lead scout Gatito that if the other man can ever touch his knife to Travisin’s back, he will win a bottle of whiskey.  For the last two years, Gatito has not had alcohol.

The trouble arrives with Travisin’s new trainee, Lieutenant De Both.  De Both himself is a decent enough fellow, though green in the ways of the West.  But he’s escorting a band of Apache from another reservation, led by the renegade Pillo.  The Army, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that Pillo and his rowdy comrades should be separated from their wives and families on Travisin’s reservation to calm them down.

To no one’s surprise, Pillo and his men are soon off the reservation with Gatito, and looking to gather other renegades to restart the Indian Wars.  It’s up to Travisin, De Bolt, and the tracker known as Fry to stop them.

By the end of the 1950s, the pulp magazines had died, and the market for short Westerns had dried up.   Mr. Leonard switched to primarily doing crime stories (You may remember Get Shorty.)  But every so often, a Western collection would ask him to contribute, so there’s not quite a handful of such late stories.   The last one published was “Hurrah for Captain Early!” which takes place in a small Arizona town which is having a return celebration for its hometown hero of the recent Spanish-American War.

The main character is Bo Catlett, a cavalryman who also served in the war.  But since Mr. Catlett is black, there are those who don’t believe that he’s a veteran.   In fact, they don’t believe that Mr. Catlett should be in town at all.  And possibly not breathing.  But Sergeant Major Bo Catlett has something to return to Captain Early, and maybe it would be okay if there was a little blood of an ignorant fool on it.

Like the other late-period stories, this one contains strong language that wasn’t allowed in the magazines, as well as the period racism.  Taking place in the twilight of the Old West, it’s a suitable and somewhat cynical endpiece.

Of special interest to movie fans are the stories “Three-Ten to Yuma” and “The Captives” (which became The Tall T.)  Both were considerably expanded from their original short format.  In the former tale, a deputy marshal tries to get his prisoner aboard the title train with them both still alive despite their respective enemies.  In the latter, a rancher who’s lost his horse hitches a ride aboard a stagecoach–which is promptly captured by outlaws, and he must use his wits to keep himself and at least one other passenger alive.  Both are exciting and suspenseful.

Mr. Leonard was no stranger to dark humor, the best example of this in the current volume being “Cavalry Boots” in which a cowardly deserter becomes honored as the hero of a battle.  Mostly because he’s not around to dispute it, but partially because he accidentally did save the day.

This edition has an extra story at the end, “The Treasure of Mungo’s Landing”, which wasn’t in the first edition because it couldn’t be proved it existed.  Tracking down clues, it was discovered to have been printed under the wrong author’s name (Leonard Elmore) and in a different magazine than believed.  The story itself is a nice tale of a man who discovers a robbery is about to be committed, and stops it only to be accused of the crime himself.  The bad guy would have gotten away if he hadn’t let his greed and gloating get away with his common sense.

It’s thirty-one fine stories in all, ranging from talented newcomer quality to very good.  There’s period depiction of Native Americans (not usually entirely negative) and some period sexism (plus a couple of attempted rapes.)

Recommended for Western fans, Elmore Leonard fans and fans of the TV series Justified, which was based on Mr. Leonard’s work.

Let’s have a video of the opening to the 1957 film of 3:10 to Yuma.

Book Review: Herb Kent West Point Cadet

Book Review: Herb Kent West Point Cadet by Graham M. Dean

The United States Military Academy in West Point, New York was established in 1802 as a training ground for United States military (primarily Army) officers.   It’s known for its high academic standards, strong Code of Honor, oh, and its students’ athletic achievements.

Herb Kent West Point Cadet

The last is the primary focus of this novel, written in 1936 when West Point’s football team was particularly well known as a powerhouse.  Herb Kent is a young fullback who’s the star of his hometown high school team, but also good at academics, and a stand-up fellow.  His father was a football star at West Point, but never served in the military due to the sudden onset of an eyesight problem.  His real estate business is suffering in the Great Depression, and Herb’s three dollars a week from a part time job is keeping the family out of the poorhouse.  There’s no chance of Herb going to college–unless he can win an appointment to West Point!

The first third of the book is the lead up to and detailed play by play of Herb’s final high school game, hometown Marion against rival Milford (evidently in their state in the 1930s there’s no playoff season.)  This serves to introduce Herb, his best/only friend quarterback Ted Crosby, and jealous rival fullback Steve Moon.

Steve is the sort of villain who often appears in boys’ fiction of the early Twentieth Century, the “small town rich” kid who has more money than sense, and resents the hero for having success based on talent and hard work.  Steve has good technical football skills, but no sense of teamwork or sportsmanship, which has resulted in him riding the bench most of the season.  He tries various dirty tricks to get Herb out of the big game so that he can be the star.  (And later in the story escalates to attempted vehicular homicide!)

After the big game, Herb, Ted and Steve prepare for the USMA entrance examination (even if you’re great at football, you still have to qualify.)  Herb and Ted win highest marks and are recommended by their state’s senators, while Steve barely passes but his wealthy father uses leverage on a House rep to get Steve a slot.

A friend of the family gets Herb and his buddy summer jobs as camp counselors in northern Minnesota, where they save some campers from a forest fire.  And it turns out one of the camp’s leaders is a famous football coach who gives our heroes pointers.

Finally, Herb arrives at West Point, where he and Ted are immediately tagged for their company’s football team (plebes don’t go on the college’s varsity team no matter how good their high school record was.)   You’d think that the grinding schedule of the plebes wouldn’t allow for any serious shenanigans, but Steve Moon just will. not. let. it. go.

After leading his team to victory over the other plebe football squads, Herb is ready for a big celebration.  But look, the neighboring barracks are on fire!  Herb goes in and saves Steve (who may or may not be responsible for the blaze) but Steve isn’t exactly grateful.

Despite the age of the main characters, this is very much a children’s book aimed at boys maybe ten to twelve.  Situations are black and white, with no subtlety, everyone cares  far more about football than any other subject, and the only female character even mentioned is Herb’s mother.  She cooks well and worries about her son getting military training.  (Perhaps she should be more worried that his father’s eye condition (never explained) is hereditary.)

Herb is a star athlete, intelligent, morally pure, and oh yes handsome.  This last we learn in a lovingly described shower scene he shares with Ted, who also gets his lean but muscular body mentioned.   You know, for kids.  Anyhow, the one flaw Herb has is that he is far too reliant on handling things on his own.  For example, he deals with Steve’s attempt to run him over by challenging the other boy to an impromptu boxing match.  Herb is warned by adults that this approach could backfire, but it never does.

The football scenes are well-written and exciting, while all other activities tend to be sketchily described (as, for example, what classes one takes at West Point.)

While this was clearly meant to be the first in a series of Herb Kent books (the title of the next one is on the last page) no sequel seems to have been published.  Given the timing, Herb would probably have made First Lieutenant just in time for World War Two.

The archaic attitudes may make this book less appealing for modern boys, but I’d still recommend it to football fanatics.

And now, let’s enjoy a football game from the year of publication, as Army battles its age-old rival Navy:

 

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