Anime Review: Space Patrol Luluco

Anime Review: Space Patrol Luluco

Luluco is a normal middle-school student who is trying to live a normal middle-school life in the decidedly abnormal town of Ogikubo.  It’s the one place on Earth where aliens are allowed to mix freely with humans.  Luluco’s father Keiji is a Space Patrol officer who helps dispense justice in the city, but when he’s incapacitated, Luluco is forced to step up and join the Space Patrol herself.  So much for a normal life!

Space Patrol Luluco

Luluco is a 13-episode animated series from Studio Trigger, each episode being under eight minutes long.  Despite the short length and limited animation style, the story is full of twists.  Luluco is soon joined in her adventures by handsome transfer student Alpha Omega Nova and bad girl Midori Save-the-World.  The threats just keep getting bigger and bigger, until a big twist that reveals what the villains were after all along.

The fast pace and over the top drama make this show very funny, even if it’s kind of shallow and the logic doesn’t bear thinking about.  It helps to have seen Studio Trigger’s other work, as they cross over with multiple other series, including Kill la Kill (which is reviewed elsewhere on this site.)  There’s a couple of touching moments, and an examination of first love from both the down and up perspectives.

There’s cartoony violence (including gunfights between Luluco’s parents) and a bit of rude humor.  Parents of actual middle-schoolers might want to screen the show before letting their kids watch it, but teens on up should be okay.

A good palate cleanser between more serious anime shows.

Book Review: Night of Delusions

Book Review:  Night of Delusions by Keith Laumer (also published as Knight of Delusion)

Florin (Colonel Florin back during the War) is a private security specialist who’s on vacation when he is called upon by government operatives.  They hire him to perform bodyguard duty for a senator.  It seems this senator has gone insane, and the treatment is subjecting the politician to a live-fire role-playing session to shock him back into sanity.  Florin’s job is making sure the senator survives the treatment.

Night of Delusions

It rapidly becomes apparent that something’s not right here; and more not right than Florin would expect from secretive government work.  Are those agents really from the government, and if so, whose?  Is the senator insane or more in tune with reality than anyone else?  Is Florin himself even really Florin?

The book is filled with short chapters, and frequent shifts in apparent planes of reality; there may or may not be a “dream machine” or psychic aliens involved.  Due to the nature of the story, the information Florin and the reader are presented with at any given moment ranges from suspect to clearly fake.  This sort of thing can be done very well, but here it is a confusing mess with an arbitrary stopping point and probable explanation.

When this book came out, Mr. Laumer was suffering from a health crisis that was preventing him from writing steadily, but this had already been partially completed beforehand.  It’s possible that his health problems were responsible for the relatively poor quality of this book; it’s much weaker than his usual.

There’s one important female character, Miss Regis, who keeps popping up in the various realities, and appears to be sucked into the action from the outside, which was not part of the plan.  She acts primarily as a sounding board for Florin’s  ramblings, and an emotional anchor.  (Notably, in a section where Florin has gained godlike power, he beds several women, and Miss Regis is completely absent, but the women seem to be echoes of her.)

Just when this story is supposed to be taking place is also confused; parts take place in what’s clearly at least a century later than when the book was written, but in other places prices are as they were in the 1950s.  This is easily handwaved by the shifting nature of reality in the story.  It may or may not take place in the same universe as the Bolo stories as one of the tanks from those makes a cameo appearance.

I can only recommend this book to Laumer completeists; if you are interested in books where the nature of reality is uncertain, the works of Philip K. Dick are better at it.

Book Review: Creatures from Beyond

Book Review: Creatures from Beyond edited by Terry Carr

This 1975 speculative fiction anthology has the theme of monsters from outside human experience.  The question of what lies in the outer darkness has haunted humanity since we developed imaginations.  These nine stories look at the possibilities, from implacable enemies, to beings a lot like us in the end.

Creatures from Beyond

“The Worm” by David H. Keller is set in a remote Vermont valley that has become depopulated, leaving only an old miller.  He no longer runs the millstone, but one night he notices a grinding vibration…A canny and stubborn man against a seemingly inevitable devourer, with a mounting feeling of dread.

“Mimic” by Donald A. Wollheim involves insects that have evolved protective camouflage to live among humans.  This story doesn’t have much actually happen in it (unlike the 1997 movie very loosely based on it) with the really chilling moment being when the narrator realizes that the insects aren’t the only creatures that have learned new mimicry tricks.

“It” by Theodore Sturgeon has the distinction of being the inspiration for no less than four independently created comic book characters (Solomon Grundy, the Heap, Man-Thing and Swamp Thing.)  It’s a horrific tale of a human corpse that somehow has been animated by hot molds and unknown factors; it stumbles around the woods trying to satisfy its curiosity in destructive ways.  And now it wants to learn about humans….very strong last sentence.

“Beauty and the Beast” by Henry Kuttner has a greedy, small-minded man discover the wreck of a spaceship that’s been to Mars.  Inside, he finds some seeds and a jeweled egg, and decides to try them out to make a profit.  This is of course not the best idea he’s ever had.  Genre-savvy readers will spot the twist coming a mile away.

“Some are Born Cats” by Terry and Carol Carr was chosen, as the editor admits, because it’s a sentimental favorite, the first he co-wrote with his wife.  Two teens realize that the girl’s cat is not actually a cat, but an alien.  Happy ending all around.

“Full Sun” by Brian W. Aldiss takes place in the far future, when humanity, served by its faithful robots, has retreated to shining cities, and the wilderness areas are infested with werewolves.  A hunter from the city is tracking down a particularly dangerous werewolf, but he may have more than one enemy in the forest.  Interesting last minute perspective twist.

“The Silent Colony” by Robert Silverberg is told entirely from the viewpoint of the creatures, aliens who’ve occupied the outer planets, and now notice that some of their kind are on Earth already.  But why won’t the colonists communicate?  Short.

“The Street That Wasn’t There” by Clifford D. Simak and Carl Jacobi is their only collaboration.  A retired professor suddenly notices that his daily walk took a few minutes less than usual, and discovers that an entire street has vanished from the town.  The “creature” in this case is an entire alternate universe that’s trying to superimpose itself over ours.

“Dear Devil” by Eric Frank Russell closes out the volume with a friendly Martian exiling himself to Earth.  Humanity has nearly wiped itself out with nuclear and germ warfare, and the few survivors have reverted to tiny tribes at best.   Fander, despite his fearsome appearance, is a poet, and moved by a thing of beauty, helps the humans bring themselves back from the brink of extinction.  The Fifties sexism is strong in this story.  Boys are naturally interested in mechanics, engineering and exploring; girls are delicate, and naturally interested in dolls.  This holds true across species lines here!  It weakens an otherwise decent story.

The Silverberg story is the weakest, and I suspect it was included to fill an exact number of pages.  The Wollheim and Sturgeon stories are the best here.  Check your library or used bookstore.

Comic Book Review: Parallel Man: Invasion America

Comic Book Review: Parallel Man: Invasion America Written by Jeffrey Morris & Fredrick Haugen, Art by Christopher Jones

During World War Two on an alternate Earth, the United States did not develop the atomic bomb.  Instead, they developed the ability to travel to parallel timestreams, which they first used to win the war.   Fair enough.  But then they decided that to be safe, they needed to take over the Earth themselves.  World War Three ensued, along with environmental catastrophe.  So they used their travel technology to find other Americas and other Earths to bring into their sphere of influence, using the resources of those other worlds to prop up their own dying one.  They became the Ascendancy.

Parallel Man: Invasion America

Now the Ascendancy has set its eyes on Beta 76, an America very much like our own.  Only a handful of “Futurians” stand in their way, including Agent Nick Morgan.   Which is bad news for slacker and video game enthusiast Nicholas Morgan!

This oversized volume collects the seven-issue miniseries from Future Dude, detailing the Ascendancy’s first attempt to take over “our” Earth.   Much of the background is explained to Nicholas as he becomes caught up in events when the man he thought was his grandfather is abducted.   A lot of world-building went into this series, with costume and machine designs to show differences between the worlds.

One of the details is that there are Alpha (worlds with history similar to the Ascendancy’s or with useful technology that seem to get full citizenship), Beta (“lesser” Earths suitable for second-class citizenship and resource mining) and Gamma (dangerous or severely altered timelines only visited if they have vital resources such as the crystals needed for dimension travel) worlds.

In exchange for its advanced technology (much looted from other timelines), the Ascendancy’s social evolution seems to have stalled in the 1940s, with racism and sexism still overt things. This sets up a secondary conflict, as Major Mackenzie Cartwright, daughter of the President, has her own ideas of how to fix the Ascendancy, which don’t mesh with the Futurians’ plans at all.

Oh, and those Futurians are led by Dr. Carl Sagan, who is still alive there.  President Obama also makes repeated appearances, as both responsible world leader and craven sellout depending on timeline.

The volume ends with the Ascendancy suffering a major defeat, but perhaps becoming more dangerous in the process.

The volume is filled out with concept art for both the comics and the animation &  game that tie into the story.

The art is good and the writing is decent; if you like alternate timeline stories, this one is worth looking into.  If it sells well, perhaps there will be a sequel!

Book Review: Double Jump

Book Review: Double Jump by Jason Glaser

Jeremy Chin didn’t notice anything odd about his world until the day it was destroyed by a sparkling dust dumped from an airship.  He dives into a swimming pool, and blacks out.  When he awakens in a hospital, Jeremy appears to be in a different world altogether.  He’s quickly recruited by Steel Serpent, a genetically enhanced soldier with a penchant for hiding in cardboard boxes, and Xartus, a snarky white mage (healer.)

Double Jump

In between deadly encounters, Jeremy learns that he is now in a place called the Lattice which was cobbled together from other destroyed worlds and which seems to run on video game logic.   As he gains other allies and develops strange new powers, Jeremy slowly begins to grasp what the enemy who destroyed his world is up to.  Can he learn the secret of the double jump before it’s too late?

This is indeed a tribute to a certain generation of video games, and many young adults will be able to tell who and what the various characters were inspired by.  The “world inspired by mashing together other fictional worlds” setting is one I’ve seen before (In this particular case, most recently in Wreck-It Ralph) , but it’s fairly well-thought-out here.

Jeremy is very much “the Chosen One”; events (and possibly the universe) revolve around him, he manifests new awesome powers as the plot demands, and he seems to break the local rules of physics.  Mind, this is a fairly common thing in video games, as the story points out.  He also seems to be remarkably unaffected emotionally by the destruction of his world.  Admittedly, the non-stop action doesn’t give him much time to think about that, and there are flashbacks that partially explain his numbness, but I hope that the inevitable sequel will have him dealing with the aftermath more fully.

The flashbacks are perhaps the most innovative aspect of the book; Jeremy’s memories are not internally consistent, something he realizes towards the end of the story.  Indeed, they suggest that the events are not necessarily taking place in “reality” in the physical sense.  I should mention for those who are easily triggered that suicide is a part of the story.

One aspect of the Lattice that may be problematic for some readers is the “Nons.”  There are less than ten thousand freewilled beings in the universe; the rest are automatons that blindly repeat actions and bestow quests.  The “heroes” have long since learned not to care about Nons since the quests are often dangerous and after a while the rewards are not worth it.  Jeremy has not learned this lesson yet, and does help out a few Nons…who know his name.  Hmm….

The female characters are depicted as competent, but there are some digs at the impractical costumes foisted on them in video games.  One, Min, is engaged in intensive study of the “Engine” (the rules that drive the Lattice) in an effort to overcome the embarrassing nature of her powers.

The suicide and some rough language may make this book unsuitable for younger or more sensitive readers; otherwise it should be okay for junior high on up.  (A scene involving Min would boost the rating to an “R” if it were visual.)

I am pleased to say that though this book was self-published, it looks good and has no memorable typos.  Recommended for video game fans and former video game fans.


Comic Book Review: Oddly Normal Book 1

Comic Book Review: Oddly Normal Book 1 by Otis Frampton

Life is not good for Oddly Normal (who was named after her great-aunt.)  As the product of a human/witch marriage, her green hair and pointed ears make her stand out in her small town elementary school.  She’s constantly bullied and treated as a freak.  Worse, her parents seem oblivious to just how miserable she really is.

Oddly Normal Book 1

This comes to a head on Oddly’s tenth birthday, when none of the kids her parents made her invite bother to come, only using the moment to further bully her.   And then her parents refuse to understand the situation, coming up with excuses for how this isn’t actually happening.  It’s no wonder that Oddly makes a wish that they would both disappear.  It’s slightly more of a wonder that the wish seems to work, as she’s never shown any magical aptitude before.

While trying to work out what actually happened, Oddly’s aunt takes her to Fignation, the “imaginary” world Oddly’s mother came from.  She enrolls her niece in Menagerie Middle School, and Oddly thinks that maybe here she won’t be treated like a freak.  Small hope of that–though there do seem to be some kids who aren’t completely horrible.  Of course they’re the unpopular, uncool ones.  Worse, at least one of the teachers seems to be out to get Oddly for reasons that aren’t exactly clear.

This Image comic book series is by one of the people who creates the How It Should Have Ended webtoons.   The first volume collects the first five issues, out of six published as of this writing.

A lot of kids will identify with Oddly; feeling like they’re persecuted for their minor differences; and quite a few older readers will remember the same feelings.  It’s made Oddly a somewhat surly loner who’s only sympathetic because she’s the underdog.  Given some power, she could easily turn Carrie on her peers.  (The sixth issue shows that Oddly has more in common with her mother in that respect than she might have guessed.)

The other characters are fairly stock, with no one really stepping outside their stereotypical roles yet.  The series is also suffering from considerable decompression, and the first five issues feel less than a complete story, or even a full five chapters.

I’d say that it would be a good idea for Oddly to succeed at something soon, or show some useful skills or personality traits.  As is, she’s just a victim and pinball, bouncing from one miserable event to the next.

The art isn’t bad, but the writing needs to step up.  Keep an eye on this series, and if it improves come back and read this.

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