Wade Watts is a gunter. That’s short for “Easter egg hunter,” which has nothing to do with the holiday. Born into grinding poverty as the child of refugees in the energy-starved dystopian future, Wade was orphaned at an early age and put into the hands of a neglectful aunt living in a skyscraper trailer park/junk heap. Gifted at repairing discarded and broken hardware, Wade’s one chance at getting out of this hardscrabble life is winning a contest.
It seems that the billionaire creator of OASIS, the virtual reality that nearly everyone in the world uses for games, business and school, set up a game before his death. James Donovan Halliday (Anorak on the internet) had a massive obsession with the pop culture of the 1980s, the decade he’d been a teen in. The first person to solve a series of puzzles and complete tasks based on Eighties trivia, movies, games and music will inherit Halliday’s company and all its wealth.
Thus it is that Wade and his fellow gunters have also developed an obsession with the Eighties, as they scramble to be the first to find the Easter egg that will make its owner incredibly rich. However, in five years no one has managed to pass the first gate. Until, of course, Wade stumbles across an obvious in retrospect clue.
In a bit of a surprise twist, he’s not the first to do so, but manages to be the first to accomplish the associated challenge. The game shifts into overdrive as Wade (or rather his OASIS codename Parzival) becomes an overnight celebrity and target. To win the contest he’s going to need more than a command of Monty Python jokes! He may even need to go…outside.
This book reads like a young adult cyberpunk novel…written for geeky forty-somethings. I’m a bit older than that, but still managed to get most of the references due to having been very geeky during the 1980s. One of the notes that makes it obvious this is a book for grownups is that our protagonist gets a day job to pay his bills so he can devote time to being a gunter.
The main villains of the story are the IOI corporation and its Oology Division. IOI wants the cash cow that is OASIS, and to make it “pay to play”, shutting out poor people like Wade and the others who live in the Stacks. (They’ve already managed to get laws passed to legalize indentured servitude.) IOI is fully willing to use its monetary and manpower resources to gain unfair advantage over ordinary gunters, and Wade soon discovers just how far the corporation will go to have its way.
Wade starts the story already gifted in the skills and knowledge he’ll need to accomplish his goal…except interpersonal relationship skills. His background has made Parzival a paranoid solo operator, and over the course of the novel he must learn to build bonds of friendship with the other elite gunters he meets. A common theme is that all of these people only know each other from virtual reality, and their avatars conceal (or reveal) important information about their true selves.
Though we wouldn’t have a story without it, I can’t help feeling that if Mr. Halliday had found some way of getting people to work on solving the “real world” problems of the dystopian future as hard as they were trying to perfectly recreate the 1980s in cyberspace, things wouldn’t be nearly as bad for Wade and others. At least one of the gunters, Art3mis, does intend to use the money to try to fix things.
Apparently future society has stagnated or regressed on certain civil issues, back to the Nineties or so. There’s also references to offpage sex. It should be okay for junior high readers on up, but the heavy emphasis on things that were cool back in their parents’ time might be off-putting.
Recommended primarily to geeky forty-somethings, with some overlap for geeks on either side of “80s kids”.
I was fortunate enough to attend the 2017 iteration of this venerable science fiction convention thanks to the generosity of another member. As usual, Minicon was held over Easter weekend at the Bloomington Doubletree (known as the RadiShTree to longtimers.) This may or may not be the last year at this hotel as the convention committee (concom) is renegotiating the contract. My new home location made a different bus route seem better, and the trip to the hotel went smoothly, arriving early Friday afternoon.
I obtained my badge (as a “ghost member” my badge name was “Inky”) and set about catching up with some folks I only meet at these conventions. These conversations happened off and on during the convention; in other idle moments I read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales (see my review in a previous entry.)
The first panel I attended was “Speaking the Words” about interpretive reading. I got some advice on dealing with a sore throat from Guest of Honor Mark “Mark Reads” Oshiro. After that, I went to the Film Room for a documentary about Charles Beaumont, a brilliant but short-lived writer who did some of the best Twilight Zone episodes. It concentrated almost entirely on his active writing years, only dipping into his early life late in the film for a possible explanation of his health issues.
Opening Ceremonies was fun as usual, but there was a somber moment as we remembered important convention members who had passed on this last year, including the long-time head of Children’s Programming.
Not able to afford a hotel room this year, I got on the bus to return home and rest up for a marathon session the next two days.
Back early Saturday morning, I found a lot of material from past Minicons on the freebie table, including a furry comic guide to Minicon from back when it was one of the largest cons in the Midwest. Sadly, I am trying to cut down on things I need to store, so I did not pick up any.
I attended the “Lazy Writing” panel (get a beta reader and a professional editor!) and “The Hugo Finalists” panel (voting much more robust and the finalists less controversial this year.) The “SF and the TV Revolution” panel gave me many suggestions for things I will want to binge watch at some point.
Technical difficulties made the “Trailer Park” event with Fastner & Larson in the Film Room something of a chore; they tried to fill the time with anecdotes, but were often hard to hear. Once all the hardware and software were talking to each other, the movie trailers were fun to watch.
After that was the “Self Publishing” panel (get a professional editor!) where I put in my two cents as a reviewer who often reads self-published works. (I should mention that despite my tight budget, I was able to obtain several books at the convention, and reviews will be forthcoming.) The Jim C. Hines reading and signing completed my official programming interaction for the day.
I enjoyed the parties, including the Social Media party (formerly the Livejournal party before the latest nonsense chased away many of the members.) I played a Perry Rhodan-themed game with Richard Tatge,(he won) and then a long bout of Cards Against Humanity in the Seamstresses’ Guild party room (no winners or all winners, depending on how you look at it.) After that, I watched old MST3K episodes in that room until dawn.
I went to the nearby convenience store to buy an energy drink, only to discover they wouldn’t be open until 8 A.M.! But the weather outside was brisk enough to dispel some of my grogginess, and I was soon able to get strong tea and breakfast in the consuite. A big thank you to the Consuite volunteers!
I attended “The Business of Writing” panel (don’t sign anything you don’t understand.) Then I was invited to sit in on the “We Love Anime” panel as Lois McMaster Bujold was unable to make it (new book soon!) and I am moderately well-versed in the subject. More on that in a later post.
The “Intersection of Art and the Law” panel was hosted by an actual lawyer (Disclaimer: this panel does not establish an attorney-client relationship, if you’re in trouble get your own lawyer.) Some useful tips, but I didn’t write them down.
The “Mega Moneyduck Reveal” was in the main ballroom, and the venue was far too large for the event; we wound up all crowding onto the stage itself so we could see. The game proceeded from the Vatican’s meteorite collection at the start to a failed romance at the end.
One more trip to the consuite to pack in calories for the long journey home, and then it was Closing Ceremonies time. I’m afraid I was getting groggy again, so no clear memories. The bus trip home was longer than expected as the route I picked only runs once an hour on Sundays, live and learn.
A fun weekend, and I look forward to the next Minicon, wherever it may be!
Magazine Review: The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review 2015 edited by William Blazek
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) is considered one of America’s great writers, best known for The Great Gatsby, his 1925 novel (which didn’t really get much traction until after he died. He was a colorful figure, and his contentious relationship with his wife Zelda (eventually a writer in her own right) has fascinated readers and biographers for decades. Unsurprisingly, there’s a scholarly annual magazine devoted to just Fitzgerald-related topics.
This volume is dedicated to Frances Kroll Ring, Mr. Fitzgerald’s secretary during the last months of his life, who had passed away earlier in 2015. There follow thirteen articles and a set of book reviews.
“The Gilded Man in Nickle City” by Madison Smartt Bell is that author’s keynote address for the 2009 International F. Scott Fitzgerald Society Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore, it turns out, was the city the Fitzgeralds lived in during their last doomed attempt at functioning as a nuclear family. It was also the residence of Mr. Fitzgerald’s distant relative and namesake, Francis Scott Key, best known for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This was the site of F. Scott and Zelda’s fierce battle over which of them had the right to use their joint experiences as subject matter for their novels and stories.
According to things he said at the time, Mr. Fitzgerald believed that Zelda’s attempts to create art were causing her mental state to grow worse. (Shades of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”!) He also went to great lengths to establish that he was a professional writer and she was just an “amateur.” She was just as sharp-tongued but from the fragments mentioned seemed to have a better case.
“Mending Sails by Candlelight” by Tennessee Williams is his preface to the play Clothes for a Summer Hotel, a biodrama loosely based on the final days of the Fitzgeralds. This was his last play to open on Broadway, and he had a bitter tone to his essay, which is why the New York Times refused to print it. Mr. Williams easily has the best writing in this volume, but explanatory material by John S. Bak gives context to the work. (Among other things, he points out where Mr. Williams has misquoted poetry.)
“Civilization’s Going to Pieces” by Joseph Vogel takes a look at the 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby and how the story has resonance in the Obama era, especially in the areas of intersectional identity politics. There’s some interesting stuff on how hip-hop music works in the current day much as jazz did back in the 1920s, when the novel was written.
“Landscape with a Tragic Hero” by Sara Antonelli takes a closer look at Trimalchio, which was an early version of what became Gatsby (much like Set a Watchman to To Kill a Mockingbird.) It shares many of the characters and incidents that made it into the published novel, but in significantly altered order and conditions. Ms. Antonelli’s contention is that the changes are so drastic as to make Trimalchio a completely different book worth approaching on its own.
“The Muse and the Maker” by Ashley Lawson features the relationship between F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and examines what it means to be a muse, and whether their collaboration/competition was an inevitable outcome. She places an emphasis on Fitzgerald’s place in the High Modernism movement in literature and its attempt to “reclaim” literature from a lowbrow “feminized” mass market.
“Authorship and Artistry” by Christine Grogan is all about Zelda and looks at two of her stories, “A Millionaire’s Girl” and “Miss Ella”, and how the author shows improvement between the two. This is especially noticeable in the respective treatment of the issue of suicide. Also notable is that Mr. Fitzgerald claimed sole byline on the first story so he could get it published in a more upscale magazine–Zelda’s copy of the “tear sheet” has his name crossed out and hers written in.
“My Own Personal Public” by Ross K. Tangedal is very narrow in focus, dealing solely with “A Table of Contents” in Tales of the Jazz Age. Unlike the usual run of contents pages, this one gives a mini-history of each story (although some of what Mr. Fitzgerald writes is unreliable.)
“F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mary Harriman Rumsey” by Horst H. Kruse is a selection from his book F. Scott Fitzgerald at Work: The Making of The Great Gatsby, which is covered in the book review section of this volume. A eugenics enthusiast and consumer advocate, Mary Harriman Rumsey was quite wealthy and may have been the model for one of the Gatsby characters. Mr. Kruse indulges in some speculation on that topic.
“Party-Going in Fitzgerald and His Contemporaries” by David Seed talks about the many, many party scenes in Mr. Fitzgerald’s work and compares them to parties depicted in other 1920s authors’ fiction.
“This Side of Sexuality” by Tanfer Emin Tunc talks about the subject of birth control and abortion in Mr. Fitzgerald’s work, and how his lapsed Catholicism and personal experience with Zelda’s abortions may have influenced his depictions of female sexuality. Resonant with today given the theme of women wanting control of their own bodies and being depicted as selfish for doing so.
“Narrative Authority and Competing Representations” by James Stamant sounds much drier than it is. This essay covers the Pat Hobby stories Fitzgerald wrote in his last years, satirizing Hollywood with a hack scriptwriter as the main character. Hobby tries to do as little work as possible, caring mostly about getting the credit so payments will keep coming in.
“Master and Model” by Steven Goldleaf is about Saying Goodbye to Sally by Richard Yates, an author whose career had some parallels to Fitzgerald’s. The story is a fictionalization of Yates’ experience in Hollywood in which the main character makes those parallels even more direct.
And “Scott Fitzgerald As I Knew Him” by Jace Gatzemeyer takes a look at three “secondary memoirs” (where the focus is not on the writer, but on the writer’s relationship with a more famous person) to determine if these are of any use to Fitzgerald scholars.
All of the articles have footnotes ranging from dry to nearly as long as the main text, as well as helpful bibliographies for further study.
This magazine will be of most interest to the serious F. Scott Fitzgerald fan, and college students in the appropriate literature classes. Check to see if your local college library has a subscription.
One final note: I look forward to seeing the scholarly article about Mr. Fitzgerald’s namesake character in Bungou Stray Dogs, who gains superpowers by wasting money.
Book Review: Festival of Crime Edited by Christine Husom, Mickie Turk & Michael Allan Mallory
Minnesotans have a reputation for being a bit mild-mannered and reserved. But we love celebrations just as much as anyone else, and the state is filled with fairs and festivals, from small-town scarecrow contests to the crowded Pride in Minneapolis. And sometimes crimes happen at these events. Thus this collection from Twin Cities Sisters in Crime, a local writers group.
Most of these 19 tales are indeed crime stories, but not always murder, and a few have mystery elements. A couple have supernatural elements, though only one has it proven. Some merely take place at or near a festival, while others have it essential to the plot.
The collection begins with “Sawbill Checkpoint” by Michael Allan Mallory (wait, isn’t he one of the editors?) A man is shot during a dogsled race, and his final word may be a vital clue…if only someone knew what it meant. The last story is “All Sales Final” by Douglas Dorow. A pair of art dealers discover a treasure trove owned by two elderly women. Now, how to get it away from them before the old ladies figure out how much it’s worth?
Stories I enjoyed the most were “Looney Daze” by Cheryl Ullyot, in which a gambler woos a woman obsessed with wiener dog races; and “Corn on the Cob” by Colin T. Nelson, about a sheriff faced with criminals he can’t put in jail, and an election coming up.
“No Time Like the Present” by E.B. Boatner is about a man who spots some anachronistically-dressed people, and learns their secret. It feels a little too tidy, with a long-winded wrap-up.
Content warning: homophobia, torture and domestic abuse come up in different stories.
The writing is decent on average, and I only spotted a couple of minor typos. There are author bios in the back if you decide one of the stories makes you want to read more.
Recommended primarily for Minnesotan crime story fans, as they’ll be most familiar with the local color, but any fan of crime stories should be able to enjoy this.
Anime Review: Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, Vol. 03
It is the year 2030, and after the effects of World Wars Three & Four, Japan is relatively unscathed, having become one of the world’s economic and technological powerhouses. In particular, they lead the world in cybernetics, and various cyborg upgrades are commonplace. Of course, this means that cybercrime is even more of a threat than in 2002 (when this series first aired) and the government agency “Public Security Section 9” is detailed to deal with those crimes, especially if they also involve terrorism.
Section 9’s top agent is Major Motoko Kusanagi, who is a full-body cyborg, a “ghost in the shell.” She has been in this state since childhood, and is adept at transferring her consciousness into alternate robot bodies (though she has a strong preference for ones shaped like female human beings.) Along with her superior combat skills, this makes her a whiz at secret agent missions.
The Major and her colleagues will need every bit of their skill to battle the world-class hacker and cyberterrorist known as The Laughing Man, whose real face is impossible to see by anyone or anything with cybernetic connections, replaced by a bizarre logo adorned with Catcher in the Rye quotes.
Standalone Complex is a science-fiction anime series based on the Ghost in the Shell cyberpunk manga by Masamune Shirow. While it shares many characters and most of its background with the manga and previous adaptations, it is not necessarily in continuity with those, so there are some minor contradictions. “Motoko Kusanagi” (a name rich with connotations in Japanese culture, equivalent to naming a British secret agent “Victoria Excalibur”) may not even be the Major’s real name.
The structure of the show is interesting; odd-numbered episodes are “complex” and tie into the Laughing Man plot arc, while even-numbered episodes are “standalone” and tell individual stories.
As it happens, I got the third DVD volume of the series for Christmas, so let’s take a closer look at that.
Episode 9, “Chat! Chat! Chat!” takes place almost entirely within a virtual reality chat room for discussion of the Laughing Man phenomenon. This…is not a good episode to come into the series on, as it is largely just people sitting around having conversations. And not even the main characters (except the Major in disguise) but a bunch of people who probably didn’t appear before and won’t appear again. We do get some background on what is public knowledge about the Laughing Man (not much) and some discussion of whether it’s even the same Laughing Man from previous incidents or a copycat.
Episode 10, “Jungle Cruise” focuses on Batou, a former Army Ranger with obviously cybernetic eyes. A serial killer is loose in the city of Niihama, who skins his victims alive in a distinctive fashion. The identity of the killer is quickly revealed when two CIA operatives from the American Empire (World War Three was not kind to the United States, which split up into three countries, of which the Empire is the most active in world affairs) appear to ask Section 9 for help capturing him.
We learn that the killer was part of a CIA black ops mission in Southern Mexico known as “Project Sunset.” It involved murdering civilians in particularly horrific fashion to break the will of the enemy. Batou, as part of the UN peacekeeping forces, encountered the killer, but was unable to stop him. The killer’s war has not ended, now brought to the shores of Japan, Does this also mean that Batou’s war is not over?
Episode 11, “Portraitz” follows Togusa, the least cyberized field agent of Section 9 (just a “cyberbrain” that allows him to communicate with other people who have cyberbrains) as he infiltrates a facility for children with Closed Shell Syndrome, a condition where one becomes too dependent on cybernetic communication, making it difficult to operate in the real world even while becoming a savant with computers. There’s something sinister going on in the facility; but is it one of the staff who’s responsible, or one of the patients?
Episode 12, “Escape From” is two related stories. In the first half, a Tachikoma (an artificial intelligence robot that serves as a small tank for Section 9) goes walkabout without orders, heading into the city and learning about the human concept of death. Along the way, it picks up a mysterious box. In the second half, we learn that if someone cybernetically connects to the box, their “ghost” vanishes inside it and won’t come out. The Major must investigate, but will she too be seduced by what’s inside the box and lost forever?
This one manages to touch on some deeper philosophical topics: death, the rapidly developing individuality of the Tachikoma AIs, escapism and artistic integrity.
Each episode ends with a short comedy skit starring the Tachikomas, usually tying in with the plot of the episode somehow. Also included in this volume are interviews with Batou’s actor and the sound director.
The opening credits are full-on CGI, which is a bit jarring, and really showcases how silly the Major’s default outfit looks, especially from behind. (It reminds me of the US superhero comics fad for putting their heroines in costumes that were basically glorified swimsuits.) The music is good, though.
I liked “Jungle Cruise” best of the episodes in this volume.
Content notes: “Jungle Cruise” does involve skinning people alive, and we see some of the results. There’s a nude female statue in “Portraitz”, which some parents might find unsuitable for younger viewers. (But honestly, if you let them watch the previous episode…) The dub version may have some rough language.
Overall, I am looking forward to seeing the entire series so that I can make more sense of the Laughing Man episodes. Recommended to fans of other Ghost in the Shell versions, and cyberpunk fans in general.
Here’s the opening music, for those who like that sort of thing:
Manga Review:Behind the Scenes!! Volume 1 by Bisco Hattori
Ranmaru Karisu is a couple of months into his freshman year at Shichikoku University, but he still doesn’t know anyone. A shy, sensitive boy, he’s had bad luck with social relationships in the past and shrinks from the crowd. Until the zombies attack!
It turns out to be an amateur movie shoot with poor security planning, but the director blames Ranmaru for ruining it anyway. Ranmaru’s used to being blamed for things and spirals into depression. However, the art crew (the people who handle costumes, props, makeup, backdrops, etc. for movies) club realizes it wasn’t really his fault, and let him sit for a while in their workshop. It turns out Ranmaru has excellent observation skills when he’s not crowded, and he’s very artsy-crafty. The leader of the art crew, Ryuji Goda, decides that recruiting Ranmaru for their club is a top priority.
The author’s previous series, Ouran High School Host Club, was very popular and got a live-action adaptation. Ms. Hattori was very impressed with the work of the art crew on that and befriended one of the workers, which led to the idea for this shoujo manga series. The main characters’ names are based on those of famous movie directors, which is more obvious with Japanese name order.
The University has four film clubs, but only one art crew, which has to handle many different projects simultaneously. This allows the manga creator to showcase various aspects of behind-the-scenes film creation, and draw fun costumes. In the tradition of school club series, the characters are quirky and have different special talents.
Ranmaru is very talented, but he grew up in a family that did not appreciate his gifts (his clan are all macho fishermen) and his attempts to help others with his skills often backfired, so he’s under-confident and prone to fits of self-excoriation. He’s learning about film production for the first time and is not familiar with the etiquette and procedures associated with the industry. Fortunately the rest of the art crew is good at picking up on when they need to encourage him.
Goda’s kind of overbearing, and can be a jerk, but is also skilled at his work and a good planner, so he isn’t unbearable. The rest of their crew is less developed in the first volume, defined primarily by their specialty and/or basic personality quirk. (“Likes horror movies way too much” for example.)
The family Ranmaru is boarding with may be distant relatives; he’s cooking for them instead of paying rent. The daughter about Ranmaru’s age is kind of snotty, not wanting to be associated with him in public. (I suspect a romance subplot coming down the road.)
The final story in this volume has a character LGBTQ readers might be uncomfortable with due to stereotyping.
Overall, a light, interesting introductory volume with decent characters and art. Fans of the author’s previous series, and those interested in the craft of movies should like this.
For those of you new to this blog, Minicon is the Easter weekend science fiction convention put on by MN-StF every year. I’ve been going to it for somewhere around three decades now, and this year was no exception. Once again it was at the RadiShTree (Bloomington Doubletree) hotel, and I was able to secure a room in the hotel, which was ready when I checked in!
I wandered around the Art Show/Dealers’ Room/Science Exhibit for a while, then visited the Consuite for a late lunch. One of the nicest things about long-running conventions is meeting and talking to your friends you only see there–I did quite a lot of that this last weekend, as some of these folks I’ve had at least a nodding acquaintance with since the mid-Eighties.
I went to the Cinema Obscura to watch a short film titled Yesterday Was a Lie which is black and white, and involves time becoming unstuck for a detective. Problems with the sound system made the first ten minutes seem even more “noir” than was intended, but being able to hear the words thereafter didn’t help much in unraveling what was actually going on.
Then I attended the panel “It’s Tough to Be an Introvert These Days” which had all three Guests of Honor: Seanan McGuire (writer), Lojo Russo (musician) and Sara Burrier (artist) and a couple of other people talking about how they balance their social media presence with their creative and personal lives.
After that was Opening Ceremonies, which were very short this year as the new MC was no-nonsense. Dave Romm retired from the job after thirty years!
I went up to my room for a couple of hours to rest, then came down for the first panel I was on, “How to Survive a Horror Movie.” As Seanan McGuire writes horror (among other things) she was also on this panel. She got a corn-based trophy from some fans, referencing something I’m not familiar with. We had a lot of fun, and I got to use my “don’t be a security guard” line.
After that, I dropped in on a couple of parties. Dave Romm also retired from his day job, it seems, and has been spending time traveling with his mother, who was also there–the party was mostly so she could meet people. Also got a review copy of a book you’ll be hearing more about once I’ve finished with it.
Next morning, I enjoyed the consuite breakfast–big thank you to the dedicated people that make that possible every year! Then it was off to the spendy room again–unfortunately the one thing in the Art Show I’d wanted had been outbid. My niece will be getting a different birthday present. I noticed a headache coming on, but ignored it at that point so I could go to the Seanan McGuire interview.
She mentioned some things about the October Daye series that increased my desire to read it considerably. Also a fun story about her visit to Tam Lin’s Well. Afterwards, Ms. McGuire did a signing, and I got my copy of Indexing signed. (More on that book in its review.)
By that time, my headache had spiked, and my need to obtain aspirin distracted me, so I was just barely in time for my first panel of the day, “Being a Fan of Problematic Things.” I was the moderator, so I really had to be there. Much thanks to my panelists Aimee Kuzinski and Katie Clapham for being willing to do most of the talking! We covered a lot of ground, from “what does ‘problematic’ actually mean?” through “how to react when you find out something you like is problematic to other people” to “how do we teach our children about problematic elements in their fiction?”
My headache was mostly gone by the next panel, “Psy Phi” (psionic powers in comics) which I again shared with Seanan McGuire, who brought badge ribbons to vote for Jean Gray or Emma Frost as “best X-psychic.” We talked about psi powers in science fiction and how the use of them evolved, a bit about developing the ethics of telepathy, and how comics tended to give psychic powers to women, the disabled and the “othered.”
A lot of the audience was the same for the next panel I was on, “Being an X-Men Means Never Having to Attend a Serious Funeral”, which was about revolving-door deaths in comics. Mind, that’s mostly a thing with Marvel and DC–smaller companies and single-creator comics can permanently kill characters and not really hurt their bottom line. The death of a character (and subsequent return) can be done well, but too often it’s subject to lazy writing.
Did other things for a while, then the headache came back, so I took more aspirin and laid down (I love having a room at the hotel!) for a while before my last panel, “50th Anniversary of Star Trek” (The pilot was filmed in 1964, but the show didn’t hit the air until 1966.) Unfortunately, the scheduled panelist who had worked with Gene Roddenberry back in the day took ill, but we managed to find a knowledgeable substitute. Indeed, all the other panelists were way more informed about Star Trek than I am, so I fell back on the moderator’s privilege of asking questions and letting everyone else talk.
Apparently the JJ Abrams reboot is attracting new fans who can still get into the better old stuff. (I was happy to see a few people in the audience who were actually younger than Star Trek itself.)
I quickly visited a few more parties, had more conversations, got a root beer float at the Consuite, then went up to my room to watch some dubbed anime on Cartoon Network before turning in.
Woke up late, breakfast in the Consuite again, then packed for the journey home. (Checkout time is noon, and I am not made of money.) Made a last sweep through the booksellers, then it was off to “The Year in SF”. Lots of good stuff last year, the one noticeable trend was more “climate disaster” novels.
Then it was time for the “Mega Moneyduck Reveal.” “Moneyduck” is kind of like a pen and paper version of “Telephone”–you start with a word or phrase, the next person draws a picture of it, the next next person writes a description of the picture, etc. This particular game had been played on a long roll of paper all weekend. The starting phrase was “Shall we play this again next year?” and the mutations took us through sentient alcohol, suicidal teddy bears, and alien preachers to “Batman and Robin caught the Hot Dog Bandit.” Very silly.
Closing ceremonies were fun, and the assassination of the outgoing MN-StF President was accomplished by informing him that he’d been chosen as Trump’s running mate, bringing on a heart attack.
The bus ride back to Minneapolis was not so much fun–the sky had clouded over and the wind picked up, the local bus took forever to arrive, and the connecting bus drove away just as the local pulled up, requiring another half hour wait in the cold.
Manga Review: Gimmick! Story by Youzaburou Kanari, Art by Kuroko Yabuguchi
Studio Gimmick doesn’t look like much from the outside–it’s a two-man operation by Kohei Nagase, special effects makeup expert, and his stuntman friend Kannazuki. But if you need their skills, and have nowhere else to turn, you may be able to hire them to help you.
Gimmick! is a shounen (boys’) manga with a focus on “practical” (as opposed to computer-generated) special effects and makeup. Kohei and the friends he gathers over the course of the series use their tricks and cunning to help people in trouble. We eventually learn that Kohei learned his craft in the Hollywood studio of the legendary J.T., but returned to Japan after he was tricked into helping the U.S. government get America into the Iraq War (which led to the death of his best friend) and J.T. disappeared. He still cherishes the special silver makeup spatula J.T. gave him.
In the volume at hand, #9, the finale, the true identity of Kohei’s nemesis, the man with the black spatula, is revealed. We learn the enemy’s motivations and why he uses special effects for evil, and Kohei must overcome his guilt to face the Black Spatula in a final battle. After that, there’s a coda chapter which I found overly sentimental, and a flashback to the first time Kohei was put in charge of special effects makeup for a movie.
To be honest, I liked the earlier volumes better, with their caper plotlines and twists. As the series wore on, it became more contest-oriented, and the final makeup tournament lasts most of three volumes.
The art is at its best when depicting the makeup, and can be a bit sketchy otherwise.
Overall, it’s an okay series, but I can see why it only lasted nine volumes. Check your library.
Book Review: Twin Cities Noir: The Expanded Edition edited by Julie Schaper & Steven Horwitz
Like the previously reviewed USA Noir, this is a collection of grittier crime stories from Akashic Books with a regional focus. In this case, the cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota, and the surrounded metro area, plus one up north in Duluth (“Hi, I’m God” by Steve Thayer; a teenager drowns in Lake Superior…or does he?)
This is the “expanded edition” released in 2013 with three new stories, bringing it to a total of eighteen. The new ones are conveniently all in the front in the “Star of the North” subsection, starting with John Jodzio’s “Someday All of This Will Probably Be Yours” about a speed dating scam gone wrong. The other sections are “Minnesota Nice”, “Uff Da” and “Funeral Hotdish.”
Each of the stories is set in a particular neighborhood, several of which I’m familiar with. One scene takes place less than a block from where I live! This makes it easy for me to picture the action in my mind. This may not be as evocative for non-locals, but will please readers in the Twin Cities area.
Some standouts: “Skyway Sleepless” written and drawn by Tom Kaczynski takes place in Minneapolis’ extensive skyway system. The art uses the rectangular boxes of the skyway to indicate the maze-like architecture of the story, as people are found filling chalk outlines and no memory of how they got there.
“The Brewer’s Son” by Larry Millett is a period piece set in 1892 Saint Paul, and starring his series character, saloonkeeper and amateur detective Shadwell Rafferty, acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes. The title character has been kidnapped, supposedly by the Black Hand, and Mr. Rafferty is called in by the concerned father. This is noir, so expect some darkness.
Mary Logue’s story “Blasted” takes place in upscale Kenwood, as a police officer tells her daughter about a domestic dispute call that was the most frightening experience of her life. The officer is still alive, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t good reason for fear.
The final story is “”Chili Dog” by Chris Everhart. A small time crook stops in downtown Saint Paul for lunch, and things go very wrong for him.
As a crime story anthology, there’s a fair bit of violence, one story features domestic abuse, and there’ mention of suicide.
If you are local to Minnesota, or have lived here in the past, highly recommended. The book’s pretty good if you’re not local, but you might miss some of the nuance. Akashic may have a volume set in your area; check their catalog. If you own the previous version, you might want to save money by going with the e-book, so you can check out the new stories without shelling out the big bucks.
Once again this year I participated in the “Anime and Manga for Speculative Fiction Fans” panel at Minicon. As promised at the panel, here’s a list of the items mentioned–I make no representations regarding the quality of the ones I have not seen.
.hack: A series of interlocking video games, anime, manga and light novels about a virtual reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) called “The World.” The anime involves a player who abruptly discovers that they can’t log out, and their memories of their real life have vanished. Some parts of the universe have never appeared in a legal English edition, so the explanations contained in these are missing.
Akira: Members of a biker gang in post-apocalypse Tokyo get involved with psychic children, enmeshed in a government conspiracy. Both a really good manga and a decent movie (one of the first anime movies to come to the US labeled as such.)
Assassination Classroom: A junior high class must kill their teacher before graduation or he will destroy the world. Manga and now an anime series–see my previous review.
Attack on Titan: The Earth has been overrun by gigantic humanoids that eat people. The last remnants of humanity huddle behind enormous walls, but now those walls have been breached. It is up to a small army of specially-trained warriors to defend the humans from being devoured. An adequate manga that became a very popular anime. Violent and gory.
Berserk: The nigh-unstoppable warrior known as Guts battles demons invading a medievalish world. The twist is that his former best friend Griffith is the leader of the demons–but the public at large sees him as a savior. A long-running but very slow manga, and two anime series (the first cuts off at the worst possible moment.) Warning: extremely violent, including sexual violence, lots of gore.
Bleach: Ichigo Kurosaki can see ghosts, which is mostly an annoyance until he meets a mysterious girl who gives him the ability to become a Soul Reaper, a kind of psychopomp. After some adventures fighting the evil spirits known as Hollows, Ichigo gets caught up in Soul Reaper politics. Long-running manga and anime, which has been in its final arc for the last two years.
A Certain Magical Index/Scientific Railgun: Interlocking series of light novels and anime taking place in a world where mystics and mutants both exist and attend school together. The series differ primarily in their viewpoint characters. “Index” stars Touma, an unlucky lad with an anti-magic punch, while “Railgun” stars Misaki, an electricity-wielder.
Corpse Party: Originally a survival horror video game, this has also been manga, anime and a live-action movie. When a new school is built on the site of the former Heavenly Host Elementary (torn down after a massacre), some of the students decide to perform a mystic ritual of friendship which goes horribly wrong–they wind up in the old school with the ghosts of the murder victims.
Cowboy Bebop: In the not-so distant future, the solar system has been colonized, but a skyrocketing crime rate allows there to be a subculture of bounty hunters. We follow the quirky crew of the Bebop as they try to stay afloat in the business. Anime series and a really cool movie.
Crest/Banner of the Stars: A light novel series that became an anime and manga. Jinto’s home planet has been taken over by the Abh, a humanoid alien race which has the largest local empire. His father sold out his homeworld in exchange for a position of power, and Jinto has been sent off for education in the empire’s ways. He meets and befriends the Abh princess Lafiel on the way, but they get sidetracked by a war with the remaining human alliances.
Deadman Wonderland: In the near future, Tokyo is destroyed and a prison is built on it, where prisoners are required to battle for the pleasure of viewers. A boy is framed for the murder of his class, imprisoned, and discovers he has bizarre blood-based superpowers. Both manga and anime.
Durarara!!: A light novel series and now anime about the odd happening in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, It’s urban fantasy with some added elements; everyone has a secret, but few of them are the secrets you might immediately guess. Very entertaining.
Eden of the East: A naked man with a cellphone and a gun but no memory is met by a Japanese tourist at the White House. This begins a rollicking adventure as they try to unravel who he is and why he doesn’t remember anything. Anime series and a couple of wrap-up movies.
Evangelion: In a now-alternate timeline, the Earth is being attacked by alien monsters known as Angels, and must be defended by fourteen-year olds in giant robots. However, not all is as it seems, and the reason the robots require teen pilots is sinister. Started as anime, has had a couple of manga series, is being done as a series of reboot movies. Very influential.
Fairy Tail: Lucy Heartfilia is a young wizard who runs away from home to join the wacky Fairy Tail guild, teaming with a fire specialist named Natsu. They and their guildmates have exciting and long running adventures, both in the manga and anime.
Ghost in the Shell: Cyberpunk action with a special ops group in a future Japan overrun with cyborgs, robots and less definable cyber-beings. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a full-body cyborg, is our main protagonist. Manga and several different anime, both TV and film. Very influential.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: A high school student discovers the ability to jump through time (literally) and promptly abuses the heck out of it. Eventually, she comes to realize that just overwriting events doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, and there’s a hidden cost to her powers…oh, and they’re about to stop working. Very well done.
Higarashi-When They Cry: A small mountain village is trapped in a time loop–each repeat ends in murder. The characters slowly realize what’s going on, but can they stop it? Originally a “visual novel”, also now anime and manga.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: A series of series about people with strange powers, all of whom have a “jojo” sound in their name. Check out my review of the first two seasons of the anime adaptation! (The third season, “Stardust Crusaders”, is currently running.)
Kill la Kill: In the indefinite future, a girl seeking revenge for her murdered father comes to a high school ranked by special uniforms, and must partner with a sentient costume to battle against what turns out to be a much larger threat. Warning: nudity, sexual harassment. See my review!
Laputa–Castle in the Sky: A Welsh boy has a girl drop in from the sky–it turns out she’s the last rightful heir to the flying island of Laputa. Another descendant of that dead land wants to use it to conquer the world, and the kids must seek help from sky pirates. Vintage Miyazaki.
Last Exile: An “aeropunk” series set on a world at perpetual war–courier pilots must protect and deliver a girl who is the key to a peaceful resolution. Anime with a manga adaptation.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: A sprawling epic space opera concerning the clash between two great star nations, and the heroes on each side. Originally a novel series, turned into a lengthy anime. Very rich in character development.
Log Horizon: Another MMORPG gone horribly wrong story–this one is notable for the development of “non-player characters” who suddenly are developing actual personalities and free will.
Medaka Box: A girl who’s good at everything takes problem solving requests from a suggestion box at her school. Several volumes in, it turns out superpowers exist and (according to the fans of the manga) it gets really good. Was turned into a less well received anime series.
Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: A girl forms a club at her school to look for science-fiction beings, not realizing that she and everyone else in the club are themselves science fiction character types. Light novels, adapted into anime–skip all but the first and last episodes of Endless Eight.
Millennium Actress: A Satoshi Kon film about an actress who played many roles over several decades who’s being interviewed for a retrospective. It interweaves her life story with the history of Japan’s film industry. Some magical realism.
Moribito: A richly-imagined light novel/anime series about a spearwoman who becomes bodyguard to a prince supposedly possessed by an evil spirit. The truth is much more complicated. The author is an anthropology major and it really shows.
Patema Inverted: An experiment to control gravity as an energy source goes horribly wrong and much of Earth suffers inverted gravity, killing billions. The story picks up much later when two young people with different gravity orientations meet and their civilizations clash. This is an Internet-original series.
Record of Lodoss Wars: A Dungeons and Dragons inspired series set on the fantasy island of Lodoss, wracked by periodic wars between good and evil. A band of adventurers discover that there is a hidden hand behind the chaos. Two different animated series–the second is much longer and involves a second generation of heroes.
Redline: A “Wacky Racers in Space” movie–much motor action. The art style takes some getting used to.
Revolutionary Girl Utena: A girl was rescued by a prince as a child. Now Utena has come to Ohtori Academy to become a prince herself. But first she must fight a series of duels. Lots of symbolism and hidden agendas.
Sailor Moon: Wimpy junior high student Usagi discovers that she is actually the reincarnation of a moon princess and becomes a magical girl to fight evil, along with the rest of her Sailor Senshi pals. Manga, anime, live action series, and now rebooted as Sailor Moon Crystal.
Samurai Flamenco: A metafictional series about a male model who decides to become the first real-life superhero. Goes all the way down the rabbit hole and pulls it out the other side. See my review!
Samurai Jack: Japanese warrior trapped in a future where the evil spirit Aku has already won. Not anime, but clearly inspired by it.
Space Dandy: An “alien hunter” (he tracks down new species to register for the government) and his wacky companions run into various bizarre circumstances. Each episode appears to happen in a slightly different reality. Heavy on the fanservice.
String (?): Someone mentioned this, but I have no information on it.
Summer Wars: A math prodigy is invited to his crush’s family reunion to pretend to be her fiance. Meanwhile, an amok AI is taking over Japan’s primary Internet provider. These events are more related than they appear. Very heartwarming movie, but the English dub is heavy on swearing.
Sword Art Online: Our third series about an MMORPG where the players are trapped inside. Very uneven–the first arc is pretty satisfying, but the second is painful and subsequent storylines become divisive. See my review!
Tenchi Muyo–Ryo-Ohki!: Teenage boy discovers that he’s part-alien and has all sorts of alien girls coming on to him. This installment heavily features Ryo-Ohki, the adorable alien cabbit (who might also have a crush on Tenchi.)
Twelve Kingdoms: A very well-done example of the normal(ish) teenager sucked into a fantasy world plotline. Good world-building, and she’s not the first person to be brought over.
Yokohama Shopping Log: A quiet series about a gynoid who runs a cafe after most of humanity has gone away. Very peaceful.
Yukikaze: After an alien invasion, a pilot with an intelligent plane tries to battle the invasion despite interference from other humans.
Your thoughts, comments, anime or manga you’d add?