Book Review: Indexing

Book Review: Indexing by Seanan McGuire

Have you ever wished you could have a fairy tale life?  Be the hero of the story, vanquish evil, gain true love and live happily ever after?  Well, the Narrative is here to help!  It loves shoehorning people’s lives into the shape of fairy tales.  Of course, there’s no guarantee it will slot you into one of the good roles.  And have you ever noticed how much death and misery is in your average fairy tale?  Plus, trying to make real life mimic magic has its limitations, often lethal ones.

Indexing

And that’s where the ATI Management Bureau comes in.  Using their knowledge of the Aarne-Thompson Index to Motifs in Folk Literature to spot the Narrative trying to break into reality as we know it, the ATI agents try to thwart the worst effects of the stories on innocent bystanders.  The focus is on the field team led by Henrietta “Henry” Marchen, who is trying to avoid going full Snow White.  She’s assisted by Sloane Winters, an obnoxious woman who has averted the Evil Stepsister role only by not having any family; Jeffrey, the team archivist (who has an affinity for shoes) and Andy, the team normal who handles social interaction.

There’s been a sudden spike in Narrative incursions lately, in particular ones that look like one fairy tale only to morph into more deadly ones.  The team is forced to take on a new member with Pied Piper abilities to solve a case, but then the hits just keep on coming.  Pretty soon it becomes obvious that the Narrative has a mole inside the Bureau itself!

Seanan Mcguire is the author of the October Daye and Incryptids urban fantasy series, as well as writing horror as “Mira Grant.”  This book was her first try at writing a Kindle serial, with chunks published online every two weeks.  (There’s also a sequel.) “Fairy tales are real” is a hot concept in recent years, with the long-running Fables comic book series, the television shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time and a fantasy series I forget the name of set in “The Realms” and having a very similar premise to Indexing.

There are some cool twists to the concept–every time a new adaptation of a fairy tale comes out, it adds variations that the Narrative can use.  Thanks, Disney!  Literary fairy tales with known authors like Peter Pan count too.  Also, the Narrative has figured out how to change up the casting, for example putting a male character in the “Little Mermaid” role.  And then there’s what Henry realizes about the roots of the Snow White story….

This is not, however, the author’s best work.  She was not used to working in serial form, and it shows.  In particular, the chapters repeat basic information over and over on the assumption that the reader might not have read the previous part, or at least not remember the details.  This is most notable in the first half of the book.  On the other hand, it’s interesting watching Ms. McGuire improve as the story goes on.  (I personally would have re-edited the book to eliminate redundancy as was the custom with fix-up novels of the past, but that’s just me.)

Most of the characterization goes to Henry and Sloane, with Demi (the Pied  Piper) woefully neglected for much of the book.  Sloane’s battle to be wicked but not outright evil is the most enjoyable character arc.

If you’re familiar with fairy tales, you are aware that they often have dark content–there’s suicide, and rape is mentioned, in addition to the usual murder and maiming.  I’m just glad “Manyfurs” and “How the Children Played Butcher” weren’t referenced.

Again, not the author’s best work, but entertaining and worth reading if you’re a fan of dark fairy tales.

 

Book Review: Dark Waters

Book Review: Dark Waters by Michael Merriam

Disclaimer:  My copy is an uncorrected proof; there may be changes in the final product (I am hoping for many less spellchecker typos.)

Many years ago, Richard Martz ran afoul of the law forbidding children who have both mage and fey blood from being born.  His lover and her unborn child were executed in an overreaction by the local magical community, and he overreacted in turn, wiping them all out.  Now he is cursed, his magic crippled and longing for death, but unable to die.

Dark Waters

Richard’s buried himself in an electronics repair job in Minneapolis.  His employer died recently, and Richard is surprised when that man’s daughter, Holly Ellefson, turns up in his apartment that night.  It turns out that she herself is a mage/fey combination, her powers and heritage hidden by her mother’s spell…which was tied to her father’s life.  Now that Holly has no blood relatives, her disguise is fading, and her powers emerging.  She need magical training, and protection from those who would murder her to keep the law.

Richard accepts, but his price is that if he saves her life, Holly must take his.

“Urban fantasy” is a subgenre of fantasy that is generally set in something like the modern day, in real world places (usually cities) and has a theme of magic co-existing with technology and mundane life.  Often, the magical world is hidden from  normal people (see for example the Harry Potter series.)  In this case, the story takes place a century or so in the future, after the magical community suffered a disaster that exposed it to the normal humans.

To protect themselves, the magical community provides magical technology that does not rely on the now nearly exhausted fossil fuels.  Only the wealthy can fully afford this, so much of the rest of society is reverting to earlier technology.  General Mills and the Basilica still stand, but Nicollet Island and the Sculpture Garden are ruins.  There’s a magical Council that polices their own community, and has considerable influence over the normal human government.

This book was sparked by a random premise generator, and that origin peeks through the cracks from time to time.  As the cover suggests, it follows the standard Hollywood formula of middle-aged looking male lead, twenty-something looking female lead; though he’s over a hundred years old, and she’s in her forties chronologically.  (Also, the cover is early in the story–Holly is less conventionally attractive by the end.)  There’s also something of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, as the free-spirited Holly helps Richard overcome his deep man-pain.

The Mississippi River plays a fairly large part in the setting of the story, and provides the title.

Content advisory:  There’s several gruesome deaths, a couple of which are basically shrugged off by the end (they’re only non-magical humans after all.)  Late in the book, there’s a on-screen sex scene.

It’s an okay book, but mostly of local interest.  The setting could use more thought, and a less formula plot.

Note:  I have reviewed another book titled Dark Waters; there is no resemblance or connection beyond the title.

Manga Review: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 14

Manga Review: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 14 story by Eiji Ohtsuka, art by Housui Yamazaki

It’s finally out!  To recap for newer readers, the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is five students at a Buddhist college that each have skills or talents related to the dead.  They form a small firm that fulfills the last requests of corpses, resulting in creepy yet funny stories often focused around odd bits of Japanese culture.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 14

This volume has three stories; the first has our heroes going up against a fake Kurosagi team of corpse disposal workers who are actually making a profit.  It unfolds into a conspiracy involving a completely unnecessary dam project  that has been claiming lives for three generations.  The story also introduces a mysterious man named Nishi who manipulates social media and may communicate with the dead via smartphone app.

The second story is a one-shot breather about an Americanized cartoon version of the series, where the boys are all pizza delivery workers (with special talents) who wind up employed by the FBI’s Black Heron division identifying corpses that died in bizarre circumstances.  There are interesting touches, like making one of the delivery guys a former rescue worker who discovered his powers on 9/11, and the diminutive embalmer an actual child prodigy.  But it would never fly as an actual American cartoon due to the morbid bits.  (At the end we learn it’s a bootleg DVD Numata picked up…along with a leather jacket with a really cool design…which turns out to be made by the bad guys in the cartoon!)

And the volume wraps up with another political story, as a museum of execution devices is abruptly closed by the government agency that controls it just before an investigation into its funding is about to take place.  It seems that more than one person is losing their head over bureaucracy.   The villain uses a gender-based slur.

As usual, the art and writing are excellent, with the “cartoon” section allowing the artist (and assistants) to show off some range.  There’s an extensive endnotes section with all the cultural references and in-jokes, which Kurosagi is rich with.  It’s been about two years since the last volume due to undeservedly poor sales; the problem is that this series, while of superior quality, is very niche in its appeal.  Dark Horse will be releasing the early volumes in “omnibus” editions, so I urge readers to purchase those to increase the chances we’ll see volume 15 this decade.

This particular volume doesn’t have any appreciable nudity, but there is some nasty violence and dismembered corpses, so the mature readers warning still applies.

Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans (2015)

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

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 Adventures
Dio and Jonathan

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

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.

Usagi

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

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.

Aincrad

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Anime Review: Kobato

Anime Review: Kobato

A young woman named Kobato appears in the city, bereft of memory.  She is accompanied by a talking stuffed dog toy named Iorogi (Kobato always mispronounces it as Ioryogi.)  It seems that Kobato has a wish she needs to fulfill by healing a number of human hearts, and only has four seasons to complete her mission.

Kobato

Soon, Kobato meets a tall and grumpy college student named Fujimoto, and takes a job working at Yomogi Kindergarten, where Fujimoto has a part time position.   Soon, Kobato’s naive but compassionate nature starts winning over people, but will she be able to heal enough hearts in time?

Kobato is a 2009 anime series based on a manga by popular art collective CLAMP.   The art is pretty, and the music is quite nice (Kobato is a skilled singer in-universe.)  I was not keen on the main character, who is annoyingly childish and clumsy.  (Fujimoto shares that opinion through most of the series.)

For the most part, the series is sweet and heartwarming, and suitable for children.  There’s some slapstick violence, mostly from or to Iorogi, who breathes fire, but it seldom does more than make Kobato sooty.  He’s also pretty mean to Kobato, in an effort to get her to be more sensible.  There are other characters that seem menacing, but turn out to be kinder than they look.

Because CLAMP has the philosophy “all love is good” there are a couple of relationships that are a bit off if you think about them too hard.  Also,  the theology is a little wonky, which may be tricky for more conservative parents.  You may want to skim the series before showing it to your wee ones.

But since there are relatively few anime series that are suitable for both adults and children, it may be worth looking in to.

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