31 May 2013

Friday Miscellany

Amtrak willing, as you read this, I am on my way to Washington, DC, to see the German men's soccer team take on the Americans in a friendly on Sunday. I'm seeing my sister and some friends, as well as my brother-in-law and his girlfriend.

I've added share this links to the blog, so you can just click a button and share to twitter or wherever.

I plan to make headway in this year's Hugo nominees as I sit in a train for about 12 hours round trip, fingers crossed it doesn't take more. The last time I did this, I was delayed an hour at least each way. Which is why I'm always somewhere between horrified and amused when I see Germans ranting about how horrible Deutsche Bahn is. I challenge them to come here and try to get from Raleigh/Durham to Memphis by train (hint: you can't) or take a cross-country trip (hint: those 3000 miles will take 68 hours, with a short layover. You can drive from coast to coast in about 45 hours.)

Right, tangent. Sorry.

I don't know if there'll be a post on Monday. I might have time to write something up about the short stories, but I won't make any promises.

29 May 2013

Anime you should watch: Tiger and Bunny

Tiger and Bunny Directed by Keiichi Sato, written by Masafumi Nishida; Sunrise

In NC 1978, in the city of Sternbild, superheroes compete with each other on live TV in a sort of reality crime TV show called Hero TV.



Wild Tiger, aka Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, is a NEXT (what superheroes are called in this series) whose power is called the Hundred: he becomes 100x stronger and faster, but it only lasts five minutes. He has a daughter, Kaede, who lives out in the country with her grandmother (his mom); his wife died some time before the series begins. He repeatedly promises to come to her school plays, but he keeps being called in to work. She doesn't know he's Wild Tiger; NEXT identities are kept secret.

Barnaby Brooks, Jr, is a NEXT with the same power, and Tiger nicknames him "Bunny" because of the ears on his suit. They instantly hate each other, but Tiger tries to make amends, in his own awkward way, over the course of the show. Barnaby doesn't use a stage name, and he goes on camera without his suit to introduce himself. There is a method to his madness: he's looking for Ouroboros, an organization that sent assassins to murder his parents.

The rest of the cast of Hero TV have foibles and personality conflicts, and their competition on TV lends them all a friendly rivalry. I wish Fire Emblem weren't s complete flaming homosexual stereotype, but he's at least respected by the rest of the team.

There is an overarching plot, beside Barnaby's search for Ouroboros, when a vigilante NEXT appears and starts making the public question the value of heroes.

One fun (and believable) aspect of the worldbuilding is that the heroes are all sponsored by a company or two (or three), and their hero costumes bear their logos like NASCAR cars. The companies whose logos appear on the heroes also paid advertising money to Sunrise to get on the show.

It's a lot of fun, and you don't have to already be a fan of the superhero genre to enjoy the show. US-based readers can watch it at Viz or on hulu.

27 May 2013

Monday Miscellany

I haven't finished the book I'm reading still (Spice: The History of a Temptation), because it's incredibly dry. I don't know when I'll get around to finishing it, possibly on the train to DC Friday, though I'd planned to start plowing through the Hugo nominee packet on my 12-hour round trip.

I've had a couple ideas for future writing projects, so I made notes about them in a notebook so I don't forget what I wanted to write about, and also to give my brain something to work on while I'm doing other things. The current WIP is in progress. I've gotten to the point in the outline where I was kind of fuzzy, so this means I need to decide a few things. And I don't wanna, so it's rough going.

Mystery Brewing has been having a grand opening for their taproom/public house all weekend, and I've been every day. They debuted a different beer each day, so I had to go try them. Of course! I'll be going over later today, after they open at noon. Maybe not right at noon. Not sure.

I don't think I've posted cat pictures in a long time (or ever?), so here are my cats.


Claire likes to sit by me when I'm working.


Mylene is photogenic.


Luna disapproves.


Meyrin likes ladders.

24 May 2013

Friday

Not much to update, really. Still slowly reading a book, so probably no review on Monday. Still working on a novel.

My azaleas have finally flowered, so here are some pictures. I don't know why the one plant has two different flowers on it.

22 May 2013

Anime you should watch: Darker than Black

Darker than Black, Tensai Okamura, BONES/Aniplex, 2007
Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, Tensai Okamura, BONES/Aniplex, 2009

Ten years ago, the world changed. A mysterious anomaly called Hell's Gate appeared in Tokyo, and another, Heaven's Gate, appeared in South America. The real sky was replaced by a false sky with false stars. Five years after its sudden appearance, Heaven's Gate just as suddenly disappeared, taking everything within a 1500-km radius with it. Around the same times that the Gates appeared, people with supernatural abilities began appearing. The intelligence agencies and governments try to keep this a secret.



Contractors, the term for the people with superpowers, have to pay a price when they use their ability, called the remuneration. It takes many different forms, like smoking a pack of cigarettes, drinking beer, or breaking a finger. They don't feel emotion the way normal humans do.

The new false stars on the horizon can represent contractors, and PANDORA, the UN agency tasked with monitoring and researching contractors, gives each contractor and their corresponding star a code name.

The story of the first series revolves around Hei, a contractor code-named BK-201, and his team of underworld agents, Yin, Huang, and Mao. Many of them fought in Heaven's War, which took place around Heaven's Gate before it vanished. They take small espionage and assassination jobs for The Syndicate, and they run up against Evening Primrose, a group that wants to publicize the existence of contractors.

The leader of EPR is someone Hei knew from when he fought in Heaven's War, another contractor named Amber.

In Gemini of the Meteor, set after the ending of the first series, a teenaged Russian girl named Suou discovers she's got a mysterious ability and the Syndicate and other intelligence agencies are after her. She runs into a contractor named Hei, who rescues her. Her ability is rather cool: she can manifest an anti-tank rifle.

As a story, the first series works better than the second, but both are worth watching.

US-based readers can watch the entire series at Funimation.

20 May 2013

Book review: Stasiland

Stasiland, Anna Funder, 2002

Anna Funder, an Australian who studied German and went to work at a TV station in Berlin in the mid '90s, received a piece of viewer mail asking what had happened to the people who had worked with the Stasi and suggesting they do a piece on that. She took it up with her boss, who disagreed. But she wanted to find out, so she started looking for answers.

The first place she went was Leipzig, where, contrary to popular imagination, the anti-SED/Stasi protest movement really began. She visited the Museum in the Runden Ecke, which was the Stasi HQ in that city. (I've been there; it's very informative and chilling.) She talked with the director, who suggested she talk to Miriam.

Funder collected stories through interviews with people who lived under the SED regime, in the police state run by the Stasi. She talked to women who had been imprisoned, whose husband was (likely) murdered, who was separated from her newborn infant because he was taken to a hospital in the west sector the night of August 12, 1961. She talked to former members of the Stasi, some of whom had had changes of heart, some of whom decidedly didn't.

The stories are interwoven with the historical context surrounding them, as well as some of her own musings and speculations. Each story is compellingly written and absolutely engrossing. The sheer horror of living under the regime is palpable. Some of her musings can be a bit twee, and can run to the overgeneralization, but that doesn't detract from the rest of the book.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the former East Germany, or anyone who wants to learn about police states, the people who live under them, and the people who support them.

17 May 2013

Friday

I haven't read anything since I finished Stasiland. I decided I'll finish reading a book I started a long time ago, but I haven't really had time to read this week.

I'm going to DC in 2 weeks to watch the German men's soccer team play the US men's team. I'm rather excited, even if the majority of the stars won't be there because of the timing of league play. It'll be a chance to see world-class soccer in person. It's a friendly, so they're not limited to three substitutions, which means Jogi gets to try out different players and formations than he would with the A squad. And Miroslav Klose will be there, so hopefully he'll get to play.

I'm taking Amtrak up, so of course my brain decided to give me an anxiety dream about that this morning, where I got to the station and realized I'd forgotten to print my ticket, and then I went to the bathroom and forgot my purse and camera in the stall, and then I went to get on the train but it was a bus and it was night and I couldn't get the work done that I'd planned to because I get motion sick. So I dreamed that I got my phone out to call Ben and tell him how much my trip sucked and then my alarm went off. Pleasant start to the day.

And that's the Friday miscellany for this week.

15 May 2013

Anime you should watch: Black Lagoon

Black Lagoon Sunao Katabuchi/Madhouse, 2006

Lagoon Company, a team of pirate-mercenaries in the South China Sea, is hired to hijack a cargo ship and take a hostage. Unfortunately for Rokuro Okajima, his company doesn't ransom him and writes him off as dead. Rokuro takes on the nickname Rock and joins Lagoon Company. Hijinks ensue. (By "hijinks" I mean violence and piracy.)



This show is very violent! There are shootouts and bombings and lots of guns. If Die Hard is too violent for you, this show will be, too.

Lagoon Company is made up of four people once Rock joins them. Revy (the fanservice gal in the picture there) is very hot-headed and usually shoots first and asks questions later. She terrifies Rock a bit, but they both have a strange attraction to the other. Dutch is the brains of the operation. He's an African-American Vietnam vet. Benny is a blond American computer hacker with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts. He's on the run from the FBI and the mafia.

Lagoon has some rather formidable opposition around the lawless city of Roanapur (fictional): the Chinese mafia (the Hong Kong Triad), headed up by an homage to John Woo characters played by Chow Yun-Fat; Hotel Moscow, a Russian mafia, headed up by Balalaika, a cigar-smoking woman with a major burn scar on one side of her face, who was a captain in the Soviet Army during their war in Afghanistan; and the Colombian cartel, plus various and sundry unaffiliated gangsters, bounty hunters, and mercenaries, a yakuza group, and some neo-Nazis.

The Church of Violence uses a Catholic front to cover illegal arms dealing. Revy knows Eda, one of the "sisters" there, from childhood, and they have a rather friendly-antagonistic relationship.

There is, actually, an overarching plot, involving a lot of background political manipulations. The relationships between the members of Lagoon and their foibles, and their relationships with the other gangsters, play a fairly big role in the series. It's not always a shoot-em-up.

If you like action movies, you can watch all 24 episodes free at Funimation. (US-based readers only.)

13 May 2013

Book review: The Ghosts of Berlin

The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape, Brian Ladd, 1997.

I forget where I heard of this book, whether it was a "you might like" on Amazon or a recommendation from someone on the internet, but I added it to my wishlist and it appeared in my hands for my birthday.

It's no secret, not if you've spent any length of time talking to me or read anything I've published, that Berlin is my favorite place in the world. So clearly, a book about the history of Berlin told through its architecture would be right up my alley.

Indeed it was. Ladd divides the book chronologically, mostly, and starts with the walls: the famous one and the one before that, which had been the city wall. He talks about Old Berlin, which he groups from the city's foundation in the 13th century to the end of the Hohenzollern empire (1918), then moves into the metropolis (1920s/Weimar), the Nazi period, divided Berlin, and the capital of the new Germany.

He includes a photograph of Albert Speer's model of Germania, the city Hitler wanted to build over Berlin, which is breathtaking (in the bad way) in its sheer scope. It includes the Reichstag--which is not a small building--dwarfed by the Great Hall. It's obscene and appalling, and reading the various plans Speer and Hitler laid for Berlin's renovation made me turn to Ben and say, exasperatedly, "Nazis!" then read him the offending passage.

For me, the most interesting part was comparing the city as it is now (or was at my last visit in 2010) to the way it was when Ladd wrote the book over fifteen years ago. The final plans for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe hadn't been decided! I'm actually quite happy that the plan presented as the leading design isn't what was eventually implemented, because a slab of granite or metal with 6 million names engraved on it doesn't give anywhere near the sense of walking through the gravestone-like stones that are there.

The Spree Arc plan for the government quarter wasn't implemented the way it was planned in the early 90s, either.

I found this book highly interesting and informative. I would recommend anyone with an interest in modern German history, including the confrontation with the past regarding Nazism, to read this book. I would also recommend having Google Maps open nearby or a recent tourist map so you can orient yourself to the places and street names and see how things did or didn't turn out according to plan.

10 May 2013

Friday things

I finished Ghosts of Berlin (did I already say that last week?) and read the entirety of Stasiland. I'm not sure what's next, but it might be one of the books about soccer I got for Christmas.

I started making curtains for my office, but I haven't finished them yet.

Still watching Attack on Titan, Hataraku Maousama!, Gargantia, and Valvrave. Titan continues to be brutal, Maousama continues to be fun, Gargantia continues to be good, and Valvrave is only getting worse every week. I swear it was written by twelve year olds on a sugar high. There is no logic in the show. It is horrible.

08 May 2013

Anime you should watch: Psycho-Pass

Psycho-Pass, Gen Urobuchi (writer), Naoyoshi Shiotani (director), Production I.G 2012-13

The Sibyl System was introduced to bring about a peaceful society. Through monitors spread throughout the cities like security cameras, it can measure people's crime coefficients--a reading of their mental state that shows how likely the person is to commit a crime, also known as the Psycho-Pass.

The Public Safety Bureau has Criminal Investigation Divisions, who are sent out to crime (or potential crime) scenes to apprehend the criminal. The story begins with Akane Tsunemori's first day on the job at MWPSB's CID 1.



Akane's senior partner, Nobuchika Ginoza, is a hard-line, by-the-book cop. Her team of Enforcers, latent criminals who have agreed to work for the PSB, includes Shinya Kogami, a man who doesn't play by the rules. Tomomi Masaoka is the oldest of the Enforcers, so frequently called "Old Man" by his teammates that I had to go to Wikipedia to remember his name. He was a detective in the time before Sibyl, and he didn't weather the transition well. (He also has a metal arm, the presence of which is never explained.)

It starts with a criminal-of-the-week setup, like police procedurals do. But they uncover a link between several seemingly unrelated crimes, who turns out to be a person Kogami has been investigating for several years as the culprit of another set of crimes, Shogo Makishima.

The setup is indeed very Minority Report, and around episode 14, Makishima deftly puts a lampshade on it, by discussing Philip K. Dick (though the book he refers to is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?).

The opening flash-forward scene, where Kogami and Makishima are fighting in a tower, is very reminiscent of the Cowboy Bebop episode "Ballad of Fallen Angels," and it actually occurs in an earlier episode than I expected. There is kind of a Spike-Vicious vibe going on between them.

There are twists and turns, and the series ends exactly the way it needs to (while leaving an opening for a sequel, clever writers...). It didn't end the way I wanted it to (because I've got my own particular narrative kinks and I really wanted Akane to make a different choice), but it ended in the only way that would have been consistent with the way the world was presented.

The entire show is 22 episodes long. US-based readers can watch it free at Funimation. You lucky people won't even have to hang from the cliffs for a week like I did!

06 May 2013

Book review: Without a Summer

Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal, Tor 2013.

I've reviewed the other entries in the Glamourist Histories series (Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass), and this is a delightful third book.

Vincent and Jane are recuperating from their injuries during the Battle of Quatre Bras, where Napoleon was defeated, and Jane's younger sister, Melody (20), is beginning to despair of ever finding a husband. Vincent and Jane get a commission to do a glamural in London, and they decide to take Melody with them to be Out during the Season.

1816 was known as the Year Without A Summer. At the time, the link between volcanic eruptions and cooling wasn't known (remember 2010?), and it took much longer for news of volcanic eruptions in Indonesia to reach northern Europe. In Kowal's alternate historical world, people are blaming the continuing winter and the crop failures that result on coldmongers, a specialized type of glamourist who can make things cold. Typically, they keep groceries cool on the way home in summer or make ices in winter. The populace is dissatisfied, and they attack coldmongers in the street.

Vincent's estranged family invites him and Jane over for dinner. It is readily apparent why Vincent was pleased to become estranged from them.

Jane overhears their employer's son discussing plans to march on Parliament, and she (and Vincent) slowly unravel and become deeply entangled in a web of plots.

One recurring theme throughout the book is prejudice: against the Catholics, the Irish, the Irish Catholics, the Indians, the poor, coldmongers. It's very effective without being ham-handed.

If you read and enjoyed the other books in the series, you will enjoy this one as well. If you haven't read the others, and you enjoy Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer, what are you waiting for?

03 May 2013

In-progress Friday

I finished reading Without a Summer, so expect a review of that on Monday. I'm still reading Ghosts of Berlin.

I'm going to see Iron Man 3 tonight. I may have thoughts on it for next Monday, or I may not. We'll see. I'm not a film reviewer per se; I just have opinions.

Still working on a novel that wants to be a novella. I'm going to have to add a lot of padding to this thing.

On that subject, a question for discussion: When you're reading speculative fiction, how realistic or plausible do you want your explanations of how things work? Do you want the writer to have done the math and worked out the physics problems, or are you happy with a bit of handwavium thrown in? Does any of that matter as long as it's consistent within the rules set up by the author that govern the world (magic, superpowers, FTL travel, etc)?

01 May 2013

Anime you should watch: Bodacious Space Pirates

Mouretsu Pirates (Bodacious Space Pirates) Tatsuo Satou/Satelight, 2012.

Marika Katou is a teenaged girl who has a part-time job in a maid cafe and is a member of the space-yacht club. She lives with her mom, an air traffic controller of sorts and a retired pirate, and she believes that her father is dead. One day, she receives word that he had only recently died, and that she has inherited the captaincy of his pirate ship, the Bentenmaru.



My first reaction to the description of this show was skepticism. I've been burned by far too many shows about high school girls that are little more than fanservicey moe-bait with panty shots, cat-fights, and faceplants by hapless (male) protagonists into boobs, and I'm sick of that shit.

Bodacious Space Pirates is none of these things. It's a story about girls being awesome, working together, being strong, and being themselves.

Marika attends a girls' school, and there are no Mean Girls homages. The yacht club goes out on a practice cruise, in 0 g, and there are NO panty shots! (This is where I was sold on the show. The girls are floating down the main body shaft of the ship in their uniform skirts, and the skirts didn't flip up at all.)

Piracy, in this world, is largely an insurance scam. Luxury interstellar cruise companies hire pirates to "attack" their ship and steal their passengers' jewels. The passengers view it as entertainment, and they've got insurance through the cruise company. (You really shouldn't think about it too hard.) But pirates are also hired for escort missions or information gathering, so it's not entirely putting on a show for rich people.

Naturally, there are large-scale politics afoot, with the free planets, a galactic empire, the Serenity kingdom, and a stellar alliance, not to mention the various allegiances among the pirates! In the second season, a mysterious pirate-killing ship appears, and the pirates have to overcome their differences and band together.

Another cool thing is how ship-to-ship combat works. There are laser cannons, of course, but they also use fancy computer warfare and hacking to interfere with the other ship's navigation systems or hide themselves from the other ship's scanners.

If that isn't enough, Pirates is a love letter to old-school shoujo anime, dressed up in a very modern style.

Marika's best friend, the Normal Girl Mami Endo, works with her at the maid cafe. Once Marika is recruited to the Bentenmaru, Mami makes her a new outfit to look cool as a pirate captain. (Like in Cardcaptor Sakura!)

Chiaki Kurihara is the heir to the pirate ship Barbalusa, and she ends up being sent to Hakuouh Girls' Academy, ostensibly to keep an eye on Marika. They become friends, because Marika doesn't believe in your cat-fight bullshit. (Chiaki is also a tsundere who loves parfaits.)

Gruier Serenity has the same hairstyle as Tsukino Usagi (Sailor Moon), and when she dresses formally, she looks like Queen Serenity (who Sailor Moon grows into). Her younger sister Grunhilde wears Oscar de Jarjayes' uniform.

Lin Lambretta bears more than a passing resemblance to Kaoru-no-kimi from Oniisama E.

At 26 episodes, Pirates will take a few days (or weeks) to watch in its entirety, but it's definitely worth it. US-based readers can watch it free at crunchyroll.