31 July 2013

Anime you should watch: Here is Greenwood

Here is Greenwood, manga by Yukie Nasu (1987-91), OVA series directed by Tomomi Michizuki/Studio Pierrot, Asia-Do (1991-93)

Kazuya Hasukawa arrives at Ryokuto Academy late, and the only room left is in Greenwood dorm with Shun Kisaragi, a very feminine-looking young man*. The heads of the dorm are Shinobu Tezuka, who has a rich family and a strange sister, and Mitsuru Ikeda.

Kazuya has to deal with the very eccentric people living in his dorm, like the motorcycle fanatic and Shinobu and Mitsuru (they're best friends and roommates; they count as a unit). His older brother married the girl Kazuya had a crush on when he was younger, and now the brother is the school doctor. Kazuya moved out of his home and into the dorm to get away from his brother and the girl he crushed on for years.

The six OVAs revolve around Kazuya and the guys in the dorm. One episode is about an inter-dorm competition for prize money, wherein the guys of Greenwood make a movie called "Here is Devilwood," a very tropey fantasy thing starring Shinobu as the evil wizard. The last two are about Kazuya meeting a girl his own age and falling for her and their budding romance.

*It's been a while since I watched this. The way Shun is introduced to Kazuya (he pretends to be a girl living in the boys' dorm For Reasons to haze the newbie) is problematic. Shun is not intended to portray a trans* person (he is decidedly a man). This may turn some people off. Decide for yourselves.

Getting a copy in the US is [currently] easy. Copies are available on Amazon for very reasonable prices, new and used. This may change in the future. Media Blasters' license expired, and Central Park Media relicensed (and redubbed) it. I'm not sure what the current license status is, because CPM went bankrupt in 2009.

29 July 2013

Monday book notes

I'm reading Soccernomics right now, and I'm enjoying it a lot. I'm about 3/4 of the way through, so you'll get to hear my further thoughts on it next Monday.

The instructors of Viable Paradise encourage the students to read something by each of them, so we can know more about their styles and the types of thing they have written. I've already read several books and some short stories by Elizabeth Bear, but I haven't read anything by the rest of the instructors. So I checked my local library's catalog online and tweeted about what I found, which was mostly a lack of these authors.

A friend replied that she has a lot of these books, and if I wanted to come over and get books from her library, I could. So I did that. I left with books by most of the instructors and a few extras she thought I'd enjoy. So my to-read stack has gotten big again.

a lot of books in a row on a table

Hugo voting closes at midnight Wednesday. I need to make sure I've voted in all the categories I plan to. I don't listen to podcasts, and I'm not really interested in voting for the best Doctor Who episode, since I don't watch that. Lots of people tell me I should listen to podcasts, but I really don't have the attention span. I can't do audiobooks, either. With this whole not having a regular job thing, I don't drive anywhere, and I can't just sit down and listen to something and pay attention to it for an hour or whatever. I need to be *doing* something.

26 July 2013

Book review: 2312

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson.

This was another nominee for the best novel Hugo award.

300 years in the future, humanity has colonized Mercury, Venus, the moon, Mars, Jupiter's moons, and Saturn's moons. Neptune's moons are the next target. There are traveling space colony-ships where various biomes have been recreated, like forests with wolves and deer.

Earth itself is largely fucked. Sea levels have risen a lot (11 meters? enough to completely submerge Florida and make Manhattan into a sort of Venice, where hamster tubes connect fourth-story windows), and the permafrost is melting.

Swan's grandmother, the head of Mercury's government, has died, leaving Swan to sort out the problems she was dealing with when she died. She goes on a lot of travels and meets a lot of people, including Wahram, an ambassador from Titan (Saturn's moon) and a trusted confidant of Swan's grandmother.

The science behind having a colony on Mercury is pretty cool: there's a rolling dome on a track, and the track expands at just the rate to keep the dome rolling forward just beyond the sun. Robinson explains it in rather much detail. There is similarly explained science behind the colonies on the gas giants' moons.

Quantum computers are a thing, and people carry qubes. Swan has one implanted in her head.

There is a lot going on in the novel, and it goes on very slowly. Robinson's world building is exquisitely detailed, and he spends a lot of time introducing the reader to the world he invented, pacing be damned. It took me a long time to get interested in the book, but a hint of anti-capitalism/post-capitalism piqued my interest, so I stuck it out.

One conceit woven into the book, which is hinted at throughout but hammered a bit toward the end, is the notion that Swan, from Mercury, is mercurial, and Wahram, from Saturn, is saturnine. I suspect this play on words was a large part of the impetus behind writing this novel. That part didn't work for me.

As a whole, the book became eventually interesting enough for me to finish, but it didn't start to grip me until I was about 85% through and all the things started to happen at once. Readers who like reading detailed explanations of how space elevators or rolling dome cities work, who want to read a tour book where there are incidentally a couple people meeting and falling (somehow) in love, may not be put off by this.

I thought it was an interesting hard SF thought experiment with very detailed world building and plausible, if still very hand-wavey on some things, explanations of how things reach the point in the novel. If you're into that sort of thing, this book is for you.

24 July 2013

Anime summer 2013

It's a new anime season, so there are new shows! Here's what I'm watching, and also what I tried and gave up on.

Tried and abandoned

I give you the links, so you can watch an episode or two and decide for yourselves.

Gatchaman Crowds This reboot of the classic 70s series "Science Ninja Team Gatchaman" didn't do it for me. At all. The main character is an archetype that I want to stake in the heart, set on fire, and shoot its ashes to the sun for good measure. She's irritating as hell. She has a notebook fetish. She goes around loudly announcing that she's in Gatchaman. She's Haruhi fucking Suzumiya, whom I also wanted to stab in the throat. Ain't got time for that.

Devils and Realist So, a few years ago there was this show that was pretty popular called "Black Butler," where the heir to a family enters into a contract with this demon who's been working as his family's butler for a long time. D&R is in that vein, except where as Ciel accepted Sebastian's service, the lead of D&R is a realist, who believes only in science. Which could lead to a lot of humor, except it doesn't. Complicating things, William is the reincarnation of (that) Solomon and the elector of Hell, and Dantalion is a nephilim who wants to rule while Lucifer is sleeping. It is a ridiculous, confusing amalgamation of Old Testament lore. (Also, Solomon had yellow-blond hair and blue eyes. Not particularly likely...)

Uchouten Kazoku Yasaburo is a tanuki living in Kyoto. He just wants to have fun, but his father was powerful in tanuki society, so there are high expectations on him and his brothers. Cute concept, but it really didn't do anything for me. (Tanuki are also known as raccoon dogs, and in Japanese lore, they're shapeshifters and tricksters.)

Still watching

Attack on Titan Continuing on from last season.

Free! a/k/a "the bishounen swimming anime." This offering from KyoAni, purveyors of such fine moe-blob (ware: TV Tropes link) animation as K-On! and Clannad, is about four young men on a swim team. They all have feminine names. They used to swim together in middle school, then the red-haired one went to Australia to go to a school for swimming. The other three (the genki blond, the cheerful brunet, and the weird black-haired one) stayed together. The genki blond decides they should restart their high school's swim club to make the black-haired one happy. (He really likes swimming. He wears swim trunks under his clothes, and in a running gag, whenever he sees water, he strips and jumps in.)

The red-haired one's sister, who has a masculine name, offers to be their manager. She frequently comments on the boys' deltoids, traps, and assorted upper body musculature. It isn't particularly deep, but it's fun.

Genshiken Nidaime This is the second TV season (not counting the OVAs) about a college anime club. It's like the first season, except there are mostly new people. I'm vaguely uncomfortable with the way two of the characters treat the male crossdresser (a new character, who is a straight man but likes reading BL and wearing women's clothes), but they're actually fairly realistic from what I've heard. (One wants her to just stop crossdressing and be a boy; the other treats her like a girl except when she wants to look up her skirt.) But I really don't expect careful explorations of gender issues from anime.

All the characters are fucked up in some way or other, in ways which will be familiar to anyone who has ever attended a college (or high school) anime club.

22 July 2013

Book review: Three Parts Dead

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Gladstone is a nominee for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

This is a fun read. Tara Abernathy is a Craft user, who was thrown out of the Hidden Schools. This is more dangerous than it sounds, because the Hidden Schools float in the clouds, so she was expected to plummet to her death. She didn't, and she went back to her small home town, where she has to hide the fact that she's a Craft user. After she reanimates some guards killed by marauders, and the town notices, Elayne Kevarian shows up with a job offer from the firm of Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao. Tara takes it to escape death by pitchfork.

Their job is to reanimate the god Kos the Everburning in Alt Coulumb, who died suddenly a day or two before.

The one thing that kept bugging me was the setting: I couldn't decide if this was supposed to be steampunk-ish, modern, future, or what. About a hundred years before the beginning of the novel, there was a war between the gods and the craftspeople, and some gods were defeated while others retreated or consolidated into a stronghold, like Alt Coulumb. Gods made contracts to share their powers with other city-states or nations, based on how much worship they receive. (Worship feeds the gods, and their surplus energy can be shared.)

Craftsmen and -women are essentially magic lawyers, and trials are literally courtroom battles. Tara's job is to review all the contracts on Kos' power at the time of his death and convince the magic judge that he wasn't overextended. This is a lot more interesting than it sounds summarized like that.

The narrative style is easy to follow, and there's quite a lot of dry humor. I'd recommend this book.

19 July 2013

Friday miscellany, mostly ReaderCon

Last week I went to ReaderCon, and I wrote about it here, with links to the separate posts I made with my panel notes. I tried out taking notes on my laptop this year, because my Air is tiny and light and has good battery life, and I never seem to do anything with the notes in a notebook, and my handwriting gets awful when I try to write that fast. It worked out fairly well, I think. I can type really quickly, and there's no handwriting awfulness to worry about.

People I saw: Shira, Don, Carrie, Julia, John, Rose, my roommates Julie and Ann, my future VP classmates John, Lise, and Laurence, uh, Maria (who has awesome pirate ship earrings), Brit, AT, Fran, Sarah, and probably a lot of other people I'm blanking on right now. (Sorry if I didn't mention you; I talked to a lot of people this weekend!)

All in all, I had a great time. The panels I went to were really good, and some of the ones I missed I'm sad about. The hotel renovations threw a wrench in things, but it was manageable. The single restaurant and lack of bar was a fairly big problem, but next year that will be done. And it wasn't nearly as bad as DragonCon 2008 (iirc), when half the main floor of the Marriott was closed for renovations. That was horrible.

I'm still working my way through 2312, and I've read all the Campbell nominees. I'll post a review of the last book Monday and my thoughts on the category next Friday, most likely. I think that's all the main words categories, right? I can't remember. I've got my voting mostly done, and I should really send in the site selection ballot.

17 July 2013

Anime you should watch: Gundam: The 08th MS Team

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, Takeyuki Kanda, Umanosuke Iida; Sunrise/Bandai.

Shiro Amada is sent to Earth to help fight Zeon. He joins up with his new squad, and they work alongside local guerrillas to drive out the Zeon occupiers. Zeon has a terrifying huge new mobile armor, piloted by Aina Sakhalin.

The Gundam franchise started in 1979 with MS Gundam: 0079, in which the Principality of Zeon attacked Side 7 (space colonies are called Sides here) in order to find out more about the Federation's weapon capabilities. They discover the Gundam (RX-78). The Side is evacuated, and Char Aznable, Zeon ace pilot, chases the ship, White Base, to destroy it.

There are a lot of different, unrelated Gundam timelines, but UC (Universal Century) is the original. The UC Gundam series include 0079, 08th MS Team, 0080/War in the Pocket, Z, ZZ, Char's Counterattack, 0083 Stardust Memory, Unicorn, and Turn-A. The basic plot behind the UC timeline is this: Earth became overpopulated, so people started colonizing space. They built Sides at Lagrange points. The Sides were all basically united under the Earth Federation, until Zeon zum Deikun decided to declare independence for Side 3. The Federation didn't like that, so there was a war. (It's a bit more complicated than that, but there's your 30-second summary.)

08th MS Team takes place in 0079 in Southeast Asia, while White Base is fighting Char elsewhere. The series was released direct to video (which, in Japan, doesn't imply terrible quality; frequently the opposite: OVA series have higher budgets and more time to do the animation) in 11 episodes and an (entirely unnecessary) epilogue between 1996 and 1999. It stands alone from the rest of the UC series quite well and can be watched without further knowledge of the timeline, though knowing about the internal conflict in Zeon between the Zabis and Zeon zum Deikun's family helps.

In my opinion, this is the best Gundam series. It's self-contained, and it's paced well. The animation has held up over time: a lot of shows from the late 90s look very dated, but this doesn't. (Much.)

Unfortunately, after Bandai USA closed up shop, this went out of print in the US, so good luck finding a copy at a reasonable price. Amazon is currently listing the DVD set at $120 new, with some used copies as low at $50. (When it was in print, it sold for about $35.)

You can get a taste of it in this awesome fan-made video set to "Tenth Man Down" by Nightwish.

15 July 2013

Book review: Blackbirds

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Angry Robot 2012.

Chuck Wendig is nominated for the Campbell Award for best new writer. It's not a Hugo, but it's on the same ballot.

Miriam can see people's deaths when she touches them. She's started attending people's deaths to watch as they happen and keeping a diary. She doesn't think she can change fate, because she tried once and it was horrible.

She meets a man named Louis, whose death is impending and horrible, and she is intrigued when he calls her name as he's about to die, like he sees her off stage. Then she meets up with a man named Ashley, and she ends up involved in something far more complicated than she realizes. He blackmails her because of the diary, but he's on the run from some scary-ass people.

This book was rather darker and more unpleasant than I typically enjoy. The story was compelling and interesting, so I kept reading anyway. I've read a lot of Wendig's blog posts and found them entertainingly profane (profanely entertaining?). The dry, dark wit evident in his blog is woven throughout the book.

If you like dark stories, you might enjoy this book.

12 July 2013

Hugo thoughts: Best semiprozine

This category is really hard. These are all good magazines.

Apex: Edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Apex features dark fantasy, weird, and horror. The issue included in the packet was #39, August 2012, which features stories by Marie Brennan, Kat Howard, Genevieve Valentine, and Nir Yaniv, as well as an essay by Jim Hines. The stories were all quite good, though I'm not much of a dark/horror reading person.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies: Edited by Scott Andrews and Kate Marshall, BCS focuses on fantasy. The four stories in the submitted issue, #100, July 26, 2012, were mostly good. I especially liked Christie Yant's "The Three Feats of Agani," though I thought Garth Upshaw's "Ratcatcher" dragged on way too long.

Clarkesworld: Edited by Neil Clarke, Clarkesworld tends to focus on realistic or semi-plausible SF without getting into Analog territory. The submitted issue is #64. There's another one by Aliette de Bodard that seems to be set in her larger Dai Viet world, a story in which a roach is engineered to help people, and a delightful piece by Gwendolyn Clare about an octopedal starfish-like alien who encounters humans seeking the Brights, who left a starship for them to find.

Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams, Lightspeed publishes both SF and F. The submitted issue, #20, January 2012, is the first issue published after the merger of Lightspeed and Fantasy. It is largely reprints, maybe about 50%, including the Anne McCaffrey tribute. Adams continues to find a good selection of stories that are different enough to not be repetitive.

Strange Horizons: Edited by a lot of people, including editor-in-chief Niall Harrison, SH publishes a lot of fiction in the strange/interstitial mode, and well-done non-fiction. The submitted material was the entirety of July 2012. (They publish three times a week, 2 fiction, 2-3 poems, and many reviews.) The fiction was invariably good, and I'm not biased because they chose to reprint Ellen Kushner's excellent "The Death of the Duke" that month, not at all.

This category is going to be incredibly hard for me to rank, because I can't rank three of them 1st.

10 July 2013

Anime you should watch: Eden of the East

Eden of the East, Kenji Kamiyama/Production I.G

Akira Takizawa wakes up completely naked, in front of the White House, with a gun and a cell phone. He has no memories of how he got there or why he's at the White House, naked, with a gun. The cops notice him and start chasing him around DC, where he runs into Saki Morimi, visiting the city as part of a graduation trip.

Three months before the show opens, there was a terrorist attack called "Careless Monday," in which missiles struck ten uninhabited parts of Japan. When Saki and Akira are returning to Japan, they learn of another missile strike.

Saki's friends created an image search engine cum social network, called Eden of the East, and through Eden, they learn that Akira isn't who he claims he is.

Akira is part of a game to "save Japan." He's one of the Seleção, chosen by Mr. Outside. His cell phone connects to Juiz, who uses the funds attached to the player's magic phone to make their orders happen.

Over the course of the show, the strange secret conspiracy becomes more and more dangerous. Players who run out of money before winning the game are killed. Saki tries to unravel the mystery around Akira, and she and her friends get in over their heads.

You can watch it at Funimation.

08 July 2013

Book review: Redshirts

Redshirts by John Scalzi

The new crew members of the Intrepid realize there's something funny going on with away missions: someone always dies, but never any of three bridge officers, one of whom frequently gets severely injured. They meet someone who tells them about the Narrative, and his theory is that there is a TV show out there using their ship as a focus of its plot, like that old show Star Trek.

This is a humorous (though I rarely laughed out loud or did more than quirk my lips in an "I see what you did there") look at the tropes of science fiction TV shows like ST. It is extremely meta, and parts of it dive into philosophy. It's fun--I liked The Box and the officer tracking system--and fairly light-hearted.

The scheme Dahl comes up with to get the Narrative to stop taking over and killing off random people was clever, though I had trouble following the logic of it. That may have been purposeful, because it was extremely convoluted logic based on meta and plot.

Scalzi also uses the tale to criticize lazy writing, like killing a crew member simply to increase dramatic tension or "raise the stakes." This is explicitly addressed in the first coda. Like, "I have been a lazy writer all this time." Very explicit, very meta.

I was only sort of the intended audience for this book. I've seen a lot of Star Trek episodes, mostly TNG, but I've never really been a fan, and I don't watch a lot of TV. (Though I watch anime a lot, and they also have some of the same lazy writing problems.) I caught a lot of the jokes, but probably not all of them. I recognized many or most of the tropes he was poking at.

I enjoyed it on the whole, but I think someone who is more of a Star Trek fan than I would enjoy it more.

05 July 2013

Hugo thoughts: Best fan writer

When I read fannish writing on the internet, I like to read about the things I like. I like reading other people's reactions to them.

Mark Oshiro is a brilliant fan writer. He reads and watches things (TV shows and anime series) and writes reactions to them. He reads one chapter or watches one episode at a time, completely unspoiled. (I am amazed that he was unspoiled for LOTR, but there you go.) Reading Mark's reactions to a thing puts me back in the place I was when I read it the first time, and, if it's something I've already finished, I can only smile knowingly and say "you don't even know" when he says "I am not prepared for this."

Mark unashamedly loves things and writes from the heart.

Tansy Rayner Roberts writes delightful meta commentary on things. If you read Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy: Let's Unpack That, you've read Tansy's meta.

Tansy and Mark are the new-style fan writer that I want to see more of in the Hugo nominations.

03 July 2013

Anime Wednesday: season's end update

The current anime season has ended, and I thought I'd give y'all my thoughts on the shows I introduced here now that they're complete (or at a stopping point).

Hataraku Maou-sama! (complete at 13 episodes): This was fun and silly and cute. There is an overarching story, which revolves around Emilia the Hero wanting to fulfill her duty to kill the Dark Lord and the Dark Lord basically wanting to pay all his bills. When more people from Ente Isla show up, it gets harder for Emi and Maou to maintain the equilibrium they reached.

Also, Lucifer as a NEET is hilarious.

Suisei no Gargantia (complete at 13 episodes): This is a well-plotted story, and it has a satisfying ending. There were a couple surprises I didn't see coming, or didn't expect quite the way they were done, (and a couple I did), but the plot arced in about the way I expected it to. The main conflict was Ledo learning what it's like to live as a human rather than a soldier. He also uncovers some lost knowledge about what happened when people left Earth, which sets off emotional turmoil. I don't really want to spoil you. It's good, and you should watch it.

Attack on Titan: BRUTAL. The story gets a little WTF around episode 6, but it's explained, and the explanation works. The soldiers react realistically to seeing their friends and squadmates get eaten by giants; they're not all stoic and all. Still brutal, still gorgeously animated. Definitely worth watching if you can handle the BRUTAL.

A friend commented that it wasn't the blood spatter and giants' eating people that bothered her, but the characters' reactions to it--bugged-out eyes, panting or gasping, general horror--that did. Unlike a lot of shows I've seen that involve basically killing a lot of people, Titan shows people reacting to losing their friends. It's a reminder to the viewer that the faceless mooks aren't actually faceless.

Valvrave the Liberator (will resume in fall?): Oh god this show is so dumb. I swear the people who wrote it were drunk or on some really good drugs. That or they had every trope ever written on cards stuck to the wall and threw darts at it to see what happened next. Vampire aliens, space nazis, secret military plot to use high school kids as pilots of secret space alien mecha, the illuminati, a girl who wants to be a idol singer, fridged female love interest, genki girl whose dad is the prime minister and whom everyone likes, juvenile delinquent guy, hikikomori, hapless bishounen class president...

I'm mainly watching to find out what dumb thing they're going to do next. I haven't been able to predict many things, primarily because the plot looks like it's doing this thing and then suddenly a wild PLOT DEVICE appears out of nowhere and makes you go WTF? Though it was really obvious that PM Dad was going to be killed in the space nazi fleet and that JD guy was going to pilot one of the mecha.

If you decide to watch it, don't say I didn't warn you.

02 July 2013

Book review: Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Adoulla is the last of the ghul hunters. Raseed is his partner, a highly religious dervish who is keen with his sword. Ramia is a nomad girl who is also a lion. They band together to fight a truly evil spirit, Mouw Awa, and the evil sorcerer who raised him and many ghuls. There is a lazy/corrupt monarch and a prince of thieves who fights against him.

I wasn't terribly impressed with this book, actually. I came close to giving up in chapter 3 because I was bored. It's got all the plot tokens of generic epic fantasy, except instead of pseudo-northern-Europe it's set in a pseudo-Muslim sultanate. Which was interesting and does set it apart from all the other generic epic fantasy, but the tropes. Not my thing at all.

(That isn't to say that tropes are bad. They exist for a reason: people like them. Some are overused in general. Everyone has their own particular set of tropes that appeal to them. Mine doesn't overlap with the set in this book very much, if at all.)

On a sentence by sentence level, the writing wasn't anything special, either. It wasn't stab-my-eyes-out-with-a-spork bad, and I wasn't ranting about clunky sentences or that sort of thing while I read it, but it just didn't sing out to me. If that makes sense.

A lot of people enjoyed this book. I read the whole thing, but out of some sense of obligation rather than joy. I will say that I was curious to find out who Mouw Awa's friend was and who was creating all the ghuls (and I had a couple theories that were shown to be wrong). So from the perspective of "was I interested in finding out how the plot wraps up?", yes, it succeeded on that count, even if I wasn't invested in the characters that much.

Adoulla was interesting and humorous, if extremely vulgar, in the "farts at you to express his opinion of your stupidity" sense." Raseed was ... he was extremely annoying. Religious extremists are not a character archetype I enjoy reading about, even if his character arc is "well maybe my extremism isn't actually a good thing..." Ramia I actually liked somewhat. I could identify a bit with her self-perceived failure to live up to the standards set for her. I know that feel, girl.

On the whole, I thought this was an average epic fantasy novel, perhaps slightly above average (I am not generally an epic fantasy reader, so I don't have much basis for comparison). I may have had raised expectations, because I'd read many generally positive reviews. Give it a shot, anyway, and try to make it to at least chapter 5 or 6 before giving up.

01 July 2013

Exciting news!

The Hugo book review scheduled for today has been preempted until tomorrow because of this news: I am going to be a student at Viable Paradise XVII.

I have 3 friends who are alums, and I've heard so many wonderful things about it. I can't wait. I've already got roommates and a ride from Boston.

In other news, I resigned as literature track director of ConTemporal last night, after the con.