30 September 2013

Book review: Cast in Shadow

Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara

Kaylin serves in the Hawks, a sort of police department, in Elantra. She's summoned to the Hawklord's office one morning to receive an assignment and two partners. One of the partners is an old friend who betrayed her seven years before and she hasn't forgiven him. (Her first instinct is to attack him.) The other is a Dragon.

The assignment is to find out who is killing children in the fief (borderland towns that are rather lawless) of Nightshade, just like children were killed seven years before, when strange markings appeared on Kaylin's arms and legs.

There are bird-people (Aerians), lion-people (Leontines), people with mind-reading tentacles (Tha'alani), mages, elves (Barrani), and, yes, dragons. Many of these creatures live happily together in Elantra and work together in the Hawks.

This book feels like it should be a second book when it begins. The reader is dropped right into the middle of things, with little explanation (why Kaylin hates Severn isn't told until almost 3/4 of the way through). Eventually things begin to make more sense, as Kaylin stumbles deeper into the mystery, but I was frustrated at many points in the first half of the book.

When the action started picking up in the middle, I became less frustrated. Except I wanted more explanations than people were giving to Kaylin.

Kaylin is a very imperfect protagonist: she's always late; she's impulsive; she has no desire to learn anything she doesn't consider useful. These are rare traits in female protagonists, and I applaud Sagara for giving them to Kaylin. I couldn't really identify with her (I'm punctual to a fault, and I like learning things), which may have put me off her character a bit. Sometimes I wanted to shake Kaylin for being a stubborn brat; sometimes I wanted to shake the people who weren't telling her everything she needed to know to make good decisions.

The ending was interesting and unexpected; I didn't understand Nightshade's explanation of why he didn't kill the villain. Sometimes I need things spelled out a lot more than authors give me. The romance felt a bit shoehorned in (it was published by a Harlequin imprint), but it was believable.

I liked this book well enough; if you like fantasy with emperors and dragons and magic (and old magic), you might enjoy it.

27 September 2013

Friday miscellany

Happy Friday!

Preparation for Viable Paradise continues apace. I went to Target for some food, a pair of leggings, and a new mini blender, and I also left with 3 new long-sleeved shirts and 4 bags of Halloween candy in addition. (Pumpkin spice M&Ms: pretty good. Caramel apple Milky Ways: OK. It's the same base as the Midnights, just flavored with apple.)

I saw a display of shirts as I was walking down one of the main aisles, and I said "oh hey, I could use these." So I got 3: red, purple, and brown. I didn't know they were buy 2 get $4 off, or I'd have gotten 4. Long-sleeved t-shirts are useful!

I need to make a packing list. I like lists; they keep me from forgetting important things.

In 16 days, I'm going to be on my way to Boston (where I'm getting a ride from a friend down to the island). Nervous! I've read something from all the instructors except Steven Gould; my library doesn't have any of his books. Except there was a change of plans, and Sherwood Smith can't come, so Scott Lynch is taking her place. Which means the copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora I bought last week for $0.99 on sale just got moved higher on my reading list. It's on my e-reader now.

I leave you with a video of a cat (not one of mine) with the most adorable squeaky meow.

25 September 2013

Anime you should watch: Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope, manga by Yuki Kodama, anime by Shinichirou Watanabe/Fuji TV, music by Yoko Kanno

High school freshman Kaoru Nishimi moves to a small town in Kyushu to live with relatives. He meets notorious bad boy Sentarou Kawabuchi and their classmate Ritsuko Megae, whose father owns a record shop with a rehearsal space in the basement.

Kids on the Slope

Kaoru's family insisted he study classical piano. He's a very serious boy, studious and a bit uptight. Sentarou gets into fights and likes playing jazz drums. As the two become friends, Kaoru starts to loosen up (a bit) and learns to play jazz. Much of the story revolves around a budding romance and the trio's daily school life.

Set in 1966, KotS also shows the conflict going on in society. Sentarou's role model, Jun, has gone to Tokyo to study, but he gets involved in a student protest movement. On a smaller scale, the trio's classmate Seiji wants to start a rock band like the Beatles, and he asks Sen to drum for him, which sparks a conflict between Sen and Kaoru.

US-based readers can watch all twelve episodes on Crunchyroll.

23 September 2013

Book review: Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim, official movie novelization by Alex Irvine.

In case you hadn't heard, I really liked the movie Pacific Rim. It was fun and sad and happy and I loved it. There were a lot of feels involved. Here's my tumblr tag; there are (as I write this) 22 pages of posts.

So I ordered the novelization. I've never read a novelization before. Based on some things I'd read on tumblr before I got it, I knew there were some differences between the book and the movie, because the book is based on an earlier script (like I mentioned in last Monday's post).

One advantage novels have over movies is that you get exposition in novels and can give some backstory and explanations of characters and motives, like why Chuck Hansen has such a huge chip on his shoulder. Which is nice. There were a few notable differences between the book and the movie, but overall all the things happened. Book readers get a few extra things.

To sum up the plot of Pacific Rim, in the event you haven't heard of it, giant alien monsters invade Earth through a rift in the Marianas Trench. They attack major cities, and the governments nuke the first few (because missiles don't work). One man suggests building giant robots to fight the giant monsters. Neuroscientists work on brain-machine interfaces, and they discover that controlling the giant robot requires two people. The Jaeger Program is born.

It's 11 years into the Kaiju Wars, and pilot Raleigh Becket, who lost his brother in battle, is brought back to the program for a hail-Mary play to seal the Breach by his old mentor Stacker Pentecost (played spectacularly by Idris Elba). He meets Mako Mori, who was in charge of repairing and upgrading his old Jaeger. She wants to be a pilot; Pentecost doesn't want her to.

There's a little bulldog, a father and son team with emotional constipation; a pair of scientists, one grumpy, the other excitable; Chinese triplets; and surly Russians.

I loved the movie. I didn't love the novelization. I liked the bits of backstory added in, presumably from whatever notes Travis Beacham, the scriptwriter, sent in, and I dug the dossiers. There was a scene not in the movie that was extra FEELS knowing how it ends. (The foreshadowing, it burns us.)

The Weberian clunkiness got less pronounced later, as more action happened and less exposition was required, but there were a lot of sentences that could have been far more streamlined. I stopped wanting to take a red pen to them about halfway through, at least.

Fans of the movie will find it compelling, and completist fans will probably already own a copy. If you've seen the movie but haven't read the book, it's worth the few hours (it's just over 300 pages) it'll take to read it, just for the Chuck and Herc backstory, and seeing the Weis and Kaidonovskys actually speak. Unless you're a completist, I'd recommend borrowing it from your library.

If you haven't seen the movie, I recommend watching it first.

20 September 2013

Friday miscellany

I keep forgetting to write Friday's post. This week I haven't!

I've downloaded the You Are Your Own Gym app for my phone, and I've made it through the first two weeks. I'm calling this Operation "what? dammit, those jeans fit three months ago. I don't want to buy new pants." Not much change as yet, but it's still quite early. Unfortunately, it's also getting into the time of year when pants are a necessity. Hopefully I'll at least be able to put on my jeans and, you know, move around while wearing them before November, when it starts to *actually* get cold here in Carolina.

What else? I got a room in the Hilton for next year's DragonCon. The host hotel land grab is absurd (the Hilton sold out in 20 minutes), but I prefer host hotels, especially if I'm costuming. They've added a bunch of overflow hotels within reasonable walking distance, but walking a mile in costume ... not really fun.

It's just over 3 weeks until Viable Paradise. ACK. I am not prepared. Aside from the fact that it's going to be COLD up there and Yankees apparently don't believe in heat (and I don't own a whole lot of layerable clothes because it just doesn't get that cold here, y'all...I've had Thanksgiving dinner on my deck), I'm nervous about getting the critique and feeling inadequate and getting sick. Apparently everyone feels that way, so I'm not alone, but it's still nerve-wracking.

18 September 2013

Anime you should watch: Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena, manga by Chiho Saito, anime directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, 1997

Utena Tenjou wanted to be a prince when she grew up. One day, she met a prince who gave her a ring that he said would give her the power to become a prince. She transfers to prestigious Ohtori Academy, where she learns that this ring entitles her to duel for the Rose Bride.

Utena and Anthy

The Rose Bride is in Saionji's possession, as the current dueling champion, when Utena arrives. She's pulled into the strange world of the student council and dueling as soon as they see her rose signet. She wins her first duel, and Anthy Himemiya comes to live with her and do anything she wants.

As Utena duels each member of the student council, her relationship with Anthy grows deeper and deeper, and when she loses her, she despairs.

There are layers upon layers of symbolism. The student council ascends to their meeting room in an elevator while reciting lines about breaking the world's shell. There are feminist readings (note: spoilers in that link) of the text. Here is tumblr user galegas's presentation on why you should watch Utena.

The series originally came out in the US around 1999 from Software Sculptors, who were then bought by Central Park Media, who perished in the great anime bubble burst. Right now, Nozomi Entertainment holds the license, and they released a remastered version in 2011. Nozomi has put all 39 episodes on YouTube, where you can watch for free.

(I have the original Software Sculptors and CPM DVD releases, and I'd like to sell them so I can buy the remasters. If anyone is interested, please contact me!)

16 September 2013

Monday book post

Between traveling for DragonCon and catching up on everything afterward, I haven't had much time to finish reading anything recently.

I'm currently reading the official Pacific Rim novelization, which is based on an early draft of the script (because of the lead time needed to get the book written, through editorial and revision, and printed, so it comes out around the same time as the movie). I'm not very far in (Newt is getting ready to drift with the kaiju the first time), and the writing fails to impress.

First, the narrative voice for Raleigh makes him a douchey jock asshole. I suppose it's *possible* that douchey things are going on in his mind in the movie, but the way Charlie Hunnam portrayed him is very not like the book. That could be a thing that changed as the script was revised.

Second, the exposition is absolutely David Weberian in its clunkiness. Yes, I know movies have a lot of pictures that need to be described, but you really don't have to disrupt the flow of the novel to explain how things work.

Third, what is copyediting? (You can also see some of the Weberian exposition in this photograph.) In the third to last paragraph, the big one there at the bottom, narration-Raleigh says there were no Mark V Jaegers like Striker Eureka when he was a pilot. Then at the very top of the next paragraph, he says he went on a mission with Striker Eureka once. JFC, you can't contradict yourself on the same page! Was this thing even copyedited??

On the positive side, I am a sucker for fake documentation, so all the dossier pages stuck in make me happy. Also, the section from Newt's perspective (the only one I've read so far, anyway) is something I can imagine movie-Newt thinking, and it's well in his voice. And the image of Sasha and Aleksis playing Ukrainian hard house (music) and pissing off the Weis amuses me forever.

11 September 2013

Anime you should watch: Azumanga Daioh

Azumanga Daioh; manga by Kiyohiko Azuma, anime by Hiyoshi Nishikori/JC Staff 2002.

Azumanga Daioh ran as a 4-panel gag comic in Dengeki Daioh. The title is a pun on Azuma+manga and Daioh (which, aside from being the book title, means "great king.")

The story revolves around six girls at an unnamed high school in Tokyo and their daily lives. One of them is a transfer student from Osaka, who speaks with Osaka dialect. Another is a child prodigy who is five years younger than the rest. A third wants to pet all the cute animals, but they all want to bite her.

characters from Azumanga Daioh

It's a slice of life in a Japanese high school, with sports, clubs, school festivals, homework, college entrance exams, and other assorted fun. It can be very silly at times, but it's cute.

The US license was held by now-defunct ADV Films, so it's out of print. Copies of the DVDs are available on Amazon for absurd prices ($75+ used, $150+ new, for a 26-episode series). None of the legitimate streaming sites have it. Netflix might; I'm not a member and can't search the catalog. There are other ways to see it, but you'll have to find them on your own with help of your favorite search engine.

09 September 2013

Book review: The Price of the Stars

The Price of the Stars by Debra Doyle and James MacDonald.

Beka Rosselin-Metadi, daughter of the leader of a world that was destroyed in the Mage Wars and the general who led the fight against the Mages, works on trader ship. On one port call, her father's aide calls her to a meeting with her father, who happens to be in the same port.

He tells her that her mother was assassinated and offers her his spaceship, the Warhammer, in exchange for finding out who killed her mother.

Beka left her family because she didn't want to be the Little Domina, her mother's heir apparent. She wanted to be independent, anonymous, free of her familial ties. She takes the ship, regardless of price.

Her quest to root out the conspiracy behind her mother's murder takes her to many worlds, where she joins up with her brother, an Adept (like a Mage, but not evil), a friend of her brother's, and a mysterious man she nicknames the Professor, who claims she was her family's servant on destroyed Entibor.

The conspiracy is rather deeper and twistier than they expected, with tendrils leading to surprising ends. There are two direct sequels, a couple prequels, and a next generation book, all of which I'm hoping to read.

It's a fun tale, with a lot of space ships and explosions and dry wit. It's Star Wars-esque, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing: for one, the dialogue is better and the characters a bit more well-rounded in this book. If you like space opera, you will probably enjoy this book.

06 September 2013


I'm back from DragonCon, though I still haven't caught up on sleep. I had a lot of fun, though I only made it to a couple panels. I saw a lot of costumes, hung out with friends, and bought a Pacific Rim poster signed by Guillermo del Toro. (That was my top accomplishment of the con.) My costume was successful, and I only got mistaken twice: once for Daenarys (or however you spell it; I'm not a Game of Thrones fan), which was utterly mindboggling, and once for Starbuck from new BSG (which actually made *sense*).

I have a bunch of photos up on my tumblr. Disney set, anime set, superheroes set, miscellaneous, and *punk.

And here's a picture of me and another person cosplaying Sasha Kaidonovsky, from the Pacific Rim photoshoot. I'm on the right. The coat got really warm really fast.

two women dressed as Sasha Kaidonovsky

On a topic not related to DragonCon, once again/as usual people are attempting to gatekeep science fiction. Paul Cook wrote an essay on the Amazing Stories blog about how women can't write real SF because they put in things like feeling and descriptions of clothes, and also women are destroying SF with their writing about stupid girly things. Foz Meadows has an excellent deconstruction of his garbage.

Lightspeed Magazine has announced a special Women Destroying SF issue for next year.

04 September 2013

Anime you should watch: Giant Robo

Giant Robo, Yasuhiro Imagawa/Studio Mu based on manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama

Professor Shizuma invented a power source that eliminated the need for fossil fuels or nuclear power. Unfortunately, when he and his colleague Franken von Vogler were researching it, they nearly destroyed the world in what became known as the Tragedy of Bashtarle.

giant robo

Vogler disappeared in the Tragedy of Bashtarle, but ten years later, he's resurfaced and joined the Big Fire group, who are working to recreate the Tragedy. They have superhumans, robots, and monsters.

Working against BF are the International Police Organization. To counter the supernatural elements of BF, they have the Experts of Justice. There's also Daisaku Kusama, who has no superpowers, but he does have a giant robot. (And short shorts.)

There are spies, mecha fights, kung fu fights (including a drunken master), and hijinks. It's a lot of fun and very much in the style of 60s super robot shows.

It was licensed in the US by Media Blasters, which no longer exists, but you can still find copies on Amazon for relatively cheap. If you want to try before you buy, someone has uploaded the US dub opening to YouTube. (FYI: The dub is terrible and makes it sound awful.)

02 September 2013

Book review: The Crown and Court Duet

Crown Duel and Court Duel by Sherwood Smith

Meliara is the heiress of the County of Tlanth. Her father's deathbed wish is that she and her brother Branaric stop the king from breaking the Covenant with the Hill Folk and take the throne themselves. They gather a small army to attempt just that, and they are more successful than they'd expected to be until the Marquis of Shevraeth joins the fray.

The Covenant is that they won't cut down trees for wood, and that the Hill Folk will provide magic fire sticks to keep people warm during winter and fuel their stoves, etc.

Meliara is sixteen, and she is impetuous, impulsive, and has a chip on her shoulder the size of a castle. Her mother was murdered (by the King) when Mel was six, and Mel was never given lessons in being a Proper Lady. She hates courtiers and thinks they're all ridiculous. But after the king is deposed at the end of the first book, Bran moves to the capital and meets a lady to marry, while Mel sets about restoring the keep at Tlanth. They come to Tlanth to persuade Mel to come to the capital.

She receives a mysterious gift on her birthday, and she doesn't know who it's from, but I did. She begins a letter exchange with the mystery person, and it turns into a courtship. The revelation of the mystery person is actually really cute, even if I knew the whole time who it was and was just waiting for it. It's shy and sweet.

In the first book, Mel is extremely grating and irritating, because she just reacts without thinking--impetuously. But she's sixteen; I probably wasn't any better at that age. I wanted to shake some sense into her. By the end of the first book, she's started to realize that it's a problem, and throughout the second book she starts working to correct her mistakes. So she gets better!

Despite finding the protagonist irritating, I plowed through the first book in an evening, and the second one about the same. They're only around 200 pages each.

If you like YA coming of age stories and fantasy, horses and swordfights and magic, fancy dresses and banquets and balls, you might like this, too.