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DNF Report: “The Buntline Special”

Published December 23, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

This is a post I’ve been putting off for a long time.  Like, six months or so.  So a lot of what I wanted to say about the book is now a bit hazy with time, but I did jot down a few notes at the time, so there’s at least that.

I’ve never written a “DNF Report” before, so I’m not sure what the procedure is (is there even a procedure for such a thing?), and will therefore just stumble along incoherently, for which I apologize.  “DNF,” in case anyone doesn’t know, stands for “Did Not Finish.”

So, I guess the place to start is “what is this book” and “why I didn’t finish it.”   To answer the first question, the book is called The Buntline Special, and its cover looks like this:

As to why I didn’t finish it…that’s a longer answer.

I started reading this book to fulfill the Read Harder Challenge #2 for 2019, “An alternate history novel.”  Which this really isn’t, but I was being lazy.  (Ironically, the package I just got today (or possibly yesterday and it sat on the porch all night?) included a genuine alternate history novel called Judenstadt, by Simone Zelitch, which I’m really looking forward to.)

So, this is sort of a steampunk Western.  Sort of.  There’s like this whole weird set-up going on that we’re only partially filled in on, where American western expansion stopped at the Mississippi because the shamans for certain tribes (or maybe all of them?) actually have magical powers, which were strong enough to keep the white man at bay.  Which is pretty awesome…except then you still have white men all over the place in Tombstone, Arizona, including all the people who were actually there in reality, and some who weren’t, like Thomas Edison.

Oh, and you have steam-powered robotic whores.  And bullet-proof stagecoaches.  And voodoo-style zombies.

Which all sounds like it should be a fun read.  And evidently a lot of people find it one, but I am not one of those people.

The further I got into it, the more I became aware of certain aspects of the book that were increasingly grating on my nerves.  In no particular order, those aspects were:

  1. Unlike the story of the events in Tombstone that included the gunfight at the O-K Corral in reality, there is a very large undercurrent of White Man vs. Indian in this book, and the book definitely expects you to be rooting for the white men, even though they’re the freaking invaders.
  2. Increasingly anachronistic language.  At the start of the book, I was able to hear the dialog of Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers in the voices of the actors who played them in the movie Tombstone.  The longer it went on, the less I was able to do so, because the dialog became increasingly inappropriate for men of the late 19th century.  (I was never able to hear Kate’s dialog in the voice of the actress from the movie, because I saw zero connection between the two characters.  Also, by the time Kate actually showed up, I was beginning to lose all patience with the book.)
  3. No particular sense of character.  It’s like we were just expected to overlay our previous knowledge of the real people (or rather their various fictional presentations) on top of what was in the book, making actual characterization unnecessary.
  4. Did I already mention the anachronisms?
  5. Oh, and anachronisms.  Crazy, crazy, over-the-top-crazy anachronisms.

So, by now you’re probably sitting there going “you’re being too hard on the anachronisms!  It’s a steampunk alternate history; it’s supposed to have anachronisms like robots and stuff!”

And you’re right.  It’s supposed to have all sorts of technological anachronisms like robots.  (Sort of.  Actually, robots are not usually where I expect steampunk to go.)

It’s not supposed to have the word “robot.”  Because that wasn’t coined until 1922 and it’s from the Czech word for “slave.”  Putting that word in the POV of a Southern gent who was born before the Civil War?  Uh, no.  Just no.  Even if Doc wouldn’t know what the word meant, the fact is that the people reading the book all know, and that makes it just as bad.  Not to mention that the word’s Czech roots mean that it’s not the word most Americans at the time would coin if they wanted to make a new word for mechanical beings; they would work from Greek or Latin if they were trying to come up with a new word.  And if they didn’t want to coin their own word, a 19th century person would call a mechanical person an automaton.  Which, in addition to being more accurate, is a way cooler word.

Much of the other anachronistic language was just…how do I even put it?  Like…trying to be too 21st century casual?  A word like “enthused” does not belong in a western.  Period.  Though the worst offender was “morphed.”  That word wasn’t coined until the 1980s.  That’s a hundred years off.  And that was also in Doc’s POV, which just makes it the more egregious, because “morph” comes from the Greek word for “shape” not “change,” so the word doesn’t even make linguistic sense.  And yes, Doc was educated enough to know what the Greek root meant.  There’s literally no excuse for using “morphed” to describe a man changing shape into a bat.  It’s not even the word most people would use now.  Most people would say “transformed.”  And guess what?  The first known use of “transform,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (app) is the 14th century, making it perfectly acceptable for use in the 19th century.

When I complained about the anachronisms to my brother (who loaned me the book, having enjoyed it himself), he said he hadn’t noticed them, and made all these defenses for the author, talking about deadlines, and how editors would complain if the language was too old-fashioned, and all that stuff.  But there’s no deadline hasty enough that it would force an author to shave off a few letters by using “morphed” instead of “transformed.”  And there’s nothing “old-fashioned” or hard to understand about “transformed.”  It’s used very commonly in modern English.  Much more commonly than “morphed,” in fact.

I don’t know if it was ultimately the anachronisms or the fact that the author obviously wanted us to see the tribal people defending their homes as the bad guys, but one or the other (or more likely both) just made me decide to put it aside a while and read something else.  I went back to it after the something else for a few more pages, then just plain put it aside.  Because there is literally no reason to read it, so why should I force myself to read something I was actively disliking?

Which actually brings me to the other thing I wanted to say, that I’ve decided I’m not doing the Read Harder Challenge anymore.

My piles of books I actually want to read are too tall for me to be wasting time reading books I don’t want to read just to fulfill an online challenge checklist.  Especially since I got on the PM Press e-mail list; they keep sending me e-mails advertising their new books, and I keep saying “ooh, I want to read that!” and then I end up with a $75+ box of books on my porch.  😛  To say nothing of that stack of 11 Zola novels I bought earlier off Abebooks.  😉  (Seriously, why would anyone buy books on Amazon when it’s cheaper on Abebooks and you’re supporting an assortment of independent businesses instead of one monstrous and inhumane corporation?)

My one regret about stopping doing the Read Harder Challenge is that I no longer feel compelled to post book reviews, but…well, I should try to post them anyway, as a motivation to do more reading and get through all those stacks of books.  (It’s just…there’s all these, you know, video games…and resin experiments…and all these stories I want to write…and there’s anime I want to watch…and there’s only 24 hours in the day!  I need 60 or 70 hour days.  Minimum.)

Pride Month Reading Report

Published June 30, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Thought I’d do a group post of all the LGBTQ+ reading I’ve done this month.  (Though next year I plan to think ahead; I’m going to assemble the list as I go, and on the first of June next year I’ll post a list of all the LGBTQ+ reading I’ve done between the two Junes, and that way if someone wants to read any of it for themselves, then they actually have time to do so while it’s still Pride Month.)  Bizarrely, all but one of the books I’m listing here is something I got by backing it on Kickstarter.  (I spend way too much money there.)  Most of them, furthermore, are graphic novels.  Which is so weird, because I don’t really think of myself as the graphic novel type.  Manga, yes, but graphic novel, not so much.  There were also a few other good LGBTQ+ related books I got off Kickstarter that I’ve already read, but since it wasn’t this month, I’m not including them here.  (I should have thought of them sooner and done a post at some point during the month.  *sigh*  I am still not fully back in the blogging habit.  Or even, like, halfway back in it.  I’m maybe a quarter of the way there.  Maybe.)

I’m going to list them alphabetically, because I don’t think I can remember what order I read them in.  (Also, please keep in mind that I spent the first half of the month reading stuff for the Read Harder challenge instead, until I realized I ought to put that aside for Pride Month-appropriate reading.  Because, you know, 50th anniversary and all.)


 Ben, the Boy Who Paints His Nails – There’s nothing overtly LGBTQ+ about this, aside from the rainbow theme, it’s more just about accepting people.  A children’s picture book can only do so much, after all.  It’s teaching about acceptance in general, and I think it does a nice job of it.

 Laria’s Diary:  Prelude to Mystics of Sapphia – This comic book is a side-story to Mystics of Sapphia, a lesbian visual novel I backed on Kickstarter.  The game hasn’t come out yet, but they sent the physical copy of the comic out anyway, since it takes place before the game.  It’s a pleasant read, except for the ending, which as you might expect is rather dark, setting up the story for the game.  (I don’t remember the story for the game anymore, because my brain has been crowded with too many other things lately, but…)

 Lemonade Summer – A collection of short, LGBTQ+ positive comics, child-friendly, but still interesting for adults.  Some of the stories feature the same kids (and/or their siblings) and some of them don’t interlock with the others at all.  The common thread is really finding acceptance for who you are, no matter who that is.  Extremely sweet, but without being saccharine.

 Letters for Lucardo, Volumes 1 and 2 – In these graphic novels (or are they the print form of a webcomic?), a handsome, young-looking vampire prince falls in love with his sixtyish scribe.  I have to admit, I kind of backed this one out of “wait, what?” more than anything else, but it’s very compelling.  Lucardo’s love for his elderly scribe Ed is pre-existing in volume 1:  it starts out with him confessing to the scribe, who was already quite smitten with his handsome employer (and had been actively flirting with him for a long time).  It was a good idea to start there; with their love already a thing, we don’t watch Lucardo falling for the rather ordinary-looking older(-looking) man and wonder what he sees in him, instead we just watch their interactions and realize that yeah, Ed’s actually quite wonderful, very charming and funny, and you end up quite sold on their romance.  Of course, Lucardo’s family is not so sold…  (I think this is the only one on this list with explicit sex scenes.  Of which it has a pretty large number.)

 Now Loading…! – This is the only non-Kickstarter work in the bunch.  I found this manga at…um…probably Barnes & Noble…and thought it looked cute.  And it was cute.  Cute and sweet.  Not a lot more than that, but it was refreshing that it was about the characters getting close to each other and gradually developing romantic feelings rather than about them being in a rush to leap into bed.  (Yeah, I’ve seen some yuri manga like that.  Though yuri is not as bad on that score as yaoi is.)  Somewhat idealistic about video game programming, but not as much so as some other things out there.

 Paint the Town Red, Volume 1 – In this graphic novel, a badly wounded vampire takes refuge in a hospice run by a couple of werewolves.  Not that the two werewolves are a couple; in fact, one of them starts dating the vampire.  The big surprise to me in this was how quickly our two heroines went from strangers to lovers; the narrative skipped over a lot of time so we didn’t watch them adjusting to each other, making the leaps from strangers to friends to lovers.  (It did specify that the time had passed, however, so it’s not like they just hopped in the sack within days of meeting.)  But it’s not a romance story, so it makes sense that the creators didn’t want to waste a lot of time on setting up the two of them as a couple, when that’s just part of the background of the main action, as it were.  It’s refreshing that they don’t try to make both of them fit the “pretty girl” type.

 The Pride, trade paper volume 1 – So this one is the collected first volume of a comic book about an all-LGBTQ+ superhero team.  (Well, almost all.)  I’m not big on superhero comics, and based on my experience reading this I doubt that’s going to change any time soon.  I did enjoy the writing and the characters in this, but the jump in art style between each issue was horribly jarring for me.  I’d love to see these characters adapted into something with a set art style, whether it be animation, live-action, or whatever else you might come up with.  (How about a video game?  That would be sweet.  Like an action RPG where you can switch between the different heroes as the situation warrants.  With long, visual novel-style cut scenes between missions.  That would rule.)  However, I doubt I’ll be reading any more of the comic, because I just can’t take the art style jumps.  Also too much fighting and not enough character interaction.  (There is a reason, after all, that I do not normally read superhero comics.)

 Roadqueen:  Eternal Roadtrip to Love – When I looked at the Kickstarter page for this, I somehow came to the conclusion that it was like Haruka and Michiru (Sailors Uranus and Neptune respectively) if Michiru was evil.  That wasn’t it.  Like, at all.  But it was fun and charming all the same.  (Only now I kind of want to read a fanfic where Michiru is evil…)

And finally, a list of things I didn’t finish this month:

Bang! Bang! Boom! [New York] – The Kickstarter was technically for the first volume of the web comic Bang! Bang! Boom!, but since it was available as an add-on (or was it a different tier to get both?) I also got this prequel novel.  It’s set in during the 1920s, in a slightly alternate reality where magic is uncommon rather than impossible.  (Also slightly alternate in race relations, as there’s a very important police detective who is described as “African American,” an anachronistic term if you’re in the real world, and it’s also highly anachronistic that he would be in a position of power in the 1920s, but since this is an alternate history situation, I’m willing to accept it.)  It’s the story of two men in a Polish immigrant mob, one of whom has very powerful fire magic which tends to make things blow up.  (Hence the title.)  Even if I didn’t know the web comic was about them as a couple living on the west coast (I assume the novel will cover why they had to leave), it’d be pretty obvious they were going to end up together, even if they didn’t start out liking each other at all.  Anyway, I’m liking it very much so far; I’m only about halfway through, but I don’t think that’s likely to change.  (Usually, by this point in a book, I pretty much know where I stand on it unless it louses up the landing, but the worst failures are impossible in this case since I know the two leads are alive years later.)  I suspect this will have explicit sex scenes later on, which would mean Letters for Lucardo is not the only one after all.

 Luscious Spirit Collection – This…how do I put this?  Ultimately, it was my own fault.  I went back and looked at their campaign page, and they did have links to samples of the stories in this.  I could have followed those links and seen just how amateur they were and saved myself however much money I backed this for.  I forced myself to read all the way through the first story, which was set just after Prohibition and didn’t seem to understand that a lot of things were very different in the 1930s, from money (no one would have dared charge $3.25 to read someone’s fortune unless they were charging it to a Rockefeller) to race relations (the term “African American” was not coined until the 1990s) to gender roles (you would not ask a woman in the 1930s what she does for a living, because you would assume she didn’t work unless she said otherwise).  Part of what kept me going was knowing that the next story was written by someone else.  Only it wasn’t actually much better.  The grammar was slightly better and there were fewer continuity errors (someone’s nickname changing from one page to the next, a garment changing from a sweater to a sweatshirt and back again, but…when I saw there were another fifty pages in that story, I just couldn’t take it.  I had to stop.  (Especially since the rest of the stories were by the first author.))  The first thing they needed to do with the money they raised on Kickstarter was to hire a professional editor, and they plainly never did that.  I actually kept folding over the corners of pages with examples of each type of egregious error so I could report on them, but…I’d feel like a bully if I actually did that.  I already feel bad about saying this much as it is.  (This tried to have explicit sex scenes, but they were so awkwardly written that I don’t think they count as explicit anymore.)

 Rainbow Arcade:  Over 30 Years of Queer Video Game History – This is actually the companion book to a museum exhibit on the subject.  Couldn’t see the exhibit because I haven’t got the time (or freely accessible money) for a trip to Germany, but it’s a nice big book on the subject and I’m looking forward to reading it.  “So why haven’t you finished it, then?” you may be asking.  Well, it’s like this:  I was reading the introduction, and when it mentioned what a step forward it was when major games like Mass Effect offered same-sex romantic partners, I thought to myself “hey, I wonder if they mention Jun?” and promptly turned to the back of the book to look in the index, even as I thought further “nah, if they mention anyone, it’s probably just Kanji…”*  So I get to the P section in the index, and lo and behold, yes, Persona 2 is listed just in front of Persona 4…and Persona 5 is listed behind that, with two pages beside it, unlike the other two, which both had only one (the same one, in fact).  And why would that matter?  Well, I’m not done playing Persona 5 yet.  I don’t want spoilers.  I’m hopeful that whatever they list it for will be positive (especially since one of the party members looks so much like Jun that I kept calling him Jun at first!) but it might just be for the negative of those two offensive gay stereotypes you meet on the street sometimes. 😦  (I’m also hopeful that one of the female party members is a lesbian, because she’s showing a lot of signs of not being into men at all, but…probably best not to get my hopes up too high in that regard.  Though she’s definitely a lesbian in my head-canon, no matter what she is in the game.)  Anyhoo, I’m looking forward to reading this once I get through that game.



* Oh, I should probably explain who Jun and Kanji are, for those who don’t know JRPGs.  Obscure ones in Jun’s case.  Persona 2:  Innocent Sin was a Playstation game that was not translated into English at the time (c. 1997-8) for whatever reason.  (I have heard a number of theories, including that there is a school shooting in the game…though I don’t actually recall one in reading the translated script of it.  There were murders at a high school, but I think they were performed by demons, not guns.  I dunno; it’s been a long time since I read that.)  Like in all the games in the super-large Megami Tensei überseries, you play a silent protagonist.  In that particular case, he’s a high school student named Tatsuya.  And one of your party members is another high school boy by the name of Jun, who is passionately in love with Tatsuya.  And towards the end of the game you make a dialog choice in which you must declare your own love for someone.  And you can declare that you return Jun’s affection.  (Sadly, they wuss out on this and by the sequel, Persona 2:  Eternal Punishment, Tatsuya loves 20-something Maya, regardless of what you chose.  And, freakishly, she returns his love no matter how much you try to push her (as she has become the player character) to love his awesome older brother instead.  Who is, you know, an appropriate age for her.  And also awesome.  Unlike Tatsuya, who is obnoxious once he starts talking.)  We did eventually get Persona 2:  Innocent Sin in English, when they did a PSP version many years later.  (Though then they didn’t bring over the PSP upgrade of Eternal Punishment, despite the freakin’ cliffhanger ending!  I mean, yeah, we’ve got the original PS1 version, but still!)

Anyway, moving on, in Persona 4, Kanji is one of your party members, and he’s suffering doubt about his own masculinity because he likes to sew and knit, which his society tells him that no man ever likes, so he is both trying to be extra macho (in terms of picking fights and generally acting aggressive) but also wondering if he’s gay and that’s why he likes pastimes boys aren’t supposed to like.  So when he sees what seems to be an extremely pretty boy come up to talk to him and starts feeling attracted to “him,” Kanji concludes that he must be gay.  The “boy” in question is, of course, a girl in a boy’s school uniform, and Kanji continues to crush on her even after learning she’s a girl (possibly more so), and he also has a bit of a crush on the girl in the party who’s a pop idol, so I’m not sure if that’s viewed as “backsliding” since he ends up not being gay after accepting himself as “gay.”  Personally, I see it as “well, he’s probably bi with a preference for girls” and am okay with it, but I am curious to see what the book has to say.  (After all, his real issue was gender role non-conformity (however that would be best phrased) not necessarily anything sexuality-related.  Not even gender identity related, really.)

Books, Spaceships and Krikkit

Published June 6, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

If you’re sitting there thinking I’ve misspelled one of the words in the title of this post, then you probably don’t run in comedy sci-fi circles.

As the first (non-manga) book to read in my comfortably post-grad school existence, I chose Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen, because I’d been wanting to read it for some time.  (I’m not sure why I hadn’t gotten to it before the semester started, but…)  Of course, on reading it, certain passages were so very familiar that I had to reread Life, the Universe and Everything next, for reasons which will be obvious to anyone who’s read it.

For those of you unfamiliar with any of this, let me give you some background information.

1976.  Tom Baker is the fourth actor to play the Doctor on the television series Doctor Who.  (The fifth actor total, of course, because there were those two movie adaptations of the first two Dalek stories where they replaced William Hartnell with Peter Cushing, but I don’t think anyone liked to talk about those…)  One of the writers working with the BBC on the program is the young Douglas Adams, who pitched a script for a Doctor Who movie in which Tom Baker’s Doctor would go up against the Krikkitmen, white robots whose armor happened to look like cricket gear.

Over the course of four years, the idea became more detailed (and the companion in the treatments became more vague because the Doctor had gone through several companions in the intervening years), until it ended up a bit over 30 pages long.

And then nothing happened with it.  Tom Baker left the program, and Douglas Adams had his hands full with his own brilliant hit, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which had started out as a BBC radio program, then transitioned to one series of television and a short series of novels.

By the time Adams got round to writing the third novel, the Doctor’s meeting with the Krikkitmen was off the table for good, and there was no reason to let a good story die in obscurity, so Adams adapted it into Life, the Universe and Everything.  With a good many obvious changes, as Slartibartfast is not much like the Doctor (not like any version of same, in fact) and the starship Bistromath is not much like a TARDIS.  In fact, not at all like a TARDIS except for the fact that neither one of them looks like something that ought to be a spaceship.  (And no, the mouse on the cover is not the Bistromath.  Nor is it the Heart of Gold, nor is it a Krikkit ship.  I don’t know what the heck that thing is.  Some artist just thought it looked funny, I guess.)

Fastforward many decades to 2012.  Another of Douglas Adams’ Doctor Who projects that was never fully realized, the story “Shada” that had been intended to be the season finale (which was scrapped part-way into filming due to a strike), is released as a novel written by Gareth Roberts, in a narrative style that is comparable to Adams’, if not quite as brilliant.  It’s a huge hit (as such things go), and the BBC starts casting about for anything else they can release in the same vein.  Eventually, they hit on the Krikkitmen.  (First, of course, they had to novelize a couple of stories that were broadcast.  Haven’t bothered reading those, because why bother?  Especially with “City of Death.”  You can’t improve on perfection.)

So, what is the story of these books?  Well, short version:  far back in the mists of galactic history, the planet Krikkit really didn’t like the fact that the rest of the universe existed, and built robots to wipe it all out, but they were eventually defeated and now have become horrifying bogeymen parents use to frighten their children, and only one planet is gauche enough to talk about anything relating to Krikkit, even if they do happen to spell it slightly differently, but of course that wouldn’t be a story unless the robots suddenly returned to put the universe at risk once more.  Only there’s so much more to it than that.  I mean, even to the set-up there’s so much more to it.  Really, it’s something one ought to read for oneself.  If you haven’t read the Hitchhiker’s trilogy, you really probably ought to, unless you’re utterly allergic to comedy and/or…well…what do you call it?  “Soft sci-fi”?  I know “hard sci-fi” is the stuff that tries to be as realistic as possible, which is kind of the opposite of Hitchhiker’s, which has its own set of logical rules of physics, which don’t really correspond to ours on a 1-to-1 basis.  (Ours, after all, are not very funny.)  The Doctor Who version is slightly less soft in sci-fi terms, but only very slightly.  I mean, even the show in its most serious moments is pretty far from being hard sci-fi, and this is anything but its most serious moments.  (He’s facing off against robots called Krikkitmen.  How could it possibly be serious?)

But perhaps more importantly for this post, how does the Doctor Who version compare to Adams’ own version?  Well…it’s hard to compare them, really.  I mean, Adams’ prose is more brilliant, and funnier, but beyond that, the comparisons become more awkward.  The story is really better suited to the Doctor Who universe, which only makes sense given that it was first intended to be told there.  It features Romana II as the companion, of course, as is only fitting, since it was in her time on the show that Douglas Adams was the script editor, and “City of Death” aired (and “Shada” would have aired).  The book also includes the longest of Adams’ treatments for the Krikkitmen movie (ironically, the one title he had ruled out for it was Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen) and the opening chapter of Goss’s earlier draft of the novel in which Sarah Jane Smith was the companion (as she was when the story was first pitched), only not the Sarah of the 1970s, but the Sarah Jane of the modern show era, with a paragraph that referenced meeting not only 10, but also 11, 6, possibly 12, and I think there was at least one other only I’ve forgotten now and the book’s already been returned to my father’s house.  (However, the reference to meeting the sixth Doctor was completely inappropriate:  the tenth Doctor’s reaction to seeing her made it very clear that he hadn’t seen her since “The Five Doctors.”  Which, come to think of it, already ruled out older Sarah Jane as a companion for this story, given the fifth Doctor’s outfit…)

All in all, I would definitely say that the Doctor Who version is worth reading, if you’re familiar with the original series.  If you only know the new stuff, it might be a bit jarring.

I have to say, though, it raised some questions in me that I don’t think it intended to.  Not directly reading it, mind you, but thinking about it afterwards.  Because I sat down and thought, “I wonder if we’re supposed to take this as canon?”  And then thought that would be mighty weird if we did, given that as the fifth Doctor is trying to decide on his new look, he comes across a room full of cricket gear, and decides that would be perfect, and even passes comment on how the cricket bat needs tending to.  So, if the English sport cricket was a demented race memory of the horror of the Krikkit wars (which it couldn’t really be a “race memory” per se, given that they ended long before humans evolved on Earth), then why in the world would the Doctor have so much cricket gear?  Though the Doctor can be pretty weird and even a bit perverse, so that’s not a huge problem with its canoninity.  (Yes, not a word, I know.)  The bigger problem is the inclusion of the fabulously beautiful planet of Bethselamin, which is of course well known to any who know Hitchhiker’s.  And we’re not meant to take it as coincidental; it’s definitely meant to be the same planet, just earlier in its history than we know it.  Which implies that maybe somehow the Doctor Who universe and the Hitchhiker’s universe are the same one.  Almost plausible, in the light of “Destiny of the Daleks” having a scene where the Doctor is reading a book by Oolon Colluphid.  (Less plausible in light of the destruction of the Earth at the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, naturally.  And its redestruction at the end of Mostly Harmless.)  But if they were the same universe, what would it mean when the tenth Doctor mentions Arthur Dent at the end of his first episode?  Surely that was meant to be referring to a fictional character, not a fellow space-traveler, especially not one who gets so little respect and recognition as Arthur does.

Honestly, after having that thought, I can suddenly no longer fully reconcile that episode (or that line, anyway) with “Destiny of the Daleks.”  I realize that’s kind of crazy, but…they don’t mesh properly.  (Admittedly, that moment of “Destiny of the Daleks” was one of a couple of comedic filler moments that Adams provided because the script was too short to fill the show’s runtime (which actually ticked off Dalek creator Terry Nation), but still.)

…and, yeah, I think I wanted to post this “review” more so I could go into that ludicrously convoluted path to the “wait, what?” moment at the end with contrasting Oolon Colluphid being real and Arthur Dent being fictional in the same universe.  Because apparently I wanted to showcase the fact that I put way too much thought into this sort of thing.

Book Reports: Some Read Harder Books…

Published May 29, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Now that I’m finally done with school, I can get back to reading and writing whatever I want.  So I can start tackling this year’s Read Harder Challenge.  But in the course of this semester, I have read some books that qualify (three for class and one just because), so I’m just going to lump them all together in this post.  Partially because some of them were a while ago and my brain has already moved on too far to write much about them.

One of the two books we had to read for the first class meeting also meets Challenge 1 “An epistolary novel or a collection of letters.”  The book is Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, which technically didn’t fit the scope of the class, as the class was the history of Europe in the 19th century, and it was written late in the 18th century.  Yeah, we read a combination of histories and novels from the period.  I’d actually been worried about having only a week to get through hefty 19th century novels, but I ended up enjoying them a lot more than the histories.  Except this one.  This one was really a pain.  (And it was about a third the length of the others, btw.)  It wasn’t that it was bad, just that it was incredibly frustrating to read.  Not merely frustrating, but downright claustrophobic.  Unlike most other epistolary novels I’ve read, it consisted only of the title character’s outgoing mail (except for a few pages), and he made references to letters that had been written to him, but we never got to hear the other character’s actual words.  The main sorrow plaguing young Werther is, of course, a romantic one:  he’s in love with a woman who’s already taken.  Given that I’ve become bored with the entire heterosexual romantic narrative, this was already a point against it, but not an insurmountable one.  What was insurmountable was the fact that we never got to know her.  Werther assured his friend that his precious Lotte was just so beautiful and pure and innocent and witty and basically perfect.  But he rarely ever actually wrote down anything she said to him, so we could only take his word for it.  The longer it went on, the more I thought about a line from Shakespeare in Love, when Viola is first rehearsing as Romeo, and putting all her passion into bemoaning the loss of Rosaline’s love, and Will comes over and tells her that she’s talking about “a baggage we never even meet.”  That was how I felt about Lotte:  we never even met her, just heard Werther drone on about how much he loved her and loved her and ached for her and…argh.  Once I’d finished reading it, I went back and read the Introduction, which explained that much of it was semi-autobiographical, based on the experiences of Goethe and another man he had known about the same time, but knowing that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to read.  I’m going to have to read his Faust sometime, because Goethe is supposed to be the greatest of German authors, and I’d really like to read something of his that I could like.

(The library copy I read didn’t actually look like this, as it didn’t have its dust jacket. It just had the book itself, which was yellow.)

One of the books I read for my final paper fits Challenge 9 “A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads.”  This book, Munby:  Man of Two Worlds was published in 1972 and has a grand total of 9 reviews on Goodreads.  (Obscure history books to the rescue!)  This fits nicely with the theme of the previous book, in that it was a frustrating read.  Arthur J. Munby was a minor civil servant in the latter half of the 19th century and a mediocre poet with friends among the literary elite, and he was also a dedicated diarist:  the papers he left behind (with a rider on the papers that they were not to be opened until 1950) included daily diaries for 39 years.  Obviously, this book does not contain nearly 40 years of diaries, so there was much edited out, which of course is where the frustration comes in.  But first, let me explain just why I was interested in reading this guy’s diaries in the first place.  Munby was obsessed with working class women.  He would go over and talk to them whenever he saw them on the street, and he literally took trips to the countryside to meet women who worked on the pit brows at coal mines.  (Repeatedly.  Like, that was his favorite vacation, and he would visit the same mine several times, and all the pit brow “girls” knew him.)  Since my paper topic was on working women in Britain during the Industrial Revolution, his diary was a natural fit for me…only the guy selecting the entries to put in this book cut out most of the ones about the working class women.  He seemed to think his main duty was to make sure the book did a proper job of relating Munby’s life story, rather than that it make these otherwise lost voices from the past, representing an all too often overlooked demographic…despite that he actually commented how Munby’s diary had done such a great service to social history by preserving the stories of all these women.  On top of omitting the majority of the information I actually wanted from the book, he also omitted a lot of things that any normal person would say “heck, yeah, let’s read about that!”  Like, for example, Munby went to France in 1872.  For those well versed in French history, you know the significance of that, but for those who aren’t, let me tell you about a few key events that had just transpired:  in 1870, there was the Franco-Prussian War.  The actual war part lasted about six weeks, and ended with Napoleon III surrendering to Bismarck in Sedán, but Paris held out against a Prussian siege from September until January.  (Prussia, btw, became Germany during the siege.  The Prussian king had himself crowned as Kaiser (that is, emperor) Wilhelm at Versailles, which was the Prussian headquarters during the siege.)  The Parisians had been utterly unprepared, didn’t have enough food and had actively discouraged people from fleeing the city before the Prussian army got there.  In fact, people from the surrounding countryside had come to take shelter in the city, so its population was actually about half a million higher than normal.  By the end of the siege, they were eating dogs, cats, rats and zoo animals, having already eaten most of the horses as well as the actual food animals.  And the Prussians had been bombarding the city for weeks (or was it about a month?) before they finally surrendered.  One of the conditions of the surrender was that the Prussians got to have a victory march through Paris.  The people of Paris were outraged by that, and the people of one working class district decided to take a bunch of cannons out of the main section of the city and hide them in their own district to keep them out of enemy hands.  (Despite that the enemy had much better cannons.)  Somehow (even in reading about it in detail it never made 100% sense to me) that led to the Commune, in which a revolutionary government took over and basically tried to have Paris secede from France.  It’s more complicated than that, of course, but it lasted a few months, and by the end, the French government was bombarding Paris with even more devastating effects than the Prussians had been, and the retreating Communards in the several days of street fighting decided on a scorched earth policy and burned every section of the city they retreated from.  (Though their leaders twice ordered them to spare Notre Dame…and the week after we read about the Commune, it caught fire.  Eerie.  Especially since the book we had read that week (and it caught fire on a Monday, the day our class met) had ended in the street battles as the Commune fell apart, so it too was in the midst of a burning Paris…)  Between the artillery attacks, the massive sections of burning city and of course the reprisals by the French government, at least 20,000 people were dead.  And evidently when Munby was in Paris, he still saw lingering signs of all that devastation, and spent several pages describing it.  But this moron who compiled the book didn’t bother to let us read those pages!  Aaaarrgggghhh!!!  I mean, it’s not like that would have helped my paper any, but I would have liked to read it for pure historical interest.  Especially since I’d read a letter from a young American man on Grand Tour in Paris in 1872 who didn’t mention anything at all about signs of destruction.  (Though the fact that he was writing to his fiancee may have had something to do with that.)

Wow, I went way off topic there.  Anyway, like I said, very frustrating read.  But despite all the omissions, there’s still a lot of good information there.  Someone really needs to do a proper release of Munby’s diaries, though.  No omissions whatsoever.  Just a really detailed index, and/or a searchable digital version.  If I ever lose my job and end up moving to England, I could see myself trying to do that.  (Though I’d obviously prefer someone else did it.)

Right, so, moving on.

Wow, that is a really crappy copy of the cover image.  Dunno why Goodreads didn’t have a better image for this edition.  Anyway, this is for Challenge 10 – “A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman,” and in this case it’s the translation, not the book, which was by a woman.  Since there’s a very good chance no one else can read what the words on that book say, the book is The Condition of the Working Class in England, and it’s by Friederich Engels, first written in 1844 in German.  Sometime in the 1880s, it received an English translation for an American edition, and then an edition in England followed shortly thereafter.  (Or was it that the American translation was around the 1860s, and the English one wasn’t until the 1880s?  I’m too lazy to go check…)  This is that translation, and the translator was a woman.  It’s hard to know how to describe this book.  Engels’ father owned several factories in both Germany and in England (I think the English ones were all in Manchester, but he might have had some elsewhere as well), and Engels worked in the offices of his father’s factory, but he hated seeing how the workers were treated.  He spoke to them, got to know them, and went around to see where and how they lived, and the more he saw, the more outraged he became, and after much more research (both in person and in consulting various governmental reports that were made publicly available) he wrote this book to tell everyone just how bad it was.  And if he wasn’t exaggerating, it was certainly very, very bad.  Some of it is so horrible that it’s hard to picture it; he describes families living in such conditions of filth that you would only expect the worst of prisons to provide, and I mean that filth literally, in the “no place even for a chamber pot so they just had to use the corners” way.  It’s hard to imagine that people could have been living in conditions that bad in 19th century England, and yet evidently they were.  That’s why there were so many uprisings and such all across Europe in the middle of the 19th century (1848 saw revolutions in about half the countries of Europe, though the French one was the only one with results that stuck for more than a few weeks, and even it only lasted a couple of years), because things were this bad pretty much in every industrialized nation at the time.  This is definitely not a “feel good” read (unless, I suppose, you’re a sociopathic sadist), but it’s definitely an eye-opener.  And absolutely vital to any labor history of 19th century Britain.  (I think it must have made up at least a third of the citations for my final paper…)

And changing the tone incalculably vastly…

Challenge 11 is “A book of manga.”  And I read a lot of those, so this wasn’t much of a challenge.  😛  Technically, since this post has taken me so long to finish (started it ten days ago now!), I should have added Omnibus 3 to this, because I’ve now read it, too, but I doubt it matters.  Dragon Half is a comedy-fantasy manga about a girl whose mother is a dragon (capable of taking on a humanoid form) and whose father is an adventurer who decided to marry the dragon instead of killing it.  (Like you do.)  Anyway, I’ve long known the OVA of Dragon Half, which is very funny and cute and stars Kotono Mitsuishi (probably best known as Sailor Moon and Excel (title character of Excel Saga)) and Yasunori Matsumoto (probably best known as Gourry Gabriev from Slayers), and has one of the silliest ending credits songs imaginable, as most of the lyrics are about eggs and beer, and yet the music is an adaptation of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”  (Really.)  Anyway, the material that went into the OVA was entirely in the first Omnibus volume (the first two of which each contain two volumes of the manga, and the third of which has three), so this volume was entirely new territory to me.  And it pretty much was just what I was expecting of Dragon Half:  silliness with a little bit of fantasy violence, and the old-school style of “fan service” which somehow doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the newer type.  (The old type being more “let’s have our fantasy girls run around in chainmail bikinis” and the new one being more “let’s flip up the school girl’s skirt to show her panties, or have the hero walk in on her while she’s just wearing her underwear!”)  One thing that really struck me that I hadn’t expected from the OVA is the naming scheme in place for most of the smaller characters.  The magazine this manga originally ran in is (was?) called RPG or some variation thereof, which may be why so many of the characters have names borrowed from RPGs, though the translators dropped the ball on that, because they didn’t get that those two characters in volume 3 were supposed to be “Rosa and Rydia” not “Rosa and Lydia.”  (I guess they’d never played Final Fantasy IV.)  Most of the names I noticed are ones no one’s likely to miss (like, for example, Link), but the one that really hit me was Bufu.  Which is the name of the ice spell in Megami Tensei games.  In a way, that makes Bufu my favorite character, just for the sheer obscurity of the name. 😛

So, that’s where I currently stand on this year’s Read Harder challenge…

…though depending on how you classify “A humor book,” I suppose you could say I’ve already met it with Dragon Half‘s third volume, because it’s certainly humorous!  I’ll probably not count it for that, though, since it’s not purely humor.  A more slice of life or absurdist comedy manga would count (Non Non Biyori or City, for example, if I can ever remember where I left off on those), but I think a fantasy adventure comedy might be a bit far afield.  Oog, though, Challenge 17 will be tough.  I do not want to read a business book.  At all.  I wonder if there are ways around that.  I should see if the Goodreads forum have come up with anything that skirts that.  (Huh, maybe I should count the Engels book for that, instead, and use something else for the translated book.  I know there are several manga I read which are written by women…and in some cases also translated by women.  I’m not sure if “book about the results of business” counts as a “business book” though…oh, wait, what about a book about industrialization?  I wonder if that counts…)  Oh, hey, a couple of them suggested using Dilbert books for the “business book” challenge.  Sounds like a plan! 😀

Finishing up Read Harder 2018 (the lazy way)

Published December 27, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Right, so, mass post to cover everything that didn’t get its own review.  Several of these are last minute replacements to make up for much longer books I didn’t have time to read because that stupid YA book held me up so long that my class started and things picked up at work, and all that rubbish.  Also some of these I read before class started, but I didn’t get around to their reviews because the review of the lousy book also held me up.  (Because I suck.)

Anyway, for laziness’s sake, I’m going to go by their order on the challenge list, starting with Challenge #2, “A book of true crime,” which I am skipping over as I’m embarrassed that I own the darn thing.  It’s something I bought in the school bookstore (with my parents’ money) back in the ’90s, relating dumb things criminals had done.  It seemed harmless at the time, but looking at it for the first time in more than a decade, I see a lot about it that’s unsettling.

Moving on to Challenge #3, “A classic of genre fiction,” I went with this:

The short version is “good books, horrible edition.”  Seriously, this paperback “classics” edition from Barnes & Noble is so bad.  I mean, I guess it’s okay if you’re the type to ignore endnotes entirely, but I’m in the habit of reading them.  Which I had to get out of pretty quickly for this thing.  It was bad enough when it gave endnotes explaining things that no reader would likely need explained (what a brontosaurus or a griffin was, for example), but when it gave a note that was a freaking spoiler, that’s when I said “no, screw you, endnotes!”  Ugh.

Uh, yeah, that was not relevant.  Also — still in the irrelevant category — wtf is up with that cover image?  It’s a neat image, yes, but it has sod-all to do with the books.  The future visited by the time traveler has no high tech anything, let alone this 1950s fantasy of the high rise city of tomorrow.

Back to what’s relevant, I was amazed at how little there was in common between these two books and my expectations.  The Time Machine has more in common with the opening sequence of Time After Time than it does with either of the films adapting it that I’ve seen.  The book’s future is very different from what any movie has ever delivered, and honestly it’s not even something a movie can deliver unless it’s going to be a very uncomfortable and relatively short picture.  In the movies, the Eloi have not evolved much from humans, while the Morlocks have become hideous mole-monster-people.  In the book, both species have become physically entirely distinct from human beings.  Which is much more likely, really, but not so easy to film.

As to The Invisible Man, it’s very different from other books of its sort.  Not that I’ve read a huge number of them (are there even a huge number of them?) but I’ve read both Frankenstein and Dracula, two of the works that pioneered the rather disparate genre that would create the Universal Monsters. 😛  It’s much less intimate with the title character…or anyone else, for that matter, if I recall correctly.  (Ugh, trying to review a book I read in August or whenever is not so easy in December.  Especially considering I’m sick.)  It was a really interesting read, though.  As long as you’re not reading this edition.

Okay, moving on to the next unreviewed book on the list, Challenge #5, “A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries.”

This is the sort of thing I wouldn’t have counted for Read Harder if I hadn’t run out of time.  “Rakonto” is the name of a project I backed on Kickstarter.  The idea of the project is that a group of teachers go to various countries and meet with groups of children who for one reason or another don’t get…okay, wait, rather than me trying to sum it up, I’m going to quote their campaign page instead:

Children love to tell stories.

However, in many places in the world, their creative voices are rarely heard or cultivated. Rakonto helps amplify the voices of these children by traveling to developing communities and implementing storytelling workshops that build on children’s natural potential to become storytellers.

In these workshops, we teach students the power of storytelling, challenging them to write their own original stories. In doing so…

  • We encourage students to take pride in their local heritage and to find their own voices
  • We empower students by sharing methods and tools for powerful expression, helping them grasp their potential as creative individuals
  • We help students imagine themselves as agents of positive social change

And it goes on from there about how there’s a global shortage of teachers, and how many children live in areas where they’re not getting the basic education that everyone should have the right to, etc.  They take the stories the children have told, illustrate one or more, and send them out to their supporters as books, with the proceeds from the books going to pay for more workshops in other countries, to keep the project going and encourage more children.

So, anyway, this one, The Power of an Idea, is by a tenth grader in India.  (Which is a bit older than I was expecting from their description, but…)  It’s about elderly homeless people and how to help them so they won’t be homeless anymore.  A bit naive around the edges, but very sweet, and definitely a different perspective than you get in America.

Moving on, Challenge #7, “A western.”  I had planned on borrowing a book from my father for this one, a steampunk western with all sorts of real people reinvented in steampunky ways, which I’m told is quite good.  But I didn’t have time anymore, so I went with

a single issue of a comic book I backed on Kickstarter.  (I am totally not a comic book person.  So why do I end up backing so many of them on Kickstarter?)  It’s about a bounty hunter named Veronica in 1885, who travels with La Meurte, who may or may not be real, but is most definitely her lover even if she isn’t real.  It’s short, being only an issue of a comic book rather than a full graphic novel, but it’s very interesting.  I’ll definitely be backing the later issues, too.  (Though only at the digital level.  I don’t want to try to keep track of flimsy little comic books.  I’ll go physical edition if they get collected into a book later on.)

Next, Challenge #9, “A book of colonial or postcolonial literature.”  I wanted to read Kim for this, because what could be more colonial than Kipling?  (Also, I bought an RPG based on it off a while back, and I wanted to read the book before I played the game.)  But I totally ran out of time.  So, in a measure of extreme cheapness and possible cheating, I’m counting one of the books I read for class.

I figure it counts as colonial/postcolonial because it starts out in Korea while it was under Japan’s colonial control, and then it’s postcolonial as we follow the family of displaced Koreans trying to live in Japan.  This is not a book I would ever have read on my own, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it.  It’s just totally not my thing.  The stuff in Korea was very interesting, and the early part of their time in Japan was also pretty good.  Near the end of WWII it totally lost me, though.  I can pinpoint the moment it happened, too:  when a long-gone character returned to the story suddenly to play the role of “perpetual plot device.”  It’s a generations long book which only really started to make sense to me after one of the children grew up and fell in love with the English novels he was studying, particularly Dickens.  Then I got it:  this is a love letter to and imitation of Dickens, with a Korean/Japanese veneer (and thankfully much less dense text).  As someone who gets annoyed with Dickens’ propensity for continual and over-the-top coincidences, this did not endear the book to me.

Additionally, the author’s research was inconsistent.  She did do a lot of research, but only into the major things like political movements, historical events, etc.  A lot of the details slid by.  I only noticed one particularly glaring one, late in the book, when we’re in 1968, and a three year old boy is soooo excited to go to the store and buy the latest “issue” of Tetsuwon Atom and then hurries home to watch the anime on TV.  Yeah, so that felt really, really wrong to me chronologically, so I looked that up.  Tetsuwon Atom (aka Astro Boy in the west) ended in 1968 with the death of the title character.  I don’t know when in the year that final chapter was published (and it would have been in a magazine, not in “issues” like an American comic; the collected volume likely wouldn’t have hit the shelves until the following year) but I seem to recall that scene being set in the fall, meaning it was probably already over, and given the way it ended, the father would probably have tried to discourage his little son’s attachment to the property.  But the son wouldn’t have said attachment anyway, because the anime went off the air in 1966, when the boy was about a year old.  It took me about a minute to look that up.  The author could have done the same.  And no, I don’t think she was using it for its recognizability factor, considering she was not only using its original Japanese title, but even going so far as to transliterate “Atom” as “Atomu,” as it’s actually spelled in Japanese.

So, long story short, when we discussed the book in class, the professor explained to us that there were a lot of minor errors all throughout the book, particularly in terms of when particular foods were available in Japan and what they were called at the time.  (I didn’t mention the anime thing, because I didn’t want to sound like the biggest otaku ever, but I’m sure she was aware of it.  She’s just more interested in food culture than pop culture.)

Now, do little things like that ruin a book?  Well, no, not to most people.  But as I said, I didn’t like it anyway, because of the whole melodramatic, recurring coincidence thing.  It’s just not my cup of tea.

And moving on to Challenge #24 (skipping over #20 to end with it) we have another class book, and this one feels even more like cheating.  That last challenge is “An assigned book you hated (or never finished).”  I didn’t hate it, but this is the last book we were assigned in that class, and I didn’t manage to finish it on time because I was too caught up in work and in research for my final paper.

This book is a sociological/anthropological study of Bethel, a service community on the island of Hokkaido which helps mental patients discharged from the hospital to live their lives outside the mental institution.  Most of the patients were, at first, schizophrenics, though that’s started to change in favor of emotional disturbances.  Anyway, it’s a very interesting book and written with very simple language, not a lot of technical terms from pyschology or anthropology.  It did need a better editing job, though; a lot of grammatical errors made it to the printed page.

Okay, so last one, Challenge #20, “A book with a cover you hate.”  And again this is kind of cheating, because this is something I would have read anyway.  But it does qualify, though in a different way than they likely meant.  My choice for this challenge is this:

I’m sure you’re looking at that gorgeous cover and wondering why in the world I hate it.  Well, let me tell you this:  if you have ever read any Black Butler and just haven’t gotten this far, or if you think you might want to read it in the future, then just stop right now.  Because I can’t explain why I hate this cover without completely spoiling the contents of this volume of the manga.

Okay, so if you don’t want to read further, hit the back button now!

Just gonna add a few more lines of buffer…





Okay, hopefully that’s buffer enough.

So, the reason I hate this book’s cover is because Agni there is my second favorite character in the manga…

…and he is horribly, brutally killed in the first chapter of this volume.

And in a later chapter we see a shinigami completing the paperwork on collecting his soul, so it’s highly unlikely (if not outright impossible) that he’s going to be magically revived.

Worse still, I had already paid to read that horrible, horrible chapter.  Because the last volume ended with my favorite character, Prince Soma (Agni’s employer/dearest friend), with a gun to his head, and then a page with nothing but a sound effect of a gun being fired.  I knew there were ways to buy an officially translated version of new chapters within days of their release in Japan, and I couldn’t possibly wait to find out if Soma was okay, so I had looked around and found that comixology sold the chapters for $2.99 apiece.  I bought the relevant chapter and found that Soma only got shot in the hand, but the assailant proved himself unnaturally powerful and…

…I ended up crying so hard that I had to call my brother, hastily assure him that nothing was wrong, and then continue crying as I explained I needed to get out of the house for a while.  (The worst part is, I have a fair chunk of Black Butler merch in my house.  If things go as badly as I fear they might in the next volume, and Soma gets himself killed trying to avenge Agni by going after the wrong person, I don’t know what I’m going to do with it all, because I don’t think I’ll want to keep it.  Or even keep reading.)

Needless to say, when this volume was released and I saw what the cover image was, I was really pissed off that they had the gall to do this.  I mean, there have been characters on the cover of the volume in which they die before, but those were new characters who were only introduced in that arc.  Soma and Agni were introduced very early on, before the story arcs got so long, and they’ve been around for probably about seven or eight years now.  (I believe the manga recently celebrated its tenth year.)  As long as they’ve been around, they should have become effectively immortal.  I accept that in a supernatural manga where the title character is a literal demon, there are plenty of human casualties, even ones that you would want to have survive and join the permanent cast, but if the permanent cast are suddenly no longer so permanent…

Not to mention that the “evil twin” became a tired cliche decades ago.  I mean, I think in this case there’s still something supernatural going on (at the very least, he’s been raised from the dead) but that doesn’t change the stupidity of it; there better be something more complex and deeper going on than that.

And I could go on about this for ages, but I’ll stop because I doubt anyone cares.

Abandoned Book Report: The Alchemyst

Published December 13, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Right, so I may have said before how part of the reason I was more or less stymied in my blogging was because of a book review post on one of my Read Harder choices.  And I have decided not to bother actually finishing the review.  Because a) why torture myself?  And b) I read it in like June and really don’t remember much.

Except that I hated it.  I remember that.

And that the author’s afterword about the real people who inspired the not-actually-the-hero (Nicholas Flamel) and the villain (Dr. John Dee) was way more interesting than the actual book.  (BTW, I was proud of myself, in the early pages, for identifying the latter figure just by his being called Dee.)

I’m including what little I had written (back in August) of the review, and summing up the rest with:  the teenage twins who were the leads were utterly boring, the girl had zero agency throughout the book (her magic was stronger, but the two times she used it to save the day were not her triumph, because in one case it was an accident, and in the other she was literally being controlled by someone else), and their parents were apparently con artists posing as archaeologists, because absolutely everything the twins said about their parents’ work was wrong and backwards.  (FYI, author of this awful book, archaeologists have a culture or region they specialize in, and they do not go gallivanting all over the freakin’ world excavating in every random culture they feel like.  They only work in the one they’ve specialized in.  Traveling the world to lecture or do a book tour, yes, but excavating any old ancient civ?  No.  Doesn’t happen.  Also, children do not need to have archaeologist parents to know who Bastet is.  I knew that from a very early age, because I read books.  And yes, parents who are not archaeologists do give their children books on world mythology.)

This was a young adult book, either about the same length as the first Harry Potter book, or a bit shorter.  But it took me a whole month to read it, because I had so much trouble forcing myself to endure it.

Also, using “Alchemyst” to refer to Flamel as an epithet in narration was really, really annoying.  “Olde English Shoppe” names notwithstanding, I don’t think anyone ever spelled the word alchemist that way.   And if they did, it was when English spelling was so loose that it probably would have been spelled five different ways in the same document.

Anyway, thanks to replacing some of my originally intended books with much, much shorter ones, I now only have one book left to go in Read Harder 2018 (if it weren’t for this stinkbomb, I would have finished back in the summer months, before my fall class started!), so once I’ve read that (and it’s a manga, so it won’t take long, once I force myself to start) I’m going to post a group book report on the rest of them.

And what follows is the small amount I wrote back in August.  Complete with the “note to self” material in brackets that I normally would delete as I replaced it with the proper text.

Part of the reason it’s taken me so long to post again after the last post is that this review is going to be really hard and frustrating to write.  In part because it’s now been like two months since I finished reading this book, and in part because I really don’t even want to think about it again.

This is my review for Read Harder 2018 Challenge #16, “The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series.”

Where do I even start?

Well, at the very beginning, I guess.  Which, in this case, is when and why I bought this book.  I had recently finished writing my quasi-YA series about three young heroes who were all illegitimate offspring of heroes of the Trojan War.  (The boy being a genuine mythological figure, and the two girls being my own inventions.)  As I had ludicrous delusions of being able to polish the books up to a publishable state, I wanted to make sure they fit in with the basic YA crowd.  As such, I wanted to read some other first-in-a-series YA books before I started editing the first book.  And I saw this at the bookstore and thought it sounded interesting.

And as the back of the book pushed the title character, the immortal Nicholas Flamel, rather than the two utterly boring modern teenagers who were the actual leads, it did sound interesting.

[okay, for attacking their asinine claims about their parents’ discoveries, the archaeologists who accidentally discovered Homo floresiensis were Australian and Indonesian, not American, and they were looking for evidence of how humans migrated from Asia to Australia.  That is highly specified work which would not take just any random archaeologist who was used to working with fully developed cultures.]

Book Reports: Things I Wanted to Review During Pride Month

Published July 28, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Yeaahhhhhh, so the lengthy I-can’t-type thing has really caused book reviews to backlog.  Although actually the YA book took me so long to read that there aren’t as many as there might be, and I’ve been focusing on my backlog of manga and Kickstarter-backed graphic novels rather than reading, you know, real books since.  Partly because I wanted something different, and partly because I spent money on these things, so I’m darn well gonna read them!  I’m starting with the graphic novels, though, rather than the YA book.  I’ll get to that one next time.  But one of these manga volumes counts for Read Harder 2018 (actually, all of them could count for the same challenge), so we’ll start with that one.  (Also, I actually read some of them after June ended, but I figured I’d just put them in this post, because otherwise I might not post anything about them at all, and they all fit into the theme so nicely!)

The challenge in question is number 4, “A comic written and illustrated by the same person,” and the manga I’ve chosen for that slot is…

Yes, that title says “The Bride was a Boy.”  And no, it’s not about a same-sex marriage.  (Last I heard, those are still illegal in Japan.)  And yes, that is an accurate translation of the original Japanese title.  (As far as I can tell.)  This manga is a very cute memoir (of sorts) in manga form, in which the mangaka (graphic novel author, for those less otaku-ish readers) Chii explains how she was assigned the male gender at birth, but transitioned as an adult.  This is a rare case where I actually did read reviews first, and I do agree with them that the tale is quite simplified and lacking in drama, because if there were any objections among Chii’s family and friends, she chose not to tell us about it.  Thus while I feel their complaints of “unrealistic” are not necessarily correct (if it’s actually what happened in her case, then it by definition is realistic), but it’s definitely not representative of the typical experience of trans individuals, so far as I know.  (Which is admittedly not far, but given all the reports one hears, I think it safe to say that most do not have the easy acceptance Chii found among family and friends.)

The art throughout is pretty much exactly like what you see on the cover:  cute, but not terribly distinctive.  And that’s fine, because I don’t think this was intended to launch a manga career for Chii.  Rather, I would say that this was intended to be educational.  At the end of every chapter, Chii explains a term and/or clears up a misconception about trans individuals, and I think that was the real intention of the book, to spread more accurate awareness.  Some of the moments I found most interesting were the insights into what it’s like to be trans in Japan:  for example, before Chii transitioned on paper, but after she was living as a woman, she would have trouble getting some official business done, because the officials on the other side of the desk would look at the paperwork for a man and say that they needed to talk to the person in question.  (Which sounds really complex, but that’s because it’s hard to phrase it.  It was actually only a single panel…)  Or, in a less convoluted example, how reassignment surgery is necessary for trans individuals who want to get married, because of the above-mentioned ban on same-sex marriage.  (Um, rather for heterosexual trans individuals.  For gay or lesbian trans individuals, reassignment surgery would actually mean they couldn’t get married.  I don’t think Chii really went into that, but…logically, it follows, since in Japan they can’t transition on paper without the surgery.)

So, at the end of the day, it’s a sweet and charming little book with some educational content, some laughs, and a lot of warm fuzzies.

Now, changing gears and yet staying on the same subject, I want to talk about an anime.  (Yeah, I know, that’s not a book report in any way, but…well, it’s based on a manga!  I just haven’t read the manga; I’ve seen the anime.)

This is the promotional image on the Crunchyroll page for the anime Hourou Musuko, which translates as “Wandering Son.”  It’s really hard for me to get a bead on how to even discuss this, mostly in terms of pronouns.  (Something that isn’t an issue in Japanese, because the language doesn’t have pronouns like those in English.)  The protagonist of this anime is Nitori Shuichi, a boy in middle school.  That’s him on the image, the one in the wine-colored dress.  And here’s where my uncertainty about pronouns come in:  Shuichi feels he should be a girl — that he is one, rather — but he hasn’t transitioned, and only periodically wears dresses and a long wig.  So, should I be using “she” to reflect Shuichi’s self-perceived gender, or “he” to reflect the socially-perceived gender that has yet to be fully rejected in Shuichi’s behavior?  I’ve been using “he” because Shuichi hasn’t actually transitioned yet, but I’m not sure if that’s right.  (I welcome correction if I’m wrong.)  As you’d expect from someone only in middle school, Shuichi isn’t entirely sure about a lot of other aspects of his identity, particularly his sexual identity.  He has romantic interest in his best friend, Takatsuki Yoshino (the other kid in the picture above), a girl who hasn’t yet transitioned to being a boy, but he also shows interest in girls who do self-identify as female.  So Shuichi doesn’t seem quite sure if his ideal self is a straight, bi or lesbian trans woman.  And I think that makes him feel much more real, because how many people have themselves fully figured out at that age?  (I didn’t come to understand that I’m asexual until I was 40, for cryin’ out loud!)

Hourou Musuko is what’s known as a “slice of life” anime, following Shuichi and a few other students at his school as they go about their daily lives.  Unlike most of the “slice of life” anime I’ve seen, it’s quiet, subdued, and you feel like these could be real kids.  (Most of the “slice of life” anime I’ve seen have been more in the “zany comedy” neck of the woods…)  The show never telegraphs what’s going on in the heads of the characters — though Shuichi’s reasons for doing things are usually spelled out fairly well, as the lead — and although you can often figure out, or at least speculate, what motivates the other major characters, you’re never completely certain, as you wouldn’t be with real people.  For example, there’s a scene in the first episode when Shuichi’s sister says something so horrible to him that if it had been a movie and not the first episode of a television show, I would honestly have been afraid he would kill himself over it.  It was that bad, and his reaction to it was that powerful.  But it’s not that she hates him, and in later episodes she is sometimes tolerant and even sweet to him.  The other students in Shuichi’s class are the same way:  you can’t always guess how they’re going to react to something, but afterwards you see how it all fits together with their earlier behavior, and you get a better idea of who they really are.  And none of the students you get to know well are typical; there’s something that makes them each unique, and most of the ones we get to know well either are aware of being LGBTQ+ in some way, or are displaying signs that they probably are, even if they haven’t figured themselves out yet.  (Before anyone thinks there is something exceptionally unusual about Shuichi’s school, it should be noted that the characters we spend the most time with are only a handful of students out of a fairly large class.)

Overall, it’s a very subtle, very genuine-feeling look into the complicated lives of today’s youth in their early/mid- teens.  (The pace is definitely not fast, however.  Don’t expect a thrill ride.)

And, even though it’s the one I read most recently — and yet the oldest of the lot — we’re switching back to manga for

The title you might have trouble reading because of that script font is Claudine, the name of the lead.  The mangaka, Ikeda Riyoko, is that shaper of modern manga and anime responsible for the classic The Rose of Versailles.  (Which I shamefacedly must admit I still haven’t finished watching.  I went into it knowing how it ends (who didn’t, though?  Marie Antoinette is one of the major characters!) and then I got to the episode where Oscar weirdly decided that she was in love with a man who wasn’t Andre, and even wore a dress for him, and I was just like “What is the matter with you, woman?!” and had to set it aside for a while and then kind of forgot to go back.  *cough*  I’d been enjoying it up until then, though.)  It should not, therefore, surprise you to learn that Claudine was first published in Japan in 1978.  So, yes, they didn’t translate this until it was forty years old!

Why the 40 year delay, you might wonder.  (Or you might not, given the context in which I’m discussing it…)  Translating it right away was not going to happen, of course; manga was not being brought over to the US in the late ’70s, so far as I know.  (Then again, how would I know?  I was only three years old in 1978.)  Let me answer the question in a slightly round-about fashion.  The Rose of Versailles, for those who don’t know, is the story of Oscar Francois, the youngest daughter of a French noble who was so tired of having daughters that he named his last child while still in the womb, and didn’t change it to a girl’s name even after she wasn’t a boy.  And she lived up to having a man’s name, dressing as a boy, learning to ride and fight like a man, and even joining the royal guards (by special royal dispensation), where she was made bodyguard to the Dauphine-to-be as soon as she left Austria.  Although Oscar dresses as a man, she doesn’t self-identify as one (though everyone routinely mistakes her for one at first glance, and one woman fell for her so hard as to literally commit suicide) and her servant/friend/military-right-hand-man Andre Grandier is, of course, passionately in love with her.  So, it didn’t just shape shoujo melodrama for decades to come, but inspired both shoujo-ai/yuri and shounen-ai/yaoi, even though it doesn’t technically fall into either of those categories.  And if you have ever seen a zany comedy anime, you have probably seen Ikeda’s art style mimicked at some point or other, because it’s just that iconic.

With all that said, Claudine goes much further than The Rose of Versailles.  The narration is from a psychiatrist (or psychologist) in Paris, sometime in the first half of the 20th century, reminiscing on the life of Claudine de Montesse, who was first brought to him as a patient at just 10 years old…because at eight years old, Claudine had self-identified as a boy.  It’s not clear exactly when the action of the manga is taking place, but I’d say the finale is probably before the outbreak of World War I, since it’s never mentioned.  (But I don’t know how much weight we should put on details of timing; I don’t think exactly when it was taking place was a high priority in Ikeda’s thought process on this one.)

For the rest of this discussion, I’m going to do something for Claudine that the manga itself never does:  I’m going to use the proper pronouns for him.

Claudine is very much a proper gentleman, but not so proper that he’s overly concerned by the social standing of the women he falls in love with.  His case is an odd one when viewed from the modern perspective where society is starting to accept and understand trans individuals:  he dresses and acts like a man, views himself as a man, but never changes his name to “Claude” and when he goes off to college, he doesn’t tell his new acquaintances that he’s a man or try to live as one.  Looking at it in context of Europe at the time it’s set…honestly, I guarantee there are cases more or less exactly like Claudine’s, but I know there are also cases of trans men born in Claudine’s situation who simply moved to a new city (or even country) where they weren’t known, changed their name and never admitted to anyone that they were not biologically male.  Though the story provides several incidents that could “explain” why Claudine self-identified as a man, they’re not accepted as explanations by Claudine himself, and actually wouldn’t explain it even if being trans was something that could be (or even needed to be) “explained” in those kinds of terms.

The fact that a manga like this with a trans lead was written in 1978 is frankly astonishing, especially given that Japan is a bit behind the curve on LGBTQ+ issues.  (Though certain people in this country are trying to push us back to the freakin’ Middle Ages, but that’s not something I should go into detail about.)  Of course, there are down sides to this amazing manga.  Like a lot of LGBTQ+ stories written before the 21st century, it has a tragic ending.  (And that’s not much of a spoiler, because the narrator’s tone quickly makes you assume something terrible happened, not to mention that the back of the book describes it as “heart-wrenching.”)  Unfortunately, it’s a very believable one.  Melodramatic, but people in love (regardless of gender or sexual orientation) can be very melodramatic in real life.

It’s not a feel-good read, but the art is gorgeous, and the characters who weave their way in and out of Claudine’s story feel like they lead full lives off the page (well, some of them do), which is very impressive in such a remarkably short volume.  It’s a pity it’s not longer, because I think Claudine’s story could have easily filled several regular-size volumes of manga without feeling padded, while this is a single, very thin volume.  And if Ikeda hadn’t been writing it back in 1978, it probably would have been several volumes long.  But I doubt 1978’s manga market was willing to support such a revolutionary story over a long period of time.

This one, btw, could also qualify for Read Harder 2018 challege number 3, “A classic of genre fiction,” as manga hasn’t been around as long, so it doesn’t have to be as old to count as “classic.”  I’m not counting it for that challenge (I’m reading some H.G. Wells for that), but I think it would qualify.

So, from a landmark manga of incredible depth, complexity and beauty, let’s move to another landmark manga which lacks pretty much all of those qualities.

What you see above are the covers of the first six volumes of the manga Gravitation, one of the first really major shounen-ai/yaoi titles to be brought to the US.  When I picked them up used at the local anime store, I thought the manga was only six volumes long.  I’m still not sure if I want to track down the other six, or just say “to heck with it!”

Which isn’t to say that it’s bad, per se.  I mean, I was enjoying reading it.  But the characters are pretty one dimensional, they all look pretty much the same (I frequently said “wait, who is that?” sometimes in cases when the person in question was the hero’s best friend/bandmate, who’s been in the story from the very first chapter), and the plot is running at full tilt with no indication that the mangaka had any idea where she was actually going with it.  This is not the highly polished work of art that Claudine was, but it’s not really trying to be, either.

So, the plot of this one, as described on the back of the first volume, is roughly as follows:  Shindo Shuichi, high school senior and frontman of an amateur band, drops a sheet of his lyrics in the park one night, and they’re picked up by the handsome-but-aloof Yuki Eiri, who takes one look at them and pronounces them utter garbage.  After this encounter, Shuichi becomes obsessed with Yuki, entering into his gravitational field (hence the title), circling ever closer in his obsession.

Now, my understanding had been that Yuki was part of a competing band, and that as their bands played against each other over and over again, they grew closer and closer together until they became romantically entangled.  That could not be further from the case.  (Though it does come very close to describing something else I’ll be reviewing below…)

The actual case is that Yuki Eiri is a novelist who writes romance novels aimed at teenage girls/women in their twenties, and Shuichi basically hunts him down to demand an apology, which prompts more insults.  When Shuichi is fuming about that later, his best friend/bandmate tells him to just let it go, and says something about “it’s not like you’re in love with him or something” which somehow prompts Shuichi to realize that he is, in fact, in love with Yuki.  Even though he’s not gay.  (Or he never was before, anyway.)  Before the first volume is over, they’re already sleeping together, even though they both insist that they’re straight.  (I think, given that they’re sleeping together, they have to realistically be considered bisexual, but…hey, I’m not the one who wrote it.)

It goes all over the place from there.  Shuichi’s band getting a big break, competition against other bands, risks of discovery, and (of course!) basic romantic melodrama.  Throughout all of this, Shuichi is a crybaby, a moron, and rattles back and forth between melodrama, manic happiness, hysterical tears, and extreme passion like a pinball on speed.  (If you’ve seen or read Sailor Moon, imagine Usagi magnified about ten times, and that’s Shuichi in a nutshell.)  Yuki, on the other hand, has only one setting:  sullen.  He’s even sullen about having sex.  (Uh, what?)  Volume 6 introduced a new character who seemed to be a bit of a sadist, or maybe even a proto-yandere, which might lead to interesting places, but I’m still not sure it’s worth hunting down the other six volumes.  (And I can’t just hunt down the anime, because according to Wikipedia, it only covers volumes 1-7.)

The main thing I wanted to say about this is that it’s a weird mix.  On the one hand, Shuichi is very much the distillation of the problem that plagues a lot of yaoi (and shounen-ai, but less so there):  as the passive partner in the relationship (the uke in yaoi terminology), he is presented with many feminine/feminizing mannerisms.  On the other hand, he isn’t the typical feminine uke:  most of the female characters are tougher and more mature than he is, and pretty much every other character in the manga (including Yuki) considers him a freak, so he’s certainly not embodying the usual “a passive gay man is a girl in a male body” that is such a problem not only in yaoi/shounen-ai fiction, but also some fanfiction written by non-Japanese women.  I think what perplexes me most about it is that I’m not quite sure what the goal was here.  If it was just to write a funny manga about the “wacky” lead singer in a band falling for a grumpy and withdrawn writer, what was the point of them both being men?  It’s not as though the people around them react realistically when they learn about their relationship.  If the romance between two attractive men was supposed to be titillating to the (almost entirely) female target audience, then why make Shuichi behave like such a weirdo?  He spends more time in SD “I’m being an idiot” mode than in standard “see, I’m a good-looking guy, too” mode.  I knew it wasn’t going to be proper representation in any way, but I still find myself baffled as I try to suss out exactly what it really is.

Okay, since I teased it already, let’s change gears dramatically, and take a hop across the Pacific Ocean for…

This is one of those Kickstarter-backed graphic novels I mentioned.  (I keep on backing them, even though it takes me a long time to get around to reading them…but no, I’m not going to start reviewing all of them.  Just some of them.)  Band vs Band Comix is the collected edition of a webcomic by Kathleen Jacques.  (The webcomic version is here.)  Sadly, this is one of the ones I backed before I broke my iPad, so I backed for the .pdf version instead of the physical, which meant I was trying to read it on my phone, which was really hard to do.  *cough*  Anyway, the plot here is similar to what I thought the plot of Gravitation was:  two rival bands, the sugary Candy Hearts and the goth Sourballs, are always running into each other, playing against each other in competitions, etc.  The lead singers, Honey Hart and Turpentine, slowly draw closer as the story continues, and the audience sees that they’re made for each other long before they do.  (Isn’t that always the way?)  It’s got a lot of LGBTQ+ representation–lesbian (obviously), gay, bi, and trans, just among the primary cast–and it’s both sweet and really funny.  A lot of the art has a very retro feel (’50s and early ’60s for the Candy Hearts, and more of an ’80s feel for the Sourballs) and it does really unusual things with the color that bring out the slight surreality of the setting.  The only complaint I can think of (aside from how hard it is to read on a phone, lol) is that the setting is so utopian that it makes the real world seem even worse than it actually is:  despite the mid-century aesthetics on display, the only homophobia I can think of anywhere in both volumes combined is in some flashbacks to one character’s childhood.  (Maybe I’ve just forgotten, but I think that was really the only example.)  I’m not saying I think they ought to encounter hate (outside of the understandable distaste engendered by Turpentine’s behavior (like stealing other bands’ awards, for example)), just that its so paradisaical that when you stop reading and step back into reality you’re like “oh, right…all that horrible stuff still exists…”

Okay, actually, I do have a different, much bigger complaint:  based on the Kickstarter page, it took four years to accumulate the material in Volume 2.  That puts Volume 3 a long way off!  (I mean, okay, yeah, I could just read it online as each page goes up, but…)  At least there should be another Kickstarter to reprint Volume 1, though, so hopefully I can snag physical copies of both volumes then…

And back across the Pacific for one last manga, also with a very retro visual style…

If anyone reading this is as familiar with anime as I am, they’re probably having loads of early Takahashi Rumiko flashbacks looking at that cover art.  And that is absolutely what the art is like:  I could easily imagine Ranma running past this school in training (or Ryoga wandering into the building, lost as usual).  I honestly spent most of the manga assuming that the art style was a conscious decision to show that it was taking place in the late ’80s/early ’90s, especially when someone talked about “running out of film,” but then later on someone else was using a digital camera, so I guess it’s actually supposed to be modern after all.  (Cell phones are referenced once, but never appear.)

Anyway, chronological setting aside, Go For It, Nakamura! is about as far removed from Gravitation as you can get, despite a few similarities in the starting place.  Okay, actually, there’s really only the one similarity.  And it’s not that similar.

Let me start over.

Nakamura Okuto, our hapless hero, is an introverted student who’s head-over-heels in love with his classmate, Hirose Aiki, one of the most outgoing and popular boys in the class.  Nakamura already knew he was gay before he met Hirose, but he’s never been involved with anyone, and is not out to anyone.  He wants desperately to actually meet Hirose (yes, they’ve never even spoken when the manga starts), but is terrified of screwing up and making the object of his affection hate him.

A lot of the gags are the kind of thing you might have seen in straight romantic comedy manga/anime, most of them with little to no change from their straight counterparts.  What sets Go For It, Nakamura! apart in this, however, is the fact that Hirose, apart from a pretty, mildly feminine face, is in no way feminized; his behavior is typically masculine.  Likewise, there’s nothing feminine about Nakamura (aside from his attempts to get dating tips from shounen-ai manga), so what we have here is a romcom between two teenage boys who actually act like teenage boys.  (Well, the manga definition of acting like teenage boys.)  Also, a lot of the ways Nakamura screws up are new takes on classic potential gaffes.  (Like, how many romcom leads can you think of who are so into octopi that they have a pet octopus in their bedroom?)

From the mangaka’s afterword pages, it seems that this was being used as a page-filler in a manga magazine when it didn’t quite fill its usual length.  That being the case, though the story does progress from chapter to chapter, each one is also designed to be a stopping place of sorts, which prevents any massive dramatic events, but also means that there could conceivably be another volume someday.  (Or not.  I don’t know.)

Whew!  That was ridiculously long!  (And I’ve been working on it on-and-off for like ten days….in part because I’ve been dedicating most of my writing time to Camp NaNo, of course…)

Future book reviews will be the usual “one book per post” format, naturally.  (In addition to that YA book, I’ve almost finished the classic of genre fiction, too.)  And I plan to have a “future of this blog” post soon, as I’ve come to a decision I want to share, and had an idea I wanted to toss out there.

Book Report: Compendium of North American Cryptids

Published May 23, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

You can already tell two things from the image I started out with.  One, this isn’t for Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge, and two, I took the picture of the cover myself.  Now, technically, that turned out not to be necessary, as (just now) I looked it up on Goodreads and found that it does actually have a listing (though it doesn’t have any reviews) so I could have downloaded the cover image from there.  But since I’d already taken my own photo, I figured I’d just go with it.  (Please ignore the sheet beneath it.  When your preferred method of buying new bedding is “on clearance at Target,” you don’t have as much choice of patterns as you might like.)

The full title of this book had no hope of fitting into the title of the post.  I could say “click on the thumbnail and read the photo for yourself” but then you’d have to wait while it loaded, so I’m just going to transcribe the text on the cover of the book, line by line:

Compendium of
North American Cryptids
& Magical Creatures
The Official Magimundi Guide
150th Anniversary Edition
Written by Foxfire Castellaw
Annotated by Wyn Diego

By Mike Young, Maury Brown & Ben Morrow
Illustrated by Ffion Evans

As you can guess from all that, this is roughly the equivalent of buying Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, but actually by J.K. Rowling.  (My mother, I might add, actually did buy that.  In a three-pack of books that were produced to benefit charity.  I actually used the one on quidditch for my Read Harder book on sports last year, in fact.)  The biggest difference here, though, is that I didn’t realize that was what I was getting.

See, I was backing a Kickstarter called “Cryptid Cuties” that was enamel pins (soft enamel, unfortunately) of various cryptids.  As add-ons, you could get a copy of this book, a plush cactus cat (very cute and cuddly, but mine has a slight factory defect, which is sad) and when I added it on, I thought I was getting a Faeries-like book compiling all the different regional folklore/urban legends of mysterious critters.  So I was pretty surprised when I got it out of the package and read that cover!  (Though I’d already been confused by the return address on the package, which was from Learn Larp, LLC, and I was sitting there going “what the heck is this?  I didn’t order any cosplay supplies, and I don’t even have the social skills to play a tabletop RPG, let alone a LARP!”)

It turns out that this book is a sort of bestiary for a particular LARP (that’s Live Action Role Playing for those of you who aren’t geeky enough to know the term), but rather than being written as a collection of stats and such, it’s written as if it was an actual book for within the fantasy world, so it’s a perfectly entertaining read even for people like me who have no intention of ever playing the associated game.  (It does, however, mean I won’t be using it as fodder for any future April A-to-Z sessions, though!)

The creatures covered in the book fit into four categories:  “actual cryptids,” “general mythic/legendary monsters,” “definitely made up for this,” and “wait, is that a real cryptid or did they make it up?”  With a few outliers that are hard to categorize, like the Fiji Mermaid, which isn’t really any of the above, having been a carnival hoax.

The first category includes old standbys like the Jersey Devil, the Mothman, chupacabra, jackelopes, and sasquatch.  The second category has things like thunderbirds, golems, homunculi, werewolves and vampires.  The third category has things like gobwins (no, that’s not a typo) and humfaeries (both of which were actually designed by Kickstarter backers from a previous campaign, it turns out)  The final category ranges from things that really sound made up, like the cactus cat and the wampus cat (picture a centaur with a puma’s body instead of a horse’s), to things that I could believe are actually folkloric, like duwende, fiddle spider and lightning snake.

Each entry has an illustration, and they’re all quite nice, though of course the artist is no Brian Froud (then again, who is?).  The entries themselves vary in entertainment value, since not all the concepts can be described in a particularly entertaining manner.  That, however, is where the annotations come in:  the annotator is snarky, thinks he knows everything, and has a very low opinion of the author.  In the course of his annotations (which are not, admittedly, on every entry) you get a good sense of what kind of character he is, and his attitude towards the author is almost always entertaining.  I think the annotations are what really sets this apart from other books of the type.

I don’t know if the book is actually available for purchase anywhere, because of the three web addresses printed inside the book, I only actually visited one,, which obviously is not set up to sell merchandise.  The more official-sounding one,, I couldn’t access, because my anti-virus software was adamant that it was a phishing site.  I have no idea why they would think that, but…when it gets that screechy about it, I tend to chicken out.  The third web address was, which sounded more like it was about the LARPing aspect than about the magical world that had been created as the setting for the LARP games.

I actually finished this on Monday and haven’t started a new book yet, because I’ve been too glued to my 3DS to figure out what I want to read.  (That’s the problem with MegaTen games:  they really sink their tentacles into me.)  I’m disappointed that they didn’t add any 3D elements, but I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that they didn’t dub it!  (I’m gonna freak if they don’t give us a voice cast in the end credits, though.  The computer’s AI sounds to me so much like a particular seiyuu that it’s driving me crazy wondering if it’s really him, but noplace I’ve looked online, so far, has had a cast list for it.)  What I’ve seen of the new material, so far, has left me a bit uncertain:  the new human character looks like a female Vincent Valentine, and seems to have the same exact motivation as the villain of Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army, which could be good or bad, and they introduced a new “demon” in the form of a lolita Persephone/Kore who for some bizarre reason is calling herself her own mother.  (Seriously, that is not Demeter.  No.  Freaking.  Way.)

I realize no one cares about any of that, but I just had to get it out there.

Also, I found a line really hilarious because they didn’t quite think through the overtones of the way they localized it:

D’you have any idea what you’re saying, Jimenez?


Sorry, I meant to talk about what I’m gonna read next.  Probably 16, because I have something picked out that’s been sitting on my “to read” shelf for like three years.

Book Report: As You Wish

Published May 13, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

I’ve been meaning to read this since the first time I saw it on bookstore shelves, possibly as much as four years ago.  (Not sure if it was the hardback or paperback I first saw.)  This book was selected to meet Challenge #12 “A celebrity memoir.”

The acid test of a memoir like this (that is to say, one narrating only the events during the filming of a particular movie, as opposed to an actor’s whole career, or what-have-you), I think, is if it changes the way you watch the movie afterwards.  So, when I sat down to start my evening’s Internetting (ack), I popped The Princess Bride into the DVD player.  (I thought I had the Blu-ray, but evidently I haven’t upgraded yet.  Or I can’t find the new copy.  Given what this place is like, that’s very possible.)  Thus, I’m only starting to write with a little over an hour to go before midnight, because I can’t multi-task like I used to, and the better the movie, the harder it is to ignore.

So, in short, no, it didn’t change the way I watch the movie; I still love it to pieces.

But let’s back up and try to go about this the way I planned, because I have limited time before I’ll be impinging on the grand(?) return of Missing Letter Mondays.  The 1980s produced a number of live-action fantasy films that are loosely called “family,” in that they’re kid-safe (even kid-friendly), but which have become classics because they’re also entertaining for adults.  In alphabetical order (because I no longer have time enough to look up order of release, though I think I know which ones came out when, but I’d hate to get it wrong), there are The Dark CrystalLabyrinthThe Neverending Story, and The Princess Bride.  And I’m pretty sure there are actually more; those are just the ones that I’ve watched so many times that I pretty much know them by heart.  I mean, I couldn’t recite their whole script to you on demand, but if you’ve read the book of Ready Player One, I could do with all four of those movies what Wade was able to do with War Games.  (I get why they changed that, but it’s also kind of a shame; the one in the book was a much harder challenge to complete, even if it wasn’t as hard to get what you were supposed to do.)  Easily.

Naturally, therefore, the idea of reading what it was like to film The Princess Bride, as it was experienced by the leading man himself, sounded like the perfect experience.  And while it maybe wasn’t “perfect” (that’s actually a pretty tall order!), it was definitely entertaining.

It could have gone terribly wrong, though.  There are movies out there where the behind-the-scenes story is that everyone on set hated each other, and every moment they weren’t filming, the leads were an inch away from killing each other.  (Though I suspect in most of those cases that animosity bleeds through onto the screen…)

Thankfully, however, The Princess Bride was one of those blessed films where everyone got along fantastically (even if some of the actors were convinced that they were about to be fired at any second), and he has nothing bad to say about anyone involved:  even the off-camera people who often go unmentioned are praised for their hard work, skill and dedication.  (Okay, that’s not entirely true.  There was one catering company that was decidedly not praised.)

Don’t let that make you think it’s boring, or some kind of kiss-up situation, though.  It’s very entertaining, because a lot of funny people worked on the movie, and he relates a lot of anecdotes about things they did on and off camera (or the hybrid of on and off camera that is outtakes, which were obviously extensive for Billy Crystal’s 3 minute scene, which took a whopping three days to film, in part because of cast and crew laughing at his ad libs and wrecking the take), and it all feels decidedly genuine.

He also talks about the work that went into creating the fantastic duel between Inigo and the Man in Black, as well as how various stunts and effects were achieved.  Which isn’t the disillusioning thing that it would be in some other movies (for example, do we really want to think about the (actually pretty obvious) way Hoggle gets around the set?) because the effects are minimal (mostly just the R.O.U.S.) and it’s pretty easy to tell in the final film when it’s a stunt person and when it’s one of the cast.  But you can’t tell by watching just how many times a stunt had to be performed, or what the name of the stunt person was (yeah, it’s in the end credits, but there’s that awful song over them) and so on.

In the early part of the book, he talks about how difficult it was to get the movie made, how many other directors had tried and failed to get it going before Rob Reiner got his hands on the script.  And there are some mind-boggling prospective actors mentioned (either attached to failed earlier films, or people talked to but never seriously considered) that are really, well, inconceivable!

Oh, speaking of which, at the beginning, he mentions how many of the lines from The Princess Bride are frequently quoted by fans, and while “Inconceivable!” was of course one of them, he didn’t mention “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Which I always thought was just as popular a quote.  (If it isn’t, it certainly should be!)

The book isn’t a one-man show, though.  In addition to the introduction listed on the front, there are also frequent quotes throughout the book, presented at the side of the page in boxes, from the rest of the surviving cast, as well as Reiner, William Goldman, and the producer.  Their additional perspectives definitely add a lot to the experience.

So, all in all, I obviously enjoyed reading this.  Probably most fans would.  (I expect it would be largely uninteresting to those who have never seen the movie, though.  Unless they’re great fans of Andre the Giant, in which case they would surely have seen it, so…yeah, I’m not sure where I was going with that.  It’s getting late; I’m losing coherence.)

One more thing:  there are a few photos throughout the book, but most of the pictures are in a photo section in the center.  In that section is included a shot of the gathered cast (along with the director and the writer) who were in attendance at a 25th anniversary screening at a film festival, which was directly why he decided to write this memoir, as he had wanted to share even more of his memories than there had been time for in the question and answer session.  Looking at that picture (from 2012), I was really stunned at just how long it had been since I had seen any photos of any of the male cast.  I mean, the last picture I’d seen of most of them has to have been at least ten years old.  (And then there’s Robin Wright, who I’ve seen much more recent pictures of, because she was in Wonder Woman.  Which, jarringly enough, I’m planning on watching tomorrow night, because I need to revisit it before I write my fix-it fic for it.)  Random, yes, but there you have it.

Okay, so once again, I have failed to write anything like a coherent review.  (*sigh*)

I’m not sure which challenge I want to try next, so the next book I’m going to read isn’t actually going to be part of the challenge.  Because I’m feeling ambivalent, and it’s newly arrived and I wanna read it.

Book Report: The Grey Witch

Published April 29, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

So, today I’m bringing you the report on my selection for Challenge #19, “A book of genre fiction in translation.”

Firstly, that graphic I got off Goodreads isn’t accurate.  There’s no white on the cover; everything white you see there is also black.  And everything that isn’t black is gold, and the black is, well, I’m not sure if it’s real leather or pleather, but it’s something leather-like, at any rate.  This is a very spiffy edition, and it’s certainly been a long time coming:  it missed being a 30th anniversary edition by a few weeks.  (It released in December of last year.  Had it come out in January, it would have been a 30th anniversary edition.)

Those of you with even a passing acquaintance with anime — older anime, anyway — are probably familiar with the name Lodoss War. but for those who aren’t, let me explain that this book spawned a massive franchise, with many more novels, lots of manga (graphic novel) adaptations and spin-offs, and two anime series, one an OVA (direct-to-video, limited episode) and one on television.  Oh, yeah, and the Crystania movie (blehh), and the Rune Soldier Louie TV anime.  And a number of video games, of which I think only the Dreamcast game ever came over to this country.  (It was a bit clunky, but a pretty decent game.  Even if the best part, to me, was watching the anti-hero laugh after his goblin minions obeyed when he ordered them to drop dead.) Record of Lodoss War is something of a cultural institution in Japan (at least in pop culture terms), and has had a profound influence on all the fantasy that followed in its wake.  It also, according to the afterword, apparently invented the “light novel” almost single-handedly.

The best way to sum up the genre of Lodoss War is Lord of the Rings by way of Dungeons & Dragons.  Quite literally, actually, as Record of Lodoss War started out as life as a tabletop RPG session, which the author fleshed out and novelized into this book.  (According to the afterword, written for a now-five-year-old Japanese edition, all the further novels came from Mizuno alone, rather than from further RPG sessions.)  In some ways, the Lord of the Rings influence is extremely obvious (like the dwarf being named Ghim and hating elves), and in other ways, there isn’t much Tolkien influence at all:  thieves (aside from Bilbo Baggins) don’t play much of a role in Middle Earth, but Wood is an important part of the story, and there is nothing anywhere in Tolkien’s work that is anything like Karla the Grey Witch.  (Not that I’m aware of, anyway.)

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