In the next week or so I'm going to begin the next phase of the consolidation of all the disparate sites I've been managing. The individual book blogs are all going to get slurped up and redirected, along with the comments attached to them, and the domain names I had pointing to them will be redirected properly. I'll also be putting back the ad block that used to exist in the sidebar, although I have to learn a little about how to design proper MT-compatible widgets before doing that.
A big advantage to doing this is that all the news I'll be posting about everything will show up here, on the front page; you won't have to dig through a bunch of different places to see what I'm up to. If things ramp up the way I hope, then that'll be crucially important.
And now some links:
Back in my review of the last Gunsmith Cats omnibus, I figured out what makes this series such a blast: the contrasts. The Cats stories take place in an action-movie universe of guns, cars, computers, bombs, babes, and dudes, where you’re likely to learn on one page how much torque you can squeeze out of a ’67 GT500 — and then have that bit of technical fetishism followed up with a scene where a guy snatches a rocket-propelled grenade out of the air. Realistic? No, but since when has this been a problem?
The third Burst book kicks off with Rally Vincent replacing her beloved Shelby 500 GT (blown up in the last book) with a different but equally-appealing V8: a vintage Cobra, refitted to within an inch of her life and armored out to boot. In trueGunsmith Cats form, trouble manages to follow Rally even during a test drive: while out taking the Cobra for a spin, she runs afoul of a possible bounty and gives the Cobra a patented Rally shakedown: how well does it handle after someone’s put a few bullet holes in it? Read more
If you read the fourth Gunsmith Cats anthology and complain that it’s “unrealistic” or “improbable”, my response to you will be to yank the book out of your hands, smack your pinkies with it (it’s heavy, be warned), and give that volume along with its three predecessors to someone more deserving of its charms. Grousing about the laws of physics being broken in a Gunsmith Cats book is like complaining that McDonald’s French fries are too salty.
Actually, that’s one of the charming things aboutGunsmith Cats — Kenichi Sonoda spends such effort grounding the story in a nuts-and-bolts reality of cars, guns and machines that when he breaks the rules, it’s more like he’s just expanding on them. And yes, at the heart of it, a series this fundamentally over-the-top deserves to be read with a crooked smile on your face. Read more
A defamation suit against Kenzaburo Oe was thrown out of Japanese court, one originally leveled against Oe due to his assertion that the Japanese military was involved in the mass suicides of Okinawan civilians during WWII (something which had been substantiated by investigation). The whole touchy subject of WWII in Japan has never been handled well, but it's gratifying to see progress whenever it happens.
I keep an Amazon wish list of books on Japan which I periodically browse to see whether or not given titles have shown up cheap (i.e., as ex-library copies, which are usually only a couple of bucks even with shipping). Several titles I'd been curious about have turned up, which I'll be writing about here shortly:
There's more, but those are the big ones. Asakusa will probably merit a full-blown review, since it just showed up this morning and I've been itching to read it. (It is apparently a brand-new translation, only released in 2006 or so.)
While updating some older movie-related entries I bumbled into a Wikipedia entry about the longest novels currently known, with the serial novel (Nakazato Kaizan's Daibosatsu Toge) that inspired Sword of Doom as one of the entries. 5.7 million Japanese characters is a monster by any standards; the Japanese Amazon entry for the book lists it having a whopping 1,149 pages. One wonders if there's any chance at all of this ever showing up in English.
While we're dreaming, here's some others I'd like to see translated:
This is, strictly speaking, the first Coil album in name — but it’s probably not the first Coil album to start with, if only because you won’t have much of an introduction to Coil through it. Come to think of it, anyone who’s followed Coil for more than a couple of albums would know that they were not so much defined by a signature sound as the fact that they were constantly and restlessly trying out new sounds like snakes shedding skins. This was merely one of many, many dissimilar phases they went through.
That said, it’s mainly of interest to people who are a) already Coil fans and are curious about what they were mucking around with when they had freshly adopted the Coil moniker or b) compulsively collecting every bit of TG / Test Dept. / Le Syndicat / Merzbow-inspired sludge that surfaced during the Eighties. The album itself is split between Zos Kia (a band which for a time included John Balance of Coil) and Coil itself, with the latter supplying the occasional bit of material and inspiration for the former. Most of the material is low-fi, improvised performance-art-style audience-clobbering, again arguably no better (or worse) than any of the other such material released at the time. It probably had more of an effect live; too much of it is simply monolithic and self-indulgent when presented on a recording. Read more
Back at the end of last year a friend of mine bought me Coffin: The Art of Vampire Hunter D, a massive collection of Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrations for Hideyuki Kikuchi’s long-running novel series. I’m not using the word “massive” figuratively here: the book is big enough to cover most of my desk, and could probably stop a .22 when sheathed in its slipcase. Since I’m a massive fan of all three topics — D, Kikuchi and Amano — this was about as perfect a gift as I could ask for. It’s now enshrined in the little permanent collection of artbooks, about three feet to the right of me where I sit typing this.
Yoshitaka Amano: The Collected Art of Vampire Hunter D is probably going to get filed right next to it. It’s not as physically imposing a volume — it’s roughly trade paperback size — but it runs to just south of four hundred pages, and more than makes up in scope what it doesn’t have in dimensions. It’s a gorgeous survey of the remarkable body of artwork that’s been created for this franchise — one which we’re only just now beginning to see here in English-speaking territories. Granted, Amano’s artbooks have been long available before as imports — I had a few of them myself at one point, but stupidly let them go when money got tight; what was I thinking? — but a whole surfeit of them have been showing up as domestic pressings. And now everyone who didn’t haunt bookstores like Kinokuniya or Sasuga can find out what all the screaming has been about.Read more
If I buy something and read it and realize I've finished with it, it goes into a shelf that's reserved for giveaways. I've donated sizable chunks of my book collection to people a lot more starved for reading matter than I ever will be — like a friend of mine who lost most of his books when an upstairs apartment in his building flooded and drowned a good deal of his collection.
Also, the Brooklyn Museum is having an exhibition of Japanese woodcut prints!
Last but definitely not least: I forgot to post something about Arthur C. Clarke's passing, but that's only because so much of what I wanted to say has been said better by so many other people. The one comment I could come up with was, "Sir Arthur now knows the Nine Billion Names of God."
A piece about Asia Week in New York, courtesy of the Times.
Memo to self: win lottery, move back into NYC at first convenience.
Comedy’s hard to get right. Science fiction as comedy is no less difficult, either — but when done properly, it’s also a hoot.
The Dirty Pair Strike Again is a mix of pulp SF tropes, slam-bang action, and broad comedy, in about equal proportions. Yes, it’s about as deep as a pie plate and as intellectually nutritious as an afternoon of A-Team reruns, but it’s darn funny, and with me funny goes a long way.
If the name Dirty Pair rings bells, it should. Haruka Takachiho’s novel was the basis for the animated TV series, OVAs, theatrical film, and English-language comic series (courtesy of Studio Proteus). This is actually the second book in the series — I’ll most likely double back to look at the first one — but from what I can tell you scarcely need to have read the first one to get up to speed.
The heroines, Kei and Yuri, may call themselves the “Lovely Angels” after their signature spaceship — but their superiors on the Worlds Welfare Work Association (and their hapless victims, er, clients) have another name for them: the Dirty Pair. If the other troubleshooters on the WWWA’s staff are surgical instruments, these two are a wrecking ball. On their last mission, they torched the bad guys — and the good guys, and everyone else who just happened to be lying around in the vicinity. But hey, omelet, broken eggs, you know the drill.Read more
Like a lot of other movie/comics/anime fans, I sit around with friends and muse about the possibility of this or that show or book being made into a live-action movie. Here's a quick updated run-down of my current wish list in that category, with discussion. (There may be some repetition with an earlier post, but I have new material to go with it.)
Another pet project of mine would be a movie biopic of John Coltrane — how about Denzel Washington in the main role? (They've already tapped Don Cheadle for Miles Davis, though...)
Saya Otonashi ought to be just another teenage girl in school except that she remembers nothing of her life before the last year or so. All she’s sure of is her family: her adoptive Vietnam-veteran father, George, and her two brothers, Kai and Riku. They live in Okinawa, not far from an American airbase, where the jets and bombers scream overhead and a mysterious long-haired man in the park plays the cello in a way that seems hauntingly familiar.
“Who am I?” Saya asks herself, and it isn’t long before she gets the first and most brutal clues towards answering that mystery. One night she sneaks back into school to retrieve a pair of shoes and is assaulted by a “chiropteran” — a monster that once was human, and now feeds on the blood of humans to survive. She’s almost mauled to death by the creature, but then the cello-player shows up, infuses Saya with his blood to revive her, and gives her a sword. When infused with her blood, she can use it to kill these creatures … and kill she does, much to her own shock and dismay.Read more
AND LOOK WHAT CRITERION JUST DRAGGED IN!
One of the "fun" things I did with Movable Type (note the sarcasm quotes) was create some special URL handlers. F'rinstance, if I want to link directly to an Amazon product, I just have to create a URL that points to amazon:xxxxxx (the XXX being the product ID), and a regex will transform the output when the post is published. Ditto Google searches, Amazon products with images, references to Discogs.com, and so on.
Getting this to actually work was frustrating beyond belief.
The biggest problem with regular expressions is, as someone else once put it, they're a way of solving one problem by replacing it with another, even bigger one. Regex syntax makes Perl look like a model of beauty and syntactical elegance in comparison. Worse, you may be at the mercy of whatever local variants of regex you're being forced to work with, so something that looks like it might work in System X doesn't in fact work in System Y. And so on.
That said, I think I've climbed over most of the worst hurdles by this point. The next step is to see how I can integrate the ideas I have more elegantly into MT so there aren't massive performance hits incurred by what I'm doing.
On the whole, I'm happy with having moved to MT4 and made the decision to re-architect everything. I am, however, discovering certain limitations to the system that I'm going to have to engineer around. Template hacking is not my favorite hobby in the world, and I hate the idea of hacking the system to do something only to find that one or two revisions down the line, they've created a native way to do it — which in my mind means I have to undo my work and do it their way to avoid future compatibility / performance issues.
Example: What would be the best way to create a block of text that appears at the top of a category index? A "pinned post"? Direct editing of the template? (My instincts tell me the best thing to do would be to create a post with certain attributes and then create some kind of exception in the template that allows it to bubble to the top and have its date information suppressed — so I've done that to see how it holds up.)
Tags: Movable Type
Some more stuff from the Japan-studies bookshelf for your perusal...
A fantastic site that has .EPS versions of just about every Japanese clan crest, or kamon. I have a Dover paperback that has a catalog of them as well, but having them in this form is just about indispensable. (I used the Genji clan crest as above, since it's my favorite of the bunch and also reflects my fascination with all things Genji.)
It actually doesn’t take a lot to make me laugh. Give me a comic with a funny premise, and chances are I’ll be doubled over in my seat. A manga with a funny premise is only half the story, though — you have to actually follow through on the setup.
The genius of The Wallflower, judging from the last three of its fourteen or so volumes, is that it starts with a good premise and follows through on it mercilessly. The setup is just the beginning; the payoffs are riotous. Read more
Now I have a reason to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art sooner rather than later: a spectacular exhibition of Chinese scroll paintings.
The exhibition runs through August 10, which gives me plenty of time to check it out in the company of a certain very good friend that I know will enjoy this.
Batman Begins has just been announced for Blu-ray. There's an Amazon SKU for it already, too, so you can sign up to get notification for when it's officially solicited. The word is it'll drop around July or so, when the next movie also hits theaters.
...yes, I'm excited.
Now that Spitzer is stepping down as governor of New York, attention has turned to his replacement — Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who is legally blind. His perspectives on his own situation are well worth reading.
I'm close to more than a couple of people who are equally impaired, if not flat-out blind. All of them, in my experience, have been adamant about having a life that is as close to one that any of the "rest" of us have been living — and for the most part, they get it, although there are times when things break down. How they deal with those situations is, as they say, the other 90%.
Blood+ is, of course, the TV series that expands on the universe and characters established by Production I.G’s short film Blood: The Last Vampire. The TV show also comes to us courtesy of Production I.G, and while it’s not quite as visually striking as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, it’s still well worth the time and investment. It also does two things that the original movie did not do, and it does both of them well: it makes the former (anti?) heroine Saya into a rounded and sympathetic character, and it expands vastly on the universe created for her.
If you have only seen the movie so far, the show will come as a striking change of tone: it’s nowhere nearly as compulsively dark as the movie. But that also means the characters are better delineated and more approachable — especially the new Saya. I found myself liking this iteration of her a little better than the movie version, if only because the show sees her as vulnerable and confused rather than just a sullen death merchant.Read more
One of the shelves I keep next to the desk is my quick-reference library for all things Japanese — which is proving itself more and more useful over time, especially with the research I've been doing for the hero story and whatnot. Here's a quick rundown of some of the most immediately useful books:
This obviously isn't an exhaustive list, but these are the books I've gotten more out of than most any other, at least so far. I'll post more lists on specific topics as time goes by.
Japan’s Taishō era, so named for its emperor then, lasted from 1910 to 1925 — a time obsessed with death and downfall. Suicide pacts, madness, and perversity filled the popular culture of the era, as documented in places like Edogawa Rampo’s mystery novels, and real-life disasters like the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 only further hammered home the darkness of the age. The era also sported a distinct and lush visual aesthetic all its own, and modern-day cultural cultivations like Lolita-Goth and visual kei arguably have their roots in the Taishō-era look (and its decadence) as well. It’s one of the most criminally underused periods in manga and anime, if only because it bursts with endless visual tropes and thematic undercurrents that fairly cry out to be put to use.
You now know one of the biggest reasons I was immediately enthralled by Nightmare Inspector: the atmosphere. It’s set in a gorgeously manga-fied Taishō-era Tokyo, where streetcars rattle dismally up and down the steamy avenues, mercury-vapor lamps barely cut through the haze and street signs and movie posters are all written in the same elegantly spidery script. In a rundown, out-of-the-way teahouse, an improbably handsome young man named Hiruko holds court, with only the maidservant as his occasional company. Hiruko is a baku, a “dream-eater” in human form, and those who come to him for aid are plagued by nightmares that only he can dispel. He can do away with the nightmares, but at a cost … and typically that cost is the torment of having to relive the nightmare and discover its true, often soul-jarring meaning. Read more
You've probably noticed a lot of stuff getting shoved around and appearing and disappearing and whatnot. That's going to continue happening for quite a while. A lot of the legacy data that I migrated into the new instance of MT is in terrible shape — I don't know what the heck I was doing when I first started putting everything together, but it's horrendously inconsistent. The DVD review stuff is in the worst condition, so I'll probably not bother migrating most of it back in any time soon — I'm more interested in getting the writing-work sections of the site booted up and migrating all the stuff from the other writing blogs into those areas.
One thing I do plan to do is migrate back in the DVD reviews that point to AMN, since those are in the best shape and can be added back in with relatively little pain. Plus, I need to update them anyway — I published a bunch of things that slipped past me when I was still setting things up — so that will probably be a priority in the coming week. All the old directory names (mainly Summerworld) should still work, at least provisionally, until I can get more elegant directory structures in place.
I'm just really glad I'm not trying to do any of this with FrontPage (shudder). I would probably have thrown myself, and my computer, out a window ages ago.
OK, some other stuff:
A rarely-seen copy of Toru Takemitsu's complete 2-disc score for Kurosawa's Ran is up on eBay (follow the image link). I've got plans to eventually snap up a copy ... when I'm not between paychecks.
Always a good feeling, to open the second volume of a series and see that it’s leaps and bounds above the first volume. And I wanted that to be the case with The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls: it’s based on a novel by a criminally-undertranslated Japanese author, Fûtaro Yamada, who’s probably more responsible for the modern pop-culture mythology of the ninja than any other literary party. The first volume, though, was terribly slow to get off the ground, and reveled in a kind of fetishistic ugliness that made it really hard to enjoy. It was all set-up, and not much pay-off.
The second volume, however, leaps from set-up to pay-off in a major way. The seven women of the Hori clan now have Yagyū Jūbei as their mentor in vengeance against the sinister Seven Spears of the Aizu — but there’s only so much he can do. He’s determined to find a way to let the women take revenge with their own hands, to serve as an instructor and trainer, but not as a proxy. This will not be easy, especially since the women are not fighters by nature. (One side effect of the training and the subsequent missions is how the women subsequently differentiate themselves and stand out all the more ascharacters, not simply visual elements.) Read more
The other day I was trying to describe to someone how both prolific and talented Osamu Tezuka was, and for lack of any better way to express it I said, “He left behind masterpieces as freely as a tree gave fruit.”
There would be no manga as we know it without Tezuka. The more of his work I read as it slowly appears in English-language editions, the more I’m convinced of this. It’s not just because of the visual style he developed — which in turn was inspired by Walt Disney’s designs — but because he produced a body of work that dwarfed almost anything else seen before or since, that almost everything he put his name to was at least good and often outstanding, and because he labored tirelessly to expand the envelope for what manga was about, what it could do and what it could encompass.Read more
Busy week on this end, but time for some tomato sauce:
More when I steal it, as always.
I've followed news reports in the past about the underground railroad that exists in North Korea to aid escape to China or other countries. If you want to ride that particular railroad, you'll need money or some other way to bribe your way out — and there's always the chance that you'll get caught.
Any government that refuses to allow its citizens freedom of egress, on pain of a bullet in the back of the head, is clearly worried about something.
Tags: comedy gold
There was discussion elsewhere about the whole "write what you know" debate, and about how that relates to things like fantasy and SF. Someone I know is taking a writing course, and the teacher appears to be discouraging the students from writing SF/fantasy on the grounds that it would be better to start with something closer to home. (I'm paraphrasing a bit but that's the essence of the discussion.)
I and a few other people were of the feeling that if there's one thing that you're going to know well, it's a world you've created yourself. Of course, I can see the devil's-advocate site of this argument: just because you've created a world doesn't mean it's automatically going to be infused with the kind of insight and observation that one gleans from real life — and which makes any story all the more interesting and absorbing. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be allowed to try, though.
More devil's advocacy: I've seen more than a few examples of people who dove into the deep end of the fantasy or SF pool quite early on, without quite knowing how they were going to swim. In one of the round-table workshops I participated in, I had at least one young and enthusiastic writer who would present this whole massive family history and geopolitical analysis of their imagined far-off land, but wouldn't have a character for all of this to happen to. That in turn requires the writer to have some idea of what people are like and why they do things. You can see where this is going.
In short, I think I see why some insistence on sticking close to established reality, at least at first, wouldn't be a bad idea. But if the writer wants to stick their neck that far out to begin with, why not let them try (and learn something from the experience)? You could do lots worse.
I have no other record in my current collection apart from Peter Gabriel’s third album (“Melt”) that can drive me right to tears no matter what the circumstances. The 1982 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide described this album as “songs of stark horror” wherein Gabriel “despaired the very modernity that makes his music possible.” Stark and despairing is too right. Melt Gabriel’s face completely off the cover (it’s already half-melted) and what you have is a black hole, albeit one where you are serenaded by the sympathetic Gabriel as you fall in headfirst. If Gabriel had been using his new-familiar two-letter album naming convention this far back, he might have just called this album No and left it at that.
The negation is all there on the surface, right in the song titles: “No Self-Control”, “I Don’t Remember”, “Not One of Us”. The bad vibes starts immediately with “Intruder”, whose booming opening drumbeats bring to mind the amplified footsteps of a monster in the house and lead into a story about an outsider who must invade or violate to feel fully alive. He’s inspired by isolation — that is, isolating another for the sake of doing his dirty work — and only someone who is himself hopelessly isolated could cherish such things. Alone in a crowd, alone in a spotlight, alone against all, despite (and maybe because of) the fact that there are billions of us jammed together on one planet, fuels just about every song on the record.Read more