Previous Posts: Books: October 2012

Book Reviews: Heroman Vol. 1 (Tamon Ohta)

Enjoyable if not-impressively-drawn manga take on Western-style kid's action comics. (Stan Lee had a hand in it, and it shows.)



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Vertical has been attempting to snag a bigger slice of the mainstream manga pie in various ways now. This latest attempt is the adaptation of the Stan Lee + BONES anime which I liked for being an interesting Japan-POV take on the American kids'-comics mythos: kid has his robot toy struck by lightning and it turns into a giant fighting companion (see: Johnny Sokko, et al.), one which comes in great handy when fending off a burgeoning alien invasion. Emphasis here is not on the gimmick but on little Joey Jones's growing accustomed to the idea of being anybody's hero, especially when he's spent the better part of his young life being everyone else's kickball. Bad points: amateurish art by Tamon Ohta, and a translation that seems way below par for the typically meticulous Vertical folks.


Tags: books manga review Vertical Inc.


Book Reviews: Paradise Kiss, Part One (Ai Yazawa)

What makes a story that's nominally a romance into something a little deeper and more insightful? The idea that the characters want to be more than overgrown children, for one.



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It’s been said that genres are reading instructions. A book bearing the label science fiction earns certain exemptions of tone and content right out of the gate that a book labeled fantasy or romance or literary fiction does not. Romance is a label we associate freely with broad brushstrokes of emotion (e.g., hate-that-is-actually-love), coincidence, and a great many other things we’d only tolerate in small doses, if at all, in something not sporting that label.

In other words, a genre is a label for a specific kind of suspension of disbelief, and that may explain why many people turn their nose up at certain genres. Some people find the suspension of disbelief re: human behavior or motivation required for a romance to be far more absurd than the suspension of disbelief re: physical reality required for a fantasy, SF, or four-color comic story. I don’t believe this mechanism underlies all instances of why people snub a romance for something else, but it sure explains why many people never try out certain genres at all. They have evolved a certain discipline for their suspension of disbelief. They do not let themselves play outside of those strongly-painted lines.

It’s a shame, because within any genre there is always the possibility for happy accidents and lively discovery. Shojo manga, the whole subdivision of manga nominally intended for girls, has many titles with plenty of crossover appeal. Having a mainstream breakthrough experience with one of them doesn’t much increase the odds of the others following suit — the Dark Knight Trilogy hasn’t caused mainstream moviegoers to pick up too many Batman comics — but it can at the very least expose the reader to new territory. The very best of shojo manga has included some territory I might never have discovered on my own: Keiko Takemiya’s To Terra, for instance, or Moto Hagio’s remarkable work that freely crossed between labels: romance here, fantasy there, science fiction at times, all of it remarkable. Read more


Tags: Ai Yazawa books Japan manga review romance shojo Vertical Inc.


Science Fiction Repair Shop: The Other Side Of The Fence Dept.

What will it take for SF&F and mainlit criticism to appreciate each other? New critics, I suppose.


It's time the major literary awards stopped being a gated community (io9, by way of Salon)

The traditional objections to genre fiction - that it is formulaic, psychologically inauthentic and indifferently executed - are not without merit, but then neither are the genre fans' familiar retorts that literary fiction is self-indulgent, feebly plotted, overwritten and dull.

Yes, I normally wince at most anything io9 puts out, but this was worth chomping out and discussing. (That and it's a link from elsewhere.)

Right there is the same thing I've been saying here in one form or another for a while now: SF&F and mainstream/literary fiction have a lot to teach each other, and it's often not the things most people assume. I find much literary fiction can be "formulaic, psychologically inauthentic and indifferently executed", and SF&F can be just as "self-indulgent, feebly plotted, overwritten and dull" as the competition. Neither one has a monopoly on wretched excess or mingy middle-mindedness.

The hard part seems to be getting critics of one field to take the other more seriously, as the article goes on to note. Most mainstream literary critics aren't trained to pick up on when SF&F leaps out of its box and becomes something a little mroe ambitious, just as they're not terribly clued-in on when mainstream lit tries to spin in SF&F tropes without actually thinking through the full implications of their inclusion.

So what will it take? New critical standards, at the very least — something that won't happen until the current crop of mainstream lit-critics stop flipping their noses up at everything that doesn't have a book award ribbon on the cover. It takes at least a generation and a half for that kind of turnover. In short, no holding your breath.


Tags: fantasy publishing science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop writing



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This page is an archive of entries in the Books category from October 2012.

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