All posts for February 2009


Of Pop And Pies And Farmer Dept.

Some bits 'n pieces from around the way. Criterion has a new box set from their Eclipse line, the Hiroshi Shimizu set. All date from the pre-WWII era and sound like the kind of thing that would make a nice...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/27 15:14

Some bits 'n pieces from around the way.

  • Criterion has a new box set from their Eclipse line, the Hiroshi Shimizu set. All date from the pre-WWII era and sound like the kind of thing that would make a nice counter-complement to my Tokyo Inferno reading -- they're gentle, lyrical tales, although they do feature some of the same sorts of characters that I'd like to include in the book itself.
  • Longstanding indie/foreign film distributer New Yorker Films is set to shutter its doors after 40+ years. Their movie library is likely to be auctioned off; if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say Janus/Criterion, Milestone and Fox/Lorber/Wellspring would probably divide the spoils.
  • William Stout owns a bookstore in NYC devoted to architecture and design. I worry that specialist bookstores like this are slowly on the way out, no thanks to skyrocketing rents and the exodus of bookstore inventories to online venues.
  • Otaku unite! The Taipei Times has a piece about a strip of stores in the Taipei City Mall devoted to manga/anime/J-culture lovers. Maybe I can find an excuse to go to Taipei once our travel budgets are restored...
  • Most New Yorkers have probably heard by now of the plan to make Times Square a car-free zone. It sounds to my ears like a fallback from the more ambitious plan to charge people $6 to come into Upper Manhattan during weekdays -- the more reasons you give folks to walk around in the city, the more they're likely to do it (and use mass transit in the bargain).

Finally, we've all heard about Philip José Farmer passing on at the venerable age of 91. A shame, because I suspect only now I'll be getting caught up with him good and proper -- apart from the Riverworld books, that is, which actually quite underwhelmed me.

Part of the problem there was how I couldn't help but contrast them to my favorite work of this that I've read so far, his novella "Riders of the Purple Wage", published in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology. "Wage" was, to borrow Harlan's own words about PJF's earlier story "The Lovers", "an explosion in a fresh-air factory". It was, by Harlan's own estimation, the finest story in that whole collection, and while its Freudijungian pretenses have not dated well, it's still such fun to read that it makes the Riverworld series look terribly warmed-over in comparison.

If people have suggestions for Farmer reading apart from Riverworld, post 'em here; I'd love to hear your takes.

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Tags: Criterion NYC anime books movies science fiction travel writing


Hard At Work Again Dept.

I spent most of February doing research for Tokyo Inferno rather than actually writing it. Is that procrastination? Probably, although I didn't feel like scribbling the rest of a draft and then dumping a good part of it because I didn't...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/26 20:05

I spent most of February doing research for Tokyo Inferno rather than actually writing it. Is that procrastination? Probably, although I didn't feel like scribbling the rest of a draft and then dumping a good part of it because I didn't know diddle-all about what had been going on in Japan at the time.

The book Yokohama Burning was a major source of insight. A good chunk of it is about the Westerners in Japan at the time, but there was a whole chapter on Tokyo itself that made me plant quite a few Post-Its in the margins.

To my surprise, most of my original instincts about what to put in or leave out seemed to be on target. One character will either have to be changed or revised entirely, depending on what conclusions I come to. Fortunately it's not one of the main characters, just someone who occupies a role that might be better served by using someone else already established. It's going to be one of those things that I think I can only work out by actually writing that part of the story. Musing about it "offline" is like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle by putting the pieces in the box and giving it a good shake.

If all goes well, I should have a full draft by the end of April or so -- plenty of time to clean it up and get it into shape for the final quarter of the year.

What I'd love to do -- and this is really iffy, but I'm tossing it out here anyway -- is make the first section of the story available as a teaser when it's ready. It would be essentially the same thing as the teasers I have up right now for The Four-Day Weekend and Summerworld -- about the first 30 or so pages, maybe with some editing for readability.

Another idea. (Uh-oh!) After this, I have about two or three other pieces of work that I could dive into. Since I've only got two arms and ten fingers and no direct neural input for this thing, I can only write one of them at a time. My idea was to create "taster" versions for each project as above, post them, and get feedback for a couple of months from people about which ones they most wanted to see.

Let me know what you think!

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The Unheard Music Dept.

John Cage, again. "I don't hear the music I write. I write in order to hear the music I haven't yet heard." [*] I am the same way, I think. I write to bring into existence the stories I have...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/25 20:32

John Cage, again. "I don't hear the music I write. I write in order to hear the music I haven't yet heard." [*]

I am the same way, I think. I write to bring into existence the stories I have not yet read. It feels like there is a hole somewhere that needs to be filled up, and so I go and fill it. Maybe this hole doesn't exist anywhere except in my perceptions, but it will persist until I go about doing the work that fills it.

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Tags: John Cage creativity dharma writing


Books: Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei Graphic Novel 1

A depressed young man came to see Hazel Dreis, the bookbinder. He said, “I’ve decided to commit suicide.” She said, “I think it’s a good idea. Why don’t you do it?” —John Cage, Indeterminacy That Hazel, she sure didn’t stand...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/25 13:20
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A depressed young man came to see Hazel Dreis, the bookbinder. He said, “I’ve decided to commit suicide.” She said, “I think it’s a good idea. Why don’t you do it?” —John Cage, Indeterminacy

That Hazel, she sure didn’t stand still for anyone’s b.s. Had she met Nozomu Itoshiki, the titular character of Koji Kumeta’s Sayonara, Zetsubo-sensei, she would most likely have sent him schlepping with a smack to the back of the head: Look, kid, either do it or don’t do it, but for chrissakes don’t come here and advertise to me about it.

Some people have issues; Itoshiki has entire subscriptions. Itoshiki, you see, is in love with the idea of suicide. Not actually committing suicide, you see, but the idea of committing suicide. He’s so in love with the concept of killing himself out of sheer despondency, he’s never gotten around to doing it. Zetsubo-sensei, they call him. Professor Despair. The only sensible reaction to this corrupt world from such a sensitive, tormented soul as him is to find a branch, sling a noose over it, and hang himself by the neck until dead, dead, dead.

But wait. If he actually follows through on his death wish, then he can no longer collar strangers on the street and fulminate at them re: the wretchedness of life as we are condemned to live it. To that end, he elects to kill himself in ways that seem prime for interruption, like hanging himself in public or throwing himself under trains. If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again.

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Tags: Japan John Cage Taishō / Showa manga review


Music: Boris At Last – Feedbacker (Boris)

Boris win some kind of award for truth in advertising with their album titles: Amplifier Worship, Rock Dream, and now Feedbacker. This is rock ‘n roll from Japan’s deepest underground live halls, drenched in (as the name implies) feedback, rattle-and-hum,...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/25 11:03
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Boris win some kind of award for truth in advertising with their album titles: Amplifier Worship, Rock Dream, and now Feedbacker. This is rock ‘n roll from Japan’s deepest underground live halls, drenched in (as the name implies) feedback, rattle-and-hum, and buzz. That’s buzz in all senses of the word “buzz”—both the drug-induced kind and what you get out of a guitar stack when it’s not grounded properly. Not that such a thing would be an impediment here, since the meters on the control board were probably pegged in the red for most of the recording session anyway.

Some history. Once upon a time, when dinosaurs walked the earth and I lived close enough to WFMU in New Jersey to hear their broadcasts the old-fashioned way, I got plenty of education from them into what constituted noise-rock at the time. For most folks, this sort of thing started and ended with Sonic Youth, but the rabbit hole went a lot deeper than that: To Live And Shave In L.A., F/i, and a great many others since buried and forgotten. Other people heard a wall of fuzz and garbage; I heard sonic exploration that primed me for Coltrane’s “Ascension” and Scriabin’s Final Mystery, and which in some ways had already been anticipated by the screeching crescendos of György Ligeti on the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Tags: Japan noise


We've Been Wrong All This Time Dept.

Folks, I have some terrible news. It's come to my attention that Zydrate does not, in fact, come in a little glass vial. It comes in a large, sterile plastic one-time use flechette. I'm doing my best to make sure...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/24 17:10

Folks, I have some terrible news.

It's come to my attention that Zydrate does not, in fact, come in a little glass vial. It comes in a large, sterile plastic one-time use flechette. I'm doing my best to make sure this is corrected wherever it's referenced, but it's slow going.

Please spread the word. Thank you for your cooperation.

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Tags: comedy gold


External Movie Reviews: Claymore Vol. 2

The difference between an only-okay show and a great one is, I think, whether or not you care about the people involved. From the outside, I shouldn’t have cared much about Claymore and its cold, closed-off heroine Claire—but when I...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/24 14:04
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The difference between an only-okay show and a great one is, I think, whether or not you care about the people involved. From the outside, I shouldn’t have cared much about Claymore and its cold, closed-off heroine Claire—but when I first saw the show (in fansubs, back before FUNimation saw fit to pick it up and grace us in Region 1 with it), something about the show, and Claire herself, grabbed me immediately. Somehow the way Claymore’s premise, characterization, storytelling and higher concepts all locked together did it for me. The same applied to the manga it was derived from, which explains why the TV series hangs together as well as it does: they had good source material.

Volume 1 set up the premise and gave us Claire, the “Claymore” of the title (one of many) who gains a human sidekick, Raki. The last episode on that disc hinted at why Claire’s icy surface has melted a bit: by taking in Raki she is recapitulating, in a sense, some of the same formative experiences she had. As a young girl, mute and near-insensate, the village Claire lived in was attacked by youma. Salvation came in the form of a Claymore, “Teresa of the Faint Smile”, so named for her trademark expression at the moment of a successful kill. Claire tried to follow Teresa and was at first spurned, but in time the Claymore warmed up to the girl and grew to care about her.

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Tags: Japan anime review


Weekend-end Dept.

I spent most of the weekend sneezing my fool head off. Good thing I didn't try to get into a car, as had been my original plan. I regret not getting to WF, but I have to be forward-looking. I...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/23 12:52

I spent most of the weekend sneezing my fool head off. Good thing I didn't try to get into a car, as had been my original plan. I regret not getting to WF, but I have to be forward-looking. I tell myself that next time around, I will have even more to offer, and it's almost certainly true. As a by-product of that, however, I have signed copies of my books in stock once again, and the price is now $20 inclusive of shipping to the continental U.S. (Foreign orders slightly higher. Ask.)

A bunch of review goodies came in over the weekend, which I will be plowing through and writing about in the usual fashion. However, I'm trying to step back and make more time for book work and my own review material -- stuff like El Norte or Watcher in the Attic or The Geisha, all things I've watched recently and haven't had time to talk about. (I hate relegating these things to a simple capsule review, because the more I talk about them the more I find there is that much more to say in the first place. It's like throwing away a blank notebook that you've only written in for a few pages.)

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Books: Kurohime Vol. #10

A key concept in comic publishing in Japan is the notion of the “rice manga”, the equivalent of Hollywood’s concept of a “tentpole release”. When you pick up your weekly, telephone-book-sized copy of Shonen Jump at the newsstand, there’s typically...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/22 10:52
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A key concept in comic publishing in Japan is the notion of the “rice manga”, the equivalent of Hollywood’s concept of a “tentpole release”. When you pick up your weekly, telephone-book-sized copy of Shonen Jump at the newsstand, there’s typically one or two titles in there that get read by just about everyone, simply because they’re either universally popular or breezy fun or both.

Based on the fact that I tore into volume ten of Kurohime within seconds of pulling it out of the envelope, I think it’s safe to say that Kurohime’s become one of my rice manga. The first couple of volumes didn’t impress me that much, but—surprise, surprise!—it’s won me over. No, it’s not as deep or emotionally resonant as Urasawa’s Monster or 20th Century Boys, or as overwhelming as Berserk, or … you get the idea. But it is fun, unapologetically so, and I’ve grown fond of the way it swirls together a freeform mix of traditional Japanese cultural tropes and shonen-action conceits. This is why I’m writing about Kurohime #10 before Urasawa’s Pluto #2, although I suspect the only people I would offend by doing so would be me and one other guy I know who will forgive me anyway.

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Tags: Japan manga review


Down With The Sickness, Down, I Say! Dept.

So much for WickedFaire this weekend. I spent most of today watching the room spin around, so the idea of getting into a car and driving any distance at all was straight out. At least now I have an excuse...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/20 20:07

So much for WickedFaire this weekend. I spent most of today watching the room spin around, so the idea of getting into a car and driving any distance at all was straight out. At least now I have an excuse to get caught up on my reading!

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Total Bull Dept.

Every now and then you come up against something that makes you not only stop cold but have the worst time starting up again and saying anything that isn't just "WHAT? WHAT?" Yes, again I was doing Tokyo Inferno research,...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/19 15:30

Every now and then you come up against something that makes you not only stop cold but have the worst time starting up again and saying anything that isn't just "WHAT? WHAT?"

Yes, again I was doing Tokyo Inferno research, and by way of one link and another I ended up reading Noam Chomsky. And Noam spake thusly:

In totalitarian societies where there's a Ministry of Truth, propaganda doesn't really try to control your thoughts. It just gives you the party line. It says, 'Here's the official doctrine; don't disobey and you won't get in trouble. What you think is not of great importance to anyone. If you get out of line we'll do something to you because we have force.' Democratic societies can't work like that, because the state is much more limited in its capacity to control behavior by force. Since the voice of the people is allowed to speak out, those in power better control what that voice says -- in other words, control what people think. One of the ways to do this is to create political debate that appears to embrace many opinions, but actually stays within very narrow margins. You have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions -- and that those assumptions are the basis of the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, the debate is permissible. —Noam Chomsky, Propaganda, American-Style

Most of my gibbering stupefaction at this quote -- a quote which came to me by way of some of Chomsky's writings about Japan and WWII, and deserve their own separate dismantling -- comes from the first couple of sentences. They by themselves invalidate any point Chomsky might have been trying to make.

To say that totalitarian societies "don't really try to control your thoughts ... just give you the party line" is to admit that you know absolutely nothing about the facts of life in a totalitarian society in the first place. This is not something you need to go to, say, North Korea to understand firsthand; even the most casual reading of Robert Jay Lifton (he who educated the West about the very term "thought reform" as it was practiced in Mao's China) or the like will do fine.

Of course totalitarian societies practice thought control. That's what the prefix total- in the adjective means: total control of thought, deed, behavior and movement. What you think is of manifest importance to the ruling powers, because thought is the precusor to action, and the last thing they want is their people -- forgive the use of this weatherbeaten phrase, but it fits here -- thinking outside the box. This is why there is total control over what people are permitted to say and do. The end result is, you guessed it, also control over what they are permitted to think, what conclusions they can draw and what actions they can take based on those conclusions.

One of the things we assume for granted in any democratic society is what could be called the freedom to be trivial -- to live without having everything we do automatically assume weight. There are no trivial actions in a totalitarian society. Everything is invested with political heft, which is how people can be thrown into gulags and never seen again for nothing more than accidentally sitting down on a copy of a picture of the Great Leader. In Mao's China, sentences were handed down for such crimes as "talking gibberish", a catchall way to get someone out of sight for saying anything that made the powers-that-be remotely uncomfortable. In the U.S., I can brag about burning a copy of the President's picture and never incur much more than a little partisan venom for it, if even that. (Not that I've ever actually done that or would want to, but you get the idea.)

I've heard other people describe Chomsky as a great political thinker, but so far I've seen nothing to convince me of this.

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Tags: dharma history writing


What You Say! Dept.

Over at Sadly, No! (in a thread about Larry Niven) there was this comment: "When a writer consistently expresses the same views in (in this case) his fiction over a period of years, I think people can be excused for...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/19 15:23

Over at Sadly, No! (in a thread about Larry Niven) there was this comment: "When a writer consistently expresses the same views in (in this case) his fiction over a period of years, I think people can be excused for thinking he's expressing his personal views." This is something I've bumped into myself, and not in ways you might imagine.

Not long after I wrote Summerworld I had a conversation with a friend who knew that I didn't believe in magic or put much stock in mysticism of any variety, so why then did I go write a book chock-full of such things?

After a sizable delay -- during which I had to administer several firm whacks to the side of my head to unscramble all the neurons fused by that statement -- I did my best to point out that just because a writer finds something an interesting subject for fiction it doesn't follow that they condone, approve of, or have sympathy for the thing. Most mystery/thriller writers do not condone committing murder -- no, not even if you think you're smart enough to get away with it. (And on the same note, just because I write about and have a fondness for Japan doesn't mean I excuse or deliberately overlook things about it that are troubling.)

More to the point, though, is the idea that if someone includes a great deal of what appears to be sympathetic or approving treatment of X in their stories, then it follows that they have an affinity for X in real life. Or that the personal views they hold are something along those lines, etc., and that you are not going to be seen as wholly deluded if you believe they think such things when you see them over and over and over in their work. Sometimes you don't have to dig very hard (Mishima); sometimes it's more a matter of interpretation.

I'd go with the idea that a goodly amount of someone's world-view will appear in their writing no matter what they do. A big chunk of this is simply because the person you are compels to you write certain stories about certain things because you find them personally resonant. You can't help it, and if you're honest with yourself, you probably shouldn't try avoiding it. At least then people know where you stand and can act accordingly.

What I don't believe is that by reading one book, or even two or three, you can become an arbiter of someone else's political opinions. If a person's entire output is very limited, then it's a bit foolish to try and intuit what they think -- and, most of the time, if they want you to know such things they're not going to dance around it; they'll tell you. Nobody by now has to guess at Orson Scott Card's feelings about certain issues, for instance.

Some of the other comments in that thread, by the way, are riotous -- this one in particular:

Most stuff published by Baen is jingoistic, right-wing military SciFi written by angry, insecure white Pillsbury doughboys for the same demographic. Even the better stuff like the David Weber’s Honor Harrington series repeats standard wingnut memes about misguided liberals championing appeasement in the face of military threats OVER and OVER and OVER again. [*]

HH, one of the better books? I tried to read the first book in the HH series but got out before I sustained any permanent chromosomal damage. By all accounts, Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosian books are far better, and funnier to boot. And from my own experience, Harry Harrison not only skewered this kind of thing wonderfully as satire decades ago (The Stainless Steel Rat Goes To War), but saw through the moralizing oatmeal of it all in the course of a single short story: "No War, Or Battle's Sound". His best books are all about the smart, the resourceful, the plucky and the can-take-a-joke crowd coming out on top.

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Tags: dharma writing


Genji Press: Projects: WickedFaire, &c.

A reminder: I'm going to be at WickedFaire this coming weekend, with books for sale and at least one panel discussion appearance. Everything I have will be available signed at the cover price ($12), as opposed to the $20 I...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/17 11:16

A reminder: I'm going to be at WickedFaire this coming weekend, with books for sale and at least one panel discussion appearance. Everything I have will be available signed at the cover price ($12), as opposed to the $20 I normally charge for Internet sales. If you can make it out there, this is a great way to pick up everything I have in stock, cheap!

My next convention appearance (where I'm actually in a selling capacity) won't be until the end of August, when I turn up at AnimeFest with Tokyo Inferno in tow. There is also the chance I'll be selling at NYAF, but that has not yet been nailed down, and the cost may simply be too prohibitive right now for that. I'm also considering I-CON, although I haven't been there in ages and my experiences with it were, to put it mildly, not positive. I hope things have improved since.

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Tags: AnimeFest I-CON NYAF WickedFaire books conventions travel


Book Reviews: Tamayura Douji Vol. #1 (たまゆら童子) (Eriko Sano)

We never know his name. He is referred to as “that mysterious boy” (不思議な童子 / fushigi na douji) by one character, but the title of the comic (たまゆら童子 / Tamayura Douji, “The Phantom Boy”) hints broadly at the fact that...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/16 17:26
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We never know his name. He is referred to as “that mysterious boy” (不思議な童子 / fushigi na douji) by one character, but the title of the comic (たまゆら童子 / Tamayura Douji, “The Phantom Boy”) hints broadly at the fact that he’s a spirit and not a human child anyway. Give him a name, and it’s a tossup as to whether he’d take it to heart or just chuckle and look for someone else to give him another. Like the angels in Win Wenders’s Wings of Desire, sometimes he soars above all of human nature and sometimes he drops to earth to experience human nature firsthand.

The best offhand term I have to describe Tamayura Douji is historical fantasia—it’s not intended to be any kind of serious exploration of Japanese history, even if the logo on the spine of the book reads “Jidaigeki Comic Series” (jidaigeki meaning a historical tale). It leaps and floats between characters and events from Japan’s past, linking them through the adventures of the title character. The end result is somewhere between the Classics Illustrated approach seen in other manga (e.g., Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s Sangokushi) and the dreamier, more whimsical—shilling for sentimental—approach used by shōjo manga.

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Tags: Heian Japan history manga review untranslated


Criteriosity Dept.

The best news first. Criterion has seen fit to grace us with a Blu-ray edition of Akira Kurosawa's Ran. (Depicted here is the conventional DVD edition; no ASIN has been assigned for the BD yet.) It's set to include all...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/16 13:05

The best news first. Criterion has seen fit to grace us with a Blu-ray edition of Akira Kurosawa's Ran. (Depicted here is the conventional DVD edition; no ASIN has been assigned for the BD yet.) It's set to include all the materials found in the DVD edition, and will street on May 12th. Essential does not begin to describe this release. I strongly suspected this would be one of the first BDs in Criterion's catalog; I'm just surprised it wasn't the first.

Also coming soon is volume 12 in their Eclipse series of box-set reissues, this one being the films of Aki Kauriusmäki: Ariel, The Match Factory Girl and Shadows in Paradise. To the best of my knowledge these were never on DVD in English-language editions until now; I only saw Ariel years ago on VHS and never forgot it, so this is a must-review for when it hits.

Shohei Imamura (of The Pornographers) also has a box set on the way, featuring three movies again not seen on video here: Pigs and Battleships, The Insect Woman and Intentions of Murder.

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Tags: Akira Kurosawa Blu-ray Disc Criterion epic win


Jaw Dropper Dept.

Most of my reading time as of late has been taken up with research for Tokyo Inferno, and as such things go I tend to bounce from one link to another. I found myself reading about the fierce reactions to...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/16 12:19

Most of my reading time as of late has been taken up with research for Tokyo Inferno, and as such things go I tend to bounce from one link to another. I found myself reading about the fierce reactions to Hanna Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, the book that coined the phrase "banality of evil" (although at the cost of a good deal of violence to the truth).

The whole thing is worth reading, but one paragraph in particular absolutely stopped me cold.

[Mary] McCarthy felt that Eichmann in Jerusalem had been misinterpreted. Abel was wrong to interpret the conduct of Jewish leaders in terms of duress ('a man [who] holds a gun at the head of another and forces him to kill a friend'). McCarthy was indignant: 'Forces him to kill a friend? Nobody by possession of a weapon can force a man to kill anybody; that is his own decision..... he is tempting you to kill your friend that is all.' [31] This objection was, of course, uninformed by analysis of the criminal defence of duress in any legal jurisdiction.

Leave even the legal definitions aside and what you have is a stupefying example of the misinterpretation of the concept of free will. What McCarthy was attempting to say, I guess, is that in the end you always choose what to do regardless of what pressure is put on you in a given circumstance. Up to a point this is true; I can choose to spend or hoard my money as I see fit, and maybe even starve if I don't buy enough food for myself.

The problem with this argument, especially with the way she formulates it, is that it makes the vast swath of humanity -- whatever else they might do with the rest of their existences -- into total cowards not capable of meeting her high and mighty moral code. The victims of Cambodia's killing fields, the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen and Chelmno, the countless forgotten ones in North Korea's "re-education" camps, all dismissed at a stroke. Surely nothing stopped them from rising up against their captors except the fear of a bullet -- exactly the kind of logic you'd get from someone who's never faced the prospect of death for both themselves and a generation of their families in both directions.

One of my college writing professors (not the one I admired more, I admit) provided us with something of the same botched formulation in one of his dissembling critiques of a student's story. The story was pretty bad, to be sure, but the attack on it was in wretched faith, and in the end people were more resentful of the professor's mean spirit than how not to write a story about moral issues.

Most of us have never been coerced -- I'm sorry, tempted -- into doing evil with a gun pointed at us, and I hope we never have to, me included. Those that have, they scarcely need to have further insult done to them in this way.

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Tags: dharma history


Books: Crown Vol. #1

Two names. The first is You Higuri, she of Cantarella and Seimaden and a slew of other titles familiar to shōjo fans. The second is Shinji Wada, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many people reading this went who?”. And...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/16 10:57
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Two names. The first is You Higuri, she of Cantarella and Seimaden and a slew of other titles familiar to shōjo fans. The second is Shinji Wada, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many people reading this went who?”. And I’ll probably catch Heinz 57 varieties of hell for this, but the second name actually got me more excited about this title than the first.

Back in 1975—when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and George Lucas was ripping out his beard trying to write the first draft of something he called “The Star Wars”—Wada created a shōjo manga series named Sukeban Deka (スケバン刑事), which could be variously translated as “Bad Girl Detective” or “Delinquent Teen Cop”. Said series starred Saki Asamiya, a tough-as-Nine-Inch-Nails teen sprung from the hoosegow by the Powers That Be so that she might better infiltrate the nation’s crime- and corruption-infested schools on their part. In lieu of a gun or a knife, Saki carried a yo-yo—albeit one made out of high-tech ceramics that could smash heads or strangle opponents with its wire.

You can probably guess this was no flowers-and-hearts love story. Deka was a sprawing, violent, operatic saga that spanned continents and concluded with a Femme Nikita-like existential twist. It also created a set of cultural tropes in Japan as striking and recognizable as Rei’s plugsuit and blue hair, and a whole slew of live-action films, a TV series, an anime adaptation and a recent theatrical remake (directed by Battle Royale II helmer Kenta Fukasaku). Wada went on from that to create a number of other shōjo titles—Amaryllis the Thief, Shark Girl—but Deka remains the one thing he’s best remembered for. It was a first-of-its-kind product, made no apologies for its glorious excesses, and got away with it thanks to a gallery of terrific characters, Saki herself being first and foremost.

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Tags: Japan Shinji Wada manga review


External Movie Reviews: The Story of Saiunkoku, DVD 1-3

Saiunkoku was almost a lost series. Originally set to be released by Geneon, it was one of the many titles that disappeared into limbo when the American arm of that company had its plug pulled in the Big Anime Shake-Out...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/15 00:45
Buy at Amazon

Saiunkoku was almost a lost series. Originally set to be released by Geneon, it was one of the many titles that disappeared into limbo when the American arm of that company had its plug pulled in the Big Anime Shake-Out of 2008. Funimation stepped in to pick up many of the licenses that got dropped on the floor during that time, so to speak, and rescued a great many titles that would have left a sizable hole in anyone’s catalog: Samurai Champloo, Black Lagoon, Ergo Proxy, Darker Than Black.

And now Saiunkoku, too. I’d been anticipating this show ever since I caught a snippet of it during one of Geneon’s panels way back when there was a Geneon. What little there was to be seen made it look like a smarter and far less cloying version of Fushigi Yugi (a show I wanted to like but could not due to its shamelessly manipulative construction). Fans of Fushigi Yugi will probably pick up on this one as well, although in my opinion this is the better of the two shows. It lets its characters and their behavior drive the show, instead of just dragging them kicking and screaming into happenstance.

Saiunkoku is the name of the land where the story takes place. It most strongly resembles Imperial China, but is actually a little closer to the pan-Asiatic mix that we saw in Moribito—maybe about 90% China to 10% everything else. Power is split between eight great houses, all with allegiance (in theory, anyway) to the emperor. A few years back there was a savage internal struggle to see who would take the thone, and after the dust settled they were left with the current emperor, Ryuki Shi, a complete dolt who spends most of his time chasing other men (!) and delegating responsibility to anyone who’ll take it. The inner circle of courtiers is desperate to have Ryuki take up his responsibilities, and have burned through one option after another with no luck.

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Tags: Japan anime review


Talkabout Dept.

My interview with translator Camellia Nieh (of Vertical's new edition of Black Jack, among many others) is now live. Go read it -- it's in four parts, so remember to click the links at the bottom to move ahead....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/13 23:12

My interview with translator Camellia Nieh (of Vertical's new edition of Black Jack, among many others) is now live. Go read it -- it's in four parts, so remember to click the links at the bottom to move ahead.

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Tags: Vertical Inc. anime manga translation


Genji Press: Projects: Fowoll-Up Dept.

Turns out the product IDs that I linked to for both Summerworld and The Four-Day Weekend were wrong. I've since fixed the issue. My apologies to anyone who was cross-directed. (I also didn't need to create entirely new versions of the...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/13 13:41

Turns out the product IDs that I linked to for both Summerworld and The Four-Day Weekend were wrong. I've since fixed the issue. My apologies to anyone who was cross-directed. (I also didn't need to create entirely new versions of the products anyway, just revise the existing ones.)

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Tags: Four-Day Weekend Summerworld books writing


Genji Press: Projects: Self-Made Dept.

In my FAQ for this site, I've made some mention of why I've chosen to self-publish my material rather than go to a professional publisher. I've probably picked the right time to do this sort of thing, since self-publishing (especially...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/12 12:51

In my FAQ for this site, I've made some mention of why I've chosen to self-publish my material rather than go to a professional publisher. I've probably picked the right time to do this sort of thing, since self-publishing (especially if you do it with as much professionalism as can be spared on the project) is no longer seen as an instant door-closer or kiss of death.

I get asked "why?" a lot, so here's a more detailed rundown of the key reasons I do this.

  1. I can write what I want, when I want, and how I want. Very few people with a professional publishing contract have the freedom to call their own shots. If they aren't slaving under terrible deadlines (something I know all about myself, believe me), they're subjected to editorial scrutiny. And while having a good editor is a blessing, not everyone is that lucky; many "editors" out there seem barely fit to carry anyone's pencil cases. I don't believe for a second that "freedom" is an excuse to put out an inferior product, of course -- so I do my best to make sure that what goes out under my name is proofed and edited and released as scrutinously as possible.
  2. It's not my day job. I have a day job, and it makes me more than decent money. I don't want to turn something I love (and want to do on my own terms) into something that is my livelihood. If I do that and then become yesterday's news despite my best efforts, then I'm back to where I started. Nobody I have met in this field, save for a handful of people, in the very literal sense that I could count them on one hand, believes they are immune from such things. What's more, I've seen how much I make compared to the rank-and-file folks in that field, and I'm already a lot better off. I am not trying to sound smug here, only that I have been where they have been myself and now that I'm on much stabler turf I don't plan on leaving anytime soon.
  3. It's fun.

With all this in mind, I have to add something that comes at the possible expense of sounding like I'm going back on myself. I haven't ruled out the possibility that a day might come along when I get offered a publishing contract with really amazingly good terms -- and who knows, I might even take it. But I'm not doing that without taking a good, long look at what I'd stand to lose in the process.

One other thing I have been asked is: By doing this, aren't you tacitly admitting that you don't have enough confidence in your work to have it professionally produced? That was a toughie the first time I encountered it, and I've since come to think of it this way: By trying to adopt the best possible standards of production, editing, and storytelling, am I not a "professional" myself? Yes, I take on the responsibility, and thereby make it that much more difficult -- I don't have the marketing muscle of a whole company behind me, to be sure -- but is it any less professional if one person does it as opposed to a whole company?

I think what people really mean by this is "Don't you want to see your work reach the widest possible audience?" Well, sure -- but again, I'd rather that not happen in a way where I have no control over what happens later.

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Tags: books writing


Genji Press: Projects: SummerWeekend!

It's done! The new 5.5 × 8.5 versions of my books Summerworld and The Four-Day Weekend are available for purchase NOW. Both are available for $11.99 -- down from $15! -- and are available signed by the author for $20. You can...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/11 11:51

It's done! The new 5.5 × 8.5 versions of my books Summerworld and The Four-Day Weekend are available for purchase NOW. Both are available for $11.99 -- down from $15! -- and are available signed by the author for $20.

You can visit the links to learn about each of these books, but here are the blurbs as I've traditionally given them to others:

  • Summerworld: Neil Gaiman meets Hayao Miyazaki, or so one of my readers put it. Come to think of it, that's a pretty good synopsis. My version was "a story of high adventure and deep insight in a world where desire reshapes the face of reality". Not nearly as sound-bite-y, though.
  • The Four-Day Weekend: Formerly The New Golden Age, it's my love letter to the convention-going scene, drawn from years of rubbing elbows with other fans. But did I mention it's also a love-and-brotherhood story? And a riotous comedy?

The cover art is still the same for each, however:

Coming in spring: reissues of my earlier novels Casual Users and Another Worldly Device!

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Tags: Four-Day Weekend Genji Press Summerworld books writing


Book Reviews: A Slow Death: 83 Days of Radiation Sickness (NHK-TV "Tokaimura Criticality Accident" Crew)

Most of us, I suspect, have a deep-seated distrust of anything “nuclear”. The infamy of the atom has many monuments to its name: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Bikini Atoll, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Mayak, Windscale. Nobody wants a reactor in their backyard—even...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/11 00:54
Buy at Amazon

Most of us, I suspect, have a deep-seated distrust of anything “nuclear”. The infamy of the atom has many monuments to its name: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Bikini Atoll, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Mayak, Windscale. Nobody wants a reactor in their backyard—even if nuclear power is one of the few large-scale ways to wean ourselves from burning coal. (Irony of ironies: we spew more radiation into the environment by burning coal than we do with a well-regulated and well-designed nuclear plant.)

The key words, of course, are “well-regulated” and “well-designed”, and while there are probably plenty of the latter it’s becoming all too clear there isn’t nearly enough of the former. For bad design and poor regulation, Chernobyl stands as the grossest example of both in conjunction. In its shadow there have been other accidents, albeit not as well-known or with such widespread effects, but which illustrate all too clearly that the most pressing danger of nuclear power is not radiation but human ignorance.

A Slow Death: 83 Days of Radiation Sickness documents how negligence and corruption at a nuclear-fuel processing plant in Tokaimura, Japan caused that country’s worst nuclear accident to date. One of the workers there, a pleasant family man named Hisachi Ouchi, received a dose of radiation nearly ten thousand times the normal background level, and over the course of the next two months and some-odd days literally disintegrated under the eyes of his doctors. Most of us know of radiation sickness only from the exaggerations of bad science fiction movies, but Mr. Ouchi’s case is even more ghastly than anything dreamed up by any screenwriter.

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Tags: Japan Vertical Inc. nuclear power review


Genji Press: Projects: Trimmed Down Dept.

I've made the needed corrections to Summerworld and The Four-Day Weekend for their new 5.5 × 8.5 trim size editions. The changes were minor but there were a lot of them, collectively: a misaligned spine image here, some typographical inconsistencies...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/10 18:47

I've made the needed corrections to Summerworld and The Four-Day Weekend for their new 5.5 × 8.5 trim size editions. The changes were minor but there were a lot of them, collectively: a misaligned spine image here, some typographical inconsistencies there, and so on. But the resulting product has been really heartening. I love the new publisher-grade paper, and the print quality of the cover is if anything even better than before.

I don't know how many copies of each I'll be bringing with me to WickedFaire this year, but I ought to be able to start soliciting orders for the new editions by the end of this week. Once that happens, the old editions will be phased out and you'll be directed towards the new ones exclusively. Those of you who bought an earlier edition, you now have a collector's item!

Sadly, Lulu doesn't yet offer ISBN distribution for this new trim size, but once that happens I will be making everything available through all the most popular channels (Amazon, etc.). Once that happens, I'll have all the more incentive to start reissuing the older books -- Casual Users, Another Worldly Device and maybe one or two other things -- in that format.

The single hardest part about this whole thing has been making sure everything is consistent. Having templates and style sheets and the like is a big boon, but after a certain point you have to start tweaking everything manually for each individual product. That's where, I suspect, people with dozens of different books begin to go a little nuts. (Of course, in a more conventional publishing house, they don't have to keep every single one of those things in print at once -- that's probably a big boon for them, not having to worry about the way things look across every single title in their library.)

I'm also impressed at how much of this stuff I've been able to do with software that costs nothing. The cover layout and typesetting: Scribus. The vector art: Inkscape. The two big proprietary apps I'm still using are Photoshop and Word, but only because everything I've found to try and replace them hasn't really worked out well for me. OpenOffice isn't bad, but I already bought and paid for a copy of Word 2007, and dang it all, I like Word 2007. Maybe I'll try producing the next book with OpenOffice, but for now Word it is.

My long-term plan has been to produce and offer about one book a year, and at this rate I have enough current and future projects to keep me going for a long time:

  • Tokyo Inferno, 2009
  • Vajra / The Mapmaker / other as-yet-undetermined title, 2010
  • Four-Day Weekend sequel, 2011
  • The Destroyed Room, 2012 (oh noez, end of teh worldz!!1)
  • Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope, TBD (my stab at horror-comedy, and yes the title is a lift from the Agoraphobic Nosebleed album)
  • The as-yet-untitled "hero story", TBD
  • Four-Day Weekend pt. 3, TBD (I need to visit Japan before I can even think about beginning this one)

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Tags: Four-Day Weekend Genji Press Kantō Jigoku Summerworld books writing


Expanded (Jim Hanley's) Universe Dept.

Or, How I Spent My Time At Comic-Con 2009, NYC. (The title's a double pun that most any NY-based comics/manga/pop-culture fan will spot immediately.) Thursday: I galumphed on over to the city in the evening and swung by Book-Off, which...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/09 16:05

Or, How I Spent My Time At Comic-Con 2009, NYC. (The title's a double pun that most any NY-based comics/manga/pop-culture fan will spot immediately.)

Thursday: I galumphed on over to the city in the evening and swung by Book-Off, which was in the process of having a massive shelf-clearing sale. Walked out of there with a disturbing amount of material: a whole bunch of Ryu Murakami novels in Japanese (many of which have English counterparts, for the sake of cross-comparison); an original Japanese edition of the L: Change the worLd novel (also soon to be translated; more reading material), and a couple of other tidbits that I have yet to identify but which look interesting.

Friday: Glommed on a bunch of stuff at the show for cheap -- the Samurai Champloo series artbook (in English), the rest of Lady Snowblood, the gaps in my Berserk and Blade of the Immortal collections. The only panel that day was the Vertical panel at 6PM; they were not going under, thank goodness, but they had to cut their list of titles way back for '09 while they reorganized and secured new funding. Went to dinner with friends downtown at Risotteria, which was way tasty.

Saturday: Panels galore. Del Rey, Bandai, Funimation -- and in between I stalked the show floor and made a few contacts. Cinebook are bringing a whole slew of French and European bandes dessinees titles to the U.S., including a long-time favorite of mine, Yoko Tsuno -- briefly available in English from Catalan Communications but now long gone. They were elated to know someone out there was as thrilled as they were about this! I also talked to the folks from Fanfare, publishers of many of Jiro Taniguchi's manga, and arranged to check out some titles from them when time permits. Also scored an autograph from Yuri Lowenthal for a friend...

Sunday: Only one panel, VIZ, and then a lot of showfloor spelunking. Got caught up with an old, old friend -- Greg Rucka. He's sort of a big deal.

Went back downtown and ate dinner with friends, then snapped a few shots of New York oddities on the way up to the train station.

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Tags: Comic-Con NYC conventions epic win travel


CC Dept.

I've posted a longish summary of Comic-Con, from the "business / industry" side of things, over at AMN....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/09 15:38

I've posted a longish summary of Comic-Con, from the "business / industry" side of things, over at AMN.

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Tags: Comic-Con NYC conventions epic win travel


Thud-down Dept.

Back home from Comic-Con NY '09. Wonderful time was had by all, me especially. I'll post some more details later as I'm (predictably) rather worn out right now....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/08 20:59

Back home from Comic-Con NY '09. Wonderful time was had by all, me especially. I'll post some more details later as I'm (predictably) rather worn out right now.

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Tags: Comic-Con NYC conventions epic win travel


Gaiden Dept.

Twitchfilm just posted an out-of-nowhere trailer that made me sit up and beg: the live-action adaptation of Kamui Gaiden (Legend of Kamui) (Sanpei Shirato). Even more surprising is the director: Yoichi Sai. The last thing I remember from him was...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/04 19:15

Twitchfilm just posted an out-of-nowhere trailer that made me sit up and beg: the live-action adaptation of Kamui Gaiden (Legend of Kamui) (Sanpei Shirato). Even more surprising is the director: Yoichi Sai. The last thing I remember from him was Blood and Bones, and before that Doing Time. It's a Shochiku release, which means if Funimation has any brains they'll be lobbying like hell to pick this up.

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Tags: Sanpei Shirato Yoichi Sai


新宿エクスタシーDept.

The Japan Society of New York is curating a new film series, Shinjuku Ecstasy, which specifically deals with productions of the Art Theatre Guild. Among them: Funeral Procession of Roses, Throw Away Your Books and Go Out Into The Streets,...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/03 16:17

The Japan Society of New York is curating a new film series, Shinjuku Ecstasy, which specifically deals with productions of the Art Theatre Guild. Among them: Funeral Procession of Roses, Throw Away Your Books and Go Out Into The Streets, Eros Plus Massacre, Death By Hanging, and more. Since most of these are not available on video in the U.S., this is a must if you're in the area.

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Tags: Art Theatre Guild Japan Japan Society NYC movies


External Movie Reviews: ×××HOLiC, Vol. #3

A friend of mine and I somehow got into a discussion of what constituted dream logic as opposed to nightmare logic. (For perspective, this is the same guy who routinely torments me with questions like “What is the difference between...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/03 14:00
Buy at Amazon

A friend of mine and I somehow got into a discussion of what constituted dream logic as opposed to nightmare logic. (For perspective, this is the same guy who routinely torments me with questions like “What is the difference between flammable and inflammable?” Answer: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, p. 47.) After some batting back and forth of the verbal shuttlecock, the answer came to this: Dream logic is when things don’t make sense and you want them to make sense, but you don’t mind wandering around in David Lynch territory for as long as it takes to get all the pieces to snap together. Nightmare logic is exactly the same, except you want to get the hell out and interpret it later.

×××HOLiC seems to encompass both dream and nightmare logic in the same breath. For every one thing that Watanuki is entranced by, there are at least two other things that scare the bejesus out of him—and they’re often in the same place at the same time. How convenient. It doesn’t help that a good part of the time Watanuki’s terror is offset by Dōmeki taking everything—everything, from “pipe foxes” to losing his freakin’ soul—at face value. To Watanuki’s credit, a little of that preternatural calm is rubbing off on him … but not fast enough for him to retain all the calm he needs. Good thing he has Yūko and Himawari(-chan) to fall back on as needed.

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Tags: CLAMP Japan anime review


Long Con Dept.

Comic-Con is this coming weekend. For me, it's partly a vacation, partly a job (I'm covering the whole thing for AMN), partly a family event (since I stay with my folks for the duration of the whole thing), partly a...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/01 22:37

Comic-Con is this coming weekend. For me, it's partly a vacation, partly a job (I'm covering the whole thing for AMN), partly a family event (since I stay with my folks for the duration of the whole thing), partly a city outing (any excuse to go into NYC is a good one), and partly a way to connect with friends old and new.

In a discussion elsewhere, someone was grousing about how after a while all conventions seem the same. I suppose it all depends on what you bring to the table, because for me it's not about which vendors are there or what demos are being run. It's about the other people, and there's always going to be something about connecting with people face-to-face -- whether total strangers or old buddies -- that you can't get any other way.

Mailing lists and websites and all the rest don't displace the thrill of being with dozens, hundreds or thousands of other people under one roof at one time -- and, frankly, I don't want anything to replace that thrill. It gives me that much more of an excuse to get out there beyond my four walls.

I didn't get a chance to get a vending table at Comic-Con this year; the price was still way the hell out of my league. I'm hoping NYAF will be a little more affordable, and there is a table waiting for me at AnimeFest come hell or high magma.

Side note: One of the first cons I went to was an SF-related con in the area, one which clearly felt like it was on the decline. The SF cons all seemed to be slumping, while the anime and comic-related cons were perking up. That provoked a theory: the reason those were on the expansion wasn't just because anime or comics themselves were on the rise, but because they were about media rather than genre. The former is always broader than the latter.

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Tags: AnimeFest Comic-Con NYAF conventions travel


Books: Pluto Vol. #1

With all those names on the front cover of the first volume of Pluto, I feared I was looking at a case of Too Many Cooks Syndrome. Sure, manga can be a collaborative art form, and typically is: any given...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/02/01 12:53
Buy at Amazon

With all those names on the front cover of the first volume of Pluto, I feared I was looking at a case of Too Many Cooks Syndrome. Sure, manga can be a collaborative art form, and typically is: any given issue of Naruto usually only has Masashi Kishimoto on the cover and no mention of his stable of art assistants. The poor guy can’t meet his deadlines without them. But to explicitly credit not only Naoki Urasawa but Osamu Tezuka (actually, his son Macoto Tezuka), co-author Takashi Nagasaki and “the cooperation of Tezuka Productions”, all right up front— well, I got … I dunno, edgy. Twitchy, even.

Reading about the what-and-why of the story put some of my twitch a little less on edge. One day Urasawa got it into his head to get in touch with the Tezuka estate and pitch them a story idea: a reworking, in his own fashion, of the Astro Boy / Tetsuwan Atomu (鉄腕アトム) story “The Greatest Robot on Earth”. To his surprise they loved the idea—and who in their right mind says no to someone like Urasawa?—and so the gears were set a-turning. Knowing all this, I felt something like performance anxiety in reverse when I opened the cover: with the pedigree of the people involved, you’d throw yourself off a bridge if it turned out to be a mess.

Perish the thought. Pluto wears the names of all its creators with pride, and any fan of either Tezuka Elder or Younger, or Urasawa, should put this down on their shopping lists. No, it isn’t perfect; in fact, there are some things about it that quite frankly bug me. But—again, a happy sort of irony at work here—they’re the kinds of flaws that I think will cause people to enjoy the work all the more because of them and not in spite of them.

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Tags: Japan Naoki Urasawa Osamu Tezuka manga review


Genji Press

Science fiction, rebooted.

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I'm an independent SF and fantasy author, technology journalist, and freelance contemplator for how SF can be made into something more than just a way to blow stuff up.

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