rachelmanija: (Sandman: Dream)
2012-02-07 11:21 am

Dream: It's a bird! It's plane! It's... an eyeball!

I dreamed that in a superhero world, one of the caped crusaders had a head completely covered in eyeballs - layers of them, so that his head was about the size of a watermelon and appeared to be entirely made up of eyeballs. His superpower was that he could send his eyeballs, individually or in a swarm, to fly through the air after bad guys and bang into them, with the same force as if he'd picked up his eyeball and thrown it at them. Unsurprisingly, supervillains did not find this to be a strong deterrent.

I suspect that this dream was influenced by my professor last night using the metaphor of billiard balls smacking into each other to describe Melanie Klein's theory of internalized "objects" (representations of relationships), and also by the hilarious This American Life segment describing failed superheroes, which mentions one whose power was to make his own limbs detach from his body.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2011-12-10 10:55 am

Anime: Yukikaze, Texhnolyze

To set the scene, I spent a day last week in Kelly and Elisa's charming but extremely cold home. Here I am, watching anime while huddled for warmth in a fox hat, with Elisa doing a ninja-like vanishing act beside me:

Read more... )

Yukikaze

Kelly and Elisa described this as "men who love men who love planes." Kelly added that it seemed like an attempt to capture two large markets at once: people who like fighter jets, and people who like gay love stories. Unfortunately, it ended up appealing to the much smaller market of people who like both fighter jets and gay love stories. Luckily, I like both.

Mysterious aliens known as JAM attempted to invade the Earth, but were beaten back to a planet called Fairy. A number of years later, the general population of Earth doesn’t much care that a completely pointless war is still being waged over the skies of Fairy via fighter jet. On Fairy, Rei Fukui is the pilot for the amazing plane Yukikaze, who talks to him and protects him. His commanding officer is in love with him - well, there’s no on-screen kissing, but if they were a heterosexual couple, there would be no doubt whatsoever in any viewer’s mind that their relationship is romantic. But Rei, who is socially impaired to say the least, doesn’t quite know how to deal with this strange thing called love, especially when it emanates from one of those strange beings called humans rather than from his beloved plane.

Yukikaze is beautifully animated and designed, with a lot of shots that evoke the loneliness of a futuristic Edward Hopper painting. The details of how the planes work are very realistic, given that they’re super-jets. Despite the many aerial battles, the series has a hypnotic, meditative atmosphere, aided by the unsettlingly mysterious nature of the war and the JAM: no one has ever seen a JAM, only their jets.

I liked this a lot, though I was glad to have Kelly and Elisa on hand to explain some of the more confusing moments. It’s understated in the extreme, but gathers a lot of emotional force by the satisfying end.

This is a short series, of 6 episodes. Four are thirty minutes long, and the first and last are about forty-five. Yukikaze

The series was based on a book series, Yukikaze, which is out in English from Haikasoru.

Texhnolyze

I only managed to watch the first episode of this, and I liked it less than any anime I’ve seen yet. There was no background music, and almost no dialogue. In episode one, in a moody dystopian landscape...

- A boxer stares zombie-like into a mirror, then has zombie-like sex with a creepy woman with a prosthetic arm. She pokes him in the eyeball with her sharp nail while having an orgasm (I had to look away) but luckily, he has a prosthetic eyeball.

- A CGI ceiling fan gloomily turns.

- A man gloomily cooks boiling glop.

- A girl with a fox mask stares at people and has visions of people getting killed.

- The boxer lurks gloomily in a sewer littered with prosthetic limbs.

- People hack off the boxer’s arm and leg.

End of episode one! Also, end of me watching any more of this. Don't blame Kelly and Elisa for it - it was one of a handful of random anime DVDs I bought for a dollar at a garage sale. I was robbed!

Texhnolyze
rachelmanija: (Default)
2011-12-10 10:55 am

Anime: Yukikaze, Texhnolyze

To set the scene, I spent a day last week in Kelly and Elisa's charming but extremely cold home. Here I am, watching anime while huddled for warmth in a fox hat, with Elisa doing a ninja-like vanishing act beside me:

Read more... )

Yukikaze

Kelly and Elisa described this as "men who love men who love planes." Kelly added that it seemed like an attempt to capture two large markets at once: people who like fighter jets, and people who like gay love stories. Unfortunately, it ended up appealing to the much smaller market of people who like both fighter jets and gay love stories. Luckily, I like both.

Mysterious aliens known as JAM attempted to invade the Earth, but were beaten back to a planet called Fairy. A number of years later, the general population of Earth doesn’t much care that a completely pointless war is still being waged over the skies of Fairy via fighter jet. On Fairy, Rei Fukui is the pilot for the amazing plane Yukikaze, who talks to him and protects him. His commanding officer is in love with him - well, there’s no on-screen kissing, but if they were a heterosexual couple, there would be no doubt whatsoever in any viewer’s mind that their relationship is romantic. But Rei, who is socially impaired to say the least, doesn’t quite know how to deal with this strange thing called love, especially when it emanates from one of those strange beings called humans rather than from his beloved plane.

Yukikaze is beautifully animated and designed, with a lot of shots that evoke the loneliness of a futuristic Edward Hopper painting. The details of how the planes work are very realistic, given that they’re super-jets. Despite the many aerial battles, the series has a hypnotic, meditative atmosphere, aided by the unsettlingly mysterious nature of the war and the JAM: no one has ever seen a JAM, only their jets.

I liked this a lot, though I was glad to have Kelly and Elisa on hand to explain some of the more confusing moments. It’s understated in the extreme, but gathers a lot of emotional force by the satisfying end.

This is a short series, of 6 episodes. Four are thirty minutes long, and the first and last are about forty-five. Yukikaze

The series was based on a book series, Yukikaze, which is out in English from Haikasoru.

Texhnolyze

I only managed to watch the first episode of this, and I liked it less than any anime I’ve seen yet. There was no background music, and almost no dialogue. In episode one, in a moody dystopian landscape...

- A boxer stares zombie-like into a mirror, then has zombie-like sex with a creepy woman with a prosthetic arm. She pokes him in the eyeball with her sharp nail while having an orgasm (I had to look away) but luckily, he has a prosthetic eyeball.

- A CGI ceiling fan gloomily turns.

- A man gloomily cooks boiling glop.

- A girl with a fox mask stares at people and has visions of people getting killed.

- The boxer lurks gloomily in a sewer littered with prosthetic limbs.

- People hack off the boxer’s arm and leg.

End of episode one! Also, end of me watching any more of this. Don't blame Kelly and Elisa for it - it was one of a handful of random anime DVDs I bought for a dollar at a garage sale. I was robbed!

Texhnolyze
rachelmanija: (Default)
2010-04-28 10:35 am

Moonshine, by Alaya Johnson

An urban fantasy/paranormal romance set during Prohibition in an America in which supernatural beings called “Others” exist and are known to the public, but lack civil rights. Thankfully, they are not just stand-ins for real-life oppressed groups, as those groups also exist (and are oppressed) in the world of the novel.

New York City teacher and full-time activist Zephyr Hollis, who becomes widely known during the book as “the singing vampire suffragette,” is the daughter of a demon-hunter, but unlike her bigoted father, she has never met a social justice cause she doesn’t like. Zephyr is a little over the top – she gives her rent money to the poor, she belongs to thirty-one separate political organizations, and at one point she forgets to eat because she was too busy feeding the hungry – but she’s definitely a unique heroine, and the sometimes absurd lengths to which she takes her convictions make her plausibly obsessive rather than obnoxiously self-righteous.

The book is fast-paced and fun. Within the first few chapters, Zephyr rescues a boy in the process of turning into a vampire, gives her rent money to a student with a hard-luck story, teaches a class to immigrants and Others, is hired by the handsome and mysterious djinn Amir to investigate a local crime lord, crushes on Amir, and attends a rally. I enjoyed the convincing grass-roots politics and the amusing takes on the various supernatural beings, from the disgusting way that vampires die to how Amir, the romantic lead, has ears that sometimes billow smoke and eyeballs that sometimes burst into flames. I repeat: the romantic lead has flaming eyeballs!

Amir, despite a rather more interesting dark side than is common in the genre, is not the alpha asshole who so often appears in romances, and Zephyr, while naïve in some ways, is completely capable of rescuing herself. Amir and Zephyr’s relationship, however, didn’t quite work for me – she was attracted to him so quickly that the relationship didn’t seem based on anything other than that she’s the heroine and he’s the romantic lead, especially since she had such strong feelings for him long before we’d seen enough of them interacting to justify them. I would have liked it better if the romance had developed more slowly, as they were both fun characters individually and had genuine conflicts based on opposing worldviews, which is always interesting in a romance.

I would be curious to hear from someone who actually knows something about the period how accurate the historic details are – the language and attitudes about sex often seemed anachronistically modern to me, but I might be projecting my own preconceptions on the time.

Overall, I enjoyed this. (My favorite bit, for those who have already read it, was the egg whites.) If you like paranormal romance but are tired of heroines who do nothing but have sex and the asshole men who dominate them, this is definitely the book for you.

Note that this is the same author as YA fantasy writer Alaya Dawn Johnson.

Moonshine: A Novel
rachelmanija: (Angel Sanctuary: Mad Hatter)
2009-06-21 12:48 pm

Cantarella 9, by You Higuri

In which there is eye loss, incest, and a cameo by Michelangelo.

I was positive that Mothiavelli was going to advise Chiaro to save Cesare’s soul by seducing him, but it turned out that he meant Chiaro should save Cesare’s soul by killing him. I could say something about the little death and penetration by phallic swords, but really, why bother? As long as manga lives, Freud is not dead.

Cantarella Volume 9 (v. 9)

I lost an eye and all I have to show for it is this deformed baroque pearl. )
rachelmanija: (Angel Sanctuary: Mad Hatter)
2009-06-21 12:48 pm

Cantarella 9, by You Higuri

In which there is eye loss, incest, and a cameo by Michelangelo.

I was positive that Mothiavelli was going to advise Chiaro to save Cesare’s soul by seducing him, but it turned out that he meant Chiaro should save Cesare’s soul by killing him. I could say something about the little death and penetration by phallic swords, but really, why bother? As long as manga lives, Freud is not dead.

Cantarella Volume 9 (v. 9)

I lost an eye and all I have to show for it is this deformed baroque pearl. )
rachelmanija: (Default)
2009-06-12 11:53 am

The Fool Reversed, by Susan Whitcher

Whitcher is also the author of YA fantasy Enchanter's Glass, which I recall as interesting but flawed.

The Fool Reversed is... wait for it... and interesting but flawed YA novel distinguished by the precise delineation of emotional states and by the WTF turn it takes halfway through.

The first half of the book is a painfully realistic story about a naïve teenager’s abusive affair with a horrifically plausible total jerk of an adult poet. Aspiring poet Anna’s romantic view of their relationship makes it even more clear how Thorn (who I bet renamed himself from the original Bob or Tim) is both taking advantage of it and caught up in his own fantasy. Meanwhile, she’s involved in a theoretically healthy and appropriate relationship with Dylan, a boy her own age; I had issues with this that were different from the ones Whitcher had.

It’s all quite beautifully written and plausible, Reading this as an adult is like watching an impending train wreck. A young teenager might be swept away along with Anna; I’m not sure.

Thorn’s emotional and (albeit consensual) sexual abuse of Anna is sufficient to make the point that he’s bad for her. Going further than that was not necessary, and tipped the novel into territory bordering on OMGWTFPOLARBEAR! Or at least OMGWTFPOLARBEARCUB.

Okay, so technically there was no actual Satanism. )
rachelmanija: (Default)
2009-06-12 11:53 am

The Fool Reversed, by Susan Whitcher

Whitcher is also the author of YA fantasy Enchanter's Glass, which I recall as interesting but flawed.

The Fool Reversed is... wait for it... and interesting but flawed YA novel distinguished by the precise delineation of emotional states and by the WTF turn it takes halfway through.

The first half of the book is a painfully realistic story about a naïve teenager’s abusive affair with a horrifically plausible total jerk of an adult poet. Aspiring poet Anna’s romantic view of their relationship makes it even more clear how Thorn (who I bet renamed himself from the original Bob or Tim) is both taking advantage of it and caught up in his own fantasy. Meanwhile, she’s involved in a theoretically healthy and appropriate relationship with Dylan, a boy her own age; I had issues with this that were different from the ones Whitcher had.

It’s all quite beautifully written and plausible, Reading this as an adult is like watching an impending train wreck. A young teenager might be swept away along with Anna; I’m not sure.

Thorn’s emotional and (albeit consensual) sexual abuse of Anna is sufficient to make the point that he’s bad for her. Going further than that was not necessary, and tipped the novel into territory bordering on OMGWTFPOLARBEAR! Or at least OMGWTFPOLARBEARCUB.

Okay, so technically there was no actual Satanism. )
rachelmanija: (Brigitte)
2009-05-11 12:01 pm

Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon

An exuberantly inventive YA fantasy novel set in a China more mythic than historical.

The back cover compares it to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but it has much more in common with the pell-mell action and flamboyant fantasy of films like Swordsman II (in which Brigitte Lin plays the Invincible Asia, a eunuch whose magic laser beams level mountains), The Bride With White Hair (in which Brigitte Lin was literally raised by wolves, and the villains are incestuous conjoined twins), and A Chinese Ghost Story (which makes up for its lack of Brigitte Lin with haunted tentacle trees).

Silver Phoenix lacks tentacle trees and conjoined twins. It does, however, have eyeball trees, triple-breasted succubi, flying machines, serpent-women, a pond of pregnancy, and a telepathic heroine. And more! Much more! Much, much, much more! A scene in which the perpetually hungry heroine, Ai Ling, is about to sit down to a meal of roast duck when she’s attacked by a pair of worm-haired fiends is absolutely typical of the novel’s action-packed, everything plus the kitchen sink sensibility.

When teenage Ai Ling’s gentle bookworm father never returns from a trip to court and a local evil-doer attempts to force her to marry him, she takes off to find her father. She’s promptly attacked by every monster in China (there’s lots), rescued by a sexy young man with a mysterious past, and develops her growing psychic powers while learning to fend for herself amidst wild adventures taking place everywhere from dumpling joints to Heaven to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams.

This is just as much fun as it sounds. It’s an atmospheric, fast-paced read, full of action and imagery, cool Chinese mythology and delectably described Chinese cooking. While the characterization isn’t terribly deep or unusual, Ai Ling is likable and goes from frequently needing rescue by magic amulet or other deus ex machina to learning to rescue herself and others. The hero, Chen Yong, faces prejudice and exoticising because he’s biracial, and likes to spar shirtless. Yesssss! Spar shirtless some more, Chen Yong!

For a YA novel, it’s quite frank, though not graphic, about sex. (“My manhood may be sitting in a jar, but I can still satisfy you in every way,” an ancient eunuch explains.) I mention this in case you’re planning to buy it for a child you know. I’d recommend it for twelve and up.

The story is complete in one volume, but there is a sequel or prequel planned. I hope it’s a sequel, because the ending as it stands wasn’t sufficiently set up to come across as poignant rather than unsatisfying.

Silver Phoenix would make a good compare-and-contrast reading with Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, which also focuses on a young woman who doesn’t fit into her society and has a subplot about the difficulty of romance when one partner is telepathic. Generally, Cashore is better with characterization and angst, and Pon is better with pace and setting. I am amused to note that the male romantic leads in both books have unusually colored eyes.

Click here to purchase from Amazon: Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia
rachelmanija: (Brigitte)
2009-05-11 12:01 pm

Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon

An exuberantly inventive YA fantasy novel set in a China more mythic than historical.

The back cover compares it to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but it has much more in common with the pell-mell action and flamboyant fantasy of films like Swordsman II (in which Brigitte Lin plays the Invincible Asia, a eunuch whose magic laser beams level mountains), The Bride With White Hair (in which Brigitte Lin was literally raised by wolves, and the villains are incestuous conjoined twins), and A Chinese Ghost Story (which makes up for its lack of Brigitte Lin with haunted tentacle trees).

Silver Phoenix lacks tentacle trees and conjoined twins. It does, however, have eyeball trees, triple-breasted succubi, flying machines, serpent-women, a pond of pregnancy, and a telepathic heroine. And more! Much more! Much, much, much more! A scene in which the perpetually hungry heroine, Ai Ling, is about to sit down to a meal of roast duck when she’s attacked by a pair of worm-haired fiends is absolutely typical of the novel’s action-packed, everything plus the kitchen sink sensibility.

When teenage Ai Ling’s gentle bookworm father never returns from a trip to court and a local evil-doer attempts to force her to marry him, she takes off to find her father. She’s promptly attacked by every monster in China (there’s lots), rescued by a sexy young man with a mysterious past, and develops her growing psychic powers while learning to fend for herself amidst wild adventures taking place everywhere from dumpling joints to Heaven to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams.

This is just as much fun as it sounds. It’s an atmospheric, fast-paced read, full of action and imagery, cool Chinese mythology and delectably described Chinese cooking. While the characterization isn’t terribly deep or unusual, Ai Ling is likable and goes from frequently needing rescue by magic amulet or other deus ex machina to learning to rescue herself and others. The hero, Chen Yong, faces prejudice and exoticising because he’s biracial, and likes to spar shirtless. Yesssss! Spar shirtless some more, Chen Yong!

For a YA novel, it’s quite frank, though not graphic, about sex. (“My manhood may be sitting in a jar, but I can still satisfy you in every way,” an ancient eunuch explains.) I mention this in case you’re planning to buy it for a child you know. I’d recommend it for twelve and up.

The story is complete in one volume, but there is a sequel or prequel planned. I hope it’s a sequel, because the ending as it stands wasn’t sufficiently set up to come across as poignant rather than unsatisfying.

Silver Phoenix would make a good compare-and-contrast reading with Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, which also focuses on a young woman who doesn’t fit into her society and has a subplot about the difficulty of romance when one partner is telepathic. Generally, Cashore is better with characterization and angst, and Pon is better with pace and setting. I am amused to note that the male romantic leads in both books have unusually colored eyes.

Click here to purchase from Amazon: Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia
rachelmanija: (Angel Sanctuary: Mad Hatter)
2009-04-02 09:54 am

Vampire Knight; Vampire Knight Guilty

A boarding school has a day class of ordinary students, and a night class of glamorous vampires. The headmaster's adopted daughter Yuuki Cross protects and separates the two classes, assisted by the angsty Zero, whose family was slaughtered by vampires. Yuuki's probably was too, but she has total amnesia before the age of five... when she remembers blood-splashed snow, and being rescued by handsome vampire student Kaname.

There are some dull high school hijinks, especially starting out, but the meat of the story is the tangled dance of desire, hatred, and fear between Yuuki, Zero, and Kaname, and the ramifications of their incredibly complicated and angsty pasts.

Pure teenage girl id, sure to appeal to the teenage girl inside all of us. Vampirism is danger, but it's mostly sublimated sex. The thing you fear is the thing you desire. Would it really be so bad to become a vampire or feed a vampire, when the vampire is trembling with desire in front of you, enthralled by nothing more than a glimpse of your sweet smooth throat?

The series is full of gothic imagery, ominous organ music, gorgeous credit sequences, roses, vampire-killing magic guns, and lots and lots and lots of moments in which someone says in a voice shaky with longing, "You can feed from me. I don't mind. Really. It's only because you need it so much." Or this, from a male character to a female one who is currently straddling him on the floor with her hands around his throat, "Do whatever you want with me... Anything..." (Hopefully) "You can even torture me, if you like."

And if vampirism equals sex, and it definitely does, there is canonical het, slash, and femmeslash - all drawn and shot to make it absolutely clear that this is indeed sex. Sexy sex sex!

That would be enough for me, but as a bonus, there are a whole bunch of jaw-dropping plot twists - all of them, in retrospect, fully foreshadowed. Also, FYI, Yuuki is much less gormless in the anime's second season, Vampire Knight Guilty.

I like the anime better than the manga. The supporting vampire characters are much easier to tell apart when their hair and eyes are different colors. Plus the anime has music.

Warning! Warning! This is a series which is much better unspoiled. Below are spoilers for everything, including Vampire Knight Guilty and volumes of the manga that are not out in English.

If you haven't gotten that far, do not click or read comments! If you know anything that happens in the manga that is not covered in Guilty, don't tell me!

Spoilers will lick your neck and whisper jaw-dropping revelations in your ears )
rachelmanija: (Angel Sanctuary: Mad Hatter)
2009-04-02 09:54 am

Vampire Knight; Vampire Knight Guilty

A boarding school has a day class of ordinary students, and a night class of glamorous vampires. The headmaster's adopted daughter Yuuki Cross protects and separates the two classes, assisted by the angsty Zero, whose family was slaughtered by vampires. Yuuki's probably was too, but she has total amnesia before the age of five... when she remembers blood-splashed snow, and being rescued by handsome vampire student Kaname.

There are some dull high school hijinks, especially starting out, but the meat of the story is the tangled dance of desire, hatred, and fear between Yuuki, Zero, and Kaname, and the ramifications of their incredibly complicated and angsty pasts.

Pure teenage girl id, sure to appeal to the teenage girl inside all of us. Vampirism is danger, but it's mostly sublimated sex. The thing you fear is the thing you desire. Would it really be so bad to become a vampire or feed a vampire, when the vampire is trembling with desire in front of you, enthralled by nothing more than a glimpse of your sweet smooth throat?

The series is full of gothic imagery, ominous organ music, gorgeous credit sequences, roses, vampire-killing magic guns, and lots and lots and lots of moments in which someone says in a voice shaky with longing, "You can feed from me. I don't mind. Really. It's only because you need it so much." Or this, from a male character to a female one who is currently straddling him on the floor with her hands around his throat, "Do whatever you want with me... Anything..." (Hopefully) "You can even torture me, if you like."

And if vampirism equals sex, and it definitely does, there is canonical het, slash, and femmeslash - all drawn and shot to make it absolutely clear that this is indeed sex. Sexy sex sex!

That would be enough for me, but as a bonus, there are a whole bunch of jaw-dropping plot twists - all of them, in retrospect, fully foreshadowed. Also, FYI, Yuuki is much less gormless in the anime's second season, Vampire Knight Guilty.

I like the anime better than the manga. The supporting vampire characters are much easier to tell apart when their hair and eyes are different colors. Plus the anime has music.

Warning! Warning! This is a series which is much better unspoiled. Below are spoilers for everything, including Vampire Knight Guilty and volumes of the manga that are not out in English.

If you haven't gotten that far, do not click or read comments! If you know anything that happens in the manga that is not covered in Guilty, don't tell me!

Spoilers will lick your neck and whisper jaw-dropping revelations in your ears )
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
2009-03-09 11:07 am

Charisma, by Steven Barnes

A group of at-risk kids are the unknowing subjects of an experiment intended to maximize their potential. But the experiment goes horribly wrong, as such experiments inevitably do. One daycare center becomes the subject of a notorious trial when all its kids start having violent and sexual nightmares; none of them recall any actual abuse, but the center goes under anyway. Journalist Renny Sand covers the trial, and is surprised by the wise-beyond-their-years self-possession of all the child witnesses.

Years later, someone is methodically murdering the children involved in the experiment. Renny starts researching, and finds that the entire story leads back to Alexander Marcus, an African-American legend who might have become President, but was mysteriously assassinated long ago.

The middle is a bit draggy and also features a scene so homophobic that I almost threw the book across the room. (Dude! Just because they’re gay bodybuilding thugs does not mean they are rapist gay bodybuilding thugs!) However, after that moment of massive fail, the scattered narrative threads start twining together in such a compelling manner that book-throwing became impossible, at least for me. If the homophobia isn’t a dealbreaker, I recommend this for its extremely suspenseful climax, a cool and original twist on the old “build a better human” idea, a very believable sixty-eight-year-old action heroine (former Secret Service), and, of course, my favorite thing, (almost) psychic kids. The prose is much better than in Blood Brothers, too.

One of the central plotlines, which I won’t get into too much detail on due to spoilers but which becomes clear in general terms early on, is that the dead hero Marcus might have had a very nasty secret. This is one case in which the author’s race did affect my reading of the book: if Barnes was not black, it would have been hard not to read this as “of course the African-American heroic legend is really [something awful].” But since Barnes himself is African-American and can be presumed to be conscious of those sorts of stereotypes, I read it as a take on the classic nightmare of any member of an oppressed minority: that the person held up as the great hero of your race will turn out to have feet of clay, and then, because you don’t have the privilege of being judged individually, everyone else will take that as a commentary on your entire race.

Like Woody Allen’s “Jew eat?” bit in Annie Hall (a joke about seeing anti-Semitism everywhere, even in the inquiry "Did you eat?"), which is self-deprecating humor coming from a Jew that would be plain deprecating coming from a gentile, some things come across differently depending on who’s saying them – if for no other reason than the presumption that at least the author is aware of what the stereotypes are, and so is presumably deliberately trying to do something with them. Though, of course, intent is not a guarantee of success, unconscious stereotyping can affect anyone, and I’m sure some Jews did find “Jew eat? No? Did’jew?” offensive regardless of the author. Anyway, that was my take on Marcus; yours may be different.

I note with regret but without surprise that there are no black people on the cover, just a pair of disembodied eyes.

Click here to buy it from Amazon: Charisma
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
2009-03-09 11:07 am

Charisma, by Steven Barnes

A group of at-risk kids are the unknowing subjects of an experiment intended to maximize their potential. But the experiment goes horribly wrong, as such experiments inevitably do. One daycare center becomes the subject of a notorious trial when all its kids start having violent and sexual nightmares; none of them recall any actual abuse, but the center goes under anyway. Journalist Renny Sand covers the trial, and is surprised by the wise-beyond-their-years self-possession of all the child witnesses.

Years later, someone is methodically murdering the children involved in the experiment. Renny starts researching, and finds that the entire story leads back to Alexander Marcus, an African-American legend who might have become President, but was mysteriously assassinated long ago.

The middle is a bit draggy and also features a scene so homophobic that I almost threw the book across the room. (Dude! Just because they’re gay bodybuilding thugs does not mean they are rapist gay bodybuilding thugs!) However, after that moment of massive fail, the scattered narrative threads start twining together in such a compelling manner that book-throwing became impossible, at least for me. If the homophobia isn’t a dealbreaker, I recommend this for its extremely suspenseful climax, a cool and original twist on the old “build a better human” idea, a very believable sixty-eight-year-old action heroine (former Secret Service), and, of course, my favorite thing, (almost) psychic kids. The prose is much better than in Blood Brothers, too.

One of the central plotlines, which I won’t get into too much detail on due to spoilers but which becomes clear in general terms early on, is that the dead hero Marcus might have had a very nasty secret. This is one case in which the author’s race did affect my reading of the book: if Barnes was not black, it would have been hard not to read this as “of course the African-American heroic legend is really [something awful].” But since Barnes himself is African-American and can be presumed to be conscious of those sorts of stereotypes, I read it as a take on the classic nightmare of any member of an oppressed minority: that the person held up as the great hero of your race will turn out to have feet of clay, and then, because you don’t have the privilege of being judged individually, everyone else will take that as a commentary on your entire race.

Like Woody Allen’s “Jew eat?” bit in Annie Hall (a joke about seeing anti-Semitism everywhere, even in the inquiry "Did you eat?"), which is self-deprecating humor coming from a Jew that would be plain deprecating coming from a gentile, some things come across differently depending on who’s saying them – if for no other reason than the presumption that at least the author is aware of what the stereotypes are, and so is presumably deliberately trying to do something with them. Though, of course, intent is not a guarantee of success, unconscious stereotyping can affect anyone, and I’m sure some Jews did find “Jew eat? No? Did’jew?” offensive regardless of the author. Anyway, that was my take on Marcus; yours may be different.

I note with regret but without surprise that there are no black people on the cover, just a pair of disembodied eyes.

Click here to buy it from Amazon: Charisma
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
2009-02-09 10:02 am

The Dirk & Steele series, by Marjorie Liu

The best description of Liu’s novels comes from [livejournal.com profile] meganbmoore, who described them as “The X-Men as genre romance.”

Dirk and Steele is a high-priced, high-class security agency… because its agents are all secretly shapeshifters, telepaths, and other mutants! Each novel is a romantic thriller featuring psychic powers and/or magic, plus some truly cracktastic plotting.

Liu’s prose is ordinary at best, though her dialogue is good, and can veer into ultraviolet. Her plots tend (quite endearingly, in my opinion) toward “everything and the kitchen sink.” Her cast is multiracial and multicultural, and both her heroes and heroines tend to be sweet and tough, wisecracking and angsty. The romances are frequently interracial, though so far I think they’ve all been person of color/white person.

I like her because her romances ring true and don’t make me want to take out a restraining order on the heroes, I love psychic powers and angst and she has lots and lots of both, there’s plenty of action and wry comedy, and I enjoy her enthusiastic approach to plotting (“And then he runs away to the circus, and there’s an old woman who can turn into a dragon, and then they all get on a train to Russia with some immortal dude. And then a mummy attacks.”)

Here’s a quick run-down on her novels. They don’t need to be read in order (and I don’t think I’ve listed them in order.) Like Suzanne Brockmann, there’s a large cast of recurring characters and the supporting ones tend to get their own books and own romances eventually.

Eye of Heaven. Blue is an Iranian-American agent with electrical powers and tons of family angst, including a brother who ran away to join the circus. Iris is a white circus performer who can turn into a lion. Together, they fight organ-leggers! Someone loses an eye, or maybe an ear; I forget. Great fun. Click here to buy it from Amazon: Eye of Heaven (Dirk & Steele, Book 5)

Shadow Touch. Artur is a Russian psychometrist. Elena is a healer. They’re both held captive in an evil laboratory and must bond on the psychic plane to escape. This one is super-angsty. It was the first I read, and got me hooked on the series. Click here to buy it from Amazon: Shadow Touch (Dirk & Steele, Book 2)

Tiger Eye. Dela is a psychic who opens a magic box. Hari is the ancient shapeshifter who pops out of it after being imprisoned for thousands of years as the slave of the owner of the box. The novel avoids accidentally creepy power dynamics by having the characters realize how creepy and horrible Hari’s situation is, and do their best to free him. Sexy and sweet. Click here to buy it from Amazon: Tiger Eye (Dirk & Steele, Book 1)

The Wild Road. He’s a gargoyle disguised as a human. She’s an amnesiac covered in blood who tries to steal his car. They go on the run and end up squared off against the Queen of Elfland, if I remember correctly. The combination of two stoic, quiet, brooding characters is surprisingly entertaining. Click here to buy it from Amazon: The Wild Road (Dirk & Steele)

The Red Heart of Jade. Loved the main couple, but the plot crossed the line from wacky to incomprehensible. Some funny bits, but overall skippable. Click here to buy it from Amazon: The Red Heart of Jade (Dirk & Steele, Book 3)

The Last Twilight. Rikki is a virologist investigating a hot zone. Amiri is a mild-mannered former teacher and current agent by day, and a cheetah whenever he feels like it. They fight biological weapons-makers in Africa. I loved the main couple and the supporting character (Eddie), and appreciated Liu pointing out that Africa is a very big and diverse place, and that just because Amiri is from Kenya doesn’t mean he knows anything about the Democratic Republic of Congo. Given that, it’s too bad that the actual plot centers around every African cliché from Ebola to hatchet-wielding rebels. I think I would have also bristled at the African hero having an animal form if this had been the first Liu book I read, but since it was about the fifth and the series has multiple shapeshifters of various races, I didn’t. Your mileage may vary. Overall, though, I enjoyed it a lot. Click here to buy it from Amazon: The Last Twilight (Dirk & Steele)

I haven’t yet read the last two on this list, but you can still click to buy them from Amazon!

The one with the merman: Soul Song (Dirk & Steele, Book 6)

The one that isn’t Dirk and Steele: A Taste of Crimson (Crimson City)
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
2009-02-09 10:02 am

The Dirk & Steele series, by Marjorie Liu

The best description of Liu’s novels comes from [livejournal.com profile] meganbmoore, who described them as “The X-Men as genre romance.”

Dirk and Steele is a high-priced, high-class security agency… because its agents are all secretly shapeshifters, telepaths, and other mutants! Each novel is a romantic thriller featuring psychic powers and/or magic, plus some truly cracktastic plotting.

Liu’s prose is ordinary at best, though her dialogue is good, and can veer into ultraviolet. Her plots tend (quite endearingly, in my opinion) toward “everything and the kitchen sink.” Her cast is multiracial and multicultural, and both her heroes and heroines tend to be sweet and tough, wisecracking and angsty. The romances are frequently interracial, though so far I think they’ve all been person of color/white person.

I like her because her romances ring true and don’t make me want to take out a restraining order on the heroes, I love psychic powers and angst and she has lots and lots of both, there’s plenty of action and wry comedy, and I enjoy her enthusiastic approach to plotting (“And then he runs away to the circus, and there’s an old woman who can turn into a dragon, and then they all get on a train to Russia with some immortal dude. And then a mummy attacks.”)

Here’s a quick run-down on her novels. They don’t need to be read in order (and I don’t think I’ve listed them in order.) Like Suzanne Brockmann, there’s a large cast of recurring characters and the supporting ones tend to get their own books and own romances eventually.

Eye of Heaven. Blue is an Iranian-American agent with electrical powers and tons of family angst, including a brother who ran away to join the circus. Iris is a white circus performer who can turn into a lion. Together, they fight organ-leggers! Someone loses an eye, or maybe an ear; I forget. Great fun. Click here to buy it from Amazon: Eye of Heaven (Dirk & Steele, Book 5)

Shadow Touch. Artur is a Russian psychometrist. Elena is a healer. They’re both held captive in an evil laboratory and must bond on the psychic plane to escape. This one is super-angsty. It was the first I read, and got me hooked on the series. Click here to buy it from Amazon: Shadow Touch (Dirk & Steele, Book 2)

Tiger Eye. Dela is a psychic who opens a magic box. Hari is the ancient shapeshifter who pops out of it after being imprisoned for thousands of years as the slave of the owner of the box. The novel avoids accidentally creepy power dynamics by having the characters realize how creepy and horrible Hari’s situation is, and do their best to free him. Sexy and sweet. Click here to buy it from Amazon: Tiger Eye (Dirk & Steele, Book 1)

The Wild Road. He’s a gargoyle disguised as a human. She’s an amnesiac covered in blood who tries to steal his car. They go on the run and end up squared off against the Queen of Elfland, if I remember correctly. The combination of two stoic, quiet, brooding characters is surprisingly entertaining. Click here to buy it from Amazon: The Wild Road (Dirk & Steele)

The Red Heart of Jade. Loved the main couple, but the plot crossed the line from wacky to incomprehensible. Some funny bits, but overall skippable. Click here to buy it from Amazon: The Red Heart of Jade (Dirk & Steele, Book 3)

The Last Twilight. Rikki is a virologist investigating a hot zone. Amiri is a mild-mannered former teacher and current agent by day, and a cheetah whenever he feels like it. They fight biological weapons-makers in Africa. I loved the main couple and the supporting character (Eddie), and appreciated Liu pointing out that Africa is a very big and diverse place, and that just because Amiri is from Kenya doesn’t mean he knows anything about the Democratic Republic of Congo. Given that, it’s too bad that the actual plot centers around every African cliché from Ebola to hatchet-wielding rebels. I think I would have also bristled at the African hero having an animal form if this had been the first Liu book I read, but since it was about the fifth and the series has multiple shapeshifters of various races, I didn’t. Your mileage may vary. Overall, though, I enjoyed it a lot. Click here to buy it from Amazon: The Last Twilight (Dirk & Steele)

I haven’t yet read the last two on this list, but you can still click to buy them from Amazon!

The one with the merman: Soul Song (Dirk & Steele, Book 6)

The one that isn’t Dirk and Steele: A Taste of Crimson (Crimson City)
rachelmanija: (Angel Sanctuary: Kira)
2008-12-15 02:17 pm

(no subject)

I recount this exchange between me and Oyce the other night because she wanted it preserved for posterity. It is especially apropos in light of the bewilderment (mostly mine and Oyce's) going on the comments to the Fairy Cube post. The thing with Yuki Kaori plots is that they're so insane, complex, and insanely complex that even if you understand them at the time, it's hard to get them to stick in your mind later.

Possibly incorrect spoilers for the endings of Angel Sanctuary and Godchild )
rachelmanija: (Angel Sanctuary: Kira)
2008-12-15 02:17 pm

(no subject)

I recount this exchange between me and Oyce the other night because she wanted it preserved for posterity. It is especially apropos in light of the bewilderment (mostly mine and Oyce's) going on the comments to the Fairy Cube post. The thing with Yuki Kaori plots is that they're so insane, complex, and insanely complex that even if you understand them at the time, it's hard to get them to stick in your mind later.

Possibly incorrect spoilers for the endings of Angel Sanctuary and Godchild )
rachelmanija: (Angel Sanctuary: Mad Hatter)
2008-12-15 10:22 am

Fairy Cube # 3, by Kaori Yuki

I tachiyomi'd this, so I nothing to refer back to. However, I don't think that would have made much of a difference.

This wins the prize as the single most incoherent manga I have ever read, even beating The World Exists For Me. And volume three may have been the least comprehensible volume of the bunch. Not only could I not follow the story in general, I usually couldn't tell what was happening on any given page. (I read the whole thing out of sheer amazement.)

Upon consulting [livejournal.com profile] oyceter, I discovered that part of my confusion was caused by two misapprehensions. I had thought that there was only one long-haired man with an eye-patch. There are two. Also, I thought that Tokage had vanished from the story and some random guy named Isaiah had appeared. What actually happens is that Tokage turns out to be named Isaiah.

There is a dead fairy God on an oxygen mask, a door into Faerie, and people crawling in and out of other people's bodies. Ian gets full-sized wings, or maybe that's an illusion. Faerie and Earth merge, unless that's an illusion too. Oh, and Rin enters a beauty pageant in order to rescue Ian. I forget why she thought that would help.

There's a long side-story that made more sense, but reminded me of the duller and more obvious stand-alone stories in Godchild.

So, does anyone have any idea what happened?