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Archive for August, 2009

Powerfully Morbid & Occasionally Gruesome

neologo

Nicky “Knuckles” Mamatas picked up the September issue of Neo last week and spotted a review of ZOO. How fortuitous. For those of you who don’t know, Neo is a magazine that services the otaku crowd in the UK. Each issue features a mix of information about manga, anime, eiga, and all sorts of groovy stuff from Japan.

Anyhoo… the anonymous reviewer says a lot of good things about our book. This comment, in particular, I liked very much: “Each of Otsuichi’s tales is powerfully morbid and occasionally gruesome. Many also feel strangely like fairytales as they explore weird situations in timeless settings.”

I agree. ZOO is fairytale-like. And the stories are indeed morbid and gruesome. But I wish more reviewers would start picking up on the book’s humor. You may hate yourself at the end of day, but there are moments in “Find the Blood!” and “In a Falling Airplane” that will put a wicked grin on your face.

Why horror? Why ZOO? (Just be glad I didn’t call this post “New ZOO Review.”)

Over at the lovely online SF magazine Strange Horizons Karen Burnham has reviewed our forthcoming dark fiction title ZOO. It’s the kind of review we like as it really tackles the issues of the book and author Otsuichi’s choices of voice, tone, and topic. But a question emerges—most of the stories in ZOO have no fantastical or speculative content. So why is a science fiction/fantasy imprint publishing it?

A few reasons. Of course, the most obvious is that some of the stories do have fantasy or science fiction content—there are boys with the powers of gods, sentient AIs, and a couple other surprises in ZOO.

There’s also a long tradition of horror being published alongside (and even as) SF and fantasy. Naturally, supernatural horror is a close cousin and subset of fantasy: a vampire or a ghost is as unreal as a dragon or a unicorn. That the fantasy intrudes upon the quotidian everyday life rather than being the bedrock of some other sort of life, as in stories of fantasy worlds—or even stories of travel between the real word and a fantastical one—certainly makes the reading experience different from other sorts of fantasy, but the appeal is often broadly similar.

Then there is the issue of psychology. One might link our fascination with the supernatural to the phenomenon of the uncanny—our fascination with our repressed impulses and the things that consciously disgust us. Or even that which appears to be alive but which is in fact dead. Certainly, one can see the connection between this idea of the uncanny and supernatural beings such as vampires and werewolves who are creatures of appetite and the id, who prey upon us, and yet to whom we are attracted. Writers such as Robert Bloch, who wrote many supernatural short stories in the Lovecraftian mode, wrote what is probably the most famous novel of psychological horror as well, specifically the appropriately named Psycho. We could go even further back to “The Turn of the Screw”; did Henry James write a story about the supernatural, or the abnormal psychology of a character? Much of horror plays on these ideas, even if the stories eventually come down on one side or another. ZOO certainly fits in this mode of horror. If supernatural horror is the brother of fantasy, then psychological horror is the second cousin. Close enough for Otsuichi fans like us!

Also, as pointed out in this recent Pop Culture Shock review of ZOO, Otsuichi is just dead funny. Horror and humor have a close connection as well: both are emotional responses that defy the rational. How many people giggle nervously when they are afraid? How many people get a laugh from hiding in the dark and popping out to scare at some innocent passer-by? (I know it isn’t just me!) Otsuichi offers up SF, fantasy, psychological scares, and dark chuckles all in one book. How could we not have published it?

So call ZOO our Halloween treat, our attempt to hide in the SF section of the bookstore and go “Boo!” ZOO hits the stores of the 15th of September, and we hope you’ll check it out!

Usurper Rocks

hawkwind

Back when we were in pre-production for Usurper of the Sun (in stores Sept. 15), there was a lot of talk about the book’s title. To wit: It sounds like a friggin’ King Crimson song title. Some people thought this was a bad thing. The Haikasoru inner circle, however, thought it was pretty cool.

King Crimson was a highly influential prog-rock aggregate back in the day. Their music was adventurous and trippy, and they had a penchant for goofy song titles like, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic,” “Entry of the Chameleons,” and “Happy Hour on Planet Zarg.” When you think about it, even the group’s name could easily substitute for the title of Housuke Nojiri’s novel: King Crimson = Usurper of the Sun.

Lots of musicians have taken their inspiration from the world of science fiction. Look at Sun Ra, George Clinton and David Bowie, for goodness sakes. Prog rockers in particular have freely borrowed from science fiction, fantasy, mythology, and dystopian imagery. It’s their thing. If there was one quintessential space-age prog band, it might be Hawkwind. Their songs were a crazy muddle of hippie heavy-metal ambient space rock. And their album covers were pretty cool too. Hall of the Mountain Grill (1974) hits the SF sweet spot dead on.

Progressive rock has mutated over the years (Mastodon, anyone?), but for my money the greatest oddball prog band in the galaxy remains Magma. They were preposterous, thunderous, and apocalyptic. The classic line-up split during the Seventies, but various original members pop up occasionally to wave the Magma flag. Last time I was in Italy, in fact, I saw a flier for an upcoming show.

Paul Levinson, author of The Plot to Save Socrates, calls Usurper of the Sun a cross between Arthur C. Clarke and Haruki Murakami. But to my ears, the novel is a mix-tape of King Crimson, Hawkwind and Magma. In a word: Rocket!

SF with a strong female character? You WILL believe!

Alasdair Stuart, in his review of The Lord of the Sands of Time highlights one of my favorite aspects of the novel, the character of Miyo. He writes, in part:

She’s a quietly rebellious character, a woman of tremendous intellect and strength who manages to side step the stereotypes those character traits so often lead to. Miyo is fully aware not only of her responsibilities but of exactly how far she can push her luck. …In the hands of a lesser author, Miyo would be conflicted by the arrival of Orville, the other figure on the cover, worried about how her life would change or delighted to see that change made manifest. In Ogawa’s hands though, she becomes one of the most nuanced, grounded female protagonists of recent years, a woman who is tested to the limits by the horrific new world she’s plunged into but is up to the task and more. Miyo is a leader and her journey to that realisation is presented as subtly as it is realistically.

SF isn’t just a boy’s club. Check out The Lord of the Sands of Time and see what you’re missing.


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