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Archive for October, 2009

The Return of Brave Story (And More)


While revisiting Brave Story for its paperback debut, I started thinking again about the book’s zany cover painting. It’s an awesome piece of art, both playful and frightening (much like the Miyuki Miyabe novel itself). In fact, the book’s designer was so taken with the image she ultimately purchased it for herself. It’s now hanging on the wall of her hip San Francisco apartment. And I have no doubt that it provokes spirited conversation during dinner parties.

I remember when the novel first popped up in stores back in 2007. It didn’t look like anything else on the shelves. I even remember Andrew Wheeler blogging about it. “(The novel) has a great oddball cover by Dan May,” he wrote back then. “When people complain that all fantasy covers have to look alike, they forget that things like this are possible.”

In conclusion, he wrote, “I’d love to see more like it, if the audience doesn’t run screaming in disgust.” And guess what? It looks like Mr. Wheeler is going to get his wish. We’re publishing the latest novel by Miyabe in January (The Book of Heroes) and it sports another terrific painting by Dan May. I predict no one will be screaming in disgust.

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The Fall and Spring of Natsuhiko Kyogoku


Coming this May, we’ll be publishing Loups-Garous, a werewolf-in-Tokyo murder mystery by Natsuhiko Kyogoku. The book’s editor (Saint Nick Mamatas) calls it a dystopian science fiction novel with a twist of thriller. As a fan of such things, I can’t wait until May when the book is finally sitting on my shelf.

Until then we can all cool our jets with a newly translated novel by Kyogoku called The Summer of the Ubume. This supernatural tale is the first in a series of nine novels featuring an exorcist who doesn’t believe in ghosts. Added bonus: the novel was translated into English by Alex Smith, the man responsible for a handful of Haikasoru titles, including Brave Story, and All You Need is KILL.

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This week, the World Fantasy Convention!

We’re very excited that this week the World Fantasy Convention will be coming to the Bay Area, specifically San Jose’s lovely Fairmont Hotel. Guests of honor include Haikasoru pal Jeff Vandermeer, who so recently interviewed us on the Omnivoracious blog, and the theme of the convention is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe has a special place in our hearts as he was a writer who became more famous in translation than he did in is native language. In life, Poe had flashes of popular success, such as with “The Raven”, and he sold many of his stories to the top periodicals of day. Just how good Poe was, however, became clear in Europe first thanks in part to translations of his work by Charles Baudelaire. Then the master’s reputation drifted back across the Atlantic to the United States.

WFC is recognizing the importance of translation with a panel we’ll be participating in this Friday afternoon at 2PM:

Fantasy in Translation
While English continues to dominate the world’s market for fantastic fiction, much fine work is also produced in other languages. Indeed, many classic works have been produced in other languages. Writers such as Verne, Lem, Borges and Calvino, as well as newcomers such as Sapkowski and Živković, have delighted us with their work. But these writers are only the tip of an iceberg. Very little of this material is ever translated, and consequently the English-speaking world is presumably missing out on a lot of good reading. So what exactly are we missing out on, and how can we get more of it?
Cheryl Myfanwy Morgan (moderator), Rani Graff, Nick Mamatas, Ann VanderMeer, Zoran Živković

I hear there will be a special announcement made at the panel so if you are at the con, please do attend. Haikasorunaut atttendees should also check out their WFC goody bags—selected bags will include free copies of either ZOO or The Lord of the Sands of Time.

See you all there!

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Who is the King in Yellow?

“Then let us call it by a different name. The good of the Hero shall be called the ‘hero’ as you have always thought of it. And the dark side of the Hero, that which is evil, shall be called the ‘King in Yellow.'”

—from The Book of Heroes

Sound familiar? It may. The King in Yellow is one of the most intriguing persons, no, it’s a two-act pla—nooo…well, what is the King in Yellow? Well, for one thing it is the title of a collection of short stories by Robert W. Chambers. Chambers was once a very popular writer but today only his fantastical material is still in print, thanks in part to the enigmatic King, who has served as a muse of sorts to many since. Within the stories of The King in Yellow, there are two identifiable kings. The first king is a play in two acts by that name. And it’s a doozy:

It is well known how the book spread like an infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to continent,barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by Press and pulpit, censured even by the most advanced of literary anarchists. No definite principles had been violated in those wicked pages, no doctrine promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in The King in Yellow, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain, nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked.

—from “The Repairer of Reputations”, by Robert W. Chambers

Actually, we’re told, the first act is all right. A little boring, even. The second act though, if you manage to sit through it, will render you completely insane enlightened insane. (Well, there’s some controversy on this point.)

And the king is also a supernatural figure associated with rulership, madness, the fine and practical arts, and a certain bohemian dabbling in the unknown and unusual. There’s little more than a few hints as to the aspects of the play and the king in the stories, but they were popular enough, and tantalizing enough, to gain a measure of literary immortality. H.P. Lovecraft made a few references to the King—and to the related Yellow Sign, an especially persuasive seal for those in the know—and some mistakenly believe the King to be a Lovecraftian invention. Alexander O. Smith, who translated The Book of Heroes for us, called me one day to say, “The King in Yellow is from Lovecraft.” “Robert W. Chambers, ack-chew-ally,” I said, because I’m not above such pulp snobbishness.

Once out in the world, there was no limiting the King. Much like the diabolical play, he pops up everywhere. Here’s a photo of him hanging out in Portland earlier this month at the H.P. Lovecraft film festival:

Photo by Sarah L. Gerhardt of She Never Slept, with permission. Note the baby Cthulhu and the Yellow Sign banner.

See, the King clearly hasn’t quit show business.

The King has appeared in many other stories, songs, and games though even Wikipedia’s list is not exhaustive. One of my favorite allusions is in the title of the short story by Haikasoru friend and Otsuichi fan Briane Keene, author of “The King, In: Yellow.”

So I was thrilled when The Book of Heroes came in and I saw that the King played a role. Miyuki Miyabe’s fantasy for children isn’t as horrific as Chambers or Lovecraft of course, but her novel does take a good look at the dark side of stories, the futility of escapism, and the eager desire we all have to make sense of our lives through narrative. The King in Yellow is not just an occult figure but a symbol of the power of the state to tell us how to think with this or that pleasing story. The King, according to Chambers, wears a “Pallid Mask”, but late in the first act when asked to take off the mask, the King simply explains that he isn’t wearing one at all.

And though it’s not a factual story, it surely is a true one. We all may believe ourselves able to tell the difference between reality and propaganda, but in the end the power of story is insidious and omnipresent. Miyuki Miyabe, who writes for adults as well as children, has with The Book of Heroes has taken the usual type of fantasy story—that of a eager bookish young protagonist finding a wonderful fantasy world waiting on library shelves—and turned it on its head. Or at least revealed the flipside of the coin. It’s a good thing too; the first step in the King in Yellow’s takeover is to convince the world that he doesn’t exist except in the babbling of madmen. The King in Yellow has made it over to Japan and early next year he’s headed back to our shores. Be sure to arm yourself with a copy of The Book of Heroes!

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