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Archive for June, 2010

Space Battleship Yamato

You know what 2.2 billion yen and a SF-loving country gets you? A Space Battleship Yamato movie! Here’s the trailer:

2.2B yen is only about 25 million dollars—and I can’t believe I just typed “only” here—but the trailer for the live-action version of the popular anime series looks hot! Every cent is up on the screen. Maybe I could have done without the captain hat, but I suppose fans are as mad for canon in Japan as they are in the US. Space Battleship Yamato was bigger than Star Wars in Japan, so this live-action version is certainly overdue.

Also, here’s a fun way to annoy one’s otaku’s co-workers here at VIZ. Point to the trailer and say, “Hey look, it’s Star Blazers!”

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Harmony is here!

One of the best parts of Haikasoru is that the list consists of only twelve books a year. That means that I get to do books I like, and don’t have to worry about filling up the slots with something, anything, just to meet requirements. I honestly enjoy every book we’ve published so far, though I’ve enjoyed them for different reasons. Some I’ve liked because I imagined an audience finding them on the shelves—finally, hard science fiction with a romance element! Military SF that isn’t just an example of gun-Americanism. Truly strange horror.

And then there are some books that I liked for me. And one of them just arrived in bulk:

Harmony by Project Itoh.

Our official Haikasoru page isn’t up yet for Harmony, but I thought I’d tell you a bit about it anyway. It’s my favorite sort of science fiction—the social satire thought experiment. In Project Itoh’s novel, universal healthcare has been achieved, thanks to a nuclear exchange and generations of mutation and cancer. In fact, the “admedistrations” are now more powerful than nation-states, and the World Health Organization pretty much has its own military. And they all wear pink, because it’s a soothing color. Itoh himself is now sadly deceased—he died of cancer just after finishing revisions on the novel. There are discontents to even the best medical system; one cannot help but lose one’s sense of individual agency, and Itoh seems to have been mining the inevitable frustration and anxiety when he wrote Harmony.

I’m actually in favor of universal healthcare—the book isn’t a libertarian policy polemic, even as it looks as the downside of what the opponents of social democracy would call “the nanny state.” I actually read SF for more than a decade and enjoyed all sorts of “if this goes on…” style thought experiments before I finally found out that, gee, some SF writers actually thought they were Expounding on Important Themes for Thee Future of Freedom when they fretted about a grim meathook future in which the sidewalks haven’t been privatized. I thought they were just joshin’ around and having fun playing a rhetorical game, but some of those guys really meant their kooky ideas to be taken seriously!

The other hook for me is that Itoh took some innovative steps in telling the story of Harmony—many of the main character’s thoughts and memories are written in an HTML-style format. Indeed, one of the conceits of the book is that it is one single message generated in ETML (e for emotional) and is being transmitted to the reader. It made for a lot of fun to edit and layout. (We like challenges around here). And it’s a pure kick to read, especially if you like the fancy stuff. So much science fiction follows Asimov in that it valorizes the “pane of glass” no-style of writing style. Prose, in his view, should be utterly transparent, and many SF authors followed that lead. Harmony is an unapologetic example of “stained glass” writing, where the beauty of the prose comes out. At the same time, however, the book isn’t a lyrical excursion on to the far reaches of language—now that would have been murder to translate—but is actually cool and fun. The HTML gimmick transcends gimmickry; it’s stylish but also well-integrated into the narrative.

And finally, as befits an author who died too young, Harmony is the blackest of black comedies. I giggled all the way through to the end. Well, maybe through to the last page save five. Those last few are a real doozy.

So that’s Harmony—a book for me. I hope raising the freak flag will get some people to salute. It’s out next month—July 20th!

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It’s a mystery?

Where have I been? Seattle, actually. It was fun-Seattle is far enough north and as it is solstice time then sun didn’t set till nearly 10PM. I’m still a bit groggy from the long days.

One of the best things about working in publishing is seeing one’s book in stores. Airport bookstores get a bum rap—sure, they carry mostly disposable mas market bestsellers, but they carry many other books besides, especially these days when there is a lot of competition for those interstitial hours on a plane (e.g., movies, video games, laptops, in-flight entertainments). But finding the good stuff is still a surprise. There was a special surprise for me, in the Seattle airport:

Slum Online, a mystery? And Scott Sigler’s book Contagious is right next to it! (For those who don’t know, there are space aliens in Sigler’s book.) What makes these books “mysteries” rather than “science fiction”? Well, many books have mystery elements to them—if there’s some unknown to be found out or some conundrum to be unraveled, the mystery plot almost by necessity fuels the action of all sorts of commercial fiction. It’s been said that science fiction is a genre of setting, while mystery is a genre of plot. (Romance and horror would be genres of tone.)

Slum Online also have very light science fictional content. It’s about technology and its impact on our lifestyles, but it isn’t truly speculative so perhaps it might do well in a mystery section, except that the stakes are a bit personal. There is a crime in the novelette “Bonus Round” but that’s a minor one as well. The book’s strongest commonality with mystery is really the laconic narrative voice of the narrator as he drifts through the cityscape, a true flâneur. It was the flâneur character of early modern fiction that evolved into the wise and sardonic sleuth of the crime story, after all.

On the other hand, Slum Online is being reviewed in Locus Magazine, the leading science fiction review journal next month. And our readers are SF readers (or manga readers), and I doubt the cover to our book is of much interest to mystery readers. It stands out on that shelf, but not necessarily in a good way. For a moment I had the urge to simply reshelve the books myself. (Telling a bookstore employee that a book is on the wrong shelf is generally an exercise in futility, so I would have had to go for it alone.) But then I remembered that one of my favorite things is stumbling across a book I never would have seen otherwise thanks to a misplacement, a wrong turn in the stacks, or a whimsical bookstore staffer, so I let the The Case of the Misshelved Book remain for someone else to solve, and the books there for someone else to discover.

Of course, if the pair are returned to us for not selling, I’ll probably feel like a doofus, so why not buy a copy or two to counteract the Seattle Shelf Effect and make me feel better.

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Cool your body, chill your soul

One of the most interesting cultural differences between US and Japan to me is horror’s different relationship to the seasons. Here in the US, of course, horror is autumnal, partially thanks to Halloween and partially thanks to autumn in general being seen as a season of spectacle and decay. The leaves burst into awesome color and then vanish, leaving behind skeletal branches. And then the days grow short, the nights long, and we’re all out trying to scare one another. And the publishers provide—in September and October most every bookstore will have front-of-store displays of Stephen King and vampire novels, collections of “true” regional ghost stories collected by the local kook, etc.

In Japan, things are different. Perhaps it’s because many of Japan’s sacred forests, such as Atsuta Jingu, are primarily evergreen, but in Japan horror is a summer thing. The nights are hot and sultry, and the days blaze with both heat and humidity—it regularly hits 85% humidity in Tokyo mornings. Horror provides chills, goosebumps even, and thus sweet relief from the weather. Horror is the Japanese equivalent of “beach reading.”

I was thrilled today to see at BN.com (you know, Barnes & Noble), scary book reviewer Paul Goat Allen (he both reviews scary books, and looks pretty scary!) offer a summertime review of ZOO, our Shirley Jackson Award-nominated collection of horror tales by Otusichi. Allen writes:

Tired of reading mac and cheese stories? Got a yen for some international literary cuisine? Check out this decidedly Twilight Zone-esque short story collection, replete with jaw-dropping plot twists and bombshell endings… You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into the wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead—your next stop, Otsuichi’s ZOO!

The body of the review is well worth reading as well, though there might be a spoiler or two when Allen discusses his favorite stories in the book, so beware. Check out ZOO; it’ll take the edge off the summer heat. As for me, I’m neck-deep in edits for Black Fairy Tale, one of the two Otsuichi novels we’re releasing collected under the name of Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse (more info soon!) so I am already cool as a cucumber. Brrr.

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