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“Spherical Geomtery” by Ken Asamatsu

Haikasoru is, of course, your ultimate source for Japanese SF in translation, but we’re always happy to see others taking up the charge. I was tickled to read “Spherical Geometry” in the new anthology Cthulhu’s Reign. As the title suggests, the story isn’t actually about Cthulhu but instead riffs on “The Hounds of Tindalos” by Frank Belknap Long. “Hounds” is both a classic in that it introduced the fun and frightening concept of time-spanning monsters from another dimension that can enter any room with an angle—and it’s a piece of hackwork because the climax involves this sentence that was supposedly written down by a character as he died:

Smoke is pouring from the corners of the wall. Their tongues—ahhhh—

If only Long had been writing in the age of tape recorders or webcams!

Anyway, Asamatsu’s book uses the same monsters and gives it a wonderful Japanese spin. As one character explains, “The black magicians of the West treasured the pentacle because it held five angles. The mandalas of the East were round, curves without angles…The ancient Chinese knew the esoteric meaning of triangles, and so named the triangle formed by the triangle of Sirius the ‘Evil Stars’ for just that reason.”

Also, Asamatsu wisely observed that if the Earth were ever besieged by angle-traveling monsters, Tokyo’s City Hall would be in beeeeg trouble:


Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Angular enough for ya?

It’s a cute story with a goofy ending, though not nearly as goofy as Long’s original. If you’re interested in J-horror, I’d recommend giving “Spherical Geometry” a look…if your eyes can stand it!

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ZOO nominated for Shirley Jackson award!

We’ve been sitting on this all week, but now we can finally announce that Otsuichi’s ZOO has been nominated for Best Short Story Collection for this year’s Shirley Jackson award.


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Shirley Jackson needs no introduction, but the awards might. The Jacksons celebrate “the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic,” but like the author for which they are named, the awards go far beyond “genre” norms. Jackson’s most famous short story, “The Lottery” was published first in The New Yorker to a tsunami of complaints about how horrid the tale was…and to more than a few letters from would-be lookie-loos requesting the location of the town where the annual lottery takes place—the story was so compelling that to many it seemed real.

(By the way, the answer is West Bennington, Vermont. See you there this summer!)

Otsuichi isn’t even the first Japanese writer to be so lauded. Last year literary author Yoko Ogawa won the category for her The Diving Pool, a collection of novellas, some of which had previously appeared in The New Yorker as well. (Check out Pregnancy Diary for some literary chills.) Will Ogawa serve as a bellwether for Otsuichi? I’d like to think so. As a short story lover, the decline of the form in the US is a sad state of affairs, but short subjects are booming in Japan, perhaps because most major publishers have both literary and commercial fiction magazines in which they cultivate new talent. (The commuter culture helps too, I suspect. A story is often one train trip’s length.) Can Superior Japanese Storytelling Technology in Translation defeat the rest of the world again?

I don’t know if our resident “strange one” will ever make the pages of The New Yorker or any other slick American magazine, but he’s been doing pretty well. In addition to the Jackson nod, two ZOO tales—”The White House in the Cold Forest” and In a Park at Twilight, a Long Time Ago received Honorable Mentions in Ellen Datlow’s annual best-of anthology, Best Horror of the Year, volume 2. Sweet!

In Japan, horror is summertime reading. Forget pumpkins and brown and orange leaves crunching under one’s feet, the dark stuff is associated with the blazing sun. Horror gives you chills after all, and that’ll serve to cool a reader down on a sultry Asian night. The Shirley Jackson award winners will be announced at Readercon in July, so maybe it’ll be a lucky time of year. And a win would be a great kick off for our next Otsuichi title, which…

ell, which you’ll see in stores just in time for the summer to end and Halloween season to begin.

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Loups-Garous Is a Very Strange Book…

How strange is Loups-Garous, our forthcoming novel by Natsuhiko Koyogoku? Well, here’s the author blurb we got today!

Loups-Garous shows us a weird future, complete with A Clockwork Orange-style lingo, that’s scarier than the monsters.” — Carrie Vaughn, New York Times bestselling author of Kitty’s House of Horrors.

Teen girls, A Clockwork Orange, two great tastes that go great together. I’m especially thrilled by this blurb as I’ve been following Carrie’s career for just about ten years now, since finding some of her eerie and wonderful short stories in the now sadly defunct magazine Talebones.

Loups-Garous is coming your way in May. Check it out.

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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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