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Brian Keene [Archive]

The Battle Royale Slam Book Table of Contents Revealed

Haikasoru is trying something new in 2014: non-fiction! Specifically, non-fiction about our fiction, with The Battle Royale Slam Book. We asked novelists, filmmakers, screenwriters, scholars, and fans from around the world to talk about the Battle Royale phenomenon—the book, the film, the manga, the controversies—and the responses were amazing. We’re very pleased to show off the table of contents, and hope you find some of your favorite writers among them:

Introduction
Blood in the Classroom, Blood on the Page: Will Battle Royale Ever Be on the Test?
Nick Mamatas

Death For Kids
John Skipp

Battle Royale: The Fight the Night Before
Masao Higashi

Happiest Days of Your Life: Battle Royale and School Fiction
Adam Roberts

Innocence Lost and Regained: Bradbury, Takami, and the Cult of the Child
Kathleen Miller

From Dangerous to Desirable: Battle Royale and the Gendering of Youth Culture
Raechel Dumas

Girl Power
Carrie Cuinn

Over the Top, Or Over the Top Rope?:
Battle Royale and Japan’s Love of Professional Wrestling
Jason S. Ridler

Battle Royale—Generational Warfare
Kostas Paradias

Killer Kids in Jeopardy: Hollywood’s Horror Taboo
Gregory Lamberson

Seeing the Sequel First: Teenage Memories of Battle Royale II
Isamu Fukui

Dead Sexy: A Defense of Sexuality in the Violently Visual Battle Royale Manga
Steven R. Stewart

The Postwar Child’s Guide to Survival
Nadia Bulkin

Children Playing With Guns
Brian Keene

List, Combination, Recursion
Toh EnJoe

Bueller, Bueller, Do You Read?
Random Notes on Battle Royale and the American Teen Film
Sam Hamm

Whatever You Encounter, Slay It At Once: Battle Royale as Zen Parable
Douglas F. Warrick

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Cthulhu Is Japanese

This past weekend, I was the editorial guest of honor at Capclave 12, a literary science fiction convention held in the Washington D.C. area. Capclave is an old-school con—no masquerade and little hallway cosplay, no film or anime tracks, but tons of talk about books books books stories and authors and editors. So I fit right in!

Capclave is relatively small—a few hundred attendees—but is very professional, and the con attracts significant guests. Next year’s guest of honor, for example, is George R. R. Martin, who needs no introduction. There were also important guests this year: Michael Dirda of the Washington Post—the rare “mainstream” book reviewer who loves SF and writes about it frequently—appeared for example. The dealers room was quite nice—independent presses and bookstores were represented, as were gaming stores, and jewelry and apparel operations. And every attendee got a goodie bag with a free book and magazine of some sort, plus coupons to local shops. (Most smaller cons don’t do a goodie bag, so it was a pleasant surprise.)

Capclave is also a good convention to attend for anyone who aspires to be a writer, as editors and major writers appear, and there are panels oriented around writing and publishing, workshops, and plenty of time to make friends, or even, *gulp* to network. One advantage I had as guest of honor is that nobody tried to pitch me their manuscript. The only way I’m buying anyone’s novel is if they move to Japan, learn Japanese, publish in that country, and get famous over there, after all. I pity other editors who might make an appearance though!

Capclave also features parties every night, and the con is convenient to Washington D.C. tourist attractions and a decent little strip mall with a number of fast casual restaurants if one tires of hotel fare. It’s definitely worth attending, and perhaps even flying out for.

I had a great time hanging around with the author guest of honor John Scalzi (an early supporter of All You Need Is Kill and horror author Brian Keene (a lover of Otsuichi’s ZOO), and other writers as well. I gave a writing workshop on idea generation to a fully packed house, gave a solo panel about Haikasoru, where I gave away copies of Belka, Why Don’t You Bark? My sister even attended the convention, because, as she said, she “wanted to see people being nice to you.” She also brought cookies.

And treated nicely I was! In fact, here’s the ultimate symbol of honor, a handmade glass ornament made especially for me. Check it out:

Japanese-themed Cthulhu

Japanese-themed Cthulhu

As you can see, it’s Cthulhu from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft (I’m a Lovecraftian!) seeking enlightenment under the cherry blossoms, with a bottle of sake. Or perhaps it’s spinal fluid. John Scalzi received a similar gift based around some of the themes of his novels.

So definitely check out some old-school SF conventions if you have any in your area! They can definitely be as fun as an anime or manga convention, even if you’re not the guest of honor. (Though I also recommend working your way up to guest of honordom if you can.)

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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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ZOO by Otsuichi / Translation by Terry Gallagher

zoo1

There are eleven stories in ZOO, each one more twisted than then the proceeding one. Award-winning horror novelist Brian Keene calls the collection “Bradbury-like.” We like that. Throw in a little science fiction and dark fantasy, and you’ve got a beguiling brew of psychological weirdness from Otsuichi, one of Japan’s hottest young writers. The book is available today (Sept. 15). Pick up a copy on your way home from work or school. You won’t regret it.

A lot of Haikasoru readers are interested in the process of translation. As we all know, translation is a tricky business. It’s not just a word-to-word equation. Translators have to wrestle with neologisms, cultural currency. and ever-changing Japanese hipster colloquialisms to produce an English equivalent that sounds like what the Japanese author would write if they wrote in English. Terry Gallagher is one of the best Japanese-to-English translators in the business and we were fortunate to nab him for our ZOO project. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the art of translation.

Do you do any warm-up exercises before tackling a translation assignment? In other words, what sort of prep work is involved when translating a novel from Japanese to English? I know, for example, you had access to the ZOO movie before you started your assignment.

I do like to watch films or TV clips or YouTube or whatever, related to the books I work on, if they’re available. That was the case with Be With You [by Takuji Ichikawa], and there were two films based on short stories from the Poppoya [The Stationmaster] collection. Watching them helps flesh out the characterization, and the landscape/settings—at least for my own mental image. You can never have too much information, even if ultimately it doesn’t have a direct effect on the translation. I also do Internet research on the authors and their work, both in Japanese and to see what else is already available in English. My translations are always based on the text in front of me. I want to say “solely” on the text, but that is an unrealistic ideal.

Having access to the ZOO film was especially interesting, because each short segment was done by a different director in a different style. So it was an extra-added dimension of insight into what’s been going on in Japanese film lately.

As mentioned, you’ve previously translated a romance novel and a collection of short stories by Jiro Asada for VIZ Media. Can you talk about how these assignments were substantially different than working on ZOO.

These different projects could scarcely have been more different from one another, but that’s exactly what makes the whole business so interesting: the different varieties of language, different outlook on life, different thrust of the original work. I listen to music while I translate, and my music collection is always on shuffle, a giant salad of different genres: world, jazz, classical, new acoustic. The only rule is, “no words I can understand.” My tastes in reading are equally catholic: tentacles in all directions. It’s the mix that gives it a pulse.

The ZOO project was particularly interesting because it mixed so many different elements even within itself: the cute, the appalling, the introspective, the truly gruesome. For over 100 years now, Japanese culture has thrived and grown by voraciously taking in elements from all over the world and giving them its own spin, very post-modern. Otsuichi fits right in with that curve, and for that reason I think Western readers will find him unique.

Were there any particular challenges you faced while working on the ZOO stories?

Of the several literary translation projects I’ve worked on, ZOO was probably the farthest removed from my personal taste. But I can be a professional about that. In the end, “invisibility” is a certain ideal that translators aspire to. You want to erase yourself. It’s about the work, and the choices the author has made. So, I had to work hard at finding language that seemed suitable for the ZOO stories that wasn’t necessarily the kind of language that comes most naturally to me. It had to be simple, but powerful.

Each of the ZOO stories contains a twist. Did these twists present any problems for you? For example, were you cognizant of revealing too much too soon?

The plot twists are a very important narrative device in the ZOO stories, an indispensable aspect. Otsuichi creates a certain setting, generally bizarre in some way. Then he creates expectations that derive from that setting, and then he messes with them. Without spoiling too much, I can say the whole book could have been titled “Death Does the Twist.”

Things like that are not a translation problem. The translator is always relying on the author to handle those issues in the way the author sees fit. Some plot elements that will be crucial to the ending are telegraphed early in a story, but the translator’s job is very straightforward: to render the story in English so that it recapitulates the original Japanese as closely as possible.

Otsuichi plays around with his narrative voice in each story. How well do you think those voices were captured in your translation?

If you’re asking me if I think I did a good job, all I can say is, of course I do. And all the feedback so far has been good. Now it’s up to the readers to decide.

You’re right, the narrative voice is different in each of the ZOO stories. That variety is a strong element of the collection’s appeal. And the fact that Otsuichi achieves this with relatively simple language is a sign of his skill. His concerns are primal, they’re visceral, but there’s also a strong, implicit psychological angle that I think people will readily relate to.

Suddenly there’s a lot of interest in Otsuichi in the United States. After your experience translating ZOO, can you explain why this author has captured the attention of English-language readers?

Otsuichi is unique among Japanese writers, and I can’t think of another writer like him anywhere else today. But he deals with universal themes: family, longing, death, the drive to survive. The ways he writes about these things will appeal especially to horror fans, and they won’t be to everyone’s taste. I’m sure a deer standing transfixed on the highway, unable to decide whether to advance or retreat, would tell you at a certain moment that the headlights are fascinating. And then, WHAM!

I presume you mostly read Japanese fiction in its original language. But what’s it like for you to read Japanese books in English? Can you turn off your translation super powers and enjoy the experience? Or are you hypercritical?

You mean like “suspending my disbelief?” I enjoy reading Japanese, and I’ve been doing it for years now, but it’s still harder work for me than reading English. I enjoy reading the work of other translators. I read more Japanese literature in translation than in the original, and I generally do so with great admiration. I like the fact that other people are working hard to make this literature approachable for a whole new swath of the global community, and I like seeing the approaches other people take in bridging some technical issues between the two languages: the different use of tenses, the things that are left unstated in Japanese, the details that must sometimes be filled in to have the English sentence make sense. I seldom close-read another translator’s work with the translation in one hand and the original in the other, but I sometimes like to try to imagine the original Japanese as I read an English translation.

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