Monday, December 31, 2012

Manga Monday: Miss Tarabotti has never looked so very...anime

The first book of the Parasol Protectorate has been turned into a manga by the good people at Yen Press, beginning with Soulless Volume 1.

This starts and ends just where the first  book does. We meet Miss Tarabotti after quite the incident at an evening party. She rather inadvertently kills a rogue vampire that tries to make a snack out of her, bringing her once again to the attention of B.U.R. and their chief investigator Sir Conall Maccon, Alpha of the Woolsey pack. As other young rogues are identified, and some of the usuals in town go missing, it's up to Alexia to figure out what's going on before more people find out about her...disability.

Of course the major players are all here. We meet Lord Maccon's Beta Professor Lyall, the ever-flamboyant Lord Akeldama, and even Miss Hisselpenny shows up for a brief scene. Mr. MacDougall and the Hypocras Club factor in prominently, and even Floote and Biffy get a panel or two.

The problem with the adaptation is that it's simply too short to do the original any sort of justice. The novel has the page count for Alexia to be more reticent about Lord Maccon's advances, as befits an assumed old maid of the era. The mystery of the Hypocras Club is cut short here as well; I'm not sure it's mentioned after the first scene at the breakfast table here. And most tragic of all, Miss Hisselpenny is only seen once, during a brief walk with Alexia.

I understand that Yen Press might want to mimic the original books with volumes that contain a complete story. The problem with this is that the charm of The Parasol Protectorate series is in the details. Miss Hisselpenny's penchant for rather distressing hats. Alexia's fondness for a good tea service. Lord Akeldama's outrageousness, yet fondness for the people closest to him. When the story is so pared down, all of this is lost.

Nevertheless, it's wonderful to see the gang together again, and the artwork is beautifully done. While Alexia may not have been showing as much of her assets as this artist tends to draw, the detail on the dress of both the women and the men is top-notch. Kudos to Yen Press for releasing this story to a whole new group of readers who may never have been exposed to it otherwise.

Highs: Seeing Lord Akeldama in all his pretty-boy splendor as a manga character is for me the highlight of the volume.

Lows: While Alexia loosens up quite a bit in later volumes, it's odd to see her be so sexually forward so early on.

Verdict: Perfect for someone who is already a fan of the series, but perhaps not the best introduction.

Friday, December 28, 2012

All this over a closed butcher's shop...

The fate of a cult-like religion, an alien race's noble class, and interstellar stability in general all hinge on finding a particular sheep in John Scalzi's The Android's Dream.

It started with flatulence. Admittedly, it was carefully scented flatulence emitted by a technologically-enhanced rectum, but the principle is the same. A traitorous official emitted a grave scent-based insult to the senior-most trade delegate of Earth's greatest ally, the Nidu. After both parties end up dead on the floor (though perhaps not as one would expect), the Nidu offer the government of Earth one chance to head off an interstellar incident: bring them a sheep. To successfully complete their coronation ceremony, they need a genetically-modified, 'Android's Dream' sheep.

But someone's been killing off these sheep. Rather efficiently, in fact. All the specimens the Nidu have were wiped out by a virus, and a band of sheep-assassins have been cleaning up the remaining hybrids on Earth.

Harry Creek is a veteran of one of the most brutal slaughters in the history of Earth's interstellar military. He now has a rather unenviable job for the government, but he's good at it and doesn't mind it terribly much. One of his old military buddies calls him in to find one last creature with the Android's Dream DNA. But beyond her unruly curly hair, she doesn't have all that much in common with her mother.

There's a lot going on in this book, but the best part is turning the pages to see what comes next. To keep from ruining any of the surprises, I'll simply say that the story involves a ghost in the machine (or two...), two religions spun off of the same hoax, and an alien on a spiritual journey which seems to involve eating quite a few people.

Best known for his 'Old Man's War' series, John Scalzi has combined humor, satire and science fiction in a way that most people fail miserably at. With laugh out loud absurdity reminiscent of Douglas Adams at his finest, The Android's Dream is a modern science fiction classic.

Highs: The portrayal of Judge Sn at the tribunal is spot-on for many lower-level members of the bar out there.

Lows:The reader is hit with so many ideas so fast that whiplash is a definite possibility.

Verdict: In the genre of science fiction humor, this belongs in the top tier.

Further Reading: Divine Misfortune, Judge Sn Goes Golfing

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Four British girls in India learn life's lessons the hard way

Jane Nardin has transported our beloved Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy to the British colonies in Little Women in India.

It's obvious that Nardin put some work into this retelling. She finds a plausible reason for Mr. May to be away, she gives the May girls each their own flaws to struggle against, and even has young suitors about to compete for the girls' hands in marriage. On the surface, it's a valiant attempt at a homage to one of the most beloved children's books.

There are also some very interesting parts of this book. After the period of unrest devolves into actual riots, the May girls find out what they're made of . As each girl is confronted with their flaws, she ends up overcoming it. Whether it be putting vanity aside to get necessary work done, or looking past what she's been taught to decide right from wrong herself, each girl becomes a better person for what she has been through.

That being said Little Women in India takes a very long time getting to that point. In showing the reader the girls' flaws, what we are left with are four insufferably vain, naive brats. Even their mother, Mrs May, becomes almost intolerable in her clinging to the old traditions that our girls have overcome. The fact that she mourns the loss of her daughter's fair complexion more than the idea that she almost lost all of her daughters marks her as a flighty woman who barely deserves the title of mother.

Other details of the period seem a bit off as well. At the dinner party, it's unclear who each girl was partnered with, and the conversation seems, if not stilted, then at least no in keeping with the event. The idea of being caught in a secluded area with a man should have caused more consternation than it did, if Victorian mores are being adhered to. Also, the idea of calling their laundry 'underwear' rather than 'small clothes' or another euphemism of the area was jarring.

In the end, Little Women in India is a valiant attempt that fell flat on many levels. With the recent dearth of Victorian and Regency historical fiction, from Steampunk to Shades of Milk and Honey, there is steep competition in the marketplace for this time period, and a higher mark to reach.

Highs: The girls' flight from the rebels and subsequent ride down the jungle river are nicely detailed and hold the reader's attention.

Lows: While it's one thing to give a character flaws to overcome, when each main character is made unlikable it's hard to care if they grow as people or not.

Verdict: For the further adventures of the March girls, check out Jo's Boys.

Further Reading: Shades of Milk and Honey, The Midnight Palace

Monday, December 24, 2012

Manga Monday: Sometimes when you dig up the past, you're surprised with what you find

Rin starts to get curious about her past, and launches a plan to find out about her origins in Bunny Drop Volume 7.

Note:  Bunny Drop Volume 7 is, of course, the sequel to Bunny Drop Volume 6. The review of Bunny Drop Volume 1 is here, and the review of Bunny Drop Volume 6 is here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Scrooge isn't the only person who learns the true meaning of Christmas

Retelling classic stories has long been a recipe for success. Fairy tales have been the fodder for many a fantasy novel, and the adding of vampires to classic literature has become something of a mainstay in teen fiction as of late.

Jacob T Marley by R William Bennett, doesn't rely on any of these recent tricks. More of a companion to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol than a sequel or a retelling, it picks up the story of a side character from the original and lets him tell his own tale.

Most people only know Jacob Marley as the character played by Goofy in the Disney adaptation of the story. But Marley had his own life, full of decisions that landed him in the chains that Scrooge eventually sees him in. This is Marley's story, and we see how both he and Scrooge became the men we know so well today.

It would be easy to say that Marley had a hard life, as many did in Victorian London. Perhaps his father was a drunkard, or he was raised by a cruel uncle, and never learned kindness as a child. Perhaps he grew up hungry and cold, attending school on charity money or not at all, and grew stingy out of a real sense of past desperation. Perhaps he had been burned, time and time again, by dishonest employees and thieving tenants, and he learned to harden his heart to their pleas by necessity.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Jacob Theloneous Marley grew up the youngest son of a loving, well-off family in London. He was given the middle name of Theloneous after his grandfather, who sacrificed his life saving children from a fire. As a youngster, he was proud to carry the name of such a hero.

But pride can have its drawbacks as well. As he grew older, he learned that he was good with numbers. He eventually ended up running his won counting-house, but leaving behind a much different legacy than his grandfather. As his attitude towards others changed, so did his signature, eventually leaving his middle name out altogether. 

Ebenezer Scrooge came into Marley's life later, as a partner at what became known as Scrooge & Marley. While Scrooge already had the beginnings of a personality that would fit well with what Marley had become, he also learned some of his more hard-hearted traits from Marley.

But on his deathbed, Marley realized the error of his ways and truly repented before taking his last breath, though no mortal would be able to understand his last words. The angels heard, though, and that's what mattered.

The chains he wore, decorated with his beloved lockboxes and keys are his own out of a true desire to save Scrooge from his own fate.

Even though we know the outcome for Scrooge, and are familiar with his triumphant realization on Christmas Morning that it's never to late to change your life, Bennett manages to keep up a level of suspense that is truly impressive. It's hard to work within the confines of such a well-known and beloved tale, but he creates a new tale of redemption that both stands on its own and adds to the original story. When the cold of winter and the false cheer of the season starts to drag, this is the perfect book to remind you that the holidays can be about more than presents after all.

Highs: Nothing in this world is truly a coincidence, and the ring and the necklace in their desks prove it.

Lows: If you're a sucker for Hallmark commercials and the like, don't read the ending in public.

Verdict: A perfect pre-Christmas gift to get people into the true spirit of Christmas.

Further Reading: A Clockwork Christmas

Monday, December 17, 2012

Manga Monday: I don't think those pears are good anymore...

It's festival season, and Yotsuba's getting fed a whole lot of sweets in Yotsuba&! Volume 8.

Note: Yotsuba&! Volume 8 is, of course, the sequel to Yotsuba&! Volume 7. The review of Yotsuba&! Volume 1 is here, and the review of Yotsuba&! Volume 7 is here. Otherwise, read on!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The war continues, and alliances are constantly shifting.

As The Fifteen Realms braces for war, alliances crumble and new ones form in Maria V. Snyder's second Healer book, Scent of Magic.

Note: Scent of Magic is the sequel to Touch of Power. You can read the review for Touch of Power here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Imagine the air quality if we still used coal in cities today!

The year is 1859 and the Crown has more to worry about than usual in Cindy Spencer Pape's fourth story of The Gaslight Chronicles, Moonlight & Mechanicals.

Note: Moonlight & Mechanicals is the fourth story of in The Gaslight Chronicles series.