MW, by Tezuka Osamu (1976-1978) E

Date read: 8.2.10
Book from: Borrowed from a friend
Reviewer: Emera

MW - Tezuka Osamu

Apparently not a single unpixellated version of this image wants to let me find it.

Whyyyy did I read this all in (pretty much) one sitting. Whatever the opposite of feel-good is, MW falls into that category. The whole time I was reading, I got the impression of Tezuka Osamu crowing, “Suffer in an agony of dread while I, the creator of such lovable, family-friendly classics of Japanese animation and comics as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, manipulate your feelings with this unrelentingly dark thriller about a serial killer and the priest bound to him by guilt and love! Bwa ha ha ha!” Thanks, Tezuka. By the time I hit the last 20 pages, I was so overwrought with fatalistic dread that I had to put the book down for a few hours, before returning to the equally depressing final scenes.

For an illuminating bit of background, Wikipedia provided me with the following context: “This manga series is notable because it can be seen as Tezuka’s response to the gekiga (“dramatic pictures”) artists who emerged in the 1960s and 70s and an attempt to beat them at their own game.The gekiga artists of this period created gritty, adult-oriented works that sharply contrasted the softer, Disney-influenced style that Tezuka was associated with, a style that was seen as being out-of-step with the times.” So I think I’m not entirely wrong in detecting a certain amount of authorial glee in the proceedings.

MW is also a response to the use of chemical weaponry during the Vietnam War. MW‘s resident sociopath, Yuki Michio, the charming, long-lashed scion of a renowned family of kabuki actors, is a sociopath because he was exposed as a child to a neurotoxic weapon – MW – leaked from an island containment facility owned by Nation X (i.e. America). Father Garai, Yuki’s confidante and extremely guilty lover, feels bound to protect Yuki’s identity from the authorities because he, as an erstwhile hoodlum, was holding a nine-year-old Yuki captive at the time. He and Yuki were the only survivors; Garai joined the Church some time thereafter in an attempt to escape both his horror at having witnessed the disaster, and his guilt at his relationship with Yuki. (Yes, do the math there. Tezuka reaches for pretty much every variety of shock value, and even by the standards of anime/manga,  most of it is awful.)

Continue reading MW, by Tezuka Osamu (1976-1978) E

Tales of madness and depravity

Reviewer: Emera

I liiiiive! Somewhat. There are still exams to come, but I have a comfortable breathing space at the moment, so I’m going to work on whittling down my absurd backlog of short story reviews. To start, here are two helpings of dark fantasy/sci-fi.

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The nurse said that when I’m moved to my permanent home, there will be mirrors to see my reflection and windows made of glass instead of plexiglass. I do not know what a mirror is. I have read the word in the dictionary, of course, and heard it spoken. I know the press of the “m”, the sensuous delicacy of the “r”, as though biting a very soft peach. But the mechanics of the word — its sensation and definition — are different than the thing itself. I must have looked in a mirror before, although really, who knows?

Kelly Barnhill‘s “Tabula Rasa” (read 4.4.10, from The Three-Lobed Burning Eye) plays out a well-worn premise – an amnesiac patient recovering from an unknown operation slowly recovers troubling memories of her past – but even if none of the ideas are new, the execution is suspenseful and atmospheric, with great details and often lovely prose. I can never help imagining a moody graphic-novel adaptation, complete with blotty ink washes and scrawled lettering, whenever I read a story like this.

Michael S. Dodd‘s “The Madwoman” (read 4.4.10, from The Three-Lobed Burning Eye) makes a lot more sense if you read the bit in his bio where he says that it was inspired by Storm Constantine. Transfigurations with cosmic consequences, combined with high-pitched melodrama and mild abuse of the English language – vintage Constantine. Unlike Constantine, though, Dodd creates too-portentous-for-you protagonists who are irritating and implausible rather than endearing.

“If you do not tell me,” Ylsa intoned in a velvet voice, “I shall eat these delicate morsels, one at a time, until you do.” With that pronouncement, she reached into the jar and withdrew a handful of the packets, pressing one to her lips.

“No!” Marisel screamed, and Ylsa shrank back for a moment at the sheer volume of the cry.

Mmm… yeah. It’s a shame because the premise has great potential, and some of the details are fun – I like that the main character is a shady apothecary, for example.

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Kelly Barnhill
Michael S. Dodd

“Hi Bugan ya Hi Kinggawan,” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (2010) E

Date read: 4.4.08
Read from: Fantasy Magazine
Reviewer: Emera

… The Mumbaki came, as did the elder warriors, and they sang of Bugan the sky goddess who descended to earth to marry the warrior Kinggawan. They sang of how the lovers lost each other and how Kinggawan seeks his Bugan to this day. When the Mumbaki poured the wine over your head you did not cry.

It was a good sign, the village people said. But no one could explain why. It just was so.

After this, there was more dancing and feasting, but your mother took you away to the quiet of her hut where she stared into your face and tried to read your future while you suckled at her breast.

“Hi Bugan ya Hi Kinggawan” is inspired by the mythology of the mountainous Ifugao region of the Philippines, where the author was raised. It’s both thematically and aesthetically satisfying, playing on personal and cultural anxieties through parallel narrative threads: the emotional and sexual coming-of-age of a young woman named Bugan, after the Ifugao sky goddess, and the upheaval in her small village as contact is made with Western colonizers.

Loenen-Ruiz’s language is vibrant and wonderfully rhythmical (I’d love to hear the story read aloud), and she skillfully conveys the turbulence of the forces working on the protagonist and her culture. Against the themes of loss and disruption, Loenen-Ruiz sets the heady sensuality of the story’s resolution. Renewal of tradition is coupled with the building of new unities; an act of sexual transgression becomes an act of cultural resistance.

Also, the love interest is hot. Just sayin’.

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Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
Fantasy Magazine Author Spotlight with Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Sebastian O, by Grant Morrison, art by Steve Yeowell (1993) E

Date read: 6.11.08
Book from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell - Sebastian O

“One must commit acts of the highest treason only when dressed in the most resplendent finery…”

After over four years of squalid captivity, the infamous dandy Sebastian O escapes from Bedlam Asylum, determined to seek revenge for the treacherous destruction of his Club de Paradis Artificiel, an association of “free-thinkers.” Battling officers of the Queen and crazed assassins alike, Sebastian makes his way through several wardrobe changes and the sewers and railways of an alternate Victorian England, where a strange conspiracy is beginning to make itself known.

Sebastian O is one of the earliest contemporary steampunk creations, as well as being an obvious tribute to Oscar Wilde. Not surprisingly, it’s also one of my absolute favorite comic series – I love sneaking re-reads of it whenever I’m feeling down and in need of some amoral, witticism-wielding libertines in my life. Unfortunately, it’s quite short – only 3 issues – and though Grant Morrison does excel at packing a lot of content and tight plotting into his mini-series, you’re left wanting much, much more of the characters and settings, all of which are colorful and vividly imagined. On top of that, it’s out of print, though used copies run cheap.

Artwise, I’m lukewarm on Tatjana Wood’s pastel palette, but it does work with Yeowell’s delicately lined, Beardsley-inspired art – one gets, appropriately, the sense of a brittle confection of spun-sugar. I also enjoy how Yeowell renders facial expressions, particularly Sebastian’s perpetual air of weary self-possession and amusement just a little too slight to be called mockery.

All told, Sebastian O is a perfectly paced, literarily aware romp through decadence and dandisme, full of gadgets, duels, one-liners, and speculative-fiction braincandy. I would love to see a full-length return to Sebastian’s London, but unfortunately, it looks unlikely to happen.

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Grant Morrison

Antibodies, by David Skal (1988) K

Date Read: 6.27.09
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

I have finally waded out of a merciless sea of deadlines, grad apps, visiting parents, and other such nonsense to bring you a review of scifi crack in book form. So I apologize for my contribution to any recent TBL droughts.

Antibodies is the story of a pale anorexic woman, Diandra, who nurtures an unhealthy desire to become a machine. She is true in every way to the Antibodies cult– starving and draining the blood from her body to entirely prepare herself for mechanical integration. However, circumstances prevent her from completing her transition smoothly. She is captured by the notorious hedonistic psychiatrist Julian Nagy who runs a therapy clinic to heal, and eventually exploit, those of the cult. At the same time, her only guides through this process are vague and ominous directions from the Antibodies authority while contending with the resentment of the public.

I discovered this book through a Coilhouse link Emera flinged my way over a year ago and behold, it bobbed up to the surface of my 100+ TBR pool and I have actually managed to read it. Well, I was pretty hooked after Coilhouse described it as a “deeply disturbing, brutally unsparing book” which sounded right up my twisted alley.

Don’t be fooled by the summary. Antibodies certainly sounds fascinating– a solid mix of cyberpunk and cult fantasy with a generous dollop of scifi fetish braincandy– but it is altogether entirely horrific. It takes many elements of our current society and exaggerates and stretches them into a possible future universe in which people worship and want to become the technology they have created. The depravity of humanity is evident as its constituents are each proponents of some broken part of our very system. Let’s see what Coilhouse has to say:

That’s what Antibodies is, at its heart: a horror novel. There are no heroes here, only the deluded and the ruthlessly predatory. But for all its Gran Guignol touches, Antibodies hits home. In a rush to the future, it’s easy to forget or ignore the wreckage that draws in the alienated and insane into any dream that offers them easy transcendence from their previous lives.

Continue reading Antibodies, by David Skal (1988) K

The Red Tree, by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2009)

Date read: 10.31.09 (unintentional, but awesome)
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

It’s raining, my socks are wet, and for these reasons I think I’d rather finish up my long-overdue review of Caitlín R. Kiernan‘s The Red Tree than do anything else.  And as there’s a red oak outside my window, I took a picture of it looking appropriately old, red, and potentially carnivorous at about the same time that I finished the book:

The review is spoiler-free, by the way.

The Red Tree is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and I’ve already been itching to go back to it and let it screw with my head some more. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I started it (probably something more lushly Gothic, like Alabaster), but what I read wasn’t what I was expecting, and then it was better than what I expected. It’s a jagged, rattling, hurtful book, and incredibly atmospheric. The horror is creeping and primal, almost inarticulable. People and paintings and animal bones appear and disappear; proportions and distances are warped; the brittle, chain-smoking protagonists labor under constant, sapping heat and suffer from surreal nightmares. At the same time, the emotions underlying it are so real: reading the book feels like holding an artifact of life, a snarled-up package of fury and self-hatred and despair. Yeah, it’s not the happiest book to read, but its painful authenticity is a large part of what makes it so compelling. There are no pretensions to darkness or the Gothic here, just a lifetime’s worth of the real thing.

After all, protagonist Sarah Crowe is a clear analogue of Kiernan herself: she’s a snarly, black-tempered writer of commercially unsuccessful dark fantasy who lives in Rhode Island, and she struggles with writer’s block and a seizure disorder. In Sarah’s case, she leaves the South to escape the memories of her failed relationship with an artist named Amanda, who committed suicide. Once in New England, she settles into an ancient farm house whose property is marked by a red oak of incredible age and size. Unsurprisingly, she develops a morbid fascination with the mythology surrounding the tree – in particular a half-finished manuscript left by the house’s last tenant in the basement – at the same time that a painter named Constance moves in upstairs. Cue much petty sniping, frustrated desire, and poorly concealed, creeping obsession.

Continue reading The Red Tree, by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2009)

Affinity, by Sarah Waters (1999) K

Date Read: 12.26.07
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

Margaret Prior becomes a “Lady Visitor” at the Millbank prison. There, she takes in the prison experience, from the food to the garb to the treatment of the prisoners and takes steps to befriend and be a source of comfort for many of the inmates. As her visits progress, she finds herself drawn to one girl in particular, a spirit medium Selina Dawes, convicted of spiritualistic fraud and assault. Soon, between her own declining health and the nature of her friendship with Selina, Margaret finds herself hopelessly committed to the Millbank prison and tangled up with mysterious spirits.

Review

Well, I don’t really know how to approach this review. I could either review it superficially and not give away the story, or try to convey everything I want to and ruin everything by implication. I’ll… just… charge ahead as best I can and see where it takes me.

Overall Affinity was a much easier read than either Tipping the Velvet or Fingersmith because it was so linear and set in one place– the prison and Margaret’s house were the only settings and the prison was the only plot. As a result, the circumstances definitely called for a slow, steadily snowballing story.

Continue reading Affinity, by Sarah Waters (1999) K

Lucy, by Jamaica Kincaid (1990) K

Date read: 11.17.07

Book from: Borrowed from Stephane

Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

Lucy is 19 when she comes to America from the West Indies to be an au pair and escape her restrictive life. Her employers are the picture-perfect family– the parents are in love, they are rich, and they have perfect children. However, Lucy soon discovers that they are not what they seem, and all the while, she searches for her own niche in society as she transitions into adulthood.

Review

This novel was perfectly delectable in so many aspects, from writing to character development to story. Lucy as a whole relies on atmosphere and instead of action to propel the story, and it is a sort of eerily muffling yet discovering atmosphere. For every experience in America, Lucy would recall either a relevant or triggered memory from her time in the Indies. This juggling of worlds created delicious tension between old and new, responsibility and free will. The tensions between Lucy and the family members, particularly the wife, were so strange that sometimes I would stop and look at the cover of the book to reorient myself and remind myself that yes, I really was reading this seemingly innocent, slim novel with an artwork of a teenage girl on the cover.

Lucy herself is an incredibly atypical heroine. She has an objective and extremely cynical outlook on life, and you only slowly learn about why this is through her past. The expert sustaining of Lucy’s character and narration, as well as the delicate yet exposing portrayal of sexism and racism, are certainly testaments to Kincaid’s literary skills. I was incredibly lured by this book as soon as I started, and could not put it down until the end– Lucy’s story is real, tangible, and heart rending without resorting to dramatics. Kincaid’s autobiographical foundations are definitely visible in this novel which probably are what make Lucy such an honest and touching novel.

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Jamaica Kincaid

Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004) E

Date Read: 6.13.09

Book From: Personal collection

Reviewer: Emera

Oskar is an alienated twelve-year-old living in a decaying Swedish suburb in the 1980’s. He is brutally bullied at school, and fantasizes often about striking back at his tormentors, keeping a scrapbook of newspaper articles about murders as his inspiration. Two new neighbors move into Oskar’s apartment complex: one an older man, and one, apparently his daughter, an androgynous girl named Eli who smells terrible, walks barefoot in the snow, and only comes out at night, but is nonetheless befriended by Oskar.

If you know anything about vampires, you can imagine where this is going. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, translated by Ebba Segerberg) was a bestseller in Sweden when it was published in 2004, and gained further international attention when the 2008 Swedish-language film adaptation (IMDB) won a number of awards and became a surprise hit. I’m not sure now if I heard about the movie or the book first, but unusually for me, I ended up watching the movie first, and read the book shortly after. I enjoyed both immensely, but for slightly different reasons in each case. Given that, I thought I’d do a combined film and book review. Please note that mild spoilers follow.

Continue reading Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004) E