Monthly Archives: December 2010

January Posting Plan

Today, we got nineteen views. Today marks the most views we’ve gotten in a single day. The previous record has been a few sevens. Thanks everyone.

The most popular posts seem to be my Bas-Lag reading project and my Wizards of Conan. So, I will be aiming to do more with them (and expanding out to other weird/ new weird and sword and sorcery).

So here is what I plan to focus on in January: The first thing is that I am planning on recording what I read over an entire year. Some of those things may get reviewed and others won’t. I am planning my first post to be a double review of Axis Powers: Hetalia volume one and Nabari no Ou volume one. I am also planning on hitting a review of the anime adaptation of Nabari no Ou and of Kaze no Stigma . Also, I plan to start work on The Scar for the Bas-Lag reading project. And I may begin with my Fullmetal Alchemist, Fairy Tail, and Naruto (I want to do that one too) reading projects. But many of those may have to wait until I slog through Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel.

A few days ago, I finished Henry Hodges’s Technology in the Ancient World. While likely out of date (given the amount of new research over forty years), I still feel that it is a valuable research tool for creating a secondary world with an ancient basis. And I am currently tackling Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World (don’t know whether I want to actually finish the damn thing or not though).

And finally, my co-writer is planning on making his come back sometime in January, hopefully to give us more football wisdom and gamer’s perspective.

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Review of Gungrave

Over the past few days, I have been watching the anime series Gungrave (dir. Toshiyuki Tsuru 2003). Despite a few issues, Gungrave has been a very good anime.

Based on the video game of the same name, Gungrave follows the life and after life of Brandon Heat. Brandon Heat was a member of Millenion, a mafia like organization run by Big Daddy and later, Harry Macdowell. He is murdered by Harry and resurrected by Dr. Tokioka as Beyond-the-Grave. The series follows two lines: the tale of how Brandon and Harry join Millenion and seek to rise to the top and the downfall of Harry at the hands of Beyond-the-Grave.

The strongest element of the series is the characterization. All of the characters are well round and well realized. Indeed, despite the lack of dialogue on his part, Brandon Heat carries a huge amount of emotional actions in his face and looks. And Harry is equally well done, especially in how the character descents into megalomania and psychopathy as the head of Millenion. The secondary characters are well done as well, especially Bear Walken and Bunji Kugashira. The only problems with characterization are, unfortunately, the female characters.

There are three major female characters: Maria Asagi, her daughter Mika Asagi, and Sherry Walken-Macdowell. Each one is a small variation on the mafia princess trope.  My problem with the depiction of the female characters is that they are all weak and exist solely to support, or provide excuses for heroics for, the male characters. There is some glimpses of strength on Sherry’s part in terms of her father, but she acts as the dutiful wife for Harry. At the end, when Harry is reminiscing over those he lost, he states “and of course Sherry” almost as an after thought.

While the strength of the female characters is sad, their role is key. It is for Maria that Brandon does the actions he does (in addition to Millenion). It is for Mika that he defends her and starts the fight against Millenion. And it is for Sherry that Bear Walken continues to serve Millenion.

Beyond that problem, the rest of the series is excellent. Especially the visuals and the action scenes. The fights between Grave and the Big Four (Bob Poundmax, Balladbird Lee, Bear Walken, and Bunji Kugashira)  are all amazing. As is the visuals of the city itself.

And there is the final scene in which Harry and Brandon reminisce before their deaths. That was beautiful.

All in all, a highly recommended series.

 

Thoughts on Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was planning on reading the first three collections of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series. Unfortunately, things did not go according to my plan. “The Snow Women” happened. Comedic deconstruction happened. I did read all of Swords Against Death, however.

So, speaking of Swords Against Death, I have to say that I have mixed feelings. I liked the tales in the collection. But all of them seemed to be missing something. It felt like a more thrilling narrative lay just beyond the horizon and Leiber never explored that avenue. Some of the narratives are not like that, “The Seven Black Priests” and “The Bazaar of the Bizarre” come to mind. But others like “The Sunken Land” and “The Price of Pain Ease” seem incomplete.

This got me thinking, what is my problem with Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser? I have to say that it is the same problem I have with Terry Prattchet. I am no fan of comedic deconstruction.

For the sake of this post, I will do a very stupid thing and posit two types of deconstruction. The first type is serious and challenging. It takes standard tropes and challenges them, forcing the reader to look at things in a new and often uncomfortable way. This is China Mieville territory. And then there is the satiric form of deconstruction. In this case, the challenge is presented as an exaggeration. The narrative is made ridiculous. This is what Prattchet excels at. And I dislike it utterly.

So that is my problem with Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. I want more action, more seriousness. Not wittily pretentious dialogue, not ridiculous capers.

This does not mean that I may not return to Nehwon at some point but not right now.

 

 

 

Review of Zombieland

Thursday, I was talked into watching Zombieland (2009 dir. Ruben Fleischer) for the first time. Despite its flaws, the film is quite enjoyable.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as Columbus, a college student at UT who is trekking through “Zombieland”- a United States that has become overrun with zombies (people infected by mutated mad cow disease)- heading for Columbus, Ohio to discover the fate of his parents. Along the way, Columbus meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a crazy drifter, and con artist sisters Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin). The quartet eventually forms a form of family as they road trip to Los Angeles and Pacific Playland.

In many ways, this notion of family is key to the film as all of the four journey because of family: Columbus to discover the fate of his parents, Tallahassee to avenge his son’s death (and to eat the Last Twinkie on Earth), and the sisters to recapture a moment of childhood bliss. Together, they form an alternative, perhaps final, family as seemingly the last four uninfected people in the U.S. (Bill Murray cameos as himself before being killed by Columbus).

To my mind, there are several different genres at play here: the disaster comedy, the theme park comedy, the teen-college comedy, and the road trip comedy. Some of these are done better than others. The strongest, to me, is the road trip and theme park aspects. The conflicts between the four characters are often hilarious to watch, especially Tallahassee’s interactions with the other characters (Harrelson is chewing the scenery big time). And of course, the final scene at Pacific Playland (and the name Zombieland) lends a strong sense that the entire movie is a sort of theme park, an exaggerated haunted house that at is more fun than scare.

The weakest part of the film for me is the teen/ college comedy aspect. I love Eisenberg’s performance, but did we really need a Ceraesque character? Aren’t there other types to use besides the hapless nerd/ geek?

On the whole, this was a fun movie that could have used with a few more dead zombies.

Review: Flashing Swords! 1

I just finished reading the first volume of Flashing Swords!, the Lin Carter edited anthology series from the seventies that featured many members of SAGA, the sword and sorcery writers guild. This volume had a pretty good introduction by Carter and four stories: “The Sadness of the Executioner” by Fritz Leiber, “Morreion” by Jack Vance, “The Merman’s Children” by Poul Anderson, and “The Higher Heresies of Oolimar” by Lin Carter. The anthology was, in all honesty, a very mixed bag. I really liked two of the stories, ambivalent about one, and disliked the other.

The strongest story in the anthology is Vance’s “Morrieon.” Taking place in the Dying Earth, this story explores the desire of a group of magicians for IOUN stones. In their pursuit of the magic dampening stones, the group humorously rescues the wizard Morrieon from the last planet at the end of the universe, only to be faced with his mood swings. This story perfectly mixes fantasy with a science element so fantastic as to be magic.  And it is a trip of decadent, nigh incompetent wizards.

The next strongest story is Leiber’s “The Sadness of the Executioner.” This gem of a story follow the Nehwon personification of Death as it tries to fill a quota by killing Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. The shortest story of all, this is still an excellent gem. As funny as “Morrieon,” this story is a great introduction to Leiber’s tales.

I am rather ambivalent toward’s Carter’s “The Higher Heresies of Oolimar.” The story itself has a good basis, but is totally incomplete. Indeed, I feel cheated because the promised story is deferred for a side quest. And the story takes on a campy pastiche approach towards the idea of sword and sorcery. To be honest, it should have been more thoroughly edited and revised.

The weakest story is “The Merman’s Children.” I really disliked this story. Anderson is a wonderful writer, but this story is just riddled with problems. The protagonists are stupid and I do not feel anything for their plight. I recognize that fictional characters are typically stupider than their real world counterparts, but still. I just got tired of it after a few pages.

In general, I think this anthology is a good introduction to these four writers (and my first introduction to them). With this in mind, I am looking forward to Leiber and Vance, but more ambivalent towards Anderson and Carter.

December Plans

This is just a quick post detailing some plans for December.

On the writing front, I’m pleased with how my revision of my short story “Encounter on the Old Luck” is going. I may have to add a few more scenes, but on the whole, I am quite pleased with it.

I’m also planning on starting a new short story soon. And then there is a novel I hope to start work on soon.

I’m currently finishing up the first volume of Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords! anthology. So expect a review of the four stories sometime this week. I am about to read some of Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories. So expect reviews of them too in the coming weeks.

I’m planning to begin the second part of my Bas-Lag reading project either in mid to late December or into January. I’m also planning to do something similar with the manga series Fullmetal Alchemist by Arakawa Hiromu and Fairy Tail by Mishima Hiro. I’m am looking forward to that.

I’ll probably post the review Thursday or Friday.