16 October 2004

Latest Reading, Little and Much

Just occurred to me as I wrote that title, that both Little and Much are characters in the Robin Hood legends--Little John and Much the miller's son. Weird. Anyway, it's been a while since I last blathered on about what I've been reading, so here's the latest.


  1. Five Weeks in A Balloon by Jules Verne. More in my League of Extraordinary Books reading. The more I read Jules Verne, the more I like. Five Weeks started out mostly description and travelogue, with little action, but there was actually quite a bit of action by the end. I think the real attraction of Verne's books is not so much the story (there isn't much tesion or conflict, and really only a basic plot). It's not even the characters, really, though their relationships are interesting--especially the extent of the loyalty between friends. You don't see that kind of selflessness much in more recent fiction. What really seems to catch me, anyway, are the fascinating speculations. Some science ficiton has been criticized for putting ideas before people, but Verne's are so fascinating that it hardly matters, especially considering a lot of the things he wrote about weren't invented at the time he wrote them, but do exist now. He's one of the few SF writers who can really be said to have predicted the future (or some of it), rather than just speculated on what it might be like. He'd probably say that that was because he very
    carefully worked out the science. Anyway, it also helps that the writing itself (or maybe the translation) is smooth and very readable.
  2. The Widow of Jerusalem by Alan Gordon. I'm still really enamoured with the idea of a secret society of fools and troubadors, working towards peace in the medieval world. Jesters as secret agents. Very cool. This volume fills in some of the backstory of the main character. I don't know how accurate the depiction of the Holy Land during the Crusades is, but nothing has jumped out as being wrong. It seems to me that the story is based on solid research, which is just the kind of historical tale I like. Fabrication is all very fine, but somehow a good story is that much better when you know (or are confident enough in the author to suppose) that the details are accurate. Erm, anyway, it's a good book. A rousing yarn. Intrigue and juggling, tumbling of various kinds, a little bit of theivery. Assasins, kings, queens . . .
  3. The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem. I thought it might be a good thing to add some contemporary steampunk to my League of Extraordinary Books reading. After all, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is contemporary steampunk (among other things, I suppose). I'd read William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine some time ago, and loved it. So I dug out a list of steampunk I'd made ages ago, from a website I couldn't find again, and I signed out everything the library had. Which wasn't much, but it was a short list. And I began to read with The Cyberiad. I don't really know that I'd have classified this collection of stories about two robotic "constructors," Trurl and Klapaucius, as steampunk. Then again, I don't really know what else it could be classified as, and classification really doesn't matter in the end. The stories are odd, fable-like, science fantasy tales about improbable machines and strange kingdoms in the far reaches of space. The real fun of the stories is the author's love of language--especially scientific and mathematical language--which comes through even in translation (from Polish). It was a bit of a slow read due to the complexity of the language (though not as slow or as dense as something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example), but a lot of fun. I can see why many people see Lem's work as classic, and Lem as one of the few "literary" sf writers.


  1. Shinto: The Kami Way by Sokyo Ono. This is one of those "been meaning to read for ages" books. I finally got it from the library when I got those samurai-related books I blogged about last time. While it didn't have as much detail as I'd have liked--I wanted more on the mythology and ritual--this was a good basic overview of Japan's indigenous religion. I did get very irritated by the frequent mentions of Shinto as a "racial religion," but it was written during the fifties (I think), when even scholars still got race and culture mixed up, or thought race and culture were somehow inextricable, or thought race was a valid scientific concept at all.
  2. The Jules Verne Companion edited by Peter Haining. More League of Extraordinary Books reading. This book has all kinds of strange and interesting stuff in it, from a Jules Verne story, to appreciations of Verne by various contemporaries (like H.G. Wells), to a "phone call to the dead" between Verne's alleged spirit and Erich Von Daniken. Also, it has lots of covers and other illustrations from various editions of Verne's works, and a bibliography.
  3. The Book of Kimono by Norio Yamanaka. I got this one to help me work out some of the details in my 1/6 scale samurai outfits for action figures. Not only was it helpful for that, but it turned out to be a fascinating book on its own. Lots of interesting history, and other stuff.

Sequential Art:

  1. The Great Walls of Samaris by Schuiten and Peeters. A rather slender book, but in the large format that seems to be preferred by European graphic novel publishers. This is a beautiful, beautiful book, a story about a strange city and a man who goes there to find its secret. There isn't a lot I can say without spoiling the story, but if this is typical of French comics work, I'm going to have to find some more French comics. It appears to be volume 2 of a series of fantastic stories. I'll have to see if I can find out more.
  2. Scary Godmother: The Mystery Date (volume 2, I think) by Jill Thompson. This is a very, very fun book. It's kind of part picture book, part graphic novel, gorgeously illustrated, with great characters. The main character is a little girl who can get into another world via her bedroom closet (with a little help from the monster under the bed). Over there, she has a Scary Godmother, a boy vampire best friend, and adventures with monsters. It's aimed at kids, I think, but it's one of those books adults will get a lot out of, too.
  3. Parasyte volume 8 by Hitosi Iwaaki.
  4. Eerie Queerie! volume 1 by Shun Shiozu. Kind of an unfortunate title, though it is the sort of pun manga often has in its Japanese titles. The original title translates as Ghost!, I think. Anyway, it's about a boy who can see ghosts, and who keeps getting possessed by ghosts wanting to settle their affaris in the world so they can pass on. Except he always seems to be possessed by female ghosts who want to work things out with men. Leading to various embarrassing situations for the poor schoolboy protagonist. It might have been another of those silly sit-com comics, except the main character discovers he might actually have real feelings for one of the boys he meets while possessed by an amourous female ghost. Er. I haven't really described it very well. I picked it up out of idle curiosity, having heard fairly favourable things, and ended up quite engrossed. I'll be looking out for more volumes.
  5. Love Fights volume 1 by Andi Watson. I read Watson's Skeleton Key ages ago, but haven't read anything of his since. I don't know why, as I quite liked Skeleton Key (even though I seem to have traded in my copy of the graphic novel, for what reason I know not). Love Fights is about ordinary people in a city full of superheroes. Also it's about creating comics (in this book, all the comics are licensed propaganda machines for the various superheroes, which must be not unlike working for one of the Big Publishers). And it's a love story. The art is sketchy and rendered in flat blacks and greys, mostly, which suits the mood of the story. Of course, this volume ends after a falling out between the two main characters, so I'm going to have to look for volume 2.
  6. Fushigi Yugi volume 1 by Yu Watase. This book falls in the "girl falls into alternate historical/mythic world" genre, but the interesting characters, beautiful art, and fascinating detail keep it from being . . . er, generic. I think this is considered one of the classics, though I haven't looked at the publication date to see when it first came out (and I'm too lazy to go look now). Anyway, it's yet another series I'll be continuing to read.
  7. Maison Ikkoku: Good Housekeeping (volume 4) by Rumiko Takahashi.
  8. Parasyte volume 9 by Hitosi Iwaaki.
  9. Chrono Crusade volume 1 by Daisuke Moriyama. I'd read a bit of Chrono
    in Newtype USA (a massive 200-page monthly anime news magazine that is partly responsible for my lack of non-comics reading lately). It was fun, so I thought I'd see how I liked a bigger chunk of the story. Not only was it just as fun, I was a little surprised (why, I don't know, really) to find quite a lot of depth to the characters and story. I'll have to keep reading to find out what happens to these people (the demon Chrono, in particular). I'll probably have a look at the anime, too.
  10. Parasyte volume 10 by Hitosi Iwaaki.
  11. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume 2 by Alan Moore. Yay! More League. This time Moore works in The War of the Worlds and some of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars stuff (on my list of things to read), and some members of the League die or quit along the way, which makes me wonder what can possibly happen in volume 3. While I devoured the comics part of the book, the big text section--a travel guide to the weird world--took me a long time (partly because I kept forgetting where I'd set down the book). The text section manages to work in just about every book of the fantastic up to the late (?) Victorian period (when League is set). It's very cool, but adds a whole lot more stuff to my League of Extraordinary Books reading. Not that I mind.
  12. The Complete Geisha by Andi Watson. More Andi Watson! This one's about an android raised as human and her attempt to make it as an artist, despite anti-android
    prejudice. She ends up working as a bodyguard for her dad's company, adding some ass-kicking to the story. Interestingly, though the science-fiction elements were necessary for the protagonist to have to fight discrimination, it was so far in the background the story could almost have happened without it. In other words, if you've avoided reading it because it's science fiction (which is a dumb, but not uncommon, reason for not reading things), then read it anyway. The sf is hardly there.
  13. Cowboy Bebop volume 1 by Yutake Nanten. I've been meaning to write a post about novels/movies/novelizations and manga/anime/manga-izations, partly based on my thoughts about this book. So maybe I won't commment on Cowboy Bebop, except to say that it was fun, but not very satisfying, and I think I'd probably like the anime better.
  14. Lenore: Wedgies (volume 2, I think) by Roman Dirge. This was a cheap-on-eBay find. Nice art and fun stories, but probably not something I'll spend a lot of money on. Maybe if I'd read right from the beginning I'd have found more depth, but as it is, I didn't see much substance here. I'm keeping the book, though, and will reserve judgement. I might very well be hooked by this series once I've read more.
  15. Maison Ikkoku: Bedside Manners (volume 6) by Rumiko Takahashi. Argh. The library doesn't have volume 5, so I had to skip from 4 straight to 6. I probably didn't miss a whole lot, but still . . .
  16. Parasyte volume 11 by Hitosi Iwaaki.
  17. Inu-Yasha volume 6 by Rumiko Takahashi. I got a lot of Inu-Yasha cheap on eBay, so there are a few volumes on the list this time.
  18. Inu-Yasha volume 7 by Rumiko Takahashi.
  19. Inu-Yasha volume 8 by Rumiko Takahashi.
  20. Inu-Yasha volume 9 by Rumiko Takahashi.
  21. Inu-Yasha volume 10 by Rumiko Takahashi.
  22. The Heart of the Beast by Dean Motter, Judith Dupré, and Sean Phillips. This was another booked I picked up on a whim, and I'm really glad I did. The art is gorgeous watercolours, which mostly works--the inclusion of photographic elements sometimes looks cool, and sometimes just looks out of place. The story is sort of a continuation of Frakenstein, but it's so well plotted that you (or I, anyway) only realize this gradually, which adds a tremendous amount to the impact of the story. I sort of wanted a longer lead-up to the characters falling in love, as it seemed to happen a little too quickly, but I also realize that that might have thrown off the timing otherwise.
  23. Parasyte volume 12 by Hitosi Iwaaki. This is the final volume (for once, the library actually had the whole series). I'm thinking I might have to buy this series. I'm not really a big horror fan, but I'll happily stick with a creepy story that has good characterization. I was pleased to find that Parasyte continued to focus on the main character(s). Even when there was a lot of action and gore, it was about the characters coping with and/or responding to the action and gore, and never about the action and gore for action and gore's sake (can I fit "action and gore" into that sentence one more time?). Anyway, it's a good story that I'll read again if I can find it cheap (getting it from the library again might be too much effort--all that requesting and waiting and discovering that volume 10 was mis-catalogued as volume 8).
  24. Bone: The Great Cow Race (volume 2) by Jeff Smith. Although I really do like Bone, I'm not really sure why so many people rave about it. It's good, yes. I'd recommend it, yes. But I don't think it's one of the best comics ever. But anyway, this volume was much fun, with more hints of dark things to come. Epic fantasy in comics form and all. I must remember to request the next volume from the library.
  25. Inu-Yasha volume 11 by Rumiko Takahashi.
  26. Inu-Yasha volume 12 by Rumiko Takahashi.
  27. The Five-Star Stories volume 1 by Mamoru Nagano. The gorgeous covers of this series have fascinated me for a long time. That and the fact that no one seems to carry it. I finally found it at Planet Anime, and they were having a graphic novel sale, so I picked up the first two volumes. The art is very nice. The backstory is very, very complex. I'm not sure yet if that's a good thing, a deepens the story as you figure it out thing, or if it's just a too confusing to deal with thing. I think it will be good. I have one more volume to read, after which I'll have to decide if I want to continue with it.
  28. CLAMP School Detectives volume 1 by CLAMP. Finally, some CLAMP. It was inevitable, in a list this long, that there'd be CLAMP. I think this is my least favourite of everything I've read of CLAMP's. It's a cute detective series, where the detectives are three elementary students at a super-elite school. I enjoyed it, but for some reason it just isn't as engaging as their other stuff. It might be partly because of the young age of the protagonists (though that wasn't a problem in Cardcaptor Sakura). I do have a bit of trouble believing a ten-year-old is a chick magnet. Or it might be that none of the mysteries really seem to matter. Everthing and everyone is just so nice. Oh well, it's only a three-volume series, and I already have volume 2.
  29. One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry. I found this on the shelf at the front of the library where they put new and popular books. Barry took the idea of painting 100 demons that she found in a book about Zen art, and combined it with autobiography to produce a book of engaging stories (there aren't 100 demons in it; I assume this is volume one, with more to come). The art is cartoony (the stories first appeared as comic strips at Salon.com), but suits the story perfectly. It makes me want to start drawing 100 demons of my own (which might make a good way to start out Into the Woods, though probably without the autobiography).
  30. Maison Ikkoku: Intensive Care (volume 7) by Rumiko Takahashi.
  31. Whoa Nellie! by Jaime Hernandez. I got a couple of these comics when they first came out (sort of a later spin-off of Love and Rockets), but there was one that I could never find, so I was happy to pick this book up on eBay. Women's wrestling and friendship, plus Jaime Hernandez's gorgeous black and white art. Very cool. I sat down and read it as soon as I got it out of the envelope.
  32. CLAMP School Detectives volume 2 by CLAMP.

Well, if my other reading has slowed down (partly due to magazines), my comics reading has obviously kept on zooming along. Lots of manga still, but some other great stuff, too.

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