starlady: Twitter quote: @magneto "come home" (my offer still stands)
What I'm Reading
G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen - I'm falling behind on my Sirens reading challenge, but luckily this book is completely engrossing and even though I only started it this morning, I'm nearly finished. It's full of really smart observations as well as really interesting fantastical elements, and some really sharp things about politics. More when I'm finally finished, but this one is pretty great.

Urasawa Naoki, Billy Bat vol 1 - This is Urasawa's current series, and I'm kind of annoyed at how much it plays to my interests to be honest. I also really question why Urasawa has drawn all of the Japanese or Japanese-American characters with the exception of the current protagonist to look distinctly monkey-ish (it's even more noticeable given that the story opens in 1947). This may be a sophisticated point about representation or it may just be an oogie running bit. Anyway, it's Urasawa; of course it's good, though I'm not quite willing to commit to hauling home the other 15 volumes (it's still running).

What I've Just Read
Molly Gloss, The Dazzle of Day - Quakers in space! Except, well, this novel is actively trying to break the bounds of science fiction as a genre, and…I like science fiction as a genre. Well worth reading, but Joan Slonczewski is still first in my heart in terms of Quaker SF novels. (I've now read two of the four.) Partly that's because this is a very interior book, and Gloss gets at the Quakerism (and everything else) very indirectly, unlike Slonczewski, who puts her Quaker in conflict with or in contrast to other groups or even species.

Yoshinaga Fumi, Ôoku vol 11 & 12 - Immunology, gender, and power. I hope everyone's ready for what's looking to be a really grim ending. I'd estimate we have two and at most three volumes left. It's also interesting to me that Yoshinaga made the most incompetent shogun a hero for the sake of the narrative.

Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vol. 12 & 13 - Only Arakawa Hiromu could blow through an entire year of school in one volume (12) and make it feel totally fine in terms of pacing and character development. She also has a real sense of how to turn the tables on readers' expectations based on genre cliches: the team's performance at the national equestrian championships in 13 is a case in point. Sadly this series seems to be taking a bit of a backseat to Arslan Senki, but I still love it, and I'll be really interested to see where Hachiken and company wind up by the time they graduate. One thing I appreciate now that I didn't before I saw Bakemono no ko is how subversive it is--Hachiken chooses not to go to college even though he could, his brother fucking dropped out of Todai to be an independent Skype college exam tutor, Komaba drops out of high school to work odd jobs in Tokyo so he can buy a farm, Mikage only decides to go to college after she decides to not inherit her family's farm: and all of this is totally okay. That's very (and characteristically) independent-minded of Arakawa.

Bunn/Walta/Fernandez, Magneto: Infamous and Reversals - My one friend W handed me these two volumes of comics as I was basically walking out the door in Seattle on the grounds that I'm way more into the X-Men than he is, which is true, but in no way means I'm familiar with most of the comics except in broad outlines. Luckily this series, which picks up after Charles Xavier's latest death with Mags relatively depowered but still just as quick to perform vigilante justice (also bald, which I can't help but read as influenced by Charles), is actually pretty good at filling readers in on relevant events without info-dumping. The coloring is really striking, and though I thought the pacing was off at a few points in the second volume, overall the comic is asking some tough questions of just about everyone, including Mags himself, and not letting anyone off the hook. I'm interested to keep reading.

Fraction & Ward, ODY-C vol 1 - Yup, between the art and the diction, this comic is fucking trippy, and I'll be really interested to see how closely Fraction sticks to the actual events of the actual Odyssey: there are plenty of hints, even in this first volume, that things could go off the rails of the familiar narrative in really interesting directions; in some ways, they already have. The "not all men" joke was also pretty flipping fantastic. All in all, it's pretty great.

Tenea Johnson, Smoketown - I don't know if there's a name for the sub-genre that includes this book and Dia Reeves' books, but I put them together in my mind as "speculative fiction set in some version of the South, with POC characters," and like Reeves' books, Johnson doesn't pull her punches. The similarities end there, in some ways: whereas Portero is much more comparable to Night Vale, Johnson's post-climate change apocalypse city is decidedly futuristic but also just weird: the government controls a lot of things and birds are outlawed. Finding out what made the city the way it is, and working to change it, winds up being the crux of the novel, but the book goes at that widdershins, and while I really, really liked the book, I thought there were some plot developments that needed a bit more explanation, and some of the characters were much more vivid than others (but oh, when they're vivid, they're painfully alive). So, while I wanted a bit more of some parts of the book, what was there was wildly inventive and really engrossing, and I recommend it.
starlady: Ramona Flowers wearing her delivery goggles (ramona flowers is awesome)
What I've Read
Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vols. 10 & 11 (2014) - These two volumes cover the end of Hachiken & company's first year at Ezono, which is the equivalent of their sophomore year of high school in the States. They were both really good, of course, and Hachiken's Russian sister-in-law is amazing. More please!

Yoshinaga Fumi, Ôoku vol. 10 (2013) - I said on Twitter that this manga has gone from being a manga about gender and power to being about power and immunology, which is true, but things seem like they're going to go back to gender and power in 11 and then bring the immunology back in 12. Volumes of this manga tend to end really up or really down, and this one's a downer, as the death of Tokugawa Ieharu brings about the downfall of Tanuma Okitsugu and her faction with the ôoku, to say nothing of their efforts to make immunization from the red-face pox a reality. But their enemies have proven in the course of this volume that they'll stop at nothing to secure the shogunate, and it's probably germane to remember that historians who care about this sort of thing (hint: not most people currently practicing on the American side) generally agree that Tanuma was the shogunate's last real chance to reform to meet the demands of the C19. 

Jem and the Holograms #1 & 2 (2015) - I never saw the cartoon when I was a kid, and i was probably missing out, but the comic is great so far. I love the art and the coloring, and the story, which follows Jem and the Holograms as they get their start in 2015, is witty too.

What I'm Reading
ODY-C vol. 1 - This comic is fucking trippy, and I like it a lot so far. It retells the Odyssey, in space, with a total genderswap, and the combination of the psychidelic art with the pseudo-epic speech style of the narration is whacked out. But like I said, I like it a lot so far. Fraction is pretty darn awesome.

What I'll Read Next
I got the Charles Soule run of She-Hulk in single issues when they were on sale on Comixology, and I inherited two volumes of Magneto, and of course, tons of manga.
starlady: meralonne and kallandras in the wood (in a dark wood)
What I've Read
Max Gladstone, Three Parts Dead (2012) - There seems to be a surge of interest in Gladstone's books around these parts lately, and I am not immune to such things; I read and liked this book, a very self-consciously modern kind of fantasy following a semi-renegade magical lawyer (sort of? I'm not describing this well) named Tara Abernathy, who takes a job with a very high-profile Craft firm after being thrown out of her academy in the air and finding that sometimes you can't actually go home again. [personal profile] rachelmanija has better reviews of these books; I agree with her assessment that they kind of read like a cheerful, less socialist/Dickensian version of China Miéville's Bas Lag novels. I don't think I enjoyed this book quite as much as other people have seemed to, but Tara was a great protagonist and the worldbuilding was very interesting and pretty inventive, and Gladstone's prose is witty. I would happily read the other books in the Craft sequence, of which this is the first.

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Flame (2014) - And I am now caught up on the Elantra books until November! Kaylin returns to the city from the West March only to confront even more problems that have sprung up in her absence, chief among which is…finding a new place to live that will accept that she has a Dragon for a roommate. Naturally, complications arise in even this most mundane of tasks. One of the things I have really enjoyed in this series is seeing Kaylin put together a group of comrades and friends with diverse skills and equal capacity to stand by her in adversity, and for whatever reason, that aspect of the books felt like it was particularly strong in this one. More please! 

Michelle West, Oracle (2015) - West is at the top of her game, and this may be the best book in the series yet. I'm still amazed, after 20 years of information and events being doled out in a slow drip, at just how much shit happens in this book. I've also enjoyed the way that the format of The House War sequence overall has allowed different, and equally interesting, characters to come to the fore. Also, I fucking love Jester and Birgide. More please! 

NB: I'm trying this new thing where I'm going to post about comics separately because the tags were getting ridiculous.

What I'm Reading
In the interests of selling some stuff back at Book-Off I switched to reading Ôoku by Yoshinaga Fumi again; I'm still on volume 10. I think Hiraga Gennai is either a cross-dressing lesbian or a trans man, but it probably doesn't actually matter because a) anachronistic; b) queer sex and/or relationships are not really a thing in this series (though I should note, the first chapter of this volume did have a neutral depiction of a gay relationship which does not appear doomed!). Anyway, it's the early 1780s, and I expect things will turn pretty depressing (again) by the end of this volume and until the end; vol. 12 comes out on Friday.

What I'll Read Next
I got a bunch of great OOP books in Seattle--seriously, Seattle's used bookstore SFF selection is pretty great--and I also want to read the Steerswoman books this year, among many other things. We'll see.
starlady: (justice)
Yoshinaga Fumi. Ôoku. 7 vols. Tokyo: Hakusensha, 2005-2011.

Volume 6 brings Tsunayoshi's story to its protracted, painful close and ends with the death of the sixth shogun, Ienobu, whom we saw very briefly at the beginning of volume 1. The first time is tragedy, the second time is farce.

Contains spoilers. Discusses dub-con situations and incest. )

The movie, which apparently deals with the story of Mizunoshin and Yoshimune, came out last October. My hopes are not high. ETA: thanks to [personal profile] seichan for correcting me on the movie info! Has anyone seen it?
starlady: A woman in a sepia photograph wearing a military uniform (fight like a girl)
Yoshinaga Fumi. Ôoku. 6 vols. Tokyo: Hakusensha, 2006-10.

Volumes 2-5 of this excellent, discomforting, pointedly skeevy manga back track from the time period of the first volume (the 1720s) to the 1630s, when the "red pox" first begins ravaging Japan and the retainers of the shogunate begin taking extraordinary measures to preserve what the first two generations of the Tokugawa have built. It ends with the future Yoshimune's only meeting with current shogun Tsunayoshi, in the early 1700s.

Warning for discussion of rape and of highly dub-con situations ) I'll need a unicorn chaser before I tackle the next two volumes, but this is a brilliant manga.
starlady: (obligatory japan icon)
Yoshinaga Fumi. Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! Trans. William Flanagan. New York: Yen Press, 2010.

I was pointed to this manga by [personal profile] rushthatspeaks' review of it, and it was so worth it. Not only is it an idiosyncratic restaurant guide to Tokyo written by a discerning and passionate foodie, but it's also an absolutely hilarious dissection of the ridiculous lifestyle of the contemporary mangaka, with an added dash of paranoia thrown in due to the fact that Yoshinaga, as the hilarious and brilliant translation has it, "makes her living by drawing men engaging in anal sex." The manga is also partaking in the venerable tradition in Japanese literature of the "I-novel" (watashi shôsetsu), which applies a thin layer of fictionalization to the author's life so as to allow them to speak more freely. Yoshinaga pokes knowing fun at herself as well as all the people she shanghais into going to restaurants with her, and the reader is privileged to go along with them.

I don't know how many of these restaurants are still around, and after the Tôhoku earthquake, I don't know how many of them are operating with full power. I'll be bringing the manga to Japan with me this summer, and I shall certainly report back on both those things as I can. In the meantime, I've been watching the beautiful, and unnerving, video below rather more times than I should. The use of light in Japanese cities is more pervasive than in many U.S. cities, I think--a lot of the cityscape is a lot more like Times Square than anywhere else in that respect--and the changes the video shows are correspondingly dramatic.


starlady: (queen)
[livejournal.com profile] merin_chan went to an alien maid cafe in Akiba this summer. Very interesting.


Yoshinaga Fumi. Ôoku. 5 vols. Tokyo: Hakusensha, 2005-10. [English translation: 5 vols. San Francisco: VIZ, 2009-10.]

I first heard about this manga as part of an exhibition at the Kyoto International Manga Museum in 2008 on worlds of shoujo manga. The premise (in an alternate Edo Japan, a plague kills 75% of men, forcing women to take power in society) was enough to get me to Book-Off immediately. Yeah, it did take me two years to actually finish volume 1.

In the interim, of course, the manga has been translated (clumsily) into English, and the first two volumes of that translation co-won the 2009 Tiptree Award, the first time a manga or graphic novel has taken the prize. I heard Alexis Lothian discuss the translation and the jury's reasons for selecting it at Wiscon 34, and one of the things I really liked about her remarks was that in them she situated the manga in a long global tradition of feminist science fiction and fantasy. Before the manga won the award I would have approached the manga primarily from the fact that it is a josei (women's) manga, a genre that is by far the least popular in Japan and the most infrequently translated into English.

To give a really brief introduction to a complicated concept, shoujo and josei manga since the 1970s have been coping with what has been called "the love trap"--essentially, the unequal power dynamics of heterosexual relationships in a sexist and/or patriarchal society mean that for a heroine a "successful" romantic relationship necessitates her relinquishing her agency and independence. One way to spring the love trap is to invent yaoi and write BL ad infinitum, which a number of 1970s manga-ka did and which continues to be a hugely popular genre with women in Japan (similar dynamics clearly underlie media fandom's origins in the 1960s outside of Japan, I suspect).

Another way to spring the love trap is to do what Yoshinaga does here, namely to remove men's actual political and social capital and give all of that to women. Crucially, however, the symbolic capital and the symbolic regime of social power in this alternate Edo retains its masculinist trappings, so that all women of rank assume "male" names upon their accession to their offices, to take one example. Yoshinaga also introduces us to the world and to the oooku, the inner chambers of the shogun's castle in Edo, through the eyes of its newest male member, Mizuno Yuunoshin, though by the end of volume 1 the manga is mostly following the new shogun Yoshimune, eighth of the Tokugawa line and the first to accede from a branch family, Ieyasu's direct descendants having died out.

I really want to know whether Yoshinaga expects her readership to sympathize with the male or the female characters. The men in this manga read like women, not in some gender essentialist "mannerism" crap kind of way but in that they have the limited power and circumscribed social roles of women in the historical Edo period and in contemporary Japan (though the situation of women in contemporary Japan is, very slowly, improving). And for the same reasons, the women read like men, except that they have to deal with the burden not only of power but also of history; less than a hundred years before society was the complete opposite of what it is in the manga's present, and no one can quite forget it, even if most people know better than to talk about it.

Yoshinaga hews fairly close to history; the historical Yoshimune was a noted fiscal reformer, and in the manga Yoshimune is portrayed as almost comically stingy--it's her intention that the oooku and the bakufu (shogunate bureaucracy) will bend to her will, and not the other way around. I like her and her right-arm retainer Hisamichi a lot. We'll see what Yoshimune's curiosity about the foundation of the women's political system reveals in volume 2.

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