Hugo Novel Review (Part 2): Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

written by David Steffen

Neptune'sBrood

This is a continuation of the partial review of Neptune’s Brood I posted in July. As I said in that review, the book took a while to hook me on the plot, but got me early with the interesting worldbuilding involving posthuman android bodies with transmittable, transferrable minds. The protagonist, Krina-Alizond-114 is a historian of accountacy practices, specializing in the history of FTL scams. FTL travel has never been invented in this universe, but neither has anyone proven that it’s impossible, so every once in a while someone claims to have found the secret and seeks to collect tons of money from fraud. As the book starts, Krina is en route to the water planet Shin-Tethys to find out what happened to her missing sister.

Overall, I liked the book for similar reasons as I mentioned in the initial review–really interesting worldbuilding, particularly around the speculation of a plausible financial system that would work in an intergalactic civilization that operates by the physical laws as we understand them, particularly the speed of light limit on communication. And once the action finally starts, it keeps up that pace pretty steadily.

But there were some things that bugged me, to an extent that I wouldn’t recommend the book without caveat.

1. The backstory of what reasons really underlie Krina’s trip to Shin-Tethys are given in trickles at intervals throughout the book. I thought much of this information came too late, so that by the time it came, I had to re-evaluate significant portions of what the character had revealed before.

2. Very near the end there’s a big reveal that, although the reasons behind it are revealed, comes out of the blue as completely absurd in its magnitude. I had trouble swallowing that one.

3. The ending was very unsatisfying. Deus ex machina. Much too easy after the rest of the book is full of nearly insurmountable challenges. It seemed like the challenges had stacked up and up to such a degree that Stross wrote himself into a corner and had to just cheat his way around the ending.

Overall, the book had a lot of really great parts, and has a lot to recommend it. In the end I didn’t feel that it really stuck the landing.

“The Original Blue Fairy is a Cruel Monster” or “My Review of The Adventures of Pinocchio”

written by David Steffen

We all know how the story of Pinocchio goes. Like most people, I watched Disney’s version of Pinocchio when I was a kid, and when I later learned that it was based on an older story (as most of Disney’s movies, especially their older ones, are) I assumed that Disney made some adaptations to make it into a modern children’s film–modernizing the language, trimming meandering plotlines. I knew that Disney had made drastic changes to the endings of the stories based on Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales because otherwise there’s just no way you could market them to a modern kid’s audience. But I had never heard anyone talk about how faithful their adaptation of C. Collodi’s Adventures of Pinocchio was.

I was working on a story loosely inspired by Pinocchio, and so to understand my source material as completely as possible, I wanted to read the original for a basis of comparison. I was quite surprised by what I found there. In particular, the character that Disney based their Blue Fairy character on.

I’ll give some general thoughts about the story first, and then will talk about the fairy in the section titled “The Original Blue Fairy is a Cruel Monster”. I’m not going to bother avoiding spoilers because the movie most people are familiar with is 73 years old, and the original book is 130 years old.

The Adventures of Pinocchio

There are a lot of details that might surprise someone who guesses that the Disney version is a faithful adaptation, including:

1. The Fairy does not make Pinocchio alive
He just is alive for no reason, speaking even before he has been fully carved from a block of wood.

2. The Talking Cricket (the inspiration for Jiminy Cricket) is killed by Pinocchio in the very scene in which he appears:

“Let me tell you, for your own good, Pinocchio,” said the Talking Cricket in his calm voice, “that those who follow that trade always end up in the hospital or in prison.”

“Careful, ugly Cricket! If you make me angry, you’ll be sorry!”

“Poor Pinocchio, I am sorry for you.”

“Why?”

“Because you are a Marionette and, what is much worse, you have a wooden head.”

At these last words, Pinocchio jumped up in a fury, took a hammer from the bench, and threw it with all his strength at the Talking Cricket.

Perhaps he did not think he would strike it. But, sad to relate, my dear children, he did hit the Cricket, straight on its head.

With a last weak “cri-cri-cri” the poor Cricket fell from the wall, dead!

I found this darkly hilarious, more so for the complete unexpectedness of it.

3. In the absence of the Talking Cricket, many other random bystanders serve the role of being Pinocchio’s moral compass.
This includes the Fairy herself, a Blackbird, the Ghost of the Talking Cricket, a Parrot, a Pigeon, a Donkey, and somehow the Talking Cricket again (having reappeared alive). It’s clearly a story to teach morals and really bludgeons you over the head with the format at every opportunity.

4. Geppetto has quite a temper (at the beginning of the story)
I normally think of Geppetto as a kind, sweet, old man, perhaps out of his area of expertise in parenting but an entirely benevolent character. In the original, though, he has a vicious temper and threatens to thrash Pinocchio at the slightest provocation at times.

5. Pinocchio is a mean-spirited beast(at the beginning of the story)
In the Disney movie Pinocchio is naive and easily tempted, but is generally a good person who is just misguided. The Pinocchio in the book is a mean-spirited creature who does mean things out of spite and for entertainment only

6. The escape from the belly of the Shark is super easy
Instead of Monstro the whale, the original story has a giant Shark that swallows Geppetto. When Pinocchio gets swallowed too, he finds his father where he’s been eating raw fish for two years in the belly, living in candlelight from candles salvaged from a swallowed shipwreck. Yes, TWO YEARS of eating raw fish. When Pinocchio gets there, they decide to find a way out. Apparently the giant Shark has asthma and so must breathe with its mouth open while it sleeps. Pinocchio and Geppetto literally just walk out of its open mouth and meet no resistance from the sleeping monster–there is no fire to make it sneeze as in the movie. Which really leads one to wonder–why didn’t Geppetto just walk out on his own sometime in the last two years?

7. The Fairy is very different (see the next section)

The Original Blue Fairy is a Cruel Monster

Now on to the really fun part–the reveal of what a psychotic, manipulative, pathological liar the Blue Fairy’s original incarnation was.

In the Disney movie, the Blue Fairy is about as benevolent of a character as you’re likely to find. She is basically an incarnation of kindness and love. She is the one that makes both the launching of the plot and the final climax possible. At the beginning, the lonely carpenter Geppetto wishes upon a star that his newly made marionette could become a real boy. While he sleeps the Blue Fairy visits the workshop and grants this wish, after a fashion. He has the spark of life, can act and think for himself, but he is still a wooden marionette as well. She tells him that if he can be a good boy and can listen to his conscience, then she will really make him a real boy. She sees him again later after he’s done some things wrong and gotten himself trapped in a seemingly hopeless situation, and she lets him go free with a warning that she won’t bail him out again. At the end of the movie, after Pinocchio has sacrificed himself selflessly to save his father’s life on several occasions and has learned virtue and truth and all that jazz, the Blue Fairy shows up again and makes good on her promise and makes him into a real boy. Hooray! The End.

In the book, the fairy is known as the Girl with Azure Hair, or the Maiden with Azure Hair, or in a couple scenes the Goat with Azure Hair, or sometimes just the Fairy. At the best of times, the most positive thing I can say about her is that she can occasionally act without malevolence. At the worst of times, she is a cruel, spiteful, monster who has all of the faults that she blames Pinocchio for having and others besides.

Pinocchio first meets her when he is running away from two con-men in the guise of Assassins who want to take the gold coins that Pinocchio has in his posession. Fleeing from the Assassins in the woods he comes across a cottage. He bangs on the door until the Girl with Azure Hair (at this point quite a young girl) answers at the window and this exchange occurs:

“No one lives in this house. Everyone is dead.”

“Won’t you, at least, open the door for me?” cried Pinocchio in a beseeching voice.

“I also am dead.”

“Dead? What are you doing at the window, then?”

“I am waiting for the coffin to take me away.”

And then she shuts the window on him. Because she won’t let him in the house, the Assassins catch him, beat him, try to stab him, and hang him by the neck because Pinocchio is holding the gold coins under his tongue and they can’t pry his mouth open. They get bored waiting for him to suffocate several hours later and promise to come back the next day to collect the coins from his dead body. The Fairy eventual wanders out of the house, has him cut down from the rope, and he is eternally grateful to her for saving his life even though she was the one who refused to help him when he was in trouble in the first place. He never questions why she claimed she was dead, and she never offers an explanation. I’m really not sure where Collodi was going with that brief conversation–is she supposed to be suicidal? Is it just supposed to be some amusing nonsense in place for no reason and he assumed children would laugh and not try to figure out the meaning? Is there some kind of meaning that is just eluding me because of the difference in time period and culture from where I’m reading it? I really don’t know. But this is not where it ends.

They decide after this exchange that they shall be brother and sister, and so they play childhood games with each other and have fun for a time. This is about the most positive Pinocchio’s relationship with the Fairy gets. The Fairy sends for Geppetto to come live with her and Pinocchio in the Fairy’s house, but Pinocchio is so overjoyed at this happiness that he asks to run to his hometown to find his father and tell him the good news himself. The Fairy agrees, with a warning that he has to behave. And of course, Pinocchio doesn’t behave, gets distracted, ends up having all of his gold coins stolen by the con-men who had earlier tried to murder him and in the backwards Town of the Simple Simons ends up getting thrown in jail for several months, more adventures ensue, and eventually he makes his way back to the Fairy’s house after much times has passed.

The little house was no longer there. In its place lay a small marble slab, which bore this sad inscription:

     HERE LIES
     THE LOVELY FAIRY WITH AZURE HAIR
     WHO DIED OF GRIEF
     WHEN ABANDONED BY
     HER LITTLE BROTHER PINOCCHIO

So, as far as we know at this point, the Fairy is well and truly dead, and so Pinocchio is very, very sad about the death of his sister and guilty about his role in her death. I would’ve thought that his grief would be dampened at least a little bit by the fact that she was so spiteful as to have apparently commissioned a stonecutter to craft such a spiteful accusatory epitaph for her tombstone.

But then, after her second claim of death (don’t forget the first one made on their first meeting) Pinocchio happens across her again in his ramblings. Pinocchio is at a place with very hard workers and is begging for food from them, but refuses to work for the food. Finally a woman comes along and she gives him water freely and offers him food if he will carry her water jugs. He does agree for the promise of a feast, and then he realizes its the Fairy all grown up (I think this may be because he is an unaging marionette and she is just growing up at a normal pace, though I had at first thought that this is just another piece of dream logic). Since she’s older than him now, she takes the role of mother figure to him (which adds a bit of a weird psychological component in a single character sister-turned-mother). This exchange occurs:

“Tell me, little Mother, it isn’t true that you are dead, is it?”

“It doesn’t seem so,” answered the Fairy, smiling.

“If you only knew how I suffered and how I wept when I read ‘Here lies,'”

“I know it, and for that I have forgiven you. The depth of your sorrow made me see that you have a kind heart. There is always hope for boys with hearts such as yours, though they may often be very mischievous. This is the reason why I have come so far to look for you. From now on, I’ll be your own little mother.”

“Oh! How lovely!” cried Pinocchio, jumping with joy.

“You will obey me always and do as I wish?”

“Gladly, very gladly, more than gladly!”

She merely seems amused when he points out that she’s still alive after that accusatory epitaph. She deigns to forgive him, but makes no mention of needing forgiveness herself for inflicting such grief upon the puppet-boy, and in such a spiteful way. She not only moved out of the house she’d been living in, after all, but had it torn to the ground, laid a marble tombstone (which couldn’t have been cheap) and paid to have a spiteful accusatory epitaph carved into it. When she decides to teach a lesson she goes all out!

She claims to have searched for him but as far as I could tell he just happened to find her, not the other way around.

And his promise to obey here and do as she wishes was just chilling to me considering what she’s shown herself capable of. She promises that he will become a real boy if he proves he deserves it (note that she doesn’t say she will do it for him, only that it will happen).

She even picks a day for it to happen, but the day before that Pinocchio gets tempted off to the Land of Toys, where he gets turned into a donkey because he is such a lazy layabout. He gets sold off to a circus where he is forced to perform tricks for crowds, and he sees the Fairy in the audience, with a medallion with a picture of himself carved into it. But she leaves him to his captivity.

Some time later, after he has returned to marionette form, and ends up out in the ocean, he spots a Goat with Azure Hair on an island. She beckons for him, but the terrible giant Shark (the origin of Monstro the whale) surfaces. She beckons him yet more, and even reaches out to him and just misses him before the Shark swallows him up. If it were anyone but this Fairy I might believe the “almost” of the helping him was an honest try and fail, but I don’t trust her at this point. And, granted, Geppetto is in the belly of the Shark and Pinocchio is able to rescue him there, but instead of just sending Pinocchio in after she could’ve just helped Geppetto herself. She does have magic, after all. The Fairy can shapeshift, and what animal does she turn into to save Pinocchio from a shark attack? A goat. A freaking goat. Seriously.

So Pinocchio rescues Geppetto from the belly of the Shark, and eventually they make their way home. Pinocchio earns the value of hard work and works to make some money which he plans to spend on a nice suit so that his father can see how nice he looks. On his way he runs into someone who had previously worked for the Fairy and they talk:

“My dear Pinocchio, the Fairy is lying ill in a hospital.”

“In a hospital?”

“Yes, indeed. She has been stricken with trouble and illness, and she hasn’t a penny left with which to buy a bite of bread.”

He sends the money he’d saved with her servant to help her out. He returns home and:

After that he went to bed and fell asleep. As he slept, he dreamed of his Fairy, beautiful, smiling, and happy, who kissed him and said to him, “Bravo, Pinocchio! In reward for your kind heart, I forgive you for all your old mischief. Boys who love and take good care of their parents when they are old and sick, deserve praise even though they may not be held up as models of obedience and good behavior. Keep on doing so well, and you will be happy.”

At that very moment, Pinocchio awoke and opened wide his eyes.

What was his surprise and his joy when, on looking himself over, he saw that he was no longer a Marionette, but that he had become a real live boy! He looked all about him and instead of the usual walls of straw, he found himself in a beautifully furnished little room, the prettiest he had ever seen. In a twinkling, he jumped down from his bed to look on the chair standing near. There, he found a new suit, a new hat, and a pair of shoes.

As soon as he was dressed, he put his hands in his pockets and pulled out a little leather purse on which were written the following words:

     The Fairy with Azure Hair returns
     fifty pennies to her dear Pinocchio
     with many thanks for his kind heart.

The Marionette opened the purse to find the money, and behold,there were fifty gold coins!

Pinocchio ran to the mirror. He hardly recognized himself. The bright face of a tall boy looked at him with wide-awake blue eyes, dark brown hair and happy, smiling lips.

He never hears news of the Fairy’s but if she really was sick and had not even enough money to buy herself bread, I think that the implication is that she has claimed to have died. But of course, this is the third time that she’s claimed death in the story, and the other two proved to be complete fabrications (including the elaborate fabrication involving the marble tombstone) so I’m sure she’s still living out there somewhere and will return at some point to plague Pinocchio.

And although there might be some implication that she is the one that makes him into a boy, I am skeptical of that too. It seemed like she just had knowledge about what it took to become a real boy and she shared that knowledge but did not actually cause anything.

 

Picking Apart “The Cold Equations”

written by David Steffen

“The Cold Equations” is a science fiction short story written by Tom Godwin, published in Astounding Magazine in 1954. It’s looked upon by many as a classic, and one of those old defining SF stories that defined new tropes that have become cliches in the times since then. I’ve heard it mentioned most often by some critiquers who might say something like “This is the Cold Equations in a fantasy world” or some such thing. And I’m not going to avoid spoilers in this, since it is a 60-year old story. A while back I heard the story for the first time on the Drabblecast, so it is still fresh in my mind.

The story takes place on an emergency dispatch ship headed for a colony planet with a load of desperately needed medical supplies. Our protagonist finds a stowaway on board his ship, a teenage girl who has done this to visit her brother on the colony planet. This is a major problem because these runs are planned with just enough fuel to safely reach their destination. She thought that she would only get fined for sneaking on, but punishment for stowing away is death, to be sucked out of the airlock. Most of the time the stowaways are just selfish and don’t care about anyone, but this girl is just naive. This practice ensures the safe arrival of the mission. The pilot explains this to the girl. they speak to the colony ahead, and she gets to talk to her brother. In the end, though, there’s nothing to do about it. She walks willingly into the airlock and lets herself be killed, and that’s the end. The “Cold Equations” in the title are the physics equations to calculate the effect of mass on fuel consumption. It’s apparently meant to be a commentary on the coldness of reasoning that would be necessary for space travel.

And that’s an interesting topic, but in my opinion the premise has so many monumental flaws that it falls apart on the least inspection. I had heard the general premise before and was expecting to feel for the story, but when I listened to the particulars I was so frustrated that this situation could exist, and that the people in this situation are so incredibly stupid, that I just couldn’t buy into it, emotionally or intellectually.

The problems:

1. The story repeatedly stated that there was only enough fuel with no margin, but the girl isn’t discovered until the ship is going at cruising speed. If the story’s repeated statements are true, then they should already be doomed.

2. A space freight system with no margin for error is idiotic. What if a component fails or works less efficiently? What if the pilot gains a little weight? Any tiny thing happening wrong, and the whole mission destroys the ship, kills the pilot, and maybe destroys the colony when the ship crashes. Those are steep enough consequences that it would be worth putting in some margin for error. At LEAST enough for one extra person aboard. Unless, of course, the people running this space freight system actually like to kill people for no good reason… but that’s not the sense I get from the story details.

3. Why doesn’t the spaceport have higher security? I mean, stowing away is a common enough crime that there is an execution law for it! You know how you could take care of that? Point a damned video camera at the entrance to the ship and have somebody (person or AI) watching it whenever that entrance is open. Arrest any unauthorized person who passes through. Problem solved, without having to murder anyone.

4. If you’re really only off by a tiny amount in the fuel, there should be other maneuvers that would allow you to salvage. Such as, instead of landing on the surface you put the ship in orbit. Or you intentionally overshoot the planet and allow one of their smaller vessels to chase after and catch you.

5. Have automated flights with no passenger entry.

6. The only problem in this situation is the excess mass. Try to get rid of some mass, for the love of Pete! They have ample time to do this, but they do not even make a token effort. The girl even chooses to die early, so they killed her before the last minute. The girl starts to write a note for her brother on PENCIL AND PAPER. What is a pencil and paper doing on this ship at all, which has long distance communications and a computer? Okay, sure, this is an older time and maybe they weren’t thinking of computers in the same way, but the communications here were reliable enough that even if the computer were not capable of storage you could just dictate your notes to someone on a planet to record for you–if fuel is that precious, that would be a preferrable way. The presence of pencil and paper just served to underscore all the logical problems in this supposedly logical story.
Here are some things they could try to get rid of mass while keeping the girl alive.
–Throw away your pencils and paper!!!
–Shave their heads
–Strip naked and throw out any spare clothes
–Dump any comfort items like seats, seat cushions, pillows, blankets.
–Dump any food that’s not strictly necessary to survive this trip.
–Remove and dump any components of the ship that are not necessary like covers over maintenance hatches.
–Dump any water that’s not strictly necessary to survive this trip.
–Dump some small percentage of the medicines. This is a lifesaving trip, of course, but the life of the stowaway should be considered as saving a life as well. Particularly medicines that aren’t strictly life-saving, if any.
–Force yourselves to throw up, and flush the vomit.
–If there’s anything on the ship with a laxative or diuretic effect, use it! If not, just urinate as much as you can manage. And flush all that wasted mass down the toilet.
–Lose any other body fluids you can manage–blood, sweat, semen, snot.
–Assuming there are ways to stop the bleeding, amputate one or both of her legs, one or both of her arms, other parts not necessary for survival (there are plenty of them) such as earlobes, nose, breasts. This is all especially true if this future has quality replacement parts for any of these things (especially the legs since they are quite heavy). For each of these parts, she needs to ask herself whether she would rather live without that part or die with it. Morbid, yes, but fitting in the theme of cold equations this would allow a choice.
–Again assuming there are ways to stop the bleeding, and also assuming these parts are not needed to operate the ship, the pilot could also consider amputating parts of himself not necessary for survival. For each of these parts, he needs to ask himself whether he would rather live without that part or kill this teenage girl.

Book Review: Speaker for the Dead

written by David Steffen

Speaker for the Dead is the sequel to Ender’s Game. Ender’s Game was first a short story and then was expanded to a novel, and just last year was made into a movie. I reviewed the novel and the movie in a previous article. As usual I will try to avoid spoilers for the story being reviewed, but I’m not even going to try to avoid spoilers for Ender’s Game, so if you don’t want to find out some of what happens in that book then go read it and come back.

Background

Three thousand years have passed since the events of Ender’s Game. With the buggers now apparently extinct, humanity has colonized the galaxy unopposed, a hundred worlds all connected together and governed via their ansible connection that allows instantaneous communication across unlimited distances even though the movement of matter between stars is still limited by the speed of light.

The book The Hive Queen and the Hegemon, which is written by someone the general public knows only as the Speaker for the Dead has told the story of the buggers in a way that captured the empathy of the general public so that by the time of this story everyone laments the loss of this alien intelligence and condemns Ender the Xenocide. The book has gained such popularity to as to spawn its own religion in which people who call themselves Speaker for the Dead respond to requests to illuminate in unvarnished fashion the life of a person. The Speaker for the Dead not only tells of the actions of the deceased, both good and bad, he also explains the reasons those actions were taken as best he can. This goes against the custom of not speaking ill of the dead, and so can make many people uncomfortable, but it’s meant to be as honest a story of the deceased as can be told because to tell of only the good or only the bad of a person’s life is like a second death for the person to withhold the telling of part of that life. This movement gains such a following that over three thousand years it has become its own religion.

Little does anyone know, let alone the adherents of the religion, that Ender Wiggin was also the one who wrote The Hive Queen and the Hegemon. Not only that, but he is still alive, because he and his sister Valentine have spent most of the last three thousand years in the time-slowing relativistic speeds of interstellar travel as Ender speaks for the dead and his sister shares her political views through the continued existence of her Demosthenes alias that she established in the first book.

All of that is little but backstory, just the minimum necessary to kind of get a grasp where the book starts. On a Catholic colony world a new intelligent alien species has been discovered, a species of small creatures that look like pigs and so are nicknamed “piggies”, the first to appear since the buggers. The Starways Congress, which control the ansible network between the hundred worlds, has strict limitations in place to control interaction with new intelligent alien species that are all centered around not contaminating the alien culture with human influences while learning as much as possible about them. These limitations make the quest for knowledge extremely difficult, but violation of them could be punished by means as serious as cutting the colony off from outside supplies and communication. After decades of work, very little is known about them, not even their basic social structure or reproductive methods.

One day, with no warning, one of the researchers tasked with working with the piggies is found dead, having been tortured. The young xenobiologist calls for a Speaker for the Dead to come speak for the researcher, and Ender Wiggin answers the call. The colony had previously been out of his reach because its Catholic license prohibited non-Catholics from visiting without reason, but as an invited Speaker for the Dead he could finally go and see the new intelligent species himself, to make up for the near-extinction of the buggers. I say “near-extinction” because unbeknownst to anyone else, he carries with him the larva of a bugger Hive Queen which can repopulate the species.

The travel to Lusitania to speak for the dead takes just two weeks from Ender’s point of view, but takes twenty-two years from the colony’s point of view. Novinha has married and had a handful of children since then, and has changed much since the message that Ender received. She rescinded her request for a Speaker less than a week after she made it, but two of her children have made requests in the meantime.

Review

I thought this book was very good, and made a very good followup for anyone who liked the first one. Again the emphasis is on the power of empathy. Ender Wiggin is an extraordinary human being because he has an extraordinary proficiency for empathy, both towards his fellow human beings and for creatures of different species. This makes him the ideal ambassador for dealing with new intelligent species. My favorite aspect of the book is gradual reveal of how the piggies’ social structures and stages of life work together to form the society. It’s a master craft of speculative work to put together something that is so foreign, but which can be understood, and which has the complete feeling that a real ecosystem has while being novel enough to be interesting.

The characters of the book are another strong point. particularly Novinha and her children. Their family is terribly damaged from a net of lies that has affected everything that has happened to them over the past twenty-two years. When Ender left the family didn’t exist yet, and now Ender’s first thing to do is to try to interact with the family to discover what he needs to discover to be able to speak for the dead. All tied up with the fate of the family is the interactions with the piggies, which I found absolutely fascinating in every conversation.

And just the basic concept of Speaker for the Dead I found incredibly alluring. I don’t know how I would feel if someone spoke that way about one of my dead relatives, to hear unvarnished truth about the wrongs they committed on other people but while trying to understand what motivated them to do these things. But the book never claims that the reveal is a pleasant experience, but after the reveal people do typically find a measure of peace in understanding the ones they loved better than they ever had before. It does make me wonder how Ender would speak of, say, a pedophile. I’m not sure how he could spin that in a way that people could empathize with. But that small wrinkle aside, I really thought it was alluring.

Conclusion

I would highly recommend this book to any SF fan. I would also recommend reading Ender’s Game first, because even though it’s not strictly necessary it would help to see that story to understand the potential for destruction in the ability to empathize, while this book focuses on the potential for creation and healing in the same.

I have not read any books in this series besides these two. I have heard from a couple people that these two are the only ones that really stand out as great works. Any opinions on that, dear reader? Are there any others that you’ve read that you found very valuable?

 

Anime Review: Brynhildr in the Darkness

written by Laurie Tom

brynhildrinthedarknessBrynhildr in the Darkness tried very hard to make me stop watching it, probably more so than any other series I can think of in recent years. On the one hand it has a smart and likeable main character who manages to pull off being a high school student protagonist without coming off as unrealistic wish fulfillment. Ryota is definitely not that powerful and works within the limitations of being an ordinary human caught up protecting artificial witches from the secret organization that created them.

On the other, Brynhildr in the Darkness is home to gratuitous fanservice. It’s not that blatant early on, but after Kazumi joins the growing group of escaped witches, the fanservice kicks into high gear. (And there is a highly graphic death in episode 2 that was almost enough to make me stop watching, but there’s nothing else like it later on.)

Most of the series is still very much about super-powered witches; battling the ones pursuing them, protecting the ones that ran away. But after Kazumi’s introduction scarcely an episode can go by without a short scene with gratuitous (though censored) nudity that has no bearing on plot or character development at all.

And that’s too bad, because the situation the escapee witches find themselves in is a compelling one. Deemed failed experiments due to not being powerful enough, the main protagonist witches managed to escape their own termination, but they need a supply of pills from the laboratory that created them or they will die within two days of taking the last one.

The witches are all teenage girls who have been held in captivity since they were young, so what they plan to do with their limited remaining lifespans tend to be ordinary things like going to high school, hitting their sixteenth birthday, and seeing the beach for the first time. They’re very easy to sympathize with, and most of them are quite selfless when it comes to others of their kind. They know that each new escapee they add to their group reduces the length of time all of them can live since they must split their remaining pills even further.

After discovering their predicament, Ryota refuses to let them die when he can help, even knowing that he will be killed if the secret organization discovers him. Though he can’t fight, he’s very bright, serving as the group’s strategist and guide to the world in general. He convinces the witches to keep living while looking for a way to get more pills to keep them alive.

Unfortunately the greater storyline of why the witches are being created is rather muddled and nonsensical. The anime concludes a story arc, but it’s clearly a season ending rather than a series ending and the last few episodes feel a bit rushed, with two characters appearing in the epilogue with no explanation at all. (I had to read fan comments to make sense of why they were there.)

This may have to do with trying to condense too much of the manga into a thirteen episode TV series. My feeling is that the show writers took their time introducing everyone and then realized they only had 6-7 episodes left in which to conclude the first major story arc of the manga, so they skipped smaller subplots and/or super-condensed larger ones to cram anything of importance into the second half. There are even characters appearing in the two opening sequences who will not show up until the second to last episode.

This also prevents the series from having a satisfying resolution as everything that does happens feels a little pat. It doesn’t have a proper build-up and supporting characters come and go without the audience really getting a chance to know them.

Of special note is the first set of opening credits, which is not only visually striking in how it portrays the well-being of the witches versus the rest of the world, but has one of the most memorable instrumental opening tracks in recent years. When the main theme plays during an episode chills go up my spine.

Brynhildr in the Darkness is a mixed bag and that makes it very difficult to recommend, especially after seeing the second half. A lot of potential was squandered here. Despite the fanservice though, I’d be tempted to pick up the manga if it was available in English.

Number of Episodes: 13

Pluses: extremely likeable main character, compelling reason to care what happens to the cast, one of the most striking sets of opening credits anime has had in years

Minuses: mood-ruining fanservice in a story about life and death, rushed plotline in the second half, unsatisfactory resolution

Brynhildr in the Darkness is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled.

 

laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Anime Review: The World is Still Beautiful

written by Laurie Tom

worldisstillbeautifulThe World is Still Beautiful is based off an ongoing shoujo (girls) manga of the same name. Teenage Princess Nike comes from the small and relatively powerless Duchy of Rain, and in recent years a furious warlord known as the Sun King has conquered most of the known world. In exchange for leaving the Duchy of Rain alone, he asks for one of their princesses to be sent to him as a bride.

But to show how silly this series can be, Princess Nike is declared the bride when she loses a game of rock-paper-scissors against her three older sisters, and she’s promptly shipped out of the only country she has ever known to meet the Sun King, who turns out to be a boy even younger than she is.

The first episode probably could have been cut. It didn’t exist in the manga and seems to be only there to provide some background flavor to the Sun Kingdom, and a little understanding for why the Sun King might want to marry a princess from the Duchy of Rain. The royal family members of the duchy have the ability to call the rain with song, and the Sun Kingdom is a land without rain; most of the water for their crops comes through irrigation.

Once King Livius is introduced (he appears at the very end of the first episode) the ball gets rolling, as both he and Nike are incredibly stubborn, and he has a nasty mean streak to him. When Nike doesn’t sing on command at their first meeting, because calling the rain is a sacred act to her people, he tosses her in the dungeon. But Nike being a very spirited young woman, doesn’t stay there. Calling the wind isn’t the only part of her weather related powers.

There are parts of The World is Still Beautiful that feel terribly formulaic; the rival love interest (for both leads), how Nike manages to make peace with even the worst of former enemies, and how Nike is completely incompetent at palace life (except when it really counts).

The story is not deep and mostly revolves around Nike and Livi’s growing feelings for each other despite everybody and their grandmother trying to tear them apart, but the execution is clean and Nike and Livi play off each other so well it’s forgivable.

I really like that Nike is so outspoken. She’s not a delicate princess and what comes to mind just as frequently comes out her mouth, even if it gets her in trouble. And once she decides that she really is going to marry Livi, she isn’t about to let anyone else take that away from her.

Probably the two most problematic parts of their relationship are 1) Livi looks really young (though he’s voiced by an adult man and sounds like it), which makes scenes where he’s undressed a little squicky and 2) even though Nike mellows out Livi, he is still the Sun King and that cruel streak pops now and again. He never directly hurts her, but there’s one point where he threatens to burn her homeland to ashes because he catches her in a situation where it looks like she might have been unfaithful, and I don’t think he was joking.

Aside from that, their relationship revolves around Nike learning how to behave herself as the future wife of the Sun King (they don’t actually marry by the end of the series) and Livi learning to love life and see the world through the eyes of others. Their relationship is pretty chaste with just the occasional kiss, usually accompanied with a lot of blushing, making it (barring a really out of place rape joke in the skippable first episode) suitable for pre-teen viewers. Though there is brief nudity, it’s not sexual in nature and is played for laughs.

Later episodes of the series take us to the Duchy of Rain, which is of a rainy southeast Asian design as opposed the obvious European one of the Sun Kingdom. The story arc there is a nice way of affirming Nike and Livi’s relationship, though I think the final episode’s pacing was strangely off, like the writers found themselves with an extra 15 minutes of footage and didn’t know what to do with it.

The World is Still Beautiful isn’t an anime for the ages, but for those looking for solid girl’s anime that isn’t based on a dating game, this isn’t a bad bet. It’s equal parts silliness and actual drama, and when Livi isn’t a complete jerk (which is actually most of the time) he’s fun to watch.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: romantic leads play off each other well, beautiful costume design in the Duchy of Rain, Nike is a girl who knows how to take charge of her destiny

Minuses: Livi’s actions may cross the line depending on viewer’s sympathy for jerk romantic leads, Livi looks like a ten-year-old making for uncomfortable viewing, a little formulaic

The World is Still Beautiful is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled.

 

laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in venues such as Galaxy’s Edge, Crossed Genres, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

 

Hugo Novel Review (Partial): Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

written by David Steffen

Neptune'sBroodThis is the first year that I’ve actually managed to read all of the nominees in the Hugo novel category, at least a portion of each. Charles Stross’s Neptune’s Brood is the last of the batch, and I only got my hands on it mid-July when I borrowed it from a friend–the publishers decided not to put it in the Hugo packet, and neither Stross nor Penguin were interested in providing a review copy so I had been intending to just skip the book until the opportunity to borrow it came up. I haven’t finished reading the whole book yet. I’m at about page 150 of 340. But the Hugo deadline is tomorrow and this is the last posting slot I have before the deadline, so if I want to share my review before the deadline it’s got to be a partial. You can consider this part 1 of the review; I’ll write up the rest when I’ve finished the book.

Neptune’s Brood takes place in the universe of Stross’s book Saturn’s Children, but can easily be read as a standalone. I’ve not read Saturn’s Children, but from what I gather, Neptune’s Brood is not a sequel and the time lapsed between the two is so long that there aren’t any narrative lines from one to the other in any case. If you like one, I’d guess you’d like the other, but they can be enjoyed independently.

In the universe of Neptune’s Brood, human life as we would recognize it (known in that time and place as “Fragile”) has gone extinct more than once, only to be revived. That kind of body is just generally not suitable for the rigors of space travel, the radiation and longevity problems inherent in the medium. A person’s mind is backed up on soul chips, electronic wafers that contain the essence of their mind. Without a brain a soul chip is just an inert data card, but any body is eminently replaceable. A new body can be grown for a soul chip, and the soul-chip will then decompress the mind it stores into the body. Humanity as it exists is spread across a large number of interstellar colonies. Colonization is far from easy; it is both extremely expensive and prone to failure, and also a very very slow process. Once a colony has been established, a communications beacon can be established and can import the minds of colonists that can be printed on soul chips and grown new bodies, so it is only the first colonists who have to travel by starship. Stross has clearly put a lot of thought and planning into the economy and technology that supports the spread of humanity through the stars. The explanations of them are very interesting, and I expect they would be even more so to someone whose academic focused centered around economics or space travel. And in particular, the problem of how to deal with interstellar economics without dodging around the problem of communications limited by lightspeed. There are no ansibles or wormholes or anything like that to work around the problems. It deals with them with the limitations as we understand them now. From my point of view, at least, it all seems very plausible.

Krina Alizond-114 is a historian of accountancy practices on a lengthy academic pilgrimage who learns that her sister Ana has disappeared from where she had been living on the water-world of Shin-Tethys, so Krina sets out to Shin-Tethys to find her. Eager to book the fastest passage possible on short notice, she takes a job doing unskilled labor for a Church of the Fragile. The Church is literally built in the shape of a church building as it would exist on a planetary surface, an ungainly and unfunctional shape for a starcraft to be sure. On the previous journey, a deadly accident killed several members of the crew, and several more deserted upon landing, so the Deacon is looking for help to keep the ship functional until new bodies can be grown for the dead crew members. Krina can tell early on that something fishy is going on with the crew, but soon she has to deal with the inhuman assassin stowaway intent on killing her, as well as on the insurance-underwriting pirates that capture the Church vessel and demand that Krina tell them how to find Ana so that the pirates don’t bankrupt themselves paying for Ana’s life insurance policy.

The worldbuilding of Neptune’s brood is dense. There’s a lot of meat there. Interesting stuff, and he’s taken it all into account with the history and plotting in the book. But it does take some heavy chewing to get through it all. I think that this is a large part of why I didn’t feel that the plot had much tension before about page 70. Up until that point I was considering whether I wanted to keep reading, and I could’ve gone either way, but was interested in the worldbuilding as it was rolling out so decided to keep going. I’m glad that I did because at about page 70 all the tension hits from about three directions at once and is still keeping me interested at page 140. So, if you’re like me and you really want some action, some plot to keep you going, just stick through the beginning stretch and there’s plenty of action after that to get you going. Just stick with it. It’s worth it.

Beyond that, I haven’t made it far enough in the book to say I’d recommend it for sure, but between the very interesting and complex worldbuilding and the action and plot that are now in full swing, I’m sure that enough of my interest has been captured that I will read to the end of the book. I think the odds are pretty good I’ll recommend the book as a whole–it’s a rare book that loses me once I’m halfway through, mostly just if the ending is so terrible that it ruins what came before it in retrospect. Once I finish the book (probably in a few weeks), I’ll report back on what I thought of the rest of it.

 

My Hugo Ballot 2014

The voting deadline for the Hugo Awards is tomorrow, July 31st, and I’ve read as much of the Hugo content as I’m going to have time for. So, the time has come for me to cast my ballot and put awards aside until next year. As I’ve done the last couple years, I’ve publicly shared what my ballot is going to look like, as kind of a final section of my Hugo review that is kind of an overarching look at what I thought of the categories. I didn’t read work in all the categories, so I’ve abstained from voting in those that I had no familiarity with and left them off the ballot.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the voting system works, it used an instant runoff scheme which allows you to rank all of your choices. First, they count everyone’s first choice. If no one gets more than half the votes, then the lowest ranked one in that scheme is eliminated, and anyone who chose that one as their first choice then has their 2nd choice tallied instead. And so on until there is a clear winner. It is possible to vote for “No Award” which you do if you would rather no one win at all than for the remaining ones to win, and in the end if too many ranked No Award above the eventual vote-winner, then no award is given.

 

Best Novel

  1. The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books / Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  2. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  3. Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK) (will post review on July 30)
  4. Parasite, Mira Grant (Orbit US/Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  5. No Award

I also reviewed Larry Correia’s Warbound here but ranked it below No Award. I didn’t get a copy of Neptune’s Brood until quite late in the game. I won’t finish it before the deadline but I’ve read far enough to get an overall impression to rank it here. I originally planned to post this ballot on July 30, but decided to post my partial review of Neptune’s Brood on that day to give me a couple more days of reading.

 

Best Novella

  1. “Equoid”, Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
  2. “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
  3. No Award

I reviewed this year’s Novella category here for more details.

 

Best Novelette

  1. “The Waiting Stars”, Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
  2. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
  3. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013)
  4. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Short Story

  1. “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
  2. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Related Work

  1. “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)

 

Best Graphic Story

  1. The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
  2. Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  3. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Iron Man 3, screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  2. Gravity, written by Alfonso CuarÃ’ n & JonÃ’ s CuarÃ’ n, directed by Alfonso CuarÃ’ n (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
  4. Frozen,screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  5. Pacific Rim, screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  2. No Award

Game of Thrones is awesome, and that was one of the best episodes in the series so far. I haven’t seen the rest of the category, but I am tired of episodes of Dr. Who dominating the ballot. There ARE other worthwhile things being published in SF, people. I’d rather Dr. Who would not be on the ballot or win anymore, so I’m voting accordingly. I haven’t seen Orphan Black, don’t know anything about it–so I don’t want to vote for it with no knowledge, but to vote No Award above Dr. Who episodes there’s nothing to do but lump Orphan Black in with them.

 

Best Editor, Short Form

  1. John Joseph Adams
  2. Neil Clarke
  3. Sheila Williams

 

Best Professional Artist

  1. Dan Dos Santos
  2. Julie Dillon
  3. John Picacio
  4. John Harris
  5. Galen Dara

I based these entirely on the portfolio included in the Hugo packet. Though I do have a soft spot for Dos Santos–I have an autographed print of his portrait of Moiraine Damodred hanging in my office at home. They’re all good but I tend to like the styles that make the people seem very real, and convince me that everything unrealistic is just as real.

 

Best Semiprozine

  1. Lightspeed Magazine
  2. Beneath Ceaseless Skies

 

Best Fanzine

  1. Dribble of Ink

 

Best Fancast

  1. No Award

It’s not that I hate the nominees. It’s just that, with all the amazing fiction podcasts out there, I find it extremely disappointing that only nonfiction podcasts are on the ballot, and that the only fiction podcast that’s ever been on the ballot had to heavily pander to get there. If fiction podcasts aren’t going to be recognized in this category, then I hope this trial category is short-lived.

 

Best Fan Writer

  1. Kameron Hurley

 

Best Fan Artist

  1. Sarah Webb

I based these entirely on the portfolio included in the Hugo packet, which only included work from three of the five nominees for some reason.

 

Summer 2014 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

July means the start of the summer anime season, so I’m taking a look at most of the new shows that have caught my interest. Typically I watch 2-3 series as they air so I don’t intend to finish all of these, and I’m still watching last season’s M3: the dark metal, leaving less room for newcomers.

Aldnoah.Zero

aldnoah.zeroWhy I Watched It: Someone favorably compared it to Crest of the Stars, one of the most underrated anime space operas ever, and I really wanted to watch something with a strong sf bent.

What I Thought: Definitely one of the most interesting premises this season! In an alternate timeline, the Apollo 17 mission discovered a Hyper Gate to Mars on the moon, and humanity’s mucking around there resulted in the Martian Vers civilization (which is human) revealing itself. By the time the year 2014 rolls around, there is a tentative peace between the two sides, but that is broken in short order when a terrorist act on Earth provokes the technologically superior Vers into attacking. Pleasantly enough, it looks like there might be a subplot involving one of the older (read: non-teenage) characters and a Terran/Martian conflict that happened in 1999. Aldnoah.Zero is the only series this season that had me at the edge of my seat as the first episode closed.

Verdict: I will be watching it. It looks like there will be heroes and villains on both sides of the conflict and I’m particularly drawn to the character Slaine, who seems to be a Terran living and working among the Vers. For people who love worldbuilding, there is a ton of backstory in this first episode, and it never feels like a giant info dump.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll, Daisuki, and Hulu.

Blue Spring Ride

bluespringrideWhy I Watched It: The preview clips tapped into my memories of middle school and high school. A girl has a crush on a boy in middle school who moves away and then returns in high school, but they can’t pick up where they left off.

What I Thought: Oddly enough, the more fanciful part of Futaba Yoshioka’s life is the one I relate to, with the crush moving away and coming back again. But I suspect the number of people who can claim similar experiences is relatively low. For everyone else, this is a story about the girl who was super popular with boys in middle school, hated it because it alienated her from all the girls, and entered high school determined to look like an unwomanly slouch so guys would stop hitting on her and she could have female friends. Futuba largely succeeds, though it’s also clear that she is not being herself, so much as exhibiting these behaviors just to ward off guys. The friends she gains too†yeesh†she could do better. When Futaba is accused of stealing from the school store, her friends don’t even take her side. Her love interest, Kou Mabuchi, seems like a decent enough romantic lead. Futaba thinks he’s being a bit of a jerk, but I think it’s more that he’s trying not to jump into a relationship based on memories in middle school.

Verdict: I will probably be watching it. (It’s actually a toss up between this and the next show on the list.) Being based on a romance manga it’s expected the two main characters will eventually get back together again, making it a predictable watch, but I found this to be one of the more moving romances.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Nobunaga Concerto

nobunagaconcertoWhy I Watched It: Holey moley! I thought this would get passed by all the western simulcasts due to its non-standard art style and focus on Japanese history, but I’ve been proven wrong. I was interested because the premise is that a modern day high school student goes back in time and becomes Nobunaga Oda, the famous warlord who starts the campaign to unite Japan, and the art style is clearly period influenced.

What I Thought: Better than I thought! The show does require some suspension of disbelief, mostly in two forms: 1) No one suspects that Nobunaga’s recent strange behavior is due to the fact they’re looking at an imposter that physically resembles him and 2) Saburo accepts everything that’s happened to him real fast (being stuck in the Sengoku era, taking Nobunaga’s place in history, etc). The fun part though is that Saburo still intends to do things his way while making sure that history stays the course. I’m a little concerned that the real Nobunaga ditches his life and responsibilities so easily though. Is he ever going to come back on the show?

Verdict: I really want to say I’ll be watching, but I can’t guarantee I’ll have the bandwidth. I will probably end up dropping this or Blue Spring Ride depending on how later episodes pan out.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Persona 4: the Golden Animation

persona4goldenWhy I Watched It: Revisiting Persona 4 is like seeing an old friend. It’s impossible not to feel nostalgia for what had been wonderful times, yet I can’t help wondering if things will be the same again. Persona 4: the Animation aired just a scant three years ago and is still one of my favorite series. Can they really make it any better?

What I Thought: The show is clearly geared towards people already familiar with Persona 4 as the opening showcases all the main characters (and surprisingly a lot of the minor ones!) as they start the school year. The first third of the episode is beautiful. Those credits, that music! It’s exactly what Persona should be. Then the rest of the episode gets awkward fast, probably because it’s trying not to redo the series from three years ago, but certain scenes have to happen. A lot of information necessary to non-fans is skipped, and the key fight scene in the first episode seemed like it was trying painfully hard to one-up its predecessor, with the end result backfiring and pushing my suspension of disbelief.

Verdict: Since Persona 4: the Golden Animation is based off of Persona 4: The Golden the game (the extended cut of Persona 4 containing new events, new subplots, and a new character) I might come back to it as some point as watching an anime series is faster than playing an RPG, but I’m sad to say this is going on the backburner. The first Persona 4 anime series is still excellent and would serve as a better introduction for people who haven’t played the game.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll, Daisuki, and Hulu.

Sailor Moon Crystal

sailormooncrystalWhy I Watched It: Any anime fan over a certain age will remember the debut of the original Sailor Moon on North American TV back in 1995. It had a lot of filler since the manga ran concurrent to the TV show, and for American audiences there was a boatload of editing and censorship. Sailor Moon Crystal is a fresh adaptation of the original manga (presumably with no filler) and will not be edited for American audiences this time.

What I Thought: I’m not sure the new art style really works for me, even though it’s closer to the original manga. It’s been a long time since I watched the original series, and I was never the biggest fan, but the update has a pretty fine first episode. Usagi has always been a reluctant heroine, and that hasn’t changed. She’s still a terrible student, a clutz, and goof-off, but will run to help a friend no matter what. Even though the plot of the first episode is familiar, it feels like we’re moving at a faster pace this time around (not a bad thing), and I like that snapshots of her previous life are introduced earlier. I have to admit that parts of the opening credits made the little girl in me squee and I like the new feminist lyrics to the opening song where they declare they don’t need to rely on men to help them.

Verdict: I probably will not watch this on simulcast since I’m already familiar with the show, but I’m pretty sure I’ll catch up with it another time since I would like to see a more faithful adaptation than what we got in the 90s.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll and Hulu

Sword Art Online II

swordartonline2Why I Watched It: The first half of the first Sword Art Online series was gamer anime heaven for anyone who has ever played an MMORPG. The second half†not so much and is best skipped and erased from existence. But the first half was so good that I’m willing to give the second series a chance.

What I Thought: It feels a little forced, trying to find a reason for Kirito to keep logging into new games when he should be among the last people who would ever want to play an MMO again, but the opening was still better than I thought it would be. The mystery is intriguing. Someone is assassinating top players in the virtual reality game Gun Gale Online and when they die online, their hearts stop in the real world, which should not be possible, and there is no brain damage done (people were killed through their VR helmets in the first SAO). It doesn’t quite make sense that the government would ask a teenager to log in for the investigation, but they do and Kirito reluctantly agrees.

Verdict: I’m fence-sitting on this one. It has promise, but I’m really concerned the writing will drop off as it did in the second story arc and I’m afraid that Asuna, the best female character of the first series, is going to be sidelined as the sit-and-watch girlfriend. The opening episode is just good when I needed it to be excellent.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll and Daisuki

Terror in Resonance

terrorinresonanceWhy I Watched It: Good pre-release buzz about a series involving two high school terrorists with a plan to bring Japan to its knees. Obvious question is: Why?

What I Thought: I suspect this will probably be a fairly popular show, the animation is good and the premise unusual, but it’s just not my cup of tea. While I don’t find the conceit behind high school aged terrorists unbelievable, there are a couple of things that happen towards the end of the first episode that stretch my believability (and being a dramatic work set in the real world, it really needs that believability). I also dislike that bullied girl Lisa is essentially blackmailed into becoming an accomplice to her mysterious new terrorist classmates. There’s some backstory behind the two boys escaping an institution of some kind and it was a rough time for them, but the show makes it pretty clear that they are not good people.

Verdict: This is one of those shows that I might come back to later after it’s been fully released and I hear more about it. Right now I can’t relate to any of the characters except Lisa, and I’m not sure I want to relate to anyone else.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

Tokyo Ghoul

tokyoghoulWhy I Watched It: I like stories where good characters have to grapple with terrible choices, and it doesn’t get much more awful than suddenly discovering that you’ve turned into a ghoul with cannibalistic urges to eat other humans.

What I Thought: It’s not quite as gory as I feared it might be, which is a relief. You might know that’s a half-chewed dead body in the darkness, but the show doesn’t come out and show it. What I’m surprised about is that ghouls are public knowledge in this world so people are aware of them and there seems to be a limited sort of understanding between regular humans and them. Unlike getting turned in a vampire and hungering for blood, getting turned into a ghoul and hungering for flesh is not sexy, and Tokyo Ghoul takes pains to show main character Kaneki trying to deal with his new condition when he’s both completely ignorant of how ghoul society works, and is repulsed by the thought of eating human flesh.

Verdict: I will be watching it. But it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s a dark show and I’m pretty sure that Kaneki will end up sliding down the slippery slope sooner or later. Eating humans does not appear to be optional for ghouls. Human food causes him to throw up.

Where to find stream: Funimation and Hulu

 

 

laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in venues such as Galaxy’s Edge, Crossed Genres, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

 

 

Anime Review: One Week Friends

written by Laurie Tom

oneweekfriendsOne Week Friends started off as my one must-watch show of the spring season, despite having only the barest of speculative elements (in that Kaori’s malady is not a real world condition). Though the rest of the series never again hits the high of the first episode, it remains an enjoyable watch throughout.

The premise is that one day while running an errand for a teacher, high schooler Yuuki Hase comes to realize that solitary classmate Kaori Fujimiya is not the ice queen he thought she was, so he offers to become friends with her. She oddly refuses.

At first Yuuki thinks it’s because her parents are strict and she’s not allowed to have friends, but throughout the coming week he manages to eat lunch with her everyday (as an acquaintance, not a friend) and gets to know her. It feels very natural and adorable watching the two of them, as Yuuki is obviously attracted to her and she keeps insisting they’re not really friends.

Finally, she admits that she has a strange condition where she forgets the people she cares about every Monday (barring family) and all the memories associated with them. She refuses to have friends because it’s very inconvenient for others to discover they’re strangers to her with the start of every week, and she is certain she will forget Yuuki because they’re been eating lunch together all week and she has enjoyed her time with him.

Yuuki finds this difficult to believe until the following Monday when Kaori gives him a hostile look in class when he greets her. But undeterred, Yuuki resolves to tell her at the start of every week that he wants to be her friend.

In the second episode, Yuuki manages to convince Kaori that they had become friends, and when she thinks about it, she realizes she had no memory of what she had done during lunch for the past week, so Yuuki must be telling the truth. Happy to have someone who is okay with her condition, the two of them form a plan where she writes a diary of events important to her so she can remember what her mind forgets, and Kaori hangs a sign on her bedroom door to remind herself every Monday morning to read her diary before going to school.

Each episode covers a few days in a given week, and explores the nature of friendship as Kaori comes out of her shell and realizes that she really does want friends, and Yuuki has to realize that just because she’s friends with him doesn’t mean he’s the only person she wants to be friends with. Yuuki does have jealous streaks, where he’s clearly unhappy that she’s spending time with other people, but even though he’s flawed and borderline possessive, he ultimately cares about Kaori and tries to do what’s best for her.

The supporting cast is good fun as well. Shogo, Yuuki’s blunt talking best friend, can steal the show with his pragmatic advice (that the audience is probably thinking as well) and Saki is such a naturally forgetful person that she’s completely accepting of Kaori’s unusual way of forgetting.

Probably the only thing I didn’t like too much was the extra bit of drama in the last few episodes when a new character is introduced from Kaori’s past. Though her condition is strange, I find I didn’t really need to know what the root of it all was, though the drama does allow for the formation of something closer to a series ending than if the show had simply made another episode.

The last episode is still a source of good feels regardless of the drama leading up to it and I like the small change to their weekly ritual of becoming friends again.

I’d recommend One Week Friends to anyone who doesn’t mind a heartwarming slice-of-life show. There’s no action to be found, but it’s a good series to curl up with.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: adorable main characters, friendships evolve naturally, interesting premise

Minuses: sometimes feels a little slow in the middle, ending drama feels forced

One Week Friends is currently streaming at Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. Sentai Filmworks has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

 

laurietom

 

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in venues such as Galaxy’s Edge, Crossed Genres, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.