Monday, January 18, 2016

Mini-Review: MM9 by Hiroshi Yamamoto

Last November I visited Asia for the first time, specifically Japan. From the moment that I learned I would be going to Japan, I began to look more and more forward to it. One of the things I wanted to do in preparation was read a couple of SFF books from Japan. Not just the big stuff by the likes of Murakami but something that was maybe a bit more authentic, and even pulp-ish. So I turned to the specialty publishing house of Haikasoru and browsed their catalog for interesting sounding books. Of course I found many, but had to limit to a couple of choices.

One of those choices was MM9 (Monster Magnitude 9) by Hiroshi Yamamoto. I chose it because it’s more or less contemporary, plus obviously from the same lineage as Godzilla and just sounded fun. MM9 tells a series of related stories (think pulp fiction here) of a special unit called the Meteorological Agency Monsterological Measures Department (MMD) as they protect Japan from the growing threat of natural disasters in the form of giant monsters, or kaiju. Of course there’s a grand conspiracy at foot.

As I said above, this is pulp fiction – it feels as if it were a series of episodic short stories that were brought together. It also feels snarky – this may be a translation issue, but I really think that these stories don’t take themselves entirely seriously. It’s especially interesting (or funny) how so much emphasis is given to ‘rating’ the size of the monsters and then gifting them with a name (nice and corny – names like ‘Princess’, ‘Megadrake’, and ‘Seacloud’). And it really does fascinate me to wonder if it’s something lost in translation, that the book is truly snarky, or if like the first, this is an aspect of Japanese pop culture that just feels snarky to us in the USA.

MM9 has all of the campy fun of good pulp fiction and it provided exactly what I was looking for. Something a bit different than I usually read as well as a different sort of perspective of Japan in advance of my trip. And yes, it did give me some interesting perspective that I wasn’t going to find in the Lonely Planet guides. Specifically some ideas on the general economic malaise of a country that has been in one recession or another for almost 20 years, and a bit of hint on just how much the pop culture in Japan leans in its unique direction (in addition to the snarky fascination I mention above). I will not even try to describe that uniqueness of the pop culture in Japan beyond an image I saw on my first evening – a man of around 40 dressed in his every day suit (much nicer than the one I own), reading a graphic novel on a bullet train while eating a quick meal and drinking a beer, with a very loud, cartoonish advertisement on the wall above him.

Anyway, MM9 was a fun book to read and just what I wanted. I certainly recommend the books of Haikasoruas a source of some great Japanese SFF.

MM9 by Hiroshi Yamamoto: Amazon

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mini-Review: Staked by Kevin Hearne

In a time where if you look at the posts on this blog you are just as likely to find a post explaining why I’m not posting very much because of all the @$%# life throws at me as to find an actual review or other genre-related post, it’s not all that surprising that I am reading a lot books that are simple fun. Call it escapism or whatever. But one of the most important criteria for me to choose a book is just how fun it will be. I’m certainly not looking for something that will reflect life too much (like when I bounced off Last First Snow).

Anyway, one series that I love to come back to for some nice, simple fun is The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. Staked is the eighth book in this series and by far the best yet. The star of the show, Atticus, has always been the driver of the series, but Hearne has been building the scope and leaning more heavily on other characters. Most notable is Atticus’ partner, Granuaile, who has been a growing presence in the books. In Staked, it feels like Hearne finally gets her voice ‘right’ and believable (rather than cringe-worthy as the early points of view were). Granuaile has been largely on her own and independent from Atticus for 2 books now, and I think that was what was really needed to bring her into her own.

Atticus’ arch-druid, Owen is also a growing and welcome presence. While not (yet?) nearly as strong as a character as Granuaile, he is an interesting foil and fun addition to the books. Plus, it looks like he’s putting roots down in my hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona, so we’ll hopefully get to see more of the area as time goes on*.

So, the fun continues. Consequences from earlier actions come due. Gods die. Vampires are staked. Action-packed, nerdy wish-fulfillment complete!

I know that Hearne is growing his career and expanding into other areas of writing (Star Wars, epic fantasy, etc.), but I’m so glad that he’s primed this series to continue and I’m hoping that we get at least 8 more!

The Iron Druid Chronicles

Hounded: My review, Amazon
Hexed: My review, Amazon
Hammered: My review, Amazon
Tricked: My review, Amazon
Trapped: My review, Amazon
Hunted: My review, Amazon
Shattered: My review, Amazon
Staked: Amazon

*Kevin, if you’re reading this, there’s a nice new independent bookstore in Flagstaff –Barefoot Cowgirl Books. I’m sure they’d love to have you for a signing!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Mini-Review: Zero World by Jason M. Hough

Some background information that you probably won’t care about:

A small sample of those hundreds 
(thousands?) of books waiting to be 
I’ve seen a fair bit of buzz around the books of Jason M. Hough, particularly his first trilogy (The Dire Earth Cycle) which is a form of military science fiction that I’ve just never found myself in the mood for, even though I have full trilogy collecting dust on a bookcase. Anyway, I had that privilege to meet Jason when he visited Arizona last year and converse over a beer or two (I’m still rather unhappy that I had forgotten his books to get them signed). So, I will be completely honest, I read his book because we had beers together – yes, I had copies of his books and yes, they seemed like fun books to read. But the distinguishing feature that made me read his book over the hundreds of others I have lying around my office was that I met him in person and enjoyed our conversations. And it didn’t hurt that in an earlier conversation that I had with Brian Staveley, Brian had very positive things to say about Zero World. Yes, book tours matter. Yes, there are sometimes ‘perks’ to being a blogger. And yes, I hope to meet Jason again, converse over more drinks, and hopefully I’ll remember to bring books for him to sign.

The (mini) review:

Zero World intrigued me initially because it sounded like a fun and interesting take on a spy thriller in a near-future science fiction world. Basically, and Asian James Bond in the future. And initially, that is exactly what Zero World is – a fun and interesting take on the spy thriller where our spy/assassin has his memory wiped after every mission. There are some interesting bits about the whole memory reset process, the moral ambiguity that comes from being a successful assassin with no memory of his actions, and of course just who is the ‘god’ voice in this assassin’s head and what are their motivations. This, and our assassin gets a physical boost in speed, strength, and healing through some nice chemical enhancements.

But, even though all of that is more than enough for its own story, it gets bigger. Before long, this near-future SF book becomes ‘portal’ SF to a parallel world, with things ending up in a near Space Opera scope, though we still see it all through our Bond-like assassin. Then we begin to see things through the eyes of another spy from the parallel world. With the broadening of the scope comes a broadening of exploration – our assassin questions his morals, his goals, his purpose. In parallel we learn to question the motivations of others, particularly those in power. The further up the proverbial tower of power, the worse things seem to be. In this respect, Zero World is a fresh take on old ideas.

But, don’t let me get too deep here, because I run the risk of skipping over the true strengths of this book. It’s the pacing – a lot of things happen fast. This is about 3 books in 1, and it works. Zero World keeps the adrenaline flowing, the mind begging to know what comes next, and it won’t let you go to sleep. This is entertainment. This is fun. And I can’t wait to see what comes next.

So, as usual, no plot summary here. And as is (sadly) becoming more and more common with my reviews, it’s rather short and doesn’t dig in as I like to do. But, in the end it doesn’t matter. In the end, a review is an opinion, and in my opinion, Zero World is great book written by a great guy.

Zero World (Amazon)

The Dire Earth Cycle

The Darwin Elevator (Amazon)
The Exodus Towers (Amazon)
The Plague Force (Amazon)

Monday, January 04, 2016

Checking In!

So, this is the periodic post to say that I'm not dead yet. This blog is still active and I do have a lot reviews that are forthcoming. Anyway, it's just been a bit of extra busy at home and work with many fall birthdays, holidays and stuff like having a son on a club soccer team (multiple practices every week, weekend trips for games, etc.). Plus, because we weren't busy enough, this little guy joined the family about 2 weeks ago.

So, still crazy busy. Will be for a while to come. But look for new content in January.  And hopefully something to celebrate 10 years of blogging in February. 


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