Tag Archives: Darwin Garrison

New Titles

It’s been awhile, and I apologize. But it seems like everyone here has been felled by the crud that won’t leave, family emergencies and Murphy. You know Murphy. He shows up when you least have time to deal with him and stays much too long. Any way, we’ve kicked Murphy out and are now back to the grindstone. To get things underway for 2012, we’re pleased to offer six new titles.

Boys

by Dave Freer
($0.99)

When she was “convinced” to buy the new Mark 7583 robo kitchen diner-bar and barbeque unit module, she had no idea it would rouse the jealousy of her antique Harry’s Bar unit. How could she? Robotics weren’t supposed to have emotions, no matter how realistic and devoted they seemed. Now she has to figure out how to escape the perfect prison her Harry’s Bar has created for her, all in the name of love.

 

Cry Unto Heaven
by Darwin A. Garrison
($0.99)

Her cry for help summoned him. Now he fights to save her and others like her from his own kind. Is he one of the fallen or is he much more?

 

Nocturnal Serenade
by Amanda S. Green
($4.99)

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

 

Quick Change Artist
by C. S. Laurel
($0.99)

In this short story, Professor William Yates’ gets more than he bargains for when he wakes up with a snake tattoo, a pierced tongue and an even bigger surprise. It turns out a serial rapist who answers his description EXCEPT for having those, has kidnapped him and made him match. Bill and Brian interview “ink artists” and various one night stands to find him.

 

Quicksand
by C. S. Laurel
($4.99)

When a dying man rings his doorbell, secrets from Professor William Yates’ past rise up, which threaten his relationship with Brian Quick, his reputation and his life. Caught in the quicksand of his past, he has to solve the murder to get free.

This is the second book in the Quick Mysteries series. You can find B. Quick, the first book in the series, here.

 

The Poet Gnawreate and the Taxman
by Dave Freer
($0.99)

There are some things even more terrifying than a visit from the taxman. When the taxman runs afoul of a witch who really wants to be a successful poet – and who is willing to do anything to attain success – the taxman finds himself in serious need of a dentist. Of course, finding a dentist willing to do an extraction from the pages of a possessed book might prove more than a bit difficult.

2 Comments

Filed under announcement

New Titles Now Available

 

I love it when things work quicker than I planned.  We have three new short stories available today on Amazon and soon to be available from Barnes & Noble as well as our own webstore.  I’ll be honest, we figured it would take the other outlets until tomorrow to take the stories live, so they weren’t going up at Naked Reader until tomorrow…well, that’s changing and as soon as the tech guy has his coffee, he’ll be putting them up later this morning.  Any way, enough rambling.  Here are the new short stories and a list of other titles to expect in the next week.

Be Careful What You Wish For

by Amanda S. Green

($0.99)

All she’d ever wanted was to get out of the dead end town she’d lived in all her life. Well, that and find a job that wasn’t as much of a dead end as the town. Perhaps even find someone to share her life with. Then Alexander Reed walked back into her life just as suddenly as he’d walked out years before. There’d been a time when she’d have done almost anything to be with him. Now he offered her the chance to do exactly what she’d been wishing all her life. But at what cost?

The Blood Like Wine

by Sarah A. Hoyt

($0.99)

In the French revolution rivers of blood flowed. From the blood evil arose. Ancient evil engulfed Sylvie. Now in a twentieth century of fast cars and faster living, she must try to expiate evil and recapture her lost love.

Night Shifted

by Kate Paulk

($0.99)

The unexpected is commonplace when you work the night shift at the local convenience store. But even that doesn’t prepare you for the Buffy-wanna be who walks through the door and all the trouble she brings with her.

Coming later this next week are several more wonderful titles:

Cat’s Paw

by Robert A. Hoyt

Described as “Watership Down meets the Terminator” and the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — on acid”, this is by no means a children’s book.  Written by Robert when he was just 13 (and even then more mature than I’ll ever be), Cat’s Paw is one of those books you’ll laugh at even as you’re scratching your head and going back to see if you really did read what you think you just did.  You can find a snippet from it here.

For Conspicuous Valor

by Darwin Garrison

For Conspicuous Valor is a wonderful science fiction short story by Darwin.  He gives us a believable main character who would rather be doing anything but playing with her younger sister.  Until, that is, her daydreaming results in danger for her baby brother and a well-deserved dressing down by her uncle.  In an attempt to prove herself, she sneaks out the next morning, only to find herself hip-deep in trouble she’d never expected and having to find a way out to save not only herself but her family as well.  Whether she has the strength and determination to do it is a question she has to answer — and she’s not sure she can.

Absence of Light

by Sarah A. Hoyt

In this short story, Sarah takes us to a time when space travel has many of the same sort of tales that sea travel did several centuries ago.  So these monsters really exist or are they just the figments of overly active imaginations?  The crew and passengers of the the Amadryad will all too soon learn the answer to what happened to those who’d traveled on the the Tenebras, the first colony ship to Tau Centauri as well as learning if the drifters are real or nothing more than tales meant to frighten people so they don’t look too closely at what is really happening.

Check back next week for more news about our upcoming titles, including ConVent by Kate Paulk, a series of short stories by Dave Freer and much, much more.

Leave a comment

Filed under announcement, schedule

An update and a few thoughts

The good news first.  Our new storefront is up and functioning wonderfully.  Everyone at NRP has worked hard to make the change-over and to make sure all our customers still have access to the books and short stories they purchased through the old storefront.  If you haven’t received and e-mail from us saying either a new account has been created or giving you a coupon code for downloads, please let us know at info-at-nakedreader-dot-com (you know what to do to make it into a real email addy).

The second bit of good news is that we have three new titles up and more on the way.  Firefight by Thomas A. Easton is a digital reprint of the novel, the first time it has been available as an e-book.  Part techno-thriller and part sci-fi, it’s a fun and thought-provoking tale of what can happen if those who are worried about what humans are doing to our planet go too far.

Family Obligations by Stephen Simmons takes us on a quest for vengeance that isn’t quite what it seems.  Bump in the Night is a digital reprint of a short story I wrote that appeared in the anthology Better Off Undead. These titles are now available through our storefront and will soon be available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other e-stores.

As I said, we have other titles coming out this month as well.  Included is Quicksand by C. S. Laurel, the second book in the Quick Mysteries series.  The first book, B. Quick, is currently free not only on our site, but also on Amazon, iTunes and most other major outlets.  Other titles will include, among others, Cat’s Paw by Robert A. Hoyt and For Conspicuous Valor by Darwin A. Garrison.  So keep checking back for announcements about these titles and others.

Now for those few thoughts I threatened — er, promised.  Not too long ago I blogged about the need for authors to follow submission guidelines when sending something to anyone, be that person an agent or a publisher.  I know we’ve all heard the horror stories about some of the “interesting” submissions editors and agents received when all submissions had to be mailed in.  Back then, it wasn’t all that uncommon for submissions to come in brightly colored envelopes with things like “attacked by aliens”, “dictated by my dead grandmother” written on them.  The pages themselves might be bright pink if the submission was a romance novel or blood red, even black, if horror.  Fonts, omg, fonts were in all different shapes and sizes.  Glitter might fall out of the envelope as the editor pulled out the perfumed pages.  Is it any wonder most publishers and agents have gone to electronic submissions?

Yes, it is environmentally better to go the electronic route.  It’s also easier and cheaper for all involved.  But — and this is a big BUT — that doesn’t mean guidelines are only to be looked at and then the author gets to decide if he is going to follow them.

Look, guidelines are there for a reason.  They are to make it as easy as possible for the agent or editor to read the story.  You want them to focus on content, not on format.  That won’t happen if you submit your novel or short story in something that isn’t what they ask for.  Their first impression is not going to be a good one.  I promise you, the first thought they’ll have isn’t “Wow, what a great idea!”  It’s going to be, “Well, here’s another one who couldn’t be bothered to read the guidelines.”  Is that the way you want to start out what you hope will be a profitable relationship for all involved?

A couple of commenters on the original post pointed out that they don’t write in standard manuscript format.  They change it after they finish and are ready to submit.  I have absolutely no problem with that because, depending on what machine I’m using at the time — I write on a laptop, a desktop, a netbook and a tablet depending on the when and where I’m writing — neither do I.  But, like those commenters, I make sure I have the piece formatted in the way requested by the publisher before sending it off.

Someone else made the point that we, as agents and editors, ought to be glad when we get a submission by an author who uses different formats because it means they are more apt to find mistakes before sending it off and, by inference, that we’d see more mistakes upon first reading.  Yep, you guessed it, my head sort of exploded then.  The first time an editor or agent reads a submission, it isn’t to see how many mistakes are present.  We aren’t editing then.  We are interested solely in determining if the submission is something we want to represent or publish.  Nothing more and nothing less.  When we see a submission where it is obvious the author didn’t try to meet our guidelines, we have to ask if this is an author we want to work with.  If they can’t be concerned to do as we ask before we have a working relationship, does this bode well for what will happen after there is such a relationship?  Will it be worth the potential headaches?

So, do yourself a favor.  Read the guidelines.  Do your best to follow them.  Believe it or not, there are some agents and editors — not us — who use software that will toss out your submissions if you don’t follow those guidelines.  That includes making sure you include the appropriate information in the subject line of your email and the information you include in the body of the email.  Don’t start off with one or two strikes against you before the editor has read the first page of your submission.

 

2 Comments

Filed under announcement, Musings

The Prescience and Divergence of Disaster Manga

So, here we are, closing in on two months since the earthquake and tsunamis caused so much damage and chaos in Japan.  Honestly, it has taken me this long to shake off the dread and discomfort of what happened enough to comment on the topic of today’s Animanga Viewpoint.

The reality is, no matter how horrific the quakes, tsunami, and aftershocks were, the Japanese knew they were coming.  Japan is a first world nation and proud inhabitant of one of the most active seismic and volcanic zones on the planet.  They have had cities wiped out before because of these things and they know they will again.  Hell, they even lived through Curtis LeMay’s policy of firebombing cities from low altitude at night, let alone having two cities nuked.

The Japanese know disasters happen, both natural and man-made.

Knowing doesn’t make it any easier to actually live through, though, especially after a generation or two.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s manga discussion.  You see, disasters – man-made, natural, or alien-induced – are one of the more fundamental backdrops used by manga and anime creators in their world building.  I want to share an overview of three currently running manga, each of which has an eerie tie-in in form if not fact to the recent Japanese calamity.  These manga are: Kanojo wo Mamoru 51 no Houhou (51 Ways to Protect your Girlfriend),  The Meteor, and Coppelion.

All of these manga are not yet available via US distributors.  They can, however, be accessed at mangareader.net and other online readers.

We’ll start with Kanojo wo Mamoru 51 no Houhou by Furuya Usamaru.  The main characters are Mishima Jin, a young man seeking his first job with a Tokyo TV station and Okano Nanako, a young woman from Jin’s past who happens to be in the same area of Tokyo Odaiba when Jin arrives for his interview.  There are a host of other characters, as well, but I’ll just mention Jin and Nanako (who is referred to by her last name, Okano, in the manga).

So, the basic set-up is that fate has brought these two together again after some rather scarring incidents happened during their high school years.  They briefly meet in the street but the changes that have occurred in the intervening years immediately present a wall that Jin can’t cross even to just talk to Okano.

Time slips by, Jin finishes his interview, but on the way out of Odaiba, he runs across Okano being bullied by other groupies of the rock group she follows.  He chases off the abusers and then finally gets a chance to glimpse into the weird world that Okano has fallen into after the trauma she endured in high school.  One thing leads to another and Okano ends up stalking off in a huff.  After a moment’s reflection, Jin runs off to find her.

He catches up to her in the middle of a bridge, lost in praying to her made up rock-n-roll gods.  His memories and regrets catch up to him and he tries to apologize for not defending her in the past, but that’s when it happens.

Tokyo gets hit dead center by a major (8.0 or higher) earthquake.

This is where the story really begins.  Now, understand that Jin and Okano’s reunion is a backdrop, the empathy-building background we need to care about whether or not our viewpoint characters survive.  However, what Kanojo 51 is really about is showing a plausible extrapolation of what could happen to Tokyo and the people living there if the city were out and out smacked by the god-hammer.

The author has obviously done his research.  Liquifaction, structural distortion, fires, disruptions of key services, all the factors that go into what makes a disaster like an earthquake in a major city so horrible are all there.

Then he goes after the societal break down.  Once people start to realize that the strictures of society are gone, the abuses start.  Theft, murder, and especially rape start to run rampant.  I think, frankly, that the author focuses too much on rape.  In fact, my impression is that the author honestly has little to no belief in the ability of human beings to attempt to do much good for each other and it comes out in the story.

Then again, he’s not exactly alone.

The Meteor, by Hayashi Fumino, is another cataclysmic disaster manga, this time set in an undesignated city in the mountains of Japan.  This story is different from Kanojo 51 in that the cast of characters is better defined at the beginning.  The titular main character is Kawana Tomoko, a girl currently being ostracized within her school due to a relationship she had with a  teacher.  She does her best to ignore the rumors and jibes directed at her, but just as her temper grows short and she turns to snap at her tormentors, something massive falls out of the sky and smashes their city.

The structure of The Meteor is one of a mixture of personal back stories mixed with current events in the plot line.  Each character has a tale to tale preceding the event and their stories move forward within the framework of the disaster that the whole group must overcome.  The result is a noir adventure story with every viewpoint character’s trials and tribulations preceding the disaster greatly influencing their actions during the crisis.

The Meteor also features extrapolations of the difficulties inherent in surviving a massive disaster, this time a sizable meteor impact with an added pandemic of unknown origin.  It moves more quickly into the “breakdown of society” meme than Kanojo 51, though, and that’s where the real focus of the story lies.  The technical details that populate Kanojo 51 are more or less absent from The Meteor, but both works share a view that humanity will immediately balkanize and begin turning feral once the cuffs of civilization are off.

Frankly, I haven’t heard those kinds of stories coming out of Japan following the recent tsunami.  Instead, we heard about the problems with the one reactor that caused a great deal of panic and consternation, but we also heard tertiary stories of how people were attempting to work together to deal with the various hardships and emergencies.  Perhaps this is more indicative of the nature of the rural areas that the tsunami hit.  If Tokyo had actually been significantly traumatized, maybe there would have been a massive amount of civil disorder and violence.  Hopefully we’ll never know.

Speaking of the nuclear plant issues, the last manga I’ll mention is Coppelion by Inoue Tomonori.  Coppelion is the story of a group of school girls, Narusae, Aoi, and Taeko as they go on an outing to Tokyo.  (Yes, Tokyo again.)

Now, what’s a bit different here is that nobody generally goes to Tokyo anymore.  This is because 25 years ago, Tokyo was contaminated by a major nuclear disaster and has been flooded with lethal levels of radiation ever since.

The girls in actuality are genetically engineered clones created with a specific body chemistry that allows them to survive in high-radiation environments.  Their “outing” is actually a graduation mission from their training school to locate and rescue “survivors” still populating the area.  (The survivors live in regions of lesser radiation but still have to wear survival suits.)

To be honest, Coppelion’s  prognostications are little more than anti-nuclear scaremongering.  The disaster at the nuke plant in Japan is not anything to laugh at, but it’s not exactly Chernobyl, either, and even Chernobyl isn’t as bad as the nightmare of contamination that Coppelion calls down upon chicken little’s head.  Still, it makes a sufficient backdrop for the story and it’s a far more palatable story than either of the other two manga I mentioned.  In fact, the idea of people helping others to the best of their ability is core to Coppelion.  The girls are there to help and what they find are people who are also working together to get by in increasingly difficult times.  Whereas the first two manga I mentioned expect the worse of people, Coppelion offers up the best (so long as your Japanese, that is.  A negative foreign influence is hinted at recently in none too subtle a tone.)

And I think that a hopeful element is important.  Yes, people can be shallow and selfish and cruel.  They can also be noble and selfless and caring.  Authors present what they expect people to be, whether they intend to or not.  Either that or most authors think that stories of people doing their best in difficult times are boring.  My personal tastes, though, are to root for people facing great difficulties together and overcoming.  Ergo, of these three views of possible disaster in Japan, I prefer Coppelion over Kanojo 51 or The Meteor.

That having been said, all three eerily parallel what has transpired in Japan this year in terms of potential disasters become reality.  Let’s hope the majority of what the posit remains fiction.

–Darwin Garrison

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest blog

Borders, E-Books Sales and More

Before we get started with the weekly “news”, I have to give a shout out to Shiny Book Review and say “thanks” for the wonderful review of the e-arc of Dave Freer’s middle grade/early ya novella, Without a Trace.  You can check out the review here.  The final version of Without a Trace will be available shortly from NRP.

Now to the latest news from the industry front.  We may as well start with Borders.  I have to say, I’m thrilled to see that the bankruptcy judge is not just rolling over and letting Borders do as it wants.  Instead of approving the bonuses Borders wanted to pay its executives, bankruptcy court judge Martin Glenn said the Borders lawyers needed to negotiate with the U. S. Trustee to figure out something different from what had been proposed.  I applaud the judge for remembering the workers in the trenches at Borders, those who have given so much, often for a number of years, with little consideration from upper management of late.  “If this business goes down the toilet bowl, there are a lot of full or part-time employees who face the prospect of going out of work,” Glenn said.

The U. S. Trustee also deserves a pat on the back for realizing that these bonuses are premature at best, especially considering the fact that Borders has yet to show to the court — or its employees — how it will reorganize or pay its creditors.

But that’s not all the news concerning Borders this week.  According to CoStar, Borders has begun filing papers with the bankruptcy court to amend or cancel a number of its leases.  Let’s remember that Borders already has received approval from the bankruptcy court to close 226 stores.  In the last three weeks, it has filed papers seeking approval to cancel another 12 leases.  It is generally accepted that Borders will seek to cancel the leases on approximately 50 stores above and beyond the 226 already slated for closure.  Seems to me like the numbers of store closings continues to increase.  Is it any wonder why the U. S. Trustee and the bankruptcy judge felt the proposed payment of millions in bonuses to the execs was premature?

For a list of properties Borders is requesting lease terminations on, check pages 11 – 12 here.

In a follow-up to the announcement by Amazon that it would be closing its Irving, TX distribution center, so far, that hasn’t come to pass.  There are several bills before the Texas legislature that might entice Amazon to stay.  For more information, check out this article from the Austin Statesman.

On the e-book sales front, AAP (Association of American Publishers) has announced the February sales numbers.  At first glance, things don’t look so good.  There was an overall decrease in sales to the tune of 10.6% (a 5% fall for the year to date).  Here is how it breaks down, according to Shelf Awareness.  Note the huge increase in e-book sales.

CATEGORY SALES % CHANGE 
E-books $90.3 million 202.3%
Downloadable audiobooks  $6.9 million  36.7%
Religious books $48.9 million   5.5%
Professional $42.9 million  -3.6%
Univ. press paperback  $3.2 million  -5.5%
Children’s/YA hardcover $32.4 million  -6.1%
Univ. press hardcovers  $3.5 million  -6.5%
Adult paperback $81.2 million -24.6%
Children’s/YA paperback $26.1 million -25.9%
Audiobooks  $5.9 million -33.2%
Adult mass market $29.3 million -41.5%
Higher education $24.9 million -42.9%
Adult hardcover $46.2 million -43%

Finally, don’t forget to check out our two newest titles:  Want by Jay Caselberg and Skipping Stones by Darwin Garrison.

1 Comment

Filed under announcement, schedule

Animanga Viewpoint by Darwin Garrison

Black Lagoon:  Blood, Bullets, Beauties, and Crime on the South Asia Seas

For this week’s installment of Animanga Viewpoint, I’m going to discuss the franchise that causes me a great deal of personal internal conflict: Black Lagoon.

Straight up warnings for the squeamish: Black Lagoon is definitely adults only fare.  The content includes graphic violence, nudity, prostitution, rape, gangland crime, along with an absolute and complete disregard for human life and human decency.  This is primarily because Black Lagoon is a noir story about criminals being, well, criminal.

Thus the beginnings of my internal conflict come into focus.  I am, at heart, a person given very much to trying to take the high road and lead an upright life.  I don’t romanticize crime or criminals and I believe that taking a life is something that should be done when you have no other choice and then only with great regret.  Pretty much every character in Black Lagoon is my figurative nemesis.

And yet, I still read and enjoy each issue.

Okay, allow me to perform my quick, trademark overview.  The story of Black Lagoon centers on the semi-piratical crew of the Black Lagoon, a World War II PT-boat whose primary utilization is for various kinds of smuggling based out of the fictional outlaw city of Roanapur, Thailand.  The captain of this ship is a hugely muscled black man named Dutch who claims to be an American veteran of the Vietnam War. (As an aside, authors like Rei Hiroe need to let go of Vietnam for characters.  The youngest US grunt who actually pulled a trigger in ‘Nam is now pushing 60.  Give it up and let the archetype go.)  Also aboard the boat are two other original crew members: Benny, a super geek on the lam from both the FBI and the Mob, and our main female protagonist, Revvy also known as “Two Hand”, who is the gunslinger/troubleshooter for the team and about one hair short of shooting anything that moves.

The kickoff of the narrative begins with the arrival of Rokuro Okajima to the wonderful confines of the seas of Southeast Asia on a delivery mission for his Corporation.  Unbeknownst to him, he’s been set up as a sacrificial lamb in a double-blind game with nuclear weapons technology up for grabs.  When the crew of the Black Lagoon jump Rokuro’s ship looking for the data discs they’ve been told to “acquire”, then end up taking our hapless salary man along as a spur of the moment hostage.

Things go from bad to worse when it comes to light that not only has Rokuro been set up as a patsy from the word go, but that everyone aboard the Black Lagoon has been lined up for a trip down the same express elevator to Hell.  The end result of this is that Rokuro teams up with the crew of the Lagoon to turn the tables on the corporations and thugs that are out to use them and come out ahead of the game in the end.

And Rokuro becomes “Rock” and the newest member of the crew.

So, this first mission introduces us not only to Rock and Revvy, about whom most of the stories eventually turn, but also to Balalaika, the burn-scarred yet still alluring commander of a battalion of expatriate former Spetznatz troops known as “Hotel Moscow” who are now an extended arm of the Russian mafia.  There’s also Mr. Chang, the Chinese Triad’s local rep in Roanapur.  Oh, and don’t forget the “Church of Violence” with their collection of rather extreme gun-toting nuns like the well-endowed and completely conscience-free Eda – who is a lot more than just that.

In fact, every volume of Black Lagoon just explodes with extreme lawless characters and their matching acts of over-the-top larceny.  Lesser-presence characters like Sawyer the “cleaner” and Shenhu the assassin liven things up every step of the way.

Black Lagoon is technically a “girls with guns” manga because the preponderance of main or significant characters involved with each story tends to be female.  Revvy, Shenhu, Balalaika, Sawyer, the terminator-maid Roberta, etc., they all are way too heavily armed and ready to spatter blood at the drop of a beer bottle.  That having been said, there’s also strong male characters throughout.  Dutch is unflappably calm and yet you can sense the man’s looming presence in both his dialogue and the art.  Rock starts out beyond his depth, but he quickly adapts and changes in order to survive. (Especially at first, when Revvy is about one click short of killing him herself when they first team up.)  There’s a faint tinge of romance here and there in the telling between Rock and Revvy, but it’s as hard to get hold of as the smell of cigarettes in a strong wind.  Frankly, given the background and fundamental danger involved with establishing any kind of relationship with any of the women in Black Lagoon, Rock’s better off keeping it that way.

See, the thing is, Black Lagoon won’t give you a hero to cheer for.  Even Rock, who starts out trying to do the right thing, eventually does stuff that you can’t really endorse.  Revvy’s a murdering psychopath, in all honesty.  Balalaika has a wish to die in combat that could well take all of Roanapur with it someday.  Dutch is enigmatic and without conscience.  Lenny’s out for himself above all and doing his best to keep his head down otherwise.  See?

And yet, the characters have “grab”.  You end up, well, not directly empathizing but more along the lines of being interested in what happens to each character and where they came from.  The stories are well told if not very savory.  Each character has a past and a destiny.  Now, most of the destinies are probably related to ending up being rendered by Sawyer in her little backroom abattoir, but that still counts.

Rei Hiroe’s art is definitely not lacking either.  There’s depth in his detail and rendering of everything from characterization to backgrounds.  The action sequences flow in a way that conveys the impact of what’s happening while not leaving the reader too overloaded to follow along.  He manages to convey both the allure of the women along with their more dangerous aspects simultaneously.  Revvy is a classic case in point.  Physically, she appears at first to be overwhelmingly sexy and curvaceous if you can ignore the guns she sticks in the faces of her victims.  However, it doesn’t take long for you to notice the wear and tear her life has placed on her, which usually shows up in the details of how her eyes are drawn.  That’s the mastery of Hiroe’s art, the subtle details that create an impression that you only become aware of over time.

I consider Black Lagoon to be a worthy read because of the mastery of character development, involved and intriguing story lines, and awesome art.  I hate the activities and twisted criminality that is depicted in the setting, but I still can’t help enjoying this action series.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Animanga Viewpoint — Jormungand: Viking Name, Japanese Story, Cold Blooded Kills

To kick of my discussion of Jormungand, I’d like to make something very clear about my reading preferences when it comes to manga: to whit, I’ll read about anything that amuses me.  Saccharine teenage love stories?  Yeah, been there, did that, do that, and have enjoyed them.  Weird future adventure tales with lots of T&A and sarcastic humor?  Read tons.  Even laughed every once in a while.  Space fleet adventures?  Yep.  Vampire romance? Yep.  Vampire shoot-em-ups? Yep.  Vampire  redemptions? Yep.

But the manga I have the hardest time getting into are the “realistic” ones.  Jormungand is an example of that.  The scare quotes around “realistic” are there for a reason, because Japanese manga creators seem to part ways pretty quickly with reality no matter what the subject.  What I’m referring to might actually be better referred to as “noir” or “dark”.  Worlds that are all too familiar from reading just about any newspaper of on-line news feed.  Murder, rape, drugs, war – that sort of thing.

So, when I choose to follow a series like Jormungand, you can bet your bottom dollar that it has empathetic characters, an intriguing plot, and art that won’t make you feel as if you’re perusing the sketchbooks from a freshman high school art class.

Jormungand is the creation of Keitaro Takahashi.  Technically it’s a “shoot-em-up” story about an arms dealer, named Koko Hekmatyar, and her band of mercenary bodyguards as they burn their way around the globe selling new and used military hardware to the highest bidder.  Among Koko’s squad, we find the boy-soldier Jonah, who hates weapons and all that they do and yet is bound to serve Koko as an amazing killing prodigy.

The plot of Jormungand initially kicks off as a series of interconnected short stories.  Jonah is already part of the team, which includes Lehm, the grizzled veteran, and Valmet, the knock-out knife-wielding assassin, among others.  Right off the bat, you can tell that Koko’s squad is the kind of professional that other would-be mercs long to be.  They’re a team who trusts their leader and that leader takes them where the money is.

And where the money is happens to be where the blood flows, too.
Through the volumes, though, you begin to see a pattern wherein a bit of each team member’s past is revealed.  First, of course, we start with Jonah and how he ended up attached to Koko, who seems determined to return life to his icy personality.  After that, we begin brushing against Valmet’s past.  Ugo the driver turns out to be a former Mafioso.  Mao hails from China and once served as an artilleryman.  Lutz was a SWAT sniper.  The others have yet to be examined, but you can tell that each one has a special set of skills that builds the overall team and each has a story to tell – and each story end up wrapped around Koko’s destiny.

Koko’s destiny, by the way, is where a thread of the otherworldly is slowly creeping into the story.  If this manga were just about the adventures and stories of Koko and her squad, it might be interesting, but hardly compelling.  Yet, something “more” is swirling around Ms. Hekmatyar, and Jonah seems to be assigned as the chief observer of her path toward completing whatever mission drives her forward.

Already in the story, it has become clear that Koko has something special in mind for Jonah.  Make no mistake, either, in thinking that Jonah is unaware that something is a bit “off” in his employer’s attitude toward him.  His situational awareness is second to none in the squad and what he may lack in worldliness, he more than makes up for in his healthy distrust of all things “adult”.

The deeper mystery of what exactly Koko seeks to achieve and how Jonah figures into her world drive the overarching plot line.  The progress along the way is woven thick with the personalities and histories of both her squad and her adversaries.  The art is rich and detailed, sometimes subdued and sometimes grandiose, but always carrying the narrative along by enriching the set upon which the dramas play out.  The leavening of humor that is sprinkled throughout helps ease the shock of the horrid violence that accompanies so many of Jormungands more “active” moments.

I’m picky about my “realistic” action manga.  There has to be a story to carry me past the horror and grimness that such stories draw upon.  Jormungand has succeeded in capturing my attention and letting me enjoy an engaging tale without overwhelming me with gore.

— Darwin Garrison

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Animanga Viewpoint– Hekikai no AiON

Hekikai no AiON
Immortal Witch, Pure Hearted Boy, Blood Thirsty Mermaids

There is no point in denying that most manga that hits popularity in the States is based on Japanese high school students and various stereotypes thereof.  The classic coming of age tale, in all the various flavors (both tame and tawdry) play out in the crucible of “near the end of middle school” and “through the years of high school”.

I mention this because Hekikai no AiON is “yet another high school urban fantasy with romance” kind of story.  Frankly, most manga hits along those lines one way or another because that’s the target age for their market, especially if you recognize the “urban fantasy” bit as interchangeable with “science fiction mecha” or “sparkly vampire” or any other “hook” that may be in play at the time.

And yet, Hekikai no AiON is yet another case in point that proves the assertion that the characters and story (coupled with art in manga) are what drives the story, not genre or the presence or absence of cliché.

Mangaka (female manga creator) Yuna Kagesaki is best known for her teenaged vampire romance series “Karin” (which goes by the name of “Chibi Vampire” here in the States for some inscrutable reason known only to TokyoPop’s clueless herd of marketing bovines.)  “Karin” enjoys extreme popularity both in Japan and the States due to the extreme affability of its main characters and Kagesaki-sensei’s characteristic “sexy-cute” art.

Hekikai no AiON (marketed as “AiON” here in the States by TokyoPop) is, frankly, more of the same in some sense as “Karin”, but not entirely so by any stretch.  The story opens with the main male lead, Tsugawa Tatsuya, heading out for school on his first day back a week after his parent’s untimely demise in a car wreck.  First thing out the door he gets rolled for his lunch money by some neighborhood bullies.  Worse yet, when he goes to pick up the money, a lead foot comes down on the biggest coin.

Enter our heroine, Seine Miyazaki.  She’s a cool beauty who apparently doesn’t even get the fact that she almost smashed Tatsuya’s hand and couldn’t care less anyhow.  Not to worry, though, because she’s going to get even worse before she gets better.

The thing is, Tatsuya had the opportunity to have a few last words with his father.  Those words basically boiled down to, “Don’t be a wimp!  Be a strong, upstanding man!”  Thus, when our hero spies Seine being bullied in a hallway at school later, he throws himself into action to shield her from the bully’s kicks.

And immediately after, Seine smacks him away and tells him to butt out.  She likes being bullied.

Trust me, it confuses Tatsuya just as much as it confuses the reader at first and it calls into question his whole quest to live up to his father’s last words.

As things go forward, we find out there’s a reason for Seine’s desire to be bullied, because it’s only when she’s goaded her target into a killing rage that she can finally use her attached familiar “AiON” to consume the sea-born parasites that have attached themselves to human hosts.  So, since that the way she has to hunt, it’s probably a good thing that she’s been equipped with an immortal body that can take any sort of abuse a homicidal maniac might dish out at her.

As skimmed over as that summary of the opening is, I actually find the characters and situations in AiON to not be cliché or boring at all.  Kagesaki-sensei does a very good job of really looking beyond the surface of characters and that comes to the fore in AiON.  Everyone has come from somewhere, and those journeys have been through various degrees of hardship.  Even the villains are developed enough to empathize with, including the mermaids that are gunning for Seine’s life even as she seeks to exterminate them.  There’s a lot of pathos in Seine’s revenge-driven worldview.  Yet she is still vulnerable in ways despite her long life, still very much a maiden at heart despite being a committed killer of otherworldly things.  Tatsuya starts out very much as the classic wimpy male manga character, but there’s more to him than meets the eye and that only starts coming through via his efforts to redeem himself to his father’s vision.  Other characters join in the fun, of course, and that makes the journey all the more intriguing and enjoyable.

I’d be happier with this if TokyoPop wasn’t the main publisher for the series.  They have shown an annoying tendency of late to drop project uncompleted without explanation or apology.  Still, it’s good to see this series finally coming out in the States and I enjoy reading it as much in hardcopy as I do following the releases online.  If you like intriguing tales that wind as much mystery as they do romance into the telling, you might consider giving AiON a try.

–Darwin Garrison

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Animanga Viewpoint –

While our site is being upgraded — which should be finished tomorrow, assuming the bosses and I can get together long enough to approve the changes — I’ll post Darwin Garrison’s latest Animanga Viewpoint column here.  Enjoy!

After enduring a weekend full of horrid news and equally horrid reporting, I found myself seeking comfort from one of my favorite manga creators, Kozue Amano.  Being that I’m not Japanese and can’t read kanji, I don’t really know if Kozue or Amano is her last name, but I’ll refer to her as Amano-sensei in attempt to be respectful – and her work definitely deserves respect.

Amano-sensei is the creator of the manga series Aria (and its prequel, Aqua).   The setting is a terraformed Mars in the 24th century, now referred to as “Aqua”.  Due to a poor estimate on the actual size of the subterranean Martian polar caps, warming of the planet resulted in 90% of the surface becoming covered with water.  The result is that Mars became “Aqua”, a sort of resort planet with a culture that harkens back in ways to pre-interstellar Earth.

The main character of both Aqua and Aria is Mizunashi Akari, a Japanese girl from Earth who has come to Aqua and the city of Neo-Venicia to apprentice as an Undine – a gondola piloting tour guide for the city.  Neo-Venicia is a recreation of Old Earth’s Venice down to the Plaza of St. Mark and many mirrors of original Venetian traditions.

When we first meet her, Akari is starry-eyed and romantic about the lifestyle, grace, and beauty of Undines.  The thing is, she soon realizes that the reality is so much more than she could have imagined as she begins her life with her mentor, Alicia-san, and the Undine company, Aria.

The story of Akari’s adventures in friendship and immersion in Neo-Venecia’s culture and history is brilliantly executed by Amano-sensei.  The entire series has a “dreamy” quality that combines beautiful art, subtle storytelling, and a weaving of everyday life with the extraordinary.  The story’s core moves forward with Akari’s honest and sincere character.  Her accepting personality and heartfelt desire to understand and care for those around her and her new home paints the narrative with a hue of hopefulness that is simultaneously uplifting and touching.

All of the characters in this series are earnestly portrayed by Amano-sensei.  Cardboard cutouts do not fit into this gentle world.  Everyone is important and everyone has a role to play, which is a metric by which all good fiction should be measured.

I did not use the word “gentle” lightly.  Aqua and Aria, whether in manga or anime form, are “gentle”.  They do not exist to shock with violence or drama.  These stories are “slice-of-life” tales that, together, relate Akari’s journey from bright-eyed neophyte to an equally bright-eyed but now nostalgic Undine.  The intricate interplay of art and dialogue weave together to create soothing yet compelling tales of Akari’s lessons, her encounters with new friends, and even her brushes with the otherworldly as she wanders between the past and present of Mars/Aqua and Neo-Venicia.  There is no over-blown trauma in this series.  Rather, it’s a tale of coming of age in a new way that carries a more gentle yet none-the-less compelling drama of its own.

I heartily recommend all of the Aqua and Aria mediums, both manga and anime, since the storytelling and conclusions differ subtly from one to the other and enhance, rather than detract from each other.  In a world where violence is so quickly followed by lies and recrimination, Amano-sensei’s touch can help calm your world for the better.

Oh, I also recommend her new series, Amanchu, which is not yet available in the USA, if you can access it.  Amanchu has a similar feel to Aqua and Aria, but it is based in the here and now of the Seto Inland Sea and follows the adventures of a high school diving club.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

New Schedule Announced

Let me start out by once again thanking everyone who submitted either short stories or novels to us in November.  We received quite a few submissions and it was difficult to choose exactly which ones to sign.  However, our editorial board was up to the task and contracts have been sent out and returned.  Now I have the pleasure of announcing the schedule for the first quarter of 2011 as well as some of the titles we will be publishing later this year.

January

The e-arc for Dave Freer’s YA novella, Without A Trace, is already available for purchase.

A Deeper Silence, a collection of short stories by Charles Edgar Quinn.

Legion, a short story by Dave Freer and Kate Paulk.

February

Lawyers of Mars by Pam Uphoff.

Short story collection by Dan Hoyt, title to be announced later.

Death of a Musketeer by Sarah D’Almeida.  This is the first of the Musketeer Mysteries and has never appeared in digital format.  We are very pleased to be able to add this title to our catalog and to announce that we will be offering later this year The Musketeer’s Confessor, a new book in the series.

We will also offer an as yet to be determined short story or two this month.

March

Impaler by Kate Paulk.  A mix of alternate history, historical mystery and a new take on the Dracula myth.  This is the follow-up novel to Kate’s novella, Born in Blood.

Hunter’s Moon by Ellie Ferguson is a mix of urban fantasy and romance.

Blood Ransom, a short story collection by Sarah A. Hoyt.

Last, but certainly not least, we will be offering our own irreverent take on St. Patrick’s Day, much in the vein of Robert Hoyt’s Christmas Campaign.

April

The Great Flying Saucer Conspiracy by Tom Easton.  Tom will be doing a guest blog for us later this month complete with information about the book and a giveaway.

An as yet to be titled short story collection by Dave Freer.

Want, a short story by Jay Caselberg that came to us during our November submission period.

Skipping Stones, a short story by Darwin Garrison that also came to us during the November submission period.

May

Revocare, a short story by Leslie Fish that was submitted to us during November.

Here There Be Faeries, a short story by Stephen Simmons that came to us also during the November submission period.

There will be at least one novel added to the lineup.  We’ll announce which title as soon as possible.

Summer/Fall/Winter

Among the titles we’ll be offering the second half of the year are the following:

The Musketeer’s Confessor by Sarah D’Almeida.  This is a new title in the Musketeers Mysteries and we are very excited to be able to offer it to you.

Firefight by Tom Easton will be published in August.

Tiltamouse is Hunger, a YA novella by Sarah A. Hoyt.

Vengeance Mine, a mystery by Jenny Schall that is also a product of the November submission period.

ConVent by Kate Paulk.

Robert A. Hoyt’s holiday collection which includes Christmas Campaign.

These are just a few of the titles we’ll be bringing you over the next year.  As new titles are added, we’ll let you know.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized