Book review: Aoike Yasuko — From Eroica With Love: volume 1

I first encountered “From Eroica With Love” in a fan-produced English translation published in fanzine format some years back. I was bowled over by the series, which I can only describe as a wonderfully loopy and self-aware micky-take of its own genre. I was delighted to hear that CMX have taken on the job of providing an official English translation for the series. They’ve done a very nice job of it, with excellent reproduction of the original artwork, and what I’m told is a faithful translation from the original Japanese text.

This first volume serves mainly to introduce the various characters, but it contains some very entertaining stories. It isn’t quite typical of the series as a whole, as it initially appears that three superpowered teenagers are amongst the main characters. In fact, they exist mostly to introduce Dorian Red Gloria, Earl of Gloria. He’s a very, very wealthy aristocrat who collects beautiful things, and his hobby is stealing art treasures. He’s also very beautiful himself, very, very queer, very, very flamboyant, and has an entourage of equally beautiful and gay young men.

The three teenagers disappear by the end of volume 1 and never return, which is good because they’re a lot less interesting than the other primary ongoing character, who doesn’t appear until part way through the book. Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach is also a wealthy aristocrat. However, if he’s queer, he’s so far back in the closet he’s in danger of running into a lamppost, he’s a top Nato agent, he has no sense of humour, and he has no time for degenerates. Pity his path keeps crossing with Dorian, who is all the things he despises. Unfortunately for Klaus, Dorian is also brave, clever, resourceful, and a number of other things he admires and didn’t expect to find in a degenerate. The feeling’s mutual – Klaus is a good many things that Dorian despises, but he’s brave, clever, resourceful… and decidedly pretty…

However loopy the plots may get, they’re believable while you’re reading them, and there’s some fine and very funny story-telling. The characters are flawed but always sympathetic. The art is utterly gorgeous. The first story in this book is a bit tedious in places, but it’s the setup story and worth going through so that you have the background. Even if you’re not really into the “pretty young men” genre of manga, this one’s worth a look.

From Eroica with Love – Volume 1 (From Eroica With Love (Graphic Novels)) at amazon.com
From Eroica with Love: Volume 1 (From Eroica with Love) at amazon.co.uk
From Eroica with Love, Volume 1 from Barnes & Noble
From Eroica with Love, Volume 1 from Powell’s

Book Review: Iain Banks – Excession

Another book set in the universe of the Culture, Bank’s powerful, hedonistic galactic civilisation devoted to pleasure and doing good works. This one focuses on the machine intelligences of the Culture rather than the people, and makes it clear that the machines are people too, complete with virtues, vices, and erratic behaviour. “Excession” is hard work, but worth it. It’s a complex book with multiple plot threads and it’s stuffed with dazzling ideas. The Excession itself is an enormously powerful alien artefact/entity that appears and then simply sits there doing nothing; but by doing so it provokes a great many other entities into action they may regret. Banks has the writing skill to pull it off, but you really do have to be paying attention right the way through. It’s not perfect — there are a lot of ship characters in this one, not all of them clearly delineated by personality, and it’s very hard to keep track of who’s who at times. It does repay the effort, though. It’s funny, moving and thought-provoking, and holds a mirror up to ourselves in the same way the Excession does to the people and civilisations that encounter it.

Excession from amazon.com
Excession at amazon.co.uk
Excession from Barnes & Noble
Excession from Powell’s

Book review: Reginald Hill – Singing The Sadness

This is the fourth of the novels about Joe Sixsmith, a redundant lathe operator turned private eye from Luton. The chapel choir that Joe sings in is on its way to Wales for a choral festival. Things get off to a fine start when the bus first gets lost on the way, and then breaks down in the middle of nowhere.The last incident to mar the journey is a good deal more serious, as they come across a burning cottage with a woman trapped inside. Joe goes to the rescue, saving the woman but putting himself in hospital for a few hours, and putting himself out of the choral competition with the tenporary throat damage from smoke inhalation. That leaves him with plenty of time to investigate the fire, which at first glance looks like an anti-English arson attack that went further than intended. But his digging gradually turns up evidence of other crimes, some petty and others very serious indeed.

As always with Reginald Hill’s novels, this book is both a gripping mystery and a beautifully written piece of prose. Joe is an entertaining character, and the book is very funny without ever trivialising the crime that lies at the heart of the case. The cast of characters is well developed, and there’s a nice exploration of the way middle and upper-class criminals can cover their tracks by exploiting the willingness of others to do a little favour for a friend.

Hill’s series books build a continuing universe, with his characters developing as a results of events in previous books, and later books often refer back to early books in the series. This one is no exception, but there’s enough backstory worked in that you don’t need to have read the earlier books in the series first–at the time of writing this is the only Sixsmith novel I’ve read, and I had no trouble following the references to the backstory.

Singing the Sadness at amazon.co.uk

Book review: R J Burley — Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine

This is the last completed book in the Wycliffe series (Burley had just started a new book when he died in 2002), and revisits the characters from an earlier book. It’s set ten years after the events of “The Quiet Virgin”, but can be read as a standalone. Detective Chief Inspector Wycliffe is in even more melancholy mood than usual, for he has to face both a new, and _female_, commanding officer, and the murder of a young woman he knows from an old case. For Wycliffe the case brings both guilt at not having kept in touch with Francine, and pleasure at seeing other figures from the past. Some strands of the plot are obvious, but as a second murder and then a third violent death interrupt the police investigation the possiblities multiply.

One of the weaker books in the series, in my view, but still no disappointment. As with the series in general, it’s an enjoyable read for those times when you’d like something complex enough to be satisfying but short and simple enough to follow when you’re tired or distracted. Note that there are major spoilers for earlier book “A Quiet Virgin”.

Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine at amazon.com
Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine at amazon.co.uk
Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine at Barnes&Noble

Book Review: Arthur C Clarke — 3001 The Final Odyssey

Clarke returns to the universe of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the fourth and last novel, this time focusing on Frank Poole, the astronaut murdered by Hal in 2001. A thousand years later, Poole’s frozen corpse is retrieved and revived by a society that regards him as a hero and a living national treasure. At first he’s fully occupied with learning to live in an alien society and providing information to historians. But as boredom sets in, he finds himself drawn back to space and the Jupiter system… and the possibility of a meeting with David Bowman.

As Clarke notes in an afterword, it’s not possible to be completely consistent in a series about the near future that was written over a period of thirty years, and this book is better viewed as a variation on a theme rather than a sequel. With that in mind, the within series continuity glitches aren’t an issue, although there are a couple of annoying glitches within the book’s own timeline. The real problem is that this book is mostly a travelogue of the year 3001, with the section about the monoliths feeling sketchy and tacked on. There’s also a problem with some blatant preaching in places, when characters who are supposed to be having a conversation sound more as if they’re reading a prepared speech to sway an audience. I found it annoying, and I agree with many of the views being espoused.

It’s a readable and often enjoyable book, but I expect better from Clarke. I’d have felt cheated if I’d spent the money to buy this in hardback

3001: The Final Odyssey at amazon.com
3001: The Final Odyssey at amazon.co.uk
3001: The Final Odyssey at Barnes&Noble
3001: The Final Odyssey from Powell’s

Book review: W J Burley — Wycliffe and the Three Toed Pussy

In the first book of the long-running series, Detective Superintendant Wycliffe has recently moved from the Midlands to Cornwall, and is facing his first case on his new patch. A young woman, Pussy Welles, has been murdered. It becomes clear that the small village she lived in holds a good many people with motive to kill her. It seems that the case is easily solved when the gun used to kill her is found by chance, and a woman comes forward to report a telephone conversation with Pussy on the evening she was killed which implicates the gun’s owner.

Wycliffe has to arrest the man, but is not satisfied–something feels wrong to him. He keeps digging, and finds evidence exonerating the man–and a second potential suspect being offered to him. Someone is playing a game with Wycliffe, and there is more death to come before he manages to unravel the workings of a macabre puzzle.

Burley has packed a good many layers of move and counter-move into this short novel, and draws some fascinating characters–not least Wycliffe himself in this first outing for the detective. It’s an absorbing read, and I’m glad to see it’s being re-released by Orion towards the end of 2006 (ISBN 0752880845).

Book Review: David D Friedman — Harald

Declaration of bias — I know the author, and I know that this affected how willing I was to keep reading. I greatly enjoyed the book, but it uses a very terse, elliptical style that took some time to get used to, and I think this will cause many readers to bounce off the prose. I would strongly suggest finding excerpts (I think there are some on the Baen website somewhere) and reading to see if you like the style.

That said, this is a solid first novel with an interesting story and some likeable characters. It’s an alternative history book that’s firmly grounded in reality — with one minor exception, not obvious to the reader, everything is physically plausible. And I am impressed with the way Friedman has worked some of his libertarian philosophy into the book without hitting the reader over the head with it. Too much political speculative fiction involves blatant sermons–this book uses a much more subtle showing-rather-than-telling approach and is so much better for it. It adds depth to the story rather than turning it into a political tract.

It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but if you can handle the elliptical prose style it’s an enjoyable read.

Harald at amazon.com
Harald at amazon.co.uk
Harald at Barnes and Noble