Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tokkô- Devils Awaken, Volume 1 by Tohru Fujisawa

Ranmaru Shinda is a Police Academy graduate with a mission. He joined the Police after his mother and father were killed in a tragedy called "The Machida Incident". 97% of the people in district in which they lived, Machida, were killed violently, their bodies ripped apart. Ranmaru and his sister, Saya, were away from home when it happened, but Ranmaru has never forgotten it.

The incident was written off as a natural disaster, or the work of some animal, but Ranmaru has never believed that, and he wanted the police to investigate. When they wouldn't, he decided to join the police himself and do his own investigation. Now, he is graduating, and he has gotten part of his wish. He's joined the police.

But there was another aftermath to the Machida Incident. Ranmaru has dreamed about a beautiful red-haired woman, naked, covered in blood and wielding a sword, who appears in his dreams, but never speaks to him. He's had them off and on ever since his parents died, but the dreams are coming with increasing frequency lately, and he has no idea why. He simply finds them disturbing.

Sawa is also part of the Police force, but she's happy that her brother has achieved his dream. And he also already has his first assignment, as a detective in the S.R.S. the Special Riot Squad. It was formed in response to incidents like those in Machida, which have become more numerous. People who have witnessed the incidents say that the perpetrators are not human, and resemble demons or Devils.

These rumors have forced the formation of yet another squad, the Special Public Safety Bureau, also known as Tokkô. And while the rest of the Police know next to nothing about them or what their job entails, Rumors that they carry swords in addition to guns is a popular rumor at the Police Department.

But when Ranmaru's eyes follow a pretty girl, he's floored to learn she's a Lieutenant in Tokkô, and only 18! But she turns to him and offers to let him join when he gets tired of his new position, and licks his face, saying he tastes delicious. As Ranmaru tries to cope with this violation of his personal space, she is already gone, and tells her companion that "He tastes like them."

Back at his new detective posting, Ranmaru finds the police records on the Machida Incident sealed, and he can't break the password on the file. But as strange people run riot through Tokyo, looking like zombies and unable to be killed, Ranmaru and his friend are caught in a public incident where Tokkô must come out and kill these strange parodies of life.

And that's when he gets a sight of HER. The strange red-haired girl from his dreams. He can't believe she is real, and wonders why she has been appearing in his dreams for five years now. But as he ponders what this might mean, another earthquake, like those which have been hitting Japan lately, flares up. As the Tokkô members discuss the possibility of another gate opening, they must decide if Ranmaru is the fifth Hunter, and whether he'll be an ally or an enemy...

Who is this girl, and who are the hunters? Are these people killing and eating people devils or demons, or something else? Who are they and what do they want, and which side will Ranmaru choose? We'll have to find out!

This volume sets up the story in a really interesting way, starting with an incident of the "Devils" of the title, and cutting to Ranmaru's dream, and continuing on with his background and plans to investigate what really happened to his parents. Interspersed with more attacks, all of which seem to come after Earthquakes.

The feeling of paranoia and menace continues to build throughout the story, though much of it is diffused early on when Ranmaru and his friend start work as detectives in the precinct. But Ranmaru's encounters with Tokkô keep shooting the tension up, and when we get to see zombie-like humans moving through Tokyo, it's deeply unsettling.

Later, we get to see how they are made, and that's even more strange and horrifying, though the horror fades when they are killed by the red-haired girl. And now we are left pondering why Ranmaru is so important and what he could eventually be to Tokkô.

This book comes off like a mix of detective story and horror story, and I find it to be closest in feeling to Silent Moebius by Kia Asamiya, although with a fairly upscaled horror element. I can't judge it on this volume alone, I do want to see more, but with the effective staging of the story so far, I can't really complain, and I think this has the chops to be a very good and effective story.

Now in Theatres Everywhere: a Celebration of a Certain Kind of Blockbuster by Kenneth Turan

All Hollywood loves a Blockbuster, but there are some that they didn't love. Blockbusters that should have succeeded, but were overshadowed by others. Or nuanced, intelligent films that were less popular simply because they required more though than is usually necessary in a big-budget "Blockbuster" film. Films that, for whatever reason, didn't make the box-office they should have, or Blockbusters you should have seen, but didn't.

The book breaks these films up into 5 basic categories: Action/Adventure, Comedy, Drama/Romance, Animation and Spectacle, and reaches into each of those categories to find really good films that should have done well at the box office, but didn't. Or were underappreciated critically. Bookending the discussion of these films are two such classics: Ridley Scott's BladeRunner and Jonathan Milius's Conan.

As befits it, BladeRunner gets pride of place, and discusses how it was made, and how director Ridley Scott managed to get everyone on the set to the point where they wanted to kill him (with the exception of the actors). He demanded that everything on the set be built and laid out exactly how he wanted it. Things that people watching the film would never see were included. But today, the film is more popular than ever, and the care Ridley Scott took with the film is why.

Conan, on the other hand, was made by a director who was also a fan, and while it retains a purity of vision that the second Conan film lacked, it is not as well remembered today.

On the other hand, Turan feels that the films covered in this book are all something special, and have something to give to watchers. From Action films like "Air Force One", Comdies like "Elf", Drama/Romances like "The Rookie", Animated Films like "A Bug's Life" and Spectacles like "Saving Private Ryan"; Turan contends are some of the best films around.

Movie fans may find some of their favorite films missing, because this book is about American filmmaking, and American films. So fans of Anime or Foreign Films will find themselves rather disappointed at not seeing films like "Princess Mononoke" or Akira's Kurosawa's "Ran". Because they weren't American films, they weren't considered.

What he does include is reasons why these films made his cut, and why he thinks they should be considered some of the best. The reasons for each are, of course, different, but readers can learn something about the craft of filmmaking from these descriptions, how to make a film "real", not necessarily how to make it realistic, but how movies speak authentically, and from the heart.

Reading this opened my eyes to films I hadn't seen yet, and what made the films I had seen, and liked, great. Read this book to find the beauty and sincerity in a new crop of films, and to find ones you liked that you may not have seen yet.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Abe Sapien: The Drowning by Mike Mignola and Jason Shawn Alexander

Abe Sapien had been Hellboy's companion and assistant for a long time. And now, in the B.P.R.D., he's nominally in charge now that Benjamin Daimio is dead and Roger is destroyed. But what was Abe's first solo mission? We have never seen that, until now.

Hellboy has left the B.P.R.D. on a leave of absence to travel with Anastasia Bransfield and the B.P.R.D. decided to send Abe to Saint-Sébastien off the coast of France to find and retrieve a Lipu Dagger- a dagger made for killing demons, made of Bronze arms from a Tibetan Goddess statue whicn came to life and told a monk to make them. One went down with the wreck of a ship on which was riding a Dutch Warlock named Epke Voortman. Voortman was destroyed by Occult Detective Edward Gray, along with the ship he was on, and it went down off the coast of France.

Now, the secret of the Lipu Dagger's existence has come to life, and the B.P.R.D. thinks it may be useful in the future, so they send Abe to retrieve it from the wreck of the ship beneath the sea, along with several agents, one of whom is a former Navy Seal.

But unbeknownst to Abe and the agents, Voortman had been possessed by a warlock from Hyperborea, who traded bodies when the one he was in died. The Lipu Dagger trapped his soul in the body of Voortman, and he has remained there for over 100 years, growing ever angrier and more mad. Now, with the help of six floating spirits, and the souls of everyone who ever died on Saint-Sébastien, a forner slave colony and plague site, they will free him to take his vengeance on the entire world by killing every human on it.

With all the other agents sent with him dead, can Abe ally with the ghost of a former priestess to bring down the Hyperborian Ceddu-Barra, and prevent him from escaping the island? Or will Abe; all alone on a case for the first time, fail? The fate of the world rests on Abe's fragile shoulders, and visions of his friends and fellow agents taunt him for his failures. But can he fight against the six spirits, or will his soul follow those of his fellow agents into death?

We have never seen Abe Sapien so unsure as he is in this book. Abe, unlike Hellboy, has a whole lot of Book Learning on his side, but book learning, while good in some contexts, still doesn't always lead to you knowing all the answers. And Abe must learn that failures carry a much bigger price to your soul when you are the one in charge.

Of course, Abe does survive, but he only survives and defeats the monster by allying himself with the Witch-Priestess who was the last living human on the island, and her son, who is killed by the six spirits trying to bring back Voortman/Ceddu-Barra. At the end, we still aren't sure if the Lipu dagger was recovered, as it isn't really made clear. But Abe's learning from the experience and his pensive look when he is told that the agents he went to the island with couldn't be revived speaks volumes. (Well, I thought he looked pensive... it can be hard to tell with Abe's features.)

Hellboy does make something of an appearance here, but really only in Abe's visions, and we're unsure if it is Abe's fear and inexperience speaking or an illusion designed to make him give up by the six spirits or Voortman/Ceddu-Barra. It's not exactly a Hellboy Story or even a B.P.R.D. story, having the feel of neither. It is indeed an Abe Sapien story, but I wonder how well a comic built solely around Abe as a main character will do, and how long it might last. It's definitely different, and might not be to everyone's taste.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Not everyone in the seven Kingdoms are normal. Some are born with skills beyond the norm, and are called Graced. They are marked by their eyes, each of a different color, and often, they are feared. Some Graces, though, are welcomed- Graces for cooking or dancing, or mathematics, while others are even more feared, such as those for fighting. But Katsa of the Middluns is the most feared of all, for her Grace is the Grace of Killing, and her uncle, King Randa of the Middluns, uses her as an enforcer, to kill, maim and hurt those who defy him.

Katsa discovered her Grace when a relative of hers tried to grab her, and she smashed him in the face with her hand, breaking his nose and driving it into his brain, which killed him instantly. Immediately, she became an Outcast, and none of the people of her Uncle's court can meet her eyes without becoming afraid and running. Randa took her from her mother, and installed her at court, where she was trained under the auspices of his chief spymaster. She learned to use all sorts of weapons, and even her bare hands.

But Katsa can't stand killing, and the things her Uncle makes her do shrivels her soul so that she can barely stand to hear him talk to her. To fight back against the meanness and greed of the Kings around her, not just her Uncle, she has formed the Committee from some of Randa's spies, his spymaster, Oll, and one of the guardsmen, Giddon. They fight to protect the common people who too often suffer from their ruler's greed, hatred and bad judgement. Now, she rides to the City of Murghon, in Sunder, to rescue Tealiffe, the Father of the Current ruler of Lienid, who has been abducted from his home. But for what purpose?

Katsa doesn't know, but it is wrong to torture and imprison an old man who has done nothing wrong, so she rescues him from the dungeon along with Oll and Giddon. The last man she fights is a Lienid, and also graced, but she defeats him and takes Tealiffe back to Randa City with her. Then, the man she fought, a Lienid named Greening Grandemalion, called Po, the seventh son of the Lienid King, comes to Randa City. Somehow, he has tracked her down and knows she is the one who stole away his grandfather. But he's grateful to her for not killing him, and suggests sparring with her to allow her to better control her Grace.

She likes the idea, and they talk as well as spar, and it is a relief to Spar with someone equally Graced in fighting, even if they are not so evenly matched. She is still better than he is at fighting, but he can see much better in the dark. Since Katsa usually fights against seven or eight normal men in plate mail, and cannot use the full force of her Grace against them, she enjoys the chance to fight without really hurting someone, but she always overcomes him. She can even forget, sometimes, that her Grace is for Killing. Meanwhile, she and the Committee try to find out who might have had Tealiffe kidnapped. But it doesn't seem to be any monarch nearby.

The only choices left are King Murghon of Sunder, Po's family and the King Leck of Monsea, who is married to one of Lienid's sisters. As Katsa is set another task by King Randa, to torture a kind Lord who doesn't want to marry one of his daughters to a Lord whose lands are regularly devastated in raids by other Kingdoms, Katsa finally realizes she cannot do this any more. She cannot be Randa's assassin and thug, bullying his lords into doing his bidding, and she confronts the King and leaves his service, setting out with Po for Sunder, looking for who might have ordered Tealiffe's capture and imprisonment.

But their journey will make Katsa, who never wanted marriage or children, long for something more than a lonely existence, and make her discover the true nature of her Grace, as well as bringing to light a horrible Grace possessed by one of the Kings of the Seven Kingdoms. Can she and Po fight the menace, or will they die on their escape from the Kingdom, leaving behind only bones to litter the mountain passes?

I really enjoyed this book, which took a strong female character who actually possesses very little feminine grace, and yet made her live and breathe and seem like a real person, not a character in a book. Katsa has a very bad self-image at the beginning of the book, thinking of herself as a thug- good at killing and hurting people, but not very intelligent or smart, and completely turns us around, and herself, through her meeting with the Lienid, Po.

She is intelligent, and smart as well, but hers relates mainly to people. At the same time, she's rather naive to some things, such as not realizing that Giddon is in love with her, mainly because her entire life has been spent training at battle and killing, and on missions for King Randa. Since no one can stand to look in her eyes, no one spends time with her, and she remains clueless about a great deal of human interaction that young women normally get.

But by the end of the book, she's changed, mainly because of her relationship, both in friendship, and as lovers, with Po. And while this book is complete in this volume, I'd definitely love to read more about the world and see other Graced individuals and how they live. And while it's possible that there could be a sequel to Graceling, I'd read that, too. Although it would have to be quite an urgent need to bring Katsa and Po out of self-imposed retirement.

If you can't tell by now, I loved this book and I am going to recommend it to everyone I know. I recommend it very highly. I just wish my library owned a copy!

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Volume 19 by Clamp

In the land of Infinity, Sakura, Princess of the Clow, has been fighting Chess-style battles using Fai, Kurogane and Syaoran as her pieces. But in her meteoric rise up the ladder of "Chess" players, she has attracted the attention of the family that controls the games, much like the Mafia. The others can feel that someone is watching them, and though they don't know who it is, they theorize that it might be a competitor wanting to get a leg up on them or the family running the competition.

But Sakura has a reason beyond retrieving one of her memory-feathers, and the others wonder why she has kept up the competition when she doesn't need to. But aside from the Prize money that they need to pay Yûko with, Sakura has her eyes on an additional prize offered by those who win the tournament.

Just before the final competition, Eagle, son of the ruling family, invites Sakura to dinner, alone, without her companions. He seems to know that she isn't from this world and asks her about her motivations in entering the contest. She won't answer all his questions, but we see that she has regained another power she once had: the power of sight. Her brother's friend, the High Priest, could see everything, and she only gets quick, incomplete glimpses of the future to come, but she has forseen a future that she will do anything to change, and for that, she wants the power offered by Eagle's family: the power to travel through dimensions just once, on her own, to a world she cannot choose.

Eagle assures her that if she can win the final battle, he will summon "her" and that "she" will take Sakura to the new world. But can Sakura win in the final battle when Eagle is her opponent, and he's stacked the deck by getting her to agree to fight with only one piece, and his is an automata, unable to feel pain? And even if she is able to win who is this "She" that can take Sakura to another dimension?

Quite an interesting volume, as we get to see that Fai might be covering up both his feelings and his motivations, but so has Sakura. She wants to travel alone, without the others, to track down the Syaoran that travelled with her for so long. She and the others have seen the destruction he wrought on one world, and to fix it, Yûko wants the money prize from the Chess tournament. But Sakura wants the other prize so she can stop Syaoran.

And of course, characters based on character designs from other Clamp manga show up here. Eagle is Eagle Vision of Autozam from Magic Knight Rayearth, and his brothers are Lantis and Geo Metro, also from Magic Knight Rayearth. The Automata is Hikaru, from Clamp's Angelic Layer, and "She" is "Chi", from Chobits. And the Hikaru from "Angelic Layer" is named after the Hikaru who is one of the Legendary Magic Knights from Magic Knight Rayearth. Plus there is Yûko and Mokona, and Mokona also originally appeared in Magic Knight Rayearth. It was like a "Magic Knight Rayearth" Character reunion!

But here we finally get to see that while Syaoran might be the only character with a fairly straightforward motivation, which is to get Sakura's memory feathers back and to protect her along the way. His other motivation is to stop his evil duplicate. But Sakura, who up until this point has seemed fairly childlike and straightforward in motivation as well, has hidden depths and can conceal her plans from her companions, who have a hard time not being decieved since she has never shown any sign of doing this in the past. This makes Sakura a much more interesting character than before, and much deeper as well.

I enjoyed this book, and even though I read book #20 first, I still felt a sense of anticipation as I got to the end as for what would come next, which rather amazed me. Even though I knew Sakura won the contest and survived Fai's blow with the sword, I didn't see it coming until almost the very end. I truly recommend this series, and will recommend it as a series that is much deeper than it seems on the surface, with hidden depths in each character coming to the fore the longer we read. Very well done.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Insider's Guide to Creating Comics and Graphic Novels by Andy Schmidt

Scott McCloud's books on how to create effective comics were good, but this book is aimed at those who want to do more than just art. It expands the field to include colorists, inkers, letterers and writers as a separate job, not just doing it all.

To illustrate the points the book raises, images from comics published by a wide variety of commercial companies are used, and the techniques used in the example are highlighted, from how to vary lines after inking to how to use color to give a sense of urgency, sadness, menace or distance... just with color alone.

Also given are the bios of various srtists in the field, from their first work to their favorite comic they have worked on, along with a picture of that artist. Other topics covered include breaking into comics, networking, and how to get your art seen by pros at comics conventions.

The book is broken up into 10 major chapters, with the art as the lead in most of the chapters, since graphic novels, manga and comics are primarily a visual medium. Inking, coloring and lettering are each given a chapter on their own, but not as much space as simply the art, which takes up a whole seven chapters.

This definitely isn't a bad book about the comics industry. It's sort of a modern-day reinterpretation of "How to draw Comics the Marvel Way", but with a wide variety of techniques instead of trumpeting "Ours is the best and only way to make comics!" that was more prevalent in "Comics the Marvel Way".

Andy Schmidt, the writer, is a former editor at Marvel Comics, and most of the people whose work he used in this book are close friends and former co-workers at Marvel. Not all of them still work at Marvel, but I must say that the information on Manga given in this book is extremely slight. Probably only 1 or 2% of the information within. And given that manga is in the title, I find that particularly unforgiveable.

Other than that, this book is a superior guide to drawing comics and the various art techniques you will need to know to make your art effective. Not just the rules, but knowing when to break them. I recommend this book for anyone wanting to make it in sequential art or graphic novels/comic books and manga.

The Baby-Sitter's Club: Mary Anne Saves the Day by Ann M. Martin and Regina Telgemeier

Mary Anne is the Treasurer for the Baby-Sitter's Club, and feeling a little insecure because alone out of all the others, she still has a bedtime at 9PM, while all the others have theirs at 10. She's tried to ask her Dad for a later time, but he isn't convinced she's old enough and mature enough to handle it.

Adding to her stress, the girls have a Huge fight over the hogging of jobs by various members of the club, and each of them says things that they will certainly regret later. When Mary Anne starts to cry, the others call her a big baby, and she feels that the charge is true, and goes home again to cry later. But with the members of the club barely speaking to one another, she apologizes to Claudia, which mends their relationship for a while.

Until Claudia comes home one day and finds Mary Anne drinking tea and talking with Claudia's grandmother, Mimi. Mimi calls Mary Anne "My Mary Anne", and Claudia goes ballistic, as she thinks Mimi should only drink tea out of the special cups and call no one but her "My" anything! Mimi tries to smooth things over, but it doesn't work, and Mary Ann once again goes home in tears.

The next day, the girls, who usually sit together at lunch, are all widely separated, and Mary Anne finds herself sitting all alone at a table. There, she is approached by a new girl named Dawn Schaeffer, who has moved to town after her parents divorce, but she's been ignored by all the other students, and hoped that Mary Anne was also new so that she could be friends.

Abandoned by her other friends, Mary Anne finds herself making a new friend in Dawn, and as the club limps along, finds herself enjoying spending time with Dawn, especially when it annoys Stacey, who lives next door to her and can see how much time Mary Ann and Dawn are spending together.

But when Mary Ann and Stacey help one of Mary Ann's babysitting kids through strep throat, she knows that the time has come to end this grudge between the members of the Baby-Sitter's Club. But can she convince the others that it's time to make up and apologize? Or will it take severe measures for everyone to go along?

This book adds a typical older kid/Early teen dilemma, the fight between friends that turns into a real grudge match and how to get the friends thinking about friendships and less about their truly hurt feelings. Mary Ann doesn't really have strong ties to anyone in the group except for Stacey, who she lives next to, so when the group splits, she's left on her own.

And being alone hurts, especially when you don't have very many friends, as Mary Anne is all too aware. She tries to be a peacemaker, but its hard when the others aren't interested in making peace. Still, even she gets into the grudge-baiting near the end, until Dawn realizes what she is doing and refuses to be her friend, or have any part in what she's doing.

In the end, things end happily, and the club grows by a new member: Dawn. And with Mary Anne's Dad and Dawn's Mom being old flames, its possible it might end with them becoming sisters-in-law, but that's only hinted at for now. This is a good graphic novel for young teen girls or older child girls, in the 10-14 age range. It's a little larger than the original novel, but readers will enjoy actually seeing the girls and their charges depicted on the page.

Is It Just Me, Or Is Everything Shit?: Insanely Annoying Modern Things by Steve Low and Alan McArthur with Brendan Hay

There are many things that annoy people now, from Z-list celebrities speaking out as pundits, to the sound of the "Intel Inside" Chime and Ads for Credit Cards.

While you may not agree with everything that annoys Steve Lowe, Alan McArthur and Brendan Hay are annoyed by, many of their rants are rather humorous, and add some wonderfully ironic information to the terms or things they are ranting about, such as the word "Bling" being coined by a rapper from a group called the "Cash Money Millionaires", and another entry points out that rappers used to be against rich people, but as soon as they get a chance to get money, they eagerly sell out.

Still another entry talks about using the word "porn" in a way that doesn't really make sense of what "porn" is. Calamity Porn? Are people getting off on it? No? Then it isn't really porn. Same with "Food Porn", "Car Porn" and so on.

Tom Cruise deserves his own entry, although he's mentioned an awful lot in the entry on Scientology as well, and the authors throw open the doors on what Scientology really teaches, and what they charge the big money for. Now that you know what its really about, you can say its less a religion or philosophy and reads more like a really bad Science Fiction story.

The biggest problem with this book is that a lot of the entries don't elicit anything more than a chuckle, so it's not really all that humorous, and reading them one after another is rather... tiring, at best. It's a book that's best absorbed in small doses over a long period of time, with other things to read in between.

While there were a few entries that evoked outright laughter, they were few and far between, so it's not a particularly funny book. Read it if you want to feed your inner Oscar the Grouch with an occasional snort or chuckle.

It's one of those books I didn't really like and didn't really hate. My feelings are somewhere in the "meh" middle.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

John Constantine: Hellblazer- The Gift by Mike Carey and Leonardo Manco

John Constantine is one of the world's foremost magicians. But he's lived most of his life as a monumental fuck-up. Recently, the daughter of the Demon Nergal sought revenge on John for causing her father's downfall by sending him into three increasingly bad fantasies where he fathered three children on her, two boys and a girl. She also had a demon inhabit John's friend Chas, and afterwards, he beat his wife bloody, causing her to leave him. And in the process, John's sister Cheryl was killed by her husband, who'd become something of a raving fundamentalist, and her soul was sucked down to Hell.

But John is going to try and make it better, and he's teamed up with none other than Nergal himself to go into Hell and retrieve Cheryl's soul. Not only for himself, or his niece Angie, who has inherited something of the Constantine magical powers, but for Cheryl herself, who deserved better than him as a brother.

The problem is that John himself is very well-known in Hell, and he is not liked at all. John has tricked the powers of Hell too many times for them to look kindly on him if he is caught there. But he has to try. But can he hold off Nergal and Nergal's daughter long enough to get revenge on his half-demon children, and convince Cheryl to come home with him? And once he's done that, how will he deal with Chas, and Chas' quite understandable beef with him? Can Constantine give up magic for good, or is he still addicted to it, and deluding himself that he can ever just put it down and walk away, never to return?

An amazing graphic novel that takes us on a first-hand journey to Hell, and shows us the damned souls and those who supposedly rule them. John has plenty of reasons to not want to go there, but he'll do anything to get his sister's soul back and keep her from being tortured eternally when she's essentially a pure soul. Only he's mistaken in who is responsible for her death.

John Constantine screws up all the time, and he knows it. His career as a magician is littered with the souls of people whose deaths he's caused, directly or indirectly. And we get to see all of them, as they follow him around in a crowd wherever he goes. We aren't told if they are actual ghosts or simply memories he carries with him, but I am betting the first, letting him know the cost of the people he sold out to save his own life, or died for him when he made a mistake with his magic.

And the toll keeps rising with every book. He's never had one relationship he didn't somehow screw up, one friend who hasn't paid the cost for being his friend. But where does it end? When does he finally say "enough"? Every time he's tried to make amends, he's only ended up screwing the pooch even worse than before.

It's like a traffic accident. Horrible, but you can't look away. Because even though he tries to do the right thing, he often ends up making things a good deal worse than they would have been without his interference in the first place. I can't look away, and I can't stop reading. Where will it end for him? Who knows, but I'll be reading until that point.

Tantalize by Cynthia Letitch-Smith

Quincie Morris is the heir to her deceased parents Italian Restaurant, and her uncle, Davidson, had been helping her run it. Recently, though, the restaurant closed down to undergo a complete reimagining, moving to become a Vampire-themed eatery starring Quincie's longtime friend, head chef Vaggio.

But just a month before their scheduled re-opening, Vaggio is murdered, and it looks like it might have been a werewolf who did it. And Quincie does know a werewolf, her best friend Kieran. But while Kieran's mother is a full-on Werewolf, his father is strictly human, so Kieran is a half-breed, and might not actually be able to shift. Quincie loves Kieran, and she's sure that he feels the same way about her, but his mother thinks he needs a pack to be able to shift, and has been tutoring him in Werewolf ways to get him accepted.

Still, Kieran tells her that Vaggio's death, though ugly and brutal, wasn't done by a werewolf, but someone who wanted it to look like a werewolf had done it. A copycat, maybe even a real vampire, but not a Werewolf.

Quincie mourns for Vaggio, who was a close friend of her parents and hers as well, but must find a new chef to take over for the deceased Vaggio if she wants to re-open the restaurant to make sure it succeeds. She puts an ad in the paper and in several places online, but most of the applicants seem to be more cheesy than accomplished chefs.

As she fends off the applicants who aren't qualified for the job, her uncle hires a chef from Kansas, a cowboy-type named Henry Johnson, to be the new head cook. Being that the restaurant is supposed to have a vampire cook, can she transform Henry from Cowboy to Count in time for the restaurant to open? Because if she can't, she'll have to go with Uncle Davidson's girlfriend, Ruby, a goth-girl vampire wannabe. And since Quincie can't *stand* Ruby, Quincie will do it or die trying!

But as she seeks to transform Henry, he also transforms her from a girl into a woman, getting her to drink wine and eat his delicious Italian Cuisine. Will she finally move out of her girlish attraction to Kieran and move on to an adult relationship, or will she cling to the boy she has wanted for so long?

I was attracted to this book for the storyline, but there is quite a twist in the tale, and lets say that the heroine's name resemblance to a character from Dracula is there for a good reason, and not just because the Restaurant she is about to open is vampire-themed!

The story manages to lure you into thinking that the plot is all about one thing, when something quite different, and quite alarming, is slowly happening to Quincie and those she loves. When the twist comes off, you're surprised you didn't see it coming, and at the same time thinking you should have.

I don't want to give away the twist, but I am sorry the plot ended where it did and there are apparently no plans to continue with a sequel, as there were a lot of unanswered questions I would have been happier knowing the answers to. The ending left me feeling a bit cheated. I wanted justice for what happened to Quincie, but there was none to be had. I still recommend the book, with the caveat that the ending can be quite a letdown after reading the book.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter- Guilty Pleasures, Part Two by by Jess Ruffner-Booth, Brett Booth and Ron Lim

Anita Blake has been hired to find the person or persons killing Vampires, and not just by any Vampire, but by the Ruler of the city, Nikolaos, a vampire who looks perhaps 12 years old, young and blonde, but in actuality is over 1000. After Jean-Claude took her to see Nikolaos, another vampire attacked her, and he marked her as a permanent servant to help her recover from the attack, for which he was punished by Nikolaos.

Now, Anita finds herself craving foods she doesn't even like and eating more than she ever has before, and she's gone to a "freak party", where Vampire junkies go to get sucked on by vampires with a hopefully former vampire junkie named Phillip. But when Vampires from the Church of Eternal Life attack the party, Anita has already left and finds Nikolaos' reanimator being forced to reanimate a corpse to prove his power. But the corpse has been a hundred years dead, which is difficult for any reanimator to bring back... unless they are as powerful as Anita. She helps him reanimate the corpse, then leaves after a confrontation with Nikolaos and the Church of Eternal Life Vampires.

Phillip confesses that Nikolaos told him to stick to her, and Anita is being pressured to roll on all the vampires by a fellow Vampire Hunter named Edward, who used to be an assassin before he gave up killing humans as too easy and moved on to Weres and Vampires. He scares her, and for Anita, that's not easy to do.

She dreams of Jean-Claude offering her blood to drink, and wakes to a call from Dolph asking her to take a look at the body of a dead vampire found downtown. Anita recognizes her as Theresa, one of Nikolaos' retinue. That night, Anita is summoned by Nikolaos, who has captured Phillip and is torturing him for telling Anita what he was doing for Nikolaos. Nikolaos knows that Jean-Claude has marked Anita, through the two marks he gave her, has been living off her energy, which explains all the extra eating she's been doing. Nikolaos bites Anita to block Jean-Claude's marks, but when Dolph shows up at her house, he helps her cleanse the bite with Holy Water.

She tells him just about everything, and asks for his help in taking down Nikolaos. He looks forward to the challenge. He gets her a shotgun and helps her to learn to shoot it. That night, they are decoyed for a while by a supposed job for Anita putting a re-animated soul to rest, but it is a trap and they are attacked by the real killer and his raised set of ghouls.

After they escape, they go to the Were-rats, who have agreed to show them the back way into Nikolaos' lair, but from there, they are on their own. Alone in Nikolaos's lair, they must free Phillip, kill Nikolaos, and her vampire attendants. But can two hunters stand up against the might of a pissed-off thousand year old vampire who can frighten even Anita?

This book translated well from book to comic/graphic novel, and I liked reading about Anita when she was still a kick-ass heroine who didn't take shit from anyone and thought about things besides getting her rocks off with everything supernatural in range. Back when she was still mostly purely human.

It was good to go back to those times, and even though I know there were things missing from the graphic novel that were in the original book, I didn't really miss them. The story hung together well and made logical sense. The story is very exciting, and i kept going back to read other parts of it even after I had finished. Most especially the ending, which attracted me to the book back when I first read it.

"I'm the Executioner. I don't date vampires. I kill them." Still makes me grin to read it, even now.

Tsubasa: Resevoir Chronicle, Volume 20 by CLAMP

Fai has stabbed Sakura with her sword, but she disappeared, her body and soul reft in two. Her body has gone to Fai's world of Seresu, while her mind, soul and memories inhabit the world of dreams. It is revealed that Fai was under a curse that made him kill anyone more magically talented than he. But when Sakura regained much of her memories, and the power to see the future, Fai had already been cursed to kill her.

Fai has been lying to everyone for as long as they have been travelling together, and now, he must return to the world of his birth and confront the past he has been fleeing from for all this time.

Fai was born as one of a set of twins with great magical power, but the birth of a single child was looked for, and the birth of twins unleashed great misfortune on the Kingdom. Fai and his twin, Yûi, were thrown into a valley where magic did not work to prevent their cursed birth from affecting the Kingdom. Until the King of the country went mad and sentenced everyone to death, old people and young people alike. Fai and Yûi were approached by two very different magicians, Clow Reed and the new King of Seresu, with offers to save them by taking them to different worlds. But Fai was dead, and Yûi wanted to save Fai, but couldn't. So Yûi took Fai's name and went to a different world. But Clow Reed put two curses on Yûi/Fai, and the first was to kill Syaoran. But what was the second, and how will its revelation affect the travellers? Is there any hope of getting Sakura back in one piece now that Clow Reed wants her, body and soul?

A book filled with revelations, and they will only continue in the next volume. Everything we think we know about Fai D. Flowright has been overturned. He's a liar, and isn't who we think he is. He never has been. While I can hope that something turns up in the next book, and he can somehow redeem himself from what he has done and what he's done in the far distant past, I can't see where this is going quite yet.

I was so ready to be over this series, but Clamp's works are so good that no matter how hard you want to give up on them, they keep sucking you back in for another volume and yet another. Seresu appears to be completely dead, but who is to blame for the condition of the Kingdom? Fai and his twin brother, or some other force? The fact that the twins were evil appears to have been accepted by all, but is it the truth, or was the King already showing signs of madness?

It's hard for me to believe that two innocent kids can cause so many problems and be judged as evil simply because they are twins instead of a single child, but it's not a new attitude by any means. Triplets were even worse, of course. I can't help but look forward to the next volume, but at the same time, I am afraid that Fai's time as a character is close to over.

Fruits Basket, Volume 21 By Natsuki Takaya

Tohru and Kyo finish their confrontation. Kyo confesses that after he froze when he saw Tohru's mother being killed, he blamed everything on Yuki, blaming him for taking Kyo's happiness away. He hid in the mountains with his mentor Shiseo, and when he finally came back to the Sohma house, he confronted Akio, who said if he could beat Yuki before they graduated from High School, he would forgive Kyo and accept him into the Zodiac, and throw Yuki out.

He came to the house to attack Yuki, but he hadn't counted on seeing Tohru again, or on falling in love with her. As for Tohru, she can't forgive him, and she can't not forgive him, either. She loves him, and to her that's all that matters. She asks her mother's spirit to forgive her, and she says she loves Kyo.

But they aren't alone, and Tohru confronts Akito, who has been watching them the whole time. She hoped Tohru would push Kyo away, and is enraged that Tohru still loves Kyo. She spits out her hatred of Tohru, accusing her of thinking herself better than the Sohmas, and more importantly, better than Akito. She accuses Tohru of trying to steal the family away from her, and Tohru tells her that the family is pulling away from her because of the way Akito treats them, that she treats them like herself, Akito, is the only one that matters.

But Tohru says she can still change that, and introduces herself to Akito again, and asks if they can be friends. Akito hits Tohru, but Tohru doesn't stop holding out her hand in offered friendship. Akito trembles, and realizes how it could be between them, and is about to take it, when the cliff crumbles away beneath Tohru and she falls.

Akito runs for Shigure, and gets help for Tohru, but she is barely able to get the words out at first. She is afraid that Tohru is dead, but Tohru is merely injured and must go to the hospital. Akito, shaking, confesses that she stabbed Kureno, but Shigure comforts her.

With Tohru in the hospital, Yuki, who witnessed Tohru crying, attacks Kyo, and during the fight, both end up confessing that they each wanted to be the other. Coming to the conclusion that they can only be who they are, they end the fight, and while Kyo retreats to undergo some introspection, Yuki confesses his feelings to Machi and buys her a Mogeta doll to replace the one she lost.

But what will happen between Kyo and Tohru and Tohru and Akio when she finally recovers enough to leave the hospital? Will this finally be the end of the Sohma family curse?

Wow. This volume had a lot of emotional angst and emotional battles, but the curse finally seems to be nearing its end. I can forsee some more battles for Akito with her mother, or maybe just one more, which will finally clear the air between them. Yuki seems to have made his own happy ending, and Kyo and Tohru theirs. And Kureno will have Arisa, of course.

But whoa, that emotional stuff is pretty heavy stuff! We finally get to see Akito's emotions, and they are just as bad as I feared they were. But even though she's a bitch, she isn't completely hopeless. She's very afraid. Afraid of being left alone and friendless, which is due to her mother, the biggest bitch in the series, who has been telling her for years that the family only abides her because she's the reborn God. But by spitting out all that bile and still being accepted as a friend by Tohru, hopefully, she will have gotten rid of it, and for good.

The rest of the family still has their problems, and I don't know exactly how the curse will finally end. It may be that Akito must release them, or by agreement between the spirit of the reborn God and the reborn spirit of the animal-possessed Sohma. However, it will end, and hopefully, the endings will be happy for everyone.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ghost Hunt, Volume 4 by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono

Shibuya Psychic Research is approached by the Principal of another school with help with unexplained incidents. Recently, a student committed suicide, leaving behind a note which read, "I'm not a dog!" And then, after that, a strange, stinky smell sickens an entire class.

But when SPR arrives at the school, it's obvious that not all of the staff agree with bringing them in. One of the teachers, Matsuyama-sensei, treats them as though they are there to rip off the school. He claims that the students are doing it to get out of the strictness needed to pass their classes. But Osamu Yasuhara, the class President, was also affected by the strange smell, and shortly after the SPR team arrive, there is an attack on a student by an unearthly black dog. And this isn't the first attack, nor the first one to leave wounds.

So many of the students are involved, and Mai's dreams show her that a fire will start in the video studio. She is just able to warn Naru and the others in time, but she also sees less explainable things. For one thing, there are many spirits in the school, but as time goes on, they become rather less numerous. a large black spirit seems to be eating the white spirits and growing larger as it does. She also sees a shrine with a gate decorated by foxes. Or an O-Inari shrine. But what does that have to do with the hauntings the school is experiencing?

Things get worse when she can see the spirit of the student who committed suicide is haunting the school, but he. too, is absorbed and eaten by the black spirit-thing. What can it be? And do they have any hope of stopping it before it eats all the spirits haunting the school?

The back part of the book is taken up with a side story. Children in a church orphanage and school are being possessed by the spirit of a speechless boy who wants to play hide and seek. He hid so well that he was never found, and it was assumed he had fallen into a nearby river and been drowned. But when they exorcise the spirit out the of the child he is currently inhabiting, he possesses Mai instead, who hangs around Lin, who resembled the child's father. But when Lin loses his temper and orders her to go away, now they will have to find where the child died to find Mai, and to free her body from possession by the spirit of the boy. But can they succeed where everyone else has failed?

This was a very moody and scary story, and the school is one I am glad I never attended, or never attended one like it. I think the reason why so many ghost stories are set in high schools is because in Japan, kids in High school are under a great deal of pressure to do well and go to a rigorous and academically prestigious school or they are seen as failures by their families.

A lot of kids internalize these pressures and end up committing suicide because of the social and familial pressure to do well. There is a many-times higher incidence of suicide in Japanese High Schools, and also, of physical attacks on teachers, or so I hear, all because of the pressure by the school and their families to do well and succeed with high marks. Even when kids don't commit suicide, they get physically ill or turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with the pressure. It's not a healthy situation, and just like the school students, the schools apparently become psychically sick.

I also liked the side story, which was rather cute, and mirrored a scottish story I'd heard of, where a high-spirited bride suggested a game of hide and seek at her wedding breakfast, and afterwards, couldn't be found. Supposedly, her ghost haunted the castle where she died. Hundreds of years later, a guest, exploring in the attic, opened a huge old wooden trunk and found a skeleton still garbed in a bridal dress. After the body was buried, the spirit of the bride was never seen again, and was at last at peace.

The side story has a lot in common with ths tale of the unlucky bride, but with a somewhat happier ending, I am still enjoying this series, and I found out, what luck... that a new volume will be coming out later this summer and again in November. I can't wait to read them!

Ghost Hunt, Volume 3 by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono

Mai Taniyama met Kazuya Shibuya in her school when he came to investigate a number of ghost stories. It turned out to be nothing more than a poltergeist, but in the end Mai ended up working as an assistant for her boss, Naru, or "Narcissist" as she, and everyone else seems to call him.

Now they are called to another school, one with several problems. First, there is a desk where anyone who sits at it inevitably ends up getting their arm caught in a train door and getting dragged along the platform. But that's not the only thing that happened to people who sat at the desk. Another girl felt ghostly hands massaging her stomach and ended up in the hospital with a hole in her stomach.

But the rumors swirl around a girl with the power to bend spoons merely by thinking about it. Rumors about her grew so loud and numerous, she was forced to exhibit her power before the entire school at a school assembly. Nevertheless, some people accused her of using a trick to make the school believe she had done so. Only one teacher, Kei-Sensei, supports the girl, whose name is Kasai.

Naru believes that the problems are due to Emmi, small pawlonia wood totems that direct the attention of spirits to the people named on the Emmi, from a specific name to "The person who sits at this desk". But who is the person (Zuso) behind the Emmi? Who has the psychic powers to do such a thing?

Another school story, this time with real spirits, and this one ramps up the story by having the spirits being directed by someone who knows enough about the occult to make Emmi and manipulate the spirits into doing their bidding? Suspicion falls on Kasai, naturally, but is her spoon-bending skill strong enough to make Emmi?

It gets even harder for the investigators when they discover Emmi aimed specifically at them, and Naru and Mai nearly get injured when the Emmi makes a well collapse, trapping them below. As for Mai, she finds herself attracted to Naru, but his arrogant and conceited behavior turn her right off. Only in her dreams is he gentle and smiling and helpful. But does he really have that sort of behavior within him?

In addition to Mai and Naru, the exorcists John Brown, Ayako Matsuzaki, Masako Hara and Housho Takigawa appear once again in this volume to contrast with Naru's more secular, more equipment-based approach, but he's willing to use the others's powers to solve problems. And I'm looking forward to seeing (and reading) more.

The Faerie Queen's Deception: Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Deirdre is a student Harpist, but she doesn't like performing. She gets so scared at the thought of being humiliated in front of a crowd that she always has to throw up before she performs. But this time, she meets a boy named Luke Dillon, and he persuades her to withdraw as a solo performer and instead play a duet with him that she just made up before they performed.

Together, though, they play so beautifully, her on the Harp and him on the Flute, that they end up winning the competition. But the competition seems to draw all sorts of weird people out of the woodwork. All of whom want something from her. Including Luke. But Deirdre is warned off from Luke by none other than her Granna. And her mother doesn't like him, either.

But despite everyone warning her away from him, Deirdre finds herself drawn to him, even as he is drawn to her. Luke has told her that she is the kind of person who can do anything, and she finds that he was truer than he knows. She finds herself able to move objects around, make the wind blow, and even see fairies. But does she want to see them?

The only ones who stand with her are her friend, James, and her granna, who says that Faeries used to trouble the women of the family. However, iron will prevent them from hurting her, and Granna promises Deirdre a paste that can also keep them away.

But as the Solstice draws closer, the Fairies grow stronger, and Deirdre, in trouble for both her powers and her name, that she shares with the Queen of the Fairies. The Faerie Queen wants her dead, and the only way to win is for one of them to die. But does Deirdre have the strength to do what must be done? Or will she surrender and die, consigning Luke to a loveless eternity of being the Queen's assassin?

I loved this book, which veered constantly between the beautiful prose used to describe the fairies, and the music and poetry made by both Luke and Deirdre on their instruments and voices, that quite transported me away, and the more workaday world that Deirdre lives in for most of the day.

And yet, I have a feeling that this book is only the first book in a series, whether a trilogy or longer. And given the sheer beauty we get glimpses of in the Faerie world, I'd definitely be interested in seeing more from this author. I had a hard time tearing myself away from the book. Luckily, I read very quickly, otherwise I'd be hard pressed to get out of my room.

If you haven't read this book yet, now's the time to start. It's wonderful and lyrical while invoking a world filled with both beauty and ugliness at the same time. The Faery folk are by turns scary and scarily beautiful. Capable of both helping, and hurting, Deirdre has to decide who to trust to triumph, More, please.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ghost Hunt, Volume 2 by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono

Mai and her handsome, conceited boss Kazuya Shibuya are contacted by the Morishita family, who feel that something strange is going on at the mansion they are living in. They hear someone singing, doors open and close by themselves, and so on.

When they get to the house, they find that the little girl seems to be especially moody where her elder sister is concerned. She refuses to talk to her, and won't take any snacks prepared by her. The girl's doll, too, is very strange, showing up where it wasn't before, and there are clear signs of Poltergeist-type activity. Two rooms rearrange themselves diagonally when no one is looking, but too fast for any human to have done it.

The history of the house is much darker, and stranger. Young children living in the house, girl children especially, have a history of dying after living in the house. Mai, who has taken to calling her boss Naru (or Narcissist in Japanese), has a dream in the house where she sees the souls of little children, all empty, somehow. But is it the children behind all the deaths in the house, or is it something else? Something... darker?

But when the little girl's doll comes to life and says she has plans to kill everyone, the investigators try to destroy it, and whatever spirit is inhabiting it, but it seems to be too powerful to be exorcised. Can they protect the family and free the house of the spirits inhabiting it? Or is this one spirit too powerful to destroy?

Wow. Quite a difference from the first volume. While the first story is more about a non-supernatural cause to the possible hauntings, this volume shows that the supernatural is real, exists, and that the ghosts are inimical to human life. While the original story was mildly spooky, this story rockets right past spooky to downright creepy.

The first story was actually thrilling, but this one is scary, and the stakes only go up from here. Each of the characters tries to deal with the spirits in their own way, from John Brown's Christian teaching to Ayako's Shinto exorcism, Takigawa's Buddhism and Mai and Naru's more modernist approach. Later on, we'll see other approaches, and Naru seems to be able to draw on all sorts of traditions to bring an end to the haunting.

Like I said, the first volume sort of eases you into the scary nature of Japanese ghosts, most of which are very nasty and don't like humans. From here on, the scares and nastiness will only increase, but I don't mind that one bit. It's interesting to see the different approaches the different religions in Japan take to deal with ghosts, and I definitely want to see more.

Ghost Hunt, Volume 1 by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono

ai Taniyama is a typical high-schooler, but she's interested in the occult and ghost stories, as is witnessed by Mai and three other friends telling Ghost stories in a supposedly-haunted AV room at her school. The four each tell a story by the light of a flashlight and when the story is over, turn off the flashlight. When everyone has told a story, the light is switched off, and they count. Supposedly, there will be an extra voice counting, and that will be a ghost.

When the flashlight is turned off at the end, there is an extra voice, but it turns out to be Shibuya, who they at first think is an older upperclassman, but who turns out to be the owner of the Psychical research company called SPR- Shibuya Psychic Research. Mai, who is interested in the haunted history of her school, snoops into an empty room and knocks over a very expensive camera worth 100 million Yen. Because she isn't rich, Mai must pay him back by acting as his assistant, while his other assistant, Lin, is in the hospital.

Kazuya Shibuya amd SPR aren't the only psychic experts called in by the Principal of Mai's School. As well, there are John Brown, an Australian Priest who speaks in the Kansai Dialect, Ayako Matsuzaki, a self-proclaimed Miko, Takigawa Housho, a Buddhist Monk, and Masako Hara, a Psychic who is famous on TV.

Despite the best efforts of the other psychics, Masako is unable to feel any spirits haunting the place. But she is contradicted by one of Mai's classmates, who claims that the building is filled with spirits, and that when they gather, it gives her a headache.

After some mysterious incidents, Mai's temporary boss Kazuya Shibuya gathers everyone together and tells them that there will be an incident in the night where a chair will move, with no one around to touch it. When the chair moves, seemingly on its own, he has his answer to what is causing the incidents at the school. But will the other psychics believe it, and can he finally put to rest the haunting incidents at the school?

I really liked this series, but the first book isn't really an indicator of how the rest of the series will go. It's spooky, yes and filled with eerie incidents that provide some pretty intense scares, but the case ends in a way that make you think that perhaps this series will be dedicated to debunking psychic phenomena, while nothing can be further from the truth.

Perhaps this story was meant to be a more lukewarm lead-in to the other stories, which are much more intense with psychic phenomena that in the end turn out to be real ghosts rather than poltergeists or faking it. If so, it does serve to ease you into the scarier aspects of the series, but it makes the first story stand out for how "de-fanged" it seems to be compared to the rest of the stories so far.

I still like the series, but the first volume seems rather weak tea compared to the rest of the stories. This won't stop me from reading or enjoying other volumes, but be warned that the series gets much more intense from here.

Is Data Human? The Metaphysics of Star Trek by Richard Hanley

Data is the character on Star Trek who most often struggles with what it is to be human. But why does he want to be human, and would being human make Data better or worse with regards to how he is? For that matter what *is* being human? What does it entail, and who and what can be human?

Metaphysics literally means "beyond Physics", so that Metaphysics studies everything but physics, so dealing with the questions of what is it to be human, what makes us human, and what is a person fit right under its purview.

Richard Hanley also looks at the questions of a soul, and whether one is necessary to be human. Since a soul cannot be split in two, this would beg the question of whether humans split by a transporter function had a soul. Did one of them get it? Neither of them? And if one of them did get it, which one? If the two split people were never rejoined, which is the soulless one, and how can we tell?

Worse still are Tuvok and Neelix, which the transporter joined into "Tuvix". In this case, does this conjoined entity have two souls? One? None? And if it only has one soul, which one of the originals lost his? As you can see, sometimes Star Trek can be death to the notions of fundamentalist believers vis a vis a "soul".

But that certainly isn't all that is discussed in this book. It takes on logic versus emotions, and which is better, What makes someone a person, and how can Starfleet tell when they have found intelligent life, if it is very different from themselves? And are their universals in cognition and linguistics?

Artificial life also comes under the test as Hanley discusses what past philosophers have thought regarding artificial life and artificial intelligence. Data, exocomps and Nanites are examined along with the Turing test and various other tests of artificial intelligence and reasoning.

And those are just a few of the many questions pondered in this book. Everything from "Is the You who is beamed down to a planet really the You who started the Journey?" to "Are we still the same person if by fiddling with the transporter, we could fix the physical... or the mental things we didn't like about ourselves?" "Would we still be the same people afterwards?"

If you are like me, and like most people, the idea of philosophy and metaphysics makes your eyes cross after a certain point. And yeah, reading the book for too long a time did make a sort of "mental exhaustion" set in, but the book made it easier to grasp many of the ideas by relating them to Star Trek.

For instance, by using the TOS Episode "The Enemy Within", they illustrate the left brain-right brain dichotomy, and what happened when researchers cut the corpus callosum, a bundle of nerves the connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The side effects were somewhat like the disconnect between good, ineffectual Kirk and Bad, active Kirk. In fact, author Hanley suggests rather than the divide between "Higher" emotions and "Lower" emotions, that the good Kirk/Bad Kirk would more likely be between left brain and right brain, as it is more likely that such a divide could happen than between kinds of emotions. Hanley suggests that since most people are right-handed, it is the left brain that rules, and that "Bad" Kirk was the right side of the brain, unwilling to be controlled by the left yet again.

In the end, "Is Data Human" leaves us with as many questions as answers, and oftentimes the answers only lead to more questions. As questions to ponder, its a fascinating look at what makes us human, but most questions, we, ourselves, must answer. I recommend this book as a look into the pressing questions of the Star Trek Universe, but we, the readers, must look within ourselves to provide the answers.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wolverine: Get Mystique by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney

Since the whole "House of M" moment, only one new mutant baby has been born. The remainder of the X-men tried to protect it, but Mystique sold them and the baby out, which led to the baby getting abducted by Mr. Sinister for his own devious plans. With the X-men's failure, Team Leader Cyclops sends Wolverine on a mission- find and kill Mystique. For once, the two are in complete agreement on the need for Mystique to die.

But as Wolverine travels through the world's trouble spots to track down Mystique and get revenge on her, or bring her to justice for what she has done, we get to see that she and Logan have known each other for a very long time, and some of their past history, from when they met each other on the wrong end of a firing squad, her for having blue skin, him for being a horse thief.

Having survived the firing squad, Mystique finds Logan's healing factor amazing, and tries to link up with him, but they remain reluctant allies. When he comes to San Francisco later to link up with her, she tries to recruit him as part of her gang, consisting mostly of former circus performers, who she uses to fleece, bilk and steal from the people around them. She wants Logan to join them, claiming that they could be his family, since he has none of his own.

But when she sells them out on a Bank heist, we find that Logan has already done the same, though he was hoping that she would also get caught by the cops. Apparently, Logan was already working on the side of Law and Order (so to speak). And in the present day, it comes down to a fight mano a mano between Logan and Mystique to find out who will triumph in the sands of Afghanistan.

This isn't a bad graphic novel, though I'm not sure if the background posited between Logan and Mystique was ever mentioned or even hinted at before this particular story. But that's a minor niggle in what is a truly exciting chase and battle.

The tension is kept up throughout the story between Logan and Mystique, as he tries to find her. Though sometimes his actions are reprehensible... killing an Afghani woman who he thinks is Mystique because he smells her on the woman, Mystique lies, steals and abandons people left and right after they are no longer useful to her. This leads you to wonder which character's actions are more distasteful.

And its this that caused me to feel less than interested in the graphic novel. Yes, Mystique is a villainous character. She does horrible things in the name of her own self-interest. But is Logan any better, willing to kill people who are nominally innocent simply to bring her down? I wasn't sure, and reading this graphic novel left me with a bad taste in my mouth. By the end, I simply couldn't bring myself to care who won the battle. And that made this book a failure for me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea by Makoto Mizobuchi

Ash and his friends May, Brock and Max, are travelling in a great desert when they encounter huge bubbles of water containing Water Pokémon. They have stumbled onto Lizabeth, a performer in the Marina Underwater Travelling Pokémon show.

With her are her grandfather and a boy named Jack, and after giving Ash and his very thirsty friends some water, put them up for the night. May falls asleep under the light from a strange egg in a container of water, and dreams of a mysterious temple under the sea. This is the Temple of the Water people. The temple can only be seen on nights of a lunar eclipse

But meanwhile, Jesse, James and Meowth have come to try and steal the egg for themselves. but when they touch it, they suddenly switch bodies! They try to make away with the egg anyway, but Jack insists on getting it back. Ash wants Pikachu to use Thundershock, but Jack tells him he can't damage the egg. Instead, Jack uses a capture beam on a Fearow, and has it get the egg back. From that, Ash infers that Jack is a Pokémon Ranger, and Jack confirms it. The egg is from a rare water Pokémon named Manaphy that lives near the temple. He wants to return it to its kin.

But then, the pirate whom Jack took the Manaphy egg from shows up. His name is the Phantom, and he wants to steal the treasure known as "The Crown of the Sea" from the temple, and was counting on the Manaphy to lead him there when it hatched. He's come to get his Egg back, and Ash and the others stall Phantom while May flees with the egg, but it hatches, and the baby Manaphy bonds with her immediately, thinking of her as its mother.

The others flee to the sea, where they are led by the Manaphy to safety. The Manaphy is also known as "The Prince of the Sea", and it enabled them to breathe water long enough to escape. But when Jack starts out to take Manaphy back to the temple, it switches bodies between Ash and Jack so that Ash, Max, Brock and May accompany Jack and Manaphy to the temple

Unfortunately, Phantom and his pirate crew follow them, seeking the temple and the treasure. As the moon is slowly covered by the Eclipse, can Ash and his friends keep the temple safe, or will its riches be plundered by Phantom?

This wasn't a bad short story for the Pokémon universe, being nicely set up, with a fairly evil villain, and yet, which allowed Ash to be heroic and victorious at the same time. Of course, it's used to introduce a new Pokémon (Manaphy), though not being a big follower of POkémon, I can't tell if Pokémon Rangers were already introduced or new to this story, but if you haven't seen them before, you will only get a shadowy idea of what they do and why.

I can't say much about the motivation of the villain, except to say that he's a pirate, and his motivation is greed for the crystals in the crown. But the true treasure of the crown isn't monetary, but its ability to bestow special water powers on those it deems worthy. We don't get a clue how, except that it's presumably magic.

In the end, it's not bad for a kid's manga, but it's not especially deep or complicated, either. Just perfect for young kids who are already thrilled by Pokémon.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Computers of Star Trek by Lois Gresh and Robert Weinberg

Star Trek is a series that purports to be of the future, but are the computers we see on Star Trek really indicative of how computers will look, sound, and be in the future? Or are they more indicative of how our computers are today? And if they are of today, what will the computers of tomorrow really be like? What should we expect of the computer systems of the future?

For a start, the computers of tomorrow will be nothing like the computers of today. Expect everything to smaller, faster and lighter. By the time 300 years pass, computers might not even be external to us. Instead, we could carry them wherever we go, right inside our own bodies, or even within our own cells.

With the advent of nanomachines, we could have computers that make the need for speech irrelevant. But we must realize that many stories on Star Trek would seem boring indeed without a need for away parties or actors to talk to one another. A bunch of people sitting in chairs twitching and nodding might seem more like the crew of an insane asylum rather than a Starship crew!

Realizing that the computers in Star Trek and the way in which they are affected by things is more dependent on story material than actual speculative facts is the key to understanding why computers on Star Trek are the way they are. And this book examines not only the computers in the Starship Enterprise and the way they work based on the Technical Manuals put out by the series, but also by what is shown in various stories about the way the Starship works.

Not just the computers themselves, but many computer creations, including Lal, Julia Trainer, Nanites and the Ship's Medical Hologram are examined in detail. Data, in particular, is examined quite closely for clues on whether his AI relies on "top down", "bottom up" or both systems of learning. (The answer the authors come to is both, but mainly bottom up. However, it is strange that Data doesn't even know how, exactly, his own brain works! And when someone does work it out (The Nanites), he never seems to ask them for details afterwards!

And then there is how the officers of the ship seem to rely on humans and human reaction times for battle. Wouldn't computers, of the size in the Enterprise, be more adept at fighting? Programmed with many scenarios and battle tactics, wouldn't the computers be better able to maneuver the ship and fire the weapons? The authors make the case for "Yes" decisively.

While Star Trek is an entertaining series of shows, this book shows us that contrary to the show being set in the 24th Century, the computers it shows are no more than very large, very fast models of computers and computing systems we have now. And while you can still enjoy the shows after reading this book, the computer systems will have lost their luster more than a bit. But it's our own potential to outstrip what we saw in the shows and movies in the next hundred years or so which will most fill your mind and imagination after reading this book.

I highly recommend this book for both showing what's wrong with the Star Trek computer models, and for showing how we have the potential and capacity to make computers much better than that in less than 100 years. I can't express how wonderful this book was to read.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 6, by Hergé

This volume contains three stories: The Calculus Affair, The Red Sea Sharks, and Tintin in Tibet.

In "The Calculus Affair", Marlinspike Hall is home to a strange series of disturbances, which destroy glass and ceramic objects, but without any evidence of what is making these things happen. Originally starting during a rainstorm, there is no evidence that the thunder is responsible. Then, shots ring out on the manor grounds, and Professor Calculus walks in. He seems not to have heard the shots, but Tintin finds a bullet hole in the Professor's hat. Again, the Professor seems not to understand or care. He is leaving tomorrow for a conference in Geneva.

After he leaves, Marlinspike Hall quiets down, which suggests that the Professor might have something to do with the disturbances. Investigating his lab, located on the estate, has them finding a device that might be a chemical engine exhaust valve... or a giant sonic contraption. But a strange man surprises Haddock and Tintin and knocks Haddock down and beats him. He looks Eastern European, and before he escapes, Snowy bites off one of the man's trenchcoat pockets. Inside are a box of cigarettes and a box of matches from the same hotel that Calculus will be staying at in Geneva.

Tintin and Haddock guess that he might be in trouble and rush to Geneva to help him. But by the time they get to his hotel, he has gone to stay with a friend of his, Professor Topolino. They make the trek there, only to be forced off the road along the way. Recovering, they make their way to Topolino's house, and eventually find him trussed up in his own coal cellar. He claims Calculus did this to him, but when they show him Calculus' picture, he comes to realize that the man who did this isn't the real professor Calculus.

The two men who earlier drove them off the road attempt to blow up Topolino's house and kill Haddock and Tintin. They succeed at the first, but not the second. Following the men, they discover a plot and the countries of Syldavia and Borduria fighting over Calculus's invention, which they intend to use to wage war. But can Tintin and Haddock retrieve their friend, and the umbrella in which he hid his plans before the invention is used as a war machine?

In "The Red Sea Sharks", Tintin and Haddock are visited by Adullah, the son of the ruler of the land of Khemed, which Tintin last visited in "Land of the Black Gold". It seems that his father sent him away from Khemed for his safety, for Sheik Bab El Ehr was about to overthrow him. Tintin and Haddock, to get away from Abdullah's endless tricks, travel there, but are turned away at the border.

In their attempts to get back, they eventually meet with the Pasha, who tells them of the problem plaguing his country: slavery. A man who the Emir had dealings with, by the name of Gorgonzola, turned out to be a slaver. Many slaves started out as pilgrims to Mecca. Tintin and Haddock leave to go to Mecca and investigate, but men who have on their trail, the Mosquitos, wreck their boat by strafing it with a plane. They end up on a raft, and rescue the pilot of the plane, a Norwegian named Skut. From there, they are picked up by Gorgonzola's boat when his party guests, including Bianca Castafiore, make it impossible for him to just leave them.

As soon as he can, he has them transferred to another boat, a tramp steamer called the USS Ramona. Captaining her is Allan, Haddock's one-time first mate, who kept him well-plied with liquor. He locks them in the hold, but the next day there is a fire on the ship, and the crew abandon her. Haddock and Tintin break out, douse the fire (not realizing the ship is loaded with munitions and gunpowder, and free some Africans from the hold. Skut is also on board and helps them repair the radio, which the crew smashed before abandoning the ship.

The Africans still insist on going to Mecca, where they would have been enslaved, but eventually see reason, and help Haddock and Tintin make for Djibouti. When an Arab Dhow hails and boards them, he asks for their cargo of Coke (not cocaine, but a type of coal). Haddock insists there is none on board, but when the Arab insists on examining a nearby African for how well he can work, Haddock and Tintin realize that "Coke" is the code word for slaves, and Haddock is enraged, kicking the man off the boat and hurling abuse at him (even through a megaphone) until the man is too far away to hear.

But Gorgonzola still wants Tintin and Haddock dead. Can they escape him and bring him to justice before he sees to it that they never make port in Djibouti?

In "Tintin in Tibet", Tintin has an intense dream of a Chinese friend of his called Chang. He dreams that Chang is in trouble, and everywhere, he seems to hear his friend's name. An airplane went down in Tibet, and Tintin soon finds out that Chang was on that very plane.

Without any delay, he leaves for China, and then Tibet to rescue his friend, even though everyone is sure that all passengers on the plane are dead. No one, it seems, wants to help him, as everyone is sure that all passengers died. But Tintin's courage in insisting on going forward eventually bring people around, and he and Haddock find bearers to take them to the site of the plane crash, but they eventually run off after hearing the cry of the Abominable Snowman.

Only one man remains, the Guide, called Tharkey. He helps them find Chang's muffler, which Tintin spots hanging from a rock. And from there, they find a monastery to take shelter in as they fight the cold, the thin air, and the terrain, which is very rough. The Lama of the Monastery also declines to help them, though he does allow them to take shelter in the monastery for a while.

But a monk named Blessed Lightning, is prone to visions and floating in the air. It was he who first "saw" Tintin and Haddock needed help, and when Tintin hands him Chang's muffler, he sees Chang needing help. But does Tintin have the strength to continue his journey, or will he fall and fail in the snow-covered mountains of Tibet?

This is a fairly intense series of stories, with two of them involving survival in inhospitable places (The open sea and Tibet), but of them all, I liked "Tintin in Tibet" the best, and it also happened to be Hergé's favorite as well. In it, there is no real villain and no opposition except for nature itself. It's very unlike any of the other Tintin stories. All Tintin has to follow is a dream he had and the conviction that Chang is still alive, and eventually, he is proven right.

If more Tintin stories were like that one, I'd like the series better. It also has far less jokes and clownishness in it, and is a very serious story. As for the series itself, even in these supposedly complete volumes, there are stories that weren't published. Early stories like Tintin in Russia, Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, and the last story "The Alph-Art" are not part of the collection. Probably because the first three contain some fairly offensive stereotypes, and the last isn't really finished.

But for a series, it isn't bad. It just isn't as interesting as other series which I have read, and while I enjoyed reading it from the library, I'd never spend money on it myself.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Kindaichi Case Files Volume 10- Kindaichi the Killer, Part 1 by Yozaburo Kanari and Fumiya Sato

Kindaichi is asked to travel to the home of a famed writer by Yousuke Itsaki, whom he met on the Lake Hiren Case. It seems that famed writer Goryu Murakanu has written a new novel based on real people. Now, any story written by him is certainly going to be a big seller, and he has offered the novel to a wide variety of publishers- provided they can decipher the clues he provides to the location of the manuscript. Since Kindaichi is so good at these things, Itsaki wants his own publisher to win the manuscript, and asks Kindaichi for help.

After being bribed with food, Kindaichi travels with Itsuki, his publisher and his friend Miyuki to the home of Murakanu, who is a lecherous older man who hits on Miyuki, much to Kindaichi's displeasure. Murakanu shows his riddle, but Kindaichi delays giving his answer to the clue in favor of enjoying the creature comforts of Murakanu's home. But when he strikes back against Murakanu for hitting on Miyuki, showing the world that Murakanu wears a toupee, Murakanu gets angry at Kindaichi. As Kindaichi tells Itsuki's publisher the solution to the riddle, he makes plans to go ask Murakanu's forgiveness.

But Murakanu has been murdered, and since Kindaichi is alone in the room with him, and only his footprints leading to the door are captured in the mud surrounding the house, suspicion falls squarely on Kindaichi for the murder. Kindaichi is forced to flee from the police if he wants to free his own name!

But with each clue he tracks down, more murders occur, and it appears that Kindaichi is going on a murder spree around Tokyo. With Itsuke and Miyuki on his side, he must continue finding clues if he wants to save himself, but with the killer right alongside of him the whole time, can Kindaichi outwit a killer who seemingly wants to frame Kindaichi for the series of murders?

This is a short manga, because in the original manga, which came out in Japan, the story was in one volume. It was chopped in half for the American version, leaving readers in suspense as to the identity of the real killer and what mess the killer will lead Kindaichi into next. The sense of frustration and fear Kindaichi feels is palpable, and readers feel it right along with him as every clue leads to another dead body being blamed on Kindaichi.

And it's not just regular, nameless, faceless cops Kindaichi is facing either. Arrayed against him this time are Kenmochi, the cop who Kindaichi is usually helping, and Inspector Akechi, who Kindaichi beat at detecting in "Murder TV". And while Kenmochi isn't that great a detective, Akechi is a very good one.

This manga really makes you feel for Kindaichi and how it feels to be hunted by the police for something you didn't do. As the pages fly by, the sense of urgency and panic increase, both on our part, and the part of Kindaichi. This is an excellent story that really moves readers, who have come to like and respect Kindaichi during the course of the series. What will happen next? Tune into the next volume to find out!

Busted Flush- A Wildcards Novel, edited by George R. R. Martin

It has been over 60 years since Doctor Tachyon crash-landed on Earth, bringing with him Xenovirus Takhisis 1A, also known as the Wild Card Virus. This virus had three major outcomes- you could die (Draw a Black Queen), be physically mutated in a horrible fashion (Draw a Joker) or gain spectacular powers (Draw an Ace). Later, Aces with negligible or fairly useless powers were called "Deuces", but too many people had died or been mutated for people to feel comfortable with the people exposed to the virus.

Aces quickly rose to the status of Superheroes, and were responsible for many good acts that helped people and saved lives. But now, many of the heroes work for their respective Governments. One such group is the committee, which boasts a wide assortment of powers, many of them recruited from a long-running reality TV program. The Comittee was begun by a hero named John Fortune, fated to be the next incarnation of the God Ra, but when he was cured of the Wild Card Virus by his father, he lost his Ace Powers. Now, only the presence of a magical scarab gives him any powers at all. The scarab was meant to bond with him and increase his powers, but the intelligent scarab feels cheated of her destiny.

As the members of the Committee head out around the world to deal with brushfire wars, they are opposed by Aces working for other powers, including the Former Cap'n Trips, now somehow permanently become one of his personas, the Revolutionary, a Marxist Hero. But he is no longer the Icon of Peace and Righteousness he once was, and his Peace Medallion no longer works, a sign of how Meadows lost his way. Increasingly violent and ruthless, he seems to have gone mad, and his former Alter Ego, Mark Meadows, now seems to be trapped in his psyche. The only way we can tell that he is still Meadows is that he still loves (in a parental way) Sprout, his 30-year old, but mentally four year old daughter. A thoroughgoing Marxist, he now beats up the armies of the opposition and democracy.

One group of the Committee meets with him, but they are completely turned off by his attitude and the way he wages war on normal soldiers. Meanwhile, in the US, a new ace arises, a 13 year-old boy named Drake who explodes with the power of a nuclear explosion, but not the radiation. He is collected by the military and taken to a secret base to be evaluated.

There, he meets the Joker known as Niobe. Niobe has a power of her own: after having intercourse with anyone male, she gives birth to eggs that become homonculi children, with all of her children being an Ace, Joker or Deuce. However, they only last a few weeks. Niobe is being asked/forced to bear children in the hopes that they will live longer. But when she finds out that they intend to force her to bear hundreds of children in hopes of using them as disposable war troops, she decides to break out of the BICC facility, and take Drake with her.

The breakout not only releases Niobe and Drake, but some of the more dangerous residents of the facility, such as the Racist, and Sharky, a man with the appetite, teeth and digestive system of a Great White Shark. But as Niobe and Drake flee across America, can Drake keep in his explosive ability, or will this chubby kid take out America with one temper tantrum?

Not a bad story, although since it's a mosaic novel, each chapter is written by different writers. So in a book with, say, 50 chapters, you might have 10-12 written about each major character or group of characters (because some chapters are written for groups of characters.

It's interesting to see how the Wild Cards Universe has changed, going from a "Gee, Wow, Superheroes!" type story to one which is much more gray, gritty and mired in the politics of the modern day. Even reality shows make an appearance in the story, and indeed, some of the Aces in the Comittee were recruited from Reality TV.

Gone, though, are the focus on the struggles between Jokers and Aces, and now the story is about Politics and the use of Aces as tools against governments and homegrown problems. It has a very modernistic feel to it, but I found it less interesting than the earlier stories. With the graying of the worldview, so have the characters of the heroes, and some of them you cannot tell who is a hero and who is a villain any more, which I found rather sad.

This is an okay novel if you are familliar with the Wildcards series, and more importantly, the new, more modern Wildcards series. But I can't suggest it as your first visit to the Wildcards Universe, and I found the story only intermittently interesting. Not bad, but not all that good, either.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione

Tayla Mancuso is an Aegi, a demon slayer. But her blood carries a deadly secret- she, herself, is half demon, something not even she knows. But when a fight with a demon lands her in Underground General Hospital, her secret becomes known to Eidolon, the Seminus Demon Doctor who worked on her and saved her life.

Despite knowing she's Aegi, Eidolon finds himself drawn to her, both personally and sexually. Even while she's still in the hospital, he finds himself making love to her, and wondering why she doesn't come. A Seminus demon is the epitome of sex, so what is wrong with her?

But Eidolon has a problem of his own. He's rapidly coming up on the S'genesis, a time of change for Seminus demons, when he will either take a mate or become something else, something that lives for sex and impregnating other female demons. Very few Seminus demons live to adulthood, and all are male. Other female demons impregnated by a Seminus tend to kill their offspring soon after birth. Out of 44 brothers born from his father to different mothers, only he and two others remain. But as Eidolon is the head doctor of UG, and he was the one who came up with the idea, he wants to mate rather than become someone or something else.

But when Tayla is thrown on his table, he doesn't want to kill her. Instead, he works to save her life, hoping to induce her to turn on her Aegi comrades, who would do him the favor of killing her if they ever found out what she is. However, he has a problem of his own. Someone is operating on demons, robbing them of parts of their bodies to sell them on the black market. He and the other demons believe that the Aegis is behind it, but why sell their parts rather than just killing the demons, period?

Tayla finds herself wanting Eidolon even as she knows she should kill him. But he attracts her as no one else does, and she can't stop wanting him, even as she hates him for making him want her. But something isn't right. Why would a demon save her life, and why are her Aegis comrades suddenly trying to kill her. She knows no Aegis would sell demon body parts for money... or would they? And why is she suddenly being targeted?

Reluctantly, she must work with Eidolon to find out the truth, and face the terrible secret that lives in her own body.... or die trying.

I really enjoyed this book, which took an incredible world, mated it with sensual writing and an interesting story, and never let up from the first page. The warring viewpoints of the demons, and the Aegis, who assumed that all demons are evil just because they are called "demons" was just amazing to read. While Tayla assumes she knows a lot about the demon world, and assumes all of them come from Hell, Eidolon has to set her straight.

While we don't really learn a lot about the demon world, what we do learn about it is spread over a wide variety of demons and demon types. For instance, Eidolon is a Seminus demon, just one of the many types of Incubi, or sex demons. His kind reproduce only males, while other Incubi can make both male and female demons. We also learn that after Satan fell, God granted him the power of creation, and Satan made demons, But like humans, who are born good and can turn evil, Demons are born evil and can turn good if they choose. Surprisingly, some demons reject tales of Satan, who they have never seen, the same way some humans reject tales of God. While the idea of demon atheists gave me a chuckle, it's also a really interesting idea.

The trouble for Tayla comes when she must start integrating the truth of the world of Demons with what she has believed about it for so long, and the trouble with the rest of the Aegis in her cell leaves her confused for the longest time. But I was very intrigued by the world, and I want to see and read more. I have a feeling that the next few books are mapped out already, with Eidolon's brothers, Wrath and Shade, and Tayla's sister Gem being the most obvious candidates. But I can't wait to read about them, and I'll be waiting to see what comes next with bated breath.

Black Jack Volume 3 by Osamu Tezuka

Black Jack, the famous unlicensed physician, is back in another volume of 15 stories of medical mysteries and urgent surgeries.

In "Disowned Son" BlackJack, stranded in a country town by a problem with the railroad, is taken in by an old woman with three sons. It's her birthday, and she's invited them all to visit her, but none of them can make it. But when her disowned son shows up, she rejects him. Can BlackJack save her life when she collapses and save her relationship with her other son, who wants to be a doctor?

"Shrinking" sets BlackJack on the trail of a strange disease that shrinks both animals and humans and kills as the victim grows ever smaller. But when his friend and mentor contracts the disease, can BlackJack save him, or is this one he is destined to lose?

In "Dingoes", BlackJack visits a friend in Australia, only to find him and his whole family dead of a strange disease which causes red spots. But when BlackJack himself falls prey to the same disease, he must perform surgery on himself in the Outback while fending off a band of Dingoes to save his own life.

When a nurse is blamed for the fatal mistake of a careless Doctor in "Your Mistake", she loses her job, and BlackJack must help her gain justice from the Doctor and his father, who is the Director of a very large hospital.

In "The Robin and the Boy", a bird keeps bringing BlackJack money, and he must find out why. The answer is a story of help repaid, even unto the point of death. But can BlackJack help the child who helped the Robin first?

In "The Boy Who Came From the Sky" BlackJack is approached by a defecting soldier and his wife with a plea to help their son, afflicted with a rare disease, it might already be too late for the boy. But thanks to the sacrifice of both parents, BlackJack can save the child. But at what cost?

In "BlackJack in Hospital", BlackJack himself is injured in an auto accident. The surgeon in charge saves him, but he knows BlackJack and makes him sweat during every minute of the operation to save BlackJack's arm, threatening to let it stay injured so that he can never operate unlicensed again. But when the surgeon's sister falls in love with BlackJack, he must help her gain confidence in her own surgical abilities when her brother is injured.

In "A Woman's Case", Blackjack saves the life of a woman who collapsed at a train station. But her attempts to repay him are too extravagant. All he wants is some Ramen. But when her husband dies, will she finally be able to repay BlackJack in the way he wants?

In "Two Dark Doctors" BlackJack has an encounter with a physician who helps others commit suicide. They have been engaged on behalf of the same woman. But who will win out in the end?

In "The Residents", BlackJack is asked for help by three non-surgical residents who want him to perform surgery on a patient of theirs, in defiance of an order by their superior, a noted surgeon. They believe they know better than he does. But will BlackJack support them, or refuse to go against the orders of their superior?

In "Recollections of a Spinster", a former nurse remembers how she helped BlackJack save the life of a pregnant woman who collapsed. But will helping him against the wishes of her hospital superiors cut her career fatally short?

Pinoko is attempting to be domestic in "Pinoko Loves You", but she instead raises BlackJack's ire with burnt bread and inedible food. But when BlackJack needs a kidney to save a dying boy on his operating table, Pinoko offers her own out of love. But does the offer come too late?

In "Tenacity" a boy studying to take the Medical Exams collapses during the test, His entire life he has wanted to be a doctor to save people from cancer, like his parents that died. But now he, too, is sick and dying. Can he still have his wish to save others fulfilled, or will it pass by the wayside with his illness?

"An Odd Relationship"-Two men come to BlackJack to be healed. One a young man who has been shot, the other a detective chasing a former Bank Robber. Separated by the wall of their rooms, they become friendly with each other, even though the young man is, unbeknownst to the detective, the crook he has been seeking. Can BlackJack engineer a happy ending?

And finally, in "Baby Blues" a young Bad Girl finds a baby in a locker at a bus station after she robbed the key from the woman holding it. her attempts to feed and help the baby are clumsy, but when BlackJack finds out her secret, can he keep the infant, who has rickets, alive long enough for the proper authorities to claim it?

Another excellent book of medical mysteries, done really old school. BlackJack isn't perfect, and he can be arrogant and lose his temper easily, but he generally believes in the goodness of people, and can be amazed at how admirably they can act in defense of someone they love.

And the stories aren't always about BlackJack himself, but about the people he encounters, like the story "Tenacity". A Surgeon dying of cancer goes to all sorts of lengths to save the life of a young woman, right to the end where he continues operating as he, himself, is dying. Or there's the story of the nurse who is ordered to stay away from helping BlackJack but ignores orders to do the right thing.

So much of BlackJack is about hope, and doing the right thing, even if it causes you to ignore orders or break rules. Orders and rules can't compare to life and hope, and helping others. It makes me feel happy to read these stories because they uphold life and hope and helping others. I recommend these books highly.