One of my favorite examples of people just not getting it is that of the Cult of Lovecraft. Hundreds...moreSonia Sanchez, Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010)
One of my favorite examples of people just not getting it is that of the Cult of Lovecraft. Hundreds of authors from August Derleth to Fred Chappell, of all people, have written direct-descendant works of Lovecraft. They vary widely in quality, of course, but most of them have the same basic format: take H. P.'s crrepy-crawlies and integrate them into the author's own style. Which is all well and good, and some of what has emerged from that process is pretty darned good. But then came a chap named Thomas Ligotti, who turned everything on its head. Instead of taking the creepy-crawlies and abandoning the style, Ligotti writes horrific little stories that have completely integrated Lovecraft's style, but with nary a hint of Cthulhu and company to be found. In short, Thomas Ligotti gets it, in a way no other author has, and as a result his stories are more “Lovecraftian” than any raft of August Derleths or Ramsey Campbells.
Needless to say, there's a parallel to be had here. American writers, or perhaps I should say “attempters”, of haiku take the creepy-crawlies, most notably the syllable count, without really grasping the concepts that lie behind haiku: economy (Henderson, in Haiku in English, notes that 5/7/5 generally results in haiku that are too wordy. Indeed.), mysticism, nature. Nature, in fact, is so important that haiku without a link to nature aren't haiku at all, they're actually senryu. Very few American authors understand this (in fact, the only one that comes to mind off the top of my head is Nick Mamatas, whose Cthulhu Senryu is a perfect example).
I've read god knows how many American collections of stuff pretending to be haiku. Most of it doesn't even rate as decent senryu. And then there is Sonia Sanchez' Morning Haiku, which is the Thomas Ligotti of Asian poetic form, with the allowance that Sanchez is mostly writing senryu here.
“trees praising our innocence new territories dressing our limbs in starched bones” (“15 haiku for Toni Morrison”)
Sanchez is totally focused on the image here, as regards the construction of an individual senryu, and because of that, she gets it in a way few others do. That alone makes this not only well worth the price of admission, but most likely the best book of senryu-masquerading-as-haiku by an American author you will read all year, no matter what year you read it in.
On the other hand, now that I've praised the tree, I've got to mention at least in passing that the forest is a little too message-based. Sanchez' excellent focus on the construction of each piece is just as evident when it comes to the subjects she picks, and so she often ends up paying lip service to the mystical/natural elements of the form at best. This can be a bit disappointing at times, given how well her talent at working this form comes through again and again in the book:
“footprints blooming in the night remember your blood” (“14 haiku for Emmett Louis Till”)
...but don't let that stop you from reading this one. You want to. *** ½ (less)
Tite Kubo, Bleach, vol. 33: The Bad Joke (ViZ, 2001)
Okay, so the big battle between Ichigo and Grimmjow wasn't the end of the Hueco Mundo storyline, a...moreTite Kubo, Bleach, vol. 33: The Bad Joke (ViZ, 2001)
Okay, so the big battle between Ichigo and Grimmjow wasn't the end of the Hueco Mundo storyline, and that was something of a disappointment. But balancing out the fact that Kubo is going to keep dragging us along in a story that wore its welcome out quite a while ago is the revelation of who Nel actually is, Nel having been the only new character introduced in Hueco Mundo who seemed worthy of the characterization Kubo was so exact with back in the early days of the series. And those scenes are quite good, though the rest of the book doesn't live up to the rest of the series so far. ***(less)
Mashima caps off the Mystic Realm storyline as he usually does; once the big battle is over, the ga...moreHiro Mashima, Rave Master, vol. 28 (Tokyopop, 2004)
Mashima caps off the Mystic Realm storyline as he usually does; once the big battle is over, the gang chill out for a while, we get some ideas about whether any of the new allies introduced in the storyline are going to be permanent additions to the gang, and then we start looking forward to the next storyline (which, if you'll remember from vol. 27, Mashima has stated will be the final storyline in the series). It's wrap-up, but this being Mashima, it's solid wrap-up, and will have you looking forward to the next volume. *** ½ (less)
Tite Kubo, Bleach vol. 29: The Slashing Opera (ViZ, 2001)
While Ichigo is off fighting Barron (see vol. 28), Uryu and Chad are fighting their own falle...moreTite Kubo, Bleach vol. 29: The Slashing Opera (ViZ, 2001)
While Ichigo is off fighting Barron (see vol. 28), Uryu and Chad are fighting their own fallen espadas, and those battles are the subject of this volume. Uryu faces Cirucci, whose power is only matched by the speed of her defense, while Chad is up against Gantenbainne Mosqueda, the strongman of the bunch (but he has a few tricks up his sleeve). The usual blend of action and humor (there's a mini-story at the end called “Bleach on the Beach” that's worth the price of admission by itself), but Kubo's kind of reaching in this one; I think Chad talks more in this volume than he has in the rest of the series put together. That's a touch out of character, no? *** ½ (less)
What is this thing the Japanese have with taking incredibly cute, cuddly anthropomorphic animals and...moreMine Yoshizaki, Sgt. Frog, vol. 1 (Tokyopop, 1999)
What is this thing the Japanese have with taking incredibly cute, cuddly anthropomorphic animals and making them want to conquer the universe? (Think of Kon, the stuffed teddy bear in Bleach, for an obvious example.) It was inevitable that one of those cute, cuddly sadists would eventually get his own manga. Mine Yoshizaki obliged with Sgt. Frog, a series that has been successful enough on both sides of the Pacific to run to over twenty volumes (and an adapted anime still going after three hundred fifty-plus episodes as of this writing). The basic plot: Keroro, the leader of a platoon of frog-like aliens, brings his troop to Earth as an advance scouting team, to see if the planet is worth taking over. Something goes badly wrong, and their ship leaves, stranding them scattered around Japan. Keroro is soon discovered by the Hinata family, and after some quick negotiations, is offered the attic room, where he spends his time building models and surfing the net when not plotting to take over the planet—because after all, how could he do that without the rest of his platoon? But one of them could be closer than they think... cute, very witty, and all kinds of meta (the number of pop-culture references in here is stunning), it's a fun beginning to a series I hope stays this good. *** 1/2 (less)
Bill Willingham, Fables, vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover (Vertigo, 2010)
A minor warning: this book is going to be a tad confusing, probably, if yo...moreBill Willingham, Fables, vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover (Vertigo, 2010)
A minor warning: this book is going to be a tad confusing, probably, if you've only been following one of the books that converges here (Fables, Jack of Fables, and The Literals). Storylines don't mesh seamlessly with the other books in the series, at least not with Fables, so you're going to do a bit of headscratching before everything falls into place. But once it does, this is a tale for the grammar geeks and diction dictators among us, and it is boundless glee for that particular market. Mainstream readers may find it a bit harder going, what with all the literary in-jokes (and, let's face it, the almost nonexistent plot, especially when compared with the rest of the series). In other words, take my rating with a grain of salt if you don't read novels with a red pen in your dominant hand and/or have never written an outraged email to a publisher asking what the hell ever happened to editors who actually knew English. But if you've come this far in the series and that doesn't describe you, you're probably still going to read this so you don't miss out on anything down the line anyway, so why do you even need a review? You already knew when you clicked on the title whether you were going to buy this or not (and if you're considering buying this one without having read the first twelve, hie thee back to the first volume and start there, for the love of god). ****(less)
Brian K. Vaughan, Ex Machina vol. 9: Ring Out the Old (Wildstorm, 2010)
One of the blurbs on the cover of this book says, essentially (I don't have it...moreBrian K. Vaughan, Ex Machina vol. 9: Ring Out the Old (Wildstorm, 2010)
One of the blurbs on the cover of this book says, essentially (I don't have it to hand, sorry), “I can't believe this series is coming to an end.” I am totally down with that sentiment. Vaughan has shown repeatedly over the years that he can take the most ludicrous, sappy crap and turn it into absolute gold (witness Pride of Baghdad, which in the hands of hundreds of lesser authors would have been a sappy new-age mess). To date, earlier volumes in this series have comprised the only 9/11-based fiction I've been able to stomach. I am at this point willing to believe Brian K. Vaughn (whom, I should mention, I had no idea was from Cleveland) can do damn near anything. And he tested that hypothesis twice in this volume...and came up a winner both times.
First off, there's a mini-story arc where the powers that be have decided that Hundred needs a biographer. Hundred holds out for a comic version. Guess who we get to see a lot of in that arc. (Which is where I found out Vaughan is from Cleveland.) It's just as friggin' ludicrous as Stephen King writing himself into the Dark Tower books. But here... it works a lot better. Maybe because Vaughan's vision of New York cleaves so much closer to the original than King's Maine? I don't know, but it does. And then comes the main story, where we find out, basically, everything about everything. Why Hundred got his powers in the first place, what it's all supposed to mean, why an old nemesis seems to be back from the dead, the works. And it's so, so cheesy, and yet just as he did with some of the touchier subjects in Runaways and Y: The Last Man, he makes it all work like gangbusters. I have no idea how, but I've seen other authors try to do this sort of thing before and have it come off just as cheesy as it sounds (or would sound were I to spoil, you know, the entire series for you). You explain it, I can't. There's more than just raw talent at work here. An awesome series, highly recommended from first page to last... or at least the end of book 9, and I'll tell you about the final one as soon as I get my grubby little paws on it. ****(less)
Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Black Blizzard (Drawn and Quarterly, 2010)
Primitive, though solid, early (1956) tale from Tatsumi, who in the late sixties and earl...moreYoshihiro Tatsumi, Black Blizzard (Drawn and Quarterly, 2010)
Primitive, though solid, early (1956) tale from Tatsumi, who in the late sixties and early seventies would become one of Japan's most influential manga artists (think of him as a Japanese version of Charles Bukowski, both in subject matter and current influence, and you will have a good idea of Tatsumi's place in Japanese society). It's not nearly as good as the work he would do a decade or so later—it's quite derivative of any number of criminals-on-the-run movies, and feels much more blocky than his later work, which can be found in translation in such collections as Abandon the Old in Tokyo—but it's an interesting book in that there are glimpses of what was to come in Tatsumi's style even then. Start with some of the recent re-releases of his work in anthology form before coming to this one. *** ½ (less)