Thursday, May 31, 2012
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Monday, May 28, 2012
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Osamu Tezuka's somewhat ground breaking work; Princess Knight, was a bit of an excursion down memory lane for me.
My original introduction to the concept was as a cartoon. I don't remember it being in black and white, but considering that I watched it as a very young kid (I can't have been over 5 or 6) and we didn't have colour TV until I was at least 7 I must have watched it in B&W whether it was actually colourised or not. Judging by the dates it was made and going on a lot of other Japanese cartoons of the time such as Gigantor it probably wasn't coloured.
I always liked the show, it was loud and bright and silly and loads of fun. I could only vaguely remember it, but the concept was basically; a pretty and spirited young princess pretends to be a boy and has adventures, she also had an odd little assistant, who tended to hinder her as much as he helped, and was intended as comedy relief.
I wasn't even aware that they'd ever published as a manga until I saw the first volume in a bookstore a few months ago. I don't read a lot of manga. My main problem with it is that it's generally in black and white, and I like my comics to be coloured, unless they're things like Cerebus. It sounds like a really silly bias, but it's not the only reason. A lot of manga is really full on with the action, it's written and drawn very cinematically. I find there's too much going on and it makes my eyes spin and my head hurt.
The idea behind Princess Knight is, for it's time, quite revolutionary. Before Princess Sapphire of Goldland is born a mischievous angel by the name of Tink gives a scheduled to be born baby a blue heart which makes it a boy, before his mischief can be uncovered God gives the baby a red heart, which makes her a girl.
The duality isn't really that bad a thing for the kingdom of Goldland. Their laws say that the kingship can only pass to a male heir. If the King and Queen of Goldland can't produce a male heir, then the throne will pass to the completely unsuitable son of the evil Duke Duralumin. So that although Sapphire is born a girl, her blue heart means that they can quite successfully pass her off as a boy until they can find a way around their ridiculous law. As punishment for his part in the mess Tink is sent to Earth to watch over Sapphire.
Most of the action takes place after Sapphire turns 15. She's spent her life being raised and behaving as a boy, while knowing she's a girl. Duke Duralumin and his henchman Sir Nylon have spent most of that 15 years trying to prove that Sapphire is female, not male, and put Duralumin's useless son Plastic on the throne.
Things really get interesting for Sapphire when the handsome Prince of Silverland comes to Goldland for a tournament and falls for Sapphire in her guise of a 'flaxen haired maiden', and competes with her boy persona for superiority of arms. The King dies by accident, Sapphire is unmasked and along with her mother and Tink becomes a wanted fugitive.
From this point on Sapphire's life is a whirlwind. An evil sorceress wants her girl heart, the Prince of Silverland is pursuing the 'flaxen haired maiden', while continuing to fight with Prince Sapphire, and then the pirates led by the dashing Blood get involved.
It's confusing and funny, it has moments of high tragedy and low farce. Osamu Tezuka writes the whole thing with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. It's actually a delight from start to finish. It's great because there's a second part that immediately follows this.
Will Sapphire choose Blood or the Prince of Silverland? Will she kill the sorceress and break the spell that has turned her mother to stone? Will Tink ever get back to Heaven. Will Sapphire keep both or hearts or give one of them up?
I'm really looking forward to reading Part 2. Be great to see the animated series to make a come back in the modern era either as a series or even a full length feature. The world may not have been ready for it in the 60's, it is now.
Friday, May 25, 2012
All good things must come to an end, and so it is with the Little Red Reviewers read along of Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series. There are seven books planned, but as yet only the first two have been published, so this will be the last set of questions. The final set of questions are from Lynn of Lynn's Book Blog. If you haven't finished the book I recommend doing so before reading as there will be spoilers.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
If the chapters in the Flashman books had titles chapter 6 of Flashman in the Great Game could very well be entitled Everything Turns to Shit.
Flashman knows immediately on arriving back at the British officers camp that something is wrong. He sends his female companion, one of Mason's relatives back to the house and goes to check out the jail, which is where he believes the trouble will be. Depending on how back the situation is he has every intention of getting out as quickly as he can, going somewhere he can safely reveal himself as a British officer and get on the first boat back to England.
While trying to get through the town he sees a mob literally tear apart a British officer and knows that he probably won't get out of this as easily as he would like. The notes indicate that this was one of the first British officers killed by the rebelling locals. Going to the jail is out, if anyone there recognises him as one of Mason's servants they'll tag him as a British sympathiser and kill him.
Flashman heads back to the houses. The scenes that greet him are right out of one of the circles of Hell. This is where the mutineers hit hardest. They killed indiscriminately, men, women, children, even their own if they thought they were working for the British.
Flashman goes to the veterinarians house and finds the vet, a soldier called Tommy and a dead woman, who seemed to have been named Mary. The two men panic and don't recognise Harry. There's a brief struggle from which Flashman is lucky to get away alive, and as it is he receives a nasty facial wound.
This incident decides him to go back to Mason's house, because Mason has a revolver in a drawer in his office, and that could come in very useful. Another hellish scene greets him. The lady with whom he had spent a delightful afternoon has been beheaded and the strict Scottish woman who used to advise him on how to manage the servants has been pinned to the wall by a tulwar. Harry takes the revolver, loads it, and leaves the house as angry as he has ever been in his life.
On the way out he meets a drunken mutineer who boasts of murdering the 6 year old daughter of the saddlemaster. Flashman knows the girl, and he liked her. He shoots the mutineer in the groin and leaves him there to die in pain.
What follows is a mad delirious journey through a strife ridden countryside. He has a fever dream that features Arnold and Charity Spring. These two men seem to be in more of Harry's fever dreams than any other figures, and I think it indicates just how much they terrified him. I'm not sure why Arnold, but he really does put the wind up Harry. John Charity Spring was a psychotic lunatic, so that doesn't surprise. He does find out that the entire country has gone to hell and is now being ruled by someone who has seized their chance and named themselves King.
Harry has to get out of the country, but where can he go? At some stage his disguise is going to fail and then he's as good as dead. The idea comes to him that Jhansi was well run and Lakshmibai wouldn't have given up her rule easily. Besides Ilderim had promised to wait for him and keep an eye out at a temple nearby.
Ilderim and his men are there as promised, although it looks like they've been in fighting as well, Ilderim's arm is in a sling. That's when the Pathan delivers the bad news, all the British are dead. Jhansi has become the same sort of hell hole as the rest of the country.
Friday, May 18, 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Welcome the third week of Little Red Reviewer's read along of Red Seas Under Red Skies. This week's questions come from Ashley at SF Signal. So what do I think this time around as we get right into the meat of this story?
Friday, May 11, 2012
I probably never would have been interested in Matt Ruff's alternate history The Mirage if it hadn't been for a mention on Cory Doctorow's Boing Boing. It sounded interesting, so I had a look and bought a copy when I saw it.
Ruff has used an interesting, and I suppose somewhat controversial premise for the book. It largely centres around the September 11 attacks in 2001, but with one very significant twist. The attacks take place on the 9 of November and it is Christian fundamentalists from a fractured America who fly planes into the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, the Arab Defence Ministry in Riyadh, and a fourth was aimed at Mecca, but was brought down by passengers before the hijackers could hit their intended target.
In this world the United Arab States are a strong world power, with their capital in the bustling metropolis of Baghdad and the US is a fractured country under the heel of a long serving and corrupt dictator, who is probably suffering from senility, leaving the country to his equally corrupt and inept assistants.
Matt Ruff has very cleverly and skillfully described how the world could be so different, picking out the turning points, of which September 11, 2001, is most definitely one. The world building in this is excellent and it's a superlative piece of alternate history. The Mirage successfully combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, political satire and contemporary thriller within it's pages. One small quibble I have is that the author has largely ignored China and Russia within his world. I know the book is mostly about the aftermath of the attacks on the UAS, and the aftermath, as well as US Arab relations, but Russia and China are still world powers, so should get more coverage. Even Israel, which now appears to be based in East Germany, gets more of a mention. I also would have liked to see more of the super Mossad agent Sinbad than we actually got, too. He was a very cool character.
The story really follows three Homeland Security agents: Mustafa, Samir and Amal. It creates three very different, believable characters with excellent back stories and makes them into people that the reader gives a damn about. Mustafa has never gotten over losing one of his wives in the November 9 attacks (he had 2, but he's largely estranged from the second one). Samir hides a personal secret that if discovered could ruin the life he's built for himself on every level. Amal is the daughter of a prominent politician and she's always trying to prove herself to her mother and live up to the memory of her heroic father, who was murdered in the line of duty.
It looks like a pretty standard alternate history with some clever ideas until the trio take in a terror suspect, who under questioning, makes the claim that they are living in a false world. It's a mirage. In the world he comes from the US is the dominant world power and the Arab States are squabbling backwaters who are only important because of the oil on their soil. In his world it was Muslim terrorists who flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Centres in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.
It would be easy to dismiss the claims as the ravings of a committed lunatic, but deeper investigation reveals validity to the story, and as they dig deeper Mustafa, Samir and Amal find themselves in a mystery that reaches into their world's seamy underbelly and extends to the top levels of government. In trying to find a way out of this mess the three will be taken way out of their comfort zones and be stretched to their very limits before uncovering the shocking truth.
It does help to enjoy The Mirage if you have interest in current affairs and politics both before and after the events of September 11, 2001. Many of the key players in this real life soap opera appear, quite often in different capacities to those from which we know and remember them. Saddam Hussein and his murderous offspring, Osama Bin Laden, Donald Rumsfeld and even Muammar Gaddafi.
The Mirage is highly recommended and well worth taking the time to have a look at. If you enjoyed Robert Harris' Fatherland, then you would also really like reading The Mirage.
Chapter 4 of Flashman in the Great Game is a long one and a lot happens in terms of developing the story.
Most of it concerns Flashman and the Rani Lakshmibai. The two take a liking to one another, although Harry says it is mostly lust on his part (unsurprising) he does come to like the woman, although he can see through her hypocrisy when she sermonises about how her people were better off under local rule without British interference. He does allow the British have made mistakes, but has trouble swallowing her comments about how she treats the poor better than they do when she's wearing a pair of sandals that would cost a common labourer or clerk a years wages.
Harry paints an appealing picture of the Raj in 1856 in Jhansi. It does sound idyllic and even Flashman is, like his countrymen, lulled into a false sense of security. Given their lifestyle it is not surprising. I think Fraser also wrote it this way to make what later happens even more shocking. Flashman alludes to it and any student of history knows what's coming, but it was still a clever move by the author.
Flashman also meets up with an old friend. Ilderim Khan is serving at Jhansi. Readers will remember that Flashman was made the Afghan tribesman's blood brother when Ilderim was 16 years old in Flashman. I like Ilderim as a character, I even did in Flashman, and he's fleshed out a lot more here, and is even more likeable in this; a larger role, as an older more experienced man, even if he is a tad gung ho and bloodthirsty.
Harry, as always, thinks Lakshmibai is every bit as eager to hop into bed with him as he is with her. At times the character's ego and arrogance is breathtaking in it's depth. So when he and Ilderim get drunk one night and a messenger comes alluding to having been sent by the Rani off Flashman goes to an illicit tryst.
He never sees the woman's face, she's wearing a veil, and she moves like a nautch dancer, which she probably was. Harry will always be convinced that it was Lakshmibai, but there is significant doubt on that point. Remember the afterglow Harry mentions some of his other women, including one called Takes Away Clouds Woman, who readers have not met. Things like this often make me wonder how far ahead Fraser planned all this. Flashman in the Great Game is book 5, and Takes Away Clouds Woman doesn't appear until book 7, which didn't come out for another 2 or 3 years.
Harry is attacked by assassins while still recovering from his hang over and the affects of his energetic love making. His life is saved by Ilderim and a couple of his badmashes, who followed Harry believing something may have been afoot. The assassins turn out to be members of the local thugee cult. Under torture one of them also makes mention of Ignatieff. so Harry knows he's in trouble, but he can't simply go home.
Ilderim suggests that he go native, pretend to be a local by the name of Makarram Khan. Ilderim knows that no one else will lay claim to the name, because he killed the bearer of it. George MacDonald Fraser in his brilliant notes at the back does say that Makarram Khan was a real person and it is conceivable that he could have died in an engagement with Ilderim and his tribe. Once Harry's established his cover he can then serve as a local soldier. It sounds insane, and it probably is, but if anyone call pull this off it's Harry Flashman.
One thing that does irritate me a little about this book is the extensive footnoting. Fraser chose to use a lot of local terms to describe things and people, and he explains them in little footnotes down the bottom. They tend to distract from the reading, but that may because I've read the books so many times I know what the words all mean.