Sunday, October 19 2003


I hadn’t gotten around to browsing for audio books in the iTunes Music Store before, mostly because I’ve never understood what people see in them. After listening to a number of 90-second excerpts, I pretty much still don’t get it.

Worse, I don’t understand why some people insist on reading their own material. In print, Ann Coulter is a wild-eyed fanatic who sharpens every sentence to a razor edge; speaking into a microphone, the nicest thing I can say about her is that most computer-synthesized voices sound less realistic. And it goes on for six hours. I couldn’t listen to six hours of phone sex by a woman with a purring-kitten contralto; six hours of loosely-coupled politics in Coulter’s grating, emotionless voice would surely trigger a road-rage incident.

On the other hand, the folks responsible for The Worst-Case Survival Handbook: Travel had the good sense to hire someone who not only has a good voice, but who fits the tone of their material: Penn Jillette.

Even Michael Moore, Coulter’s even-less-reliable counterpart on the Left, lets Arte Johnson read Stupid White Men.

Monday, April 5 2004

The Return of Santiago

It’s been a while since I’ve read a novel by Mike Resnick. After finishing The Return of Santiago, it looks like it will be a while before I read another one.

It’s competently executed, and sufficiently entertaining that I did finish it, but if the plot had been any more telegraphed, they’d have had to change the title to Western Union. Maybe it’s because I’ve read four and a half other books set in this universe (I bounced hard on Widowmaker), but absolutely nothing that happened in this novel surprised me, and I’m already having trouble remembering any distinguishing characteristics of the characters.

Two things stand out: the running gag about Virgil’s sex life, which has no impact whatsoever on the story, and the fact that after Danny stumbles across the biggest secret in the history of the Inner Frontier, he cheerfully blabs it to damn near anyone within earshot, swearing them all to absolute secrecy.

Tuesday, August 24 2004

Wanted: Rick Brant’s egyptian cat

Many years ago, I got my hands on a few titles from the classic Rick Brant series of boy’s adventure novels. One that stands out in my memory (that I currently don’t have a copy of…) was The Egyptian Cat Mystery. The cat in question is a small stone statuette, the possession of which gets Our Heroes into the usual hot water.

Great fun, and as was typical for the Brant series, the science was both plausible and well-explained. I think it’s the only juvenile novel in existence that gives a decent explanation of how SETI works.

Anyway, a while back I decided that I wanted to have Rick’s cat sitting on my mantel, for the benefit of the six people in the world who might walk into my home and realize what it’s supposed to be. Every time I stay at the Luxor in Las Vegas, I check out the gift shops for an appropriate cat. It needs to be around six inches tall, plain (no gaudy gold paint, please!), and apparently constructed of smooth dark stone.

Imagine my joy when I spotted this in the bazaar last weekend:

Rick Brant egyptian cat

Imagine my crushing disappointment when I picked it up and discovered that it was chipped in several places, and was the only one they had. Sigh.

[oh, and this is the first photo I’ve posted from my Motorola V600 cellphone. Reduced to 50% and Leveled in Photoshop to fix the low contrast, I’d say this is fair representation of the image quality.]

Wednesday, September 15 2004

Pushing back the Borders…

I figure the best response to this, whether it reflects widespread Borders employee opinion or not, is to ride down there tonight, walk in wearing my motorcycle jacket and Call of Cthulhu Elder Sign t-shirt, and buy copies of Unfit for Command, Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man, a few gun magazines, a copy of Playboy, a red-meat-oriented cookbook, the latest issue of The Skeptical Enquirer, and a pile of translated manga.

That ought to confuse them.

As for the predictable outrage at discovering that chain bookstore employees tend to be virulently Leftie college students, I can only ask, “…and this surprises you how, exactly?”.

Of course, used bookstore employees lean to the Left in my experience as well, but at least they tend to be older and more well-rounded in their opinions. Like the guy who bored me stiff at ConQuest talking about San Francisco politics and the editorials he writes for a local communist paper, but who was happy to shift the topic to “guns that are fun to shoot” when my lack of interest in the Commies and Greens became obvious. Oh, and I hope he didn’t burn off too much hair lighting that cigarette; at our age, it doesn’t come back as easily.

Tuesday, April 4 2006

A disciplined mind

It’s looking like my Spring Quarter Japanese 3 class will be canceled. Actually, it’s all but certain at this point, and everyone who could has already switched their enrollment to the morning class.

This leaves me in an awkward position. The Rosetta Stone software remains useful as a supplement, but it’s been quite a while since it’s been able to really help me advance. I need interaction now, primarily conversation practice, but also occasional enlightenment when I get into trouble (have I mentioned that the Situational Functional Japanese series is crap? I haven’t? Well, it is. More on that another time).

While I wait for the class to be offered again in Summer Quarter, I need two things: someone to talk to (preferably someone familiar with the material I’ve studied), and a decent textbook to review. I’ll get some conversation practice in the Japanese Culture and Calligraphy course I’m taking, but the book is another story.

I could start on a new multi-volume series such as Japanese for Busy People or Genki (both of which I already own, actually), but our teacher suggested an alternative: a single book that covers all of the material usually presented in 4-6 books. They used it for many years at Foothill, and she stressed how much better it was at explaining things and presenting proper use of the language.

It is, of course, long out of print. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean what it used to, and I was able to acquire a copy of Japanese For Today within two days through Amazon.

While going through it and erasing the many penciled-in comments (and sighing over the few inked ones), I started to understand why she liked it, but it wasn’t until I read the “Organization” section that I fully appreciated the work they’d put into it: each of the 30 lessons is precisely 12 printed pages long, divided in exactly the same way each time, but there’s no gratuitous whitespace or obvious padding. The authors appear to have spent a great deal of time thinking about what to cover and how. I’m looking forward to reading it cover-to-cover.

Its only flaw is the extensive use of romanization, which is regrettable, but not surprising in a book written in 1973. The presentation section of each lesson does introduce the new material in proper written Japanese, with furigana, so it’s not all bad.

My other project for the Spring is kanji writing practice, but that’s another blog entry…

Saturday, April 8 2006

“What do you do with a B6 notebook?”

(note: for some reason, my brain keeps trying to replace the last two words in the subject with “drunken sailor”; can’t imagine why)

Kyokuto makes some very nice notebooks. Sturdy covers in leather or plastic, convenient size, and nicely formatted refill pages. I found them at MaiDo Stationery, but Kinokuniya carries some of them as well. I like the B6 size best for portability; B5 is more of an office/classroom size, and A5 just seems to be both too big and too small. B6 is also the size that Kodansha publishes all their Japanese reference books in, including my kanji dictionary, which is a nice bonus.

[This is, by the way, the Japanese B6 size rather than the rarely-used ISO B-series. When Japan adopted the ISO paper standard, the B-series looked just a wee bit too small, so they redefined it to have 50% larger area than the corresponding A-series size. Wikipedia has the gory details.]

I really like the layout of Kyokuto’s refill paper. So much so, in fact, that I used PDF::API2::Lite to clone it. See? The script is a little rough at the moment, mostly because it also does 5mm grid paper, 20x20 tategaki report paper, and B8/3 flashcards, and I’m currently adding kanji practice grids with the characters printed in gray in my Kyoukasho-tai font. I’ll post it later after it’s cleaned up.

Why, yes, I was stuck in the office today watching a server upgrade run. However did you guess?

On a related note, am I the only person in the world who thinks that it’s silly to spend $25+ on one of those gaudy throwaway “journals” that are pretty much the only thing you can find in book and stationery stores these days? Leather/wood/fancy cover, magnet/strap/sticks to hold it shut, handmade/decorated (possibly even scented) papers, etc, etc. No doubt the folks who buy these things also carry a fountain pen with which to engrave their profound thoughts upon the page.

Or just to help them impress other posers.

Sunday, May 6 2007

Harry’s Matrix

Harry Dresden is a rather unconventional wizard, in a rather decent set of urban fantasy/detective novels. He has no significant connection to Japan, and indeed his magic is very strongly Western in origin.

So where did the glowing runes on his staff come from?

Dresden's Staff -- マトリックス

The paperback edition of Dead Beat doesn’t seem to name the cover artist anywhere, but whoever it was decided that the English loanword マトリックス (“matrix”) made a dandy set of runes.

[oh, and I just noticed that Amazon has a new “Amapedia” site…]

Saturday, July 21 2007

Who died in the new Harry Potter?

Judging from the first three pages, I’d say the editor:

As their eyes grew accustomed to the lack of light, they were drawn upward to the strangest feature of the scene…

[and, no, I didn’t wait in line last night; I fought past the rodeo crowds to get to Costco this morning to buy steak and garlic bread, and found a giant pile of Potters at the end of an aisle. As expected.]

[I’ll read it tomorrow, perhaps]

Sunday, October 14 2007

“I do not think it means what you think it means…”

First line in the description of a random ebook that turned up in a general search at Fictionwise:

Desperate straights call for desperate measures

[FYI, the quality of most of their content seems to range from fanfic to slush.]

Thursday, May 8 2008

Kindle play

So, my mother has a shiny new Amazon Kindle, and before they continued on the next leg of their vacation, I helped fill it up with free e-books from Mobipocket’s web site. I also played with it for a while.


  1. Every time I picked it up, I hit a button by accident.
  2. There’s no reliable way to void a pending button-press, and it keeps a queue at least five clicks deep.
  3. The “like a book” way of holding it with the cover makes the “previous page” button awkward to use.
  4. Western European/American font support only. I didn’t really expect it to have kanji, but I was surprised that it was also missing things like “ō”, affecting things like the English-language Wikipedia entry for Toshirō Mifune.
  5. Web sites that can’t be rendered are falsely reported as down. I was all set to rush into the co-lo to reboot when I checked from my laptop and discovered that it was fine. The Kindle just refused to render it, because of the Japanese text.
  6. It always took a long time to connect to Whispernet, leaving me wondering if our hotel was in a cellular dead zone. No, it’s just that slow.
  7. Frequent ghosting on the display, something that’s less of a problem with newer e-paper displays and ones that do a full erase before a full redraw.
  8. Unlike the early photos they showed off of it, it’s not hideous to look at. It definitely needs some work in the human-factors department, but it looks much cleaner than I expected.
  9. The sidebar-slider UI is a reasonable compromise between clarity and responsiveness, but takes some getting used to.

Net result: I’ll hold off until Kindle 2.0, at least.

Thursday, May 15 2008

キノの旅:「わたしの国」 (excerpt)

[This quarter, I’m taking a class that’s focused on reading authentic Japanese text. Everyone finds something short to read, makes copies for the entire group, and prepares a vocabulary list. Well, we’re supposed to be making vocabulary lists, although so far I’m the only one to do so. Two of the pieces I’ve brought in have been from illustrated books, and it seemed wasteful to photocopy the whole things, so I typed them in and added some furigana.

The first one wasn’t really authentic Japanese, being from the ASK reader series, but the teacher really liked that author and wanted us to read it. The second is more contemporary, and I thought it might be of general interest. It’s the latest short story from the Kino’s Journey series. I’m just posting the first scene, since it’s both illegal and darn rude to reprint the whole thing. If you like the story, buy the book, which also includes a DVD of the second Kino movie.

I’ve added a lot more pop-up furigana (with English translations) than I need myself, to give more people a chance to work through it.]

(Continued on Page 2987)

Thursday, October 9 2008


Ah, the joy of random surfing. How else would I come to know that the novel published in English as “Life, The Universe, and Everything” was released in Japan under the title 「宇宙クリケット大戦争」, or “The Great Space Cricket War”.

Wednesday, December 10 2008

Fleet Juggler

I recently read the two new pre-Ringworld Known Space novels by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner, Fleet of Worlds and Juggler of Worlds. Very short summary: Fleet was pretty good, Juggler less so.

The big difference: Fleet is a standalone novel set in Known Space. If you have a vague memory of Ringworld and the short stories, you’ll be fine. Juggler, on the other hand, is not only a direct sequel to Fleet, but also to more than a dozen Known Space short stories (including everything in Crashlander), which are air-dropped into the story at seemingly random intervals. The “big surprise” is also so poorly handled that for several chapters you can’t be sure that a major character wasn’t just another reference. On the plus side, it gives a faint nod to the old “down in flames” story idea, which was more fun than most of the backstage views of decades-old stories.

I’ve read all of the Known Space stories several times, so I got most of the references, but the secret history of the secret history of Beowulf Shaeffer just got tiresome after a while, and it took up space that would have been better spent expanding on the interesting new characters who were the focus of Fleet. They’re pretty much reduced to spear-carriers in Juggler.

Fleet stands alone quite nicely, and adds some real depth to the Puppeteers, both individually and as a race. I didn’t dislike Juggler, but I doubt I’ll reread it.

Monday, January 5 2009

The patience of Japanese stories

Something that I’ve noticed repeatedly over the years is a tendency for Japanese entertainment products to require a great deal of patience on the part of the consumer.

An obvious example is games with lengthy intros and cut-scenes that can’t be skipped. This sometimes happens in non-Japanese games, but not to the same degree. For instance, the one and only time I attempted to play a hentai “dating sim” game, I gave up before even reaching a nude scene, worn out by more than twenty minutes of introductory dialogue that offered the player no interaction whatsoever. And it’s not like it was relevant background material: “I am the main character in a porn game. I have banged many women under circumstances you will not believe. I will do so again, if your multiple-choice input is acceptable. Be sure to take notes.”

Anime is often like this as well. It’s not unusual for a series to spend most of a season meandering towards the plot, with a sudden burst of (usually rushed, over-compressed) activity towards the end. In many cases, there’s an obvious production or financial reason, but my point is that the target audience doesn’t seem to mind.

There are plenty of others I could bring up (I’m amazed The Prince hasn’t gagged his father with a katamari), but the specific example that brought this to mind was the novel I’m reading, 魔女館へようこそ, “Welcome To The Witch’s Mansion”.

(Continued on Page 3212)

Tuesday, January 12 2010

Doomed, I tell you, doomed

Found in the latest issue of Ansible, whilst hunting for Thoggisms:

George Bowie, Radio Clyde presenter:
“Which famous detective features in the Agatha Christie [sic] novel The Hound of the Baskervilles?”
“Is it Harry Potter?”

Sunday, January 31 2010

Amazon versus Macmillan

Most people who’ve opined on the current Amazon/Macmillan flap have reflexively sided with Macmillan, without waiting for statements from either side. When the CEO of Macmillan issued a statement explaining that they went to Amazon to renegotiate their contract and the two sides failed to come to agreement, this was taken as further evidence that Amazon was Teh Evil and should be shunned from now on.

I read that statement a little differently.

M: “Okay, Amazon, our current terms are A. We want B (higher retail prices for ebooks), but if you don’t like that, you can have C (current pricing, but no ebook sales for N weeks after release).”

A: “We like A. Our customers like A. We’d like to stick with A.”

M: “No deal.”

A: “Okay. With no contract, though, we’ll have to stop selling your books. Today.”

M: (ohshittheydidn’tblink)

[Update: when the Kindle blog was updated with a “we’ll have to cave in to M’s demands eventually, because we want to sell their books”, this was immediately spun as a massive victory for Macmillan (and, in many eyes, for “us”). It’s now Tuesday, February 2nd, though, and a spot check does not show Amazon selling Macmillan books again. Apparently people were so excited that they missed the word “eventually”. As of right now, the deal’s still off, which has got to be hitting Macmillan where it hurts.]

Sunday, February 21 2010

Dear Amazon,

Please don’t pollute the well. Search results for the writer Masako Bandou return a link to an Amazon US product page for the title “13 of Pornographic Chica Japanese Language Book”. No details, no availability, no hint that the book has ever actually existed. Because it doesn’t.

The actual book sold by Amazon Japan is called “13のエロチカ”, which should properly be translated as “13 Erotic Stories”. The loanword used is “erochika”, which is not the nonexistent hybrid English-Spanish loanword “ero-chica”, but the perfectly ordinary “erotica”. The book even includes French on the title, “13 Histoires Erotiques”, just in case the casual viewer is confused.

The two possibilities are a lazy “self-publisher” using machine translation (of at least the titles) or a used book store that was trying to unload a bunch of used Japanese books, and was ambitious enough to hire someone who had taken a year of Japanese and could mangle the titles into Engrish, but didn’t bother including the ISBNs.

The only good thing I got out of this little adventure was the discovery that a Google image search for the acronym “asin” returns something far more interesting than publishing data.

Sunday, February 28 2010

Amber Benson, novelist

The first time I realized that Amber Benson had more going for her than I’d been shown was when she opened her mouth during the Buffy musical and sang. Suddenly a decent actress who’d capably immersed herself into a minor supporting role in the series was now a singer with a lovely voice. The second was when I got a good look at her face when she wasn’t made up to look plain and a bit frumpy; she looks as good as she sounds. The third time was when Amazon recommended her novel Death’s Daughter, and I discovered that she had another voice worth hearing.

It’s not my usual genre of fantasy; at least, the things Amazon starts recommending once you buy it are the kind of chick-flick broody-goth romangst fantasy that have stronger ties to Harlequin than Tolkien. Fortunately, Death’s Daughter is neither dark nor brooding, and the world-building is first-rate. The supporting cast is only lightly sketched, admittedly, but the heroine makes up for it by being quite thoroughly developed, and carries the story along superbly. It’s a good book, and now she’s made another one, Cat’s Claw.

It’s a lot of fun. I don’t usually stop in the middle of a page, laugh out loud, reread it, and then laugh out loud again. Benson got me to do that in Cat’s Claw. I won’t say where; if you read it, you’ll know the spot.

Monday, March 1 2010

Dear Wilder Publications,

One should never take this sort of story at face value, so I looked it up on Amazon, and my jaw dropped for two reasons.

  1. The linked disclaimer that the contents of The Federalist Papers “does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today”.
  2. The publisher’s claim of copyright on the material.

Both are most likely boilerplate, but they’re deeply clueless boilerplate. And they do indeed reflect a certain kind of modern values…

(Continued on Page 3520)

Friday, March 19 2010

Zelazny’s Crime

What if Roger Zelazny wrote a hard-boiled murder mystery, and no one knew about it for more than thirty-five years? Well, now you can buy it on Amazon

It’s been out since last February, but it didn’t make it onto my recommendations list until a few weeks ago. And, of course, I’d never have gone looking in that genre.

How is it? Not bad. It was a complete manuscript, but it’s got some rough spots, as if he planned to go back and work it over again, but then moved on to something else. Their best guess puts it right around the same time as Nine Princes in Amber, and I can see some similarities (stylistically, that is) to the opening section on Earth, before Corwin recovers his memory.

Thursday, January 13 2011

My next screensaver…

…will use a random set of book covers downloaded from Amazon Japan’s “dirty stories for men” collection. Not the trendy manga/anime-style covers, but the more realistic airbrushed cheesecake style many of them use.

For instance:

book cover

The title of this little gem, もっちり熟尻, breaks down into a current slang term for “firm texture”, followed by a kanji meaning ripen or mature, followed by the kanji for buttocks, translatable quite effectively as Firm Ripe Ass. This is not the least subtle title I’ve seen; that award would probably go to ごっくんOL (mouseover for NSFW translation).

[side note: I’ve noticed a lot of invented-word kanji combos in genre titles, and I suspect many of them are wordplay. In this case, 熟尻 might be read as jukkou, which when written 熟考 means “deliberation”]

Other covers I’ve liked in this genre include Wife-play, Temptation Paradise, My Aunt and Me, and Welcome to Honeyfun Island. I’m not terribly interested in the books, mind you, but I do like the cover art. [Update: and another, Saucy Sister-in-law (literally “with extra sauce”, usually used when ordering beef bowls).]

Not all of the artists working on these books are equal, of course. Welcome to the Honey Garden is a poor sister to Honeyfun Island’s main attraction, and Beloved Kindergarten Teacher isn’t as well-drawn as The Naughty Kindergarten Teacher, but there are a lot of these books available (as I first discovered here and later here), many with quite pleasant covers that are considerably classier than this vintage American example:

(Continued on Page 3691)

Wednesday, February 9 2011

Dear Amazon,

Because I bought a Kindle, your recommendation system now fills the first several pages of results with random ebooks that either I already own in print, or else are not even plausibly related to anything I’ve ever purchased, owned, or searched for.

“Hey, you need to fill your Kindle with books! This is a book! It has a cover and a title page and words inside! You like words, right? Of course you do!”

Here’s one of the least stupid suggestions:

Things that go bump in your kitchen

Because I bought Cooks Illustrated’s Italian Favorites, I really, really want to read about a monster-hunter who’s in over her head.

Other Kindle-fied “recommendations” include one called Blink, subtitled “The power of thinking without thinking”, because I own Beard on Food.

I can’t blame it all on the Kindle, though; that 750GB laptop drive I just bought led to a recommendation for a Gillette single-blade disposable razor. And there are some actual relevant recommendations, such as Shogun because I bought Exploring Kyoto, and James Beard’s New Fish Cookery because of the aforementioned Beard On Food.

And I really can’t complain about the DVD of Xanadu, recommended because my wishlist contains the Flash Gordon Blu-ray release. That’s just common sense.

Friday, February 25 2011

Cover story

One of the oddest limitations of the Kindle is that you need to jailbreak it to change the screensaver images. There’s a small set of images supplied by Amazon, some nice, some hideous, and you’re stuck with them. Replacing them is probably the single most common reason for Kindle-hacking.

I could use images from my collection of Naughty Novel Cover Art, but people have a tendency to pick up your Kindle and turn it on, and even limiting the selection to safe-for-work images still leaves it a bit spicy.

So, I went digging through my shelves for Paperbacks That Have Known The Touch Of A Lover. That is, battered old books that someone, not necessarily me, made extensive use of. I quickly assembled a stack about three feet high, and whittled it down to some particularly interesting ones. Boosting the contrast and brightness about 25% before downsampling to 16-color grayscale produces decent results, and I’m sure I’ll expand the collection over time.

Small color versions of the current set below:

(Continued on Page 3732)

Saturday, May 7 2011

Old-school adventure

The Rick Brant adventure novels are scarce and tend to be priced for collectors. I hadn’t realized until just now, however, that nearly half of them have fallen into the public domain and are available through Project Gutenberg. Cleaned-up versions are also available at Manybooks.

I’m pleased that this includes the first one I read, The Egyptian Cat Mystery, which does an excellent job of introducing the real science of SETI, unlike, say, every other boy’s adventure novel I’ve ever seen that dealt with aliens. Why? Wikipedia says, “During the 1960s, Goodwin served as Special Assistant to the Administrator of NASA…”

The Egyptian Cat Mystery

Monday, May 9 2011

Dear Amazon,

The Kindle for Mac application is crap. Not in the sense of “limited functionality and poor UI” (although those are true, too), but in a more serious “corrupts user identity every time it does its (weekly?) auto-update”. I had originally thought the problem was with the version available in the Mac App Store (which, thanks to Apple, is much, much older), but no, the direct download from Amazon does it as well.

Basically, if I open the app and it asks me to accept terms and service, I know that it just wiped out my account credentials, and I’ll have to delete:

~/Library/Application Support/Kindle

then deregister it on the web site, launch the app, register it again, and then re-download everything (painfully slowly, thanks to the poor UI).

I note that no one ever responds to people who have this problem on the Kindle support forums, and the last response I got to a direct email report was “gosh, we’re sorry; I’ve forwarded your message to the team!”.

[Update: and again! This time when I finished re-downloading everything, I made a tarball of the known good copy. Next time it blows up, I’ll have a before/after to send them. Grrr.]

Sunday, May 22 2011

Apologize to your physics teacher!

No, seriously, that’s the title of this novel:

Butsuri no Sensei ni Ayamare!

Yes, that’s Akihabara underneath her, which means the camera shops just tripled the price on all telephoto lenses.

[first novel, came out about a month ago, turned up as a “people who liked Hashire, ute! also liked…”]

Thursday, January 26 2012

Back to Louie!

Apparently, about six months ago some circle did the OCR and proofreading for the first four Rune Soldier novels. I had done the first two chapters of book one myself, to get them into a readable state, but it was slow going, so I never got around to finishing. Now I can run them through my scripts and read them at a reasonable speed.

(and in case anyone’s wondering what happened to my progress on the AsoIku novels, I just got busy with the pre-holiday work, the trip to Japan, helping some new friends study for the JLPT, etc, and haven’t picked them back up again yet. I’m near the end of book 11, and I definitely want to reach the revelations about Aoi’s family, which are perhaps the most significant things coming up soon. I’m hoping that the side stories that were included with the Blu-ray discs are eventually collected into a book, but otherwise, it looks like book14 is the end of the series, with an awful lot left unexplained)

In an unrelated note, my mom gave me a copy of the English edition of 1Q84, and I read it over the weekend. Short take: a plus-sized Charles de Lint novel, with Tokyo replacing Newford. I think de Lint would have done it better, and in about half as many pages, but I still enjoyed it. There were a few places where Jay Rubin’s emphasis on precise translation produced phrases no American novelist would choose, but there was already so much about the book that screamed “originally in Japanese” that it didn’t bother me.

Friday, March 2 2012

Rune Soldier book 1, finished

This was the first light novel I started struggling through, way back when, and it took a month of painstaking kanji and vocabulary lookup to finish the first part of chapter 1. Much later, I scanned and OCR’d the same 30 pages and ran the results through my custom-reader scripts, and read it in about two hours. These days, I can manage a typical chapter in about an hour, and last month I discovered that someone had OCR’d the first four books and made them (coughcoughperfectdarkcough) available. Much easier than scanning them in myself.

I haven’t had a lot of time to read recently, so it was only last night that I managed to finish book 1 (which was covered in episodes 1-4 and 6 of the anime). The stories will be more or less familiar to people who’ve seen the series but as I discovered with chapter 1, the characters are much more interesting.

So far, the character who was changed the least for the anime is Genie. Louie is much less of a goofball, Ila is significantly more interesting (and dangerous; those glasses aren’t just for show!), Melissa’s difficulty accepting Louie is less melodramatic, and Merrill gets a lot of character development, replacing the slapstick and caricature that she was subjected to in the anime. You get more of Jenny’s backstory, including her adventurous youth with Rijarl and Carwes. The encounters with Celecia and Conrad are more character-driven as well.

The stories also have a lot more nuance to them. For instance, in the anime, the “sealed door” in the ruins was just something that the girls found while adventuring; in the book, it had been found quite a while ago by a member of the Thieves Guild, who sold the info to Merrill for a significant sum. When it turns out to be a dud, she goes back to the information broker for a refund, and also learns that the Guild is very interested in finding out who Louie’s parents were. That’s just a teaser so far, along with Jenny’s unspoken knowledge that King Rijarl only has one living bastard son.

I’ve just started book 2, which is shaping up to be the basis of episodes 9 and 10. The prologue is two scenes: the first with Banarl activating the ancient weather-control machine, and the second with Celecia feeling it happen and being ordered by her village elders to investigate. Being young and interested in the human world, she’s delighted at the chance to get out, and hoping to meet a certain young man again…

Side note that I don’t recall from the anime: many of the elves in Celecia’s village are old enough to remember the great magical kingdom that fell 500 years earlier, and their subjugation during that era has a lot to do with their current hatred and mistrust of humans. Celecia’s mission is in part a punishment for having defended Louie and company when they were prisoners.

Tuesday, March 6 2012

Rune Soldier book 2, finished

I finished the main story Sunday, leaving only the epilogue, which was a quick read last night. I didn’t blog about it right away, however, since I started reading Shamus Young’s The Witch Watch and didn’t put it down until I finished.

As expected, this was the “magical weather control device” story that was adapted into episodes 9 and 10 of the anime version. Also as expected, a great deal of characterization and nuance was lost along the way. And, as Steven hoped way back when in the comments to my first attempt to read book 1, Celecia doesn’t secure Louie’s aid with a love spell; she charms him, but only by being pretty, sweet, sympathetic, and Elven. And her personality and motives are more complex.

True for everyone, actually. Louie is far less of a goofball; yes, he didn’t pay attention in some of his classes and missed things like needing silver or magical weapons to hurt spirits, but he’s much more self-aware and mature. Melissa is less over-the-top melodramatic, both in her fantasies of a True Hero and her disappointment in the reality of Louie; biting sarcasm and a cool head are more common than hysterics of either type. Merrill shows no signs of turning into the comic relief, and is given plenty of opportunities to demonstrate competence and wit. Genie is the most like her anime self, but her current relationship to Louie can be summed up as “hasn’t killed him yet”; everything he does pushes her buttons, and she calls him “amateur” with naked contempt. Ila, whose feelings for Louie are just beginning to transition from “little brother” to “I don’t really go for muscles, but…”, has several moments that make her much more interesting than the somewhat air-headed, clingy wannabe-girlfriend from the anime.

Celecia is much more of an active player in the novel. She comes to town to secure the gang’s aid in fixing the weather, but first sneaks into the Mage College to spy on Louie and Ila as they figure out what’s going on, then tracks the girls down in a bar and basically bullies them into re-introducing her to him as their choice for a new adventuring companion, pointing out his near Elf-worship and Melissa’s divine order to serve him. And Celecia is quite certain that Louie was somehow responsible for the (lethal) goblin attack on her village that he then helped rescue them from, but despite the girls’ fears, she’s not after revenge. Indeed, one of her main interests is finding out why he retains such a high opinion of elves, even after narrowly escaping execution in her village.

Good stuff, and now on to book 3, which seems to have been skipped for the anime. Louie’s accidental engagement! Merrill waking Louie at knifepoint! Genie’s little sister! All this and more!

Wednesday, March 7 2012

What’s Louie like?

So I started book 3 of Rune Soldier last night, and I think the parts I read last night neatly sum up the difference in character between book Louie and anime Louie.

It opens with a restless Louie throwing off his covers. Summer has arrived with a vengeance after their previous adventure with the weather-control device, and it’s just too darn hot and muggy for him to sleep. So, he puts on his street clothes and heads out for an evening of fun in the entertainment district. After a few hours of pub-crawling, he’s nicely drunk and headed for home, when he happens to look into an alley and see two suspicious-looking punks harassing a 13-year-old girl whose high-class clothing suggests she has no business in this neighborhood, especially in the middle of the night. He butts in.

They vaguely recognize him as “that guy” from various places in the district, and he in turn can tell that they’re low-level members of the Thieves Guild. But Louie doesn’t want to get into more trouble with the Guild by beating the crap out of them, so he name-drops Merrill and identifies himself as one of her partners. They were willing to fight a drunken tavern brawler for their prize, but an experienced adventurer with ties to an established Guild member is a bit much, so they slink off.

The girl naively complains that her new friends were about to help her find lodging and a job, and as Louie leads her out of the entertainment district, he gives her a carefully sanitized explanation of what her “friends” meant by that. Recognizing that she won’t be safe on her own, and knowing that the only lodging houses open at this time of night are no safer than the alley, he takes her back to the Mage College, wakes up Ila, and asks her to take the girl in for the night.

He’s quite surprised when Ila calls her by name, recognizing her as the daughter of one of the richest and most powerful merchants in the country, in fact her own father’s primary rival. Gentle questioning gets young Muriel to confess that she’s running away from home to escape an arranged marriage. She had been reluctantly willing to abide by her father’s decision, until she went to the temple of Mylee and consulted one of the priestesses…

Yes, Melissa is the one causing trouble this time, and Louie staggers off to his own room in a daze, waking up the next morning to find a dagger at his throat, in the hand of a very angry Merrill. Not the least bit surprised by this after having used her name to influence Thieves Guild members, he casually greets her and explains the situation. She quickly calms down, and agrees that they need to go see Melissa and get this straightened out fast. As he gets dressed, they banter quite companiably, with Louie responding to her obvious envy of rich families by offering to introduce her to Carwes, who always wanted to adopt a daughter. She quips back that she couldn’t handle having a blockhead step-brother like him, and he admits that he’d be too worried about getting his throat slit to ever fall asleep around a little sister like her. Unspoken, they both know that she values her independence too much to ever be anyone’s dependent.

Louie is naked for most of this conversation, and Merrill makes no effort to turn away. She’s not ogling, but she’s paying enough attention to comment on how he seems even bigger and more muscular than when they met, which he credits to his daily solo sword practice. She suggests that if he has enough free time for that, he should spend it working on his magic and leave the fighting to them. He refuses, both for his own goals and for Melissa’s expectations of a hero. He wants to be a proper Rune Soldier, expert in both combat and magic, something that hasn’t been seen for a long time.

Thursday, March 8 2012

Apple’s attempt to kill the Kindle backfires

Oops. Seems the Department of Justice doesn’t care for price-fixing and collusion, even when you put lipstick on it and call it the “agency model”.

Of course, it’s hard to take publishing spokesmen seriously when they claim that the physical printing costs were never a significant part of the cost to make a book, when they start selling e-books of thirty-year-old SF novels at the same price as new releases. (hint: some of us know how much work is actually involved in scanning, OCRing, and proofreading an old paperback)

Wednesday, April 11 2012

E-book price-fixing, continued

The publishers are not looking good here, and in fact are looking exactly like corrupt racketeers. I love the quote from Steve Jobs:

“you set the price, and we get our 30 percent, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; lots of juicy quotes, and the DoJ is serious enough to have acquired the various CEOs’ phone records. Even without this investigation, though, the publishers are screwed in the long run, and they deserve to be. They think they’re pushing back at an uppity online discount bookstore, and have failed to notice that Amazon is not only far more popular than they are, but has become the best place to shop for damn near anything.

Where else can you get two-day free shipping for polearms, diesel generators, gym-grade fitness equipment, gourmet foods, and fishing boats? I was honestly surprised to find that they’re not selling cars and motorcycles yet, but that’s probably just because the red tape for title transfers is too much of a hassle to navigate.

Thursday, June 7 2012

Books that need reprinting

Space Cat and its sequels.

Also, all six Mushroom Planet books. The first one is available, and I still have an old Scholastic copy of the second, but I don’t think I ever saw the last few.

It will be a few years before my niece and nephew need them, so the universe still has time to make things right.

Thursday, July 19 2012

…and so it begins

The Amazon listing for the upcoming Niven/Benford collaboration contains the following sentence:

At the publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

Tuesday, August 14 2012

Kim du Toit for Kindle

Kim has two new novels available on the Kindle: Creative License and Prime Target.

Tuesday, September 25 2012

Um, thanks?

Got a package from Amazon today, that wasn’t the one I expected this week. And wasn’t something I ordered. It had a standard receipt, with no hint of who bought it for me, or why. Equinox present, perhaps?

It’s the classic Basic Machines and How They Work, by the Naval Education and Training Program Development Center. Good stuff, so thanks to whoever.

The one I’m waiting for? 8 feet of birch veneer edging, of which I need approximately one-third of an inch.

Tuesday, March 5 2013

Cultural sensitivity

You’d think that a publisher based out of Berkeley, of all places, would take care with foreign names, so that when releasing, say, a translation from the Japanese (such as the newly-released The Spirit of the Sword by Nakamura (family name) Taisaburo (given name)), they wouldn’t do something silly like putting just his given name on the spine.

It’s possible that the translator confused them by consistently retaining the Japanese name order, but you’d think someone would have noticed at some point before it went to press.

So if you find yourself looking for a copy in a well-stocked book store, don’t be surprised if it’s filed under “T”. Or just use the Amazon link above…

Tuesday, September 17 2013

Midnight Girl/Chimera

First, let me say that I’ve been enjoying Will Shetterly’s novels for many years, with the recently-Kindled Witch Blood and Cats Have No Lord being early examples of his fantasy worlds. The well-regarded Liavek shared world anthology is overdue for an ebook rescue as well, but I’m sure the rights are a pain to re-negotiate. One nice thing about his Kindle backlist is the pricing: $2.99. This makes it easy to buy the ones I missed and re-buy the ones that are buried on my shelves somewhere.

Midnight Girl is a short YA novel about a Perfectly Normal teenage girl who sneaks out with her best friend to solve a minor mystery, and ends up in the middle of something much bigger. It’s a light read, charming and breezy despite the occasional bloody death. I think I’d have liked it even more when I was around twelve, but it still works.

Chimera would have worked better whan I was twelve, too, but that’s because I likely wouldn’t have been repeatedly jolted out of the story by the hamfisted world-building that pins All Bad Things on libertarianism, capitalism, christianity, and gun ownership. There’s a fairly decent near-future detective/catgirl story in there somewhere, but unlike his fantasy worlds, Shetterly seems unable to keep his socialism out of his SF, resulting in a world that sounds like the fever dreams of a Daily Kos commenter. The tech is also a mishmash of Cool Stuff dropped in with no apparent thought about how it would affect society if all of these things co-existed.

[note that Chimera predates the Tea Parties, or I’m sure they’d have featured prominently among the Reasons Everything Went Wrong. I mean, with a powerful Libertarian state crushing the common people and enslaving human/animal hybrids, and a theocracy ruling Arizona, I’m sure there’d have been time for some literal teabagging.]

Monday, September 23 2013

My new favorite Naughty Novel cover art…

Flavor Beauty (amazon):

Ajiwai Bijin

Thursday, October 3 2013

Text acquisition: complete!

[Update: turns out the iPhone hotspot does not route traffic over the iPhone VPN; boo, hiss. I’ll need to rig up a wireless router behind an OpenVPN box to avoid the risk of tripping the region-detection]

The Kindle Paperwhite will not speak to a shared wireless connection hosted on my laptop. It will, however, speak to an iPhone’s built-in hotspot, and the iPhone has a VPN client compatible with HideMyAss VPN, allowing me to pretend that my shiny new second-generation Paperwhite is located in Japan and eligible to purchase and download Kindle books without violating the publishers’ geographic restrictions on ebook licensing.

With that out of the way, the standard DeDRM and KindleUnpack scripts trivially converted my new books into clean XHTML, which required about 60 lines of Perl to massage into input for Yomitori. Diffing the text of Asobi ni Iku Yo book 1 confirmed the accuracy of my new source.

Now if I can figure out the new inline footnote support, I can merge the vocabulary into the main book the way I do for the HTML output, and switch from dual PDFs to a single MOBI file. But that comes later; right now, the complete text of Miniskirt Space Pirates book 1 is waiting on my Kindles, without all the OCR errors I was wading through the last time.

Monday, October 14 2013

…for Dummies

This hurts my brain: a 200-page paperback book titled Kindle Paperwhite for Dummies. I’m not sure if it hurts more or less that it’s also available for the Kindle.

Thursday, November 7 2013

Off to the convenience store!

Captain Future goes out for twinkies and beer...

Sunday, June 8 2014

Not ebooks yet?

Why not? Isn’t rescuing this sort of thing what modern technology is for?

MASH goes to Vienna

Monday, October 6 2014

Hawk, by Steven Brust

The new Vlad Taltos novel arrived. Drat that horrible evil Amazon! It’s not bad enough that they work hard to sell me the things I want at prices I like, but they had to go and deliver it a day early. The fiends!

I haven’t even read the blurb on this one yet, since I’ll pretty much buy anything Brust writes, the moment it’s available. He may be an unrepentant communist, but the man can write.

Tuesday, October 28 2014

This never works…

Steve lowered his voice. “Now listen to me. This thing is big. The two you ran up against yesterday were not good samples. We’re dealing with some tough professionals. I don’t know who they are, but from what I’ve seen I can tell you they’re dangerous. So you two are to stay out of this case. That is an order. Stay on Clipper Cay and have fun.”

(from The Wailing Octopus, a Rick Brant science-adventure story)

Friday, March 20 2015

Harry Potter takes over the world

No, not like this, although the title is certainly Potterish:

Genghis Khan and the Mongol War Machine

Instead, I’m referring to a rather long bit of alternate-canon fan-fiction in which young Harry Potter was raised, not by the Dursleys, but by a science professor at Oxford. As a result, he grew up reading science fiction and fantasy, and learned to apply the scientific method to the world around him. The quite long story has finally been completed:

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

The ending is less satisfying than the beginning, or even the middle, but it holds together surprisingly well. And the author was very careful to not only use real science, but to cross-reference each chapter so you can follow up on any concept that strikes your fancy.

Saturday, August 6 2016

Woman of March

Small plug for a book of poetry by my old Japanese teacher, Yumiko Tsumura. Scheduled for release in November.

Yumiko Tsumura, Woman of March

Wednesday, September 14 2016

Lies publishers tell

#1 with a bullet to the back of the head: “ebook sales declining”.

Maybe charging 16% more for the Kindle edition than they do for the hardcover has something to do with it? Note that the paperback edition is no longer in print.

Publishers fucking over customers and authors

I don’t remember what specific book this was. It doesn’t matter, because when the publishers set the price, the Kindle edition is almost always more expensive than the paperback, and pricing it above the hardcover isn’t rare.

And if you look at the reviews, the Kindle editions from major publishers are frequently riddled with errors, and illustrations are often misplaced, mangled, or just plain missing.