Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Vampire Hunter D vol 3: Demon Deathchase - by Hideyuki Kikuchi, translated by Kevin Leahy



Don't worry, that's not D on the cover; he's too cool to wear something like that.

You probably know the drill by now; wobbly writing + wobbly translation = awesomeness. There is a special genius to these books. They have 'it', that infectious creative flare that blinds me to all the other flaws. Some of the time. That flare can't be faked, you either have it, or you don't.

This particular volume was the basis of the movie Bloodlust, where I first met D. (I thought he had no personality then too.) It was interesting noting the differences between the two, and there were a lot.

For example, in the book Leila, current female lead, is much the same as every other female lead so far. She's beeeeautiful, she's turrrf, she's full of sass and attituded and she don't take no crap from nobody, except D, because she can't help but fall madly in love with him at first sight. She's also in continual danger of sexual horrors, except this time, such threat doesn't come from whatever monsters they may be facing, but from her brothers.

I kinda choked when this came out.

The Marcus clan consists of four brothers and Leila. One night, they all decided to rape her. I have no idea why. I don't know many brothers who find the idea of boning their sisters appealing, so to find four such people in the one family is a bit high. Nevertheless, they do this. Instead of, I don't know, LEAVING THEM, she stays, and they go around hunting vampires with a happy family dynamic that is not the least bit messed up, and she can't have been that scarred from the ordeal.

Fine, maybe it was a one off, only not. They jump her every single time they need to give Grove, who has mad super powers, a seizure. And she still sticks around. They say they need her: why exactly? If it's arousal, wouldn't any woman do? Why don't they just give him handjob?

So, yes. Insert a fair amount of disbelief and disgust. This guy does NOT know how to write women, and I worry for those in his life.

In the movie, all that has been taken out, and Leila is a more solid and structured character. Who hides her love well.

I actually found this very hard to get past. The rest of the book receeds behind that ridiculous bit of characterisation, if that's what it was.

The heart of the story is a vampire and a human woman have fallen in love, and are making an escape to a fabled starport, where they hope to find a ship still functioning, and make for the stars. D and the Marcus clan are hunting them due to a comission from the girl's father, although they're not exactly for working together. Thrown into this mix are a few demons of Barborois, who are all for killing everyone, and there you have the essence of the story: everyone fights everyone else.

This felt like the weakest of the three I've read, even taking into consideration that the last one was full of fog that I never saw through. Here, it was all just one excuse for a supposedly jaw-dropping fight after another, over and over. By now, I'm well aware of exactly how cool D is, and I really don't need it demonstrated this often. At least in the last there was something of an interesting dynamic between characters.

I did prefer the ending in the book over the movie. Much sadder, with much less hope, but it felt right.

And to finish on a random tangent, at some point one of the Marcus brothers and Mayerling, the vampire, have a show down in an ant nest. These ants (at least, I thought of them as ants) were especially savage flesh eaters, who would strip your bones before you knew it. But they were called 'mints'. I couldn't help seeing the two of them covered by minties and screaming.

Verdict: One day, he'll have a female lead that isn't a mere device for getting his joneses on.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Vampire Hunter D Vol 2: Raiser of Gales - by Hideyuki Kikuchi, translated by Keven Leahy



HE CAN SEE YOU.

Look, this book sucks. It's badly written, and not particularly well translated, and I totally utterly love it. Some shit is so bad it's brilliant. I know it isn't good for me, just like chocolate, but do you think I can stop?

In this book, strange things are happening in the frontier village of Tepes. Ten years ago, children vanished up by a ruined castle, and returned a week later with no memory of where they had been or what had happened to them. Now, vampires plague the village (which is to be expected when reading a book about a vampire hunter), only these vampires can move about in daylight.

Shock! Horror!

I have no idea why it's called 'Raiser of Gales'. As much as that is a great title, it has bugger all to do with anything. It rains a bit, but not because anyone made it rain.

D wanders in, and takes the job. There's a pretty girl involved who (to me) is a right irritating brat, but never the less has this astonishing power to, OMG!, make D at loss for words. 'cause she's pretty. And terrible intelligent. And pretty. She (as with all female leads in these books) is in constant peril of being raped (because all males apart from D are rapists at heart), and is regularly taken advantage of by her foster father. I'm not sure whether or not this is rape, because apparently despite hating it, she can't help but be terrible aroused. I call BULLSHIT. This relationship also does not fuck her up, which I find hard to believe. Her greatest act of rebellion, when being confronted by all these sexual predators, is to stick out her tongue, which must mean something quite different in this world, as it is often more than enough to drive the person having the tongue stuck out at into a VIOLENT RAGE OF INDIGNATION. Seriously. Racial slurs don't have the same affect.

This girl, Lina, is one of those children who went missing, and is of course the key to everything.

Beyond that...this is one hell of a muddled story. It shambles around like a sad lost little zombie, not entirely sure of where it's going but finding some monsters to fight along the way anyway. I believe the end message is that these failed experimental vampires that walk in day were supposed to be a way of saying that even the Nobility knew they were dying out, and were trying to further themselves, but to create a new perfect race of human-vampire hybrids with all the strengths of both and none of the weaknesses, to make everyone happy, because vampires are essentially nice people.

I call BULLSHIT.

It's never really clear who was responsible for what. There are too many mysterious shadows that whisper little secrets but never reveal their identity, so I'm not sure who's what.

Everyone takes the hue of paraffin again, which instead of making me think 'pale', makes me think 'lamp', which isn't a great look. D is gorgeous this, gorgeous that, so pretty that all these red-blooded hetrosexual rapist men want to get in his pants too. In fact, at one point, a band of brigands are frozen at the sight of this "gorgeous God of Death", which had me in tears.

Thankfully, everyone dies. Except D. Because, you know, he's too cool to die.

I will say this; the illustrations are beautiful. Yoshitaka Amano is a striking artist, and his pictures are eye catching, not in the standard anime way. He'll be at Worldcon in Japan, which may or may not have been a deciding factor on my attending.

Verdict: THE SHIT IS BANANAS. AND BANANAS ARE DAAAAAMN GOOD.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" and Other Nautical Adventures: The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson



Don't ask how long it's been since I read this. I'm terrible. I know.

The collection opens with Hodgson's title novel, The Boats of the "Glen Carrig", which I can only descibe as an odd, quirky, fabulous and strangley pointless affair. The Glen Carrig met some bad luck, and now what remains of the crew and passengers are gathered on two life boats, having finally sighted land of some description. They row and row and row upriver, and find nothing but mud, more mud, some more mud, and strange cabbage trees. At night, strange wailing/sobbing/growling surrounds them.

They find a derelict ship, and use it as a base while they look for water. During this time, they're attacked by some meaty demon slug thing, and angry cabbage trees. It doesn't take long for them to decide they were better off being lost at sea, and make moves to remedy the situation.

The cabbage trees and meat slug are never mentioned again, and absolutely no explanation is given of them.

Once back at sea, the real meat of the story begins, with a storm sweeping one of the boats into the sinister Sargasso Sea, a region of ocean that Hodgson makes good use of, and demonises most brilliantly. The rest of the novel involves the seamen finding a small island amid the giant banks of weed, and how they deal with the terrible creatures that assail them, and their efforts to gain a larger boat, and find civilisation again, if ever.

At first, this was quite hard to read, as Hodgson uses a very old fashioned vernacular, possibly even so when it was first published. Not so much the words that have fallen from popularity, but basic sentence structure. He did things with his narrator's voice that resulted in me reading more than a few lines several times before figuring out what was being said. It took approximately three, four chapters before I became accustomed to this. Interestingly enough, the rest of his stories were far more accessible.

He also, for chapters at a time, gets distracted by technicalities. For example, at some point, the seamen go about building a giant bow and arrow (look, just go with me on this), and he does spend a whole chapter carefully details exactly how this was accomplished. If ever I'm stuck on a dead island with only bits of ships for company, at least I'll know how to build a giant bow and arrow. Just in case.

There's also exactly zero characterisation. Well, that's not entirely true. There are a couple of lines that hint at it. All the seamen remain nameless, being 'the big sailor', or 'the boson', for the whole book. Unless they have no identifiying features whatsoever, at which point they're given single sylabell names so that when they die, the reader is aware of exactly who did the dying. At one point, the boson gives the narrator a pat on the shoulder, because he was brooding on a cliff top about being stuck in the middle of a weed-strangled ocean on a dead island, and that right there is the height of characterisation. Silverberg wasn't entirely wrong, however, because anything more than that would have got in the way of the nasty squid monsters/exploding mushrooms/angry crabs/derelict ships/etc.

Their final escape from the Sargossa is sadly anticlimactic, but the narrator gets to keep the boson, whom he was quite clearly in love with, calling him the greatest of men every other paragraph.

Don't get me wrong, I had fun with this.

Following the novel was a collection of further short stories Hodgson wrote based around the Sargossa Sea. Given they all involve ships becoming trapped in the weed and being unable to escape, with the passengers unable to leave the ship lest they be eaten, these stories tend to be very lonely, hopeless affairs, full of menace and threat. Although all people stranded in such situations appear to show a great degree of resourcefulness, their every action is nevertheless overshadowed with futility. These are not stories that uplift the spirit.

I would like to take a moment to recommend everyone read one specific short story, being From the Tideless Sea Part 2: More News from the Homebird, a very creepy and unsettling story. Read it, and then ask yourself, 'are crabs scary?' Aye! They are! Ye who doubted my giant crabs, repent! Repent!

I wasn't sure how much further I wanted to continue, having been throughly mired by the Sargossa Sea, so thankfully the next section was entirely different. The exploits of Captain Gault were, and possibly will always remain, my favourite of Hodgson's work. A series of short stories detailing the adventures of Captain Gault, one of the greatest smugglers of all time. He makes Han Solo look like a rank amateur. All his schemes involve a great deal at stake, and the authorities, who have never actually caught him, desperate to finally nail him. And yet, despite their greatest efforts, Gault always prevails. And he always, always, always lets the authorities, specifically the one main officer he has managed to hoodwink, know exactly how easily they were fooled, because he's an arrogant smug smarmy bastard like that, and I absolutely totally developed a crush on him. If you read these stories, you'll start crushing on him too.

(That said, the last story involved him fighting Nazis, which was....odd. They were the nicest Nazis I've met in fiction.)

These were followed by the not quite as exciting adventures of Captain Jat, who I didn't really like, and his sidekick Pibby Tawles, the ship boy. Desert islands populated by mutant animal savages and buried treasure, oh my! Not quite as much love for Jat as, when it comes down to it, he was an idiot. Stealth does not involve yelling in outrage. Pibby, cunning little rat, I had plenty of time for.

Lastly, two stories of Dot-and-Carry Cargunka, who was much like Gault, a terribly amusing character. Born lame, he runs his own ship, and takes the position of cook so he doesn't have to pay anyone else to do it. He has quite the love for Lord Byron, and fancies that the two of them are kindred spirits, in more ways than one. That said, as amusing as Cargunka was, the stories themselves didn't grab me. Unfortunatly, it's been so long since I read them, that I'm not sure I can remember why.

I'm out of practice writing up books. Sorry this sucks so much.

I can't help thinking of Hodgson as being like Lovecraft Lite, with Seawater, an impression that I know is soley based upon the Sargossa stories. In actual fact, Hodgson is a much better writer than Lovecraft (don't hit me), and has a greater repertoire in his stories. The lack of characterisation in his Sargossa stories he more than makes up for with his various captains, and he uses his personal knowledge of the sea and sailing well.

I love me some weird shit. I love me some Age of Sailing. And I love me some captains. I'd recommend you get this collection even if you only read the Gault stories.

Verdict: Salty sea dogs! Nyaaaaaaaaar! This be bootay, aye! Not everyone's cup of tea, but if so inclined, well worth it.