Nausicaa Manga Review

Studio Ghibli fans, or followers of the career of Hayao Miyazaki, will know that as well as being the famous animator and creator of films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, Hayao was also an illustrator and writer of manga. I recently read perhaps his most influential manga, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. In this Nausicaa manga review, I hope to bring some of this great work to life in the hopes that you’ll make time to read it.

If you are like me, and had only enjoyed the animation of Miyazaki, then this multi-volume manga is the perfect place to start expanding your palate.

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Fantastic Four Foundation, Review



Continuing my FF reading campaign, I’ve reached the conclusion of Volume Six – Fantastic Four Foundation, and with it the end of Jonathan Hickman’s run on the fabled series.

This graphic novel was more of a story collection than a collected storyline, with nothing tying the editions together. I enjoyed nearly all of them.

As a conclusion to a major writer’s tenure, it was curious, as it did not give us a great story or sense of finality like in Volume Five. Instead, it served to tie up loose ends.


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IDK, Independence Day 2 Review

I see it in the science fiction forums, and the Facebook groups, the ones that say, “Don’t listen to the critics! See this movie!” They really defy reality sometimes, huh? Because I’m here, your resident critic, and I’ll do nothing short of plead with you.

I won’t tell you not to see this movie, or any movie; I would never deny a person their curiosity, or the right to scratch their own itch. But in this Independence Day 2 review, I hope to get something very simple across. It’s like a lot of sequels. So my warning looks more like: don’t see this movie expecting something good. Don’t expect it to live up to your memories of the first film from 1996.

You will get the inkling of a decent concept, a few gags, and perhaps a bit of nostalgia. But the movie at large is replete with self-centered characters, silly parts, and plot holes. It reeks of a lazy storytelling hand, and a team that didn’t take the movie seriously to begin with.

Ready to celebrate your critical independence with me? It was 20 years in the making.

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Dances with Wolves Review, Classic

Lieutenant Dunbar wasn’t really swallowed. But that was the first word that stuck in his head. Everything was immense.

This Dances with Wolves review is brought to you by over 500 native tribes, a bloody past, the 1990 film of the same name which helped popularize the story, a stampede of buffalo, and last but not least, author Michael Blake.

For some reason, this has never found its way into any of my favorites lists, or into too many enlightened conversations with bookish friends. But that does not mean that Michael Blake’s novel about a disillusioned Civil War era lieutenant did not find its way into my heart.

Because in all honesty, in all truth, in all reality, when I look at it, Dances with Wolves is one of my all-time favorite reads.

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Slaughterhouse-Five Review, Classic

Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.

To do a Slaughterhouse-Five review is to do your own ‘duty-dance with death.’ So it was when I read Kurt Vonnegut’s classic about, among other things, the bombings of Dresden and a man moving backward and forward through time. I read it about two years ago, but the most powerful reads feel like you read them yesterday.

Some books, as you know, do more than take you away, or inform you. Some books change you just a little bit, and help you to find your own voice. The late author connected so easily with me. If you are new to Vonnegut, or his black humor, or if you intend to read based on a review such as this, you might be surprised just how easily he connects with you.

My first experience with Vonnegut was the novel Cat’s Cradle, which my friend Joe probably lost in the sands of Afghanistan soon after I lent it out to him. This is very Vonnegut. To lose a book warning about the perils of a doomsday weapon, and war, in the midst of a war where it might have been useful, is the kind of unfortunate thing that might have made him smile just a little.

Next came his short story, “2 B R 0 2 B” which we (my WYRM cohorts and I) used as the basis for a round of The Gauntlet some years ago. This, too, yielded some hilarious results, as it led to a copypasta job (I hesitate to say plagiarism) from Wikipedia, and then one entrant deciding to ascribe some curious, and very conservative, political viewpoints to the author, which he did not hold. Why?

None of this made sense, yet, that is what Vonnegut is always telling us in his work. Life often doesn’t make sense. There may be nothing intelligent to say about a massacre, but there is something quite intelligent to say about Vonnegut. And along the way, he might make you laugh inappropriately. Without further ado, this was my experience with Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death.

I wondered what a ‘Children’s Crusade’ might be a reference to when I first picked this up, or what one might look like. Evidently, it would look a lot like World War II.

Vonnegut himself was an American soldier during the war, who witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany as a POW. He noted just how many of the soldiers were youngsters, from both the Allies, and their enemies, and how much was riding on youth. Is that because so many more seasoned men had already been killed, or because the young are inevitably the ones who get sent off to war? Picture something so significant and grim acted out by mainly children. Makes one speculate about the rest of history.

No one I know, not me, my soldier-friend Joe, nor Vonnegut himself, can really compare to Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of this novel. He is the utterly hapless American soldier who begins to relive the events of his life after he becomes ‘unstuck in time.’ These events include the war, his career as an eye doctor, his unhappy marriage, later career as a conspiracy theorist, his death, and of course time spent with the Tralfamadorians.

This book can be classified as science fiction. The Tralfamadorians are the aliens who take notice of Pilgrim’s time traveling. This moving backward and forward through the years is not done in a machine, or in any way we’ve become accustomed to in sci-fi. Pilgrim’s traveling is more personal; he simply wakes up at different points in his life.

Though they abduct him, and place him in an alien zoo, these aliens also endeavor to teach Billy something. The substance of this lesson could be taken two ways, either as serious philosophy, or more gallows humor. Perhaps it is both.

When one begins to see things the way they do on Tralfamadore, one asks if there is any point in trying to change anything. Does anything we do matter? Is this nihilism? That’s up for debate, but if you read with an open mind, you may begin to look at your own life differently, and no matter what terrible things befall you, you may think twice before you despair.

On Tralfamadore, they can see how things really happen. Events in time occur simultaneously. My duty-dance went like this: even though I will die, I was quite alive in the past. I guess I shouldn’t fret, huh? I am always alive.

Or, maybe like this: I will read this book. I have read this book. I have always been reading this book.

When are you going to dance?

Slaughterhouse-Five was made into a movie in 1972. Next on my Vonnegut reading list is Mother Night.

(For anyone deeply concerned over whether or not I get my copy of Cat’s Cradle back, do note that I myself lost soldier-friend Joe’s copy of The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac in the depths of my closet. Even Steven.)

Book Review: Encounter at Farpoint by David Gerrold

The most dangerous ‘same old story’ is the one in front of me right now. Self-righteous life forms who are eager not to learn, but to prosecute, to judge anything they don’t understand or can’t tolerate.

I love Star-Trek: the Next Generation. When I meet someone who loves Star-Trek: the Original Series better, I don’t understand or tolerate them. They may be family or friends, but still I stand dumbfounded, as they tear down Picard and Data, and sing the praises of Kirk. Who are these people? Where do they come from? Will they admit—at the very least—that Q is the greatest villain we have ever seen?

I love the show, so it follows that I would love the TNG novels. Well, I don’t love them all, but I intend to review a bunch. Reading the novels in the voices of one’s favorite characters brings one great joy.

I come at this one from a different place since I’ve been made aware of the new Star Trek TV series that may be on our horizon in the not-too-distant future.

Though I am told I saw Star-Trek: The Voyage Home at the movies when I was a baby, my beginnings as a fan is tied to TNG. The forthcoming series may make a lot of new fans, and it may turn out to be a fine starting point for them. Who’s really to say? But, why not delve a little bit into Star Trek’s past to learn what the future could hold.

I invite you to read this novel by David Gerrold, based on TNG’s pilot episode, because Farpoint is the ideal station to visit for any new Starfleet hopeful.

Here’s what happened when I went there.

What fans don’t always talk about is that this entire show was about the human race getting put on trial by a superbeing. It had a fearful symmetry that way. The first episode/book (Encounter at Farpoint) began with Q charging us all with being a savage, war like, un-evolved race which was not fit to venture outside our own solar system. Of course, it is put on Picard to answer for all of our crimes, real or imagined, and setting out to do so was the basis for a series, right up to the finale.

Reading this book, I remembered the little things. They are not all good things, so to speak. I roll my eyes with the best of them when Riker (ship’s new first officer) and Troi (ship’s counselor) trip over their feelings for each other in the midst of adventure. I’m human. I get annoyed, or start to laugh out of turn, when Troi winces painfully as she detects an unpleasant emotion.

Still, the author did these characters justice. My impression of Gerrold is that he knew who these characters had the potential to be. It helps to remember that Captain Picard is meeting most everyone for the first time, and most of the crew only have vague ideas about him. Unlike TV, prose has the capacity for internal dialogue.

Since I’m a grammatical case study, trained to root out this sort of thing, I stumbled over some of the editing flaws in my copy of the book. One occurs on the back cover, where they insist Farpoint Station lies in orbit of the planet Cygnus IV. Anyone who flips through a couple chapters can see that it’s actually hanging out at Deneb IV. (Did it just get nerdy in here? Good.)

But it’s the philosophy of TNG that sets it apart from other shows, even in the Star Trek franchise. Kirk has been accused of being a space cowboy or cop, and DS9, which I love, has been categorized as military science fiction. TNG really was about explorers learning about new species, and why the prime directive of not interfering with these species, is actually kind of a good thing. It was also about understanding strange creatures for the first time.

At Deneb IV, the strange creature was the size of a space station, not what it appeared to be, trading its life force for cheap energy, and it didn’t know any better. With Q watching, Picard and his crew must sort out a moral dilemma. It would be their first of many.

I thought the book succeeded, but as it turns out, nobody knew if the show would succeed. It was sluggish for a time, but overcame this uncertainty, and eventually became something special. I’m glad that it did. When people ask me who the best captain is, I’m comfortable answering like this. “Picard is the best captain. He was smart enough to stand aside and let Data figure things out.”

Life as it is lived isn’t necessarily the way life has to be lived. We can do better.

Book Review: Radical by Maajid Nawaz

I see you, London. Heathrow, immune from change during long spells of absence, oblivious to the distance of lovers, you seem to welcome me back with no less warmth than when I left. I see you, London.

The question one asks when reading autobiographical work is, I wonder if this guy’s really telling me the truth? I asked it when I began Radical by Maajid Nawaz.

But when you note how much of Nawaz’s life is documented, when you consider how often he has been ridiculed for talking about that life, indeed when you read in his own words that Radical is an act of diplomacy dressed in the disguise of storytelling, you can let that thought go, and enjoy when Hosni Mubarak and George W. Bush become the characters of a novel, his life’s journey becomes a plot, and his conclusions become literary.

“Literary” is the crux, isn’t it? If you’re aiming to learn more—or the very first thing—about political Islam, and how a person could go from a committed extremist (not to be confused with ‘terrorist’) to perhaps its most outspoken opponent, then read this book. Don’t wait. However, there is a lesser-discussed element to it. Not your typical educational value, and more than the aforementioned act of diplomacy.

One of the things I like about Maajid is that he helped to bring himself out of Islamist extremism by reading books. While held in Egypt’s brutal Mazrah Tora, he made the best use of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and all the horror and moral complexity we find in them. I like that Maajid has a fondness for Roald Dahl, and read C.S. Lewis as a boy.

You may consider his continuing references to Harry Potter (see “The Voldemort Effect” ). Maajid teaches us the power of “the narrative.”

The narrative of Radical takes us from racially-charged neighborhoods in the U.K., to London, Pakistan, Copenhagen, and Egypt—where, incidentally, they do as they please.

Maajid’s life as a rising member of Hizb al-Tahrir, one of the world’s most effective Islamist groups, is both frightening and human. His fall even more so, and I found this best captured in The Polemic, which is an unstoppable read of a chapter, and takes place soon after 9/11. The narrator is at the height of his belief in HT, if not the people who run it, and a heartbeat away (in storytelling terms) from his capture by Egyptian secret police. It is a favorite just from a standpoint of “the narrative.”

In an effort to further educate myself, I must have watched dozens of Maajid’s interviews and debates online, and a lot of unsavory related material. One of the most insidious narratives against the author is that, “He has always had an extreme personality. Why should you trust him now?”

The answer is that you don’t have to. Yet, if you got to know him first, maybe you’d see why many, many people do. The answer is a quote from George Eliot:

“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect [people].”

Forgive me for once I went to weaken you even more, but through all your resilience I can now help with the cure. And so I went. I went to do what I could; fighting the very virus I had helped to sow deep within your veins.

Praise for Hyperion Cantos

It took me a while to find that one series every fan has, the one we all point to as our series. For a lot of people, it’s Harry Potter, or it’s Hunger Games. Some people have more than one series. I never had one until now. Now, I’m just like you.

Short stuff and standalones have always come easier to me, so enjoying a series seemed like kind of an aberration. I like a sense of oneness, and read for that well-crafted ending that comes after just the right amount of anticipation.

Then the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons came into my life. (Those books that have been around for twenty some years, but only took me twenty some to find). I think it was the frame format that got me hooked on book one, initially, the homage it paid to The Canterbury Tales. Each chapter was a story belonging to a traveler. And the travelers? All connected to the planet Hyperion. They’re on their own pilgrimage, confronting the Shrike. It’s hard to say whether the Shrike is a character, an idea, a force of nature, or something else. That’s what makes meeting the ‘angel of final retribution’ so attractive. Some say the monster and religious icon isn’t real at all. It is simply unquantifiable.

The first book ends this way, just as the pilgrims get behind the curtain of time which hides the Shrike. “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz…”

It turns out that I didn’t mind at all that neither events, nor the futures of characters, were concluded in the first installment. The sequel took the shreds of cyberpunk and politics offered in the first book, and wove the tapestry. Then came characters like Ummon. Oh, Ummon, how could I ever hope to explain you? Although the second book does not have quite the craft, is not nearly as tight, it treats us to a payoff so satisfying that it conjured Childhood’s End. Brawne Lamia, John Keats, Sol, the Consul—I feel like I know them. So, I guess what I’m really trying to say is that the Cantos did what any good story was meant to. I have never read so fast in my life.

But here’s the rub. I can’t go on. I feel like I have to take some advice from another Goodreads reviewer. They warned not to read beyond The Fall of Hyperion, and I’ll be dammed if I’m going to. Just like I’ll be damned if I get too excited for the would-be television series about said books. If what follows is just not the same, or too many special things have changed, I don’t think I could take it. And if that doesn’t speak to how highly I think of the first two books of the series, maybe this will.

Reading the Cantos got me so excited about storytelling that it made me want to sit down and work. And I did. And I think it was Hyperion’s love for literary allusions that helped me write what I ended up with. Perhaps later, when I’m ready, I will finish the series. But for now, I can say my own story is finished. Ironic that two novels wanted me to put aside my novel-writing, and hammer out a short story. Whatever the case, I’m looking to shop that story soon, so look for Lugo while you can in a slushpile near you!

Non-Genre Review: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, 1970


This is the historical account that demanded the word ‘unflinching’ be invented.
Dee Brown’s Indian History of the American West was never a part of a curriculum for me, at any grade level. But when I became a high school grad who had set out to read things They would not have us read, this somewhat intimidating book came to my attention.
But it was only Michael Blake’s less-intimidating, if more involving, Dances With Wolves, that got me thinking of Bury My Heart… as the book I needed to read as soon as humanly possible. In the afterword of the novel, Blake references Brown’s book as the first of its kind, the one that dismissed the notion of savages so utterly, and educated us about the real hardships of the Lakota, Apache, Cheyenne, and all tribes. Blake also suggested that Crazy Horse, of the Lakota, might have been the greatest American to ever live. Does that do something to your American identity? It did something to mine.
The period of history covered is 1860-1890, is bloody, and is told in so honest a manner that one doesn’t think to do anything but take it as fact. Here’s how I know it’s fact: the Indians aren’t angels. The Indians make mistakes. There were traitors in nearly every tribe. And, despite all of their flaws, the reader can only root for them, and fear the whites, less for their invasion, and more for the atrocities they commit.
Among the chiefs we are introduced to: Sitting Bull, Cochise, Geronimo, Red Cloud, and Crazy Horse. Through their eyes, and oftentimes through their own words, we observe as their world gets smaller and smaller, and promise after promise is made, then broken.
Missing the Peltier incident by a scant five years, one cannot help to think of Bury My Heart… as at the very least a significant book, and Wounded Knee Creek a bitter symbol.
It will be difficult for you, prospective reader, to ever visit a national park, go hunting, or even admire nature, without first thinking of those who made it a way of life. You have their permission to think twice the next time someone would have you believe that all native people care about is your use of the word ‘Indian’ or renaming a football team. Maybe there is more to the story. Perhaps, a poverty-stricken reservation, or that Peltier sits in a federal prison today, means more to them. So any time you go fishing, see an endangered species list, catch a news story about the invasion of a faraway place, or hear “Crazy Life” play on the radio, maybe it will mean a little more to you.