Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Light Novels

February 26, 2017

I’ve been spoiled. Up until now, all the Japanese light novels I’ve read were ones that withstood a long and gruelling overseas licensing process. By the time a LN got licensed in the US, you could be pretty sure it met some (often low) minimum standards for story-telling and writing quality. I’m talking about things like Spice and Wolf, Kokoro Connect, and most of the Haruhi series. But beneath that surface layer you will find a lot of stuff that’s not much better than fan fiction.

It’s like UK television. All we see over here are the top end BBC works of art. When I lived in the UK, we got to see the really bad run of the mill ITN stuff. I can tell you that UK game shows are terrible, and that’s from someone whose wife watches an hour and a half of US game shows nightly. I am beginning to think it’s the same way with light novels.

You see, with the increasing popularity of LNs in the US, and an expansion of delivery modes, came a lowering of quality standards. Back when the publisher had to cough up the money to produce a physical product, they were more careful about what they would publish. Today, with digital delivery, the initial cost isn’t so high, and so publishers can take bigger chances. The best example of this is the new light novel distributor, J-Novel Club. For a monthly fee, JNC posts chapters of on-going LNs, roughly one per novel per week. When the novel is completed, it’s pulled from the website, except for an introductory first chapter and a purchase link. Currently, JNC is licensing twelve LNs, some of which are the second volume of a series. I am a member of  JNC, and I have read at least parts of all twelve. Not all of them are of equal quality.

Using these twelve as a convenience sample of what’s out there, we find that five of them are in the hero pulled into a fantasy world genre. This is not to be confused with hero trapped in a video game, because there is no indication that it really is a game world, as opposed to a world with some sort of game mechanics. Obviously, what the Japanese call isekai stories are hot this year.

grimgarln Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: The most literary of the lot, and the only one of this genre to have an anime. A group of people wake up in a RPG style fantasy world, with no memories of their past, and find they have to fight for their lives. There’s a reason the first syllable is grim.

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom: A Maoyū Maō Yūsha ripoff, where he’s both scholar and hero, called into a fantasy world, where his high school level skills in ecology and urban planning help defend the kingdom he was handed. “You look like a nice boy, I’ll abdicate in your favor. Here’s my daughter.”

In Another World With My Smartphone: Like it says. He’s in an RPG style fantasy world, but his smart phone works, including the maps and ‘search nearby’ functions. In addition, he finds he has other advantages. “Oh, look. I just found this new magical skill that will cure the Duke’s wife of her mysterious illness.”

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest: He’s the low man in his high school class, but the smartest girl in the class really likes him. Suddenly, the whole class is pulled into an RPG style fantasy world. “I’ve loved you ever since I saw you getting the snot beat out of you back in middle school.”

mixedbathinglnMixed Bathing in Another Dimension: Going downhill fast here, Our Hero gets called into a fantasy world, with the one skill of being able to create a Japanese style public bath-house wherever he likes. Finds some surprisingly useful applications. After all, it’s a limitless source of clean water. Also wet naked girls.

Two more LNs brush up against the edge of this genre.

The Faraway Paladin: HikkoNEET dies and is resurrected in a fantasy world. Doesn’t really count, because all he remembers is that he was a disappointment to his parents and he wants to do better this time around. His zombie priestess mother and ghostly sorcerer father agree. Reasonably well written.

I Saved Too Many Girls and Caused the Apocalypse: Our Hero starred in too many harem adventures in too many worlds without ever choosing a Best Girl. Now the multiverse will collapse unless he solves new problems in every world, which he does, by combining solutions across worlds and letting the problems cancel each other out. Neat concept, terrible writing.

The remaining five take place in fantasy/SF versions of our world.

occulticninelnOccultic;Nine: Is the best of this lot (and already has its own anime). Everybody in it is dead, and nobody knows it. Faceless MegaCorp is trying to control their souls.

My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World: High school high jinks. Our Hero can see labels over people’s heads, proclaiming what they are — Class President, Her Boyfriend, Mass Murderer, etc.

Brave Chronicle: The Ruinmaker: High school boy, something, something,  is supposed to save the world, something, but only wants to protect his little sister. There’s a childhood friend.

Paying to Win in a VRMMO: Not trapped in one. Paying, not Playing. Our Hero wins all the time by finding the right in-game purchase. About as exciting as it sounds.

My Little Sister Can Read Kanji: A couple hundred years from now, his little sister is one of the few people who can still read kanji characters. She is in great demand, because everyone wants to grope her. Our Hero is fine with this. I’m not.

So that’s a chunk of what’s current on the LN front. Twelve novels, of which three are good (for a somewhat relaxed definition of the term good), and the rest are fanfic quality. I keep reading them because I hope they will improve, but they never do.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

October 30, 2010

Is the story about a girl who can change the world just by wishing. It has appeared in a wide range of media in a wide range of countries. So far, I have read the first three MHS light novels (the only ones out in English), watched both seasons anime, and scanned a couple of the manga. It’s a fun concept, somewhat flawed in the execution. I’d recommend it, but I’d also recommend that you not watch it in the order in which it is presented.

Introduction
Three years before the start of the series, Haruhi Suzumiya (then in middle school) realized her small personal world was not all there was, that her city was bigger, Japan was far bigger, and the world was infinitely bigger than she thought. She immediately became depressed. As Douglas Adams once said, “in a universe as big as this one, the last thing you need is a sense of perspective”. Suzumiya also, unkowingly, at that point, developed the power to change the world to be more like what she wants it to be. The key word is, ‘unknowingly’. The series tracks what happens when she gets to high school. The main POV character is a high school classmate of Suzumiya’s, nicknamed “Kyon” (we never learn his real name). Kyon, by the way, is the Japanese name for a small barking deer, which is why he keeps complaining about people using it. (more…)

Reading List Page

June 16, 2010

In response to user demand (i.e. one search in a two year period), I have decided to move my reading list from its obscure position as a long-dead post to a new glory on its own page. Look to your right, under Pages.

Reboot

January 16, 2010

Wonderella, the comic.
…the mouse, of course, is from Hitchhikers Guide, and is too good to let pass

Summer Reading.

August 2, 2009

Edited my July 8 entry to add Clifford Stoll’s “The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage”

Summer Reading

July 8, 2009

This is a short list of MIS-associated fiction and nonfiction that I made up for my students last spring.

Non-Fiction
Keep in mind that these are books about how the system works, not about specific systems, so the fact that some of them are over 30 years old doesn’t matter. Some are available online in .pdf format. The first three are descriptive. The rest, more textbook-like.

The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage, Clifford Stoll, 1989
A classic description of how a 75 cent error in a computer use charge ended with the breakup of an East German spy ring.

Soul of a New Machine, Tracy Kidder, 1981
What it’s like in the trenches

Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date, Robert X. Cringely, 1992
The early days in Silicon Valley

Death March, Edward Yourdon, 2003
More life in the trenches

Mythical Man-Month, Frederick Brooks, 1975, 1995
Managing software development

Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, Peter Checkland, 1979, 1999
Soft systems approach.

Multiple Perspectives for Decision Making, Hal Linstone, 1984
Technical, organizational, personal.

The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge, 1990
Business dynamics

The Jargon File, Eric S. Raymond (ESR), et al. 2003
AKA, The Hackers Dictionary. a serious dictionary, maintained online at:
http://www.catb.org/jargon/
Go for the words, stay for the descriptions of hacker culture.

Fiction
Just a few of the classics.

Shockwave Rider, John Brunner, 1975
The SF novel that defined the idea of a computer worm

Neuromancer, William Gibson, 1984
The SF novel that defined cyberspace
Also: Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive

Snow Crash, Niel Stephenson, 1992
The SF novel that defined Second Life.

Diamond Age, Niel Stephenson, 1995
Ubiquitous computing and nanomachines.
Can’t do it the way he thought, because a carbon cloud is explosive.

Cryptonomicon, Niel Stephenson, 1999
SF/Historical. A good take on what data centers might be like tomorrow, combined with a pretty good fictionalized history of computers and cryptology in WWII.

Overclocked, Cory Doctorow, 2007
Short stories. Not written in a balloon, no matter what XKCD says.
http://xkcd.com/239/

see also the series beginning here (and what’s _your_ daughter done recently?):
http://xkcd.com/341/

…and speaking of daughters, here’s Girl Genius. It’s steampunk and not cyber, but who cares? It’s working on Vol 7 right now, but you need to start at the beginning, before they invented color:
http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20021104

or you could read a short story
http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20051212
(but stop on page 7 or you will drop into the main storyline and be beset by spoilers)

Or, if that’s too girly for you, try Megatokyo. Two gamers in Japan. It’s joke-of-the-day up until about strip number 100 or so, and then it gets a plot. They are on strip 1200 now.
http://megatokyo.com/strip/1

The Tale of the Heike

June 24, 2009

Reading a translation of the 12th Century Japanese epic “Tale of the Heike”, about the fall of one of the great houses. Some parts are unintentionally funny. At one point, an army of militant monks is approaching the palace to demand justice for wrongs done their members. Troops are stationed at all entry gates to defend them. The North gate has a renowned military leader, but few forces, so that’s where the monks go. They stop at the gate, and the leader’s deputy comes out.

“Look,” he says (I paraphrase), “we agree with you, but the Emperor says you can’t come in. If we let you in, we fail our Lord. If you fight your way in, against such a small force, you’ll win, but you’ll be embarrassed, and everybody will be looking at the ground. Our commander has never lost a battle, and it would be embarrassing all the way around. Why don’t you go to the East gate, where they have a force worthy of your attention.”

The monks thought a bit, and some said “You know, he’s right, there’s no glory in it. And the commander is from a good family. Besides, he not only is a good commander, he writes excellent poetry. Remember that one about the cherry trees?”

So, the monks went to the East gate, where they were defeated, abandoned their petition, and went back to their mountain, crying.