Book Review: Havoc

Havoc by Ann Aguirre; Cover art by Scott Fischer

Havoc by Ann Aguirre; Cover art by Scott Fischer

Ann Aguirre’s Havoc is the second book in The Dred Chronicles, a series that takes place on prison space ship, Perdition, where the most dangerous criminals have been locked away. If you’re new to the series, the place to start is Perdition, which introduces readers to the harsh reality of the prison ship as Jael, a mercenary with a secret ability, is unloaded along with a new shipment of prisoners. Dred, known as the “Dread Queen,” is the leader of one of the internal factions and an area of the ship named Queensland. She gambles with betrayal as she works to recruit Jael and maintain her grasp on power and survival. Surrounded by chaos, killers, and limited provisions, only those who can make themselves the fittest for Perdition will survive. Trust is in limited supply.

Havoc brings new troubles from the inmates of Perdition. The Conglomerate has sent armed mercenaries to exterminate all of the remaining prisoners on the prison ship. Armed with only the homemade weapons they’ve managed to scrap together themselves, the Queenslanders commence a desperate guerilla warfare. Unfortunately, the factions of cannibals and death worshippers see the invasion as a prime opportunity to take out their old foes. Also, the mercenaries have offered a sweet reward to anyone willing to betray their own, and betrayal comes easy in Perdition. Survival becomes harder than ever before.

The Dred Chronicles’ vibrant setting is somewhat reminiscent of a Reavers’ spaceship from Firefly combined with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The setting flavors everything about this book. There’s a lot grisly and dark going on, so if you find that bothersome, then this series isn’t for you. However, Aguirre uses all of that darkness to highlight prettier ideals. Survival is connected with life and valuing life. All of the characters have huge trust issues–but you see these trust issues, especially in Havoc, turning in a positive direction. I liked Havoc more than Perdition, particularly because of how character relations were handled. Above all else, though, I’d call this a book of action.

Breakout, the third installment of The Dred Chronicles, is scheduled to be released on August 25, 2015.

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Posted in Book Review Tagged ,

Dickinson Introduces Death

yellow skull, Fellissimo colored pencils

yellow skull, Fellissimo colored pencils

Within literature, Death has worn a myriad of faces. As the Grim Reaper he appears as a terrifying murderer, harvesting ripe lives still mature with promise and vitality and leaving pallid corpses behind. Humanity has long feared the unknown, and death is one of life’s most guarded secrets. Those who look upon death with curiosity are considered morbid. Those who view it with calm collection are sometimes feared and sometimes revered. In “Because I could not stop for Death,” poet Emily Dickinson uses personification, extended metaphor, and imagery to reveal Death as civil, courteous, and serene. Dickinson creates contrasts between readers’ expectations and her own vision to allow readers to see death as an eternal continuation of life.

Dickinson’s poem opens with a dependent clause that encapsulates modern life and its juxtaposition with death: “Because I could not stop for Death–”. In Dickinson’s time as well as now, upright society hums with busyness. Each reader can promptly identify with the lack of time available for certain tasks, especially undesirable ones. Yet, how very egotistical of humanity to view death as something that can be brushed aside due to packed schedules. However, courteousness dictates that if someone seems too pressed for time to complete a task, especially in the case of maintaining social connections, then a good neighbor would assist in that task’s completion. The speaker in Dickinson’s poem depicts Death as “kindly” performing a courteous house call. Rather than stopping in as a visitor, Death takes on the active role of host by picking up the speaker in his carriage. The arrangement feels particularly cozy, with the speaker and Death sharing the intimate space within the carriage. The additional passenger, “Immortality,” triply emphasized by being set off with a dash, occupying a lone line, and ending the first stanza, works to contradict the closed-in space of the carriage. Immortality is expansive and endless. The proximity of Immortality and Death link the opposites into a unified, slightly disconcerting, concept. Dickinson wishes readers to see Immortality and Death combined.

The second stanza continues the active progress of the carriage ride, countering the notion of death as a stopping point. Instead, the speaker emphasizes Death’s “Civility,” not only with a capital letter, but with Death’s mannerly pace. While in life the speaker “could not stop,” now she has “put away” her activities as if they were excessive. Her action is presented in the past perfect, as something that happened prior to the carriage driving slowly. I find it easy to picture the speaker riding calmly with her hands placed in her lap, all other actions having happened previously. Yet, within her stillness, she continues to move forward, her progress accentuated by the thrice repeated “We passed.” The third stanza, delineating points that her carriage, or rather Death’s carriage, is passing, represents the stages of life, from childhood to the setting sun. Perhaps this is a reference to one’s life passing before one’s eyes upon death, or perhaps, as touched upon by “the Ring” at recess, Dickinson wants us to see the circular, cyclic nature of life, which links to death. Not only will the children at school one day meet death, but so will the fields of grain and all other living things.

After the sun sets, the poem grows colder. Death has been so courteous and present. The fourth stanza turns towards Death’s separateness. Suddenly the speaker is part of “Us,” as opposed to Death, who remains the subjective “He.” Death continues to be active. The speaker is not dressed for the “Chill,” leading the reader to imagine both the cold of a corpse and a grave. Her funereal attire of “Gossamer” and “Tulle” connect her with spiderwebs and death shrouds. The imagery has transitioned from Romantic to Gothic. Within the extended metaphor of her carriage ride, the speaker has arrived at a “House.” Since the “Cornice,” or ceiling molding, of the house rests “in the Ground,” its location preceded by an eerie pause induced by another dash, we know this new house to be her burial chamber. However, since the “Roof” of the house is “scarcely visible,” Dickinson has returned to the expansive spaciousness of death that she first introduced along with “Immortality.” The frightening, “quivering” imagery that makes the reader wonder what might burst from that “Swelling of the Ground” drops away as her final stanza returns to the openness of great expanses of time without time’s weight: “Since then — ‘tis Centuries — and yet / Feels shorter than the Day.” Time, similar to Death, can be seen as heavy with burden or light with possibility. Since the speaker mentions that she “first surmised” something, the reader knows that she continues to be actively thinking and present–death does not remove one’s sensibilities or mind. A reference to the speaker noticing the direction the horses were headed returns the readers to the carriage and its steady progress. A destination has disappeared. Instead, hundreds of years pass, as we move “toward” infinite time. The speaker, time, and action are all in progress. Death, once more, has become a serene journey.

Whether or not someone wishes to stop for Death, eventually Death will stop for each person. Dickinson reframes this eventuality as the arrival of a courteous gentleman and the continuation of a long enduring cycle. As a passenger, one does not control the carriage, but neither does one regress into victimization. Dickinson offers graceful acceptance over ineffectual fear and flight. I am reminded of T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and the poem’s promise that “There will be time, there will be time,” despite the clear fear that there may, indeed, not be time. The speaker within “Because I could not stop for Death” continues on, but she sets aside the tasks she had been pursuing. Dickinson’s suggestion of perpetuation offers the reader a journey that remains eternal even after the arrival of death, but still the peregrination requires a change of objectives. Within the active stillness of a passenger rests an enduring mystery that one is urged to meet with grace and calm.

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Posted in Myth Tagged

Cherry Blossoms in the Rain

Mountain Cherry, 7.5" x 6" watercolor on artboard

Mountain Cherry, 7.5″ x 6″ watercolor on artboard

I’ve been painting cherry blossom trees. I want to paint more and more cherry blossom trees! I’d like to do a good really stormy one, but I haven’t managed it yet. We had a major wind advisory last weekend, and I was driving with petals and pinecones pelting my car, avoiding downed tree branches, and I kept envisioning this idea that I don’t quite know how to execute, but the process should be fun.

Rain Cherry, 10" x 7" watercolor on art board

Rain Cherry, 10″ x 7″ watercolor on art board

For my first rainy cherry blossom, I was thinking of how it would look as a stylized children’s illustration. I like that uniform rain (added with a white gel pen), but cherry blossoms simply do not look like bubble trees. So….anyway. Then last night I was watching the latest episode of Kamisama Kiss (I’m loving the tengu arc! I read the manga, so I already know the story, but I like the old-movie art style the anime incorporated. Also, tengus! Lots of them! And a kitsune (albeit an annoying one). So tengus and kitsune! Hurray!), and they had a cherry blossom viewing party with tengu, so of course Nanami, the heroine, was flown up into the tree. Maybe I’ll snag a screen shot and draw cherry blossoms Julietta Suzuki style. (My first go at cherry blossoms were based on art by Rumiko Takahashi.) I do love these trees.

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Sakura

cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms are called “sakura” in Japanese. 

In the City of Roses, the magnolia and plum blossom trees have been in bloom, but just now the cherry blossoms are blooming.

cherry blossoms

I love this type of cherry, but I would like to see some other types, especially the weeping cherry.

There are a fair number of cherry blossom trees in the area, but none of them are too large or too old, which is a pity.

cherry blossoms

Yoshino Cherry

Around here plum blossoms are more prevalent. I think it’s because the blooms tend to last a little longer as they aren’t as delicate as the cherry blossoms, but they also aren’t as light and fluffy. Cherry blossoms often won’t survive a single rain, so these blooms will likely fall later this week.

cherry blossoms

cherry blossoms

I love cherry blossom time. I think the trees induce a certain madness upon me.

Cherry Blossom Haikus

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Posted in Uncategorized Tagged

The Shadow

"The Shadow" 9 x 12, based off

“The Shadow” 9 x 12, based off a Kore Yamazaki cover

I’m practicing with ink more. This time I didn’t do the full drawing in pencil first. I laid down some loose figure lines and switched to pen. Drawing the shadow over it all was a scary moment, since I didn’t know if I would ruin everything. The original manga art used screentone, which is a film overlay of a particular pattern. First off, I don’t have screentone and I’ve never used it. Secondly, I wanted to do it entirely in pen. I considered switching to grey rather than black, but I thought that might ruin the effect. I wondered if I should use the same line pattern to place additional, standard shadows throughout the picture, but then decided to leave it as is for extra drama.

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The Ancient Magus’ Bride

Ink

“Guidance” 9 x 11 ink based on the work of Kore Yamazaki. I definitely need more practice with pens, but the more I use them the more fun they are.

In Japan, book sellers’ top new manga pick for 2015 is The Ancient Magus’ Bride by Kore Yamazaki. The story is thematically based on “Beauty and the Beast,” with the young heroine purchased by the mysterious magus and whisked away to his home in England where she will ostensibly become his apprentice–and his bride. While the magus’ actions appear kind, his many secrets and his initial purchase of the gifted girl leave the truth hanging. Meanwhile, a parade of Celtic fae and eye-catching art spin adventures for the magus and his apprentice. The first volume in English will be released in May, with the next two volumes scheduled for later this year. It’s definitely on my wish list–I love the combination of Yamazaki’s artwork, fae lore, and Beauty and the Beast.

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Posted in Art, Book Review, Fairy Tale, Folklore Tagged , , , ,

Red-Haired Snow White

"Shirayukihime" 11.5" x 7" colored pencil and watercolor

“Shirayukihime” 11.5″ x 7″ colored pencil and watercolor

Red-Haired Snow White, Akagami no Shirayukihime, is a shojo manga written by Sorata Akidzuki. The story is based on the fairy tale in only the loosest sense. Shirayuki (Snow White) is approached repeatedly by villainous types due to her envious apple-red hair, which she quickly cuts short in hopes of avoiding further trouble. There is no evil stepmother or any conflict regarding an older woman unhappy with a younger woman’s beauty. Shirayuki’s first adventure leads to an encounter with a prince and his bodyguard, both of whom become her friends, but first the prince eats a poisoned apple intended for Shirayuki. The story rapidly realigns with Shirayuki’s desire to become a royal pharmacist in the prince’s kingdom. Red-Haired Snow White is a gentle romantic adventure, with Shirayuki playing an active role as a healer.

pencil sketch

my pencil sketch based on Akidzuki’s work

Sorata Akidzuki supplies a steady stream of interestingly designed fantasy/medieval clothing for her characters. The artwork, especially the clothing, really stood out to me in its detail and creativity. I also really liked that her heroine managed to look consistently fabulous without being scantily clad. Part of the interest created by her clothing, in fact, was the regular use of layering. In my finished drawing my husband mistook Shirayuki’s long-sleeved underlayer as her natural skin-tone–perhaps I should have chosen a different color–but the layers are very clear in Akidzuki’s drawings. In this case you can see trim on the top of the shirt’s neckline that matches the design on the ribbons. Of course, in the manga you see multiple drawings from multiple angles of the same clothing.

This one shows almost the actual size.

This one shows almost actual size.

Akagami no Shirayukihime is officially available in Japanese, French, and German. Twelve volumes have been completed. The latest installment, due this month in Lala, is supposed to contain an “important announcement.” English translations would be nice, but the Internet sounding board suggests most fans are hoping for an anime.

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Posted in Fairy Tale Tagged , ,

Oni Out! Happiness In!

Sardine head talismans divert evil from entering homes. Photo courtesy of Tonusamuel

Sardine head talismans divert evil from entering homes. Photo courtesy of Tonusamuel

Today is Setsubun, a Japanese festival that marks the end of winter and the start of spring. People rid their homes of bad spirits (Oni translates to quite a list of English words, such as evil spirits, demons, ogres, and devils.) by throwing roasted soybeans while shouting, “Oni out! Happiness in!” Spirit exorcism by bean toss sounds super appealing to me. After you’ve ushered out all those evil spirits, you’ve freed up space for happiness, which you should certainly call in. A home variation includes having a family member don a mask and play the oni while the rest of the family pelts him with beans–good times. Then you’re supposed to eat one roasted bean for every year you’ve lived–seems like that could be a daunting task for some people. An additional technique which doesn’t appear quite as popular as throwing beans involves hanging sardine heads by your door along with holly leaves, as shown in the image above. I suppose the stink of the fish heads should help keep the oni out, but I figure demons and the like would be somewhat immune to bad smells. Another method to keep luck coming your way is to silently eat an uncut maki roll while facing the lucky direction (which changes yearly). Apparently if the maki has been cut, which is the norm most of the year, it’s symbolic of cut happiness.

I’ve been learning a bit more about oni, and clicking around the internet I’ve had the delightful realization that I’ve been familiarized with oni ever since my husband had me watch his beloved Dragonball and Dragonball Z. Oni are either blue or red. They have one or two horns and they dress in leopard skin loincloths–demons are style icons. I’ve seen them appear in various anime and manga, as well as on product labeling. If you follow this link you will see photos of all sorts of Setsubun products complete with oni along with a lovely family story of celebrating Setsubun. Amongst the photos, please note Hello Kitty in leopard skin oni-guise! Of course, modest Kitty is wearing a bit more than a loincloth.

Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!

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Posted in Folklore Tagged ,

2014

Tengu, 8" x 7" watercolor and ink on artboard

Tengu, 8″ x 7″ watercolor and ink on art board

Another year is at a close. 2014 brought me an interest in and focus on Japanese culture, particularly the country’s myth and folklore. This month we even tried preparing some Japanese food at home. Cooking with kelp and bonito flakes makes me feel connected with mermaids. (Although if they’re cooking it must be over hydrothermal vents, which could distantly correlate with that tempura experience.) Also, this month I’ve started studying Japanese, which would be my first non-Indo-European language. Although I’m supplementing it with some resources from the library, Trombley and Takenaka’s Japanese from Zero 1 has proven a gentle and fun introduction to the language. Vocabulary, grammar, and syntax are taught along with the steady inclusion of hiragana–after specific hiragana have been taught, those characters replace the romaji (Roman letters meant to represent Japanese sounds) used elsewhere. If the book came with an audio feature I would be entirely satisfied. Still, the result of Trombley and Takenaka’s teaching methods is a continual feeling of accomplishment for the student. I definitely recommend the book for others looking to learn Japanese outside of a classroom.

At the end of 2013 I reflected collectively upon the old year by considering my most hit pages, and that list of links has, in turn, become one of my most popular pages. This year I’ll give a shorter list.

According to WP Statistics, my top ten most clicked pages include:

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

 

According to Social Metrics, which tracks sharing via various social networks, my top three pages of interested created in 2014 are:

Mermaid with Fish
Tengu
Gold Mermaid

 

See which pages were of most interest in 2013.

Happy 2015!

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Posted in Uncategorized Tagged

Nyanta, the Swashbuckling Cat

Nyanta, 4"x 6" watercolor and ink

Nyanta, 4″x 6″ watercolor and ink

Doesn’t he look dapper? Nyanta is a swashbuckler with a subclass of chef in the light novel, anime, and manga Log Horizon by Mamare Touno. “Nya” is Japanese for “meow.” I’m not sure how serious a character name he has, as “Nyanta” must translate to something like “Meowser.” He’s also called “Chief,” which isn’t a proper name either. Nyanta is quite debonair, can wield those ridiculously long-handled rapiers in both hands while flipping through the air, smoothly takes care of the shopping and cooking, and is altogether awesome.

Nya!

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Posted in Art Tagged , , ,