Autumnal BL: Decorative Gourd Edition

Kusama_Mizushiro.jpgOkay, I’ll be straight with you: there aren’t actually any decorative gourds here. I just wanted to contribute to the general online narrative of autumn being all about decorative gourds and pumpkin spice lattés. I wanted to be part of the group, you guys. But I promise you the BL part of that title is one hundred percent truth! There is for real BL in here. Classic BL! Also newer BL because I couldn’t actually pick just one title to write about. Because I am indecisive. Despite the fact that I have extremely strong opinions. The two apparently do not go together. I am indecisively possessed of strong opinions.

Like my declaration of fall being for SFF. Such a strong opinion! I ran with it for several weeks! But now, as autumn slips away and the days become shorter in their inevitable march toward winter, my strong opinion also fades and drifts into the hazier territory of “maybe fall is for BL?” Because I have been reading BL lately. It’s a good thing my translation/interpretation lets me become passionately devoted to and interested in a topic or person for a brief period of time because that is apparently how my wishy-washy, fervently devoted brain works, and I don’t know how I’d ever make a living in any other line of work. Continue reading

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Belka, Why Don’t You Bark?: Hideo Furukawa, trans. Michael Emmerich

cvr9781421549378_9781421549378_hr-1Fall is for science fiction! I am standing by this statement with more science fiction. Or rather speculative fiction? The question of whether or not Belka is science fiction kept coming up as I was reading. The publisher is Haikasoru, and their whole deal is science fiction and fantasy in translation from Japanese. But the events of Belka are pretty firmly grounded in historical events and don’t feel so science fiction-y or fantasy-y. Still, it delves deep into the psyche of dogs and pushes reality to some eyebrow-raising limits, so speculative it is? So let’s just change our reading/battle cry to fall is for SF and move on.

This is only one of Furukawa’s many books that I have read in the last month or am currently reading. (I may never finish the behemoth that is his translation of Heike Monogatari into modern Japanese, though.) Because I am interpreting for him during his upcoming appearances at the International Festival of Authors, and as I noted on Twitter the other day, interpreting for someone basically means you become their most devoted, secret stalker for a brief period of time. You find every interview they’ve done in any publication anywhere; you read everything they’ve ever committed to ink or pixels; you watch all the videos of them on YouTube, including their appearances on a terrible wide show twenty years ago that is probably not relevant in any way to the project at hand. And you never, ever tell them that you have done all of this. Because they would no doubt—and possibly rightly—feel that it was creepy. Because what you are doing is not so different from the sort of stalking that gets people to take our restraining orders. Only your motivations are different: You just want to be ready for when some rando from the audience asks a question about that terrible wide show and you have to interpret it for your artist. Continue reading

Iwa to Niki no Shinkon Ryoko: Yumiko Shirai

Iwa_ShiraiFall is still for science fiction, friends, so I hope you’ve been devouring some of the many great books being released these days. Or maybe you’re digging deep into the backlist of SF pubs like Tor or Angry Robot or Haikasoru and finding new treasures you missed the first time around. Or perhaps you are building a little fortress of all the great SF comics in the bookstore. (You should ask the clerk if it’s okay before you do this, though.) (It will be, of course, and the clerk will join you in this mission gladly, but it’s always polite to ask first.) I am over here lamenting the lack of SF manga not only in translation, but in Japanese. I think the fantasy part of SFF is pretty well represented in both Japanese and translation, but where is all the SF?! And I don’t mean mecha stuff. I mean, giant robots are great and all, but I want the science fiction of dystopian/utopian futures, distant planets, and cultural criticism couched in alien manners.

Basically, I want Yumiko Shirai. And fortunately for all of us, hot on the heels of her being the third manga artist to win Japan’s version of the Nebula, the Nihon SF Taisho, for the masterwork that is Wombs, she is trying her hand at shojo manga. SF isn’t unheard of in the shojo world—Moto Hagio and Keiko Takemiya both gave us some fine shojo SF back in the day—but I feel like I don’t see too much of it these days. (Please feel free to loudly correct me in the comments if I am just blind to a rich variety of shojo SF being published right now.) We all know how much I love Shirai and also how I am on a sort of mission to expand my reading in women/girl-oriented genres, so you can only imagine my great delight upon hearing about the release of Iwa to Niki no Shinkon Ryoko. “A true force in the world of SF takes on shojo manga!!” the obi declares, and I am excited. Continue reading

Lagoon: Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon-imageCan fall be for science fiction? It appears to be turning out that way for me, so maybe we can just make it official, and everyone can dig into some seriously fine sci-fi. There’s this whole thing in Japanese where you say fall is for art, or fall is for food, or fall is for whatever you feel like doing, it seems. So I feel like we should jump on this bandwagon and declare fall for science fiction. Then we can get all cozy in our suddenly (in Toronto, at least) chilly homes and devour all the great SFF books hitting the shelves these days, like the latest from Ann Leckie. (If you haven’t already, you should seriously be reading all her books, by the way.)

Or this little number for Nnedi Okorafor, another author you should all already be reading. I fell in love with her a while back when I happened upon Who Fears Death, an incredible story about apocalypse and magic and Africa. So now she’s one of those authors I will pick up whenever I happen upon her, secure in the knowledge that she will give me things to really think about while entertaining the hell out of me. But even if she wasn’t on that list of favoured authors, I probably still would have grabbed Lagoon on the basis of the cover alone. I’ve said it more than once, I judge books by their covers, and this is a cover that screams, “Read me! You won’t regret it!”. So high fives to Joey Hi-Fi for some seriously evocative imagery. Incidentally, he also did the amazing UK (?) cover for Zoo City, another book I totally loved. I guess the lesson here is check out what other books he’s designed and read them too? Continue reading

Yume Miru Ashibue: Sayuri Ueda

Yume_UedaAs part of my mission to expand my reading horizons, I’ve been dipping my toes into the shallow end of the Japanese science fiction/fantasy pool. Ever so tentatively. I’ve been reading SFF in English since I was a kid, thanks to the reading proclivities of my nerd dad, but I read almost no SFF in other languages. The barrier for entry just seems too high. After all, SFF is basically the one genre where everything is totally made up. Sure, there’s some more grounded stuff, closer to magic realism than science fiction, but for the most part, this is a genre where authors delight in creating new worlds, new cultures, and new words even. And when you’re reading that in a second language, a language in which you are lacking the full vocabulary you have in your native tongue, all that newness can send you spinning off into a literary blackhole of doom. Is this unfamiliar word just one you don’t know or is it one the author made up? Should you look it up or just wait and see? Not to mention when the story is set in some entirely imagined world, you lose all the context you normally get from the world around you to help you decipher difficult passages and concepts.

So SFF is a daunting read for the non-native speaker. But from the peeks I’ve gotten here and there, through work in translation or the Japanese magazines I pick up from time to time, I know the world of Japanese science fiction is full of exciting and interesting stories that I want to read. So I have been mustering up my courage and prowling around the SFF sections of the bookstores I frequent, trying to find something really great and challenge my language skills at the same time. Some of the books I’ve stumbled upon have been hugely disappointing (I’m looking at you, Mirai e by Motoko Arai!), but I’ve happened upon a few treasures, including, of course, Sayuri Ueda’s recently published short story collection Yume Miru Ashibue. Continue reading

Girls! Girls! Girls!

OtomeKanojo

Like any good battler of books, my brain is always trying to find something new to tackle. It’s easy to get stuck in one genre or in one area of the bookstore. After all, you have found so many things there you like! There are sure to be more! But doing the same thing over and over again, while comfortable and delightfully easy, is not the best way to bring your brain to new ideas. Hence my recent push deeper into the world of shojo and josei manga, genres I am shamefully unread in. And on my last trip across the ocean, I realized that I was woefully ignorant of yuri as well. I have turned so many pages of boys doing filthy things to other boys, but so few of girls doing the same to other girls.

I have, of course, dabbled in the love of girls; I’m even translating two yuri series, the charming and unabashedly queer Kase-san and the “pure love” innocence that is Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl. But as a fujoshi, I haven’t delved into the world of yuri anywhere nearly as deeply as I have into BL. So as part of my efforts to dig up and shine more of a light on women’s stories, I was primed to take some yuri home with me the last time I was in Japan. And fortunately, it turns out a friend is pretty into the genre himself, so he was kind enough to recommend a couple titles when we were poking around a bookstore together one day. Continue reading

Roundup: Cleaning My Desk Edition

Desktop.jpgIt is no secret that my brain and I read a ton of books. For one thing, my job is literally getting paid to read (and, of course, translate) books, so I process a pile of books like that every month. Then there’s the research I do for translations, plus all the manga I need to read to keep up with the industry to some degree, and occasionally, re-reading books I’ve already translated to remind myself of who said what when there is a serious chunk of time between the release of one volume and the next (like with Blue Morning, the series that releases one volume a year if we’re lucky and is also super complicated with political machinations set in a peerage system that no longer exists in Japan. I think I’ve read volume one about fifteen times now.)

And then I read for the sheer pleasure of reading because what a pleasure it is! I came across an article recently about how to make more time for reading, and to be honest, I was baffled by the suggestions. Who isn’t already reading over breakfast? Or carrying a book everywhere they go? What do these people do on the train?? I would like to read more for pleasure, for sure, but I am cramming about as much reading into a single day as a human being can. Unless they come up with a way to read while you’re asleep. Yes, I take the occasional break from reading to watch a movie or play video games, but generally, if I have five free minutes, I am picking up one of the books scattered around my house and reading it. Continue reading