Monday 29 December 2014

Locke and Key, Vol. 3 and 4

Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, 2009-2011
(December 2014)

Last time I commented on how the slightly childish exaggeration of the visual style in Locke and Key served to exaggerate the horror through the contrast with the gore and anguish it depicted. Little did I know.

Monday 15 December 2014

Surface Detail

(December 2014)

This is easily the longest of the Culture books, and arguably the weakest too, but we’ll come to that in due course. In the meantime I must confess that what I was planning to write about this has been unfortunately (and depressingly) overtaken by events in the real world.

Monday 8 December 2014

It’s Me! It’s Me!

Japan is home to a very specific type of con-artist. There’s something called ‘Ore Ore’ Fraud (that ore being pronounced not as in a miner striking a seam of metallic rock, but as in an aggressively drunk Spaniard sarcastically celebrating the murder of a cow), which essentially translates as ‘It’s me, it’s me’.

The con works like this: the scamsters aggressively and persistently harangue their victims, often in their own homes, repeating the same simple message – “It’s me! It’s me!” – and through providing that information and nothing else hope that the natural credulity and weak-mindedness of their targets will act to embellish whatever details are necessary to convince them that this ‘me’ is someone who they actually know and appreciate and value. Once this cognitive sleight-of-hand has been achieved, the fraudsters then convince their marks to give them stuff that if they actually thought about it in any meaningful way at all they’d be extremely reluctant to bestow on them.

Friday 5 December 2014

The Mirror Empire

(October 2014)

A little round-up here of the conversation Pep and I had regarding The Mirror Empire and City of Stairs, for the sake of both convenience and indulging my slightly obsessive need to stick to the format.


Monday 1 December 2014

Just the Two of Us


Welcome back, pop pickers! After the first episode of this little here Mirror Empire vs City of Stairs dance battle went to air the phone lines opened and would you believe it, both contestants made it through the public vote! What were the odds? So join me and Pep of Two Dudes in an Attic as Round Three beckons…

Monday 24 November 2014

Bookmark Three

Year Three in the blogosphere and, while no one yet suspects I am a dog, this was the year the realities of juggling work, study, and family really started to bite. Woof.

Sunday 23 November 2014

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

(November 2014)

Now this is how you do narrative tension and an unreliable narrator. Terrifyingly fantastic.

Monday 17 November 2014

Beasts of No Nation

(November 2014)

Fucking hell. Not an easy read, this. Harrowing, frequently appalling, and just downright distressing, but then given it’s about a child soldier press-ganged into conflict in an unnamed African country those are exactly all the things it should be.

Monday 3 November 2014


You can imagine me reading this post whilst wearing a black polo neck if you like, or making some more topical references about an executive's sexual orientation, or hoping fanboys get all excited about how it's essentially the same thing as the last one I made but there's half a teaspoon more cinnamon this time. Look, it's an apple cake and I'm a busy man and you need to start pulling your weight around here with the gags and stuff. I can't do it all for you, y'know?

Friday 31 October 2014

Bending Adversity

David Pilling, 2014
(October 2014)

Some fifteen years after John Dower’s near-mandatory Embracing Defeat, David Pilling brings us Bending Adversity, the next installment of the Manipulating Negativity series on The State of Japan. I’m happy to announce that I’m slated to write the final volume of the trilogy some time in 2029, to be titled Pity-Fucking Decrepitude.

Friday 24 October 2014

East of West, Vol. 3

Jonathan Hickmam and Nick Dragotta, 2014
(October 2014)

So this is what it’s like experiencing an ongoing series at the rate at which it’s produced. It’s agonizing, isn’t it, knowing that you aren’t limited only by your own monetary and temporal resources but must conform entirely to the whims of someone else’s schedule? This is the 21st century people! I want my content here and I want it now! Bend to my fickle desires for escapist entertainment! Dance! Dance for me my pretties! God, I think the last time I consumed any sort of serialized media on an installment by installment basis dictated by the distributer was the first series of Heroes. I tried the second as well, but probably the less said about that the better.

Monday 13 October 2014

Ghost in the Shell

Shirow Masamune, 1989-1997 [Frederick L. Schodt and Toren Smith, 2009, 2010]
(October 2014)

While we’re on the subject of Japanese-inspired cyberpunk (and isn’t it all, really), it seems the sensible thing to do is to head back to one of the ur-examples of the genre. Big hair, massive shoulder pads, cranial jacks, and high-legged swimsuits worn as daywear: late-eighties SF in a single sentence, ladies and gentlemen.

Friday 10 October 2014

Out, Damned Spot

Or, Believing Your Own Bullshit

So this is going to be about the Comfort Women (again). And as an added topical extra I’m also going to be talking about #gamergate. If you find either of those two terms meaningful and want to back out now I wouldn’t blame you in the slightest.

Monday 29 September 2014

Phantasm Japan

(September 2014)

We’ve established that I’m no fan of David Cameron’s, so you can imagine how much it pains me to say that every once in a while he, or at least his speechwriter, is capable of turning quite a nice rhetorical line. One specific instance sticks in my mind from ages ago, when he was baiting Tony Blair at Prime Minister’s Questions and claimed that, “He was the future, once.” And you know, this reminds me very much of Jesus Christ.

Friday 26 September 2014

Tae Think Again

Here at This is How She Fight Start we like to pride ourselves on always being slightly behind the bleeding edge of the perpetually onrushing buzzsaw that is the 24-hour News Cycle. It’s the Ridcully approach to information management: if it really is important then people will still be talking about it a few days after the fact, and if they’re not, well, it can’t have been that vital anyway. And so it is that I eventually come to put down some thoughts on the Scottish referendum, a mere week after the fact. Next time I’m planning to discuss whether or not we should abandon the Gold Standard.

Monday 8 September 2014

Spirits Abroad

(September 2014)

It’s been a while since I read a book with a manifesto printed inside the front cover. Spirits Abroad is published by a Malaysian imprint that stakes its ground out very explicitly on page one, and it’s so tempting to get all academic and unpack that through the sociolinguistic frames of World Englishes, ELF, the Expanding Circle and so on. For now though we’ll just focus on one point: Fixi Novo’s deliberate and specific repudiation of italicized loanwords, as “italics are a form of apology.”

Wednesday 3 September 2014


(August 2014)

And so we reach the last Culture book I remember enjoying unreservedly the first time I read it. I don’t think that’s just a result of me becoming a more discerning/ picky/pretentious reader in the years since –it’s not too controversial to claim that the forthcoming Surface Detail and The Hydrogen Sonata are among the less strong entries in the series – but coming at this for a second time it’s apparent that the warning signs were definitely peeking through.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Summer Lovin’

Well, that was an abortive attempt at a summer. It’s been the wettest, shortest, and sickest that I can remember in a long time. And now I’m back in school.

Monday 25 August 2014


(August 2014)

The best laid plans, eh? I’ve been doing a fair bit of domestic travel this summer for seminars and the like, and figured that getting a stack of reading lined up would be a good way to eat up all those hours on the shinkansen. I’d finally got hold of a Harper Voyager edition of Count Zero, and what with it being Neuromancer’s 30th anniversary it seemed like a good idea to read straight through the entire Sprawl Trilogy and stick up one huge megapost at the end of the month.

Friday 22 August 2014

What We See When We Read

(August 2014)

A fascinating little book, this. But, perhaps fittingly, one that’s very hard to capture the experience of reading at a remove. Easy to read, hard to say what reading it is like.

Friday 15 August 2014


(August 2014)

My kids are, as is now mandatory, huge fans of Frozen. Fortunately it’s a pretty good movie; I don’t know if my increased tolerance for schmaltz is due to parenthood or if it’s simply concomitant with the increased confidence of age, but god I love me a showtune. Let it Go has inevitably joined Jabberwocky and Where the Wild Things Are in the limited pantheon of things I can recite the words to by heart.

Friday 8 August 2014

Rat Queens

Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, 2014
(July 2014)

Now y’see sass is one of those words that rubs me up the wrong way. Just a little mind, more of a brief flick than a full on rub, but it undeniably goes against the grain and leads to what should be a very pleasant sensation feeling a little awkward for all concerned.

Monday 4 August 2014

Look to Windward

(July 2014)

I’m going to cop out of this one slightly. Firstly, I figure that after going so thoroughly to town on Inversions we could probably all do with a bit of a break from overthinking Banks.

Friday 25 July 2014

The Buddha in the Attic

(July 2014)

Another one of those books that leaves me unable to do anything other than gibber fractured and entirely inadequate praise. This is an astonishing work. I never thought I could be made to feel so emotionally rent by what amounts to one hundred and thirty pages of lists.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

English in Japan in the Era of Globalization

(July 2014)

Yep. Interesting, as you’d expect. I’ll get something more scholarly and substantial written up over at the other place eventually (maybe).

Monday 21 July 2014

The Country of Ice Cream Star

(July 2014)

This is a little off-the-radar, if reviews in the Guardian and Independent can count as off-the-radar. What I suppose I mean is that in the grubbier SFF corners of the web I occasionally inhabit this has received absolutely no play whatsoever. Arguably writing a widely-read and controversial (for want of a better word) article about old-school SF isn’t the best way to ingratiate yourself into that little community, but your Tors and your SF Signals don’t seem to have clocked to this at all. This is both a surprise and a shame because The Country of Ice Cream Star is a very special book indeed.

Monday 14 July 2014

Harbinger of the Storm

(July 2014)

Harbinger of the Storm represents a very clear progression from its predecessor, Servant of the Underworld, both in terms of narrative development and authorial skill. It’s still, like an elderly priest’s ears, a little ragged around the edges, but it moves the story forward easily and significantly and the missteps are, in general, fewer and less significant than before.

Monday 7 July 2014


Dung Kai-cheung, 1997 [Dung Kai-cheung, Anders Hansson, and Bonnie S. McDougall 2012]
(June 2014)

Hong Kong is a pretty special city. I’ve only been a couple of times, and at this stage of my life I imagine actually living there would fairly rapidly end up with my appearance in local newspaper stories with the word ‘rampage’ in the headline, but as a place to visit it’s really like nowhere else I’ve been. Even trying to begin to unpack the various interweaving narratives of globalization, (post)colonialism, trade, capital, and belonging that wrap around every stone of the city is a herculean task, and one I’m certainly not up to in a 700 word blog post.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

The Shock of the New

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything specifically about Japan, but then this categorically isn’t a blog about Japan, so I don’t know what you’re complaining about. I don’t. No, YOU shut up. Anyway, the reasons for this go beyond just a lack of time. The simple truth is that I’ve been keeping this blog for almost three years now and it really feels like I’ve covered most of the stuff in the news already.

Monday 30 June 2014


(June 2014)

How do we judge those who find themselves on the wrong side of history? That question is easier to answer in some cases than others, of course, but it’s not too difficult to conceive of someone who makes bad decisions for good reasons, or even someone who makes good decisions that ultimately turn out badly. Unexpected consequences and all that.

Sunday 29 June 2014

Locke and Key, Vol. 1 and 2

Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, 2008-2009
(June 2014)

We interrupt our scheduled programming for a spot of light relief. Well, I say ‘light’. It’s more, erm, ‘horror’. And it’s not especially relieving, either, what with, y’know’ the horror and everything. It is an interruption though, so at least there’s that.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Inversions – Half-Time Report

A confession. I started reading Inversions with the full intention of going up to Chapter 12, then pausing and writing this up, seeing what everyone else was saying, going for a sit down and a cup of tea to cogitate upon the undoubtedly excellent and insightful comments of my fellow travellers on this here readalong, then sleeping on it, seeing how I felt in the morning, and only then forging ahead armed with new and varied insight and a vastly improved appreciation for the joys of reading, the singularly uplifting experience of sharing a journey with like-minded folk, and the wit and craft of the dearly departed Mr Banks. And then some 36 hours later I finished reading the epilogue and realized I’d rather fucked it up. Oops.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Inversions – Pre-Match Warm-Up

The football theme seems timely, if depressing for those of you with Iberian, Anglo-Saxon, or Japanese connections. Personally I’m being forced to work my way further and further down my list of tenuous national connections in search of a team left in the competition to support. On which note, allez les Bleus!

This should also act as a warning to anyone expecting this to be a tightly focused or well-organised affair; digressions will be both tolerated and positively encouraged. That said, I should probably get on providing structure, so this here post will act as an index for things, and I’ll update it as we progress. At present the team-sheet looks like this –

Feet for Brains
     - Half Time

And for the sake of convenience, here are my Half Time and Full Time reports as well.

Friday 20 June 2014

The Lowland

(June 2014)

The Lowland is an astonishingly well-written novel. Lahiri’s prose just demands to be called ‘limpid’, and is executed with a precision and clarity that I haven’t enjoyed in a long time. The story however is just brutal; blow after blow of outright emotional violence which, combined with that cut-glass linguistic virtuosity, means the whole experience is akin to getting glassed with Waterford Crystal.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Gently Does It

Coffee, cardamom, and pistachio. Too much spice, to be honest. Tasted uncomfortably similar to mouthwash, which isn't really the desired effect. However, running the seeds through the coffee mill meant that my morning eye-opener had a certain Middle Eastern flavour for the next week which was surprisingly pleasant. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

Monday 16 June 2014

The Parable of the Ponderous Parallels

or, Be Careful What You Wish For

The football World Cup has begun. You can tell this because both social and mainstream media can now be divided into three broad groups: people talking about football; people griping about people talking about football; and people who insist on continuing their discussions about less pressing matters such as conflicts in the Middle East, American gun massacres, child abduction, and so forth (this last is by far the smallest group).

Friday 13 June 2014

What Lot’s Wife Saw

(June 2014)

What Lot’s Wife Saw is a speculative cruciverbal epistolary murder mystery novel. Yeah, another one, but let’s forgive the thundering generic unoriginality and look at the story itself, which is actually pretty good.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Lazy Trailer


In the last week of June my Iain M. Banks reread reaches its undoubted highpoint (it’s all relative) when I get round to Inversions. I’m not excited because of the book itself – well, OK, I am a little bit – but because I have somehow convinced the good people at both Two Dudes in an Attic and the Little Red Reviewer to join a readalong. Why such talented and attractive people would want to slum it with the likes of me is frankly a mystery, but they’ve already agreed and I have the emails to prove it. Suckers.

So if anyone else fancies joining us in this shoddily organized, short-notice, last-minute, ‘let’s do the show right here!’ affair then feel free to grab yourself a copy of the book and join in the fun. You’ll get to read thoughtful, intelligent comment from proper reviewers about a challenging and well-written book, and then come back here for some cock gags. Don’t say I never do anything for you.

Friday 6 June 2014

Jane Eyre & Wide Sargasso Sea

(May 2014)

Get me with the classics, such as they are. We’ve been watching clips from the BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre in class, and after banging on about how it’s the English equivalent of Kokoro (in so much as it’s often studied in school) I figured I may as well read the damn thing properly.

Friday 30 May 2014


(May 2014)

In many ways this is quite a traditional SF story. Which is a shame, because the traditional parts are some of the weakest; when it goes its own way it’s pretty damn good. The upshot though is that, like Who Fears Death, Lagoon is a book which is easier to admire than to enjoy.

Monday 26 May 2014

Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink

The football World Cup is almost upon us. I care less about this as I get older, but it’s still a pleasantly diverting way of killing time over the summer months. I think not living in the UK makes it a bit easier as I don’t have to deal with all the hubristic triumphalism that invariably attends the England team’s entry to the tournament, nor the weak-assed post-imperial wailing and self-abuse which accompanies their inevitable exit on penalties in the second round.

Friday 23 May 2014

East of West, Vol. 1 and 2

Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta, 2013-2014
(May 2014)

After dabbling with a couple of more venerable members of the comic book canon I’m taking the plunge with an ongoing series, which means I’m going to have to do some adult stuff like go slow and show some patience. Interesting times ahead, my friends.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

The Brick Moon

(May 2014)

Something of a curiosity, this. Better yet, let’s call it a curio, because that’s shorter and ends with an ‘O’ so if I type it in italics it’ll look all foreign and sophisticated.

Monday 19 May 2014

The Lesser of Two Evils

Pecan and Maple Syrup, so a vaguely North American vibe to this one. While this is not something of which I'd usually approve, my wife really liked it so might go for something other than coffee and bloody walnut next time I ask her to choose what she wants. Not massively important in the grand scheme of things, I agree, but marriages have foundered on less. It's the little things, eh?