Tag Archives: sci-fi

XAM’D (Anime)

Title: XAM’D

Episodes: 1-26 (complete)

Akiyuki lives on Senton Island, a free zone between the warring North and South. When his decision to help a girl leads to a terrorist attack, he ends up infected by a biological agent that turns him into a living weapon. Now he’s effectively exiled from his home, as the military there has a lot of interest in what he’s become. With the help of another girl, Nakiami, Akiyuki is learning to live with his new condition. But will he master it, or will it master him?

This is another random older show I’d never heard of until just recently, and which the reviews were rather negative towards. And once again, I found I enjoyed it for the most part.

I like shapeshifters, so the situation with Akiyuki’s infection was one of the high points for me. In his case, actually shifting (even if it’s only a partial shift like his arm) brings with it a host of consequences, the most dangerous being that the new form is fundamentally unstable and has a tendency to turn to stone if he’s not managing it right. So messing up will kill him, which makes learning how to live with it, at least at first, a matter of learning how NOT to use it unless he absolutely has no choice.

I wish the show had done more to dig into some of the emotional issues with being turned into a weapon, but on the other hand you can tell a lot from his actions. He isn’t at all grateful to be “rescued” at first, since it involved removing him from his home, friends, and family. And getting back isn’t easy, because the military man in charge of the island at best wants to catch him to use as a test subject (and failing that, would be happy to have him killed).

Nakiami isn’t exactly Akiyuki’s love interest, which I liked. She’s mysterious, almost suicidally determined to rescue others, and uniquely competent in dealing with the humanform weapons. Although she’s traveling with a group, it’s also clear something holds her apart. And she’s a mean glider pilot (they called them kayaks in the dub but that always makes me think of boats).

There are a number of other threads that get a lot of attention throughout. I think my favorite was the ongoing really tenuous relationship between Akiyuki’s mom and dad, who are separated but not quite divorced. Akiyuki’s disappearance impacts both of them badly, as no one has any idea if he’s alive or dead, but it’s clear the two of them have enough pride and pain that even this isn’t enough to cause them to unbend more than a little. Both of them seem to regret being apart, and willing to come back together—but not willing to address the things that drove them apart in the first place, which pretty well dooms most of his dad’s attempts at reconciliation.

Another major thread is the friendship between Akiyuki, Haru, and Furuichi. That didn’t go at all the way I expected—some of the problems that were visible early on resolved opposite what I thought they would be, like Haru’s love interest. I like the way the dynamics played out, and how things that could have been little things if they’d all been together, if they’d all grown up normally, became in the end such a disaster.

On a technical level, the animation was pretty good, and I enjoyed seeing all the little details that were actually animated. This is a good-looking show, even when it’s going for more of a body-horror vibe (seriously, go look up the way Akiyuki actually transforms. He’s basically melting into a new shape that you can at best describe as humanoid).

I watched the show in dub, and in general that was a strong performance. There were a few minor characters who only had a handful of lines that sounded weird, but the major characters sounded good.

There were a few things that brought the presentation down a bit, though. I watched the show in dub, so I’m not sure if this is also true for the sub, but there were several points where the background music was loud enough to overwhelm the characters speaking, and I had to turn the volume up to try to pick out what they were saying. (I don’t know that this would matter as much for sub anyway, since I’d have the text.) I also really wasn’t fond of that long poem about enemies that gets repeated three or four times in full. It feels like an overly convoluted way to try to express a few ideas, and could have been done with a much shorter presentation.

The series does dip a bit in the middle when it chooses to shift the focus away from Akiyuki, who is mostly out of commission for several episodes, in favor of developing a lot of the more secondary characters. At this point, I feel it would’ve been stronger to focus more on Nakiami, or some other more action-driven character, instead of spending so much time with the crew of the postal ship. And there are several decisions at the end that baffle me. Why do that with Akiyuki, after everything is over? And then take that long to change your mind?

Despite the snags, though, I did enjoy watching this, and am glad I stumbled across it. I rate this show Recommended.

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Epitaphs (Echoverse #2)

Title: Epitaphs

Author: Therin  Knite

Series: Echoverse #2

Adem’s switched jobs to the EDPA, but in some respects, the new job isn’t any better than the old one. His new boss treats him like crap. He’s stuck in endless newbie training hell. And then a college student who died an impossible death crops up, and life is about to get interesting again . . .

I think the reason these books are so amazing is the depth of all the characters involved. Adem and Jin have a complex relationship—which I was glad to see was clarified as being really tight friends, bound by tragedy (although we still don’t have the full story behind Jericho). Unhealthy, perhaps, in that either one of them is willing to do just about anything for the other. And Jin gets some really good moments this book. Some really funny ones too.

I also really liked the reveals about Dynara, which cleared up some practical questions from last book, and continues building the mystery of who she is beneath all the masks she wears.

And I definitely appreciated Adem being taken down a peg. His arrogance was often grating for me in the previous book, as I really dislike those kinds of characters. In this one his pride is getting ground down, both from his own mistakes and from Dynara no longer treating him like he’s special.

For all that, the story still mostly focuses on a single crime and the bigger conspiracies radiating out from it. Like the first book, the murder is not all it appears to be. Gaining some answers only leads to more questions. The whirlwind pacing means the story never drags, and because dreams are involved, the abilities on display are like magic. And the humor keeps the horror aspect in check, because even though this can get pretty dark, it can also get really funny.

Given the way this ended, I cannot wait for a sequel. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Echoes (Echoverse #1)

Title: Echoes

Author: Therin Knite

Series: Echoverse #1

Adem is an agent at IBI, a genius who can put together details to profile crime scenes and quickly find the culprit. But when a high-profile lawyer meets his death by dragonfire, Adem has the first case he’s having trouble cracking. Where did the dragon come from? Where did it go? And who wants this particular lawyer dead? But as Adem keeps digging, he realizes his case encompasses something far beyond what he expects . . .

I dislike arrogant jerk characters, so Adem took a while to stop annoying me. And the present tense did not help at all.

I did like the story, however. In this future high-tech society, something like a dragon is initially assumed to be someone’s escaped lab experiment, but the actual truth is stranger still. Adem is observant and intelligent, but childlike in a lot of his mannerisms, which other characters sometimes call out. And his habit of mentally reconstructing crime scenes is fun to read.

It’s also nice to see Adem’s tight friendship with Jin. They’re very different, and Adem doesn’t seem to like Jin very much, but some unspecified event has created this loyalty and support, and it endures despite everything else that comes up. I hope it stays as a friendship. It’s getting very hard to find stories that focus on friendship rather than romance.

And of course, the various dysfunctions of his government agency are a good source of humor. There’s a lot of laughs throughout.

Overall this is a fun story and I’m interested to see where the series goes from here. I rate this book Recommended.

Storm at the Edge of Time

Title: Storm at the Edge of Time

Author: Pamela F. Service

The Orkney Islands hold much history, and many secrets. Three children from across time are called to band together to find the three wands necessary to fortify ancient defenses against the forces of Destruction. Arni, an 11th century Viking boy. Jamie, a modern girl. Tyaak, a 26th-century half-human. None of them have experience with magic, but they will need more than ordinary power to prevail . . .

This was okay, but the plot felt too repetitive and predictable after the initial setup. Go into the era of one of the kids, use that kid’s local knowledge to get around, while the group tries to sense the location of the staff, then try to snatch the staff out from under the agents of Destruction who are also after it. The specifics vary, of course, depending on the century, but it’s hard to feel too much tension since this is obviously a stand-alone book and not part of a longer series. (In other words, there’s no time for failure. The page count alone tells me they have to succeed.)

Jamie, being the modern representative, gets the most narrative focus. She would have gotten a little more of my sympathy if she hadn’t been so determined to just fall into some great talent that none of her family enjoyed (hint: even natural skill in the areas her parents and brother succeed in takes a lot of hard work to become that big a success). At least she’s not instantly great at magic (mostly due to a failure of imagination about how to use it).

Overall this wasn’t a bad read, but I did find myself more bored with the story than not, so it’s not one I’d come back to. I rate this book Neutral.

Dark & Day (Dark & Day #1)

Title: Dark & Day

Author: Israel Grey

Series: Dark & Day #1

Jonothon lives in the Twilight—the border country that separates Dark and Day. But when he finds an ancient artifact, he might have set off the end of his world. Now he’s racing to keep the artifact out of the hands of the Queen of Dark, before the forces of Day are crushed . . .

This book is made of awesome. The sheer amount that’s packed into the story should make it feel confusing, but it all just works. Because Jonothon is of the Dark, we get more detail about the Dark. Loosely, it’s science versus magic, on a world where the sun only ever shines on one side of the planet. Both sides have a multitude of races, but the Dark also has mechs, cyborgs, and “hollows”—holograms. In fact body modification is so common in Dark that staying “natural” is equivalent to choosing to live like a caveman. And given the way they do computers, it’s also true.

I liked the layers of mythology with the stories of the seven seraphim, and the way it’s never quite clear how much of this is true. I liked how the story challenges Jonothon about dealing with reality, and how both Dark and Day have their own stories that blind them to what they might otherwise see. I liked that it wasn’t quite as black and white as it initially appears.

The illustrations are gorgeous. My only wish is that they’d show up in color when I read it on the computer. It was great to see all the characters, and some, like Celeste, were a reference I didn’t catch until I saw the picture.

Which was the other thing that made me smile. There are callbacks to Final Fantasy, Tolkien, and more. It’s not so big as to be a ripoff, or so obvious as to be distracting, but it’s a nice little wink to those who recognize names like Wedge and Biggs.

Overall, if you have any interest in fantasy adventure stories, read this. The world is bursting with detail, the pace never lets up, the story careens around all sorts of twists and turns, and the end pulled everything together in a satisfying conclusion. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Psyren (Manga)

Title: Psyren
Volumes: 1-16 (chapters 1-146, complete)

Ageha is a kid who likes to fight. He says he’ll solve problems for 10,000 yen, but that’s just an excuse to get into trouble. But when a former friend asks him for help, then disappears, he’s determined to figure out all the things she didn’t say and solve a mystery far bigger than he ever imagined . . .

This is primarily a mystery-driven story, so I’m going to try to avoid talking about plot or even characters as much as possible, since spoiling too much would ruin the fun. What I will say is that the story rockets through its twists and turns. The sci-fi angle starts by the end of the first chapter, and Ageha soon understands why Amamiya always looked so strung out. Now he’s stuck in the game as deeply as she is, and one false move will get them killed.

I really liked the characters, especially the four kids. Kyle was a particular favorite—he was rambunctious without being annoying, he had a neat darker-skinned character design, and his enthusiasm never lets up even when the situation looks extremely grim. And Ageha’s relationship with those kids, and his desire to protect them, changes their lives quite a bit.

Although Psyren doesn’t have the benefit of an anime, it does have the benefit of being complete. All volumes have been released by Viz, making it easy to acquire. (I can hope it gets the Ushio and Tora treatment of getting an anime adaptation well after the fact, but I won’t hold my breath.)

Overall this is another recommendation I’m glad I followed. The series is well worth checking out. It does end a bit fast, but the major story completes in a satisfactory way, and there were only a few bits that felt like they should have been fleshed out. I rate this series Highly Recommended.

City of Gods II: Horsemen (City of Gods #2)

Title: City of Gods II: Horsemen

Author: Jonathan Maas

Series: City of Gods #2

The Horsemen have learned much during their time at the Academy, but now they have to face final exams. True to form, the exams aren’t easy—and some of them require involving themselves in the outside world. And after, everyone is split up as they’re sent on their first real missions . . .

I still think this is better as “kids with powers” than Horsemen specifically, the little nod to a vision of horses notwithstanding. That said, it’s still an interesting world, and each of the kids gets a lot of opportunity to develop.

In some ways this feels like a novella about the final exams, followed by the first half of a book about their first missions. That’s not a bad thing—both stories rotate between all four Horsemen and the split means things can go in several directions. One of the missions, for example, is directly built on an exam.

I like that Gunnar’s challenge is more about leadership, because he’s not really used to working with others still, much less the people who actually end up by his side. And I liked that Rowan isn’t quite as one-dimensional as he’s seemed (I usually love berserkers, but Rowan being an arrogant bully cancelled that out). I liked that Saoirse picked up the biggest incongruity about the minotaurs and is clever in playing to her strengths. I liked that Kayana gets challenged over her sociopathic tendencies, because Tommy and Cassander show her she may be extremely intelligent but she’s operating from a bad set of assumptions about humanity. And Tommy not only has a chance to be more of a leader himself, he’s got hints about the shape of his destiny that intrigue me.

Some of the characters felt a bit weaker, though. Cassander sometimes comes across as less of a character and more of a mouthpiece, and I dearly hope Kayana’s “overpopulation is the problem” confronts the reality that people can be jerks just fine even if they have all their material needs met.

Overall, though, this is still a really unique setting that I’m enjoying a lot. It’s fun to see Apaches and Celts and Spartans and Amazons and so much more all vying for attention. There’s enough tech to be a light sci-fi while of course the gods provide a lot of magic. I rate this book Recommended.