A bit late, but I got there. Click on the image to be taken to my ArtStation site.
Category Archives: Ultrahumans
Royal Flush, the 8th Ultrahumans novel, is now available.
If you’re into anime (or light novels, or manga) you know what isekai is. Basic concept: someone gets transported to another world, discovers they are hugely overpowered but that they need to defeat a very powerful demon lord, and hilarity ensues. It’s what was once known as portal fantasy and the archetypal instance of it is Sword Art Online, which has spawned multiple TV series, movies, games, and enough merchandise fill a hobby store. Isekai is also the name of the book I’m writing at the moment; more on that later.
I was initially disinclined to get into isekai anime because, well, there’s so much of it. Sword Art Online has been on Netflix in the UK for a while, and I didn’t watch it for various reasons. I still only know SAO from the numerous videos on YouTube dismantling it and, to be honest, while SAO started the trend for everything to be isekai, I still have no desire to go there. Then I went and watched…
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. In many ways, the slime isekai hooks into my liking for slice of life. It’s like watching Sid Meier’s Civilisation combined with an action comedy. Basic concept: a 37-year-old virgin salaryman valiantly steps in the way of a knife meant for someone else, dies, and is reincarnated as the most overpowered slime monster in history. But that’s just the concept. The actualisation of it is funny, genre-aware, self-aware, and very bittersweet in places. The slime, Rimaru Tempest, starts to build a city where monsters can live in peace, and the state of his new nation progresses from a goblin village to a town filled with ogres, dwarfs, lizardmen, and orcs as challenges are met and overcome. Slime gave me a taste for the current generation of isekai. It doesn’t take itself hugely seriously and it subverts many of the tropes associated with the genre.
Overlord is closer to the more standard isekai staples, marginally. The majority of isekai have the hero (always seems to be a hero, because reasons) is trapped in a computer game somehow. Overlord follows that convention but its USP is that the ‘hero’ is a bad guy. The protagonist, Ains, isn’t a bad guy, but he finds himself having to play the part of an incredibly evil undead necromancer type with a veritable army of overpowered minions, all intent on taking over the world. Initially, this was the really amazing part of Overlord and it remains one of the most amusing parts: the minions (NPCs in the original game world) are vastly more competent at being evil than Ains and he’s constantly playing catchup, aided by his minions assuming that he’s already had the brilliant idea they just came up with and that he just didn’t explain it. Lately, Ains is getting the hang of things and I’m finding the series less enjoyable. It has a particular habit (especially in the later stages) of making us empathise with the people Ains & Co are going to destroy with a twitch of their fingers, and then making us watch them being destroyed. It’s kind of cheap. I prefer the earlier episodes.
This season’s rising star, The Rising of the Shield Hero, has some similar issues. The series skips over the initial stage in many isekai shows where the hero doesn’t want to face the big bad and doesn’t understand what’s going on. The four heroes summoned to save <generic fantasy setting> know exactly what’s going on and get straight into it. Instead, Shield Hero makes things tough by shitting on the protagonist from a great height in the very first episode and keeping it up through its entire run. Obviously, his moments of triumph are all the more sweet since everyone seems to hate him, and the journey is quite entertaining most of the time. However, there’s only so much pain I can watch someone go through before I come to suspect the show was designed for sadists (or, since you’re supposed to identify with the protagonists, really major masochists). Also, I found the characterisation of the Shield Hero to be… random. I think they’re going for someone trying to be a bastard because it’s what everyone thinks he is, but not quite being able to pull it off. But to me it just comes over as inconsistent.
Some others… I kind of got stuck with How Not to Summon a Demon Lord because they’re going to do the “brainwashed girl who appears to want to go with the villain and has to be rescued” plot. I might go back to it; I really hope they’ve got a unique way of making that plot worth watching, I just doubt it. Demon Lord, Retry has similarities to that one and Overlord, but it’s unique enough so far that I’m enjoying it. Equally, it’s a currently-running series, so it could go either way. Oh, and I’m currently reading the manga of Konosuba, which is another classic of the genre.
And then (and finally), there’s Do You Love Your Mom… and Her Two-Hit, Multi-Target Attacks? Sounds like an incest hentai, right? It’s part of a current trend for ‘clickbait’ show titles. It’s another currently-running series, so it could go either way, but so far the ‘incestuous’ aspects are played purely for laughs and it’s rather entertaining. Basic idea: a young man, Masato, is zapped into a video game… only to discover that his mother, Mamako, is there too. What’s more, while the protagonist is usually the overpowered one, in this case it’s Mamako who can wipe out armies with one strike of her swords. It gets over the incest thing pretty early on as the team fight a slime monster which starts dissolving Mamako’s clothes and she comes out with one of my favourite lines of 2019: ‘Don’t look, Ma-kun, momma’s wearing a thong today.’ Masato is mortified. One reviewer on YouTube suggested that this might be the most innovative isekai of this season, and that might just be the case.
So, I felt like doing my own take on the genre and I have a Japanese girl finding herself summoned to a fantasy world which is actually called Isekai. She’s pretty convinced it’s not real, and anyway, she’s been told she’s the wrong person to fight the demon lord. Still, she’s stuck, so she might as well get on with whatever adventures she can find, right? Progress has been swift so far and I’m only planning to do sequels if I can come up with something interesting to do in them (or it gets a film deal).
Meanwhile, (if you’ve read all the way down here, good for you) the next Ultrahumans book, Royal Flush, will be coming out tomorrow. The cover has just finished rendering, so I’ll be ready to do the publishing checklist in the morning. It’ll be coming out at $3.99, which is going to be standard from here on out. I can’t hold back the inevitable forever. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it.
My current love affair with anime (the last one was probably Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex) started with an AMV on YouTube. Happens a lot to me. In this case it was AMV Railgun|Lucky Strike by AMV-X. It features a lot of clips from the first season of A Certain Scientific Railgun. A cute girl capable of launching hypersonic projectiles from her hands… So, I bought the first season on DVD. Well, that was a mistake. Obviously. Four sets of series DVDs and a film later, I’m hooked.
Railgun is a spinoff series from A Certain Magical Index (Toaru Majutsu no Indekkusu), which started out as a light novel by Kazuma Kamachi, illustrated by Kiyotaka Haimura. There are manga adaptations (by Chuya Kogino) and J.C.Staff have produced the anime (with English adaptation by Funimation). I have to admit that I prefer Railgun to Index. Railgun is a more self-contained storyline, but if you want to understand the entire package, you really need to keep up with all of it. And understanding the world is what makes this universe watching.
Basically, it’s all set in a city (part of Tokyo which has been redeveloped) named Academy City. There are 2.3 million people in Academy City and eighty percent of them are students undergoing what’s known as power development. Read the original light novel and you’ll wonder why anyone would willing go there: power development involves rigorous mental training combined with drugs and the application of electrodes in the brain! However, the payoff is that successful student become ‘espers’ which basically means they’re superheroes. The titular character of Railgun, Mikoto ‘Railgun’ Misaka, is an ‘electromaster’ and the third most powerful esper in the city. She can control electricity (and magnetism since the two are connected) to the extent that she can wallcrawl by magnetically attracting the metal reinforcements in the concrete, throw huge electrical attacks, and create swords and whips from sand which cut like buzzsaws. Her signature move is to magnetically accelerate an arcade token to three times the speed of sound: she can make herself into a piece of battleship artillery. Awesomely kickass. Her friend is a teleporter able to teleport object into people. She takes out a particularly hard opponent in one episode by demolishing the building they are in by cutting the support beams with panes of window glass. And don’t get me started on Accelerator.
Now, espers can do all this weird stuff because, when you break it down, they believe they can. An esper constructs a divergent world view in their head in which, for example, they can manipulate electricity with their thoughts. Then they have the imagination and power to enforce their reality on the rest of the world. I was stoked when I finally figured this out because, essentially, that’s what the Ultrahumans in my books do. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Ultrahumans differ from normal humans in the way their brains and minds work. On their own, superpowered muscles wouldn’t let you do half of what a super does in fiction (in fact it would probably be a curse rather than a gift), but if you add in a will which is making the universe work the way the super wants it to, then you may have something. And here’s a Japanese author using essentially the same idea. I don’t suppose it’s a new concept (didn’t think it was when I was writing it, especially because I’d had similar concepts in my head when I was a teenager), but it’s awesome to be able to watch supers based on that concept kicking ass, taking names, and going to the beach for the obligatory fanservice episode. The esper mechanics are a little more deliberate than the way my Ultrahumans work; Ultrahumans usually have no idea how their powers work. (Now. More is learned about Ultrahuman physics every day!)
If you fancy giving the Index universe a try, I recommend Funimation’s streaming service which has all of the series and the Index movie to watch and will start airing A Certain Scientific Accelerator this week. If you aren’t subscribed, you could probably get through all the episodes in the trial period (don’t tell them I said that). I’d suggest starting with Railgun‘s first season rather than Index. The stories are more or less standalone and you don’t need to understand the more convoluted plot of Index to get into it. Be wary of the second season of Railgun: it will make you tear up, along with laughing out loud. (The Sisters are great – all I’m saying to avoid spoilers.) And I hope you enjoy it as much as I have and continue to do.
PS. I’m not getting paid for recommending this. Sadly.
PPS. While I was in Japan, the first episode of a new spinoff, A Certain Scientific Accelerator, was due to air and it happened that the TV in the hotel had the channel it was showing on. So, I figured I’d watch it. Okay, so I wasn’t going to be able to understand any of it, but what the Hell, right? It’s weird how much I did understand, even if it wasn’t the words. Looks like a good start and I can’t wait for the English dub to turn up on FunimationNow this Friday.
This is going to be a reasonably short post to update you guys on what’s going on with me and new books. I plan to write more about what’s been happening in the last couple of weeks (and a little longer) soon, but, as the title suggests, I’m jetlagged to Hell and back and I don’t know when I’m going to conk out again.
So, I’ve been having some trouble writing for a while. My concentration’s been shot and I just haven’t been able to keep my head in the game the way I’d like. I decided I needed a holiday, but this is me, so it had to be a holiday where I’d be able to gather useful writing material or do background research, or whatever. I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for a lot longer than I’ve been writing, but the fact that I tend to set stories there and I’ve never been has been getting to me. Plus, I started watching a lot of anime recently…
So, for about the last two weeks, I’ve been living out of a hotel room in Tokyo (Shinjuku to be precise). My holidays tend to be a bit weird these days. I’m sure most people go on holiday with some idea of where they’re planning to go, even if it’s just the beach. I go somewhere and wander around just looking at ordinary stuff. Yes, I did a few museums, gardens, and such, but I mostly just walked out the hotel doors and picked a direction. I was starting to get the hang of the Tokyo subway system by the time I left. I could actually navigate the streets to some extent (apparently, GPS is a godsend even to the locals as Tokyo is notoriously difficult to find your way around). I still managed to get utterly lost in Akihabara, twice.
So, expect more Japanese stuff in the near future. The next Ultrahumans book, Royal Flush, has some scenes in fictional Tokyo (expect big lizards). I’m aiming to have that out toward the end of August. After that, I think I’ll be doing the next Fox Universe book which is set almost entirely in Japan. That means that the next Twilight Empress book will be delayed, but I still hope to have that out before the end of this year.
Better yet, despite the fact that my brain and body still think I’m somewhere between England and Japan, I’ve had the most productive writing day I can think of in weeks (maybe months) today. I can’t afford trips like this too often, but it has taught me that I really do need to take more holidays than I do. Now I just need to get my body clock back on UK time. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of years…
The new Ultrahumans book, Liberty, is on the virtual shelves.
In other news, I have a new Fox Meridian book in the works, due out in December. After that, things are a little up-in-the-air. I’ve had an idea for something which happens to have come out rather close to November, so I’m going to do that for NaNoWriMo and see what comes of it. If that works, it’ll be the next book, likely in January or February. If not, I’ve got a new Sondra Drake story planned out; probably January to March, depending on that NaNoWriMo working or not.