Book (Manga): Claymore by Norihiro Yagi

Cover of Claymore volume 3 by Norihiro Yahi

by Norihiro Yagi
published in English at
2015 (originally published in Japanese 2001-2014)

I am excited that I finished reading all 155 chapters this month!

Terrifying monsters with superhuman strength roam the land, often stealing the appearance of specific people to hide in a community and (secretly) feast on their family and neighbors. The only defense: hiring a Claymore, a silver-haired, silver-eyed woman warrior who can detect and defeat such creatures. The Claymores themselves are spooky, can survive terrible physical harm, and don’t appear to need human companionship. They are held to a strict (but not visibly moral) code, and if they violate it, their peers track them down and brutally execute them.

This is the dark story of several of these warriors, who work at the behest of their governing body, The Organization. The Organization ranks them to engender competition, and won’t let them intervene in human affairs even when it would be ethical to do so. The Organization also appears to send small groups of them on suicide missions for unknown reasons. What is really going on? Why are there so many monsters? And why is the Organization so obsessive in controlling the Claymores?

A page from Claymore, with five panels showing shocked reactions from various Claymore warrior characters.
Claymore warriors expressing surprise during a conversation.

This tense and very violent story (not for kids!) unfolds at different speeds, with increasing battles and characters, but also increasing mysteries about the motivations of the Organization and the increasingly coordinated (!!) monsters. The origin of the Claymores themselves and the apparent leaders of the monsters are slowly revealed, with some secrets kept until the very last chapters.

The monsters range from simple to extremely complex and fanciful designs. The Claymore warriors themselves look somewhat Eastern European to me, and the artist distinguishes the matching-armor-wearing women with distinct hairstyles. The reason they are all women is explained over the course of the story, and the limited female nudity is intended to make some of the creatures more terrifying – I think it works well.

Great story, old-school drawings, great monsters, great comrade-in-arms bonding, solid (grim) story. I enjoyed this story very much.

Book (Manga): Why Ophelia Couldn’t Leave by Joo Ahri & Samo

Why Ophelia Couldn’t Leave
by Joo Ahri & Samo
published by

Here’s a webtoon/manga for the goth kids. :). This doesn’t follow the Tappytoon themes I’ve described earlier (a modern person wakes in a video game or novel), but instead this is a straight story.

Ophelia’s beautiful mother, Isolde, has married yet again! This time, rather than watching her stepfather die of a mysterious ailment like his predecessors, Isolde dies with her new husband in a tragic – and very strange – carriage wreck.

Ophelia is bereft. Alec, her young step-brother, asks Ophelia to to stay in his family home so he won’t be completely alone, and while the household is unfriendly, she may not have any better options. But when investigators come about the carriage crash, and people start turning up dead, Ophelia wonders what she’s gotten herself into, and whether she can keep her mother’s secrets.

This is a drama, a murder mystery, a story about self-absorbed parents, a tale of vengeance, and possibly a warning about trying too hard to attract romantic attention. It is 50 chapters long, the story is complete, the period costumes from [some European period setting] are pretty, and the images of Isolde float charmingly in a halo of her daughter’s affectionate memories. I enjoyed it.

Book: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Cover of the book Book "My Sister, The Serial Killer" by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, The Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
published by Penguin Random House

The first time Ayoola calls her doting older sister, Kerede, to say that she’s in a bad situation and Kerede finds her covered in blood, it is stressful. The second time Ayoola insists another man had scared her tiny self, and that this man is dead, Kerede helps her unquestioningly.

But the third time?

No one could possibly think ill of angelic, beautiful Ayoola. No one would even believe Kerede if she told them – surely they would say she is mean due to jealousy, because she is so plain-looking! So Kerede pours her heart out to a comatose man at the hospital where she works.

But now Kerede wants someone who isn’t comatose to believe her, because Ayoola is going out of her way to attract the man Kerede cares about most.

This is a lively tale of family dynamics, trying to survive the patriarchy, loyalty, workplace crushes, the societal currency of being attractive, and the many uses of bleach. I was completely engrossed!

Writing: Fountain Pens and Journals (orange theme)

Three image collage displaying the pearly Edison Collier Persimmon Swirl fountain pen; its Goulet stub nib; and a sample of the pen open atop a page of my journal, with writing in Mandarin orange-colored ink.
This is an Edison Collier fountain pen (made in Ohio!) in the color Persimmon Swirl; a Goulet 1.1mm stub nib assembly; a writing sample in Pelikan Edelstein ink in “Mandarin” orange on Rhodia cream paper.

I was writing yesterday about how wonderful it is to have a desk to write at (I have space!), was enjoying the orange theme a bit too much, and decided to post about it. (Materialism happens to me, too! I use a lot of tools and art supplies, and have been choosing prettier ones recently.)

This pen isn’t very “like” me – I own almost nothing that is orange – but it is so attractive looking, and so vivid, that I couldn’t resist. It is a lovely size and shape to hold, large, gently rounded, and easy to write with. It came with a medium nib, but I’m on a broad nib bender, so I ordered a replacement nib-and-feed assembly from Goulet, and am happier with it. I have ink feeding issues from time to time with the converter (it withholds ink after I’ve written a few pages, and I have to dial the converter to be more generous (postscript: this appears to be specific to certain inks, Herbin is flowing beautifully)), but standard international cartridges flow just fine.

Orange inks can be limited in legibility, but I’ve been testing some good ones. By coincidence, the 2023 Diamine Inkvent calendar (an advent calendar with a 12ml bottle of ink behind 24 doors, and a bigger bottle behind door 25 for Christmas), happens to have added two new oranges to my little collection, including one that was behind Saturday’s tiny door.

Five ink sample cards displaying orange inks atop a cream colored page of writing.  Inks include Diamine Fireside Snug, Diamine Bucks Fizz, Sailor Studio 173 & 473, and Pelikan Edelstein Mandarin.
Sample cards displaying the five (!) orange inks currently in my collection. Diamine Fireside Snug, Diamine Bucks Fizz, Sailor Studio 173 & 473, and Pelikan Edelstein Mandarin.

My employer’s theme color is orange, and I’ve grown accustomed to using a sanctioned shade of burnt orange in my presentations, so I may be more open to using this color than I’ve historically been. Goodness knows there have been many shades of orange in the gorgeous sunsets recently! So, we’ll see if these tiny bottles lead to a bigger commitment for my writing. There are some famous American and Japanese orange inks I haven’t sampled yet, so it’s possible…

Book: Designing Japan: A Future Built on Aesthetics by Kenya Hara

Designing Japan: A Future Built on Aesthetics
by Kenya Hara
published by Lars Müller Publishers

This collection of Kenya Hara’s essays provide examples of Japanese design principles and customs, and suggests that Japan’s (and other local cultures’) values can shape unique products and experiences in ways that differentiate themselves in global marketplaces.

My copy of Hara’s book is filled with little book darts marking ideas I especially like. His optimism that design itself can inspire better decision-making and life choices is appealing. I find the idea that our lives are so crowded with objects that we can’t see and appreciate them individually feels fair. (I feel that the near-minimalist ideal this implies has been superficially transformed here into a different sort of materialism, seen in the vast spaces spotlighting curated “conversation pieces” within the enormous homes of the rich.) Hara’s planning and execution of exhibitions is interesting to read about, and his suggestion that novel demographic changes likely have design solutions is intriguing. His examples of rural support with mobile infrastructure is a lovely example of very democratic, well-designed approach.

Hara has numerous timely insights, such as on the decluttering fad: the problem isn’t just with the individual who has accumulated useless things. “It is not jettisoning the object that is mottenai (shameful waste), but rather the series of efforts conceived and executed with the goal of manufacturing a useless object destined for disposal.” YES YES YES!

I am tempted to delicately reword comments about historic Japanese sensibilities being “diluted” by external influences, due to my sensitivities toward current American xenophobic euphemisms. External influences can be dire, (I write here in the language of people who enslaved many of my ancestors, so I have feelings on this topic), but external influences CAN also bring ideas that can be transformed by the culture that consumes and reworks them. Japan has produced great innovations, including innovations on technologies that originated elsewhere. I fully acknowledge that industrialization (which I don’t conceptualize as a cultural product) specifically has proven both beneficial in raising basic living standards AND highly problematic in environmental impacts.

This is a thoughtful collection. I enjoyed the clarity of the language used, and the mix of theoretical discussions with specific examples of how these theories have been communicated for international exhibit audiences.

List: Things I Love About SF (plus Writing & Fountain Pens)

List of things I love about San Francisco, including food, coffee, walkability, transit, hospitals, universities, our national & city parks, activists, museums, bookstores, mild weather, cultural districts, mixed architectural styles, open-mindedness, and people from around the world!
Handwriting! This spontaneous, incomplete, outburst-type list (in no particular order) is written with a Noodler’s Konrad fountain pen in Appalachian Pearl that has been modified with a Goulet Pens stub nib. The gorgeous gray-green ink is Herbin’s Vert de Gris on Clairefontaine paper.

I have periodically called up my parents to thank them for raising me in San Francisco.

Sure, they met and married here, but there was always a chance they could have returned to the midwest or northeast with me. But I’m so glad they stayed!

It was wonderful to grow up in a place where school building dominate the neighborhoods; where there are so many libraries; where I had so many classmates from other places, domestically and internationally; where I could hear different languages while riding the bus or visiting a friend at home; where there are so many cool, kid-friendly parks and museums; where I could go trick or treating with grown men dressed as fairies; where my multi-racial background and my parents’ interracial marriage were within local norms; where I could see adults with a very wide range of professions, and know how many options there are….

It has also been great to be an adult here. There is an economy! While there are boom-bust cycles, there are often plenty of jobs, and many are in new industries. The idea of changing the world with an invention seemed totally possible – nearly inevitable! I didn’t know in childhood that I (and many of my friends and classmates) had futures working in industries that were just being created.

The boom-bust cycles are rough, and both the wild successes (like tech) and the disasters (like COVID) can be disruptive and devastating. For the past few years, the City has felt a bit hollowed out, though I see positive signs of revival when I am out and about.

San Francisco is a great place, and I feel lucky to live here.

Life: Respiratory illness misadventure

I’ve been profoundly ill these past few days, the sickest I have been since my December 2022 bout of COVID.

I’m on the mend now, but I’m relieved that my habit of writing posts in advance and scheduling them to post days ahead hides these awkward interruptions to my ability to read/see/type!

If you can avoid getting this season’s respiratory ailments, do so. I give this one zero out of five stars. I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT.

Book: System Collapse (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells

System Collapse (The Murderbot Diaries)
by Martha Wells
published by Tor

This is the 7th or so book in the Murderbot Diaries, so if you haven’t read these, you should go start at the beginning, as this volume rightly jumps into the action immediately without introducing the characters, including Murderbot itself.

Our favorite, broadcast-drama-obsessed, autonomous human+synthetic Security Unit is back in another round of saving humans from bad situations on planets with sketchy alien contamination!

Murderbot has even more on its mind than usual, because of a recent incident that is undermining its confidence. Confident or not, there are murderous agriculture-bots, scary ruins, evil human-enslaving corporations, and the constant threat of alien contamination that can’t wait for Murderbot to even pretend to get comfortable. Which Murderbot would not convincingly pretend anyway, despite its practice routines about imitating full humans.

I continue to appreciate the alien contamination threat that lurks in the background. The idea that ancient civilizations left behind tools to perpetuate their societies, only to have them accidentally infect later civilizations whose individuals AND machines go on to build crazy stuff under their influence… It intrigues me. There is so much potential for trouble there!

I also like Wells’ vision of nearly constant communication channels, so that information/situations/data can be shared so efficiently. I mean, I hate it in my current life, because all of those channels are filled with people who want something at work, but I love it in the wandering through abandoned ruins on unfamiliar planets practicality way. Good communication tools could support actually good communication – it could happen!

The humor, the debates about which kinds of hatches are scariest, the swearing / sarcasm / name-calling – it all gives the relationships between the characters a warmth that shows Murderbot is building meaningful relationships, especially with other machine intelligences.

This is another fun read from Wells, and a satisfying adventure.