Review – Flight & Anchor

Flight & Anchor: A Firebreak Story

by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Publication Date: 13 Jun 2023

Full disclosure: I read this from a free review copy off Netgalley.

Synopsis: In short (and I do mean short, because the book itself is roughly novella length at 139 pages double spaced), this is a story set in the world of another of the author’s works, Firebreak, about a city gripped by a war between two corporate entities, with a team of bio-engineered super soldiers at the heart of the conflict. This story features two of those—06, a girl, and 22, a boy—as preteens trying to escape the corporate facility that grabbed them as very young war orphans and turned them into killing machines.
They escape and, rather than making their way out of the city as originally planned, hole up in an abandoned container and scavenge for food in the harsh city winter. The whole time, the nameless facility Director remotely monitors their location and vital signs and tries to hide her failure in letting them escape.

Review: I suppose I just have to say this one wasn’t for me. It seems built knowing these children as characters, without giving any real reason to WANT to; since I haven’t read Firebreak, and thus don’t have any grasp on what they do or their significance, my interest just slides off them like glass. This could also be due to the fact that this very brief story spends SO MUCH TIME on mundane details of survival (with a nearly two page listing of the random detritus they scavenge in their abandoned lot, that then plays absolutely no part in their story).

There are also clear allusions to events that happen years after the story—clearly referring to Firebreak—that are frustratingly pointless to this actual narrative, and so simply stand out as enormous flashing “Hey, remember this part?” signs. I don’t, actually.

I was also bemused by how the book spent 13 pages, fully 10% of its length, in the largely uneventful and pointless interaction between a barista, Cass, and these two nameless children, which again had no bearing on the characters’ further actions or development. In terms of Chekhov’s gun, there were like four shotguns (Offscreen characters, suspicions, potential friends, potential foes) in that scene, and none of them ever fired. It was essentially 13 pages of “Then they got some cast off coats and stale donuts.” Which they later did AGAIN after digging through the garbage.

That scene did successfully shake my affinity for “they” as a singular pronoun, since it featured Cass as “they” interacting with two unnamed people acting as a unit whom Cass immediately identified as “boy” and “girl” because I guess that’s what a non-binary person does on first meeting preteens? Anyway, it was tortuous and difficult to get through, and served so little purpose in so many pages that I very nearly stopped reading once I realized it just hadn’t mattered.

However, when something actually interesting and important happened—the intriguing nanobot array that filled the so necessary “snarky sub character” slot showing up, the roughly two pages of action at the end, etc.—it was fun. The writing itself in the use of language and pacing are really quite good, so that was a pleasant part of the experience.

Overall, I’d give this three of five stars, for deft sentences and glimpses of an intriguing world, with marks off for not a whole lot happening that makes sense to this non-Firebreak reader.

A tricky term – オカルト

Today’s conundrum: Is オカルト a false friend for “occult,” or not?

In Japan, for example, writers who dabble in horror, mystery, and stories with a weird, dark edge are often labeled オカルト (okaruto, a direct transliteration of “occult), and there are things like オカルトサークル (okaruto sa-kuru – occult circles), which are clubs that discuss and share information about things like urban legends (a very common theme on オカルト websites, it appears), strange true crime stuff, and related fiction.

But calling those “occult writers” or “occult clubs” seems, to me, to have entirely different connotations. I feel like the label “occult” is strongly associated with witchcraft and mystical secrets, rather than “eerie stuff in general.” The dictionary definition tends to point that way, too, but of course dictionaries always lag behind popular usage.

A look at the massive Wikipedia list of “occult writers” in English clearly shows a leaning that way: people like Anton LaVey, Aleister Crowley, Madame Blavatsky, and Simon Magus. More popular writers listed include Lovecraft, Robert Anton Wilson, Carlos Castaneda, and W. B. Yeats. Clearly, these writer seem connected by a focus on mysticism and the secret layers of reality, rather than “could-be-true scary stuff.” Again, this is not any kind of definitive list, but I do think it reflects the popular perception of the word.

The upshot of all this is, if I wanted to write about a Japanese オカルト writer, what would I call them? An eerie writer? A dark writer? A writer of the hidden world?

I wonder if anyone else thinks about this stuff?

2022 – Year in Review

It might be a bit premature, but as it looks like I’m moving into the year-end holidays a little early, I think this is as good a time as any to look back on my work life during 2022

Despite the ongoing pandemic, this was one of my most productive and exciting years as a translator and writer.

The cover of the book Discovering Yamaguchi Sake by me, Jim Rion. It features scans of Japanese sake labels from every brewery in Yamaguchi.

The biggest individual developments were two books. I signed a contract with Stone Bridge Press to publish my book Discovering Yamaguchi Sake in February, and signed with Pushkin to translate Akuma ga kitarite fue wo fuku/The Devil’s Flute Murders in June. Both books are coming out in 2023, and do feel free to buy as many as you want!

Read more about those here: Discovering Yamaguchi Sake and Coming Soon: The Devil’s Flute Murders

The cover of the book The Devil's Flute Murders. It features an outstretched hand, looking limp, and near it a fallen bottle of what looks like poison.

I also had a big year on other fronts that might break down a little more numerically.

I translated 285 pages worth of articles for, which is over 100,000 characters by their count.

As for other random website and article translations, it looks like I did over 450,000 characters worth.

I also wrote seven articles for outlets like Sake Today (upcoming), Sake Times, Nippon.Com, and AllAbout Japan.

I hosted online events, made connections, and generally made good use of my time. I also took some photography classes and started getting serious about learning to take proper pictures for my stories.

I plan to make use of all this experience in 2023 with a new book (I’m thinking pottery, this time), and hopefully another book translation.

Despite lots of chaos on the global scale, personally, 2022 was pretty good. I hope you can find a way to say the same.

Happy Holidays, and peace be on you all.

How many books? TWO BOOKS.

That’s how many books I’ve been editing this last week. What a strange, blessed life I live now.

It goes a long way to ease the pain of finding out that a super exciting possibility I was looking forward to early next year fell through. It is also a bit of salve on the loss of Twitter which, among all the bad, was also a pretty nice home on the net and a great way to reach a lot of people who seemed mostly pretty awesome.

If you are one of those people I connected with over there, do feel free to reach out elsewhere. I’m on Instagram at, on Mastodon at and, well, here.

In the mean time, back to the edits before I go on my first family vacation in literal years next week. See you on the flip side, yeah?