Saturday, July 9, 2016

Q.E.D. iff volume 4 review

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Q.E.D. iff, vol. 4, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

Ao no Miko (The Green Priestess, Shonen Magajin R, 2016)
Aoi Yuna is the current miko on the island of Aigashima, near Izu peninsula. She's the last of a long line of priestesses that have controlled the island's water rights, by making decisions regarding the use of the one main well. And that's the problem. A corporation wants to build an upscale resort hotel on the island, and it would command all the water from the well, diverting it from the farmers and villagers living there. This has caused the villagers to split into two warring factions. One side is led by Sango Umiushi (his last name translates to "sea cow"), leader of the fisheries cooperative, and staunch supporter of Aoi. His rival is Tatsuo Imogai ("conch shell"), manager of a supermarket chain. Imogai and other merchants are salivating over all the money the tourists would bring in. One day, a surveyor comes in to draw up maps of the land around the planned site, and he's killed by a figure wearing a straw suit and mask, wielding a mallet. His body disappears, and Sango appeals to Aio to make a divination to find the missing man. The miko says that the guy is on another island 50 km away, and sure enough, the prefectural police find the body there. Naturally, suspicion falls on Aoi since she can't explain how she knew where he was. Aoi's younger sister, Shiomi, had run away from the family to live in Tokyo, and is Kana's schoolmate. She asks Kana to enlist Touma to help her sister, offering access to the family's centuries' worth of temple records as payment. Touma leaps at the opportunity, and soon he and Kana arrive at Aigashima. Things are getting pretty ugly, with fights breaking out, and two more bodies surfacing - a lawyer for the hotel, found at the back of a flooded cave after the high tide goes out; and the secretary for the resort executive, found impaled to a tree by a butcher knife, the tree is surrounded by soft white sand and no footprints nearby. All of the evidence points to Aoi using her spiritual powers to punish the off-island intruders.

(How do you hide a body then get it to make its way to the back of a cave?)

Questions: If Aoi isn't killing people, who is, and why? What are the tricks being used here to support her claims to the supernatural? Her grandmother quelled a war over access to the well 60 years ago using a magic mirror; is Aoi doing the same thing now?

Science: Generally, this is a simple "who-dunnit" with a couple tricks tossed in. There's a bit of a mention of how cave fluid dynamics works, and a small discussion of the Lotka-Volterra equations, but that's about it. The equations are also known as the "predator/prey equations," and they describe the feast-or-famine nature of predators and their prey. That is, when prey has few predators eating them, their numbers go up. With an increase in food supply, the number of predators increases until they over eat their prey and the predators start dying off. And the cycle repeats. Aoi thinks that the same thing is happening in regard to the fight over access to water on the island. In other words, the situation is never stable, and she doesn't understand human nature enough to know why.

(The cast of characters. From left to right, top to bottom: Ben, Ben's son, Madman, Zombie, Matt, Touma, Kana, Lavia, Arshula, an FBI agent, Chloe and Hassan.)

H.N. (Handle Name, Shonen Magajin R, 2016)
Matt Brown is a "white hat" hacker. He's currently on contract to Ben Clark, president of e-Bet, an online betting company, to protect the company's servers from a blackmail threat (some group emailed Ben demanding money or they'd launch a DDoS attack on e-Bet to shut the servers down. Matt single-handedly prevents the hacker attack while sitting in a cafe, babysitting Chloe Rodriguez. Chloe is the daughter of Arshula (sp?), a waitress at the cafe and a single-mother. Chloe tries to act as a matchmaker to get her mother and Matt to go on a date in a couple of weeks, and Arshula says "ok," while playing coy. At the same time, Ben calls Matt on the phone, congratulating him on a good job and saying that the $100,000 ransom demand will be given to him as a payment bonus. Matt is on cloud 9 as he walks to his car, but there's an explosion and the car blows up. Matt gets a letter reading "Return what you took from us, or you're next." Matt is afraid that whoever did this will target anyone around him, so he's ready to call off the date (and forever remain unloved). On the other hand, he also seeks out help from a former classmate at MIT - Touma. Touma has to explain to Kana what DoS and DDoS attacks are, and how it's impossible to track down Matt's attackers. But, Kana wants Matt to date Arshula, and she asks Touma if this is something even beyond his skills. Touma accepts the challenge, and sends her to Saudi Arabia to interview another former classmate - an oil magnate, Hassan Agira. Hassan is a womanizer and gambler, and he'd lost $13 million in bets through e-Bet. Touma thinks that Hassan might know who the hackers are, and the guy angrily spits out the possibility that some Russian group is behind the extortion attempts. (He's mad because Touma threatens to tell Hassan's older brother about his contretemps). Then, in Russia, we meet three hackers that go by the handles Zombie, Madman and Yuuri. They're confirmed to be the villains, and they have just gotten an email from e-Bet agreeing to pay the ransom to stop the attacks on the servers, but they have to pick up the money from a station in Antwerp. Touma talks Ben Clark into putting up the cash, and the police put a tracking transmitter in the bag to help catch the criminals. But, when Zombie gets close to the bag, a woman (Lavia Saveem, Hassan's secretary) shows up and warns him about the transmitter. She gives Zombie a shielded bag to put the money in, and later the hackers throw the transmitter out the window of their van.

(Matt's view of himself as a crusader protecting e-Bet's server from hostile DDoS attacks.)

At the same time, Matt is trolling the chat boards looking for e-traffic related to the attacks, and he narrows the suspects down to Zombie and friends. Unfortunately, he uncovers their sponsor - a super-hacker named "Crash." Matt is very familiar with the rumors surrounding Crash, and he gives up all hope right there. Meanwhile, the Antwerp police use surveillance footage from the cameras to identify Lavia, indicating that Hassan may be on Crash's side. A little later, the Russian hackers get an email telling them that their savior was the secretary of an Arabian oil baron that lost a huge sum of money to e-Bet, so maybe they have themselves a benefactor.

Questions: Who is "Crash"? Is there a way to obtain usable evidence to get a conviction against Zombie, Yuuri and Madman? What did Matt "take" from Crash and does he give it back? Can Matt ever get a date?


(No spoilers.)

Science: Some discussions of the internet, security, DoS and DDoS, IRC, VPN, LEET, and the idea of white and black hat hackers. Nothing really deep, though.

Summary: Light fare again. Ao no Miko is interesting in that we get to see a bit of the political machinations within Japan. And, I like the drawings of the old well. H.N. is ok, but the Russian hackers are a bit too easy to dupe. The entire set-up is kind of contrived, and Matt's a bit too prone to D&D imagery when hacking online. But, as a whole the book is pretty good. Recommended if you like the series.

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