Monthly Archives: April 2012

Authenticity, History, and the Making of Fantasy

Sometimes, I think I should just ignore these stupid and repetitive critical arguments that erupt in fantasy every few months. It’s stupid because nothing is ever solved, no progress made. And repetitive because these arguments, in one form or another, reemerge every couple of months. And why I jump in? I’m bored.

Anyway, this recent fracas comes about thanks to renewed arguments over authenticity and history. Daniel Abraham authored a post last week that explored whether or not fantasy needs to be historically authentic. And yesterday, Theo over at Black Gate authored a rebuttal arguing for an increased level of authenticity, the “Primacy of History,” if you will.

My own take is skeptical of the need for historical authenticity. History is always contested. Every generation rewrites history for its own reasons. So, what is meant by authenticity? Is it inspiration that matches the writer’s, or a specific reader’s, definition of what “authentic history” is? Is it a work that has an authenticity, historic or not, of its own? What is it?

Abraham’s argument takes to task certain reader’s (and writer’s) defense of works that have questionable and objectionable issues for a modern audience. That an inspiration is misogynistic does not give the writer a pass to write misogyny. That people of color may not have been in certain areas does not excuse whitewashing.

The reason, I think, why we are having this repeated debate is because of the market. With the success of A Song of Ice and Fire, there is a demand for “realistic,” “historical,” etc. fantasy. Basically, there is a subset of readership who only read ASOIAF because of its similarities to historical fiction. And these readers exert pressure to produce and market more works like ASOIAF.

Now, I get that this form of fantasy is a reaction to Tolkien and his imitators who have (and still do) dominate the genre. “Historic authenticity” plays, I think, a rallying point and bulwark for the gritty school of fantasy.

But, I think that Theo may be right. That so often “historical authenticity” is a way for some fantasy writers to get away with not exercising their imaginations to their fullest extent does not surprise me. Why create one’s own world when you can easily appropriate a historical culture, change the names, mutate some aspects of culture, and go to town?

Like Paul Cornell and Abraham have stated, what is added to a work: the characters, their personalities, the culture, etc. is the choice of the author. Using historical “authenticity” is an excuse. And not a very good one.

Personally, I don’t care about “historical authenticity.” If a writer wants to base his or her world on the Wars of the Roses, that’s great. If they want to spice it up by weakening religion or having warrior women running around, that’s great. If that author wants to merge feudal and modern Japan, that’s great, too (although Naruto has already done that). I personally don’t see any problems with women in armor, knights riding motorcycles, expies of Babylon and Hattusa connected by a train. In fact, I think that would be cool.

All I’m saying is that as long as the work is internally consistent, authentic to itself, and is excellently written, I don’t have a problem.

Another Post of Random Thoughts

Thought 1: The television adaptation of The Walking Dead is better than the comic book.

Thought 2: What does the title “Sins of the Star Sapphire” mean? I cannot find anything resembling a sin (either present or past) that the Star Sapphires committed. So, did the alliterative title sound cool? Is that why it is used?

Thought 3: I’m getting tired of the whole Bakker fracas. But I’m also fascinated by it. I get that Bakker feels that he is being grossly and unfairly criticized. But, does his intentions really matter. Is he, as the author, a determining factor in how his work is interpreted by others?

Thought 4: Hell no. Remember- the author is dead. A work of literature does not have a single reading, a single  meaning. There are countless readings and interpretations. Now, Bakker’s intentions, influences, etc. can play an informative role, but Bakker himself does not own the “right” interpretation.

Thought 5: Maybe getting rid of my Lit Crit books is a bad idea. Damn it, I really need to do some research papers here.

Thought 6: I read “7 Reasons Why OEL Manga Falters in the US” by Deb Aoki for Manga.com (July 13, 2009). On the whole, the panel synopsis is very interesting and illuminating. To a degree, I think the problem is how Japanese comics are marketed in America. Is there a fetishization of Japanese comics that prevents non Japanese series from succeeding? Also, the argument that publishers mishandled (and abused) young artists is on the mark. The Japanese comics industry is built around apprenticeships (what the assistants are). Editors actively work to foster talent. Now, traditional American comics utilizes art schools in a similar fashion, but there is a demand for immediate return on investment. How many series need to build up before they become successful? Are comics companies (particularly those focused on “OEL”s) really patient enough for those series to be successful?

And as an aside, I find that the argument that young manga style artists are little more than fan artists more than a little insulting. If they are that bad, why even accept them for publication? The issue is marketing.

Thought 7: And damn, maybe I need to do a research paper on this subject, too.

That’s it for today.

Greek Mythology on Film

I posit that the recent spate of Greek Mythology inspired film is a product of the success of the God of War franchise and 300. There is also a bit of nostalgia thrown in as many remember the now thirty year old Clash of the Titans. Over the past month, I’ve watched quite a few examples of Greek Myth on film. Most recently, Immortals and The Adventures of Hercules (1985). The more I think about it, the more conflicted I am on the whole subject.

First off, let me recognize that Greek Myth is not a static, monolithic entity. The Greek myths are plethora with different origins and concerns. Take Athene for example. The common myth is that she is the daughter of Zeus and Metis. But there are other tales in which she is the daughter of Poseidon and Lake Tritonis.

Given this, I understand that modern interpretations will alter the mythology to suit the needs of the storyteller. Of course, that does not mean that the storyteller will do a very good job of it.

For me, the best films utilizing Greek Mythology are the old Jason and the Argonauts and the made for television adaptation of The Odyssey. Both get it right and are very successful adaptations of the myth.

Some get it wrong. Some horribly wrong. Take Immortals. Despite all of the hundreds of millions of dollars the film made, the story, the adaptation of the Greek myths it is based upon, is atrocious. The movie simply makes no sense. Stylistically, the movie is gorgeous (and the beefcake is nice, too). But the story is too confused.

Combining the Titanomachy and the story of Theseus is a mistake. Either one or the other should have been the focus of the film. Both individually would have made excellent films. Together, things do not make sense. Who is who? There is no introduction and little characterization.

Now, if you think Immortals is bad, watch The Adventures of Hercules. Goodness, that movie is terrible. But it is campy. And that is its only saving feature.

We live in an age of blockbuster franchises. Clash of the Titans has become a franchise, and I will be shocked if Immortals does not follow suit. And let us not forget Percy Jackson.

Now, if you allow me to ape The Blog that Time Forgot for a bit, let us look at the possibilities of a Greek Mythology film franchise. A first film could cover the Titanomachy, then the Gigantomachy, and follow on through all of the major myths before concluding with either The Iliad or The Odyssey.

Could this idea work? I don’t know. Is it possible that any given screen writer, in an attempt to put his or her own spin on things, will muck it up and totally crap on the subject?  Given the recent spate of Greek myth film (not to mention the recent Conan film), I am very pessimistic.

 

Blue Exorcist: A Second Look Review

I love Blue Exorcist by Kazue Kato. The art work is gorgeous. The first splash page of True Cross Academy is amazing. The characters are engaging and excellently executed. And the story line is good. But I did not start out loving the series.

Indeed, I disliked it strongly on my first reading attempt. While the art is gorgeous, I was not, initially, a fan of the story. Rin’s situation rather annoyed me at first. I get Father Fujimoto wanting to give Rin a normal life, but I had an issue  with Rin’s sudden desire to defeat Satan, his true father. I found this determination too sudden and lacking context,although Satan is a douche (I also had this issue with Naruto’s first chapter). Another issue I have is the differences between the brothers Rin and Yukio. Making the two characters as different as possible is interesting, but I do not know if I really like the fact that Rin has all the power. What does that make Yukio, then?

I put the first three volumes aside for a few days. Then I did a reread. My opinion on the series changed. I still have those issues and a few others. But, as I continue to read the series, I find more and more things to like.

Rin’s character is infectious. The humor engendered by the exaggerated opposition of Rin and Yukio is a huge selling point. There is a great mix of seriousness and near madcap action.

The point is that Blue Exorcist is a really enjoyable manga series. And it also shows that sometimes my own first impressions need to be revised. That is why giving Blue Exorcist a second look  was a good decision.

Pluto

Pluto by Naoki Urasawa proves an assertion I made in my guest post for Black GatePluto can go up against any science fiction or fantasy novel, even the greatest, and come out the victor. Now, I am not going to do  a review because I clearly think any manga fan who has not read Pluto should get on it as soon as possible.

I first heard of Pluto on SFSignal in a post titled “Words and Pictures: If Isaac Asimov Wrote Manga” by Brian Ruckley. From there, I waited for my local library to put them on the shelves. After some cajoling, they did. I then proceeded to check out two volumes a week for a month. Reading Pluto has been a revelation. I agree with Ruckley that the series is an excellent jumping on point for fans new to manga.

As most readers know, Pluto is Urasawa’s reimagining and expansion of “The Greatest Robot in the World” arc from Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy series. Readers of Urasawa’s work do not need to be familiar with Tezuka’s original, but it is interesting to catch all of the different and various references that Urasawa makes (some of which are pointed out in the analytic afterwords of each volume).

The theme of the series is wonderfully encapsulated in the oft stated phrase at the end of the series: “Nothing comes from hatred.” The entire series proves this. The hatred that the antagonists have for the world only leads to destruction. To death of the antagonists’ own dreams as much as the protagonists’.

To see the depths of despair and destruction that infects the antagonists, one must look to the past, the back story of the various characters. While the hatred of the antagonists are ultimately destructive, they are not alone in facing hatred.

The hate begins when the Persian Monarchy is invaded by a coalition of nations led by the United States of Thracia. The rationale of the war is that Thracia accused Persia of having a secret robots of mass destruction program. This accusation and the discovery of a mysterious robot graveyard led to war. A war that ultimately destroys Persia and gives rise to a hatred so destructive that the entire world is endangered.

It is clear that the Iraq War played a major influential role in the construction of the 39th Central Asian War. As an aside, I think a further exploration of the political themes of the series would be valuable. Especially in how the Iraq War and other influences play a role in Pluto’s construction.

The motives of the antagonists is to target the seven greatest robots in the world for their roles in the war (even though two of those robots played a strictly post war peace keeping function), assassinate the group of inspectors who found the graveyard, and gain a final revenge on Thracia.

The ultimately sad realization is that both Pluto’s AI and Bora were intended to make a garden of flowers in the desert. Darius XIV’s dream was to make the desert bloom. That was Bora’s intended role. And Sahad, the AI controlling Pluto held a similar dream. But infected with the hatred of Abullah, the dream becomes perverted. Instead of a garden, the world becomes a wasteland.

Hatred is not solely an issue for the antagonists. Hatred also plays a role for the protagonists. Gesicht’s murder of a human (a supposed impossibility given the robot laws) is a product of hatred. The man Gesicht kills kidnapped, murdered, and dismantled robot children for parts. One of the children kidnapped and killed is revealed to be the antique adopted child of Gesicht. This event gave him hatred. A hatred that simmered until his death, when he realized that hatred leads to nothing.

Hatred, as a strong emotion, plays an important role in awakening the most powerful AIs. The balance of six billion must be tipped by a strong emotion. The interesting question is whether or not any other emotion but hatred can act as a similar bias.

The struggle is overcoming hatred. Gesicht overcomes it at his death, and Atom and Sahad overcome it during their battle. Becoming Sahad again allows Pluto to defeat his father’s plans and save the world. By getting past the hatred, the characters become more fully human.

But, is hatred the only source of negativity here? In a very real sense, Abullah’s hatred is manipulated by the supercomputer Roosevelt and the President of the United States of Thracia. The entire war was little more than a plan to ensure Thracia’s ascendancy as the most powerful nation. And Pluto’s murder of the seven greatest robots further plays into Thracia’s hands (as none of the seven are Thracian). And of course, the destruction of the world plays into Roosevelt’s plans to create a world of robots.

The machinations of Roosevelt are coldly cynical, emotionless. How does this attitude, this lack of emotion play with the stated attitudes towards hatred? In many ways, Roosevelt is a true monster, like Brau 1589. That the two can act without emotion makes them inhuman.

A related theme is how desirable it is for Robots to become more like humans. Increasingly, robots are having emotions (or simulations of emotions) that mimic human emotions. I suspect that there is a continuum of emotion at work here. From a lack of emotion, to strong emotional bias, and finally to balance, I think facing hatred (or another destabilizing emotion) and getting past it leads to the characters becoming ever more human.

I have never read Astro Boy, but from what I can tell of its themes (compassion, a dislike of fighting) I see how Urasawa takes those common themes and reimagines them in his own vision. Strong emotion is a sign of being human, but so is overcoming that emotion. Pluto asks what is the measure of being robot and human is.

This is, at the end of the day, one of the greatest manga series I have ever read. This is just an indication of how great manga can be.

No Answers. Just Questions.

This post has no argument. No answers. Just questions. What I want to do with this post is lay out a number of questions that have plagued me in recent weeks and months that I haven’t gotten around to answering to my own satisfaction. Before we begin, for those of you interested in further exploring traditional publishing versus self publishing, check out Rachelle Gardner’s blog posts exploring reasons why authors may choose one or the other. And now, on to the questions without answers, yet.

How do writers and artists decide what form to express their ideas? Is there something identifiable or is it individual to the creator?

Can there be a shonen hero (or major character) who is glbtq? Is it possible to explore gay and lesbian themes without the manga being bl or yuri?

Are there any good shonen and seinen global manga (or OELs)?Is it possible to have a serialized format before the gn/ tankoban collections?

Is the internet a force of social good or social ill? Are good manners in decline?

Keeping with that, why is there an apparent resurgence in racist and sexist screeds in sf/f? How do we overcome the hate?

Does sf/f really need its own Skip Bayless?

How consciously “modern” or “contemporary” should a fantasy be? How consciously in tune with the historical inspiration?

Is the Martin school of epic fantasy troubled by issues of race and sexism as many recent criticisms assert? If so, why?

Can a major debate on the role of women, race, gender, ect. in sf/ f be had without degenerating into trolling flame wars?

Where is the criticism of sf/ f at at this moment? How “laid back” or “academic” is it?

Does there need to be a more consciously “academic” approach with better research and reliance on critical theory?

What about manga and comic books?

Is there manga criticism available in America that is not fan driven?

What is it about Hollywood that they have to butcher Greek mythology?

Why is returning the Amazons to their mythical roots such a controversial thing?

Is it time for the traditional notion of the super hero to be done away with? Especially when a “no kill” rule does not make sense?

In reference to DCUO, how difficult would it be for user generated content (like missions)?

What is the relationship between anime viewership and manga sells in the U.S.? Is the reason why One Piece is not as popular in American compared to Japan because of their initial anime dubbing on Cartoon Network? Or is there something else at work?

Well, that’s it for my questions without answers today. Some of these I may tackle at some point. And some I may never come back to. Time and what I want to blog about will tell.

Thoughts on Writing Part Two: Publishing

Once the manuscript has been completed and edited to the best of the writer and his/ her beta reader’s efforts, it is time to send that sucker off for publication. Or at least attempt to get it published. But how should one go about getting it onto the market? Should one go a traditional route with either a large publisher or small indie house? Maybe doing it yourself is the way to go?

At the end of it all, that decision is the writer’s alone. As a writer, ask yourself, “what would be best for me?” Are there instances when one work would be better published traditionally while a different work may best be published by the individual author?

A lot of the decision rests, I think, on how much work the author wants to put in addition to the writing. Increasingly, the writer has a larger share of marketing duties even with a major publisher, but he/ she is not running the whole show like self publishing.

Now, with self publishing, there is a stigma attached. The common attitude is that the work is poorly edited and (generally) crap. This is not always the case, but that is the stereotype. A core disadvantage self publishing faces is  the lack of gatekeepers, those who keep detritus out of the marketplace. But by the same token, if there are a lot of self published titles out there, then all but the best (or most popular, which isn’t necessarily the same thing) will sink to the bottom.

Often times, self publishing could be seen as a money sinker with little chance of making a decent enough profit to make a living on. With the rise of e-publishing, those concerns are, perhaps, a thing of the past. Depending on the cost of producing the e-book or the website, the costs of publishing online may not be to prohibitive.

That still does not factor in the need for readers who will actually contribute or pay for reading the story. Of course, is getting paid necessarily the main goal of writing? Or is it the pleasure of knowing that someone out there is enjoying something you wrote?

Going a more traditional route is equally fraught with problems. Finding an agent, hashing out a contract, and the need to sell a certain number of copies to make financial sense are all things to think about when it comes to either large, small, or indie publishers. Often times, at least two gatekeepers have to be passed before a publisher will pick up a manuscript for possible publication. Then comes the editing process that can still derail the project. And does the work, once published and out on store shelves, sell well enough for the continuance of the contract?

Personally, I’m still leery of self publishing. The costs of print on demand or paying for physical publication then peddling the books to bookstores are prohibitively expensive (in my case). So that is out. I’m more open to online publishing and e-books (though I don’t have an e-reader myself). I just need to do more research on publishing online and electronically, before I feel secure to make a decision.

I do love the feel of physical books and comic books. And that bias plays a role in my leaning towards a more traditional route. Now, there is a difference between solely prose publishing and comic book publishing. Solely prose publication prefers an agent. Having an agent, getting past that initial gatekeeper, has become so helpful as to practically become a requirement.  Comic book publishers still accept direct submissions of proposals. Each company does have their own unique submissions policies. And some companies, like DC, recruits from the convention circuit (but having an online presence helps).

Whether one chooses to publish with a large (or small) corporate publisher, a small indie publisher, or doing it yourself, the choice of publication route is the writer’s alone. Do what you, as the writer, think is best for you and your work. Every possible route is replete with stories of success and nightmare. Be aware of your options and think hard about what you want to accomplish.

 

Thoughts on Writing Part One: Advice

Advice. For inexperienced writers, there is a plethora of advice available on the net, in textbooks, and in other sources. Now, my position on all of this is: absorb all of it but be skeptical. Do not blindly follow advice. Question it. Be aware or become aware of what works for you.

Being a writer involves continual artistic development. Part of that growth comes from reading and studying writing textbooks,  studying other writers, and, most importantly, writing. It is important to ferret out new methods and techniques  that may  improve one’s writing.

But at the same time, some of these works are not very helpful. They could reveal what not to do or simply not be applicable to different situations.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is also important to study up on genres that you may not be interested in writing yourself. Arguably the best character creation sheet I’ve come across comes from a video game writing textbook. And they also included the first organizational creation sheet that I know of. So, while I may never write for video games, a textbook for writing video games has helped me better create characters.

The same sentiment can also be applied to the three act structure.  By far the best explanation (and example of it) comes from Peter David’s Writing for Comics. Now, writing for comics is something I’m interested in doing, but if someone else isn’t interested in writing comic books, then I would still recommend taking a look at this book because of its work on three act structure.

So far, I have not talked a lot about writing advice on the internet. From my own experience, writing advice on the internet is routinely hit or miss. Most writers who frequently post writing advice tend to come at it as it applies to their own work. Now, some of that may be applicable to some people, but it is not necessarily applicable to everyone. Particularly if things get really technical or laser focused on the issues that the advice giver is working on.

Writing, like all art, is an individualistic endeavor. The techniques can be taught. But how those techniques are used by the single writer is up to that writer. How the writer develops as an artist is up to the writer alone.

 

My next post in this series will focus on traditional publishing vs. self publishing.