Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Superhero Fiction Blues

I have expressed interest before in writing superhero fiction. But, before I embark on my own project, I feel it is sensible to get a lay of the land, to read what other writers in the genre are doing. Unfortunately, I cannot say that my readings have been exactly pleasant. Or interesting. 

The first work of superhero fiction I read was Rich Horton’s Superheroes anthology. I did not read every story in the collection. But what I did read is incredibly off putting. The stories I did read are, by and large, either dull or extremely derivative. 

The next work of superhero fiction I attempted was Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century. Again, I found the story to be incredibly dull. While the literary marriage of Le Carre and Moore is interesting, The Violent Century fails capture the sensitivity of of Le Carre and the originality of Watchmen. (Not that I’m particularly fond of Watchmen).

The final work of superhero fiction I attempted was Brian Sanderson’s Steelheart. I did not get far into this book before I put it down. For one thing, the prologue put me off the book almost immediately. And secondly, I really dislike works where a group of people are collectively, or near collectively, painted with the brush of evil. (I’ll blog about that in the coming weeks).

The problem I’m having with these works is that they are not epic. Rather they are postmodern mash ups that fail, for me at least, to rise above being derivative at worse and pale imitations of better written works at best. 

Perhaps I am being unfair. Maybe my expectations were X and the texts are Y? Maybe I should give these works another chance. But not right now. I’m not in the mood. 

There is a lesson here. (Besides not burning oneself out while binge reading a single genre). My reactions to these myriad examples of superhero fiction crystalizes what it is that I want to do with prose superheroes. They would, I think, make excellent subjects for a contemporary epic fantasy of some form. 

Now, do I want to write that story, whatever it is?

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The Latest Marvel News

I should be ecstatic about this. Sam Wilson, the Falcon, will become the next Captain America this fall. Joining him will be a woman becoming Thor. And a more super villain Iron Man. This is, on the surface, awesome news. But look deeper. Know your comic book history. These nuggets of change demand much greater skepticism than they have received. 

Marvel (and DC) has a racial and gender problem when it comes to characters. They know this. They are aware of it. They are doing something about it. They are getting better. Maybe not as fast as I and many other progressive comic book fans would like, but they are certainly improving. 

The problem isn’t that Captain America is going to be a black man. The problem isn’t that Thor is going to be  a woman. The problem is how long will these changes last? 

Will Sam Wilson still be Captain America in ten years? In five? In three? What about Thor? 

I’ll be surprised if these changes last two years. 

It is very rare for successful superhero succession. Especially at Marvel. And even if it does last, there is no guarantee that the older hero won’t return to supplant their younger, newer replacement at some point.

I want to be wrong about this. I would like to see Sam Wilson wield the shield for many years. And I’d like to see what Jason Aaron has in mind for Thor. But healthy skepticism will, no doubt, assuage the coming heart break and fan rage.

 

Live Action Naruto?

What? 

Lately, I’ve wondered if a live action adaptation of Naruto is viable. The franchise is fifteen years old with 685 chapters and two very long running anime series (Naruto and Naruto Shippuden). With all that in mind, can Naruto be adapted for live action?

I’m honestly not sure Naruto can be adapted to film without some major cuts. A single movie is impossible without becoming a confusing mess. A trilogy or tetralogy is certainly more viable, but the filmmakers will have to find the essential narrative and, largely, cut the rest. Another option is to film every arc. But who would be willing to commit to fifteen plus films? And what will happen when the main cast age out of their roles?

The best option, I think, is for a Game of Thrones style ten to thirteen episode a season television series. 

Here’s how I envision Naruto  breaking down by season: The first season starts with Naruto becoming a genin and covers the Wave and Chunin Exam arcs. The second season covers the Invasion of Konoha, the Search for Tsunade, and the Sasuke Retrieval arcs. The third season would cover the Gaara Rescue, Sai and Sasuke, and Hidan and Kakuzu arcs (ending with Sasuke killing Orochimaru). The fourth season would cover the Itachi Pursuit and Invasion of Pain arcs ( ending with either the Raikage calling the Gokage Summit or Nagato’s death). The fifth season would, then, take on the Gokage Summit and the initial stages of the Fourth Shinobi World War. Finally, the sixth season would cover the Fourth Shinobi World War. 

You know, this could actually work. The only problem is one of production. I don’t know much about Japanese television, but I get the impression that the preference is, generally, for shorter, single season dramas. 

The problem with an American production company getting a hold of the live action television rights to Naruto is the danger of whitewashing the characters. Dragon Ball was whitewashed. The Last Airbender was whitewashed. And the proposed adaptations of Akira and Death Note features heavily rumored whitewashing of settings and characters. Hell, the rumored Naruto live action film featured some tween hearthrob up for the role of Naruto.

A solution to this problem, if American filmmakers get the greenlight, is to have a diverse cast. I’m not familiar enough with the current crop of actors to give a fantasy casting sheet. I’ll leave that to others.

I would love to see Naruto get a live adaptation. I don’t know if it is possible, but one can always hope. 

The Tale of Genji

I first attempted to read The Tale of Genji several years ago. I couldn’t get into it at the time, so I set it aside. Years later, I wished to attempt it again thanks to my historical fiction challenge. However, my local library no longer carried the text, and I had to interlibrary loan it. (Note to self, never interlibrary loan two very long novels at the same damn time). I had hoped my opinion would change, that I would come to like The Tale of Genji. However, my initial opinion stands. I just don’t find The Tale of Genji interesting.

The Tale of Genji is, obviously, the tale of Prince Genji, a younger son of the Old Emperor. The tale follows Genji’s amorous life in court and as an exile. And after his death, the tale follows his “son,” Kaoru. From material I’ve read, much of the focus is on Genji’s amorous pursuits and lush descriptions of the fashions of the time. 

I find it all dull.

To be honest, reading The Tale of Genji is like reading fanfiction. Not the fanfiction where one desperately wishes the fanfic writer actually wrote the source material, but the fanfiction that makes one deeply embarrassed to have read it in the first place. 

I don’t know if this is a problem with the source material or if it is a specific problem with the translation. To date, I’ve only read the older Waley translation. Maybe the later two translations won’t have the same problems that the Waley translation does. 

The question is, do I really want to find out? I don’t know. Give me a few years. 

Romance of the Three Kingdoms (and Red Cliff)

A few weeks ago, I set myself the task to challenge my apathy towards historical fiction. The first novel in my challenge is a revisit. I first tried to read Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the four great Chinese novels, years ago. I couldn’t get into it and returned it to the library disappointed. But I’ve always wanted to give the novel a second look in the hopes that I will come to appreciate if not actually enjoy Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

 Damn, I’m glad I did. I love this freaking book. Even if it is too damn long at nearly 1400 pages spread out over two volumes. It is, despite its size, an addictive read. 

Romance of the Three Kingdoms reads like a chronicle. A heavily fictionalized chronicle that tells the tale of the dissolution of the Han dynasty into three competing kingdoms and the eventual reunification of the empire under the Jin. This approach strips away all but the essentials. Given that the the Three Kingdoms lasted about a century, there is still a lot of material to cover. But this approach does have its problems. Characterization is limited to only a few major characters. And even then, the focus is on single character traits (the hot headed Chang Fei comes to mind).

What I find so interesting about Romance of the Three Kingdoms is how much it explores the strategy of the myriad conflicts surrounding the dissolution of the Han dynasty. So often in fantasy fiction, the hero (or his army) blindly rushes into battle with no plan, no strategy, and wins the day. Here, the reader sees how the generals plan to attack, defend, and trap each other. It is freaking cool. 

But at the same time, Romance of the Three Kingdoms does have major problems, especially for a modern audience. Women are by and large non entities explicitly compared to clothing (so are children) by the designated hero Liu Bei. There are a few exceptions like Diaochan and Lady Sun, but their impact is relatively limited to single episodes in the larger epic. But it must be noted that many of these women are given expanded roles in adaptations. 

Which leads me to Red Cliff, the film of one of the most pivotal battles of the entire saga. I’ve been meaning to watch this film for months. I finally took the opportunity after reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms and damn it all, I love this movie. 

In 208 C.E., Cao Cao has consolidated his position as Prime Minister to the puppet emperor Xian (the last Han emperor) by defeating the northern warlords. To reunify China under his rule, he must conquer the last remaining opposition in the south led by Liu Bei and Sun Quan. To prevent this, Kongming advises an alliance between Liu and Sun. Thus the stage is set for the decisive Battle of Red Cliffs. 

It is freaking gorgeous. The visuals are amazing. The battle scenes are great. The acting is wonderful. How the hell did the film makers accomplish all of this for only 80 million?

What I especially like is how the film gives equal weight to heroic fights and to the strategy that leads to victory. While many of the characters are portrayed as near super human, like Zhao Yu and Liu Bei and his companions, it is the competing strategies of Cao Cao and Kongming that make the film so amazing.

Women play a pivotal role in the movie. Lady Sun, the sister of Sun Quan, with her body guard of women warriors prove key in early skirmishes and as a spy in Cao Cao’s camp. And it is the wife of Zhao Yu, Xiao Qiao, who proves essential to victory as she distracts Cao Cao. This, honestly, is an improvement on the source material. 

All in all, I love Red Cliff and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Maybe I was wrong about historical fiction after all?