Tittle at titles

What the hell is up with anime lately, anyway? The titles are basically a descriptive sentence containing a plot synopsis. I realize this isn’t really a trend from within anime, but because a lot of anime are light novel adaptations. The trend is therefore merely carried over from light novels themselves. Sample titles:

  • There’s no way my little sister is this cute
  • My youth romantic comedy is wrong as I expected
  • I couldn’t become a hero, so I reluctantly decided to get a job
  • My girlfriend and my childhood friend fight too much

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. What if Star Wars had used the same naming convention? “I went into space and kissed my long-lost sister”?

It also seems that the crappier series are the ones that try to squeeze the entire premise into the title. The ones that pander to a ready-made audience of otaku, I mean (implied incest, flat female characters, harems, etcetera). In fact, this article states that the inherent crappiness and ephemerality of light novels – which are, quite frankly, a dime a dozen in Japan – necessitates squeezing the premise into the title to catch the eyes of bookstore customers who are confronted by shelves of stories so unoriginal that the customers can barely summon the energy to read the plot synopsis on the back of the book.

Fortunately, an insider states in the article that he believes that the trend will burn out soon. New light novels will need another way to distinguish themselves from the pack. Yay for cyclical trends in fashion?

The names of fantasy

Just for the hell of it, I’m going to list as many names as I can remember from David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malloreon fantasy series:

  • Garion
  • Belgarath
  • Poledra
  • Polgara
  • Durnik
  • Torak
  • Riva
  • Sendaria
  • Ce’Nedra
  • Silk
  • Zandramas
  • Mallorea
  • Angarak
  • Tol’Nedra
  • Ulgo
  • Eriond
  • Barak
  • Mandorallen
  • Vo Mimbre

God and my right

Many faux-medieval fantasy stories willfully ignore the overarching influence of the Church on European society. Knights were specifically said to be soldiers of Christendom and Christianity permeated every level of society, from the beggars who depended on handouts from the charitable orders to kings who had to be wary of excommunication. Medieval economics was also shaped by the Church, for it was considered impious for Chistians to charge interest on loans, which left moneylending as a Jewish profession. All these things and more made medieval Europe the way it was.

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron avoids this ahistorical presentation. It’s essentially set in a parallel universe Middle Ages where magic exists. Sorcerers require a license from the Church to practise magic, dragons rule over large parts of the land, and the forces of Satan threaten humanity everyday.

The world, you see, is divided in a war between God and Satan. However, the forces of Satan are actually just the forces of Nature fighting back against human encroachment. Having legitimate grievances, though, does not preclude moral excess, and the intelligent creatures of the wild massacre entire villages in their fight.

The author is a re-enactor and a history freak, which shows in the level of detail he displays in his fictionalized medieval England. Fencing masters teach moves for fighting monsters, rebellious peasants bide their time in the shadows, and despite the state of total war people come to accommodations with their supposed adversaries.

Anyway, I liked the book. Read it if you want more history in your fantasy.

Plato, Buddha, and Jesus walk into a bar . . .

I’m reading 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights, a classic of Japanese science fiction by Ryu Mitsuse. It’s excellent. It’s one of those books that have so many big ideas, and happily it’s also one of those books that manages to do justice by those ideas.

Briefly, it’s about the universe, from the formation of the solar system to the heat death at the end of existence. In between, humans search for the cause of suffering and the solution to it. Humans like Plato, like the Buddha, like Jesus. They journey together and fight each other to find the righteous path and the better world of our dreams.

When reading this book I sometimes find myself agog at its breadth, its erudition, its cleverness, and its confidence. For example, when he is introduced, it’s revealed that Plato’s obsession with Atlantis is not some metaphor for the ideal state but a literal quest for antediluvian demigods. On the way he ends up debating philosophy with either a time traveller or an alien. This sounds very hokey in a postmodern reflexively ironic “pirates versus ninjas” mishmash, but somehow it’s earnestly un-ridiculous in context.

The book does presuppose a familiarity with the original texts it’s riffing on. You don’t need a degree in comparative theology, but knowing what Buddhist cosmological writings sound like helps in appreciating how deliciously inventive Buddha’s conversation with Brahma is, for instance. And having an ear for techno-babble does help, as well as some basic astronomy, though I understand the science in the book is out of date by now – not unexpected, for science has marched on since the book’s publication in the 60s.

Anyway, read it. I’m seriously enjoying this book. In a word, it’s mind-blowing.

Ships that sank

I don’t have a good track record in shipping, which in this context means the romantic pairing you favour in a given work of fiction. My tastes don’t seem to align with the majority, as this list of failed non-canonical ships should attest.

  • Zutara (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
  • Harry/Luna (Harry Potter)
  • Haruto/Rukino (Valvrave the Liberator)
  • Akihito/Mitsuki (Beyond the Boundary)

For comparison, Ships that Sailed:

  • Ranma/Akane (Ranma 1/2)
  • Edward/Winry (Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood)

I still think those failed ships were more narratively interesting than the ones that happened in canon. Ah well, such is life.

I accidentally wrote a Cormac McCarthy fanfic

Lately I’ve been considering the moral underpinnings of the nut shot and how it relates to the debate on the existence of God.

I’ve asked around and found that most guys have taken multiple blows to the testicles over the course of their lives. This result was surprising to me since I figured that the crippling pain of the experience would discourage the possibility of repeats, but life throws us curve balls occasionally.

So, long story short, I wrote a pastiche in the style of Cormac McCarthy pontificating majestically about nut shots. Think of it as the opening for a magisterial work examining the experience of suffering.

I’ve titled this piece “So You’ve Been Kicked in the Testicles”.

So You’ve Been Kicked in the Testicles

The pain of being kicked in the testicles is not merely a physical pain but an existential one, which is to say that the pain is not contained in one part of the body but rather located throughout the entirety of one’s existence. When crippled by a blow to the groin, time loses all meaning and it feels as if one’s entire life has been spent with stabbing pains on the crotch.

Better and worse is the experience of seeing others receive a blow to the groin. It’s a sight uniquely tinged with both sympathy and hilarity in equal measure. There’s a recognition of pain, an empathetic understanding of living with the savage terror of existence in our uncaring universe, but there’s also the joy born of relief that the one so bedevilled is not oneself. The blow to the testicles lays bare the fiction of a just world, for there is no fairness in the disproportionate anguish caused by a random testicular blow. Faced with this fundamental injustice, how else can one react but with laughter?

Tyrannosaurus Sex

Scantily dressed women being leered at by dinosaurs

Question: What would erotica be like if a man wrote it?

Answer:

This chick showed up at my place with humungous tits. We banged for a while then I came on her humungous tits. Later on another girl with humungous tits showed up, same deal. Also there was a dinosaur.

One Year Later

One year ago, I decided to track how many books, movies, TV shows, and comics that I consumed. That project has now come to a close. What have I discovered?

First, most of what I read is science fiction and fantasy. Overwhelmingly so, actually. Second, I have a tendency to binge watch on TV shows. Third, when given a choice between watching a two hour movie or four 30 minute TV episodes, I will watch the TV show because for some reason I’m daunted at spending two hours on a single leisure activity. Fourth, I read a staggering amount of comics. Last, I kind of wish I watched more movies.

Anyway, the final tally is below.

Books: 83

Movies: 56

Comic Books (including manga): 940

TV Shows: 427

And in case for some reason anyone out there is curious exactly what fiction I consumed, here’s the list I made.

RIP Elmore Leonard

Kind of late, but it’s still an event to mark despite the delay.

And some advice from the dearly departed:

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 
  6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Lev Grossman and Fanfiction

I’ve only now discovered that Lev Grossman – author of such works as The Magicians and The Magician King – reads fanfiction. Not only that, he recommended Archive of Our Own (also known as AO3) in his official capacity as a writer-type person for Time Magazine. Mostly I’m astonished because I’m peripherally involved in AO3 and I’m always surprised when I discover fannish kinship with an artist I like. I feel like when I found out Neil Gaiman also reads Gunnerkrigg Court.

Still, dear Lev does have a point that fanfiction is an important and unheralded literary movement. I wonder if he also writes fanfiction? I know N.K. Jemisin does. To be honest, I only discovered her professional output through her fanfiction when I started looking for other stuff she’d written. And I know of one English professor who writes Star Trek novels to pay the bills. Well, barring a drastic reorganization of the copyright system I don’t suppose anyone will ever discover the fanfiction that professional writers have produced. Oh, well.