labingi: (inu)
I have been reading my son The Lord of the Rings while rereading Mirage of Blaze myself, and this has led me to the thought experiment of how Mirage of Blaze would be received as a story in Middle-earth. The answer, I believe, is not as badly as you might think.

(In case you have been residing under a rock, SPOILERS follow for The Lord of the Rings. General Mirage spoilers, nothing too plotty.)Read more... )
labingi: (inu)
I've been rereading Mirage 15, and there is much to love, but I'm going to zero in on Kagetora's thoughts about his own psyche, which capture so magnificently how the human mind works. (And with apologies, there will be some comparison to my own life by way of exemplifying the text's realism. Yes, God help me, my life is like Mirage of Blaze—sometimes.)

Spoilers up to volume 15…Read more... )
labingi: (ivan)
Review: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel Never Let Me Go is a science fiction story about three young people, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, grappling with their emerging awareness of the disturbing social destiny they were born for. It may be one of the best written novels I have ever read, which makes it interesting that it's not better reviewed by readers: Goodreads gives it 3.8/5 stars, Amazon 4/5, not bad to be sure but not world class. I'd argue that this slight disconnect with many readers (evident in written reviews as well as ratings) reflects precisely why it is important that Ishiguro wrote this book. The novel challenges our blindness to how our own social indoctrination works. It asks us to face realities we not only don't wish to but have genuine conceptual difficulty with. This is not to say some criticisms are not valid, but they pale, in my view, next to the book's achievements.

Most of this review will talk about ideology and indoctrination, but that is not all the book is about, and I want to be sure to mention a couple of other ways in which it excels. It is one of the most realistic and subtle portrayals I have read of how deep friendships (often) operate: the good, the bad, the habituation, the ability to read each other, the passive-aggressive patterns, the maturing and evolving, the joy, the hurt, the power plays, the mutual support, the altruism, the mess of it all. Though the characters’ trio of best friends does not externally resemble my primary relationships at all, I saw my relationships everywhere, so much so that I fantasized about contacting the friend who’s severed ties with me and saying, “Read this book. This is about us.” The book is also about facing death, and apart from the story’s particulars, which I’ll come to, there’s an extent to which this is everyone’s story: we are all faced with our ending, with the years flying by and the likelihood of decrepitude and dependency and the loss of loved ones before a possibly physically painful ceasing to be. This is also very well captured.

As to the rest, spoilers follow… Read more... )
labingi: (inu)
My thinky thoughts inspired by the first two Mirage of Blaze stage plays continue, and in this post I want to talk principally about the construction of Kagetora's emotional-sexual needs as informed by the context of the plays. More general thoughts/review are here.

Mirage SPOILERS follow:Read more... )
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Mirage Plays

Many thanks to [ profile] imperfekti for a) informing me that Mirage of Blaze Showa period stage plays exist and b) doing excellent summaries so that I can sort of tell what's going on. I have got my hands on the DVDs for the first two, thanks to [ profile] demitas, who used her Japanese skills to order them for me. And now I have thinky thoughts. To begin reviewish stuff:

Reviewish Thoughts on Mirage Stage Plays )
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With the heightened visibility of fan fiction in recent years, conceptions of what constitutes professional-caliber fiction have been in flux, and derviative fiction (based on pre-existing works) has been slowly regaining legitimacy. I want to share my new enthusiasm for the richer, truer world that opens up for all participants in narrative when we accept the artistic legitimacy of retelling stories.

The Copyright Model

Our culture's dominant view of what constitutes quality narrative still draws its lines based on copyright. Under this model, professional writers write “original fiction”; i.e. works dissimilar enough from preexisting copyrighted works that the writer (or publisher) can claim copyright over them. Published writers who extrapolate stories in public domain are sometimes highly respected but sometimes placed on a lower tier than "original" writers. At a lower status, but still professionals, are authorized writers of works within others' copyrighted universes, such as official tie-in novels. Low status and traditionally derided are fan fiction writers, who write unauthorized derivative works.

The dividing line for professionalism in this model is how much the writer gets paid. Original and authorized authors make money through traditional publishing (and, more rarely, self-publishing); unauthorized fan fic writers are legally barred from profiting on copyrighted works. Read more... )
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Reading over summaries of anime on Soul-Anime, I came across a fascinating summary of Gungrave, one of my favorites. I don’t know if this was written by one person or edited after the fact, but it feels like a quintessential example of what I think of as the “non-narratable,” that is, a story that is so outside our cultural conceptions of what’s possible that we lack the concepts to speak about it or really understand it. (I gleaned this term from narratology, but some quick reading up suggests my use has diverged from the more standard use.)

Here’s the summary:

Brandon Heat, a silent and passive man, is living a laid back life with his friends. He's got his eyes on Maria, but her uncle forbids their relationship. After the brutal murder of his friends and Maria's father, Brandon is on the run together with the only friend he has left—Harry McDowell. When he finds out custody over Maria has been taken by Millennion, the largest mafia syndicate in town, he and Harry decide to join the syndicate. He goes through many hardships after joining the syndicate but he is willing to risk everything as long as he can be close to Maria. The plot is more about the relationship between Brandon and Harry not as much about Brandon and Maria as the current plot is describing.
--From Soul-Anime

There are some factual errors here: Brandon and Harry do not decide to join Millennion directly because Maria is with Millennion. Harry decides to join because he is ambitious and sees it as a path to power. Brandon does join, in part, because Maria is there but also because Harry is joining. The story, as the last line notes, is more about Brandon and Harry than Brandon and Maria. Indeed, it is cardinally the story of the fall and reconciliation in Brandon and Harry’s friendship.

This writer knew that; they say in black and white that it’s more about Harry and Brandon. And yet the summary describes the story as about Brandon and Maria.Read more... )
labingi: (r2dvd)
Yet Another Post on Sexism in Moffat's Shows

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Steven Moffat is the Ben Steed of his generation. For those not up on their BBC TV writers of thirty-plus years ago, Ben Steed was a writer for Blake’s 7 (among other things), now widely remembered in Blake’s 7 fandom as that sexist pig. This is a shame for the late Steed: in many respects he was a good writer, but he allowed his bigotry to distort the virtues of his stories, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of many fans across the decades. Steven Moffat seems committed to an updated version of the same trajectory, and it’s a shame for him too because he, too, is a good writer, but that fact is increasingly being obscured by the sexism* of his shows.

The Lessons of History )
labingi: (ivan)
If any 19th-century woman can claim a place as quintessential geek girl, it is surely Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Not only is she the progenitor of one of the icons of geek culture and a founder of modern science fiction, she is also, I will argue, firmly situated in the grand tradition of women fan fiction writers. Born August 30, 1797, she would be 216 years old today.

Brief Biography
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley seemed marked for literary accomplishment. The daughter radical philosopher, William Godwin, and prototypic feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley was a natural heir to literary talent. Despite this advantage, however, her life was fraught with sorrows. Her mother having died in childbirth, she grew up close to her father. This relationship, however, was shattered when at sixteen she eloped with scandalous Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley (of the “Satanic School”).

Though the Shelleys loved each other and were surrounded by a stimulating social circle of Romantic intelligentsia, their lives were troubled, not least by the loss of several children: Percy Florence was the only child to survive his parents. After Shelley’s untimely death in a boating accident, Mary found herself a widow at twenty-four with a son to support. Though Shelley’s father was a baronet, his disapproval of his son’s elopement meant that he provided little financial support. She ended up significantly augmenting her income by writing and editing.

She was a prolific writer. In addition to Frankenstein and her futuristic science fiction novel, The Last Man, she wrote lesser-known novels, short stories, children’s stories, travel literature, and essays (and, of course, voluminous letters).

Today, aside from some slight attention to The Last Man and her novella, “Mathilda, ” about an incestuous father-daughter relationship, she is only remembered for Frankenstein. But, really, isn’t that enough?

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
labingi: (Default)
The latest X-Men film, The Wolverine, has recently opened in theaters. As you might guess, it’s about Wolverine–but I need to talk about the women. As gender fail goes, The Wolverine is by no means an egregious offender. In some ways, it handles its female characters well, but this is all the more reason to critique it: its gender fail not a fluke. It’s not a movie that just happened to be penned by a sexist writer. If anything, its handling of women is better than the norm for a Hollywood superhero flick. Yet it’s still offensive, and we have to do better. Now.

Spoiler-lite summary: the film is set after X-Men: The Last Stand, in which Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) killed an insane Jean-Grey-as-the-Phoenix (Famke Janssen) to stop her wreaking destruction. We catch up with him haunted by dreams of her and trying to put his identity as “Wolverine” behind him. But his past finds him in the form of an old Japanese acquaintance (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) he saved from the bombing of Nagasaki.* This old man wants to see Wolverine before he dies. Thus, Wolverine is whisked off to Japan where adventure ensues, including romance with his old friend’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). The story is based on one of Wolverine’s more famous comic book plotlines, but I’m going to address the movieverse as a standalone.

The film does some redeeming gender work. One enjoyable character is Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a multitalented mutant sidekick with amazing fighting skills, wit, charm, courage, and culturally plausible Japanese cuteness. (But note the word “sidekick.”) Mariko is also updated from the traditional damsel in distress. Though not a mutant, she has some decent fighting skills of her own and is courageous, proactive, and intelligent.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
labingi: (Default)
On Slashing Enjolras

I keep updating this on AO3, so let me just direct you there.
labingi: (Default)
The Jigsaw Woman by Kim Antieau has already been capably reviewed by The Geek Girl Project,--which highly praised it--so here I'll offer my purely personal response.

I am annoyed by straw men (no heavy-handed Wizard of Oz reference intended; the book does enough of that itself). The problem with a straw man fallacy is that, by setting up an oversimplified opposition, it tends to generate an oversimplified solution. In The Jigsaw Woman, the straw man is that patriarchy is the devil. And the solution is that Goddess-worshiping matriarchy was/will be "paradise" (226). This formulation is so simplistic and so sledged-hammered that it largely undermines meaningful feminist discourse in the text. Reading this novel to unpack the social structures that oppress women is a little like reading The Watchtower to unpack the Bible: it feels like kindergarten.

Now, The Jigsaw Woman also has its strengths and, as with most commercial fiction today, those strengths almost all appear early on. The premise is great: an explicit feminist takeoff on Frankenstein, where the monster cobbled together out of various parts is a "Barbie doll" fantasy girl designed for a man's pleasure. The Barbie doll, however, has a brain and revolts--this is all to the good. I especially like the running joke/theme early on that her vocal cords don't work and she is literally silenced. I like that she recognizes this silencing for what it is, and immediately fights it by writing up a storm on paper. Eventually, her voice heals, which is fine too--on with the story. Spoilers Follow )
labingi: (ivan)
Disclaimers at the end of this review*

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to adapt a novel by Emily Brontë without using a single one of Emily Brontë’s words. Amazingly, this has been done and done brilliantly! I refer, of course, to “The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights” (Monty Python, 1970). More recently, this challenge has been taken up by Andrea Arnold (2011)–with less success.

The film is not all bad. In fact, parts are quite good…

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
labingi: (riki)
Rieko Yoshihara on Ai no Kusabi, Volume 7:

"From here onwards (laughter), it will be all original content…. Well, according to the schedule, it wasn't supposed to be this long. Once I started on it I couldn't stop (laughter)…" (127).

I couldn't come up with a better expression of loss of authorial distance if I tried. Honestly, as an Ai no Kusabi fan, it makes me kind of angry. Because AnK used to be a good story. For all its execrable prose and cheap porn, it justly earned its place as one of the most famous and lauded BL works of all time.

Spoilers Follow )
labingi: (Default)
I've just finished the third and last book in the Hunger Games series and have a few disjointed thoughts.

I've heard many say the series went downhill after the first book. For myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the second, maybe more than the first, though that has, perhaps, less to do with quality than with freshness (I hadn't already seen a movie about it). The third, however, went steeply downhill. It was still an enjoyable page-turner, but the ironclad fiction craft for which I praised/mocked Collins in my first Hunger Games review got sloppy.

A small rant with spoilers for the whole series )

On the other hand, overall I really have to praise the series for bucking the more typical (read Twilight and almost every Hollywood movie) trends in teen girl protagonist lit. And this isn't a very complicated move. It's really just a direct inversion of the usual tropes. And it's funny how compelling it is just to see the fakeness of the fairy tale exposed. For example...

Spoilers mostly for the first book, a bit of the second )

One more thing I really like about HG: it consistently depicts people as people--not perfect heroes or evil villains or allegories of some quality. Some are better developed than others; none is especially deep, and some characterizations are sometimes ham-handed. But the consistency of this move highlights how rare it is. Just think about how rare it really is in narrative to have warring teenagers and none of them be depicted as just bad people; to have a love triangle where both possible love interests are genuinely good, compelling matches; to have an overly nice girl who's really just nice and not smarmy; a poor-little-rich-girl who's actually not spoiled but is good friend; a superficial socialite who actually has feelings and is doing her best, and so on.

No wonder I have trouble finding books I enjoy if HG (which is not a work of great character development) develops characters a quantum leap more humanly than my impression of the norm. Why can't this be the norm? I mean honestly...
labingi: (ivan)
I have a review/reflection on The Hunger Games up at The Geek Girl Project. Here's a teaser...

I have just become the billionth person to read The Hunger Games, and I have found it perfect. It is a book with no mistakes, a monument to every rule of popular fiction craft that writers workshops teach.

If you read English, it’s virtually certain you know what The Hunger Games is about, but to recap just in case: it’s about a young woman who is forced to fight to the death against other teens in a sport designed to entertain the elites and degrade the peasants. Suzanne Collins executes this narrative with a tiger-eye for popular science fiction best practice...

Read more, no heavy spoilers
labingi: (Default)
Belated update: my review of Kino's Journey is up at the Geek Girl Project. It focuses on gender issues since the series itself has already been copiously reviewed.
labingi: (Default)
"In Every Heart There is a Room":
On Vash's Love for Wolfwood

(With thanks to Billy Joel for the song lyrics.)

Vash and Wolfwood are, of course, the great OTP of Trigun. Their love is one of the most touching things in Trigun. For this essay, I'll focus on Vash's love for Wolfwood, one of the most profound examples of mindful love I have encountered. spoilers follow )
labingi: (riki)
Trigun, the Manga -- No Punch-Pulling Here

Rem is a Nazi, and this pretty much sums up Trigun. That's right: I am going to make a Holocaust analogy, with many caveats (and spoilers) under the cut...

Caveats, Spoilers, Review, and Meta... )
labingi: (ivan)
I suspect that Wide Sargasso Sea has forever damaged my ability to enjoy Jane Eyre. Mind you, I have never unreservedly enjoyed it and there are still many aspects of it I love, but Rhys's novel has reweighted the scales. It elevates what I always saw as the comparatively poor writing to egregious moral failing. (Fair warning: if it's not already plain, this is a bit of rant.)

Read more... )


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