Dessins Animés Japonais

So, thought I'd have a few comments on my recent anime (and manga) viewings.
  • Rented Halo Legends—a sort of Animatrix thing based on Halo—and, well, to be charitable...you know those shallow Western attempts to emulate anime and manga? Turns out half-assed cultural appropriation sucks just as hard in reverse. There are three basic complaints:
    1. The usual Japanese alkie-who-doesn't-want-other-people-to-drink pacifist preaching has no place in the Halo universe. The time wasted on the usual war-anime cliches would've been better spent on the unique traits of the setting.
    2. Would it kill them to crack a story bible? Elites do not work that way, Jackals and Grunts aren't all that scary even to normal humans, and Spartans do not do spin-kicks. Also, girl Spartans probably don't wear their hair long, since Spartans spend so much time in their armor that their skins are bleached white: think of the hygiene!
    3. The whole thing was, in essence, the corpse of Halo animated by a Japanese spirit. Especially the last short, the CGI one: did you guys have to mo-cap unemployed Power Rangers stuntmen for Master Chief? Or make him deliver some cliched sentai line about "becoming stronger"? His armor's olive drab, not red, for a reason.

  • On the other hand, Needless. How to describe Needless? "The unholy hybrid child of GunXSword and s-CRY-ed, raised by Maka's dad from Soul Eater"? Yeah, that'd about cover it. And it's awesome.

  • So, Baka to Test to Shôkanjû—i.e. Idiots, Tests, and Summoned Beasts—is one of the more amusingly messed-up shows out there. I love how they deliberately taunt the audience, for instance by having most of the fan-service shots be of Hideyoshi, the guy who looks like a girl. Also, Minami is a great tsundere; I wish I wasn't sure she isn't gonna win.

  • Considering that huge swathes of the point of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is advocating tolerance of otaku, why does the show do such a bang-up job of showing everything that's wrong with the subculture? Also, seriously, what's with the maid-who's-also-a-ninjaesque-bodyguard becoming the standard portrayal? Am I the only one who thinks that's odd?

  • Bamboo Blade is an excellent sports anime, and an amusing example of how flaws make heroes better—Tamaki would be insufferable if she wasn't a tokusatsu-otaku wallflower. It also has a very good portrayal of the limit of genius, how Tamaki can lose her focus because she's still a kid. But...the swordfighting sucks. Admittedly I'm coming from a battôdô background—kendo is a toy, battôdô is a weapon—but the counter to jodan kamae (the high guard) is not to use jodan kamae yourself, it's to learn to take advantage of the fact it exposes the user's belly. With her speed, Tamaki should have no trouble defeating jodan, at least once she gets past that mental block about her mother. Yes, jodan opening the belly is very useful as a false opening, to bait the opponent closer, but the weakness of using openings as bait is, they're still openings.

  • Goshûshôsama Ninomiya-kun is not actually very good, but I'll put up with a lot to hear Sawashiro Miyuki (Shinku in Rozen Maiden) as a student body president. A tsundere student body president, who's also her school's self-righteous morals officer, in a harem anime. Does anyone need proof that casting choices can be divinely inspired?

  • Speaking of inspired casting choices, Hayate the Combat Butler (there's that domestic servant/bodyguard thing again) has both Ries, Tanaka (Suigintô) and Kugimiya (Louise, Taiga, Shana). And they share scads of scenes. That's like the Van Gogh's sunflowers of the voice actress's art. Come for the unconscionably messed up gags, stay for the incredible talent.

  • It occurs to me, Tanaka Rie and Ishida Akira should get some kind of prize for range. Tanaka's played Chii in Chobits, and Suigintô in Rozen Maiden—things don't get more different than that. And Maria in Hayate is almost exactly in the middle, so she can do anything in between, too. Similarly, Ishida's done Xelloss in Slayers and Gaara in Naruto, but he's also done Coud Van Giruet in Elemental Gelade and Dan in Bamboo Blade. Yes, I listed them in the order they go in, on his range.

  • Talking of Ninomiya-kun and BakaTest reminds me, does anyone else wish we'd get better anime-based-on-light-novels over here in the states? The only possible reason that Haruhi Suzumiya has had an American release, and Kyôran Kazoku Nikki hasn't, is that some obscure economic principle is working to make quality inversely proportional to success. Aside from how KKN actually has likable characters (apparently those are considered an expendable frill in some quarters?), Haruhi is only omnipotent. Whereas Kyôka, as a marvelous fact...

  • I forgot to say, Kishin Hôkô Demonbane. You pretty much had me at "Lovecraftian giant robot anime." Though maybe it's easier to put one over on Japanese viewers—when a lady with black hair, dressed in black, says "Call me Naia," I, for one, was shouting, "Oh crap, Nyarlathotep shows up in the first episode? Crap crap crap!"


It's I Against I and It's Me Against You

So, thought I'd make further remarks on Halo (which is probably my favorite video game after Legend of Zelda) and Avatar (which is my new whipping boy).

Halo first:
  • So, the Elites have blue armor for normal soldiers, red for leaders, and silver and gold for quasi-boss types. Doesn't that mean their social organization is basically the same as a sentai team (like Power Rangers)?

  • Played ODST, and discovered, I quite like the guys who play Mal, Jayne, and Wash when Whedon isn't involved—Buck, Dutch, and Mickey have most of the same dynamic, though Jayne's whipping-boy role was passed off to Romeo. It's also kinda odd how the whole game is a sorta weird fanfic shipping Mal with Number 6 from BSG (or, more accurately, Carla from Burn Notice)—though apparently those two actors actually used to date.

  • How the hell do Elites eat, anyway, with that gap at the bottom of their mouths?

  • The Grunts reminded me of something I also noticed about the Yaotja (the critters in Predator): glowing blood is just a bad idea, if there's animals around who see in the visual spectrum (and considering the environment the Predators prefer, it makes no sense for them to see in IR, sorry). It's a bad idea to get more visible if you're wounded. In the Grunts' case, though, since they need breath masks, it might only glow in our atmosphere.

  • Noticed the Engineers are sorta a much cuter version of the Outsiders, the guys who sold humans the hyperdrive in Niven's Known Space. This is actually something I like about Halo: it's not ripping off Star Trek and Star Wars, it's ripping off Niven. Another example is the Halo rings, of course—not only are they Ringworlds, but they were built by the Forerunners, who have some connection to humanity...y' know, like how the Pak Protectors built the Ringworld? And the Brutes and Elites are sorta the two aspects of the Kzinti—the Brutes got the cannibal Leeroy Jenkins aspect, and the Elites got the Proud Warrior Race aspect. Cortana's thing about how Chief's unique because of his luck might also be a Ringworld reference, but that's a bit of a reach. And we all know what happened to Reach.
I'm deeply sorry for that pun.

Anyway, hitch up your britches, boys, gotta say some more 'bout Avatar, too.
  • Remember how I said how come the humans in Avatar don't just firebomb? For that matter, why not just neutron bomb? Or even glass the planet's surface? It would be justifiable if they had said the EM effects of nuking (or orbital bombardment) would screw up the Unobtainium—and that'd be a lot more justifiable if they'd had the stones to call the stupid rocks magnetic monopoles.

  • So, the exoskeleton that Quaritch uses. Uh, guys, why does it have a glass cockpit? At least use bulletproof glass (and therefore also giant-arrow-proof)! Actually, of course, we want our exoskeletons to have armored cockpits...preferably with armor made of an alloy you can only make in zero-g. The ones in Avatar make a Zaku look like the Big O.

  • How is it possible to combine genetic material from a species that breathes something toxic, with human DNA? Aside from the fact aliens probably wouldn't use DNA even if they do breath oxygen, whatever the Na'vi breathe probably doesn't work the same with the ATP-ADP process, now does it?

  • My little sister's friend actually pointed this out first—restoring my faith in mankind at a blow—but how the hell come the Na'vi have four limbs, when nothing else on their planet does? Those goofy double-forearmed ape things are their ancestors, right? Well, aside from it being ridiculous to have limbs fusing all willy-nilly, what, other than needing humanoid aliens, is prompting the change? And how is it that their arm musculature is anything like human, the internal anatomy showing no traces whatsoever of their ancestry? There's a lot of traces of the standard Carnivora anatomy left in the pinnipeds, aren't there?

  • Finally, y'all do realize that in the sequel, they'll discover another branch of the Na'vi called the Ta'tl, right? And then another race called the Mid'na? How is it that nobody's decided to caricature the message of the film as, in environmental terms, "Hey! Listen! Watch out!" Seriously, how did nobody notice the Navi serve the great frigging Deku tree?


I'm Not Analyzing Tsundere For You, I Just Don't Want It To Go Unanalyzed

Well, I just finished watching Asu no Yoichi; it ain't great, but it's decent—and it provides useful examples in the use of the de gozaru construction, which are of use in writing samurai. But it got me to thinking about tsundere characters, because Ayame, the second sister, is one. The amount of analysis and thought I am about to expend on this topic should shame and disgust us all.
  • Remember here, when I said one of the aliens in my SF book is tsundere? I don't really think she is, actually—she isn't tsun-tsun, just extremely crabby (unto outright bitchiness), and she doesn't do the dere-dere flip (yes, there's technical terminology for tsunderes—weep with me, for humanity, into the cold cold night). One of the other characters, one of the revived samurai, is pretty tsundere, although she doesn't get a love-interest till the third book in the trilogy; she just puts up a tsun-tsun front toward people she's actually pretty fond of. Which leads into

  • the fact that tsundere, properly so-called, only works because the tsun-tsun is insincere. It's a front, a defense mechanism. That's why the alien gal in my book isn't one: her bitchiness is entirely sincere. But the samurai girl (same book) pretends to be crabbier than she is, because she's very conflicted about what she wants from life and other people.

  • This is actually the interesting thing about tsundere—all the truly successful ones are girls who are actually very, very insecure. Louise the Zero is bad at (non-void) magic; Palmtop Taiga is short, flatchested, and neglected; Ayame's always comparing herself to her sister. Even Shana (who isn't actually all that tsundere, especially considering who does her voice) is a weakling among Flame Hazes. The hook for the character—the thing that generates all the moe (he said, feeling dirty as he typed the word)—is that they're so sad. Without a fundamentally vulnerable, insecure nature, there's no reason for the tsun-tsun—and the dere-dere isn't as satisfying, either. You're supposed to root for the tsundere girl because you want her to finally catch a break.

  • This is why there aren't really many tsundere male characters, or rather why the equivalent of tsundere works very differently with males. Actually Washizu in Asu no Yoichi would be an example of the type (which is probably why he's much more successfully paired with Ayame than with the girl he actually likes). Rather than being standoffish and defensive, a man with similar insecurity is over-aggressive—because the place he's starting from is significantly more yang to begin with.

  • Tsunderes don't have to actually have love-interests, at all—lots of them are tsun-tsun to everyone, but then go dere-dere once they get to know them. As I said, the samurai girl in my book is like this; she doesn't get a love-interest till the third book of the trilogy, and she's mostly tsun-tsun to her friends and family, only going dere-dere when she's worried they might die.

  • The term "tsundere" gets thrown around a lot; I am, as I mentioned, guilty of its overuse myself. Some people seem to think any violent girl is tsundere, like the various Takahashi Rumiko heroines. Only, they're not really tsun-tsun; they, like the alien gal in my book, are just ill-tempered. Tsun-tsun is an attitude, not a pattern of behavior; though Taiga and Louise are just as violent as Kagome or...the chick who's always bludgeoning Ranma, they're still cold and hostile when their love interest is behaving himself; Ranma's friend and Kagome are excessively dere-dere when their wrath isn't stirred.

  • The other thing tsundere isn't, is abusive—which a lot of morons say it is. In actuality they really just don't care for the character type; but rather than advance arguments founded on aesthetics, or acknowledge that taste exists, they insist they have a moral problem. Bullshit. Anime slapstick, since the cartoons are usually targeted older, is often more explicit. It's no more abuse when Louise beats Saito with a riding crop till he can't move, than it's assault with a deadly weapon when Fubuki beats the Maid Guy bloody with a spiked metal club. No kidding there's a problem with domestic abuse; people don't treat their coworkers as well as they should, either. You can't go calling foul on one fictitious, stylized portrayal, or decry the possible social effects of one kind of work, unless you do it with all fiction. There are tenable criticisms of the concept of tsundere...but the people who don't like it, don't make them.

  • Finally, those tsundere cosplay cafes they have in Japan. Very NO! I mean, cosplay cafes are creepy enough, but to have strangers pretend to start off tsun-tsun, and then pretend to go dere-dere? Can I just chew on the pure essence of discomfort itself, instead?


If You Want to Send a Message, Try a Palantír

"By Jove!" said Flambeau, "it's like being in fairyland."

Father Brown sat bolt upright in the boat and crossed himself. His movement was so abrupt that his friend asked him, with a mild stare, what was the matter.

"The people who wrote the mediaeval ballads," answered the priest, "knew more about fairies than you do. It isn't only nice things that happen in fairyland."

—G. K. Chesterton, The Sins of Prince Saradine
I'd been meaning to comment on this, but thought it would go away. God, when will I stop deluding myself? Anyway, people's unwillingness to admit how stupid Dragon Age is, has forced me to comment on the crappy, politically-correct fantasy stories nowadays, of which it is typical. Also, its elves suck, also in a typical manner.

Aside from how pathetic Dragon Age is, with its desperate attempts to be dark and edgy and grownup—like a foulmouthed twelve-year-old—it is also a lame-ass liberal screed from start to finish. Would you believe that they actually claim to have averted the Mary Sue-ness of elves? Yeah, except...they made them an oppressed ethnic minority. Oppressed by Imperialism, even! Why don't they just call it "Pointy-Eared Liberation Theology"?

Now, do not misunderstand. It's no better when right-wing BS creeps into fantasy—I have repeatedly implied, you may recall, that Terry Goodkind is a sexual predator. Admittedly that was 63% in jest (that's 7/11).

How about we all just leave our fricking politics at home, at least when we're writing about imaginary worlds? Fun facts: no system actually enfranchises the people, except mob rule, so the actual question is simply, "Does the elite minority making the decisions make good ones or bad ones?" It helps to have a code in place to ensure they make good ones, but whether it's noblesse oblige or a Constitution, it's really just an evolutionary selection-pressure on evildoers, rather than a deterrent. All systems suck about equally, because humans suck about equally—except really ridiculous totalitarian schemes, but those are relatively rare, like homicidal mania. The early Middle Ages was no worse than the Old West—actually the Vikings were nicer people than the Comanches, not that that's saying much—and the High Middle Ages was at least as good as the 1890s, minus a few material comforts. So shut yer mouths.

I had a story once (don't know if I'll ever finish it, or maybe re-work it into something else), a kind of Antediluvian, Conan/Lankhmar kind of thing, and I had a scene where a girl, who is a pickpocket, gets grabbed by her mark's slave. Her first reaction is, she gets angry that a slave laid hands on her. Because, in cultures with slavery, that is what the reaction would be. And I do not pause to explain that this is wrong; I do not assign her an elaborate, inaccurate, simplistic rationalization for why she feels that way; I simply say she is mad that a slave touched her. Because she is. Trust me, most of your assumptions about the world are no more rational than that: people get to do some things, and they don't get to do others, and most people simply assume the world works that way.

My other, indeed my main, point, though, is stop making elves into Sues. I even mean Tolkien: just stop it. They are not halfway between men and angels, like in Tolkien. Still less should they be the vehicles for AuthorFilibusters, like in Eragon. And making them "oppressed" is just as Sue-ish, only it's also got pseudo-Marxist victim politics—no thank you. Other attempts to "deconstruct" elvish Sue-ness are equally bad, and often show an attitude about women that is utterly vile—as in, "you deserve to star in a DJ battle between Vlad the Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory"-level vile. The glee with which the mouth-breathers talk about elves—especially elvish women—being enslaved and subjugated to humans, or orcs or trolls or other things, is the kind of thing that makes Joss Whedon's self-hating man-feminism look tenable.

Go back to the original stories about elves. You know who's the most accurate portrayal of an elf? Sesshômaru. Cold-blooded, fratricidal, "Aristocratic assassin"-is-the-title-of-his-debut-episode-forgodssakes Sesshômaru. Consider that "Elf" comes from the same root as "Albino" (it basically means "the pale ones"), and "Aes Sidhe" means "People of the Burial Mounds"—these are not safe people. At best, humans are pets to them. They're not nice, but they aren't bad, either, see—in the legends, far from being all lawless and crap like Yeats says, they seem to have a code that basically boils down to, "I don't want no trouble, but you bring me any, you don't go home happy." They do understand morality—they're not amoral—but it's not the same morality, because they're not human.

They aren't actually arrogant, either: they really have got the chops. In fact, it'd be more likely for them to fight the bad guys precisely because of their pride. It's something I wish had been in Harry Potter: where were all the pureblood wizards siding against the Death Eaters, precisely because Voldemort is a half-blood? Can you imagine the badassness? "You side with half-bloods!" a Death Eater yells. "You serve one," the loyalist pureblood says coldly, and then whips out the combat spells that, presumably, would be the only reason purebloods had any status to begin with (here's a fact, fact fans: aristocracies are never about bloodline, at first).

The Eldar (in Warhammer 40K, I mean, not Tolkien) are close, but they still have that BS arrogance and that tragic "dying race" thing. Tolkien did it a little better, but even his elves are "fading away". Only, why? Seriously, all this "Faery is retreating in the face of progress" stuff is just an unexamined convention from the Romantic movement. Question it. The best most of these idiots can do is say, "It is, and a good thing, too, because elves are scary"—which is true as far as it goes, but even it's an assumption. Why should the fairies be retreating in a modern setting, let alone a quasi-medieval one? "Oh, well, if they're still at their height," the half-educated say, "there's no reason for humans to be the dominant race." Really? How about, elves live in forests and inside hills, humans live out in the open? They're not competing for ecological niches.


Genre Confused

Wanted to call this "Genre-Queer"—admit it, it's funnier—but did not wish to give offense.

Anyhoo, in my wanderings through the Internet, I came across some idiot who said he didn't approve of the term "Dark Fantasy". He jumped (over a shark, one suspects) to the conclusion that the difference between Dark Fantasy and Horror was that Horror is "for boys" and therefore "serious," while Dark Fantasy (which does have a lot more female writers and readers) is "for girls" and therefore "frivolous" and "mostly about romance." He actually had the temerity to suggest that Warhammer—which he insisted on equating with 40K, the peon—should be "Dark Fantasy", being indisputably both "fantasy" and "dark", as if "low fantasy" didn't already cover it.

Someone just lost his talking privileges. See, "Dark Fantasy", as ten seconds with friggin' Google would've told him, refers to works featuring things originating in horror—especially vampires, but also werewolves and other things—but which are action- or love-stories, rather than horror. Seriously, how 'bout you do a bit of research before you start denouncing booksellers to the Stasi, Comrade?

TVTropes has a good rule of thumb (when you're more simplistically judgmental than tropers, by the bye, I recommend eating the handgun of your choice). It's something like, "If you have one vampire who's feeding on people, it's Horror. If there's a bunch of them, and the words 'vampire politics' are ever mentioned, it's Dark Fantasy."

But it got me thinking about genres and subgenres and all that type of thing. In no particular order:
  • Urban Fantasy: this and Dark Fantasy are often so close you can't slip a credit card between them; Dark is probably a subsubgenre of the Urban subgenre. The main difference is that in Urban, other critters, like fairies and elves, show up too—it's hard to say which the Dresden Files is, for instance. I'd blame this closeness in large part on White Wolf's World of Darkness—and you could do worse, as influences go.

  • Alternate History SF: this is the lazy man's imaginative fare. You can't be bothered to research science, so you won't write hard SF; you can't be bothered to learn sociology and modern literature, so you won't write soft/New Wave SF (where the S stands for Speculative); and you can't even be bothered to come up with a fantasy world, and write about that. No, you just write something about what you remember from history class—usually vastly oversimplified or just plain wrong. Even having a PhD in it is no defense—Turtledove knows no more about the Orthodox Church than the beasts that perish.

  • Steampunk: This is the exception to Alternate History, since many of these stories take place in alternate pasts. Usually it's spared by not going too deep into the history, and when it does it's usually inaccurate, but...well, we forgive a lot when it's as cool as steampunk often is. See also here.

  • Clockpunk: the medieval variant of steampunk, only it's always crap. Aside from recycling the same set of ahistorical canards, nobody who does these stories can be bothered to do a lick of research on medieval tech or science—if they had, they'd know it should be Campunk. See, cams (invented in the medieval era), connected to wind/waterwheels and used to drive machinery, were far more typical of medieval tech than clocks, though (as I have said before), the medievals had a perennial hobby of improving their clocks, merely for the hell of it ("because it's there" really only starts, in the West, in the medieval era). Sandalpunk (ancient steampunk) is even worse, BTW.

  • Space Opera: being in this subgenre is actually not related to the hardness or softness of a series, but to the particular tone of the plot. Iain M. Banks, incidentally, does not write space opera; he writes Transhuman post-cyberpunk that happens to be set in space. If that sounds like your idea of a good time...please tear up your voter card now.

  • Sword and Sorcery: just because a story's action-oriented fantasy, don't make it this. It's also gotta be fairly Low on the scale, though it needn't be completely amoral—more Elia Kazan than Mickey Spillane.

  • High Fantasy: this is more a question of tone than of scope. A story about saving one person from an evil wizard with a private grudge is still High, if it's idealistic, while A Song of Ice and Fire, despite dealing with the fate of a continent, is Low. And pointlessly sordid, like Post-Soviet Russian fiction.


More Political Than Usual

So, thought I'd mention a few things I noticed in politics of late. I tend to be center-right in practice—in theory I'm simply skeptical of any political movement not grounded in solid philosophy, which is to say all of them. Though I try to give any serious position a fair consideration, I admit I'm less charitably inclined to the left.

  1. The recent snowstorms (real bad here in northern Arizona) have given people cause to question "global warming", and point out about "global cooling". It is obviously manifest nonsense when people say, "the recent much cooler temperatures are a sign of global warming"; language either tells you what it means, or it doesn't, and screw Derrida.

    Why don't they say, "'Global warming' was a bit of a misnomer; it really means 'an increase in the extremity of global temperature, in both directions, caused by changes in atmospheric composition (among other factors)."? That actually is what "global warming" really means, folks, and always meant, only unfortunately the name is wrong—because "global warming" and "melting polar icecaps" made for good political theater, to literally scare up support for the desired environmental policies. Incidentally, the Northern icecap's melting, but the Southern one's getting thicker; the asymmetry could cause any number of problems of its own, but that too is much too complex to be politically useful.

    I am entirely agnostic on the question of anthropogenesis, vis-a-vis climate change. I merely offer the remarks that Mars' temperatures are changing too; and that correlation does not imply causation, but that fact does not mean we can rule causation out.

  2. A recent difficulty in the school district where my father teaches, brought the people's grotesque ignorance of economics to my notice. A parent wrote to him, angry that he advocated closing one of the schools because of budget shortfalls (it's the only way, Arizona's education policies have left the district finances ill-prepared for recession). She accused him and the teachers' union of trying to protect, in essence, their own posteriors at the expense of all else.

    It's not really relevant, but bears remarking, that Arizona teachers' unions are anemic little creatures, too weak to do much good, let alone harm—they are not the kind of bloated monsters they have in say New York. This policy was agreed by teachers and district alike, as the only way.

    Anyway, though, she mentioned in the course of the message that she is a realtor. That is, she's a member of a profession whose associations make the Bar look toothless and meek: she's a member of a guild. More power to her and hers, but there is a certain lack of largess in a professional—a burgher, as it were—complaining when those in a proletarian condition attempt to protect their livelihood. The serfs may not be pretty when they rally in their rude village assemblies, but they haven't got a guild to protect their economic interests, madam.

  3. So, Roger Ebert has been making himself unpleasant about the Tea Party movement. I have little sympathy with the movement's knee-jerk libertarianism, but neither have I much for the economic policies they are protesting. But Ebert and others have crossed a line, by dubbing them Teabaggers. It's not even a very good insult, considering it can also be the sign of having pwned their opponents, but you're pretty much out of bounds when you call a huge swath of your countrymen a name that derives from, well, that.

    But then Ebert—who, you'll recall, not only thinks Darwin proved vampires are impossible but doesn't know when Darwin lived—had a little quiz on his Twitter...thing (I don't know the terminology of Twitter, having a soul and all), about civics, trying to show Tea Partiers how ignorant and stupid they are.

    Only they're all either opinion or trivia. For instance,
    What party would Abraham Lincoln join today?
    Opinion, idiot.
    Was Nelson Rockefeller a vice-president of the United States?
    Does it even remotely matter who any vice-president is, unless they become president?
    Spell the names of any five "red states" in the 2008 presidential election.
    Because as we all know, people who are bad at spelling are subhuman. Then again Ebert doesn't know "recommend" has two Ms.
    Did George Washington sign the Declaration of Independence?
    Did he really have wooden teeth? Who gives a tinker's damn?

    Here's some questions for you, Ebert: How is authorial control surrendered in a Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda game?

    Name one film more intellectually exacting than Xenosaga.

    Who the hell uses "serious literature" unironically?

    Is anyone interested in the opinions of a chubby pompous red eunuch on anything other than film, considering he's simplistic and illiterate on that, too, most of the time?

    When you lose an argument to Clive Barker, do you have to kill yourself, or is it merely "good form?"


Just Because You Are a Character...

...doesn't mean you can write characters. But just go back in there, chill them writers out, and wait for the advice that should be coming directly. And if my answers frighten you, then you should cease asking scary questions.

Ahh, a string of Pulp Fiction references. That's the stuff, man.

Anyway. Ever notice that, in SF, the characterization sucks? "Oh," all these people say, "but SF is written according to different rules, and the characters aren't as important as the ideas and setting."

It's cute that they say that, thereby revealing themselves as ignorant of literature as the beasts of the field.

See, the way it really works is, SF, with the exception of New Wave and its ilk, is not actually novels, it's romances—an entirely different literary form, as different as drama from comedy. Other than New Wave, SF's not a psychological character study, it's a story where things happen.

But, or rather BUT, that doesn't mean you can get away with the kind of characters SF usually tries to fob off on us. Consider the best romances in English—Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stephenson. Is Long John Silver not a character? There're characters in Ivanhoe, aren't there (though Scott was lousy at writing women)? Hell, for that matter, Chesterton largely wrote romances, not novels, and I dare you to find better characters than Evan MacIan and James Turnbull.

Meanwhile the characters in Heinlein or Niven make Ayn Rand look like Charles Dickens. They're very largely vehicles for exposition; at best, they're automated blow-up dolls for the sex scenes. Yes, C.J. Cherryh is a bit better—Pyanfar and company certainly have personalities, heck some of the kif are a hell of an attempt at really alien characters, but on the whole, SF that even bothers with science is an embarrassment, characterization-wise.

I frankly think the weakness is due to bad philosophy—specifically, pseudo-scientific reductivism. You really get the impression that Heinlein, and especially Niven, aren't writing about people, they're writing about anthropoids. The best characters Niven ever wrote were in some of the earlier Known Space stories—World of Ptavvs' characters are actually downright good—but he lost the ability completely by the time of Ringworld, with the occasional exception of a Gil Hamilton story.

Unfortunately, humans can't be reduced to a model—that's why sociology and psychology are either soft sciences, or complete nonsense. Often immoral nonsense, e.g. B. F. Skinner. While it's perfectly fine to have some event in a story determined by some scientific theory (economic and games-theory theories are popular choices), a character can only be created according to the same rules as characters in the rest of fiction.

My advice, to rectify this weakness of SF, is emphatically not to read or copy "mainstream" fiction, nor those kinds of SF where the S stands for Speculative rather than Science because they're not about science, just about future/alternative conditions. See, mainstream fiction, and most non-science speculative fiction, are not romances. They're novels—a completely different kind of fiction. No, to write better SF, you've got to turn to other kinds of romance. Good Westerns—Zane Grey, for instance—can be useful models for how to handle characterization in a romance, as can the classics, like the aforementioned Scott, Stephenson, and Chesterton; Dickens too, come to think of it. Spy fiction and mysteries suffer from the same problem as SF, since the need to construct intrigues or crimes tends to interfere with characterization. They sometimes escape by having the same character over time (Jim Chee, anyone?), but even that doesn't save most spy fiction—who the hell is James Bond, really?

PS. It occurs to me, considering what "Ptavv" means in Thrint, that World of Ptavvs and Land of the Blindfolded have the same title.



Ah, cyberpunk. What a world-ruiner that one was, huh? Oh, sure, it had style for miles, but its intellectual pretensions...are pretensions, I kinda included my conclusions in my premises. At least the British New Wave writers largely limited themselves to writing about things they knew—that's why all their stories are about unlikeable people living in totalitarian squalor. Zing!

But cyberpunk...Gibson and Sterling know what, exactly, about the sociology of the Information Age? Actually, we as a species know what, exactly, about it?—since so many of our sociologists who study it seem to take cyberpunk's assumptions as given. I wish I could write stories about a field before it really exists, and color the way people study it for a generation—Roddenberry did it to space exploration, you know? Maybe I'm overestimating cyberpunk's influence; maybe cyberpunk, as a soft SF venue, just assumes the same things as sociologists, and I'm making a cum hoc ergo propter hoc error. But it's much cooler if cyberpunk managed to skew a whole field of social science, so I'm gonna assume that.

Seriously, cyberpunk's take on punk...guys, y'all do know "punk" is actually Libertarian bordering on the Anarchist, right? 'Cause everything in cyberpunk is pretty much standard American-leftist boiler-plate—the megacorps aren't evil 'cause they're The Man, they're evil because of greed; the governments aren't evil 'cause they're The Man, they're evil because they're corrupt.

See, that's not how punk is supposed to work. In punk, it doesn't matter if The Man is quite altruistic, it doesn't even really matter if he's right, it matters that he's The Man and he's trying to control us, i.e. Keep Us Down, Man. People don't like to be meddled with, as River put it: when Joss Whedon is more punk than you, you're officially not punk. Yes, that undoubtedly makes you a smarter, more thoughtful person, but the trade-off for that is you don't get to call yourself punk.

The politics of cyberpunk are not the worst part, though. That laurel is for the brows of the philosophy. The whole mind-uploading, cyber-clones, contempt for the "meat", thing? Platonist body-self dualism, with shades of Puritanical angelism—the really smutty elements, characteristic of the genre, are just Albigensianism (the body being contemptible, nothing you do with it matters).

But wait, it gets worse. Does cyberpunk posit that the Net, the Web, the Grid, is somehow akin to the Realm of Form, that it will allow the apprehension of pure Ideas? You should be so lucky. No, cyberpunk has given the world the most epic intellectual Fail since...no, actually, this is one of the top 3. I mean, of course, cyberspace. Cyberspace is a VR game that hackers use to interact with data—because Gibson is not (by his own admission) knowledgeable enough about computers or (probably also by his own admission, to be fair) talented enough as a writer, to present scenes of realistic hacking that are remotely interesting. Only, see, "cyberspace" has been done before. It's called Manichean cosmology, and it's the source of some of the smartest-assed smartass parts in Augustine (second only to "What was God doing before he created the Universe?"—the answer being, "Time is a part of the Universe, 'before the Universe' is a contradiction in terms, but thank you for playing.")

The Manicheans believed the cosmos was made up (essentially) of two infinite spaces on top of one another, sharing a whole side, the spiritual one on top and the material one on the bottom. Only, as Augustine said (not without a sneer—which he earned, he used to be one), "How can spirits be above anything? 'Location' is a physical trait, geniuses." Cyberspace, same thing—except that, admittedly, it is just a user interface...the worst one possible, according to many experts. Which is user-friendlier—point and click, occasionally type, or run around a VR game punching viruses?

Fortunately, cyberpunk is essentially dead; it's been reborn as one bad thing and a few good ones. The bad thing, is post-cyberpunk—just as philosophically crappy, but at least it's abandoned its "countercultural" pretensions (that's why it's sometimes called "cyberprep"). The good things are the style it's passed on, just vastly improving the way we imagine future computer science—except for that damn "cyberspace" nonsense, but actually people don't even do that as much anymore. And then there's steampunk and its variations, on which this person can be of far more help to you than I.


Things They Know That Just Ain't So

Thought I'd do a "Reality Check"-type thing again, this time relating to people's mental associations and verbal shorthand.
  • Despite TVTropes and others using them as a catchword for extremists, the Knights Templar were actually the first to formally decide that the Peace of God (which protected noncombatants) applied to infidels.

  • Ever hear the phrase "sexist Neanderthal"? Turns out, part of why the Neanderthals were displaced was that they had males and females going on hunts, while Cro-Magnons had sex-role specialization in food gathering, improving their efficiency in acquiring nutrients.

  • The Vichy government was not Fascist: they were the exact kind of corrupt Parliamentarians Fascism was a(n over)reaction against.

  • Despite what right-wingers will tell you, the Founding Fathers were pretty much protectionists to a man; "Free Trade" is a mid-19th Century thing.

  • Vichy might not have been Fascist, but FDR was—not a Socialist. Everything in the New Deal is cribbed from Mussolini. Okay maybe he was just a Corporativist in economics...but the Japanese-Americans might like a word about that.

  • The French have surrendered fewer times, to anyone, than the Germans have surrendered to them. There's a reason everyone's military terminology—including the Germans'—is mostly from French.

  • I know I've said this before, but the Middle Ages used less, and milder, torture than the Renaissance or even the so-called Enlightenment. One of the things the Renaissance brought back was the Roman penal code (executive summary: ouch).

  • Far from having no concept of land ownership, most of the Western Indian tribes had land tenure as absolute as the Romans. Northeastern tribes didn't have land tenure—only use—because they were hunter-gatherers, while Plains Indians were nomads (mostly hunters); Western tribes are farmers.

  • Scots are not Celts, they're Anglo-Saxons—Lowlanders are, anyway, and the Highlanders are almost totally assimilated.

  • Far from being a triumph of rugged individualism, or a complete anarchy, the Old West only worked at all because communities banded together and wrought harsh penalties on miscreants. Yeah, kicking heels with your throat in a rope (Swinburne) because you slapped a saloon floozy is a little harsh (and yes, it really happened), but it's about the opposite of Sam Peckinpah, huh?