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branchandroot: two hands drawing each other (drawing each other)
In some ways, I see these two characters as two sides of the same coin, that coin being strategy.

Akashi's particular strengths are associated, in the story, with shougi, a complex strategy game which includes the possibility of captured pieces being deployed against one and the promotion to new mobility of almost all the pieces upon penetrating the opponent's territory. We have yet to see exactly how this plays out in a game, but it suggests a strong ability to think ahead, to model branching possibilities with unpredictable variables, and to correctly perceive the strengths and weaknesses of the "pieces", the players, in question.

Kuroko's ability to pass with the speed and accuracy he does suggests that he can track the flow of the game with a similar kind of perception. He must know where all the players are, where they are moving, and where their attention is, in order to perform his misdirection while getting the ball into the hands of a player open to move or score. More than once, we see him passing to where a moving player is going to be, or passing behind himself to a player he cannot see at that particular moment.

There is another possible coin here, though, which is less clearly shown as yet. I might call this coin leadership or guidance or direction.

In Akashi's case, it's clear he possesses this quality; it's just not clear yet why or how it operates. We know he was captain at Teikou for at least two and possibly all three years. We know he is now, as a first year, captain of the Rakuzan team, and that all the older players, who are powerful and well known in their own rights, show no objection to or resentment of this fact. Perhaps it's as simple as Akashi's strategic ability being obvious and overwhelming. Perhaps he will be shown to have a great deal of charisma, though I personally doubt this; his affect is very quiet and understated so far, and his old team doesn't respond to him in ways that suggest charisma, to me. My money is on overwhelming talent and perception, with a touch of megalomania on the side.

Kuroko, with an even more understated and quiet affect, is a little subtler. But I find it notable that every time he suggests a strategy to his teammates, it's adopted. Even Kagami, who argues volubly with their senpai, listens to Kuroko. Indeed, Kuroko is often the one who steps in to end Kagami's arguments with the coach and captain. To be sure, he often does this by punching/jabbing/facepalming Kagami one, but this is indeed what works with Kagami. Hyuuga is the captain, Izuki the play-maker, Aida the coach; Kuroko defers to all of them and none of these are authorities are compromised. But there are also repeated comments on how taking Kuroko off the court makes the team less cohesive. Ironically enough for a shadow-player, if there's anyone who has charisma, here, I think it's Kuroko. What he doesn't show any sign of is Akashi's raw talent and drive, or perhaps obsession.

I have to wonder whether it will turn out that only Akashi and Kuroko put together constitute the kind of leader we're used to seeing in this genre, and that part of the plot tension and complexity is produced precisely by separating that archetype of powerful-and-charismatic into two characters who appear to have different and competing visions of what a team should be.
branchandroot: butterfly on a desk with a world in a bottle (butterfly glass desk)
One of the things that fascinates me about Kuroko no Basuke is the way it messes with its own genre.

Shounen sports manga or anime generally center around an underdog or unknown team who, by determination and effort, by the talents of a few older players and the heretofore unrevealed talents of one or two younger players, struggle through the gauntlet of local tournaments to play at the national tournament for their age group. It's a genre that focuses on the value of teamwork and grit and entices the audience with the figure of the often unprepossessing and average young hero who discovers his special talent and value thanks to entering this sport. He even finds himself supplied with a new set of intense personal relationships, usually in the person of his rival(s) but sometimes also in his team. For a relatively recent and very well executed, example of the genre, I recommend Eyeshield 21 (at least up until the end of Nationals, at which point the way the authors play with cliche dives over the shark into disturbing national stereotypes).

The thing is, the focus is on the hero's growth. He starts out inexperienced or undisciplined and has to strengthen himself to meet every new level as the team claws its way up the charts. This is where the plot tension comes from. The team almost invariably suffers a loss somewhere in the first half of the story, one that sets them back but does not completely wash them out, and which spurs them to new heights of determination and growth. In the end, the team, and the hero, realize their true strength and overcome.

Kuroko no Basuke starts where most series end.

Read more... )
branchandroot: empty veranda at dawn (veranda)
Yesterday I had occasion to discuss with someone unfamiliar with fanfic why fanfic is not "easier" than origific because "half the work is already done". This is, of course, a hoary old chestnut often put forward by people who have never tried to write both forms, and much verbiage has already been expended on it, but this time something new occurred to me.

I think I have finally found a use for Plato's damn Cave.

In brief, the Allegory of the Cave suggests that the reality we see around us is merely a shadow of some higher reality of Forms (platonic ideals), as people confined facing a cave wall with a fire behind them would only be able to see the shadows on the wall of actual objects in the cave with them.

Now, I think the Allegory of the Cave is a useless bit of self-congratulatory twaddle, when it comes to models of human perception in general, but it does seem to have some particular applicability to written fiction.

A good writer does a whole lot of world-building that never makes it directly onto the page. Just think about all the memes that go "name a character/fandom and I'll tell you X many things from my personal head-canon/mynon/etc about them". The words on the page are, if you will, the shadow of what the author built up in their mind, in their storytelling space. That building always has to be done; the author has to know all those little details. Without that, the shadow won't look convincing or have weight. But a shadow is still all that makes it onto the actual page. An author going to write fanfic has no direct access to the vast majority of the last round of world-building.

This means that, when writing fanfic, all that world-building must be done again from the ground up and it must be done in such a way that the text/shadow it makes on the page overlaps smoothly with the first text/shadow. This must be done without having ever seen the "object" that cast the first shadow, because that "object" only exists inside the first author's head. All the next author has to work with is the shadow.

When an author doesn't do the world-building, then they write a shoddy story. Fanfic or origific, lack of world-building detail results in an incoherent, inconsistent, or flat story. On top of this, when a fan author doesn't manage to make their shadow overlap sufficiently with the source shadow, then the story fails as fanfic. Fanfic does not have any of the work done already; what it has is an extra requirement in the building process. (This is, of course, modified by the fact that fan readers will forgive a whole lot of not-overlapping if the fan author still manages to give them sufficient id-candy tagged with appropriate names and outfits, just like origific readers will forgive a whole lot of shoddy world-building if the author gives them sufficient id-candy, period.)

So there we go: Plato's Cave of Condescension finally serves a useful purpose. Remix, reuse, recycle.
branchandroot: leafy forest path with mist (forest path with mist)
So, what do we mean when we say that Laurel K Hamilton is writing fanfic of herself? What do we mean when we say Twilight is fanfic? There are a lot of circumstances and skills encompassed by the word "fanfic", and I think it would be helpful to actually name some of them separately. Among other things, it might help us be able to say what it is we like about any piece of writing and what we don't like, more specifically and with less fire-hazard.

I started by trying to separate out the skill sets involved. Formulating the difference between writing fanfic and writing origific is always slippery, but one of the things that's come to mind recently is: fanfic relies on the skill of seeing what isn't there but could be.

This is, in some ways, a response to the hoary old fallacy of fanfic as "training wheels", which is absurd. The mechanical skills are transferable, yes, but the worldbuilding and characterization skills are not. All you have to do is read the first books of a few people who switched from fan to origi writing--they're right back to square one.

Fanfic happens when we see a character shape or story shape that isn't there but resonates anyway. Hence Leather Pants Draco, and his popularity. The readers see, accurately, the character shape that could provide a dramatic foil to Harry. That shape is not the one that Rowling used, but the way a more vivid anti-hero might interact with Harry is a deeply appealing one. Similarly, hence the safe-house trope in Gundam Wing fic. The characters never all live together, or even work together for long, in canon, but the viewers see, accurately, the plot shape that could provide more powerful and dramatic character interactions, and that shape demands a band of brothers, working together.

This is not a skill set that any author, writing from scratch, is ever going to use. Origific requires choosing a single path, a single form for characters and plot. Alternate possibilities just go on back into the idea-melt. Origific is the first swipe. It can't be the second.

We have spent so long valorizing the Solitary And Original Artist that we tend to think it's the first of those that matters, that takes the most work, that has the most value. But I have to say, I enjoyed Maya's HP fic a great deal more than Brennan's Demon's Lexicon trilogy. I would like to see fanfic writers give themselves more credit for what they do. The things readers and viewers see, that aren't there, are very often powerful and desirable shapes. Bringing them forth is a worthy project.

So one thing I think people mean when they say that some (usually very popular) book is fanfic-ish is that it has struck, on the first go, one of those powerfully resonating shapes and run with it.

One of the skill sets that is sometimes held in common is how to write in a shared world. It's a very particular skill. One has to take account of what the other people have written, the history that has already been created, and fit one's own ideas into the mosaic. It also means not repeating all the world-introduction every time while still conveying the major points for those who may be coming in relatively cold. That last applies to an un-shared world, too, if it shows up in an extended series.

The dark side of this is that sometimes authors get lazy. They don't even bother hitting the major points, but just dive into the story, let the previous characterization or canon carry all the burden of development, and assume that any reader who isn't familiar with that has only themselves to blame. This is one of the other things people seem to mean when they call origific fanfic-ish. It is not a particular weakness or tendency of fanfic, though. It's a weakness of lazy writers everywhere. It may show up in somewhat higher absolute numbers, in fanfic, because fanfic is, by its nature, a shared world writing form. But proportionally, based on an unscientific survey of popular commercial series and popular fic, I'd say there are about as many lazy writers on either side.

So there are two things that came to mind when I thought about what we can mean by "fanfic" as an adjective. *tosses it out to her readers* Any others to throw in the pot?
branchandroot: Fay with mask (Fay mask)
I was reflecting recently on how much it annoys me when assorted disgruntled fans accuse Embers of turning the right and justified world upside down, one way or another. It made me think about what Vathara really is altering, and what I do and don't like about Avatar itself.

For one, Vathara does indeed reverse some of the canon's polarities. For example, rather than highlighting the dubious morality of Zuko's actions and presenting the choices of Aang et al with a sympathetic gloss, Embers highlights the dubious morality of the Gaang's choices and presents a sympathetic view of Zuko's. I can actually see where this would result in the aforementioned fan grousing, though it does annoy me that the grousers can't be more precise about what they're actually objecting to. (The one about how Embers makes the Gaang into the villains is a good example of such unreflective overstatement.)

From there, though, the train of thought wandered off onto different tracks. )

So there are my Avatar thoughts for the week. And if you are ever in an Avatar pick-me-up, just remember: Aang is Miaka.
branchandroot: butterfly on a desk with a world in a bottle (butterfly glass desk)
And it is work. This is what I think a whole lot of people miss when they go to take their required literature course:

A lit class is not a class in art appreciation.

It is a class in analytical skills.

It doesn't help that a whole lot of lit teachers don't realize they need to say this out loud )
branchandroot: fractal in blue and gray spheres (fractal round)
Tangenting off a very helpful and thoughtful post on my dwircle this morning.

So. Analogy. Let us say that online discussion is quite like nuclear fission in some ways. A neutron (thought) is introduced. Among the nearby uranium (readers) it strikes one causing fission which results in new elements (a reaction) and, often, some more free neutrons (comments or another post).

The more uranium (readers) present, the greater a chance of reaction. This can be a benefit of link comms. If a post is linked, the number of readers will likely be far greater than it would otherwise, increasing the chance that the fission process (thought, response, thought) will become self-sustaining. Energy is produced, light and heat for everyone. The same thing, however, can also be a drawback.

The fission process can be controlled, as in a reactor, or uncontrolled, as in a bomb. A link comm that is selective in the neutrons (posts) it lets pass (links to) may function as a working reactor, with the control rods (link collectors) passing only some neutrons (thoughts) and absorbing others (flames, drama, pure dogmatism, etc.). A link comm that is not selective in the neutrons (posts) it lets pass (links to) will produce an uncontrolled reaction, overwhelming the coolant (common sense), and leading to a melt down. In the worst case, two pieces of uranium (posters) will collide directly causing a massive explosion.

Of course, the analogy has another step, not directly related to the link comms. In fandom, as in many other areas, the new elements (the reactions to posts) are very radioactive (intensely emotional). As in the actual reactor process, I have yet to see any suggestions or process for safely containing or disposing of these byproducts, so I suppose we just have to live with them. It's real life everywhere.

This is somewhat tongue in cheek, but not entirely. The people running link comms are not responsible for any idiocy on the part of their readers, but neither is what they create a neutral location. Shooting a neutron gun repeatedly at a critical mass of uranium is an action which should be known as such or else not performed.
branchandroot: Killua looking wry (Killua wry)
I think I've finally pinned down something that makes me twitch about the things one can find in English regarding the history and wearing of kimono. And this one is actually not the spectacle of white girls wanting to be geisha or otherwise appropriating culturally specific ceremonials, though that makes me twitch pretty damn bad. No, this one is subtler: the stunning class bias encoded in nearly every text, to the point that only one in fifty or so will even mention that the kimono styles they are all talking about are solely what the upper class wore in any given period.

When you read that site about jyuuni-hitoe, or that book about the history of kimono, or that message board about how to wear kimono today, and they all talk about "the history of kimono" or "the types of kimono" nary a word will you find about the fact that all these fashions and rules and standards and layers were exclusively those of nobles or the warrior class. Or that there were a lot more people than that walking around with clothing on that was, of necessity, far simpler and more utile, and that they are just as much part of this clothing history.

And I don't know if a similar erasure is part of the Japanese discourse of kimono. I suspect it is from the little snippets I've seen but a bit differently shaped--more part and parcel of the post-Civil War arrogation of warrior-class privileges to the general populace. Compare with the way everyone in the US will say they are middle class, blue collar and white, taxi driver to CEO.

Of course, the part of all this that amuses me mightily, from an historical perspective, is that the modern wearing of kimono, despite having been frozen by largely ceremonial use, has still managed to steadily inch its way further and further toward the working class and even peasant mode of clothing: one layer, simple ties. It reminds me, albeit reversed, of the way the merchant class got around the sumptuary laws: put the good stuff on the inside. Or, in this case, reduce the layers and ties on the inside by using clip-ons and decorations that are stitched in place.

But is there any mention of this, or even of the fact that people existed who were not wearing twelve layers of silk according to the season? Vanishingly little. Argh.
branchandroot: Ginji and Akabane with a heart (Ginji Akabane Heart)
Actually, this is a lot broader than that, but that was one of the places this post started. The other was Rana's comment on a different post, words to the effect that the fan-cultures in question seem to divide themselves based only on some very fuzzy Orientalism.

I agree that fuzzy Orientalism is the most regrettably common way Western fans of similar media from different national/ethnic groups (eg comics and manga) express their differentiation. That particular expression is generally a lot of hot air, yes.

But I also think there are real fan-culture differences, touching on though not always rising directly from the mother-culture differences of the sources. This is my attempt to articulate the ones that I've seen. Warning: generalizations ahead, though not baseless ones.

ETA: To elaborate, this post is based on my own and my circle's experiences in various fandoms; unfortunately I managed to phrase things rather more generally and universally than I quite realized at the time. *rueful* None of the following is actually meant to be a Declaration Of How Fandom Is Everywhere. That said, the experience in question is not a narrow one, and I think the following is representative of a significant section of manga (and anime) fandom participants.

Let's look at this. )

Now, what I would be interested to know is: do the same kinds of differences show up in the Western fandoms of Western and Asian TV? Or of Western bands and Asian bands? And do they manifest in gaming fandoms? That last especially interests me, since the game sources seem to be the most self-aware of the trans-Pacific trade.

ETA: As per suggestion, I would like to point out that I have not been present for the bulk of wrangler discussions on associated issues. These are thoughts going off in a different (somewhat) direction, so please to be not be bringing other fights in here. I am an unaligned polity.

ETA some more: Will not be replying to further comments on this one because work has descended for the term. Talk among yourselves if you like.
branchandroot: apple and tape measure (apple measure)
Short form: It doesn't work.

I run into this when I'm teaching first year writing, too. Students will ask things like "how long should the introduction be", and the answer isn't "one paragraph for a five page paper and two for a ten page paper". No, the answer is "long enough to introduce the topic and give any background information your reader needs, not so long that you start to get into your body arguments before you actually get to the body". They ask "so, is three pages too long" and I can't answer in any meaningful way without actually reading the paper. It might be. It might not. Pages are the wrong yardstick with which to measure, because it's the content that matters.

For similar reasons, the infamous advice to cut adverbs is useless when accepted and deployed uncritically. The more useful rephrasing might be: Persistently using adverbs as a shortcut, in place of giving some meaningful description of the characters' actions or thoughts, will make the story shallower, and adding them where there are already sufficient cues will make the story sloppier. The more useful initial phrasing might have been: Identify the techniques you are prone to overuse and remember to pay attention to those while you're editing.

Of course, that doesn't sound nearly so satisfyingly solid and simple, does it? It's not as catchy as "The road to hell is paved with adverbs". It sounds less like "fewer than three pages" and more like "not so long you start writing body arguments".

Prescriptive advice isn't always wrong, but it isn't going to be right, either--again, those are the wrong yardsticks. It universalizes the particular way of writing that worked for one author/reader or even a group of authors/readers. It borrows the false authority of absolutism instead of putting in the work of self-examination that might yield the far more useful explanation of why, in that particular case, a particular writing approach worked.

So to anyone who is tempted to write a how-to or a this-is-better: try to remember that your view is specific and particular, not universal, and do the 'why' work. It's just as necessary in non-fiction as it is in fiction.
branchandroot: Miako sparkling (Miako lovelove)

Notice: This is a repost of an entry; the first was cruelly devoured in a crossposting glitch and all the lovely comments with it. If anyone wants to comment again or more I will be perfectly pleased to carry on the conversations.

So, here’s the thing. I’m all in favor of having books that are id-candy, brain-fluff, that demand nothing from your intellect and instead go straight on to punch your emoporn joybuttons.

This is, after all, why I own three quarters of everything Mercedes Lackey has ever published.

But, first off, id-candy is a different thing from good writing. The joybuttons don’t care about bad grammar or triteness or slop, they just resonate to the character shapes that hit one’s kinks. Kinks are often trite and cliche, when you think about it. Id-candy is enjoyable exactly because it doesn’t make your brain engage, it doesn’t deal in subtleties, it doesn’t make you do any work. To get enjoyment out of genuinely artful prose, you generally have to think, to ponder even, to put in some work.

Saying that you enjoy your id-candy immensely and saying that your id-candy is great writing are very different statements. Among other things, the first is true and the second generally isn’t. (Unless you’re using a completely Utilitarian definition of “good”, and when people try to compare Rowling and Tolkien it is unfortunately clear that they are not employing such a definition at all.)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the hell out of trite, cliched slop, of course.

Let us consider Misty, for example. She’s the Queen of Exposition, has a tendency to extremely moralistic and preachy narrative, and drives home her morals with a ten pound sledge. She is guilty of the most egregious cultural flattening and caricaturization and the only thing that comforts me even minutely is that she does it to everyone, whitebread, ‘noble savage’ and orientalist alike. (I maintain that Ancient Egypt should take out a restraining order on the woman.) Her characters are flat, their angst is repetitive, and half the time the stories read like SCA handbooks instead of novels.

Nevertheless–three quarters, right there on my shelf, and I reread handfuls of them at fairly regular intervals. This is because they are excellent brain-fluff emoporn.

Also because they are not toxic. Her moralism can get wearing awfully fast, but at least they are morals I can agree with. Mostly.

That’s the second thing. You have to be careful of the id-candy that uses a moral framework that’s harmful to you.

The Twilight books are a prime example of this. The writing is no worse than most id-candy, but the value system those books are hung on is poison. It’s misogynist, racist, deterministic, conflates obsession and stalking with love, and runs the mobius strip of nihilism and femininity myths at full speed with special emphasis on death by/for childbirth. (I would not want to be this woman’s therapist, not without hazard pay). This id-candy has a razor blade in it.

Some people probably bemoan the loss of innocent fun now that we chop up Halloween candy before eating it to make sure there aren’t any evil surprises in it. I expect some people feel the same about their id-candy. But, you know, I’d much rather take the time to chop and evaluate than swallow a needle.

branchandroot: hand balancing a dagger (dagger hand)
Having once again witnessed LJ's own Patriot Act Squad in action, on an LJ news post, I am, once again, disgusted and saddened.

And I hope that attitude never, ever, ever sets in here at Dreamwidth.

It's exactly the same attitude that leads US citizens to insist that patriotism means unquestioning acceptance and, indeed, adulation of all aspects of one's country, and that criticism or the desire to change things invalidates one's citizenship and identity as a countrymember. This, of course, brings out in me a mighty need to beat them over the head with copies of Franklin and Jefferson until the typeface actually makes contact with their brains in one way or another.

Let us never, please, never fall into that trap of insisting that no one can stay who has any criticism. That's wrong. Worse, that's the kiss of death to an open source project of any kind. "Love it or leave it" is the counsel of fear, and I want my new home to stay braver than that.
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

So, a bunch of would-be allies have protested getting “flamed” or “piled on” or basically told to sit down and shut up, in Racefail 09, because they tried to join the discussion by contributing their own experience.

Well what did they expect?

In any discussion of privilege, stereotypes, oppression, agency, if you are on the plus side of the particular issue, do not try to join in with comments about your experience. It may seem like a gesture of sympathy and solidarity, but it isn’t. It’s you taking the focus away from the injured party. Don’t do that. It’s not about you.

Do not try to say that you are not privileged because, while you may be plus in this particular area, you are minus in others. For one thing, that’s flat wrong. If you are plus in this area, then you have privilege in this area. Trying to deny that by waving all the other areas in which you are minus just makes you part of the fail and ensures that the people who have to deal with a minus in the current discussion will have zero reason to respect your minus when that’s under discussion. For another thing, it’s beside the point. Because right now, it’s not about you.

Do not suggest that, yes, this is awful, and shouldn’t we all try to be colorblind (religion-blind, gender-blind, etc.). The only way anyone could imagine such a thing is a) possible or b) a good idea is by being plus in the area in question, and therefore not having to worry about it, not having to be aware of it constantly, not having to deal with how it makes you invisible or second class every day. Such a statement comes only out of a plus experience. Don’t make it. Because it’s not about you.

Do not, for the love of little pixels, try to tell anyone to calm down or be less angry. Do not try to join in by offering your own solution to the problem of being angry. Being angry isn’t the problem, it’s a reaction to the problem. More importantly, that isn’t your anger, so you don’t have any right to say what gets done with it. If it makes you uncomfortable, too bad. It isn’t about you.

You’re plus in a given debate and you still want to contribute? Listen. Don’t talk. Listen. Don’t tell about your own experience. Listen to someone else’s. Don’t deny the anger and don’t try to fix it. Listen to it. When you see another plus person failing in one of the above manners, step up and point out that it isn’t about them, and now is not the time for defensiveness or guilt. Now is the time for listening. Because the sad truth is that a lot of us listen better to people who are like us than to the people who actually have the experience under discussion. If you can redirect attention to where it currently should be, do it. That’s a bare first step, but it’s one that truly astonishing numbers of people seem unable to manage.

Also? Do not comment to this and prove the point in spades by talking about how your intrusion of your own experience into this or any similar discussion wasn’t like that. Because (all together now) it isn’t about you.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

So, one of the many and varied arguments surrounding acafen and anti-aca is about specialist vocabulary, how exclusive it is, and whether one can actually acquire it by reading Wikipedia, supposing one is interested in acquiring it in the first place.

In general, my own verdict on Wikipedia would be “no”, if only because most of the articles on theory are written by theorists and require the Western Philosophy base kit to understand (kind of like having a box of general Leggos before you get a special purpose pack).

And then, one day, I thought, well, could some of these concepts be explained differently? So that someone unfamiliar with the base kit could still grok it? And I thought, well, why not try? It came out fairly tongue-in-cheek, but it does seem possible to at least offer some place to start for conversational purposes.

So have a few litcrit concepts:

Semiotics: Word mean things, but how? They’re just sounds. Why do we all understand what the other person means by sounds like “table” or “car”, especially when it isn’t referring to any particular or present example? Let’s think about this.

Structuralism: We connect words to things by a set of rules, and those rules can be figured out. The rules are stable standards that can be scientifically mapped (and incidentally you should give us money and respect for doing so).

Post-structuralism: No, actually it’s all about context. We all flail around in a sea of sound and meaning, hooking up the two and unhooking them again as seems warranted by any particular group of people we’re trying to communicate with.

Deconstruction: Every action highlights its opposite. So if you walk south you have to define it as not-north, and therefore north is the most important thing even though you’re going south. So every attempt to connect sound and meaning destroys the meaning at the same time it constructs it. Let us make portmanteaus to describe this and explain at length how neat it is!

In conclusion, go read Ursula LeGuin’s “Bryn Mawr Commencement Address” from 1986. She’s one of the best writers I know at explaining complex ideas from the ground up.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

First the caveats: I don’t read even modern Japanese, far less 7th C Japanese, far less ancient Chinese, so my sources are all at one remove. I have tried to find ones that are not obviously biased in their translations and interpretations. Since this is a web essay, I have also tried to refer to web-sources, where I could find ones that seem reputable or are backed up from reputable paper sources. Nevertheless, this is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, and there are places where I had to make assumptions and guesses. Do not take this essay’s conclusion as an attested source, because it isn’t.


The Twelve Divine Commanders (Juuni Shinshou) who appear as the shikigami of Abe no Seimei and his alternates in current popular literature such as Yami no Matsuei and Shounen Onmyouji seem to have started life as a group of tutelary deities or personifications in the five element system, settling into twelve figures with elemental powers based on the ten heavenly stems and the twelve earthly branches.

Read the full account )

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

So, the Hale scandal has gotten me thinking again about privacy and business on the web. Have some random thoughts.

These thoughts aren’t about identity, or issues like outing fans; that was malice and vandalism in order to punish ‘competitors’ and gain traffic. Let us instead talk about privacy and anonymity on the web at large. Hale is trying to take advantage of business opportunities, so let us consider the kinds of information commercial sites can get about you, which has little to do with identity as fandom usually considers it.

A little background )

The thing is, we do all maintain balance of a sort. A thin thread restrains the merchants in question because they don't want to alienate their customers entirely. And the customers don't like finding out about how little privacy they may have, hence the voluntary policies that at least limit information trading. Even more than that, customers don't approve of dishonesty. When the extent of the Beacon network came out, when it was clear that Facebook had misrepresented it as something to share with friends and lied about the extent and of the information gathered, there was uproar. And Facebook backed down.

So Hale hasn't just been abrogating the mores of fandom. Indeed, she hasn't been acting within fandom at all; that was merely the front. She has also crossed the line for a commercial web-entrepreneur. She has suggested that her site was for fandom and/or historical research purposes, when, in fact, it is a commercial site. This is one of the few triggers just about guaranteed to anger and alienate prospective customers, thus demonstrating that not only is she a dishonest merchant but she's not even good at it.

I'll just be over here, watching the karma drop from a great height.
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

Continuing on with the What I Like series, I have been reflecting on where my genre fiction tastes intersect with my Literature tastes.

I enjoy a good deal of 19th C lit of all sorts, but the authors I am very especially fond of are Herman Melville and Virginia Woolf. Comparing them to my genre fic favorites and considering just what it is I enjoy, not just about reading them, but about analyzing them, I have concluded that I like authors who turn their brains inside out on the page.

But, and this is an important caveat, I also require a modicum of poetry to really hold my attention. That was my problem with Heinlein–well, one of my problems, to go along with my disgust for his rampant misogyny. His stories read as though he turned his brain inside out, indeed, and then just shook it over the page, squashed the pages together, and sent that off to the publisher like some kind of verbal Rorschach blot.

I require some linguistic artistry to go along with the brain-guts, otherwise I just get bored.

On reflection, this is often my problem with science fiction in general, at least the kind written by actual scientists and science associates, who, as a general rule, cannot write poetry to save their souls. Limericks, yes; poetry, not so much.

On a similar note, not only is brevity the soul of wit, it is the soul of keeping me reading. I have about the same tolerance for reading minute descriptions of machines as I do for reading minute descriptions of buildings and clothing, which is to say, very little. Jane Austin and David Brin both win on this score. Issac Asimov frequently loses and the less said of James Fenimore Cooper the better.

It’s really too bad there isn’t some kind of litmus test I can do on new books, a carefully calibrated metaphorical strip I could dip between the covers to see what colors it turned–whether I’d get that turquoise tinge that means poetry plus brain-guts or the flat indigo of just poetry. Which interests me about as much as just brain-guts, which is to say, yawn.  Jacket blurbs are worthless for this purpose.

Oh, well. I guess I’m stuck with standing in the aisle flipping through my prospective books and hoping for a bit of nicely turned gut phrasing to catch my eye.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

I think I have identified one of the things that leads me to like an author’s writing: when they write in several genres at once.

I knew Bujold did this, and Pratchett. But they’re both the kind of writers it’s easy to think of as simply exceptional. What I just realized, recently, is that some of my other favorites do this too. Barbara Hambly, for example.

Hambly writes science-fiction and fantasy. She writes horror. She writes historicals. She writes romance. And the thing is, she writes all of them at once. While any book of hers may lean toward one more than the rest, you can pretty much count on all those genre threads being in every book.

Of course, this means that she doesn’t usually follow most genre conventions of any of them.

Take the horror, for instance. Hambly’s books have plenty of it, whether gruesome and unknowable creatures from beyond the stars or the depths of human depravity and cruelty. But it’s never the point. It’s just there, and the characters have to deal with it. Which means she can’t be easily categorized as “dark fantasy” either, because the fantasy elements generally contribute to a very optimistic story, overall.

Or take the romance. Her books do generally feature multi-verse spanning, life altering love found at long odds. But her characters deal with it as one would expect people in the middle of deadly crises to do: “Wow, this is incredible! If we live, let’s have a good snog/marriage/deathless bond, okay? Now duck!”

As for the historical aspect, well even without her biographical blurb I’d have guessed she had either an advanced degree or an advanced hobby in history. Her narratives are chock full of little details that unmistakably set the stories in place and time. But it’s still the characters who are the point, not the details, and a lot of the books are set in places and times that didn’t actually exist, which makes it hard to call them historical fiction.

She writes against the genre grain, which I find charming. Also something I should probably keep in mind when next browsing the library or bookstore shelves.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

So, we as fandom and ficcers have gone around on the question of ratings quite a few times, and for quite a few reasons by now. The most peculiar and widespread round was probably triggered by the MPAA’s pissyness over archives using the NC-17 rating. Plenty of people in US fandoms still use G-PG-R-NC-17, of course, because it’s widely established and generally understood. Others, like ff.net, adopted the slightly altered version of K-T-M. Still others have come up with still more customized variations, and some people have argued that the written word should not have a rating system applied to it at all, and that it certainly isn’t to professional publications.

Ratings are pretty embedded in fandom practice by now, of course, and I doubt we’re getting rid of them. So we struggle on to find a system that says what we want it to say. One of the more recent contributions to the debate got me started thinking, though.

Ratings, as applied to fanfiction, work rather differently than ratings applied to other media, such as movies. For one thing, they’re self-applied and, for another, they don’t actually seem to be regulatory. I am not sure, though, that this fact calls for an alteration in the most commonly used ratings.

Let us start at the beginning. What do we use ratings to indicate?

One of the most common things seems to be sex. Among US fans at least, I believe this is inherited pretty directly from the MPAA, who place a completely disproportionate emphasis on sex as the primary gauge by which to restrict audiences.

This leads me off, though, to one of the major underlying questions: do we use ratings to restrict an audience? Or so we use them for another purpose?

Consider the use of the contested NC-17 rating in fanfiction. My impression in my own fandom sector, anime fandom, is that this rating is used more as advertising than for restriction. When an author wishes to warn off parts of the audience, for disturbing content let us say, such restriction is more often handled through the warning labels rather than the rating. The rating seems most frequently used to advertise the explicitness of the sexual and/or romantic content.

In some ways, then, it seems to me that we have taken in the MPAA focus on sex and subverted it. MPAA ratings are about restriction, and focus on the presence or absence of explicit sexual content disproportionate to the wide variety of other things that might justifiably restrict the audience. Fan use of those ratings is about audience selection and enlargement; we often use them to appeal to the audience that is looking for sexual content (at least in my corner and I think in others from what little I’ve seen of book/media/etc. practice).

There is, of course, another segment of fans that is interested specifically in restriction, or, as it’s most commonly expressed, keeping youngsters away from ideas they should not yet be exposed to. The actual content of those ideas, again, varies, but some of the frequently cited ones are sexuality, cruelty and/or violence, and bad language. Ratings, however, do not seem to come up in these discussions as much as mechanical restrictions, such as registration requirements for sites that contain variously defined mature material. This may be because this segment understands perfectly well that a rating never stopped any kid, especially from doing something as simple as clicking on a link.

So the actual utility of ratings for fandom texts seems to have very little to do with audience restriction. Rather, ratings seem to serve as a special-purpose label, one that can generally be counted on to address the sexual content unless the rest of the meta information specifically points in a different direction

The meta information can be reworked as a whole, so that the rating addresses something else and the sexual content is addressed in some other way. I do this in my own archive. But if a writer or reader desires greater precision or specificity, it is unlikely that a different rating system alone will deliver it. Ratings, by their nature, are very general and not comprehensive. Verbal labels seem far more likely to deliver, on that score.

Then, too, the MPAA scale has gained jargon meaning, among US fans. When I post to fandom forums and comms, I find myself swinging back to the MPAA scale in order to communicate with my potential audience in a way the community consensus understands. Considering this, it seems to me that, at least in my parts of fandom, our subversion of MPAA is already sufficient to its task. If the rating were the only meta information available, then it would not be, but meta information has become a form of composition all its own, and, looking at it, I think this may be a good thing after all. We are not making movies; we are not publishing novels; we are writing fic, and that is a medium of its own that calls for and evolves its own framework.

We might, in fact, think of our use of the G-PG-R-NC-17 scale as fic of MPAA, a notion that rather appeals to me.

February 2017

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