May 25, 2022

Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah

To save a young woman from a band of marauding students, Lord Simon bespelled her into the walls of his house, powerful magic he later discovers he cannot undo.

Determined to free her from this prison of wood and stone, Lord Simon consorts with grave robbers and physicians, politicians and priests, twisting the arms of the powerful and the profane in every profession. As his reputation and his house crumble around him, his obsession to save a woman long thought dead threatens to drive him mad.

The third installment in the Roesia series, Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah encompasses the events in Richard: The Ethics of Affection and Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation.

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The Roesia Series

Tales of the Quest
Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah
Richard: The Ethics of Affection
Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation

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May 21, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/27)

I've posted chapter 27 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

The kanji for the ririki (狸力) are tanuki (raccoon dog) and "energy." In Chinese mythology, the ririki (or lili) resembles a boar with claws for feet. It barks like a dog and roots in the ground for food.

The youma species in the Twelve Kingdoms is much bigger.

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May 18, 2022

Mary Sue to the rescue

The eponymous character, originally named Lieutenant Mary Sue, was created by Paula Smith in her short 1973 parody of Star Trek fan fiction. Editing a Star Trek fanzine, Smith had noticed the predominance of stories that featured

the adventures of the youngest and smartest person ever to graduate from Star Fleet Academy and ever get a commission. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm wrestling, this character can be found burrowing her way into the good graces of Kirk, Spock, or McCoy, if not all three at once. She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship.

The Mary Sue can be simply summed up as a character who is too good to be true, having acquired more skills and talents and positive personality traits than our most generous expectations suggest is realistically possible.

Put the Mary Sue shortcut down to the rush of wish fulfillment or to impatient writers who want to fast forward to the "interesting" scenes. Or who think they are giving the audience what it wants to see. You know, because practicing to get good at something is for chumps.

Meeting all these criteria, a recent Mary Sue par excellence is Rey in The Force Awakens.

Yoda himself can't keep Luke Skywalker from getting badly beaten by Darth Vader in the second movie. Forget about crossing swords with anybody in the first. But Rey is an expert the first time she touches a lightsaber. She's as good a pilot as Han Solo the first time she sits in the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon.

Now, Luke does have a Mary Sue moment at the end of A New Hope, when he pilots an X-wing starfighter to victory. No, logging a couple hundred hours in a Cessna 172 does not mean you can hop into an F-35 Lightning and out-fly the Top Guns who've been at it for years.

We give Luke a pass here thanks to the narrative trick of making the audience a participant in the trials, travails, and eventual triumphs of the protagonist. As the help wanted ads put it, having proved his mettle, we'll let the good guy skate by on "equivalent experience" in lieu of a resume.

The problem with Rey is that's she's perfect from the moment she appears on the screen. We never see her resume. We never see her burning the midnight oil. Making it all the more annoying, as I outlined in my review, is that it would not have been difficult to give her one.

The big irony of the Mary Sue and its Star Trek origins is that The Next Generation wrote one right into the cast. Pandering to the fan base, I suppose. But perhaps any trope worth being singled out and savagely critiqued is one that connects at a deep level with a significant portion of the audience.

In that light, it deserves a defense. And so now I rise not to bury Mary Sue but to praise her.

To be sure, I cannot bring myself to defend Wesley Crusher. He is exactly the kind of annoying Mary Sue that Paula Smith snarked about back in 1973. Any reasonable appeal to verisimilitude could not tolerate his presence on the  bridge of the Enterprise.

But a Mary Sue story can be done right. Komichi Akebi in Akebi's Sailor Uniform is a more recent and perfectly adorable example. But Snow White with the Red Hair really sets the standard.


Based on the manga by Sorata Akizuki, the anime ran two cours (the manga is still being serialized). As befitting the title, the story takes place in a spick and span medieval Disneyland (the setting itself qualifies as a Mary Sue).

When we first meet her, Shirayuki (白雪), whose name translates as "Snow White," is a conscientious herbalist who owns a small pharmacy. That is, until the lecherous Prince Raj, entranced by her brilliant red hair, decides to make Shirayuki his mistress. And won't take no for an answer.

Figuring that caution is the better part of valor, Shirayuki's answer is to pack up and scamper across the border, where she promptly runs into Prince Zen of Clarines and his retainers. It's "like" at first sight.

No mooning around. No one gets serenaded beneath a window. Shirayuki and Zen are preternaturally practical and competent people. Shirayuki has principles and no hesitation in standing up for them. And one of those principles is to own only what she's earned.

Although ostensibly a "European" kingdom, Clarines appears to be run by a ranked bureaucracy of mandarins appointed through an imperial examination system. Determined to stay close to Zen but refusing any handouts, Shirayuki applies for a job as an assistant court herbalist. And passes the tests.

But, again, the backstory has established that she works hard and is good at it, and shows us (doesn't just tell us) that she is deserving of the position. Zen as well works for a living. Being a prince in Clarines comes with a portfolio. Besides going on inspection tours, he has to sit at a desk and push paper around.

These jobs not only make them more interesting but also generate compelling plot material.

(Seriously, what do Disney's Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty actually do? Well, Cinderella is good at housekeeping. What does Elsa do? Anna at least has the important job of keeping Elsa from going nuts and destroying the kingdom.)

There's no need to pretend Shirayuki and Zen aren't Mary Sues. They are too good to be true. Here we have a pair of protagonists who couldn't be any nicer without getting saccharin. Even Prince Raj can't resist becoming a better person when he's around them (a character arc that pays off well in the second cour).

Yet they both possess a depth of character that makes their stories compelling. Yes, nice people can be interesting and do interesting things. I would describe the resulting genre as a "cozy" romance, the equivalent of the "cozy" mystery.

Dispensed with are the angst, the sturm und drang, the love triangles, the miscommunication, all the melodramatic conventions of the genre. Another way of describing this romance sub-genre might be "You and me (and our friends) against the world."

In fact, the only real hint of romantic tension arises among their friends, principally Mitsuhide, Kiki, and Obi, who are Zen's retainers, though Zen assigns Obi to Shirayuki. Later in the series, Mitsuhide seems to have a thing for Kiki, and Obi definitely has unrequited affection for Shirayuki.

But being loyal to Zen and having earned his trust, Obi never does anything stupid or inappropriate. Aside from Mitsuhide getting goofy in one episode in which he goes looking for Shirayuki in the pharmacy and accidentally ingests an elixir, nobody embarrasses, betrays, or compromises anybody.

Even for the day or so that Mitsuhide is under the effect of the elixir, he acts like a stereotypical gallant knight and drives everybody batty. It's a clever way of stating what the show is not about.

In the second cour, more high adventure comes their way, what with pirates and outlaws and damsels in distress and long lost family members showing up in unexpected places. But Shirayuki keeps her head on her shoulders (literally and figuratively) and the relationship never falters. Neither does her career.

In the end, nobody rides off into the sunset. There are no impending nuptials. We don't need to be told that Shirayuki and Zen will live "happily ever after." They only need to live their lives as best they can. From what we have learned about them, that will suffice. Real life is tough enough already.

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May 14, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/26)

I've posted chapter 26 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

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May 11, 2022

The Real Darcy

Besides the badness of the writing, Kate argues that the biggest problem with Pride and Prejudice fan fiction (commercially published or otherwise) is that it inevitably makes Darcy out to be the stereotypical alpha male of Regency romances.

Austen simply wasn't capable of being that simple and obvious, and nothing in the text justifies it. As Kate explains:

I go along with Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer's argument in So Odd a Mixture that Darcy is borderline autistic. Her delineation of Darcy's character is one of the most accurate and delightful on record. She recognizes what few interpretations do, namely that Darcy is accused of pride in Hertfordshire for reasons that have nothing to do with familial or class pride.

Most tributes to Pride and Prejudice fail to acknowledge that all of Darcy's problems in Hertfordshire stem from his behavior, not from his beliefs about himself. He is perceived as proud because he won't dance or talk, not because he boasts about his position or even because he gives anyone the "cut direct." He doesn't even cut poor Mr. Collins.

To correct this problem, she penned A Man of Few Words, an addendum to Pride and Prejudice that relates Darcy's perspective on the important events in the novel.

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(See here for the perfect Japanese Darcy.)

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May 07, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/25)

I've posted chapter 25 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

A plank road is a road composed of wooden planks or puncheon logs. A puncheon log is a split log or rough timber with one smoothed face.

In The Wings of Dreams, Shushou's kijuu could leap great distances but was "not an adept flyer."

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May 04, 2022

Richard: The Ethics of Affection

Richard St. Clair struggles daily to suppress less-than-appropriate feelings for his new assistant. He's an engaged man, after all, and a recently appointed civil servant. He's sure he's got the situation under control. Until an unknown adversary slips him a love potion that unleashes his true affections.

Now with the help of his once-enchanted sister, his policeman brother-in-law, and the woman he really loves, Richard must scour Kingston for his foe and find a way to ethically express the desires of his heart.

Book two in the Roesia series, Richard continues the story of the St. Clair family that begins with Aubrey. Roesia is a Victorian world where magic is real and spells and potions are the focus of academic study. While sharing characters and events, the books can be read as standalone stories.

Paperback
Kindle
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iBooks
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The Roesia Series

Tales of the Quest
Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah
Richard: The Ethics of Affection
Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation

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April 30, 2022

A title by any other name

The anime industry in Japan now takes in as much income from overseas markets as it does from domestic distribution. One logical consequence of this international growth is that anime studios are increasingly incorporating English titles into the opening credits of original Japanese productions.

The best known example to date is probably your name. For the North American release, all they had to do was flip the font sizes.


Besides keeping publicity efforts inside and outside Japan on the same page (a constant challenge for news sites like ANN is what to call a new series announced in Japan but not officially licensed), this is a clever way for writers and artists to exert control over their content.

The most basic approach is to translate nothing and instead transliterate the original Japanese into its romaji equivalents, as with anime like Chihayafuru and Hinamatsuri and movies like Akira Kurosawa's Ran.

Taking a step up in complexity is a straightforward (if abbreviated) translation of the Japanese title. Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away is the last word in the full Japanese title, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. More recent examples include Sound! Euphonium and Children of the Whales.



A title can double up on the meaning by addressing one aspect in Japanese and another in English. Ghost in the Shell, which Masamune Shirow adapted from Arthur Koestler's philosophical treatise, The Ghost in the Machine, is titled "Mobile Armored Riot Police" in Japanese.


And then there's the uniquely Japanese approach that creates the English title first then transliterates it back into katakana for the Japanese title.
To be sure, it has long been common practice for Japanese distributors of Hollywood movies (especially action flicks with plots that can be summed up in a poster) to phonetically transliterate the English titles into katakana. Congratulations! You can read Japanese.


As Brian Ashcraft points out, "One thing Hollywood continually gets wrong [is that] when it tries to recreate Japan, it puts everything in Japanese, which simply isn't done in reality." English is ubiquitous in public spaces, though not necessarily the English that native speakers of the language are used to.

English is a required subject in Japan, and Japanese students are very good at mastering the subject well enough to pass the tests. But not much beyond that. The result is a working comprehension of English that is, well, quirky. The kind of quirky that can make the end results all the more striking.

I mean, it's hard to imagine even an imaginative native English copywriter coming up with titles like Made in Abyss, Angel Beats! and No Guns Life. Again, the Japanese titles simply transliterate the English into katakana.



And here's one more.


Wait a minute, what happened to the North American release?


Rifle is Beautiful is a great title. Chidori RSC is utterly opaque. It stands for "Chidori High School Rifle Shooting Club," which you would never figure out without watching it first. I initially assumed that "Chidori" was the name of the main character.

I can only imagine that Sentai Filmworks thought Rifle is Beautiful sounded like an NRA bumper sticker and wanted to avoid catching any flak about it. Because, you know, somebody might get triggered. I do understand the caution, but this series is as harmless as the rifles the girls shoot.

But especially with light novel titles growing to unwieldly lengths, tweaking the name of a series may become a simple necessity. So "A Corpse is Buried Under Sakurako's Feet" is Beautiful Bones in English, leveraging the main character's similarities to Temperance Brennan in Bones.


Star Blazers was the title attached to the first Space Battleship Yamato series for its broadcast debut in the United States in 1979. That title has now become part of the franchise name.
And speaking of the Yamato, the docudrama Yamato (「男たちの大和」) did well in Japan but brought in hardly any box office overseas. Nevertheless, the name of the battleship (the final two kanji) is repeated in big romaji characters on all the posters anyway. Because it's just way cooler that way.

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April 27, 2022

Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation

Aubrey St. Clair awakens in a locked room, having barely survived a misguided enchantment that turned her into a cat. Kidnapped by unprincipled magicians and exploited by ruthless politicians, her only recourse is to literally claw her way to safety.

Safe in body but not in soul, Aubrey is forced to confront the slippery memories of her own bespellment. Is forgetfulness really the best defense?

In her hunt for the truth, Aubrey is aided by a cool-headed police officer. His interest in her, however, may be more than merely professional. But how much more? It slowly begins to dawn on her that perhaps the most powerful spell of all is love.

Aubrey is the first book in the Roesia series. Roesia is a Victorian world where magic is real and spells and potions are the focus of academic study. Although sharing characters and events, the books can be read as standalone stories.

Paperback
Kindle
Smashwords
iBooks
Google Play
Nook
Kobo

The Roesia Series

Tales of the Quest
Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah
Richard: The Ethics of Affection
Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation

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April 23, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/24)

I've posted chapter 24 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

Chapter 25 should be ready in two weeks.

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April 20, 2022

Persuadable

Jane Austen's Persuasion has the reader rooting for the protagonists to rekindle their estranged affections. But what of the novel's nemeses? In the end, the wily and impious Mr. Elliot casts aside his carefully groomed reputation and persuades the infamous Mrs. Clay to become his mistress.

But every persuader needs a persuadable partner, and Mrs. Clay is no ingénue; she'd send a Willoughby or a Wickham packing. Though no less calculating than those romantic villains, Penelope Clay and William Elliot discover in each other the kind of kindred spirits they fail to find among the titled Elliots.

While highlighting and transfiguring classic scenes from the novel, this unconventional version provides a romantic pairing on a par with that of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. In the process, Persuadable illustrates an eternal Austen truth: love is wholly individual, no matter the age or time-period.

Who says a couple of shameless gold diggers can't find true love?

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April 16, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/23)

I've posted chapter 23 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

The Koushi (郊祀) ceremony ("the ritual of the outskirts") is the most important of the imperial rites and rituals. It involves traveling to the southern district of the city during the Festival of the Winter Solstice, making offerings to Heaven, and praying for the protection of the kingdom.

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April 10, 2022

The Phantom Doctor

The evil mastermind known as the Fiend with Twenty Faces is fed up with Kogoro Akechi and those meddling kids from the Boy Detectives Club. Determined to exact his revenge, the Fiend embarks on a crime spree, stealing top secret documents and a priceless work of art, while kidnapping and tormenting anyone who stands in his way.

The ingenuity of this archvillain knows no bounds. Living up to his nickname, the Fiend dons one disguise after the other. He soon has the police chasing their tails, and even shows up to investigate his own crime! Obsessed with his vendetta, he pursues his quarry through haunted houses and limestone caverns inhabited by giant bats.

The Fiend won't be satisfied until he finally confronts Detective Akechi and the members of the Boy Detectives Club in a life-or-death struggle deep underground in the dark.

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The Boy Detectives Club

The Phantom Doctor
The Bronze Devil
The Space Alien


Please visit the website for more details and to read an excerpt from the novel. The Phantom Doctor was edited by Katherine Woodbury. Check out her interviews with me here, here, and here about the translation process.

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April 09, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/22)

I've posted chapter 22 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

Dokukoku (独谷) literally means "lone valley."

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