Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Diamond Edda

Imagine an alternate history in which the first European settlers of Iceland and Greenland were Vikings.

Standard fare, sure, but how about this:

At first these Vikings went about things in typically Viking fashion, complete with Althings, expeditions to Vinland, and grand tales of daring do by warriors set on feasting in Valhalla with the gods.

In their expeditions across the Arctic, through Hudson’s Bay and beyond in search of furs, ivory and trinkets traded up from the South (Aztec gold, perhaps? Lapis lazuli amulets? Strings of gem-like shells?) they ultimately begin exploring the west coast of the continent – eventually coming into contact with the Chinese colonies there.

And so, rather than converting to Christianity these New World Vikings converted to Buddhism.

True to the transcendental traditions of their own go
ði, these alter-Vikings adopted an esoteric approach to Buddhism, something like Shingon or Tangmi/Mizong – with their practice founded on the idea of Odin as their own boddhisatva, and ultimately developing a tradition of warrior mystics who seek enlightenment through development of their bodies in the fighting arts and various ascetic techniques and mortifications. 

In the end, the religious text "The Diamond Edda" would be the foundation of this tradition, and berserk a manifestation of transcendental Zen as the masters of this tradition release attachment to the self and thought and immerse themselves in the moment of battle.

Sun darkened, half-clothed warriors - shaggy in the fashion of the Indian ascetics - would necessarily wander the frozen steppes of the Arctic circle, the crunch of their fur-wrapped feet on the snow nearly drowned by the rhythmic "jingle...jingle...jingle..." as their belled staves strike the ground.

Naturally, their robes would be blood red, their furs white.

And the infidel would weep with terror in the night.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Henshin! (a brief history of Japanese SF 3/3)

Last time, in Denki Jidai, we followed the transformation of Japanese genre fiction through what might be seen as a kind of “industrial revolution” – from the Meiji era on, Japan was absorbing and adapting Western technologies and ideas at a breakneck pace, and by the 1920s and 1930s hunger to catch up with the Western powers and take a place on the world stage had led to the import and translation of a variety of major Western writers.[1]

As the new technologies – particularly medical sciences and electrification/radio – exploded into the public consciousness, so too did technology start to play a larger and larger part in the adventure and mystery stories that were so popular.  Domestic authors like Yokomizo Seiji, Kosakai Fuboku, and especially Unno Juza were pushing the art of fantastic fiction into the public view, blending the shocking implications of the new technology with the drama and excitement of murder mystery and adventure.

But it’s really what came next, after the shattering social and intellectual impact of World War 2 and the reality of the Bomb, that really sparked the amazing evolution of Japanese fantastic fiction in the following decades. So come with me now to trace the three pillars of that transformation: Henshin![2]

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Trap

So what if...

What if rather than being a demonstration of how autonomous vehicle sensors work and how stupid automotive AI systems are this was evidence of something more...arcane.

Evidence that AIs are actually bound demons, for example.

Or evidence that instead of computers "next generation" vehicles are in fact controlled by the zombie brains of the long dead. (zombies also being notoriously averse to salt)

Or evidence that the "quantum" effects of microchip systems are in fact a matter of resonance with a parallel world, that when our bits are zeros their bits are ones, and that sometimes - just sometimes - when the veil between us thins...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Denki Jidai (a brief history of Japanese SF 2/3)

As we saw in part one, Japan’s rich literary history had prepared Japanese writers for the influx of European style speculative fiction in the mid-1800s, and by the end of the century the flow of imported work had reached firehose rates as the literate public scrambled to learn as much as they could about the outside world from which they’d been separated for so long.

But Japan’s speculative fiction history isn’t just about imports, nor is it about imitation: As with many things adopted and adapted by the Japanese during the Meiji Era they combined the new with the old and made something unique and compelling.

A blog post is really far too short to do the subject justice, but I hope you’ll join me for a wild ride from the beginning of the 20th Century, and into the “Denki Jidai” (the electric era)!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Stumbling Block

Context: I was reading a story I thought was great, then felt it starting to stumble, and just reached the part where I would get out my form letter to say "I regret to say..."

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Iron Tengu, Bamboo Girl (a brief history of Japanese SF 1/3)

These days, no-one really questions Japanese influence on modern science fiction – from the dark Orientalist fantasies of Japanese corporatism as a symbol of oppression in cyberpunk near futures, through Japanese industry’s place as a signal for “high tech”[1], and on through the ongoing anime and manga boom Japan seems almost omnipresent in modern science fiction.

Strangely though, despite Japan’s place as almost symbolic of near-future technological wonders[2] Japan’s own rich SF history is very little known in the English-speaking world. Oh, most people who grew up with TV in the 80s and 90s have some inkling of what was going on, but apart from kids’ cartoons and some thinly veiled adaptations of Western classics[3] the view from the West would largely make it seem as though the history of Japanese SF is short and reactive.

This is a shame, as Japan’s unique domestic SF culture has deep roots of its own.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Write Short, Write Fast, Write Often

Original images by Sebastien D'ARCO, animation by Koba-chan CC BY-SA 2.5,

I really think short stories are a neglected form in genre fiction.

There's a real pressure to write long because it seems like the only way to get into print for a lot of people - at least, to get into print in what feels like a meaningful way. But the bar to getting a novel out the door is much higher than for a short.