I’ve had a beaten-up copy of The Shattered Court lying around my apartment for some time now, and I finally decided it was time to give it a read. The book is the opener to a series, and introduces a Britain-based country with its own unique magical system. However, my interest in the book quickly turned to frustration and disappointment as I learned more about how the magic worked. While the series attempted to say some challenging things about gender and magic, it fell down harder and harder every time it tried.
When I reviewed Dreadnought earlier last week, I wasn’t aware that it had a sequel — the book came out early this year, and sequels usually take a least a year to put together. But against all odds, Dreadnought‘s sequel Sovereign was published a mere six months after Dreadnought, and so I went on down to the library to pick it up. What I found was that while Dreadnought had a fairly clear-cut narrative as a coming-of-age story for its trans protagonist, Sovereign tried to tackle many different issues at once and had the very typical sequel problem of not getting deep enough into any of them. Still, amongst the issues with gender, race, the media, a TERF villain, and a quickly developing romantic relationship, Sovereign did succeed in raising some thought-provoking questions about superheroism as meritocracy.
Spoilers for Sovereign below the jump.
Have you ever wondered exactly what’s going on inside your friends’ heads? Of course you have. Have you ever wanted to take a surreal and frightening journey inside the physical manifestation of your friends’ thoughts, feelings, and worries? Maybe? No? Well, in these two series, you can!
Fiction provides us with a unique opportunity to see into the minds of others, in that we get to live out other people’s stories and lives and see the world through their point of view for a time. Fantasy and sci-fi elements that allow us to literally see into and interact with the minds of characters, such as the dream-diving in Paprika and Inception, take this a step further. Through literally venturing into a physical manifestation of another character’s mind, you can learn a lot about them that they may not show you on the surface, such as hidden insecurities and secret memories. And sure, as a writer you could get the same information across in a dream sequence that lets the audience see inside that character’s mind for a scene, but the act of physically entering someone else’s mental landscape is what I want to talk about today. It lets the other characters, rather than solely the audience, learn what’s going on in the subject character’s head, and does so in a way that also moves the plot forward and provides a physical adventure at the same time.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Flip Flappers are two series that, via magic, give their characters the opportunity to explore their co-cast members’ inner worlds, sending them all down a proverbial rabbit hole into surreal, symbolism-heavy, and often frightening landscapes that teach them (and the audience) something about their peers that they couldn’t have known before. The two series use a lot of the same tools, artistically speaking, but the consequences and emotional outcome of their heroes’ journeys into each other’s mindscapes is very different in each case. Heavy spoilers for both shows beyond the jump!
As someone who sells artwork at anime conventions, one of the things I look forward to most is seeing everyone’s cosplay. Being able to dress up and put time and effort into bringing a beloved character to life can be a magical experience in the real world. What’s especially great is seeing people in the different costumes that a single character may wear over the course of a story.
Clothing can be a powerful narrative tool—sometimes certain clothes can give some character new and special abilities. Other times, the clothing can be a symbol of internal change, growth, and a renewed sense of confidence. This can be an especially important mechanic for video games, and my best experience with this was in Final Fantasy X-2.
I’ll admit it, I started watching Princess Principal because it just looked fun. Young women kicking ass as spies in a steampunk fantasy version of turn-of-the-century London, set to a jazzy soundtrack and wrapped up in science-magic? Yes, please. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that this show that I picked up solely for its geeky Cool Factor is… actually really damned good, delivering consistently sharp writing, interesting and layered characters, and some wonderfully efficient and intriguing magical worldbuilding that makes fantastic use of that old writing adage “show, don’t tell” that paints a vivid picture of its fantasy world from its very first scene.
Because it did such a good job laying the groundwork and piquing this viewer’s interest, let’s look just at the show’s first episode, and the small but important details the premiere gives us (and how) that let us build a picture of the world… without leaning too heavily on narration, pausing or cutting into the action to explain what’s going on, or having an audience point-of-view character that others teach things to.
This may or may not be a known fact to our readers, but in case you missed it, I love cryptozoology. I think it’s a fun and harmless interest, and while you won’t catch me out in the woods doing Bigfoot calls, I won’t pass up the opportunity to watch a “documentary” about someone else doing just that. But despite the efforts to make cryptozoology seem like a serious branch of science to tie Sasquatches to a missing evolutionary link and lake monsters to dinosaurs who never went extinct, I think a lot of people, myself included, are interested in cryptids because they offer an element of somewhat fantastical chaos into a world in which it sometimes feels that there’s not a ton left to discover otherwise—especially if you’re a layperson without a handful of science degrees. Anyone can go sit on the edge of Loch Ness and hope to spot a monster. And hey, isn’t it hubris to assume we’ve discovered every known species when we’re constantly discovering new and bizarre creatures in remote areas?
That said, the general belief is that people who take chupacabras, skunk apes, Jersey Devils, and the Mothman too seriously are stubborn, stupid, and naïve. But though cryptids themselves are often fantastical creatures, the attitude we have toward them in the real world seems to be exclusive to the real world. While some fantasy stories do feature cryptid-esque animals, they’re never treated with quite the same sense of dismissive derision—by either the narrative or the people involved—that real-world cryptids and cryptid enthusiasts get. In fact, the farther you get from realism, the more likely it is they’ll be celebrated rather than mocked.
Children play a lot of different roles in fiction. Sometimes they embody innocence and goodness, such as in Rise of the Guardians or Hook. Other times, they’re used in direct contrast to that in order to create a sense of horror. Small creepy children with magical powers are… well, creepy. When we think of children, most people think of innocence, and there’s a reason for that. After all, many children have yet to be exposed to the horrors of living and their naivety only helps to reinforce the idea that they are good deep down. As such, when our media gives us children with awesome powers, especially if those children are evil, it plays into our fears by perverting something many of us commonly see as good.
I’ve been a fan of Garth Nix for a long time, as you may know if you’ve followed my Old Kingdom ramblings on this blog for a while. However, I was a little disappointed by one of his more recent children’s offerings, Newt’s Emerald, and only picked up his latest, Frogkisser!, with some trepidation. I needn’t have worried. Frogkisser! ended up being a humorous, sometimes-satirical take on The Frog Prince, and had all of my favorite things — badass women of color, a rambunctious talking puppy, and absolutely zero romance for the fairy tale princess. But surprisingly, unlike other revisionist fairy tales, it reclaims some of the spirit of the original fairy tale, while subverting some, though not all, of what we believe The Frog Prince to be about today.
Pretty much all shows have some drama, because drama means conflict, and conflict means an interesting story, but drama for the sake of drama aggravates me. For example, if you kill a character and give them a big emotional send off that makes sense with the plot, then great. However, if you then somehow magically bring that character back so that the other characters have to go through the drama of killing them again, that is just drama for the sake of drama and it’s pretty stupid.
Sometimes it’s a bad idea to think too hard about the things you love. Last week, while we were looking for something to watch between the Tonys red carpet and the actual Tonys, my friend and I settled on a channel showing Toy Story.
Now don’t get me wrong, I adore the Toy Story franchise. However, it’s one of many beloved childhood stories where, if you poke too closely at the seams of the worldbuilding, it starts to unravel into questions that only get more disturbing.