mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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Kything with Nagas. (38)

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff.

Big Brother flicked beads,
abacus dancing cruel math.
Little Brother smiled.

Frequently, novels that are sold as "cyberpunk" or "steampunk" leave out the "-punk" part in the actual text. Which is...sort of missing the point. Cyberpunk is a critique of social hierarchies-- usually capitalistic ones-- & when steampunk ignores that to focus on shiny gears & clockwork mecha, it comes out hollow. Victoriana has a great potential for it-- I mean, the Age of Imperialism is an age of slavery & oppression-- so it is particularly sad to see it fall flat. More like steambunk, if you'll allow a rotten pun. I don't care about people who gripe that a book isn't "steam-" but rather clockpunk or dieselpunk or whatnot, but the lack of "-punk" really bothers me. Luckily, I don't think I'm alone in this-- Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century novels focus on marginalized people ekeing out a living on the fringes & Lev A. C. Rosen's All Men of Genius is a mediation on gender & sexism, for instance. They also add a dash of spice to something in danger of genre-fatigue; zombies & steampunk or Shakespeare & steampunk, as the case may be. Stormdancer's splash of colour is a Japanese inspired setting...though wait, I think it might be backwards, actually. I think Stormdancer is a novel set in a world heavily influenced by feudal Japan, with strong steampunk elements. It is more a futuristic crypto-Japanese empire than a steampunk Eastern empire, because it brings the culture, language & mythology of Japan into the mix, first & foremost. The addition of chainsaw katanas & mechanized ō-yoroi is secondary to that.

I've mentioned before, in relation to Paizo's space opera stuff, how weird it is to be positioned in situ in history. I mean, to see the odd web of coincidences & parallel evolution in other people's minds. It makes sense, it isn't a big mystery-- we're reading the same "classics," we're watching the same movies, we're in a river of those who have come before us. Awash in shared influences, in the ripple effect of those who influenced those influences, & so on. Maybe your primary influence-- lets say The Hidden Fortress-- is an unknown secondary influence on me, since I like Star Wars. All these interlocking puzzle pieces are interesting to me, especially since I've got a notebook full of brainstorming ideas for my next Oubliette campaign that have a significant Japanese influence. Again, no surprise-- I have been awash in stuff like The Tales of the Otori all yeah; in fact, here is another unsurprising fact-- there will probably be a strong Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind element, too! Which is I think my point, though I've roamed far afield; we're all corks bobbing in the same pond; any wonder we hook the same kind of fish?

I can't help but see the fingerprints of Legend of the Five Rings all over this, & I mean that in the best way. The cover of the UK edition-- the one pictured above-- even has tsuba-like badges of the four zaibatsu (& one guild) of the Shima Isles, in the style of the Great Clans of Rokugon. The courtly samurai drama has gone out like a light; the world is plunged into shadow by the blood lotus, the monocrop of Shima, overseen by the Lotus Guild. The Lotus Guild...well, they are the Spacing Guild from Dune, more or less-- & mostly more. Hidden away inside their ticking mechanical shell (you know, like the Gleaners in my game) they control the blood lotus, which powers the mechanical might of the empire. Blood lotus is the drug now smoked in former opium dens, is distilled into the chi fuel used by virtually everything; it produces the hemp that flies in the rigging of airships & that comprises the rags the beggers wear. The blue sky is stained red from its fumes, the land rots under its roots, the minds of the citizens are burnt to a crisp, but-- as the Guild says-- "the lotus must bloom." Their creations remind me of the less-outrageous non-Western gizmos from Scott Westerfeld & Keith Thompson's Leviathan series.

Very few animals are left alive in Shima; other than rats, most things have been hunted to extinction or had their habitat destroyed by the culture's addiction to the blood lotus. Our protagonist-- hooray for heroes that aren't white men!-- is Kitsune Yukiko, bondwoman of the Kitsune house & daughter of the so-called "Black Fox," the last of the monster hunters. Last of the monster hunters, because he's already hunted the last of the monsters. Until the thundertiger, the griffon, is sighted, & the emperor-- the seii taishōgun-- has a dream of riding it to victory against the gaijin hordes. Yukiko & her father-- & yes, their rag-tag crew-- set out to catch it. When they do, we get an idea as to the scope of the supernatural in Jay Kristoff's story. The creature isn't just some half-tiger, half-eagle chimera; it is the spawn of Raijin, the grandchild of Susanoo. It crackles with lightning, the beat of its wings are thunder. It is, in a word, impressive. & of course, as the eponymous beast, leads the reader into the inner circles of the Lotus Guild's chapterhouses, the heart of the shogun's kingdom, & unravels a family's secrets.

(Stormdancer art by Genzoman, commisioned by Jay Kristoff.)
Tags: books, haiku, kristoff, lotus war, steampunk

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