October 01, 2017

Is the Term “Light Novel” Helpful in the American Context?


The wave of anime and manga coming from Japan to America (now a set of phenomena decades old) has brought with it a concomitant interest in and market for other aspects of Japanese pop culture. Iron Chef. Gas station sushi. The light novel.


What are light novels? Light novels are books written to be read simply for the sake of enjoyment. While many of the people publishing light novels in this country also publish manga, the light novel is a primarily written medium rather than a comic. They are often illustrated with manga-style illustrations, but they are written stories not comics—though the most popular quickly find themselves adapted into manga and anime. Though the individual volumes may shorter than “serious” novels, they are often serial stories running to a dozen or more volumes. They have the same targeted focus that manga do: “boys,” “girls,” “young men,” etc. Yet there is the same sort of cross-over readership.



In other words, “light novels” are the modern Japanese equivalent of traditional “pulp fiction.”



So far as I understand it, then, literature in Japan exists in two streams. The “serious” (or “literary,” “socially relevant,” “heavy,” “fill-in-your-adjective-here”) novel and the light novel. You can read your Kawabata and Murakami, and you can read your Heroic Legend of Arslan and Vampire Hunter D. Each stream of literature has its own set of expectations, its own awards, and its own readership.



Should American speculative fiction be heading in a similar direction? I think it’s perfectly fine for science fiction novels to strive for “social relevance,” but does every novel to be of that sort? Why can’t The Handmaid’s Tale exist alongside A Princess of Mars? To call both simply “science fiction” I think does a disservice to both works.



Perhaps a way to ensure that everyone can play in the speculative fiction sandbox is to make separate sandboxes. It seems to work for the Japanese. Is it helpful to start thinking that way in the American context?

March 30, 2017

Old Udek (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

The first snowfall is always a festal night in Fill. Great drifts blanket the mountains a pure white.

Every year, when the first flake is sighted, Old Udek dons his winter robes. He makes his way to the top of the tallest mountain, ignoring aching bones and his frostbit nose.

Once there, he opens the flask around his neck. He catches a single snowflake within it, stoppers the flask, and makes his laborious climb back home.


When the revelers ask why he does this, knowing the flake will melt, he always replies, "I'm storing up hope, against the dry season."

March 23, 2017

Kiara's Quest, Part I (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

Deklan the healer shakes his head. Kiara's pet bird is sick and there's nothing more that he can do.

Mistress Verta says the Makers will the beginning and end of all things. Master Ember says that such is the way of all flesh, to be calcinated and perish.

The Cogger 53211 promises her a clockwork bird that will sing and never tire. Barilla the Tinker promises a hand-carved grave maker in bronze that never tarnishes.

Her parents—cruelest of all—tell her it's just a bird.


After they leave, she takes her pack and sets out to find a cure.

March 16, 2017

A Dialogue Between Mistress Verta and Master Ember (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

"I cannot let you preach what you preach."

"We are the physicians of Fill. We must tell the truth when no one else will."

"You want to set the world on fire."

"Yet you destroy what you don't understand."

"I could never understand your view of life."

"You are naïve children. Your name reveals everything."

"You are prophets of gloom and destruction in a world hungering for hope."

"You forget the point of it all. The meaning of existence."

"We must build. We must bring order from chaos. That's why we're here."


"Everything must end in fire, even the Makers."

March 09, 2017

Burge, the Mouse-Herder's Son (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

The songs of Giatolo called out to him in the tavern. Sick to death of mice, he wanted adventure.

He kissed his mother and left before his father came home from the pens. Brigands took his bread and cheese before the end of the first day, outlaws his staff and pack before the end of the next.

He grew stronger. He learned to fight with the sword and the pike, with the axe and the mace. He defeated fierce monsters and saved many maidens fair.


But to the end of his days, his fingernails still smelled to him like mouse-dung.

March 02, 2017

Lord of the Bugs (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

Nobody talks about us much. The troubadours sing about Mouse-herders, but Mouse-herders buy their ale. The Children preach the virtues of the Farmers' life, but Farmers make up most of their flock.

We purvey protein to the most desperate. Grubs, worms, beetles, flies. Did you know the flavor of cockroach steaks depends on the beast's fodder?

Trashlings of every tribe have eaten in my shop. Penurious Tinkers, traveling Coggers, absent-minded Scribes and mendicant Children of the Makers. Farmers returning from a poor night at the market, and yes, even Mouse-herders.


Those-Who-Burn eat here often. They say turnabout is only fair.

February 23, 2017

Paroxetine, Eater of the Orange Lotus (A Trashling Tale) [re-post]

 Deep in the lairs, they told stories of gifts of the gods to make one immortal and wise.

Paroxetine didn't want the Orange Lotus at first. He trained himself to sleep at night, to endure the light of day. He dared to walk under the gaze of the sun.

He wanted to see a Maker.

After that day, he sought out the Eaters in their lairs. He dared to open the orange flowers and partake of the fruit within. Pale imitations of ambrosia and soma.


None of his companions ever asked him whether he ate to remember or to forget.