How was I born? – Yours is the drill

Oh my god, I can’t write this post. Like… this is the end. This is the best, the brightest, the most awesome story ever told, the thing that pulled my soul from living fire with fuming tongs. The thing that made me.

Well, not really, but this is the final post of my “How was I born?” series. Today is all about drills, galaxies, and robots with drills as big as galaxies.

Yup, so, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a neat little anime series from 2007. Humanity has been driven underground into isolated colonies, each eking out a desperate existence, digging and suffering, while the Earth’s surface is ruled by beastmen, the cohorts of the despotic Spiral King.

Enter our fire-hearted heroes, Kamina and SHEEMON! Ruled by their indomitable passions, they break out of their underground prison and ignite a rebellion, fighting first the beastmen, then the beastmen’s boss, AND THEN THE BEASTMEN’S BOSS’S BOSS.

They do so by piloting giant robots that combine into gianter robots! This show is full of them! Also, it’s full of big passions, big boobs, big butts, and BIG, BIIIIGG DRILLS.

If that last sentence made ya think it’s a porno, well, IT IS. But not the way you think.

First of all, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is like, the archetypal shounen anime – a show made for boys. In every episode, there’s a big fight, usually a big explosion, and it’s all peppered with the token girl character, Yoko, showing cleavage. So, uh, yeah. It’s not what you call “high cultuer”. And yeah, it’s grimy. BUT IT’S ALSO KINDA AWESOME.

When I said it’s a porno, I meant it. You see, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a determination porno. Kamina and SHEEMON are always fighting as the underdogs, underpowered and underleveled, and they always pull through by sheer will-power. (Usually preceded by a bout of self-doubt by SHEEMON!)

Ya think that’s cheesy? Yeah, well, it is. You can pretty much predict what happens in each episode. But like soap operas, kung-fu films, and, uh, porn, they do the same thing over and over again and it still works!

I mean, this is a show that can’t be spoiled. Even if I know exactly what’s gonna happen in episode 11, I’m still crying. Every single time. Why does it work? And why does it work even though it’s a misogynistic pile of macho turd? Why is it awesome even so?

I admit I’m not too analytical when it comes to this show (I’m too PUMPED UP), but I’m guessing there are two things at work here.

First, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann doesn’t take itself too seriously. It pokes fun at its characters, its story, its genre ancestors, you name it. It’s not a very serious show – as if you couldn’t tell when Kamina’s robot catches fire and he turns it into a flaming dive kick of men’s burning soul!

…and at the same time, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann takes itself seriously. Yes, that’s right. It does both, simultaneously. It laughs and cries at the same time. It is heroic and mock-heroic in the same scene.

That’s one of the things that makes it great. If it were only comical, you couldn’t take it seriously, well, uh, because nothing’s for keeps. Conversely, if it were only serious, you couldn’t take it seriously either, because it’s just so goddammed ridiculous. They solve the problem by being both at the same time, which is both genius and deeply natural.

The best heroes are clowns and queens in the same body. That’s what humans are, really. We’re not creatures of either-or.  We’re heaps of odd angles. We’re bags of contradicting passions. And both our heroism and our clownishness shine that much brighter because we have all those sides.

That’s why heroes have their weak moments in films. That’s why, when the underdog comes through, it’s always awesome. That’s why Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann works, even though it puts out the same formula for each of its twenty-six episodes.

So that’s the first thing. The second thing ties up with the first.

Like I said, this ain’t a perfect show. There’s a lot to hate here. But the thing is, there ain’t such a thing as a “perfect series” or a “perfect book”. I’ve touched on it when I talked about knights, and barbarians, and videogames of yore. Things just aren’t ever perfect. They’re always stained in some way. And that’s all right, peeps. That’s just all right.

Art is created by humans, and humans are flawed. If you’re under the illusion that only a perfect creation can be loved, poop it out as fast as you can.

Perfect things are dead. They are stale, inert, lifeless. Even if they could exist – and I’m sure they can’t – they would not suffer human touch upon their sleek surfaces. To enjoy a perfect creation would be made impossible by the perfect thing itself.

What we love always has an aspect of decay in it. What we love is always partially of the dirt, the worms, and the rot. Who we love are, always, part-time killers, robbers, abusive alcoholics, selfish loafers, rapists, heartless business magnates, bullies.

When I say that, though, I also mean the opposite. Nothing is all bad. Nobody is all bad. We’re wired to not believe it, but this is true: there is more to every murderer than OMG THIS GUY IS TEH EVIL. I’m not gonna say something cheesy like, “There is good in each one of us,” because that’s simplifying the issue, but I mean something like it.

Now, back to Gurren Lagann. Early on in the series, our hero, Kamina, dies. Like, he’s killed. And it isn’t retconned. He doesn’t come back. He’s killed, he’s dead.

That’s where the story really starts. That’s where all stories really start. Something irreplaceable is lost. And then we’ve got to come to terms with it.

That’s what my perfection rant is about. Life is sucky. Our loved ones die. And they don’t die meaningful, heroic deaths, either. They just randomly die. Or we get diseases. Not as punishments for our sins, but randomly. We just get cancer. Or we fall down, randomly, hit our head, and spend the rest of our lives as quadriplegics.

That shit just happens. Life isn’t perfect. Things don’t have meaning.

The thing is, we can push through that, because we can create meanings. We can overcome the suckiness in our lives (partially, at least), because we decide what things are. Fiction is, literally, just that. We create the world into what we want it to be.

That’s why let nobody tell you that fiction is not “real”. Fiction is the only thing that is real.

Okay, so, fiction isn’t real the way rocks are real. But, hey, I said stuff is imperfect, right? Fiction is the best shot we’ve got. Warts and all, we gotta love it, because it’s all we have.

In Gurren Lagann, they really hammer home that point. Our heroes don’t beat their enemies because of their mighty robots, or because they’ve trained so hard, or because they get lucky, or because they’re brilliant tacticians. No, the heroes win because they decide that they’re gonna win.

Reality – whatever that is – doesn’t urge you on when you’re knocked about. Fiction does. Fiction is the small voice in your ear, saying, “Get up. We will win.” Fiction pulls us to our feet. Fiction dusts us off. Fiction creates us. We are nothing but fiction.

Gurren Lagann is that. It’s ham-fisted, it’s juvenile, it’s laughing at itself snot running down its chin, it’s brave, it’s desperate, it’s big, it’s meaningless, it’s a wizard, a pauper, it suffers from incontinence, and it’s the galaxy’s best fighter. All in one bag.

That’s fiction, and that’s us.

 

Anyway, I got nothing more to say. This is the end of my “How was I born?” series. These are the pieces of fiction that made me. Good night, peeps, and remember… yours is the drill that will pierce the heavens.

I’m so shallow

Some time ago I bought a set of oil pastels. I haven’t really used them, I just bought them ’cause I love the colours. Like, cadmium yellow and cerulean? My sweet Lord! For the same reason, I love flowers. And beautiful textiles. If I had the money, I’d buy reams of silk and wool in every miraculous colour!

Also, I like looking at myself in the mirror. I have pretty good skin (probably ’cause I eat more carrots than a platoon of rabbits), and I like how it looks. I also like looking at pictures of pretty people. I’d do it live if I could, but for some reason, people tend to freak out when you stare at them.

So yeah… I’m shallow. I’ve got no problem admitting it, and I don’t feel ashamed of it, either. And why? Because being shallow is the only way to exist.

What do I mean? Well, just that. The depth of things cannot be known except by studying their surface.

We see what other people think, which groups they belong to, how they feel about themselves, how they live – all very deep things – based on what they wear, how they move, how they look like.

There is no “inner beauty”. I mean, if you cut somebody up, all you end up with is an icky pile of viscera and most likely a dead human. The souls of others are in their words and actions, which are superficial.

That is why the only way to be is to be shallow.

I was thinking about this, and maybe it has implications for that old hack, “show, don’t tell”. Maybe we’re told to abhor telling because it tries to bypass the shallow bit? Showing is all about the surface, where the reflection of the truth lies. To straightaway tell tries to move past the surface, but hey, there’s nothing there! (Except the pancreas, which kinda looks like a dick made of fat. Ew.)

Don’t know if that’s right, but that’s the idea that came to me as I was thinking about my shallowness.

Another thing that relates to writing, however, is far more important.

Many writers seem to have a subconscious pressure to write stuff that is “deep”. You know, to write “intellectual” stuff. To write scintillating text that promulgates complex and original thought, or summat.

They – we, really, since I’m not immune to those pressures – seem to abhor shallow things. They can’t write about giant robots, or knights with blazing swords, or flying dinosaurs that shoot laser. Orif they do write about those things, they seem low-key apologetic, or at least don’t group themselves with “the serious writers”. (Who the hell are they?)

Here’s the thing though. If you like writing about giant robots, that’s the truth. That is your world. That is where you are meant to be. You like giant robots for a reason.

I don’t know what that reason is, and you may not either, but it’s there. It’s deep inside you. It speaks from your very centre. It says, “This is what I am. These are the things that matter.”

And if it speaks in the language of giant robots, hey, so what? There are tons of languages in the world. That’s one of ’em. It’s by no means inferior to the language of, say, Renaissance art, or Christian mysticism.

So yeah. Be shallow, and write about the things you really like.

Even when those things are robots with drills as big as galaxies.

Alice Question Extravaganza, vol. 1

Hello! This is Alice. Some awards and tags are doing rounds, brushing up against Alice’s forlorn little blog. While she won’t nominate anyone, the questions seem pretty fun, so here goes!

The first round was thrown by the questing, cerebral, serene Michael T. Kuester. I got to know him right after I started blogging, and he’s a real treat to talk with on various science fiction topics. Ask him about spaceship design and alien biology! Or Wide Horizon and The Pioneer, his sci-fi novels!

The best thing about Michael is that he’s unhesitating in answering the most difficult questions about writing or science fiction. Like I said, a real treat to talk with, a man of measured words. (Also, you can apparently talk college football with him!) Do pay him a visit. Preferably many.

On to the questions:

Name one novel that inspired you to write.

Here comes that cheesebomb of the eighties, David Eddings! Like anyone, I was once a little girl with a big, impressionable mind and no clue as to how the world really worked. Hence, when I first picked up Queen of Sorcery, I was ensnared. (That’s right, I started with the second volume of the epic. In your face, rules!)

While I can’t say Eddings inspired me to write – that came later, and I don’t know if there was any one book that acted as the catalyst – he certainly threw me into the fantastic realm of cheese, dorks, and illogic swords, sorcerers, knights, and dragons! I still haven’t found my way back.

What’s your favorite genre to write and read?

To read, nonfiction. To write, swords & sorcery! (Does it still exist as a genre, though? When it comes to forgotten genres, did you know there was once a genre of adventure stories that were set in fictional European countries? That is, there was an entire genre devoted to making up fictional European countries as backdrops for adventure! I forget what the name of the genre was, though.)

Do you prefer to write stand-alone or series?

Yes.

Use 3 words to describe yourself.

Hehe, I farted!

Reveal your WIP image that represents your MC or setting.

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Here’s a brave fighter, daring as a peacock, sword and dagger poised! Note especially the fashionable hose, the absolutely eye-catching plume, and the dashing doublet! Not directly related to my current work, but very representative regardless!

How long did your first MS take to draft?

I don’t know, some months? I try not to get fixated on time. Time is an unhealthy habit.

Who is your author idol?

I often froth and foam about Gene Wolfe, that underappreciated pole star of American spec fic. His fluency of language is wondrous. His clarity of prose belies the labyrinthine complexity of his storytelling. His manner of alluding is like sweet, tantalising nectar to the brain, and always keeps the reader on their toes. All that combines to make his works so fascinating, it’s almost unthinkable to go through them only once!

But yeah, he’s not my author idol. That position is taken by the matchless Angela Carter. She wrote Wise Children. While dying of cancer.

Share a writing memory that made you determined to carry on.

Y’all know what I talkin’ bout. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, episode 11. Simon has been depressed ever since that fateful battle with Thymilph. He’s lost his will to go on, and thinks himself less than a worm. Things turn worse, as Guame lays a trap and imprisons the rebels! But then SIMON COMES BACK. From his slump, I mean. Just thinking about that scene brings tears of determination into my eyes!

Tell us something surprising or unique about yourself.

There’s nothing unique about me. What I am, someone else has surely been before. But what may be surprising to you is that I love weight-lifting! Yeah baby, that’s right! Big plates, bars, mats, the clang of iron, the sweat of pursuit!

As an aside, the more cerebral your work is, the more you ought to have something that taxes your body, to balance it out. Really goes double for writing, since a fit body thinks better than an unfit body.

Share the hardest part about being a writer and how you overcame it.

The reluctance of starting. And I can’t tell you how I overcame it, because I didn’t. Every morning, I need to fight it again. Some days, I fail.

A little less hard is trying not to compare myself to other writers. So-and-so has won all these awards, so-and-so landed a six-book deal, so-and-so is at the con talking about her newest trilogy! Just a bit of that is enough to send me hurtling into the pit of self-loathing.

What helps me is thinking of writing not in terms of achievement but of duty. I don’t write for glory, I write because it is decreed my writing must help others. And only I can write the stories I will write. Others do good work (they had better, anyway!) and I am one among them, fighting for a better tomorrow.

Share some uplifting wisdom in six words or less.

YOURS IS THE DRILL THAT WILL oops, ran out of words!