The Superversive in Film: Ozamu Tezuka’s “Metropolis”

In 2001, the anime adaptation of Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic Metropolis released in Japan. It came to the West some time later, and–having watched both–I find the adaptation to a more powerful story because it relies even more on the bedrock of Western culture (Christianity) than the original.

The difference is the establishment of a reason for the erection of these skyscrapers and the industrial complex that drives that powerbase: the explicit attempt to create a second Tower of Babel. If you are at all familiar with that story, then you already know how this is going to end.

What matters here is the execution. Instead of our protagonist being the villain’s son, he’s an outsider who visits the titular city alongside his uncle (who’s there on a case) that gets wrapped up in a mess of a plot over a child-like gynoid that’s central to the villain’s plans. The brewing revolution, with ready revolutionaries, from the original is carried over and developed further into a vital subplot whose conclusion ignites the climax.

All of which serves to underpin a consistent thread that, as with the original, the industrialization that the city presents (and represents) is dehumanizing to everyone captured by it. Only our protagonist, being an outsider, retains the human humility necessary to see the folly in all of the plotting going on and implores with the one other character immediately able to stop it to do so- and, at the last moment, succeeds.

The story goes to the effort to show how the apparent peace and prosperity of the city and its inhabitants comes at the cost of subverting the population’s dignity, which they return in kind to the elites preying upon them as well as to the robots who often are the means of this dehumanization, which has exactly the effects that are known to happen to a culture over time: a downward spiral of degeneracy into savagery and despair as the real needs of one and all are unmet as they should, symbolized by the story’s setting degenerating into ever-meaner locations and ever-more-desperate maskings thereof before the pressure is too much as everything (literally and otherwise) blows apart. Fortunately, our hero’s essential innocence allows him the means to see through this tragedy and plant the seed of a better tomorrow.

While there’s no confounding of language, the result is the ruin of the attempt and its abandonment by the survivors in favor of reconciliation and reformation into something that this renewed humility in the (surviving) people can accomplish without dehumanizing themselves, their creations, or each other. As both an homage to the original that equals, if not surpasses, Lang’s film as well as on its own merits this is a story that ends in a bittersweet, but, hopeful mood after seeing great amounts of hubris result in self-destruction as pride goes before a fall. Recommended.

If you would like to see for yourself, you can buy a copy of Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis at Amazon. The soundtrack is also worth getting a physical copy of, as this playlist shows.

A Beethoven Retrospective

(This is a months old reprint of an article on my private blog, which is, shocking as it may sound, much more cynical and polemical than how I write here most of the time. I thought it made a lot of sense here, and I thought of it again after reading Mr. John C. Wright’s article on beauty. As it so happens, I’m still teaching myself the piano. And, alas, still bounce off of classical music hard.)

Currently I’m teaching myself the piano; I’ve owned one for a long time now (paid for by me and transport paid for by my parents as a gift), but never learned it. I’m attempting now to stubbornly turn a new leaf and start improving myself, and learning piano is a good start to that; it’s also a good way to correct problems with procrastination. Dedication is needed. My school year looks to be packed and extremely difficult, so I’ve decided I will cut out all recreational pursuits except for piano, which is really only recreational in the sense that it’s not school related. Either way, this will ensure everything I do during the school year will be productive in some way or another.

In light of this, I’ve decided to try to take another shot at listening to classical music. I’d taken a couple of cracks at it in the past, but much as with classical novels, I’d always bounced off. But, not this time! I’ve decided to start with Beethoven, who of the few I’d tried to listen to I was always fondest of. He combined technical precision with pure emotion beautifully.

“Might as well go big or go home,” I thought, and started right in on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony; I imagine if I’d asked I would have been told not to start with something so ambitious.

I’m still glad I did. “Reviewing” the ninth symphony is sort of like reviewing “The Iliad” or “Paradise Lost”; what can you really say? It surely has to be the pinnacle of western music. I’ve listened also to his Moonlight Sonata, his fifth symphony, and Fur Elise, and the third symphony (Eroica, one of the most influential pieces of music ever, apparently) is on in the background right now. But nothing has quite matched up to the brilliance of the ninth. I don’t connect well with classical music, as I’d said, and this was no exception – but the sheer ambition and brilliance of the work is undeniable. How somebody conceived something like this, and actually had the technical skill to write it down and coordinate it into a cohesive whole, is utterly mind-boggling. I can’t even imagine it. And he wrote it when he was completely deaf! How is that even possible?

Beethoven is a fascinating guy, though of course by now most people probably know that. He really is inspiring, though. I always found it very moving and telling that the final great piece that Beethoven, a man who at one time considered suicide due to his declining hearing*, wrote was the Ode to Joy…and the final piece that Mozart, by all accounts a much happier and buoyant man, wrote was a Requiem.

This is a bit unfair, as Beethoven did write other things after the symphony, and the Requiem Mozart wrote was commissioned by somebody else. Nevertheless, the fact that the ninth symphony was written by a deaf man who once considered suicide is, as far as I’m concerned, nothing short of a miracle.

*I found his Heiligenstadt Testament very moving and inspiring.

The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: King Arthur’s Pendragon

While we talk often of finding the Superversive in books, comics, film, and television it’s no less important to find it in gaming. One of the first tabletop RPGs that explicitly explored the Superversive perspective is Pendragon, where the point of the game is to play out King Arthur’s England from the beginning of the myth to its tragic end.

The reason I mark this out as Superversive is that everything about the game emphasizes the fundamental elements upon which Western Civilization rest, especially if you choose to do the default and play a Christian Knight. The game, as a primary mark of distinction, has mechanics by which your character (assumed to be a Knight, and few other options are ever offered, depending upon edition) will act upon the personality traits that mark him as a faithful Christian, a heroic Knight, and so on (or not). Adherence to the norms of the era are rewarded, and the modernist approach will just end badly.

This is why I’m bringing the game to your attention: tabletop RPGs are very good at getting players to see things from a perspective other than one’s own, provided that the Game Master (if not the game) requires them to do so- and this game does. You have to live with the consequences There is no easy healing here, and injuries matter accordingly, so courage has real weight when pressed by the villain of an adventure. How your Knight lives carries forth even after his death, as you then move to play his Squire or his son, with inheritances adjusted accordingly; the sins of the father do weigh upon the son. This reliably affects a player’s attitude towards the game.

As this game builds upon the great mound of myth and literature regarding the Matter of Britain, it is not wise to mistake this as just a Dungeons & Dragons derivative. Its design explicitly encourages players to engage with the Superversive position, either in support or not, and therefore makes it easier to comprehend the idea thereafter if you make use of that opportunity (and there are plenty of them to be had).

While never as popular as the aforementioned king of tabletop RPGs, it’s enjoyed a loyal following all this time much like another literature-derived game: Call of Cthulhu, and if you are all interested in satisfying the demand for the Superversive in gaming then studying this classic will serve you well. (It’s also a fun time in its own right, because who doesn’t want to be a literal Knight in Shining Armor?)

When truth is viewed as treachery

When truth is viewed as treachery,
Integrity as vice,
And beauty as debauchery,
That’s when a nation dies.

When mercy is a hateful thing,
And power is all they crave,
The paradise they hope to bring
Is but an open grave.

And so we strive in our small works
To furnish, among other perks,
Young minds with beauty, wit and charm,
The faithful in this way to arm

Against the waves of hellish thoughts
Proclaimed in foul corrupted courts
That seek to undermine all hope
And glamourize the hangman’s rope.

So strengthened, they will dare to stand
And build great things upon the land,
Inspire others to the cause
That’s guided by such higher laws.

Thus day by day and heart by heart
We all must play our little part
In the greatest of all symphonies,
Most glorious of mysteries,

Whose notes are holy purity,
Resounding to eternity;
Uplift, inspire, make whole and strong,
And join in the Creator’s song.

Superversive Music: Eye of the Storm

Link

One of the more interesting bands out there, The Cruxshadows is part Goth, and part Catholic. One might go so far as to say that they are Superversive by nature. Take for example, their song, “Eye of the Storm.” Honestly, look at the lyrics (below the video) and tell me that some verses don’t look like articles from the website.

Images from Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core.

The trials you now are facing,
They are not greater than your will,
For there is nothing under Heaven,
You cannot overcome.
See the door that lies before you,
And know – this too shall pass.
The confrontation of your fears,
In strength drawn from the past.

Where the silent voices whisper,
‘Find the course that is your own,
And however great the obstacle,
You will never be alone. ‘
For I have watched the path of Angels,
And I have heard the Heavens roar.
There is strife within the tempest,
But there is calm in the eye of the storm.

In fragments of an instant,
The chaos has returned,
And all that was left to sentiment,
Beneath the banner burned.
And as that voice was slow receded,
Into echoes, memory,
My doubts were re-ignited,
And fear awakened from it’s sleep.

I believe in what I fight for,
And I have paid for it with pain.
I am here because my contributions,
May help turn this fate away.
And all who stood by and did nothing,
Who are they to criticize?
The sacrifices of others-
Our blood has bought their lives…

This is the moment of truth,
At the point of no return.
Place faith in your convictions,
As boundaries start to blur.

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord.
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn.
There is strife within the tempest,
But there is calm in the eye of the storm…

The pages of our history,
Are written by the hand,
With eyes and ears and prejudice,
Too far removed to understand.
And so the heroes of the ages
Are stripped of honesty and love.
To make them seem less noble,
And hide what we can become.

This is the moment of truth,
At the point of no return.
Place faith in your convictions,
As the boundaries start to blur.

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn
There is strife within the tempest,
And there is calm in the eye of the storm…

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn
There is strife within the tempest,
And calm in the eye of the storm…

There is no love untouched by hate,
No unity without discord.
There is no courage without fear,
There is no peace without a war.
There is no wisdom without regret,
No admiration without scorn.
There is strife within the tempest,
And there is calm in the eye of the storm…

If you find the courage within you,
To face the path ahead,
It matters not the outcome,
If what you will gain instead,
Is a heart deepened in the knowing,
That experience carves the soul,
And the very thing that empties you,
Shall surely make you whole.

Where the silent voices whisper,
‘Find the course that is your own,
And however great the obstacle,
You will never be alone. ‘
For I have watched the path of Angels,
And I have heard the Heavens roar.
There is strife within the tempest,
But there is calm in the eye of the storm.

 

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Guest Post: Noblebright Fantasy: An Overview

I am reposting this with the permission of C. J. Brightley, whose blog this is from.

This idea seems to have much in common with Superversiveness.

Noblebright Fantasy: An Overview  


light-in-the-darkness-box-set-full-sizeLight in the Darkness: A Noblebright Fantasy Boxed Set (link goes to Amazon)

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to connect with another indie author, Mike Reeves-McMillan, who wrote a lovely review of The King’s Swordwhich he described, tongue-in-cheek, as “cheerybright.” He meant that the world wasn’t perfect, but good characters exist and can make a difference in their world and society through actions defined by honesty, integrity, and self-sacrifice. While the term cheerybright certainly made me smile (and was a lovely counterpoint to grimdark), we eventually discovered the term “noblebright.”

The term noblebright was originally something of a joke from the gaming community. The quintessential grimdark game Warhammer 40k (which I have not played, being neither a gamer nor a fan of grimdark) was rewritten as Brighthammer 40k. Some brilliant unknown person (thank you, whoever you are!) described the rewrite as “noblebright”, which we liked because it focused on the motivations of the characters rather than a perceived cheerfulness which wasn’t reflected in all the books we meant when we talked about this previously-unnamed subgenre of fantasy.

So what is noblebright fantasy?

Noblebright fantasy has at least one important character with noble, idealistic motives who does the right thing out of principle. The character is flawed, but his or her actions are generally defined by honesty, integrity, sacrifice, love, and kindness. The story upholds the goodness of the character; the character’s good qualities are not held up as naiveté, cluelessness, or stupidity, but rather shown to be worthwhile. Good characters can make a difference. Noblebright characters can learn and grow. They can deliberately choose to be kind when tempted to be unkind, they can choose generosity when it hurts, and they can influence their world and other characters for the better. In a noblebright story, even villains are not without hope; their stories may have a redemptive ending, or they may have some kind of conversion experience (religious or not). It’s not guaranteed, of course, but in a noblebright story, it’s a possibility.

Noblebright fantasy is not utopian fiction. The world of a noblebright story is not perfect, and indeed can sometimes be quite dark. Actions have consequences, and even good characters can make terrible mistakes. But a noblebright story is generally hopeful in tone, even if there are plenty of bad, grim, dark things going on in the world.

lightinthedarkness_fc_r_a

Light in the Darkness: A Noblebright Fantasy Boxed Set (link goes to Barnes & Noble: Nook)

Noblebright Fantasy: Intersections with Other Fantasy Subgenres

First, a few definitions:

Clean fantasy – Clean fantasy is fantasy that does not include sex or graphic violence. Clean fantasy is very often noblebright, but not always. It is often written for young adults, but not always. It is “young-adult appropriate” even when written for adults. Not all noblebright fantasy is clean, but much is.

Young adult (YA) fantasy – Young adult is an age range, not a genre, so young adult books of any genre have the age range (13-17 years old) in common. Young adult books are typically written with slightly simpler vocabulary, grammar, and syntax than books written for adult readers. They often, but not always, have a coming of age element to the story, and almost always have a young adult protagonist or main character.

Not all coming of age books are young adult books. “Coming of age” is a theme in the story, while young adult defines the intended audience. A coming of age story might be written from an adult perspective looking back and intended for adult readers rather than young adult readers.

As an amusing aside, I’ve found a number of definitions that define “young adult” as ages 20-39, but in literary terms, “young adult” means basically middle school and high school age, so 13-17 years old. 18-24ish tends to fall under “new adult” which is a recent term for books with college age protagonists (whether or not they’re enrolled in college).

Christian fantasy – Christian fantasy is written with a clear Christian perspective, with either allegorical or direct reference to Christian theology. Most Christian fantasy books will be fairly clean, but that’s not an absolute guarantee (I believe some of Ted Dekker’s darker stories may be more graphically violent than would fall under the “clean fantasy” descriptor.). Most Christian fantasies will be noblebright in character even if the world is dark, but not all noblebright fantasies will be Christian fantasies.

To use my own books as examples (because I know them best):

The King’s Sword and the rest of the Erdemen Honor series are noblebright, clean fantasy, but not Christian fantasy. You can easily identify themes of integrity and sacrificial love, but there is no religious component to the story. They are not YA, although both The King’s Sword and Honor’s Heirhave a coming of age thread within the story, because the stories are written for adults from an adult perspective.

Things Unseen and the rest of the A Long-Forgotten Song series are clean Christian fantasy. I’ve described them as “darkish” at times because they’re more violent and scary than Erdemen Honor. However, it’s the world that is darkish; most of the characters you spend the most time with are verynoblebright. Is it clean? Well, some of the violence is a little graphic, but I think most parents would probably be ok with even younger teenage readers reading it, so it’s clean or at least cleanish. It’s the polar opposite of grimdark… there is hope and redemption and grace in a very dark world. The darkness is there not for the reader to wallow in but to highlight the magnificence of grace.

We’re starting a movement.

I want to make noblebright fantasy a thing the way grimdark is a thing. I want you to be able to search for noblebright fantasy on Amazon and find it. I want to bring noblebright into the spotlight the way grimdark has held the spotlight for years.

We need your help.

I’m assembling a series of boxed sets of noblebright fantasy books. They’re great books with a noblebright perspective, at a great price. We want to hit the bestsellers lists.

I’d love to be a bestseller, of course. But more than that, I want to get noblebright fantasy out to the world. I want to let people know that fantasy doesn’t have to be grim and dark and cruel and hopeless. There is hope and light and kindness and joy in fantasy! I want to give devoted fantasy readers a new perspective, and I want to attract readers who might have been turned off of fantasy by the recent trend toward grimdark.

How you can help:

Do you believe in noblebright fantasy? Here’s what you can do:

  • Buy the books! You can check out the boxed sets or seek out the individual books you’re interested in. I will post reviews of all the books in sets that I organize on my blog.* The first boxed set is available here! Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble Nook  |  Kobo  |  iBooks
  • Search for noblebright! I’m working with other authors to make noblebright more widely known, and we’re using noblebright as a keyword on Amazon and other retailers. So you can search to find other noblebright books by using it as a search term. Like this (click here!).*
  • Write reviews for the books you enjoy! Using the noblebright term in your review will help that book come up more easily in searches by readers searching for noblebright fantasy. Not sure how to write a review? I wrote some tips here.
  • Spread the word! If you’re a blogger, blog about noblebright as a new subgenre or about the noblebright books you’ve enjoyed. Do you tweet? Tweet about it! Tell your friends!
  • Sign up for my mailing list! I don’t have (and don’t want) ownership over the noblebright term. But I do have a leadership role in this movement, and I am organizing these first noblebright boxed sets. As a Christian reader and author, I plan to let you know where noblebright fantasy, clean fantasy, and Christian fantasy intersect and overlap in the books I’m reading and the boxed sets I’m organizing, to help you select books you will love.

*At one point I was advised to trademark the term noblebright in order to ensure that the definition remained relatively static and that it was not applied to books which included material that was problematic in some way. I chose not to do this. I believe authors who write noblebright understand the point of noblebright and the limits of the term. I’d rather have noblebright spread than keep ownership of it. I understand, and I want to make you aware, that not all noblebright fantasy will be completely consistent with a conservative Christian worldview. Noblebright is a term that describes a general attitude of hope and goodness and nobility in the work, but does not necessarily mean that the author is a Christian or that the work is completely devoid of content that you personally may find problematic or challenging in some way. If you’re a Christian reader, this is a new way to find books you might enjoy. If you are not a Christian but are looking for books that are more hopeful than what has been in vogue recently, noblebright is your new favorite search term.

***

Jagi here again. For more from C. J. Brightly,see her blog here.

 

Appearing on Catholic Geek Radio and a Confession

Since this is the 1,000th post at SuperversiveSF, I will combine two posts I intended to post separately into one, so that the whole is worthy of such a milestone.

I was interviewed on the Catholic Geek podcast last week, and the interview can now be listened to over at blogtalkradio. We briefly discuss the sad anniversary of 9/11 before moving on to brighter topics, such as superversive fiction, my own literary journey and output, and the hope and beauty I attempt to convey in my work.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/webuiltthatnetwork/2016/09/11/the-catholic-geek-poetry-and-superversive-sf-with-ben-zwycky

There was one topic I deliberately omitted in the interview that I subsequently realised was worth touching on, so I will cover that below.

A Confession and a Motivation

I would like to expand on something I glossed over in my interview on Catholic Geek Radio, but now that I look back on it, played a much larger part in my motivations as a writer than I realized. It concerns how I moved from one university to another. It is not something I am proud of – instead it is something I am grateful for, since reminding myself of it is an effective defence against pride. This post will involve some painful memories, so please bear with me.

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