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03 November 2011 @ 04:39 pm
A Random Collection Of Notes  
I'd heard that tuition at UC schools has raised so much that it's almost on par with Stanford. Both Stanford and UC Berkeley possessing fine Graduate programs in Japanese, I though that if it really is true, then Stanford is closer to home than Berkeley.

Turns out it's really not true. Stanford runs about $12k/quarter (I forget if that includes all the ancillary fees - your out the door tuition may be a bit more) while Berkeley is $7.5k/semester, all fees included. Both still too rich for my random "it would be nice to have an advanced degree in Japanese studies" blood. I still remember when tuition at UCSB went up to $600/quarter. Heh.

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The Occupy Wall Street and related protests prompted someone to ponder how far into the Great Depression it was before the protest started. It looks like they started around 1932, or roughly 3 years after Black Tuesday. I guess we're right on schedule.

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I'm reading a book called Gempei, a highly fictionalized version of the famous Taira-Minamoto wars. I have found almost no fictional books in English set in Japan that I can stand, and I wonder why this is. I should be an eager audience. And so I try yet another one to see if I can either find that Holy Grail of Fictional Japan, or at least find out what it is that makes me want to hiss and spit and figure out how to avoid it, should I ever make progress on any of my ideas of fictional Japan.

So far I have come to these conclusions:

1) Don't imitate a Japanese writing style, and particularly not a classical Japanese writing style. There's a reason I've read the Tale of the Heike once and only ones, and I shudder at the thought of going back through it. It sounds stilted and unnatural to a modern, English-speaking audience. Plus, utterly telling not showing style.

2) Don't get too specific on your locations. Seriously. Do. Not. If you do:

a) I will hiss and spit at you that you can't get from point A to point B unless you go completely mad and decide to hike over Mt. Fuji, which no sane gold trader would ever, ever do. Similarly for randomly deciding to hike over Mt. Hiei, only for more monk-infested and less death-by-snow reasons.

b) You sound like a freaking travel guide book, or like someone who is trying to show off how much research they did. Most people will have no clue what you're talking about, and the ones who do will sooner end up in bullet point a because unless you've lived there, you're going to make a stupid mistake sooner rather than later, and probably semi-frequently. (Don't get me started on why a fire started in the Gion and fanned by a wind blowing north isn't going to burn something located on Nishi-Hachijou.) If I'm reading a novel, I don't want it to read like Fordors. And I the reader shouldn't have to care how much research you did. Show me, and I'll know. Tell me, and I'll think you're faking it.

c) It makes your characters feel like they don't live in their own world. See note b on why.

3) Bad characters. I don't know why, but somehow ever single author gets so wrapped up in "those mysterious Japanese" that they forget that those mysterious Japanese are people just like you and me. If their motivations wouldn't make sense if you changed the setting to medieval Europe or Rome or the Old West, then your exotic setting isn't going to save you from having your characters being too implausible.

4) Language style is awkward. I don't know what it is, but somehow trying to imitate Japanese formality and indirection results in something that comes out almost Japlish. I don't think that's unavoidable when using a stylized speaking style -- I point to Steven Brust's The Phoenix Guards as an example of a highly stylized speaking style that still manages to be engaging and not get in the way of the story while still utilizing an uncommon way of phrasing things.

All in all, there are certainly things I like about the book. But at the end of the day I find it hard to stay consistently engaged with it. I'm tempted to hand it off to someone who doesn't know Japan as well as I do and see if they find can enjoy the book more since they won't be distracted by being an Accuracy Snob (or, at any rate, this is not their core accuracy area.)