Will the Real Mulan Please Stand Up?

A friend recently posted up a picture of his daughters at Disney World standing with a Mulan. The Mulan in the picture looked like this:

mulan-1

With my own fiction, I’ve been accused of writing sexist visions of women before. Though I never intended to. Whatever, I was shocked to see the Mulan costume that the Disney World actress wore. It was Mulan in the costume that the match maker sticks her in at the beginning of the film. The one she hated that made her really uncomfortable! Given an actual strong Chinese legend about a warrior woman, Disney opted to present her as a princess ready to be match-made with her prince!

This is how Mulan felt about that costume when she saw herself in it in the film:

Mulan-disney-princess-15949421-1280-720

What’s wrong with Mulan as she appeared throughout most of the movie? Why couldn’t she be wearing her armor?

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Of course, the answer would be that “Girls want to have their pictures with Disney princesses” and/or “We needed an Asian princess and Mulan’s all we’ve got.”

I haven’t really looked, but I’m amazed that there’s not more of a public reaction to this. Is the movie too old or too unpopular for anyone to notice or care? I admit, I was working in a movie theater when it came out and was even vaguely familiar with the story of Mulan already (seriously). So of all the Disney films, it caught my attention much more than most. But surely there have to be at least a few girls who don’t want their picture with a princess. There have to be some that would enjoy if not benefit from being in the presence of a woman in armor quite capable of contributing to a martial effort. Or am I totally wrong?

I’m Not Just Whistlin’ Dixie

Saw an article today on CNET (http://www.cnet.com/news/japanese-company-plans-space-elevator-by-2050) about space elevators and it hit me, “I bet a lot of my readers didn’t know that was a thing.” Did you know that space elevators have been theorized as the best way to make space travel routine for some time now? I didn’t just make them up to be weird.

So much of the stuff in the Bodhi trilogy I didn’t make up. From nanotechnology (http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/n/nanomedicine.htm) to promote longevity to shape changing reptilian royal families (http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/vida_alien/esp_vida_alien_29.htm) to Djwhal Khul (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djwal_Khul) to just about everything in the book! While the story and presentation of these ideas are wholly my own, I very much tried to make a series that would serve as a master class of mythology, Western mysticism, popular conspiracy theory, and transhumanist speculation.

How much of the Bodhi trilogy did you recognize as having a grounding in something and how much did you think I’d just invented whole hog? With just the few links above, are you surprised to see them? Did you already know all these?

Landr

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a musician as well as author. Well, I consider myself to truly be an author–music I more just dabble in. But I’ve been writing and recording music for pert near 20 years now. Novels are fun for really building a full world and immersing myself in crafting and creating characters and a reality as well as a story. Music is more like a quick crossword puzzle. I like to bash out some parts and pieces on guitar, bass, drums, etc., and then pull them together until I have a sound. You can check out my efforts at Soundcloud.com (http://soundcloud.com/aaronblack-1) if you’re curious.

Lately, I’ve been trying a new music tool called LANDR (www.landr.com). Landr allows for “auto-mastering,” which means it takes a mixed down track and applies some polish and pumps up the volume. Mastering has long been a bit of an esoteric art that’s notoriously difficult to (no pun intended) master for home artists who don’t have access to a top studio listening environment and many of the thousand dollar tools needed to get a master just right. Despite the challenges, I’ve done plenty of my own mastering over the years with mixed results. But Landr’s pretty awesome because it gives me consistently well mastered tracks with very little effort on my part at all. Just drag and drop the file on Landr.com and the tool does the rest.

Yes, this post is a bit of a shameless plug for Landr. But I really do recommend it if you’re an amateur musician and want to get your homemade tracks sounding a little more professional with very little effort!

Sophomore Slump

Went to see Sin City 2 last night. Enjoyable flick. As most of the critics have said, I really missed that innovative edge the first film had. Not that this one was any less beautiful than its predecessor but, in the 9 years between films, the first film has been aped and mimicked by so many other films either in part or whole that just repeating its feats no longer seems fresh or innovative.

Bands, tech companies, and novelists all struggle with that sophomore slump. How do you “innovate” something new and yet keep your loyal fans happy? Thankfully I’m too small time to really have to worry about it. But it is something that I contemplated in writing Exegesis.

There was a multi-year span between when I finished the first draft of Catharsis and when I published Exegesis. In the interim, I grew and changed both as a person and artist. So the book naturally reflects some of those changes. And the characters themselves have evolved and changed. So that necessarily makes for a different work.

That’s great! But it’s not really innovative. So how do I push the envelope? And once it’s pushed, will anyone who enjoyed the preceding book like a new one?

Admittedly, I didn’t try to reinvent the form with Exegesis. I just let the story continue to expand. Sin City somewhat attempted that, but fell short of impressing through that alone. So what else could it have done? What else could I do?

Are you there, Lord? It’s me, the omniscient narrator.

At what level did you enjoy Catharsis and Exegesis (assuming you did enjoy them, that is)?

I somewhat asked this question just the other day. But, having just finished Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, the question is fresh on my mind. Many consider Wolfe’s book to be a science-fiction as well as just plain ol’ literary masterpiece. The book functions somewhat well as a straight-ahead sci-fi epic about a lowly young man coming into his own as king of the kingdom. But it also functions at much higher (or deeper) levels as allegory, puzzle, and work of eschatology.

I’m no Gene Wolfe, but the Bodhi Trilogy certainly shares some similar themes to the Book of the New Sun. On one level, it is a straightforward page turner about a superman and his beautiful, naked lady friend who fight evil with swords and teeth and claws. On another level, it’s an allegorical story of a Theosophic nature. And still beyond that it’s an exploration of the monomyth and the concept of a reluctant hero.

Like Wolfe, I chose a first person narrator so that the reader is left to understand the world not from a level that itself understands that world but from a level fundamentally colored by a profound misunderstanding of it. Wolfe’s Severian is an unreliable narrator much of his own doing, but also because he himself doesn’t understand the forces that act on him nearly as well as he might feign. Similarly, Bodhi, who at least is honest about his ignorance, is manipulated by forces that frankly I myself don’t really understand. In playing with those forces from Bodhi’s level, I as a writer and hopefully you as a reader invoke the forces and are left to deal with them on human terms while they operate at a level of mystery past our ability to deal with.

He has a futuristic look about him, Cassius.

I was talking to my Buddhist priest the other day about Catharsis, and one criticism he had was that Bodhi doesn’t seem much like a normal Buddhist monk. Of course, it reflects badly on me that I must not have communicated very well in the text that he’s not!

Bodhi is a Christine. Who are the Christines? Well, they’re a figment of my imagination! But I didn’t invent them entirely from scratch. “Christines” are what Christians are called in The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ—an apocryphal Gospel of fairly recent origin. In fact, Bodhi references the Aquarian Gospel throughout both books as his go-to Holy Scripture.

In the Bodhi Trilogy, I started with the premise, “What if Madame Blavatsky’s cosmology were more or less real?” Madame Blavatsky was a late 19th century mystic who founded the Theosophical Society and wrote a few esoteric tomes of modern mysticism that still inform the New Age movements of today. Many if not most New Age groups and religions can trace at least some of their lineage back to Blavatsky. Going off an imagined premise that her worldview were more correct than most, it seemed likely to me that the Aquarian Gospel, a more or less Theosophical rewrite of the gospel story, would eventually come to the fore as the dominant, true gospel of the Christian faith. In that spirit, I assumed that its term for Christians—Christines—would also become the dominant term.

In retrospect, I worry that it’s all a bit convoluted. As you’ve noticed above if nowhere else, I’m a church-going Buddhist—not a Theosophist. For me, Theosophy is largely a fantasy world to play in. Studying the works and ranks of the Ascended Masters to me seems much like studying the works and ranks of the Jedi Masters.

Not to insult any Theosophists out there that happen to read this! I think Blavatsky and those who would follow in expanding and reinterpreting her teachings have provided the world with a powerful and engaging cosmology and theology or I wouldn’t have had any interest in studying it.

So, back to the main idea, Bodhi isn’t a Buddhist. He’s a member of a Christian denomination I’ve largely made up by combining elements from a few Theosophical sources, the Aquarian Gospel, and yes a few healthy dabs of typical Eastern monastic style. My hope was that I’d be forgiven any inconsistencies with adhering to any one, established monastic order or religious denomination from our time as Bodhi practices a faith that essentially does not yet exist in a world that would be largely foreign to someone from the 21st century.

What would it be like for an early Christian from 1st century Rome to imagine a 21st century Mormon missionary in America, for example? The massive shift in cultures, time, and geography from the writer and his readers would make that Mormon missionary seem pretty sci-fi to his 1st century, Roman contemporaries. But to those of us living in the 21st century, a Mormon missionary isn’t all that exotic or off-kilter a concept at all.