Pulp Revolutionaries Discuss a Superversive Critique of Sword & Flower

Monday , 10, April 2017 11 Comments

Over at the SuperversiveSF blog Castalia House blogger Anthony M has a couple posts breaking down his criticism of Castalia House blogger Rawle Nyanzi’s anime-fueled pulp story “Sword & Flower”.

Now, there’s enough of a fundamental disagreement here that neither side is ever going to completely agree with the other. But for people on the sidelines that are curious about just precisely where the Pulp Revolution parts ways with the Superversives, the discussion below taken from Google+ here may be of interest.

Jeffro:  Rawle Nyanzi’s book is conscious effort at pulp with anime overtones. Its story beats are only a surprise because they haven’t been seen in decades and/or the vast majority of culture creators are constitutionally unable to do them with a straight face.

This thing with “the story is crying out for a redemption arc” bit. I have no idea what that is about. I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right? Is there something beyond “the rogue with a heart of gold” actually demonstrating that he has a heart of gold…? Sure there is. But a consciously pulpy adventure tale would be unlikely to tackle it and should not be faulted for failing to do so.

Star Wars didn’t have a redemption thingy in the first movie. Luke just blows up the Deathstar. To set up the redemption of Darth Vader took two whole films. Even if you grant that whatever Anthony is talking about is essential, I just don’t see why you’d absolutely have to have it in the first installment. Still, if the Daredevil television show is more supeversive than Rawle’s story… then I don’t know what superversive is anymore. I just have no idea what they’re talking about!

Doug Cole: Han coming back to save Luke at the last moment, choosing helping the rebellion over money, was his “redemption” arc. Wasn’t much, but it but the heart of gold in “rogue with a.”

P. Alexander: I hadn’t had a chance to read the final draft, but one of my issues was that the villain came out of left field. Like, I knew the banker guy was gonna be the villain, but I was never quite sure why. And I’d’ve liked to have seen more from the Puritan girl from the start of the story.

JeffroI know what I’m doing. Trying to think of an anime that hit that note at all. Knights of Sidonia? Kuromukuro? That last one has two whole episodes where the princess protagonist refuses the call. Don’t remember anything like a redemption arc. Wouldn’t Japanese suck at that by definition? I mean… a Japanese guy screws up, he doesn’t get a second chance. He just has to kill himself. (And Kuromukuro really plays that up… with the “princess” girl working overtime to convince the samurai character get over that sort of thing and be more Western in that area.)

P. Alexander: Usually when a Japanese show is about redemption, the [stuff] went down prior to the start of the story, and the whole show is about trying to make up for whatever the hero failed at, which may be shown in a series of flashbacks.

Doug Cole: I suppose “I know what I’m doing” could be taken as plans to return to the fray; most of the reads and at least one novelization had Chewbacca nagging the crap out of Han to turn around.

Though maybe Han was thinking “oh, maybe the Death Star gunners will miss an X-Wing, but stormtoopers or no the M-Falcon is a big ass target.”

Brian Renninger: And, there is a redemption bit. I’m not sure how fighting demons can be seen as anything other than an act seeking redemption for people condemned to a lesser heaven. Is their redemption realized? No. There is no moment where they realize they are good with the powers that be. Huh. Seems just like real life in that regard. We have to continuously try to be good without really knowing if we are.

But, fighting demons isn’t enough is it? The Puritans did that while they were alive and have double downed on it in the lesser heaven. Fighting demons isn’t their redemption. They need to be more accepting and let the love they preach about actually happen. That’s their redemption. And, he touches on Dimity’s personal redemption — looking outside herself to others/another. That is — love again. And, to a degree both the puritans and Dimity achieve these things. So, there is no redemption arc? How? Because the text doesn’t explicitly point it out?

And, this continual comparison of short works to full novels or even whole seasons of a tv show just isn’t a fair comparison as to how much can be achieved in a given space.

JeffroI know what I’m doing. — That whole scene is Han’s refusal of the call. Much more clear than Luke when he wants to go back to Ben and Beru. You have to have it to show that Han is sane and savvy. You have to be disappointed in him for beat so you can be thrilled when the cavalry shows up. Note that Force Awakens does not grasp this sort of cadence/response dynamic. It paints in the refusal of call by rote as if checking the box is sufficient.

P. Alexander: From now on, I’m gonna read “Not Superversive enough” as “Literal Santa Claus didn’t show up to hand out plot items.”

Nathan Housley: The funny thing is I can see Jagi Lamplighter recognizing Sword & Flower as a different type of superversive than Anthony is trying to make it. (Anthony is misreading genre and beats here. Sword & Flower is not the type of story he wants it to be.) Which to me highlights the problem Superversive has. Like symbolism, it exists, but in recognition, it usually reveals more about the what the reviewer sees in the text than the text itself. And when fundamentally and intentionally subversive works are held up as superversive, it makes me wonder if superversive is not short for “I like it.”

Rawle Nyanzi: People seem to love Elizabeth (the Puritan girl at the beginning of the story.)

Jeffro: It’s the first time in years that you see a female character (a) operating in a helper role and (b) not surrounded by a Greek chorus of cheerleaders. It’s astonishing. The fact that she did something “wrong” in order to do something right… the fact that she puts herself at odds with society to do the right thing… that makes her instantly likable in a way that no characters on Iron Fist or Jessica Jones ever achieve. Sorry, but that’s kind of important. Like… I mean it actually matters to civilization.

Brian Renninger: Yeah, I’d have to agree, the initial scene with Elizabeth is where the book clicked into place for me. It’s a key scene.

Nathan Housley: Had Elizabeth’s story turned out differently, she might have filled the same roll as a Rhiannon, an Akari, or an Eruru in an Aquaplus fantasy (the helpmate). Those girls can be just as beloved, if not more, than the warrior girls around them.

P. Alexander: I totes thought she was gonna be the female lead; having her there in a situation with Mash at the start where they were both at risk and both stood up for each other sets up that expectation within the typical narrative framework of pulp-era fiction.

Jon Mollison: The Superversives want to remind people to do the right thing by having literal angels show up in their stories. I want my stories to remind people to do the right thing.

Full stop. You don’t need angels. You don’t need horns sounding and clouds parting and messengers from God. You do the right thing anyway, and it makes your life better and the world around you better place.



  • deuce says:

    Jeffro:” ‘I know what I’m doing.’ — That whole scene is Han’s refusal of the call. Much more clear than Luke when he wants to go back to Ben and Beru. You have to have it to show that Han is sane and savvy. You have to be disappointed in him for beat so you can be thrilled when the cavalry shows up. Note that Force Awakens does not grasp this sort of cadence/response dynamic. It paints in the refusal of call by rote as if checking the box is sufficient.”

    An very astute reading of that scene, Jeffro. Twenty-first century screenwriters are just hamfisted children playing with tools they dimly understand. I watched Star Wars in the theater on its first run. The emotional effect of Han saving Luke was just incredible. If the cynical smuggler who had no particular ties to the Rebels had immediately said, “You know what? I’m gonna commit suicide with the rest of y’all! Count me in, you crazy kids!”, then the incredible power of the later scene would have been utterly lost. Refusal/reluctance on the part of a protagonist CAN, if handled correctly, do a lot to draw the reader/viewer in. It makes the reader really think about what’s at stake. Of course, now it is almost always used by rote and as basically a virtue signal of being a “rebel” against “something”.

  • Anthony says:

    Hmmm. Interesting! Will respond more later.

    Quick note: Jeffro brought up Daredevil, not me. And The Wish List isn’t that long.

  • Rawle Nyanzi says:

    One good thing will have come out of this for you all: once I am done submitting a short story to Misha’s anthology, I’ll get right to work on Sword & Flower II — and yes, that will be the title.

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