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Archive for May, 2013

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That’s right, I’ve been nominated! Everyone give a big cheer to A. P. Roberts, for thinking of me and my humble blog.

To accept this award, I must do four things. I must attach the image. (Done.) I must thank the person who nominated me. (Done.) I must also share seven things about myself, and I must pass along the nomination to seven more deserving bloggers.

SEVEN THINGS ABOUT ME
1) I am a cat person, but dogs are okay, too.
2) I grow a garden of vegetables and native wildflowers. The vegetables are for my family. The native wildflowers are an effort to attract native pollinators, since I’m hardly ever seeing honey bees any more.
3) In addition to writing fantasy novels and podcasting some of my stories, I play D&D, read comic books, and other geeky fun.
4) My favorite video game is Oblivion, but I also like Skyrim, Portal 2, and the Lego game series.
5) I hate to admit it, but I’m a snob about coffee.
6) Perhaps not coincidentally, I am a morning person.
7) I’m a little bit tired of people co-opting, re-booting, re-imagining, or whatever you want to call it, classic characters and series. Geez, people. Make your own!

Finally, my seven nominees are (drum roll, please):
1) David Lee Summers, who edited my novel, The Seven Exalted Orders, for Sky Warrior Books and is about as easy to work with as you could imagine.
2) Jennifer M. Eaton, a fine writer who has been brave about sharing her family’s struggle with an oppositional/defiant child.
3) M. Q. Allen, another author who writes excellent and fascinating world-building articles.
4) L. Palmer Chronicles, fantasy author blog.
5) J. Keller Ford, another fun author blog.
6) Frog and Esther Jones, two authors who also publish through Sky Warrior Books.
7) The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh, a book review blog by a teacher, librarian, and insatiable reader.

Blogging can be a bit of work, as you know if you do it. The recognition is wonderful, though not as good as the friendships that have grown up around it. I hope we’ll all be giving each other awards for years to come.

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Before I leave the topic of animated ninjas, I have to take us to the silly side with ninjas as only Lego can envision them. This is Ninjago, Masters of Spinjitsu. I first encountered this series in the classroom, where I was helping a 3rd grader with his reading. The book of his choice, you may have guessed, was a Ninjago episode adaptation.

Ninjago is a line of Lego toys and games retro-fitted from their older ninja line and re-introduced around 2010. The TV show began airing on Cartoon Network in 2011 and is still on the air as I write this. Episodes are 10 minutes long without the commercials and feature animated Lego characters in a Japanese inspired fantasy world. Four ninjas are the sworn defenders of all that is good; they each control an elemental power and execute their most impressive powers by spinning around very fast. (They’re masters of SPINjitsu —get it?) There’s also a kid sister who wants to be taken as seriously as the boys.

And, did I mention there are dragons? Yes! Each of the four heroes rides on a dragon with elemental powers corresponding to their own. Kai, the fire ninja, rides Flame, the fire dragon. Cole, the team leader, rides Rocky, the earth dragon. Zane, the ice ninja, rides the ice dragon Shard, and Jay, the lightning ninja, rides Wisp, the electrical dragon. From the episodes I’ve seen, the dragons don’t have much personality and mainly function as vehicles for the ninja heroes. This always disappoints me a little.

If you’re familiar with Lego’s console games, you’ll have the basic tone: fast paced, with lots of puns and sight gags, layered on a fairly standard quest to fend off a supernatural evil. Although defeated characters don’t burst into Lego pieces, as I was halfway expecting. Maybe I’ve been playing too much Lego Batman 2 recently.

In addition to the Ninjago TV show, there are lego models sets (naturally, the dragons are the biggest and best), children’s books, games for hand-held and I-phone, and spinning toys that appear similar to Beyblades. Kids under 10 will enjoy this show. For adults, it’s strictly cotton candy.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out their “brickipedia” or watch a few episodes on Cartoon Network.

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The final episode! Skalah alone stands between Vingrel and victory, with just one uncertain ally.

The episode is on my web site, but I’ve been encountering some sort of loop on Podbean and haven’t been able to load the episode there. I’ll have to try again tomrrow.

As always, I would love to hear from anyone who’s got questions or comments.

Time notes: Introduction, 0:12; Chapter 7, 0:47; End credits 13:04; Total run time, 14:26

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Last time, I gave you the background on Orochimaru, once a child in ninja school who grew up to be a roaming master of evil in Naruto.

Orochimaru’s big dream was to master every chakra (which is what they call their ninja powers and attacks) known to ninjakind. This, to me, is one of the series weaknesses; some of the chakras depend on things like having insects nest inside your body, and others are cherished family secrets. It seems unlikely one could attract the insects and then just get rid of them, or persuade an elder to teach secret family techniques to an outsider. BUT. That’s what they say.

So one of the things that makes Orochimaru dragon-like is his obsession with hoarding — in this case hoarding knowledge. Only rarely does he bestow part of his knowledge on others, and then only to cement his control or advance his agenda.

As you might expect, the adult Orochimaru has a mind-boggling array of powers to choose from. In his initial appearances, he summoned a giant serpent, and also transformed himself with various serpent-like attributes such as snake-arms and taking the form of a multi-headed snake — surely a reference to the legend of Yamata no Orochi, the eight-headed dragon. Later in the series, he takes the form of a Naga (a snake with a human head).

Given his twisted personality, it shouldn’t be surprising that he favors the most insidious tools in his kit. Orochimaru can absorb chakra from others, and block the chakra so they can’t use their powers to defend themselves. He can place Seals on people that allows him to boost their powers. Usually he does this to someone he wants to recruit, causing their powers to run amok so they have to turn to him for guidance.

If that isn’t enough, Orochimaru has methods to disguise himself, and indeed spent several months masquerading as the ninja lord Kazekage, with even his closest advisors unaware of the imposture. This allows him to travel around and observe events as he wishes. Orochimaru often claims to be bored, and it appears he sometimes provokes warfare for his own amusement.

I’m sure there are more I’ve left out, and I invite anyone to comment if I’ve skipped over something crucial. Let’s just say that his second dragon-like attribute is his overwhelming power. Very few ninja can take him on and live to tell.

But the most terrifying thing about Orochimaru is his shrewd and ruthless calculation. In most battles, he’s thought things out three steps ahead of his foe. There have been those occasions, though, when his arrogance led him into unwise battles. For instance, one of the Hokage managed to paralyze his arms, effectively crippling his powers. Orochimaru managed to manipulate a situation where the next Hokage was forced to undo that damage.

So what does a guy with all this power do? Pretty much whatever he wants! He backed a criminal organization, Akatsuki, and then orchestrated their destruction. He tried to take over his childhood village, but couldn’t overcome the defenders. Whatever the end result, he doesn’t give up, just backs off and thinks things through before trying again.

I won’t try to describe all the plots and schemes Orochimaru has carried out during the very long Naruto series. Partly because spoilers are no fun, and partly because this post would be even more unwieldy! He’s kind of like Voldemort in the Harry Potter series — if something bad is going on, you know you’ll eventually find Orochimaru behind it.

It appears Orochimaru’s ultimate aim is to become a godlike being with immortality and all the chakras at his fingertips. To this end, he’s invested a lot of time and energy in people and techniques that could resurrect him if he ever actually dies.

As you can probably tell, Naruto is a complicated series full of colorful and amazing characters. The pacing may seem slow for an American audience, with long stretches of back story and battles stopping for conversations between the combatants. On the other hand, they do the super-ninja-battle-soap opera extremely well, and it’s a paradise for anyone who likes to keep track of trivia. Recommended for ages 10 and up. Once you get into Naruto, you’ll never lack for something to watch.

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As I promised, I now take up the thread of the Japanese dragon legend, Yamata no Orochi, and follow it into a modern incarnation. For the purpose of this post, I’m assuming you’ve at least heard of Naruto, the wildly popular animated ninja epic. But, in case you’ve been shut up in a dragon’s tower for the past few years, there’s a great wiki on the topic right here.

The series star is Naruto, a mischievous school boy who lives in a ninja village called Konohagakure. The spirit of a demon fox was trapped inside Naruto when he was a baby, and any time he slips up, the neighbors rub this curse in his face. Nevertheless, he’s a good kid, and his teacher tries to help him keep steady.

The story begins as a fairly standard school drama. Naruto likes Sakura, but Sakura likes Sasuke. Naturally, these three are placed together in a study group/fighting team headed for a series of tougher and tougher combat trials that will determine how far they can go in their training. And Naruto wants to go high indeed. His dream is to become Hokage (leader of all the ninjas in the village).

By the way — as a writer, one of the best things you can do for your character is give them a big dream. Like Ash in Pokemon, who wants to “catch them all,” Naruto’s big dream wins the reader’s sympathy and keeps everything moving forward.

Then, in the middle of these combat trials, a mysterious character appears and the entire tone of the series changes. Naruto is amazed, because all the ninjas he looks up to are terrified of this guy. You guessed it — this is Orochimaru.

Once upon a time, Orochimaru was a young ninja in training, orphaned and alone. This he has in common with both Naruto and Sasuke. Orochimaru had a big dream, to learn every chakra there is. He was a child prodigy and was trained by the greatest ninja of his day, Hiruzen. But, unlike Naruto, Orochimaru was deeply wounded by the loss of his parents. Even as a child, people who knew him well described him as “twisted.” As Orochimaru grew to manhood, he served as an elite ninja and took part in combat on the side of Konohakagure, but he never fell in love or formed any other strong attachments. The big dream of his childhood was growing bigger, but ever darker. In time, he left the village to pursue his ambitions.

Come back on Thursday for more about what makes Orochimaru a great villain and a true dragon.

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I have some news to share before I get to my regular Sunday podcast. First, I have some new followers. Welcome! I’ve got a hunch some of you were attracted by Yamata no Orochi, and its connection to the master villain Orochimaru from Naruto. I assure you, I plan to follow up on that thread next week. Even if that isn’t the case, I hope you’ll enjoy my blog.

In addition, I have been nominated for the Lovely Blog Award. Thanks so much to A. P. Roberts for the nod. I’m pleased to accept, and I’m currently putting together the seven questions and pass-on nominations, so look for that to be coming, too.

Now we come to my usual Sunday offering, my swords and sorcery podcast, The Weight of Their Souls. It’s the penultimate episode! Vingrel turns the battlemaid Jerromie against her companions, and the battle goes from bad to worse. You can download the most recent episodes from Podbean, or if you’re coming in late the entire series is on my web site. I hope you’ll enjoy the story. Any comments are welcome.

Time notes: Intro, 0:12; Chapter Six, 0:52; End Credits, 9:47; Total Run Time, 11:10.

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Although most dragons of Japanese legend are benevolent or neutral nature spirits, they did have their man-eaters. Possibly the most famous is Yamata no Orochi, a villain in the Japanese national myth.

Orochi is a Hydra-like monstrosity, with eight heads, eight tails, and a thirst for blood. He is so large that he covers eight hills and valleys. Cedar and cypress trees grow on his back, and the rest of his skin is covered with moss. (It sounds as if, perhaps, Orochi could disguise himself as a mountain, and the plants started growing on him when he was in this form.) His eyes were red as cherries, and his belly was constantly swollen and red. Orochi lived in Izumo Province, hear the head waters of the Hi River. He terrorized the populace and demanded regular human sacrifices. Life was good (at least, for Orochi) until a stranger wandered through.

This was Susano-O, brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu. He had been invited to leave Heaven after playing a trick on his sister. As he wandered the land, Susano-O saw some chopsticks floating on the River Hi. Knowing that this meant there had to be people nearby, he followed the river bank and soon came upon an elderly couple and a young woman, all of whom who were weeping with deepest despair. Susano-O asked what was wrong. They told him they were minor mountain spirits, and once had eight lovely daughters. But every year, Yamata no Orochi appeared to demand a sacrifice. For seven years in a row, the dragon had devoured one of their daughters. Soon the dragon would come to claim their last living child.

Susano-O felt sorry for them, so he promised to help. First, he asked that they give him their daughter in marriage. When they learned he was Amaterasu’s brother, the couple agreed. Susano-O turned his bride into a comb and put her into his hair, so the dragon would not be able to find her. Then he asked his new in-laws to gather as much sake as they could find. He told them to distill the sake eight times, to make it more powerful, and pour it into eight vats. Susano-O built a fence with eight gates, and inside each gate he placed a vat. Then he and the old couple hid and waited.

Orochi came seeking human flesh, but he wouldn’t turn down free saki. Each head burst through a gate and gulped down the strong liquor. Shortly afterward, each head slumped down and fell asleep. Susano-O seized his chance. He ran along the fence, chopping off each dragon head. Then, just to be sure it was dead, he cut the rest of the body into pieces. As he chopped off one of the tails, something inside it caused his sword to break. Susano-O groped inside the dragon’s tail and drew out an even more powerful weapon. He took this back to Heaven and turned it over to Amaterasu.

This is where the story ends. Nobody knows how the sword got inside Yamata no Orochi. Perhaps this festering injury was the reason the dragon had turned to evil. We can assume, however, that Susano-O turned his wife back to her normal form, and they lived happily from then on.

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