Paul P. Mealing

Check out my book, ELVENE. Available as e-book and as paperback (print on demand, POD). 2 Reviews: here. Also this promotional Q&A on-line.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

ELVENE, the 2nd edition


Click on picture to get full screen and then click again to zoom

My one and only novel, ELVENE, has been published as an e-book by IP (Interactive Publications) and also POD at Glasshouse Books, a Queensland based company. The cover is by Aaron Pocock, so it’s an all-Aussie affair, though I believe Dr. David Reiter, who founded IP, is an ex-pat American.

I haven’t met David or Aaron, or even spoken to them, such is the facility of the internet. Even though IP engaged Aaron (I paid for the artwork), we corresponded via an intermediary, and I’m very pleased with the results. I believe he captured both the atmosphere and the right degree of sensuality that is reflected in the text itself. I’ve always been a strong believer that the cover should reflect the content of the book, both contextually and emotionally.

If you read the blurb on the web site (written by me) you may be mistaken in the belief that this is a variation on James Cameron’s Avatar. Nothing against Avatar, but I need to point out that ELVENE was written in 2001/2, about 8 years before Avatar was released, but I suspect we have been influenced by the same predecessors, in particular, Frank Herbert’s 1965 classic, DUNE. If any of you have seen Miyazaki’s anime, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (refer my recent post, 5 Oct.10) you may also see some similarities. I did when I saw it in 2006, even though it was first released in 1984. Obviously I can’t be influenced by something I didn’t even know existed, but I’m happy to be compared with Miyazaki anytime.

The book contains oblique references to Clarke, Kubrick, Coleridge, Kipling and even Barbarella (her ship was called Alfie for you train-spotters). So, whilst Avatar could be best described as Dune meets Dances with Wolves, Elvene is Dune meets Dances with Wolves, meets Ursula Le Guin, meets Ian Fleming, meets Barbarella, meets Edgar Rice Burroughs. So my influences began with the comic books I read in the 1950’s, not to mention the radio serials I listened to before TV (yes, I’m that old). At the age of 9, I started writing my own Tarzan scripts, and I started drawing my own superheroes about the same time, possibly a bit older.

I once described ELVENE as a graphic novel without the graphics, and more than one person has told me that it’s ‘a very visual story’. An interesting achievement, considering I believe description to be the most boring form of prose (refer my August post on Creative Writing).

Most people who’ve read it ask: where’s the next one? Well, the truth is that I have started a sequel but I find it hard to believe I will ever write anything as good as ELVENE again. It really feels like an aberration to me. I’m not a writer as a profession, more a hobbyist, nevertheless I’m proud of my achievement. It’s not for everyone, but I’ve found that women like it in particular, including those who have never read a Sci-Fi book before. Maybe it’s a Sci-Fi book for people who don’t read Sci-Fi. I can only let others be the judge.

Two unsolicited reviews can be found at YABooksCentral: one by a teenager and one by a retired schoolteacher (both women).

More reviews can be found here.

Also available on Amazon, iBookstore, Lightning Source (Ingram) and ContentReserve.com.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas

This is a post where I really don't have much to say at all, because this video says it all.

If you can't access the video, you can still read the transcript.

Where else would you find a truly international panel, with representatives from Indonesia, Pakistan, America, England and, of course, the host nation, Oz? I think the only internationally renowned participant is Geoffrey Robertson QC, who famously took up Salman Rushdie's case when he was subjected to a death-sentence fatwa by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini (late 1980s early 90s). I suspect the rest of the panel are only well-known in their countries of origin.

Believe me, this discussion is well worth the 1 hour of your time.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki

I’ve just read this 7 volume graphic novel over a single weekend. I saw the anime version a few years back at a cinematic mini-festival of his work. As it turned out, it was the first of his movies I ever saw, and it’s still my favourite. Most people would declare Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke as his best works, and they’re probably right, but I liked Nausicaa because certain elements of the story resonated with my own modest fictional creation, Elvene. You can see a Japanese trailer of the anime here.

The movie was released in 1984 and the graphic novels were only translated into English in 1997. I didn’t even know they existed until I looked it up on the Internet to inform a friend. And then a graphic novelist guest at our book club (see my blog list) told me that the local library has all 7 volumes; they’re catalogued under ‘graphic novel – teenager’. Even though Miyazaki is better known for his animated movies (Studio Ghibli), the film version of Nausicaa barely scratches the surface. The graphic novels are on the scale of Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or Dune. Of the 7 volumes, the shortest is 120 pages and the last is over 200 pages. If Miyazaki wasn’t Japanese, I’m sure this would be a classic of the genre.

Being Japanese, they’re read from right to left, so the back cover is actually the front cover and vice versa. I thought: why didn’t they just reverse the pagination for Western readers? But, of course, the graphics have to be read right to left as well. In other words, to Westernise them they’d have to be mirror-reversed, so wisely the publishers left them alone.

On the inside back cover (front cover for us) Miyazake explains the inspiration for the character. Of course, Nausicaa was originally a character in Homer’s The Odyssey, but Miyazaki first came across her in Bernard Evslin’s Japanese translation of a dictionary of Greek mythology. Evslin apparently gave 3 pages to Nausicaa but only one page each to Zeus and Achilles, so Miyazaki was a little disappointed when he read Homer’s original and found that she played such a small yet pivotal role in Odysseus’s journey. He was also influenced by a Japanese fictional heroine in The Tales of Past and Present called “the princess who loved insects”.

Those who are familiar with Miyazaki know that all his stories have strong female roles, and, personally, I think Nausicaa is the best of them, albeit she is one of the youngest.

But this reference to Homer’s Odyssey raises a point that has long fascinated me about graphic novels (or comic books, as they were known when I was a kid). They are arguably the only literary form which echoes back to the mythical world of the ancients, where characters have god-like abilities with human attributes. Now some of you may ask what about fantasy fiction of the sword and wizard variety? King Arthur, Merlin and Gandalf surely fall into that category. Yes, they are somewhat in between, but they are not superheroes, of whom Superman is the archetype. Bryan Singer’s film version, Superman Returns, which polarised critics and audiences, makes the allusion to Christ most overtly, and I suspect, deliberately.

It’s not just the Bible that provides a literary world where humanity and Gods meet (well there are 2 God characters in the Bible, the Father and the Son, not to mention Satan). Moses talked to a burning bush, Abraham was visited by angels, and Jesus conversed with Satan, God and ordinary mortals, including prostitutes.

The Mahabharata is a classic Hindu text involving deities and warring families, and of course there’s Homer’s tales, where the Greek gods take sides in battles and make deals with mortals.

Well, Miyazake’s Nausicaa falls into this category, in my view, even though there’s not a deity in sight. Nausicaa is probably the most Christ-like character I’ve come across in contemporary fiction since Superman. However that’s a Western interpretation – I expect Miyazaki would be more influenced by the Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin in China, Kannon in Japan).

Nausicaa is a warrior princess with prodigious fighting abilities but her greatest ability is to empathise with all living creatures and to win over people to her side through her sheer personality and integrity. This last attribute is actually the most believable part of the novel, and when she continually wins respect and trust, Miyazaki convinces us that this human aspect of her character is real. But there are supernatural qualities as well. Her heart is so pure that she is able to lead the most evil character in the story into the afterlife (reminiscent of a scene in Harry Potter with a different outcome). In the last volume there is a warrior-god intent on destruction (an artificial life-form) whom she bends to her will through her sheer compassion because he believes she is his mother.

There are numerous other characters, but Princess Kushana is probably the most complex. She is involved in a mortal struggle with her emperor father and throne-contender brothers, but the most interesting relationship she has is with her ambitious Chief of Staff, Kurotowa. Early in the story she tries to have him killed, much later she saves his life.

Like Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki’s tale is a cautionary one about how humanity is destroying the ecology of the planet. Other subplots warn against religious dogma being used as a political weapon to manipulate people into war, and petty royal rivalries decimating populations through war and creating starving refugee communities out of the survivors.

There are, of course, a small group of characters who see Nausicaa as a prophet, and even a goddess, which creates problems for her in and of itself.

This is a rich story of many layers, not just a boy’s (or girl’s) own adventure. Nausicaa is a classic of the graphic novel genre – it’s just not recognised as such because it’s not American.