LAST EDITED ON Dec-13-13 AT 01:19 AM (EST)
And we're back.
For those who might care, the last two weeks have been very eventful for me. I've spent the time embroiled in moving house, putting in a lot of hours at seasonal employment (I don't recommend working retail, by the way, unless you have a handy table behind the sweaters section to nap under) and watching Frozen like, four times.
So that's why no Merc generally getting up in everyone's grill and being all pretentious and stuff.
I really should be sticking this over in Mini-Stories, I suppose, but I read Fire to be Lighted in its putative final form, and frankly I find dumping it all in one place to be much easier than trying to cope with the mini-stories formatting tricks and splitting it in three. Ben can always dump this in the appropriate forum if that's a bit too much of a liberty on my part.
... oh, hell. Goodbye and Hello came out this evening too, didn't it?
Well. First things first.
>Academic performance is the -only- criterion for admittance to Piandao
>Academy. Neither national origin nor economic circumstance will ever be
>permitted to stand in the way of a youngster who has shown him- or
>herself ready, willing, and able to excel.
Neatly eliding the fact that economic circumstance is not a barrier so easily overcome even by the most rigorous search committees and the best of intentions. :)
(I'm not judging. One doesn't expect the staff of Piandao Academy to single-handedly address structural economic failures all on their own, overnight. That's done one student at a time over many years. But social justice is just one of the many annoying tics you get with the full Merc package.)
If it were me, I might have added another parenthetical at the bottom for atmosphere. Something like:
(His Chop, Seal, Lineage Block)
Diqiu being what it is, I imagine they like to go all crazy with fancy seals and chops and titles and awesome calligraphy and such. I love that stuff. I freely admit that's just me, though.
I freely admit; like many other people, I was expecting a School Story at this point, Harry Potter but with, you know, eastern magic instead of western magic. It took until the thumb war for me to realize "OH. Framing device. Okay then."
I mention this only because I'm a big believer in at least trying to engage with stories on their own terms, rather than what I imagine those terms to be. If something is a farce, for example, I prefer to approach it as a farce, rather than a serious attempt at drama.
Not that this is a farce. I was just saying.
>XINQILIU, BAYUE 29, 279 ASC
>(SATURDAY, AUGUST 29, SY 2398)
Thank you very much for providing standard dates when possible. It makes my life as a reader ever so much easier.
>"One side, peasant," the boy growled, in lieu of any kind of
>apology for nearly knocking her down. His manservant gave her an
>apologetic look with just his eyes, while the rest of his face remained
>stonily expressionless as they passed.
>"That didn't take long," she mused, then shrugged and crossed
>the great hall to the west-wing stairs.
Shinzen is very lucky he pulled that on Karana and not Azana, as whatever her other faults, and whatever her intentions are for her daughter and the Prince re: a little slap and tickle behind the gym, one imagines Azera taught her daughter PRECISELY how to deal, by hook or by crook, with those who refuse to give her social standing the appropriate respect, be they the lowest official in the labyrinthine Fire Nation bureaucracy all the way up to the Fire Lord themself.
>Mistrusting foreigners is your mother's way, she reminded
>herself, it's not your way.
Aww, Azana. Let's be fair now.
Your mother mistrusts everyone. It's the Fire Nation way, dammit! There's tradition involved.
>"No, I mean, have you -got- any," said Karana.
>Azana shook her head. "No, I'm an only child."
I find this passage interesting in light of later revelations. There doesn't seem to be bad blood between Azana and Zurin... but she flat-out scrubs him from her family frame of reference when people ask? Not even a "I do, but my brother is thirty years older than me" explanation? Just completely denies the existence of a sibling at all?
It seems like there's a story there.
>"Prince Shinzen," Azana repeated. "The Fire Lord's younger
>brother's son, so not in line for the throne, but you wouldn't know it
>to speak to him.
Hey, Fire Lord Zuko started life as the son of the younger brother of the Crown Prince, who had himself already produce an heir. That's one step further down than Shinzen is now. You never know your luck in this family.
This would make Shinzen Fire Lord (now Crown Princess) Katara's older cousin, right? He has two, three years on her or so? I don't expect to see her come up behind him in this school, one imagines that the Crown Princess will be going to the Royal Fire Academy instead, but the frame of reference is worth noting, I think.
EDIT: And of course, of course, after posting this, the first thing I do, the very first, is go read A Bride To Far and discover that, in fact, Katara does show up here.
Some nights it just doesn't pay to set pixels to screen, I am telling you.
>"Not really. My father's a doctor, and
>he has a lucky coin he got on a trip to Ba Sing Se when he was a kid.
>My brother Bori asked him one time, if he's a man of science, why does
>he carry that old coin around all the time? 'You can't believe in that
>superstitious junk.'" She grinned. "And Dad said, 'Well, son, they
>tell me it works whether you believe in it or not.'"
Also worth noting: in the context of the UF universe, weird superstitious stuff doesn't just work, it tends to damn near work in verifiable, repeatable fashions. :)
>Shinzen scowled at her. "Oh yes, by all means, laugh," he said
>sarcastically. "Before you came here, how far had -you- ventured from
>your igloo, or teepee, or whatever it is you people live in?"
I have to pause here to give some proper to this writing here.
At first I thought "Oh, come on, I know he's trying to be insulting, but Shinzen knows better than that."
Then I thought about it for a second. Yes. Shinzen does know better than that, doesn't he? Even at eleven, he's been educated as befits a Prince and gained entry into a very exclusive school without there being very much patronage involved. The teepee dig isn't because he's so ignorant he doesn't know how the Water Tribes live; it's because he knows exactly how the Water Tribes live, similar to the seal eyeball crack.
That is a sick burn on Shinzen's part (his Aunt would be proud), and it's also quite the subtle piece of writing; he comes off as an ignorant little snot of a noble, and the scene works from that perspective, but there are layers underneath it.
>The royal household seemed somewhat
>unprepared for an invasion of 11-year-olds, but at least they were all
>relatively mature, very scholarly 11-year-olds, so havoc was kept to a
>minimum and a fine time was had by all.
One wonders if the... eight? year old Princess Katara was there and what she made of her cousins entourage.
>Everyone in the student body knew what Avatar Korra looked like,
>of course; for all that she never sought celebrity, in her position she
>could hardly avoid it, and her image was all but inescapable. Few of
>them had seen her in person, though, and even fewer had ever seen her in
>an academic gown and mortarboard before.
Hrrm. The gown and mortarboard is a bit... western, I guess? One would imagine that typically, people completing their primary education at a prestigious academy in Diqiu would wear formal scholars robes in the Confucian style or the local equivalent.
On the other hand, it isn't like the series itself is enormously consistent in this regard.
>"So, uh, don't do what I did! Go to school!" Then, with a frown, she
>muttered, "(Except you already did, you're graduating - ) tell you what, I'll
>come in again."
You know, this didn't strike me as very Korra-like... but it did strike me as very Janet Varney like, as this is precisely her cadence and intonation and style of humor when she decided to get her funny on. :)
>As the two girls crossed the courtyard from the chapel to the
I'm not sure chapel is... I know you're using it in the generic sense, but maybe "shrine" instead? Or temple? Chapel has intensely western connotations in terms of the style and structure and general atmosphere of the building presented. Chapel-cum-assembly hall builds a different mental picture than using temple or shrine in its place.
>Karana's letters, so fat they threatened to burst the seams of
>mortal envelopes and had to be fitted with so much postage they could
>have been the starting point for a respectable Southern Water Tribe
God help her parents phone bills when they get internet down in Karana's neck of the woods. :)
>General Izuno's only fault, so far as Karana had ever
>been able to tell, was that he was so devoted to having peace in his
>house that he rarely made any serious attempt to rein in his abrasive,
>opinionated, and often (in Karana's view, anyway) wrong-headed young
>wife, with the result that Azera often ran roughshod over him and their
I would very much like to know the story behind that marriage. I mean, I know what Izuno brought to the table for Azera, or at least what she thought he was bringing anyway. But Izuno was an older widower who had already produced an heir; if he married again, it was probably for love. So clearly he saw something worthwhile in her, although the heart can be weird.
Or maybe Azera was just really good at hiding her real personality until vows had been exchanged. :)
>During these remarks, she learned that Colonel Zurin was
>Izuno's son by his first wife, and so Azana's half-brother, albeit a
>good thirty years or more her senior.
Shades of Iroh and Ozai's enormous age gap here, at least superficially.
>Shinzen looked across the gathering at his schoolmates, then
>shook his head respectfully and replied, "I hardly think that would be
>appropriate, roshi. General Izuno's daughter is a firebender. The
>honor, and the duty, are rightfully hers."
I suspect this is also a burn on Shinzen's part, as Azera, the widow, is also a firebender, but he does not invite her to take part alongside Azana. :)
(I could be wrong here depending on what the custom is but I like to think this.)
>"I hope you will excuse us, Madame Azera, but the General's
>daughter has had a very trying day. We must be getting back to the
>Academy at once."
The General's daughter. Emphatically not "your daughter."
This right here is where I fell in love with Shinzen.
>"Thank -you-, Miss Karana," Changdao replied, and she wondered
>what for as he took his leave of them and disappeared into his office.
Changdao is Pure. Class.
>The funk didn't survive long after they arrived, though. At
>Chief Hakoda International Airport in Nanisivik, they emerged from the
>plane into bright sunlight and the clean scent of cold salt air.
I respect the writer(s) for not going with the easy, and slightly offensive, puns for Water Tribe cities.
If it had been me? It would be nothing but names like Summavut. Which is near Allavut, north of Nunavut, and west of Henhiavut.
>"We were hunters and fishers for a long time before we
>ever took up farming or trading, and the impulse to make our stuff
>ourselves is still really strong in our culture."
... they farm down there? Really?
>It was among the simplest
>pieces on display, but also the handsomest, so elegant in its simplicity
>that the very fact made it outshine some of the more elaborate pieces
>around it in Azana's eyes.
>Without really thinking about it, she went inside and bought it
>on the spot.
Not to brag, but I knew exactly what this was without the necklace being explicitly described.
And I approved fully. :)
>Gathering up her brown hair, which had lately gotten a bit
>shaggy and reached just short of shoulder length, Karana held it away
>from her neck and said eagerly, "You have to put it on me."
Azana is going to be very surprised when they get to the Southern Water Tribe in their World History and Culture courses. :)
>from the houses, which were sturdy stone-built structures clad in sod
>and snow, often partly underground,
I also like to think they have a few of these bad boys, or the local equivalent.
Because buildings up on legs are awesome.
>"Sorry. Ranting," she said. "It's just that... I'm sure there
>-are- plenty of nice people up there? Somewhere? But I've literally
>never met anybody from the North who wasn't a complete tool. Honestly.
>They've all been like your mom." Karana blinked, as if just realizing
>she'd said that last part out loud.
>"Well," said Azana dryly, "that certainly doesn't recommend
>them," and they both laughed.
Okay, this is something I feel I need to just get out-and-out critical about.
I know (or at least, would be willing to bet money) that this bit was written by Ben, rather than Phil, so I'm gonna address this to him. And the fact that I can who wrote it is part of the problem. Meet me at camera three.
Right. Here's the thing. I'm gonna be charitable and assume you were playing this largely for laughs. And I could see "Karana is just a little bit racist" being an interesting character trait to be explored.
Only, the Annotations notwithstanding, it doesn't come off that way. I didn't hear Karana speaking here, I heard Ben Hutchins speaking. And I didn't get the feeling that the narrative means us to regard Karana's opinion on all Northerners being tools neutrally; rather, I got the feeling it intends for the reader to take Karana's opinion as -fact-.
I mean, if the North has kind of a sick culture that is expressed by a lot of the people there being jerks, that's one thing. But, again, that's not what I got from this passage. But even disregarding that... like I said, I heard the author talking, not the character.
Although I'm very, very glad Karana didn't call them "northies." We avoided the use of outright slurs at least.
(I'm trying not to be a dick about this, but I feel strongly enough about what I perceive as the failures of this passage to be blunt.)
>Had they been a little
>older, many of their friends would probably have suspected them of
>having become a couple in the wake of their October trial, but not quite
>yet - and besides, the truth was deeper and more complicated than that.
On a lighter note, I do like to imagine that when Shinzen met them again after the holidays, he looked at Azana, looked at Karana's, looked at Karana's necklack, proclaimed "I always knew," and then glided off with as much regal dignity as a twelve-year-old could muster, leaving a very confused Azana and a slightly-too-nonchalant Karana behind him.
>Shinzen, who had developed a curious fascination with the Water
>Tribes since Karana had smashed his dismissive, aristocratic hauteur
>about "the provinces", went instantly and somewhat embarrassingly
>native. This offended a few of Karana's neighbors, until they realized
>that he wasn't making fun of them, just being a spectacularly goofy but
>entirely sincere fanboy.
The next year, Shinzen would write an excellent essay on cultural appropriation for midterms. He received an A+ and Master Changdao praised the insight of one so young.
>Eventually Karana's mother and Korra had to
>sit him down and give him a little talk, after which he ramped it back a
>bit, but it was still going to take his hair months to grow back on the
Cousin, why do you have a ponytail now?
This is a warriors wolf-tail!
(not buying it)
Well, it certainly tells the other warriors know that you're fun, and perky.
I regret nothing whatsoever.
Hmm. The story as a whole was really rather good. I sort of agree with the new guy (icefox, I think?) that it was a bit overdone in places, by which I mean there was an awful, awful lot of telling rather than showing.
However, that is 1) true of UF's 'House Style' in general, and it is usually a plus (some of my favorite bits are when a couple thousand words are spilt just describing a part of a setting) and 2) it doesn't seriously detract from the work. I mean, yes. If I were seeing this thing as an editor, I might advise chopping it down some, there's a bit of extraneousness in there. But it's not really a huge problem.
All in all, good times. Man, you vanish for a couple weeks and suddenly Ben and Phil get all productive and shit. I figured the onset of finals meant that I would be safe.