Research

Apparently, steampunk is the *in* thing right now, and right now the novel everyone’s talking about on the YA circuit is Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer because it’s steampunk IN JAPAN (sorry, Shima).

I’ll admit I was intrigued by this. You don’t often see steampunk that’s not set in England, and I’m not aware of any set in Japan (but then again, I’m not very familiar with steampunk) but then I found this quote from the author regarding his research:

I’ve had people ask if I did a degree in Japanese studies, but the closest I’ve come is reading all six novels of AKIRA in a week. Maybe I’d picked up a lot of detail through film and manga that I’ve consumed down through the years, but Wikipedia was really my go-to guy. I have a friend who lives in Japan who I bounce ideas off too. I pay him with the promise of booze. (from here)

That’s right folks, the research in this novel came from anime, manga, and Wikipedia. This is like trying to learn about American culture by watching Disney movies (and Wikipedia) and what do you want to bet that his friend is a gaijin white?

Okay, I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the book, but what I’ve seen in reviews really disturbs me. Take a look at these quotes from the novel regarding the use of “-sama”:

“That is more than fair.” […] “Ameterasu bless your kindness, sama.”
“I want for nothing. Thank you, sama.”
“He slew Boukyaku, young sama. The sea dragon who consumed the island of Takaiyama.”
“Honor to you, great sama.”
“What is Raijin song, sama?”
“Forgiveness, sama.”
“Apologies, sama.”

*facepalms* Okay, first of all “-sama” is an honorific, it’s meant to be attached to someone’s name and denotes a greater level of respect than “-san” (which roughly corresponds to ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.’ in English). IT’S NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE USED ON IT’S OWN, IT MAKES NO SENSE! Seriously, this is basic Japanese 101. Even Wikipedia should have told him that! Even I know that, and the most exposure I’ve had to Japan is through anime, manga, video games, and the couple courses I took in university.  Oh wait, that’s probably still more research than this author did.

(Also, there’s a spelling mistake in that first line–the common English spelling is “Amaterasu” or, even better “Amaterasu-omikami”).

Come on, people, if you’re going to write about other cultures, at least put some effort into it beyond “I watched a few shows and talked to a guy who lives there”. Seriously, this is why you get complaints from people of colour regarding white authors and appropriation, because these are the kinds of stupid mistakes that white authors (and it is nearly always white authors) make.

In the interests of fairness, I thought I’d highlight a few of the works I’m using for my own fantasy story:

From Distant Days: Myths, Tales, and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia by Benjamin R. Foster (CDL Press, 1995)

Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture by William H. Stiebing, Jr. (first edition) (Longman, 2002)

The Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary: http://psd.museum.upenn.edu/epsd/index.html

Gateways to Babylon: http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/

I’ll admit my story isn’t so much set in “fantastical Sumer” as it is “hodgepodge of ANE cultures with modern sensibilities” on that respect, maybe I’m actually worse than Kristoff. I shudder to think of the sort of research that would go into making an “as-accurate-as-possible” Sumer. Even scholars are puzzled regarding the relationship between the terms EN, ENSI, and LUGAL, for instance. (In my setting, ENSI is used for a priest/ess–I wanted to use EN, which is more commonly used to denote religious specialists, but it just looks awkward in the text–and the term LUGAL doesn’t exist. I just use English terms when referring to the secular sovereign, who also has religious duties.)

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