Ghost In The Shell

I watched a few of the Ghost In The Shell films and was frankly blown away. Aside from the incredible art and quality of animation, the stories are deep and thoughtful. It's a provocative commentary on what it means to be human. At what point does a cyborg become a robot – no longer human? It also blends human and machine issues in a way that is very contemporary. People are becoming more and more digital. As in Ghost In The Shell, people almost have completely digital brains. People's accounts get hacked, and it feels like a personal attack. It becomes an attack on you, your person, rather than some objective thing on the internet. Scott McCloud says something similar in his book Understanding Comics. McCloud describes that when people ride or drive a vehicle, the car becomes an extension of themselves, rather than a separate object. If you hit something with your car, you're likely to say something like, "I can't believe I hit that thing," not "I can't believe the car hit that thing!" Ghost In The Shell is set in a world wherein people's brains are more computer than organic material, so peoples' brains can get "hacked" in a situation that I think is similar to what our society is growing into now. Our lives can essentially be hacked. Life is getting eerily close to Ghost In The Shell.


What can I even say about Dune that hasn't been said? It's one of the most amazing books I've ever read, and perhaps the most amazing. It's extremely expansive and fantastical, and yet very relatable. It has the foggy mysteriousness of a political drama and the subplots under subplots of a spy thriller. Dune seems to transcend the sci-fi drama and become something entirely it's own. It rides it's own, wonderfully complex wave. It's a book that really makes you think. Dune comments on politics, religion, philosophy, and mixes them into a drama. Dune is life changing, and I think this is because it feels (similarly to Lord of the Rings) like the universe of Dune already existed and Frank Herbert just recorded factual history. Dune changed science fiction forever. The genre lost its sense of phallic rockets and alien space babes and became something relevant. Herbert showed that sci-fi could be one of the most effective genres to use for commentary on contemporary issues.

Leviathan Wakes

Space Opera! My favorite. I read "Leviathan Wakes," the first in a new series by James S. A. Corey (the pen name for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham). The series follows former Earth marine Jim Holden and detective Miller in their search for a girl name Julie Mao, and their subsequent journey to defend the human race from an alien superweapon. As a lover of operas, I would say this story would make a great one. There's a romance subplot, impending mortality, dramatic characters, and a fantastic lore and setting. The film is, basically, a hollywood blockbuster in novel format (as the cover suggests), which is something that actually appealed to me when I decided to read it. True to form, "Leviathan Wakes" is an exciting adventure filled with action sequences and sappy one liners, but it feels right. I love the characters and the treatment of the sci-fi future setting. The time period of the story is set somewhere between the very far in the future with clean, comfortable light-speed travel and near future rocketry. The space ships of the "Leviathan Wakes" solar system are crude and boxy, and space travel is uncomfortable and primitive (in comparison to a series like Star Trek or Star Wars). The settlers of Mars and the moons of Jupiter have declared themselves independent of Earth and are organized by their own democracies. The novel combines elements of political drama, cop drama, romance, thriller, and military novels. It's an amalgam that works surprising well, and is my favorite space opera novel so far.

Northern Lights

A week before our section on spiritual education, I discovered I had an old copy of the Phillip Pullman novel "Nothern Lights." I read it briefly in middle school, but couldn't remember what made it special, what sparked so much controversy when it was released. The reread made me remember. The world Pullman constructs is as unique to me as Middle Earth or the magical world of Hogwarts. It made me remember how influential this book was when I was younger. The book felt like an escape. Better than that, a relevant escape. While the setting was fantastic, the issues the world Pullman created faced were current. It commented on religion and oppression, and spoke to me as a kid dealing with finding myself in a world that seemed as fantastic as the one Pullman described. The companions the characters kept felt like friends I needed. Lyra felt as confused as I was in my youth, and her figuring out her world made me feel like I could figure out mine. 

I think "Northern Lights" was more psychologically effective on me than the Harry Potter franchise, perhaps because Pullman speaks to a different kind of person than Rowling does. I was more concerned with morality and philosophy than I was with relationships when I was younger. Pullman's novels spoke to that. The main character dealt with what was right, and Lyra wasn't always morally centered. If felt real and relatable. Her figuring out what right and wrong meant to her gave me the vision to do the same. 


A chilling, but deeply sensitive story, Bloodchild describes the story of a family living in a world controlled by an alien species called the Tlic. The Tlic use humans as hosts for their parasitic offspring, but the relationship between the Tlic and human host is complex and, oddly, relatable. The protagonist, Gan, struggles with the violence of the alien birthing process, and subsequently with his own identity. Gan witnesses an alien birth and, realizing that the same will eventually happen to him, decides it might be better to kill himself than to go through it.

In my mind, Gan's struggles are some shared by most people. He struggles to continue on in life despite his suffering, he struggles with identity, and he struggles with the meaning and sincerity of intimacy and love. His Tlic lover seems to be symbolic of men and their evolutionary and instinctual desire to foster offspring. Gan wonders if his Tlic really cares who she impregnates in the end, which could be asked of any man desperately wanting children. Gan has very human conversations with his alien patron about the nature of their relationship. Does his Tlic really care about him, or only about breeding? Is their relationship just a pretense for "sex," or is it truly love (or at least, companionship)? Essentially, the entire story is symbolic of human relationships and what they really mean.

I mentioned that this story was relatable, which might seem odd considering the subject matter. The story isn't really about aliens impregnating humans with parasitic offspring, however. It's about the relationship between Gan and T'Gatoi (the Tlic). It's relatable because both characters feel powerful, true, human emotions. Gan is insecure about himself. He wonders if he actually means anything to his Tlic, just as any person wonders about a significant other. Am I really special to someone, or am I just a generic instance of a group of generics? He struggles with childbirth. He is repulsed by the violence of it, but also is intrigued and captured by it, wants to participate in it. The relationship between Gan and Tlic is sensitive and deeply personal.

(What changes would you make to adapt this story to a different medium?)

I think I'd adapt the story to a comic for a couple of specific reasons. Mostly, I think a film adaptation would make the Tlic seem to real to relate too. A film draws the viewer all the way in, where a comic book leaves some distance between the viewer and the material. I also think a comic format would allow more creativity on the side of style and design of the aliens and the world they live in. I don't think much would need to change, story wise. If I changed anything, I'd add a slightly longer introduction to the situation, because it takes a while of reading the story to feel acquainted to the situation and setting (but, Kurt Vonnegut always says to start a story as close to the end as you can).

The Genius of Tolkien

I've read the entire trilogy of Middle Earth, finished The Hobbit, and gotten a pretty good start on The Silmarillion, and there's a reason for my obsession that permeates every literary genre and is something I think is a major component for a compelling story, and is certainly necessary for a story told in more than one part. Stories need a rich environment. They need a world to live in. I've found no story or series that drags the reader into a such a convincing fictional setting as well as Tolkien's books do. Every entry into tales of Middle Earth enriches the world and inspires the imagination. Who hasn't read a Tolkien novel and not wanted to live in the Shire? The Shire is the perfect home. A clean, safe, nature-filled oasis in the middle of a dangerous surrounding world. It's sometimes hard to imagine the Shire as an actual part of Middle Earth, considering the turmoil happening in every other locale.

In terms of the archetypal Hero's Story, however, Tolkien's tales generally follow the basic steps. There is an introduction to the hero's home, a call to adventure, an old crone or a wise guide met along the way, a boon of some sort, but it is filled with interest by the way Tolkien infuses interesting elements of character and environment into the old and familiar journey. Tolkien's stories are a journey though a mystical land with new, unheard languages, with magic, with demons – and nothing is left undescribed, nothing is vague. The reader could almost paint a picture for every page, and not have to leave one detail out.

Aunt Maria and Witches

"Aunt Maria" by Dianne Wynne Jones presents familiar characters for anyone familiar at all with witches, but also speaks directly to a discussion about the balance of power. The witches in "Aunt Maria" sit in a place of power in their world, and Maria herself is particularly powerful among the witches. The power struggle reminded me frequently of the undertones of a similar respect in the novel "Howl's Moving Castle," also authored by Jones.

There are several powerful witches in Jones' books, and in "Howl's Moving Castle, women seem to rule even the upper echelons of society. Jones' witches seem to have a more dignified attitude than the western idea of evil or wretched creatures with lumps and boils. Witches in Jones' mind seem to be sophisticated and intelligent, dwelling in upper society, almost as a sort of celebutante. Jones recognizes the power of witches to be a symbol of feminine power and the fantastical mystery powerful women are in a society dominated by men.

I preferred Howl's Moving Castle to Aunt Marie, story wise, I think because the world Howl inhabited was so rich and unique.