Monday, June 18, 2012

"Katanon" - Tortall Fanfic Review

The next fanfic in my old favorites list is "Katanon" by Ironi Numair, posted May 27th, 2001--January 29th, 2002 and left uncompleted. It's another one set in the Tortallan universe by Tamora Pierce, sometime after the Immortals quartet. It involves Daine and Numair's son Katanon trying to prove he's not a squib by going on an adventure. And there's a Stormwing, of course.

So, the plot is that Katanon, a boy with magic but no ability to harness it, is sent by his parents to find a half-demon thief named Seanteo to help bring it out. His parents believe it to be a fools' errand, though, as Seanteo left their dimension and hasn't been back in quite a while, but they hope the journey will convince him that he doesn't need magic. Katanon gains companions in the form of Teruch, a Stormwing with a taste for his rations, and Fenta, a girl he rescues from some rapists.

Though we don't find out what the secret is exactly, some undines indicate they don't think Katanon is human. They don't have a good grasp on human culture and gender roles, saying that Katanon is "pretty" instead of "handsome", so Katanon thinks they're just stupid, but I think the readers are to take away that Katanon really isn't human. I speculate the secret would turn out to be that Katanon is Seanteo himself. The whole thing is kind of weird because his mother is a demigod. Wouldn't everyone consider him only three-quarters human?

At one point, a dracolich shows up. I'm sorry, dracoliches do not belong in the Tortallan universe! Dragons themselves so rarely make appearances, and then are so awesomely powerful that undead dragons are not even needed. Unless this is some Divine Realms battle between awesome forces, no, doesn't work.

The appearance of the dracolich does bring with it an interesting black sphere. When something touches it, it pushes back and magnifies the energy output, quickly escalating to very deadly. I'd like to see someone build a solid box around it and then cause the box to bounce around the sphere with increasing force. That just seems like a neat idea. I'm not very familiar with D&D, so this could be something else exported from that universe, but as it is, I like the sphere. Not so much its introduction (my emphasis):
Kat turned to Teruch hovering by a large black sphere, floating a little off the ground. Its surface shifted and pulsed, like an activated black opal. It was very beautiful, but had a darkness about it.
Ouch; that could have been worded better.

I'm thinking the only reason I especially liked this fanfic was the Stormwing. Not many people write about them, you know? And because when I was younger, I tended to think that when people did things that were confusing, it was because they knew better than me in some way and were just mysterious. Now I'm jaded enough to know that when people are confusing, it tends to be because they're mistaken about how to do things.

Katanon is annoying. Ironi Numair seemed to want to depict him as youthful and silly in the way of young boys, but he is not that young. He's fourteen, not six. That kind of obnoxious boyishness works for Naruto because Naruto was created for that silliness, but Katanon is not Naruto. Naruto-esque silliness does not work in Tortall.

The ultimate problem with Katanon is that he's that bane of fanfic writers everywhere, the dreaded Mary Sue. Let's see, child of two canon main characters? Check. Knows all the canon main characters? Check. Exotic name, even for the context of the universe? Check. Of strange supernatural origin, even for the context of the universe? Check. Has superpowers unusual to the universe? Check. Involving magical rules newly introduced to the universe? Check. Possible hybrid? Check. Simultaneously a klutz and superpowerful? Check. Yes, we have a confirmed Mary Sue.

And I know being bilingual is cool, but when you're writing for an English readership, it's best to keep things in English. A Japanese Yamani character's thoughts should consistently be in Common--English--not Japanese or Yamanese or whatever the frell we're calling it. This is not a criticism limited to beginner writers, as Phillip K. Dick did it too, but it's a relevant criticism nonetheless.

On that note, there is entirely too much Yamani/Japanese presence in a Tortall-based story. Katanon's half-named after a katana for no apparent reason besides the author likes Japan. Daine and Numair don't have anything to do with the Yamani Empire, so it doesn't make sense that they'd name their kid after a Yamani weapon. If anything, name the kid after something relevant to his parents' travels, as Tamora Pierce ended up doing with the name Rikash, after everyone's favorite Stormwing. Katanon also spends time practicing ink painting with a Yamani brush. He's a Tortallan noble living in Tortall, not on a diplomatic mission to the Yamani Empire. It's fine to have a Yamani presence, as long as it and Tortall are kept as discrete elements, as in the Protector of the Small quartet.

I realize that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones, and I have randomly tossed Japan in my "Halo 3: Ascension" fanfic. I think I can justify that as semi-appropriate to the universe, though, as Halo's main human government is a combination of all countries, and it's American-bias that's kept the focus on American-eque human characters. And do as I say, not as I do.

Another glass house criticism I have is in regard to how in Chapter 7: Undine's Word, the fanfic suddenly turns into a song fic with lyrics from "Dreamer" by Supertramp interspaced among the paragraphs. That change of format is sudden, jarring, unseemly, and I did it in my Boy Meets World fanfic "The Dark Side of the Moon". *shrugs* Do as I say, not as I do.

So, yeah... This one's just kind of disappointing. The fact that it involves a Stormwing is not enough to save it from getting bumped off my favorites list.

1 comment:

teh-will said...

Wow. Do a bit of random fic review perusing and look what you find. I'm afraid I must take credit for this old fic. I had to reply and I apologize if I get wordy.

Reading your review made me laugh (in a "it's funny 'cause it's true" way) and say ouch. When I occasionally reread my old fics it makes me wince, but they maintain a layer of nostalgia over them that blocks some of the suck to me. It's nice to see the full level of pain it inflicts upon the world.

Looking back, Katanon is definately a Sue, which I find funny because I'm sure I was aware of Mary Sues at the time and still failed to avoid making one. I think Sues are those things writers can't understand until they've had to suffer through a few themselves, and that doesn't happen until you develop standards for what you read, so to speak. My standards were certainly low back then. (Just be glad I didn't continue the story; Kat only got worse. I think he was supposed to be like what Daine was to animals except with immortals. And he created monsters out of surrounding materials subconsciously to defend him. Hence random dracolich and other crap.)

And because when I was younger, I tended to think that when people did things that were confusing, it was because they knew better than me in some way and were just mysterious.
You and I were very much alike in this back in the day.

Anyway, this was quite a find for me, and I'm glad I stumbled across your blog. Even if this review is ten years after I stopped writing "Katanon," (and that this isn't a review to me as much as your thoughts on an old fic I just happened to write) of all my fics, this is the longest and most thorough review I have ever not received, and I thank you for it. Good to know I've improved a little since then. At least, I don't use fangirl-Japanese and random song lyrics anymore. XD

I salute you for slogging through my teenage angst outlet.