Saturday, December 14, 2013

Anime, Manga and Multiple Deities

Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer is a stellar fantasy that takes the self-doubt and world-building of a nascent writer to whole new level of angst.

Nikki has a problem. Well, actually she has more than one: she channels the future events in the lives of the people she writes about (who she had assumed were fictional characters) and graphically describes the horrible disasters that befall them. Somehow, the events she sees are always disastrous and usually fatal. This wouldn't be anything but a singularly gory authorial voice, except that the bloody catastrophes she writes have begun to come true. And a little research shows her that they always have been true.

Nikki's mother, a U.S. Senator, treats her as a lunatic for writing such horror, tracking her down wherever she goes and trying to get her committed. And she can see and talk with gods - which wouldn't be a problem, except that she is now in Japan, where there are shrines everywhere.

The initial chapters of this book reminded me strongly of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, the novel that introduced American readers to the practice of adolescent self-mutilation. At first, Nikki is strongly reminiscent of Deborah Blau, the teen of Rose Garden who finally decides to abandon her fantasy demon and "hang with the world, full weight" after a course of treatment for schizophrenia.

But as I read on, I realized that the resemblance was only superficial. Nikki is not hallucinating; she really does see her Anterrabae, a young samurai spirit residing in a katana stolen from a shrine. In fact, the samurai can "inhabit" Nikki, lending her strength, courage and an understanding of Japanese. Nikki's latest writings concern a heavenly spear sought by a vengeful goddess who wishes to use it to unmake the world. Considering Nikki's practice of writing things that later come true, this particular fictional disaster could rival Hiroshima!

Her challenge, though is sorting out the true actions from the welter of details that she writes about. Her friend Miriam realizes that is no simple task: 

"She knows who stole the spear. She knows, and she's guessing that it will be at a temple dedicated to that god." Miriam laughed bitterly. "Oh, that narrows it down. You know there's eight million gods?"

If you like Eight Million Gods, you'll probably also enjoy Tinker, Wolf Who Rules, and Elfhome, a trilogy about a world in which a portion of mundane Pittsburgh is swapped for a part of Elfhome. Tinker grows up using her impressive collection of cold iron (she lives in a junkyard) to hold off the wargs, elves and other opponents of humans on Elfhome.