Don't Be Lonely, Community! :)

Hey, all!

This community sounded real cool, so I just wanted to start out by introducing myself and writing why I am so fascinated by transformations in general.

As someone relatively quiet, overly-organized and not open to many risks, I get a perverse joy out of the element of danger and the unknown often involved in transformations, over the prospect of risking the loss of who you are to immerse yourself in a different identity you may not understand yet, but would like to. It all just sounds so exciting that the greatest journey may be confined entirely in finding and understanding your true self. Superhero origin stories, particularly ones like Spider-Man where the person begins as someone normal, attract me for this reason since the person is torn between two equally pressing realities (s)he feels the need to maintain at the same time. There's so many questions which can arise from such a scenario: If you had an alternate identity, how often would you use it? After a while, would this new identity become your primary identity or would you sacrifice part of both to maintain both identities at your will?

I also like how transformations, particularly the more romantic views of it I've seen in Anime (Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew), often deal with something inside the character who experiences it coming to the surface through an intense physical and emotional transformation. Interestingly, a common thread seems to be that this transformation was somehow planned to happen well in advance for a specific reason, but without the person's knowledge, that the person's true destiny is discovered through the transformation. I really like the element of the uncanny used here through not only a whole identity, but a whole life bound inside someone that, in one intense moment, bursts to the surface. It really makes me wonder how much we really do know about ourselves and our own potential, if we truly are the best judges of our own respective identities.

Similarly, as the stuff of fiction, I've liked how physical transformations blur the line between the imaginary and the real by changing a realistic self into one typically confined to one's own imagination (people with wings, goddesses, etc.) I know that everyone yearns for some part of their imagination to be realized in the world in which we live and, yes, I'm afraid this may explain why I'm so drawn to those sometimes cliche tales of dreams that are realized. But, hey, as Rudy's friend said in the film of that same name, "Dreams are the only things that make life tolerable." It is for this reason that I've often been a fan of such romantic depictions of transformations as opportunities for discovering oneself and finding one's true "home" wherein the transformation is an experience that is desired, even anticipated as an opportunity, rather than the transformation-as-virus that creeped me out when watching "Species" and "28 Days Later;" it just doesn't have the same effect on me.

One thing that has, however, intrigued me about physical transformation accounts which I have seen and read so far is why the feeling of the transformation itself is often omitted. It seems like an entity so strong that it is able to manipulate one's appearance would arouse some kind of sensation in its carrier; is it extreme pain, pleasure, fear, or some combination of the three? It seems that such visceral transformations are confined to the horror genre, but I've always been curious again as to what the aforementioned "romantic" transformations would feel like.

In an odd way, I feel like my own experiences have enabled me to come close to realizing what this sensation may feel like through the physical and emotional transformation I have felt over the past four years as a member of the rowing team at UC Irvine. Before I joined the program in 2001, I never played any sports in my life outside of mandatory grade school P.E. My favorite sport to watch was itself not very athletic, NASCAR. But, regardless, the coach here gave me the opportunity to try out, saying that my experience as a jazz trombonist in high school would help me keep the same rhythm in the boat as the other rowers. Our program's director back then echoed a similar statement which I will never forget: "You will learn more about yourself in this sport than you ever knew existed." Still, my inexperience betrayed me often as I had to constantly learn how to run as fast, lift as much weight, wake up as early, and completely adopt a life compatible with that of my teammates in order to not just compete, but survive. Every day, I literally felt that I was flirting with oblivion, that I couldn't afford not to progress lest I not be able to reach my goal of trying to be more like my teammates. Despite all the frustrations, aches, and other obstacles, however, I received constant encouragement from both my teammates and coaches that if I kept training I could, in effect, actually transform myself into an athlete just like them. And so, over the times, I tracked my progress and compared it with my teammates, setting my mind to the task of earning a spot on one of the competitive boats as a concrete goal which would ensure that I would become strong enough.

And, pretty soon, I started feeling different, which really surprised me when I was away from the boathouse; at home, I could help my folks lift heavy stuff I only months before struggled with, I could outrun my flighty kid brother for the first time in my memory, and found myself physically changed through losing weight and gaining muscle through rowing's rigorous workouts. And now, as I write this, I am completing my fourth year on the UC Irvine Crew as a solid member of the Junior Varsity 8-man boat, having been a part of four winning boats and become just as strong as many of my much more experienced teammates. Although this change certainly did not happen in one brief moment, the fact that it was a more gradual process made me feel like every day was another phase in an ongoing transformation. Some days were pleasurable, others painful, and at times my progress wavered, but looking back on it up to this point I am amazed by what I have been able to experience and accomplish as a result of this prolonged series of transformations. In some ways, I feel the same as I did back in 2001, but I can also sense what the experiences has changed in me, a fact for which I will forever be grateful.

So, basically, and this may sound real sappy, I think my enjoyment of transformations stems from a hope for human potential, that there is literally something inside each and every one of us that, when given just the right stimulus, can come to the surface and change ourselves forever into something we may never have dreamt. It is this "alter" ego which reveals itself to be our "true" self, an identity free of the facades we are often forced to put on in order to function in a society so deeply rooted in reality and limitations which may not even truly exist. That's why so many people, myself included, wish they could fly, literally being able to function in a way far different from others. Underdog stories and tales of real-life valor are perhaps the best examples we have in reality of a dramatic physical or emotional transformations, times when someone is able to change themself into something much more than they would under different circumstances. I see the discovery of an alternate persona as the ultimate adventure, to not just experience the world in which we live as ourselves, but be able to assume another identity which, even for a short time, would enable us to experience the world in a radically different way.

So, anyway, sorry for the long entry, but again this place sounds cool and I'd be glad to talk with y'all!

Seeing as this group's interested in transformations in fiction, I can make a contribution of my own later on if you wish. In January, I completed a short story called "Clearing Tables" where I wrote about my experiences in crew as the basis of a superhero story where my character suddenly discovers that he can transform into a superhero whenever he runs, tearing him between his two identities. If anyone's interested, I can post it up here.
baby, box

The Light Ages, by Ian R. MacLeod

Here's a review of a novel I read recently, cross-posted from my own journal. I didn't really care for it (as you'll see); but it does have a transformation aspect, and I'm guessing there are many other people out there who would like it much more than I did . . .

The Light Ages, by Ian R. MacLeod

Well, I'd been wanting to read this particular novel for some time -- the premise laid out on the back, of an alternate London where people are occasionally transformed by a magical substance (aether) into inhuman changelings, sounded right up my alley -- I love transformation stories, as anybody who knows me will probably figure out pretty quickly ;)

Unfortunately, transformation is not truly the focus of the story here. As mentioned above, this novel is set in an alternate England -- one in which aether (a kind of pure, processable form of magic) was discovered several hundred years ago and is now used to power and shape all industry and manufacturing; cultural and technological progress has reached a kind of Victorian/Industrial Revolution point and has remained frozen there for some time. Aether has an interesting (and unfortunate, for factory workers) side effect -- overexposure to it can cause a kind of gradual mutation into any of innumerable, monstrously inhuman forms. The few transformations of this type that the book details are its real high points, in my opinion. I usually find characters' transformations almost enviable -- I mean, there's a lot of wish fulfillment in the whole turning-into-a-vampire, growing-wings, developing-superpowers kind of transformation and a lot of room for daydreaming about "what if," as well ("what if" I was turned into a frog, etc.); but, here, the transformations are truly off-putting. These people turn into things that nobody would want to turn into -- their humanity is gone, their minds are lost or twisted, their families are left to watch them warp into totally alien horrors. The first transformation scene in particular, early in the novel during the protagonist's childhood, is beautifully done -- you can feel the perversion of the change in the whole description. These bits are great -- and they are clearly a clever metaphor/parallel to the injuries and disabilities that factory workers in the "real" world experienced during a similar point in our history due to their terrible working conditions.

As noted above, though, the changelings really aren't the focus of the story -- two of them may be recurring characters, yes; but these two are the most human of the bunch, and they certainly don't fall into the same category as the grotesque once-humans that are glossed over in places throughout the story. The real focus here is, instead, the society created by the author -- its politics, its corruption, its inner workings. In this way, it feels very much like a Dickens-type novel -- we have people being related in strange ways, lowly-born protagonist who moves startlingly up in life, examination of social conditions (the treatment of the poor and the decadence of the rich), a cry for social change, etc. This book may be good enough for what it is, but it's not what I wanted -- slow-moving, deliberate, wordy, it spends most of its length leading up to a "revelation" that is anything but surprising (or interesting) and putzes out in an ending that, while it definitely feels inevitable, is almost depressing and rather dull -- it certainly doesn't feel worth all the work and lead-up put into getting there. Sigh.

Anyway, I suppose this book would be probably be better received by readers who like their books driven more by politics/social conditions/etc. than I do. I was expecting something where the magic was more than just a clever plot/world-building device and where I truly liked and cared for the characters -- maybe even a little actual romance . . . but, no. This is a tale of a "higher order" -- here, the characters, the world, the events all serve the atmosphere and the point the author is trying to make. It's not so much a story about people as a story about "society" -- in a rather pretentious, disheartening sense of the word. Ay, well. Not really my cup of tea, eh?
  • Current Mood
    irritated irritated
baby, box

Oops . . .

Well, heck, I am a very poor moderator, eh? I'd pretty much forgotten I made this community ^_-;; The poor thing is probably feeling rather lonely and neglected . . .

Ay, well, in recompense, I shall actually post for once. 'Twill be brief, but, ay, well.

Just recently finished reading the last of Octavia E. Butler's Xenogenesis (also called Lilith's Brood, I think) trilogy, which is, if one wants to examine the themes of humanity and its definition/flexibility/loss, an astoundingly beautiful and appropriate set of novels. They deal with a post-apocalyptic human race, saved from destruction at their own hands by an alien race called the Oankali. In return for their survival, the humans must lose their humanity, for the Oankali are a race of genetic traders and engineers, biologically programmed to interbreed with any intelligent race they encounter to create an entirely new species. Humans have no choice but to mate with Oankali or be rendered sterile -- humanity can now live on only as part of the genetic heritage of a new Oankali-human species. Adding even greater strangeness to this is the fact that Oankali are a three-gender race -- male, female, and ooloi; ooloi are the neuter core of the Oankali family group and responsible for the genetic engineering that governs the race's reproduction.

This all makes it sound like kind of a "humans struggling against alien rule/influence" scenario, but it's truly not. The Oankali are a wonderfully-drawn alien race, and the ooloi in particular are fascinating; the Oankali are benign and complex and have a deep care for and interest in humanity. My favorite recurring character in this trilogy was an Oankali ooloi -- and all of the novels seemed, at least to me, to be partially love stories and family stories. I don't really think I can recommend these highly enough. They're just quietly and astonishingly spectacular. (The individual titles of the trilogy are Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago, although I think they are also sold now in an omnibus edition under the Lilith's Brood title.)
  • Current Mood
    silly silly