My Favorite Bit: Steve Bein talks about DAUGHTER OF THE SWORD
My guest this week is Steve Bein to talk about his debut novel, Daughter of the Sword. The publisher’s description of the novel is:
Mariko Oshiro is not your average Tokyo cop. As the only female detective in the city’s most elite police unit, she has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. While she wants to track down a rumored cocaine shipment, he gives her the least promising case possible. But the case—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined.
The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it. Or so says Yamada, and though he has studied swords and swordsmanship all his life, Mariko isn’t convinced.
But Mariko’s skepticism hardly matters. Her investigation has put her on a collision course with a curse centuries old and as bloodthirsty as ever. She is only the latest in a long line of warriors and soldiers to confront this power, and even the sword she learns to wield could turn against her.
So what’s his Favorite Bit?
First, many thanks to Mary for having me as a guest! I’m a recent arrival in the blogosphere, so it’s incredibly cool to be included in a series that has included so many terrific authors already.
My Favorite Bit in Daughter of the Sword is one that only a small cult fandom of classic samurai flicks is likely to pick up on, and it centers on Daigoro Okuma. He’s my favorite character to write because his moral compass is so strong, and because in following it he’s frustrated at every turn. Daigoro is the youngest son of House Okuma, a samurai clan clinging on to its dominance in a region soon to be swept up and swallowed by warfare. The year is 1587 and the warlords fighting to rule Japan would never notice little House Okuma were it not for Daigoro’s father, a warrior and statesman par excellence, the very epitome of the bushido code that defines the samurai.
Daigoro never really had a shot at living up to his father. He was born a runt with a lame right leg, which makes it all but impossible for him to be a good samurai. The right leg is the lead leg in Japanese swordsmanship. In archery it is the root leg, the source of stability. In horsemanship if one leg outweighs the other it’s a challenge just to stay in the saddle. His physical shortcomings are metaphorical too: literally and figuratively, he cannot fill his father’s shoes.
This, of course, is exactly what he needs to do. That’s his whole story: attempting the impossible, trying to be everything people expect him to be.
There’s this classic series of samurai movies called Lone Wolf and Cub, which follows the exploits of Ogami Itt? and his little son, Daigoro. The Daigoro of the films is only a baby when his father, the greatest of swordsmen and the most honorable of samurai, sees his wife murdered and his honor torn to shreds. Ogami Itt? swears vengeance and goes on an ultraviolent rampage, and he takes little Daigoro with him. (Yes, this does require the baddest samurai in the land to walk around pushing a stroller. One of the films is called Baby Cart to Hades.)
I won’t say Lone Wolf and Cub is great art, but few cult classics are, and in any case we don’t need great art to inspire provocative philosophical questions. On one of my (many) viewings of the films, I found myself wondering what it would be like to grow up in a stroller that was perpetually swamped in bloodshed. Here are the facts of baby Daigoro’s existence: 1) Dad runs around killing hundreds of people. 2) Dad is universally held in awe for his dedication to the bushido code. If this is your moral role model, what happens to you when you grow up?
The name Ogami sounds like ookami, the Japanese word for “wolf.” (Hence Lone Wolf, Daigoro being the Cub.) So I chose Okuma, which evokes both Ogami and kumo, or “bear.” I named my Daigoro after the one from the series, which makes him the Bear Cub. His father, the Red Bear of Izu, is an even higher paragon of samurai virtue than Ogami Itt?. The Lone Wolf is a bloodthirsty killer hell-bent on revenge. The Red Bear is just as fearsome, but he also knows the merits of forethought and restraint. In his most famous victory no swords were drawn; he is such a master tactician that the enemy surrendered without a fight.
Now how can my Daigoro, an undersized boy of fifteen with a withered leg, possibly live up to that? A grown man’s wisdom and an able-bodied man’s strength? He can’t, and that’s why I love him. He’s got his father’s strong moral compass. He triesso hard to go where it leads him, to walk his father’s path, but he can only stumble along the way. To make his life worse, I give him his father’s signature weapon, an enormous cavalry sword far too big for Daigoro to wield. (Ogami Itt? had a trademark sword as well.) Burdened by his oversized sword and hobbled by his emaciated leg, Daigoro still tries—and never forgives himself for failing—to live up to his father’s name.
Like I said, the Lone Wolf and Cub films aren’t high art, and they certainly don’t explore the question of what it means for a boy to measure himself by his father’s image. But I don’t think meaningful questions care what inspires them, so long as we ask the questions. Daigoro’s whole life is a series of tough questions. I give him a couple of kick-ass fight scenes too—what can I say? I’m a fan of the source material—but My Favorite Secret Bit of Daughter of the Sword is that a crazy, campy, ultraviolent cult classic from the 70s can inspire a tough-yet-scared young boy who tests his mettle against his own morality, his duty and honor, his disability, and his sense of self.
Steve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is an author, philosophy professor and world traveler. His short fiction has appeared inAsimov’s, Interzone, Writers of the Future, and in international translation. Daughter of the Sword, his first novel, has met with critical acclaim and was released last week.
You can read the first two chapters of Daughter of the Sword for free by visiting Steve’s website (www.philosofiction.com) and following the links you find there. You can also follow Steve on Facebook at www.facebook.com/