Or: Why I feel conflicted by Mudras and Mandalas from the Vindication of Man .
In the Vindication of Man, several characters do battle through the use of Mudras and Mandalas. Now, before I say anything, the battles fall under “Way Cool” class literary tropes. For me, I’m perfectly fine with a fancy way for fight in the way cool sci-fi future. However, the problem is that some of them can be far to complex, unnecessary or any number of things that can suspend disbelief.
John C. Wright, the luminary of Science Fiction and my favorite author, wrote the Vindication of man about November. Sadly, I’ve been unable to write the review yet, but I will. In the story, one of the characters – who I will call Stranger- has a series of fights with a mercenary band. In those fights, and a little before and after, various characters employ mudras to handle internal neuro-tech that they’ve all been emplanted with. Mandalas are also used as signs and information filled visual viruses to affect the viewer.
Now, there’s ways to use them offensively or defensively.
Offense Mudras: Make a gesture, and the victim’s neurology views the gesture and things happen based on the power put through that gesture. So, I’m fighting a metalhead. The metalhead uses the goathorns and headbangs. I have no defense to it! This overrides my nervous system and I start headbanging to a beat I can’t hear, or my body is fooled into thinking a metal concert is going on right now and I can’t see or hear anything but what I’m fooled into. I believe that there are also ways to cause physical harm.
Defensive Mudras: Make a gesture on yourself. You were once scared of that metalhead, now, you feel calm, like listening to Bach after a AC/DC concert. Now, the text implies that this is a dangerous technique to use on yourself, but the consequences are not touched on. Consider that forcibly changing your personality may cause irreparable harm to yourself as you in this base reality. I’m not talking about the soul, which cannot be destroyed, but how you view the world as your body brings in the information and how you bring out that information through your actions.
I’ll focus on Mudra’s for now. Mandalas will be covered later.
Now, something that I can’t really get the reasoning of, is that why would you want mudra’s in your body’s base programming? Is there a benefit not laid out or touched on by the text? Personally, besides the fact that I like I as I interacting with the world as I am, (though I have a hope that I as I will be improved in heaven for ‘I as Ideal I’ which I will talk about at a later date) I don’t like the idea that someone may be able to mess with me, even subtly through a mere gesture.
For an example in story, a literal monumental sphinx makes a gesture like an egg or a jewel, which calms down everyone after a hilarious scene. Now, let it never be said that Xewleer does not appreciate a good take on a modern sphinx, but I find it odd that just about everyone or everything has the ability to use mudras or the inanimate objects could have a mandala.
It’s akin, in my mind, to a backdoor opening on a server farm that everyone knows about and can use. The Stranger in the story has multiple personalities within one body. He modifies them with Mudras and they are affected by Mandalas. While the idea of having multiple personalities in one body works great, are all of them equally affected by mudras? One personality dies to protect him from seeing a mandala. I don’t see how this doesn’t destroy part of his ‘I as I’ ability to interact with the world?
Perhaps the stranger is too complex a first case. The problem is that the Mandalas are unused all of book 4 (that I could tell) and only used in one story in book 5. Now, because of the scales potential in book 6, I do not see how they could be used again. I won’t spoil the cliffhanger. But it’s a doozy. The kind of doozy that settles a space opera potentially to everyone’s satisfaction. But my writing intuition tells me that it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see them again. It feels like it might be forced in if we do. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Now, when Call of Duty or Battlefield bring out a trick for their players, it’s usually used for one mission, then forgotten or only brought up again once or twice at prearranged times. They are criticized for this. I worry that such a cool trick used, will never be seen again. Now, this trick can be unnoticed if you change environments, but the change has to be, for example, from Cyberpunk space Elevator to future Arabic Mars. It keeps a sci-fi theme, but it jumps across so far that it is reasonable not to see the same technology or villains/side characters.
In another way, I would recommend everyone to check out Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. One of the jokes about it is that it’s 50% posing. Now, observe. This is demonstrably cool. Read the manga and watch the anime. Google search it. It is the coolest thing ever! It’s literally why I started reading Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure in the first place! Mudras are WEAPONIZED POSES! It almost made me want to go crazy. It wasn’t as awesome as the Cathedral on the Moon or the duel with Jupiter, but damn was it awesome. All of a sudden, POSE! You are afflicted with a status ailment or something! AND IT”S ONLY USED IN ONE PART. I’m going crazier! Bah!
Now besides the potential scene change, I will discuss a way to ease them in and make the reader go “Ooooh you scamp, you’re teasing us with something super cool to show up in the future, you rascal you!” Now, I won’t pretend to tell JCW his business, but it bothers the heck out of me! It’s literally one of those things I go back to think about, and how to use them myself. Why don’t the main characters use it? Why don’t they show up all over the place in late late parts of book 4? Fox Maidens wouldn’t exactly care about cleaning up old mandalas, I’d think.
Mandalas are different, but similar. They are designs imbued with some energy that affects the nervous system. For example, some mandalas can be placed to security points to guard against meddling or from people seeing it. Or, offensively, they can be used to push out intense and complex designs to destroy the person they are directed against. Perhaps they push out a self-destruct sequence of the body/soul interaction? I am unsure.
Now Mandala’s I’m actually fine with over all. They are a more advanced land mine for the brain. I believe the SCP foundation would call it a Cognito-hazard, if I can communicate more easily to my readers.
Mandalas and other, similar techniques are an excellent way to add another layer of danger to any interaction. They are similar in tone to the colors of a poisonous serpent or a Magician’s coat of many colors. For example, if you put a ring of light about something, it shows off the same effect. Also, a shadow that’s far too big for the person casting it. Or a warping behind them, like a haze. Smoke, fog, hail of meteors, starlight through the clouds, witches’ brews, lightning and many other environmental hazards also have that a danger to the hero. A fairy mist may bedevil, a witches’ brew can poison, Meteors are a very interesting environmental hazard and Lightning is always great for drama! AH that they were used so sparingly! Not that there needed to be a mandala everywhere, but a little more judicious application would have been so nice.
Now, in story and in mention, the pair are only important once. Now, Norton of Rosycross from the fourth book is cut off from the Future Internet called the Noosphere, where you can upload your entire brain to the web. This means it’s reasonable that he isn’t affected by the Cognito-hazards of the future modern living. But that does feel like it’s begging the question, if the Mudras and mandalas have been around, in the glossary, for thousands of years before book 4, but why was there no mention of them at all in story? Did I miss a singular mention? Was the fact that Norton of Rosycross disconnected from the internet enough to make him immune? That strikes me of being very convenient. Now Norton is a great character, and the Stranger has grown on me, but still, why was the Stranger with all his defenses and willpower to the point he can figure out Fox Maiden manipulation, less able to defend himself against the Cognito-hazards than Norton? He seemingly ignored them, or was clever enough to talk his way out of being tricked by Fox Maidens later in the story. Early on he suffered misfortune, but no mention of mudras or mandalas are mentioned. Were the Mudra’s and Mandalas added later on to the Glossary and timeline?
Now, they didn’t need to saturate the story, but I think that once per tale, or at least mentioned in some way. For example, using characters from book 4.
The squire averted his eyes from a wall displaying a mandala designed to suggest that they were hungry and buy a certain food advertised next to it, now long out of business. The mandala was a subtle thing, mostly rubbed out by time, but still enough power to keep it active.
“Ah! A mandala, they are unable to used on Terra, mostly because of the madness in the noosphere. Besides, the laws of the Kings of the Long afternoon only permit them or their agents to use them any more. Such a thing is a rarity in these days. You must not be used to them, from being in space for so long.” And then the character can talk about it for a paragraph or so. “I cannot use them because of my disconnection from the noosphere. Not that I ever wanted to.”
Not that I’m criticizing JCW’s writing skills, but I do feel that, somewhere, there is a misstep that causes a bit of a trip up when first introduced. If I recall correctly, the original editor passed away suddenly, which is a damn shame. Perhaps that’s when the new fellow took over? I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
Nor am I saying that the fights aren’t awesome and well developed. I suppose my thoughts on the matter is that this is a fantastic tool which we won’t see used again. OH wow! Oh BABY! and back into the box it goes, never to be seen again. Oh maaaaannn…