Visiting prof. publishes novel, explores philosophical compexities through fiction

Steve Bein, a visiting professor of philosophy and history specializing in Asian studies at Geneseo, published his first full-length novel on Oct. 2. Daughter of the Sword is set in modern day Tokyo, Japan.

“I was writing for years without getting published,” Bein said. “My parents say I’ve been writing stories since before I can remember.”

“It’s what we [humans] do. It was my hobby already,” he said. “I can’t not [write]. The stuff just whirrs around in my head, and I primarily write for my own entertainment.”

The novel tells the story of Mariko Oshiro, an ambitious Tokyo police detective in the narcotics division who battles sexism and tradition on the force. On a seemingly mundane assignment, she winds up on the trail of a killer and discovers the hidden history behind a trio of ancient magical swords. The plot jumps between the present and past time periods.

This all boils down to a quirky police thriller, according to Bein.

“It’s sort of genre-bending. It has light fantasy elements and a lot of historical fiction. Most of the story is a police thriller. I want to say it has something for everybody, because it crosses so many genres,” Bein said.

The novel also has philosophical elements.

“This book is … in some sense really about duty and the nature of duty and how we define ourselves by how we see our moral duties,” Bein said.

Most of the characters in the book are, in some way, bound by duty, including Oshiro and the Yakuza villain who shows up early in the book.

The novel’s story and setting take a lot from Bein’s personal history. He practiced language immersion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where he received his doctorate in philosophy in 2005. Bein also translated works of Japanese philosopher Watsuji Tetsuro from Japanese to English.

Bein said that an emerging culture of book readers encourages him.

“We’re dealing with an audience that’s much better prepared for complex fiction than they used to be. Guys like George R.R. Martin we have to thank for that,” he said, noting that it wasn’t long ago that the popular books within the Song of Fire and Ice series were “unpublishable.”

“‘What do you mean, we’re supposed to follow all of these people over 4,000 pages?’ You [couldn’t] ask readers to do that, and now you can,” Bein said.

“I’m hoping that [with] this being a complex book, and guys like Martin setting the stage, we can do more [in telling] multiple stories at once,” he said.