A Forty-Eight Hour War Proclamation – The Festival Accompanying Chapter, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai, Vol.3, Part 1

We finally make it to the third volume of the trilogy in the story arc of Ryukishi Zeronana’s When the Cicada’s Cry: The Festival Accompanying Chapter (竜騎士07の”ひぐらしのなく頃に解:祭囃し編 (下)”).   This is something like the 16th book out of 16 covering the main anime storyline and not counting periphery books in the series. It runs 422 pages and was published in 2009.

The bunko pocket edition in Japanese is available here:

This is the link to the Kodansha boxed edition that I’m actually reading:

It opens with a color foldout poster of all of the characters:

I almost got the whole page on this scan

I couldn’t quite fit the whole thing on the scan, but the painting has a rather apocalyptic feel with the fiery red sky behind the cast.

Unlike a lot of the volumes in the series, this one ends with two poems from Frederica Bernkastel rather than starting off with them, so I’ll address those in the second installment of this series. The chapter titles are mostly dates with many subchapter titles merely referencing this or that character’s “turn” in the story. So let’s start by covering the first chapter, June 17th .

The first segment starts off with someone telling Rika and Satoko to guard against getting a summer cold since the Cotton-Drifting Festival and Rika’s duties as shrine maiden are coming up.  The speaker is eventually identified as their friend Mion. The scene then shifts to detail the treatment schedule and staff breaks at the Irie Clinic.

In the middle of the segment, there is more talk about Hinamizawa Syndrome and Takano’s grandfather’s research, but the most jarring aspect to me is the way the two names of Takano and Takano are juxtaposed. Since they are now at this point of the story written differently and set together, it almost serves as a reminder that Takano Miyo has moved very far away from the spirit and goals of her grandfather’s original research, but this contrast is in the subtext each time this theme is brought up in the book. It comes up a lot in the portion I’m covering today. Then this section also mentions how Rika and Satoko have no relatives left.

The third segment shows the Yamainu military group head Ogonoki talking on the phone with Takano, discussing how today is the beginning of some sort of surveillance. After he hangs up the receiver, he thinks about Takano’s mood and the front company landscaping business office they have in the nearby city of Okinomiya. Then he discusses more about this surveillance plan while referring to the other members of the Yamainu, who oddly have bird-related code names like “phoenix” and “white heron.” You would think with a collective name like the Yamainu, which is a type of wild dog in Japan, they would have canine names or something. The Yamainu is described in this section as a different sort of combat unit that has gathered an assortment of technical specialists.

Ogonoki has orders to install equipment to tap the phones, conduct surveillance, gather intelligence, and manage disinformation. At the very end of this segment, someone tells him he has a call on an outside line from party head Nomura, who doesn’t otherwise have a big role in the story.

In the next chapter titled “Akasaka’s Turn,” Satoko has set traps around the small house the night before and has them all mapped out. She hears the crash of a basin fall, and the sound frightens her.  They know the little house is under surveillance. Rika is sitting on the futon when the phone suddenly rings a long time then stops. Then girls go to sleep.

Irie eventually talks with the girls at the door, saying he’s on his rounds checking on the heads of households, and he admonishes them to speak softly due to the dangerous surveillance they have to contend with.  After they invite him in, they have a light meal while talking more about a whole range of topics: the phone and the surveillance, Takano, how Rika is no longer comfortable coming to the clinic, and Tomitake beginning his secret investigation. 

They acknowledge that Takano and the Yamainu are Rika’s enemies and ponder Takano’s connection to Hinamizawa’s string of strange deaths. The conversation turns to the subject of the Cotton-Drifting Festival the next night.  One of them calls Takano a scary woman. For some reason, they bring up Professor Takano’s adoption of Takano Miyo as a child, too, and his Hinamizawa Syndrome research. Tomitake is searching for evidence of her research scheme, and they discuss a method to communicate by phone in spite of the surveillance. 

We have a long chapter, “The Club Members’ Meeting,” where Mion and Rika are talking at the Sonozaki house. Most of the village’s school children are present, including Hanyuu, the spirit helping Rika. The conversation starts out about punishment games and regular club activities and turns to the subject of Akasaka and Tomitake’s missions. They are hopeful for victory against Rika’s enemies this time since they have set traps on the far side of the mountain and have a secret base underground at Mion’s house.  The plan includes taking advantage of the idea that Rika is the queen carrier of the Hinamizawa Syndrome and that 48 hours after her death the villagers were expected to go crazy. The group has a decoy in place to make this death look real, and this is the time frame they are using to trick Takano. The club meeting ends up just being a rehash of their plan to defeat fate and Takano.

In the next chapter, “Tomitake’s Turn,” 1st Lieutenant Tomitake answers the phone and identifies himself. In this part of the story, he and Takano Miyo are frequently referred to by their military ranks. Tomitake is talking to someone about Major Takano and the investigation into transactions involving the Irie Institute’s operating fund. I’m not sure exactly who he is talking to, but they also discuss Takano’s relationship to old Professor Takano’s friend Koizumi-san and how Koizumi had provided funding for Major Takano.

Chapter 2 and the chapter’s first segment have the same title, “June 18th, Saturday,” and the scene begins at the Furude Shrine grounds where preparations are being made for the upcoming festival.  School is out, and Rika is home. Cars bring tents to the site while Rika talks with Irie again about her and Satoko possibly catching a cold. It seems like the village head and Oryou Sonozaki also make an appearance, though they are just called in the dialogue by name. One thing about these Japanese light novels generally is that they are very sparse on exposition or description and are very heavy on dialogue, so they move fast and are kind of confusing about who is talking since not much is tagged with speaker names.

Then the subject of the curse comes up since the villagers are worried about it. Dr. Irie asks Oryou which girl she would rely upon, Rika or Satoko, and he brings up the dam project and the Houjous’ position opposing the village community on it. Surprisingly, Oryou expresses some warmth toward Satoko by the end of the passage. Rika thinks to herself that she hopes Takano’s schemes to raise the specter of Oyashiro-sama’s curse will come to nothing and that five years will be the end of it.     

The next few sections cycle through the various key adult players, turning to Detective Ooishi, his close colleague at the police station Kumagaya Katsuya and Tokyo rookie Akasaka before pivoting to Takano thinking again about immortalizing herself, her adopted grandfather and his research. The end of her segment has Takano talking to party head Nomura on the phone.

In “Irie’s Turn,” Irie explains to Akasaka the meaning of the 48 Hour War Proclamation, and Akasaka learns he will meet with Ooishi that night and that the plan will be set in motion in the morning.  They hope to meet again late at night on Sunday.  Akasaka expresses some concern about being able to connect with his wife Yukie since I think he calls her every night. They also discuss the weather for the festival set for Saturday.      

In the segment “Forty-Eight Hour War Proclamation,” Oiishi and Rika talk about the members of their team and fighting the enemy. This section ends with the them wondering whether they or Takano will win tomorrow.

The next chapter, chapter 3, is titled “June 19th, Sunday. ” The first subheading is short, and it has a very brief segment at the beginning talking about the sliver of time between late at night until morning. The night is tranquil, but suddenly we are in the office of the Ogonoki Landscaping Company where someone is playing Hanafuda at the reception desk.  The phone rings, and whoever is there answers it. I don’t see any particular name given for which character, though I may just not be recognizing it in the text.

The second segment in this section returns to Takano, who is rushing to an underground security room. Someone briefs her on the fact that the queen carrier has been dead in the custody of someone in Okinomya for forty eight hours, and Takano is in a panic. The information has been passed on to Takano’s team by an informant in the city, which seems to be the person at the Ogonoki Landscaping business. Meanwhile, in the middle of the crisis, Takano gets a call from Nomura in Tokyo. Things are unraveling for her now. The section’s third segment returns to the landscaping business again briefly.

The story stalls a bit in Okinomiya  where Detective Kumagaya is at the Communication Center with his fellow officers, then Tomitake takes another official call about the Yamainu and Rika Furude’s body being held for 48 hours now. The apparent death will now kick in the implementation of emergency manual 34 to protect the peace of Hinamizawa.

But in the next part, Ogonoki and the Yamainu go to Tomitake’s hotel room, which is under surveillance from the outside. They assume he’s still asleep because they can’t hear any sound in the room. However, when they break in, Tomitake isn’t there. We then get a long scene between Ooishi and another minor police character named Ootaka. I’m going to stop there today and pick it up next time to finish out the series. This series will only be two parts so I can get caught up on this year’s reading schedule since I’m falling behind.

Part one of a two part series.

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The Death of a Little Bird – Land, Vol.4, Part 2

This will be a quick interim post continuing to look at Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》). We’re in the second story arc, picking up the narrative with chapter six, “Jeongho’s Question.” This chapter follows some new characters, but it’s really interesting. It starts off with Song Janghwan asking an audience if they know how big the nation used to be, pointing out the land mass of ancient Goguryo on a map. He is in a classroom and has put the maps for Joseon and Manchuria on the board as he talks about their ancestors.

This chapter also includes discussions on the Independence Movement and its activists, the state and king. They ponder how to school their children and the issue of Joseon writing versus its spoken language before the text gets into details about the school they are visiting, which has students from ages 10 to 15.

In the next chapter, “Death of a Small Bird,” the story returns to familiar character Gilsang and is split into two scenes. In the first scene, Gilsang is walking with Song Janghwan and talking about school matters and the children’s behavior. He returns to an inn in Hanyang, or maybe Huiryeong. I’m not really sure where Huiryeong is, but it seems to be near Hanyang, and it’s a major setting in the novel. Gilsang goes to his room at the inn and begins to read the paper. A female attendant comes in, and Gilsang is moved by her great beauty as she arranges his mattress and coverlet. He drinks to his heart’s content while it rains hard outside.

In the chapter’s second scene the following day, the rain has stopped. A child named Oki has some medical problem and reminds Gilsang of an oriole chick he took in the year before during the rainy summer. In a flashback scene, he finds the chick starving to death in the forest and brings it home. Feeding it sesame powder, he’s concerned it will get an upset stomach if it eats too much. He names it Nari and observes the bird likes grasshoppers and earthworms.  When he walks through the grasslands at night, he hears the sound of the grasshoppers singing in the bushes. Earthworms wiggle under his finger when he looks for them. However, in spite of his efforts, the chick ultimately dies.

Returning to the present with Kim Hunjang and Oki, they are concerned that Oki is eating enough. The next day it rains again. Gilsang watches the downpour from the garden, thinking about the death of his pet bird, the death of the grasshoppers, and comparing their deaths to Oki’s situation. This whole chapter has a nicely meditative feel and is one of my favorites. The illustration supports the mood perfectly, too.

Chapter eight, “Sanghyeon Returns to Home, ” begins with a contrast. This scene takes place in bright sunshine. A man is coming down the road, and Seohui appears at the door to the women’s quarters to greet him. When the man Sanghyeon arrives, she asks if Gilsang is with him, but he tells her Gilsang went to Huiryeong. They sit down together, and she pulls out a drinking table where she places two cups. As they have a drink together, he mentions Gilsang heard news that her mother Byeoldangasshi has returned, but they change the subject fairly quickly, talking about the state of the country and finding a suitable husband for Seohui. She whispers Gilsang’s name as her best prospect, but he laughs at her because GIlsang is from the servant class and she is aristocracy. She turns pale.

When Sanghyeon leaves, he doesn’t return to the house that night. It seems he stays at the school, and he talks with Song Janghwan the next day. Song Janghwan questions him about his whereabouts the night before, but Sanghyeon avoids answering him. The next day, Song Janghwan gets a letter from Sanghyeon, who has apparently moved on. The scene ends with Song Janghwan putting the letter on his desk and going out for a smoke.

In chapter nine, “Butterfly on a Summer Night,” Gilsang is back in town, and he and Seohui are sitting on the floor. Their meeting is tense, and Seohui wonders if she made a mistake. They talk for awhile about Wolseon’s shop before Gilsang goes out into the street. He notices that something odd is going on between Seohui and Sanghyeon, but meanwhile he has met the woman Okineo in Huiryeong. Out in the street, Gilsang takes the route running between of a dozen or so shops and meets Kong Noin. The chapter’s second scene continues with Kong Noin, Imineo and Lee Hong.

Part 2 of this volume is titled “Love and Hate” and also has nine chapters.  Its first chapter, “Wicked Business,” features the New Citizens’ Association, which was organized in 1907 to oppose Japanese rule and founded its own school. Indeed, we return in this part to Song Janghwan, who was shown at a school a few chapters back. Some of the names checked in the chapter intro include historical members of this association.

The school is set up in military style to form students to work in the independence movement, and around 600 members of the movement have been arrested from Joseon, so trouble is always swirling around them. A servant tells Song Janghwan that a guest has arrived, and Song Janghwan asks who it is. It seems a new teacher, Yoon Yibyeong, has come to the school.

When he meets Yoon Yibyeong, Song Janghwan suggests they go for a walk along the river, and they talk about money. Yoon Yibyeong asks for an advance of 20 won on his salary, which Song Janghwan agrees to.  It turns out Yoon Yibyeong had hoped to get married three years earlier to a woman named Shim Gumnyeo, which could literally translate to golden girl. Her father was a drunk and a gambler, and Yoon Yibyeong needs the money as a ransom for her. She may have been kidnapped, if I’m understanding this right.  It turns out she is with Kim Dusu (whom we knew in the first story arc as Kim Keobok, son of Kim Pyeongsan), so Yoon Yibyeong goes to his house. Kim Dusu punches Yoon Yibyeong in the jaw, but they start to drink and talk about Gumnyeo outside afterward.

The next chapter, “By the Sea,” continues this storyline, though it appears Kim Dusu and Gumnyeo are now in Hunchun, a city in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China up near modern North Korea and Russia. He discusses with someone whether they are married, and the text mentions Kim Dusu’s unpleasant appearance, though Gumnyeo also is hardly considered a beauty. They eventually arrive at an inn and are in town to meet his nephew, but the impression I’m left with is that she isn’t exactly with him voluntarily. By the end of the chapter, she has been taken away by two men, and Kim Dusu is searching for her.

The next few chapters follow the storyline of Lee Yong and his family and friends, but I’m going to skip that part of the story for this volume.

Chapter 6, “Dividing a Dedicated Heart, ” starts off with Seohui upset at hearing reports that Gilsang has taken a woman with him to Huiryeong. However, Gilsang never promised to marry Okineo and hasn’t thought seriously about taking Okineo  as a marriage partner, but rumors are still spreading about them, and they have gotten back to Seohui. Although she still has some relationship with Gilsang, Seohui feels very jealous, defeated and hateful over the situation.

The scene rapidly shifts as Seohui goes to the school to visit Yoon Yibyeong.  Meanwhile, Gilsang returns to the inn in Huiryeong and begins to read a book he borrowed from Song Janghwan called “The Revolutionary Army.” He has a meal before leaving the inn.

By the end of the volume, Seohui hears that Gilsang is ill, and so she goes to the inn in Huiryeong to find out the details. When she angers Gilsang, she then goes to find Okineo.

So far I think this is the volume I have liked the best in the saga. Next time on the Literati Corner break, I’ll move on to the next volume to continue the story.

Part two of a six part series.

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New Lucky Cat Promo Posters and My 2019 Summer-Winter Schedule Update

I have two new posters for The Lucky Cat Series done. Both are from Volume 3.

I have a total of six posters in this series, so I have two more to finish before I move on. Next, I have some updates to my schedule of appearances:

July 26th-28th Confluence, Coraopolis, PA  

I’ll be doing a book signing Saturday, a reading Sunday morning from Lucky Cat and the Snow Maiden’s Vengeance and will be on the panel later that day on “History and Myth in Fantasy”

http://parsec-sff.org/confluence/

August 1st Monroeville Library, Monroeville, PA at 7PM

I’ll be speaking on the topic, “The Great Asian Space Race”

August 9th-11th Steel City Con, Monroeville, PA

August 16-18 Matsuricon, Columbus, OH

I’ll be speaking on the topics of the Ainu and Toho Studios

http://matsuricon.org/

September 7th Beaver Book Fest, Beaver , PA

Beaver County BookFest

December 6-8th Steel City Con, Monroeville, PA

I’ll add more dates as they come up. Sorry about the crazy links in this post, but I can’t fix the error.

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A Meeting in a Golden Wheat Field and the Telling of Fairy Tales – Death’s End, Remembrance of Earth, Book 3, Part 3

This time I’m going to wrap up Death’s End or Dead End (刘慈欣的”地球往事:死神永生”), the third book in the Remembrance of Earth Chinese science fiction series by Cixin Liu. It is available in English, so whatever I don’t get to you can check out in the translation.

Part II moves on to the “Broadcast Era,” which should be around 2277 AD, and this chapter focuses on Cheng Xin. At this point, Cheng Xin and Ai AA have been living in Australia for 6 years already. Cheng Xin has become a tycoon in the field of near earth orbit space construction, but she has a disease that the medicine of the day can only cure once her clone is ready, but it will still take five more years. The first section also describes the crazy behavior of a public order army, which has the power to try people in court. The narrative breaks briefly with another italicized excerpt, this one on an inquiry into the dark forest theory.  Luoji caused the destruction of a fixed star system during this experiment, which is examined here.  This chapter ends when Cheng Xin is awakened by the phone. It’s Fuleisa, one of her former roommates.

The next chapter is still set in the same year but focuses on Tomoko, who turns out to be quite a significant character, and it starts with another italicized excerpt.  After a quick pass discussing Luoji fighting the 3 Bodies System, this whole section mostly is interested in Cheng Xin and Tomoko having tea together. There is an excerpt talking about the Japanese tea ceremony, the solitary arts, and safety statements. Then Cheng Xin gets another call from Fuleisa.

Two days later, Cheng Xin and Luoji go to visit Tomoko, who has announced she intends to depart. They have tea again and sit quietly together.  This chapter ends with Tomoko telling Cheng Xin cryptically that Yun Tianming, who was euthanized in the beginning of the book, wants to see her.

The next chapter subheading opens another really interesting storyline. It’s the same year as the previous chapter, only focusing on the deceased Yun Tianming. We start off with an excerpt “Endless Staircase,” which mentions Yun Tianming is existing outside of his body in the first fleet of 3 Bodies and that his brain would be transplanted into a cloned body. He sees Cheng Xin at some point.

In the next scene, we see Cheng Xin in a spaceship where she can see the sun and star clusters through the windows, and she has a video and audio recorder that somehow accesses memories. She sees a man walking in a golden wheat field. It’s Yun Tianming in his full body wearing a golden jacket. His pants are covered up by the wheat, and his face looks young and tanned. He greets her. It has been three centuries since the met last time. He tells her a children’s story called “The Emperor’s New Painter” before she awakes from the dream and returns to the ship. The chapter ends with a scene of Tomoko at a villa, contemplating the interaction of the 3 Bodies and earth worlds.

The following chapter escalates this narrative by using the title “Yun Tianming’s Fairy Tales.” It presents three fairy tales he tells Cheng Xin in italics at the first meeting of the Intelligence Analysis Committee, also known as the IDC. There are thirty people at the meeting, and two of them are Common Era people who participated in the executioner selection:  accelerator engineer Bi Yunfeng and physicist Cao Bin.  They have lived under Tomoko’s surveillance for three hundred years. Cheng Xin addresses the meeting, and they talk a little about Yun Tianming’s compilation of children’s tales from the Crisis Era. The narrative then presents each of Yun Tianming’s stories, which are interconnected. Each story runs about 10 pages. The first one is “The Emperor’s New Painter,” the second one is “Taotie Sea,” and the third one is “Prince Deep Water.” 

The first story establishes that the emperor has three children, two princes, Prince Deep Water and Prince Slushie, and one princess, Princess Dewdrop. Prince Deep Water goes to the Taotie Sea, but the Emperor recognizes that Prince Slushie is very violent and chooses his daughter Princess Dewdrop as his successor to become queen after him instead. Prince Slushie then decides to help his father select a new painter since the current court painter is getting too old. The prince introduces the new painting master, Zhenyan.

We get a description of him painting a snowscape for the Emperor, but really Zhenyan and Prince Slushie are interested in painting Princess Dewdrop. The princess wakes up from a dream and goes to her chamber door, but her aunt is already there with the palace guard head and Painter Kongling. Her attendants are concerned about Prince Slushie and Zhenyan’s interest in her. There’s a lot of discussion about an umbrella or parasol here that I don’t quite get the significance of, but in the end, Zhenyan does complete her portrait.

In the second fairy tale, the story seems to continue uninterrupted with the palace guard head and the princess. There is still concern about the painting of the princess, but they start talking about her brother Prince Deep Water, speculating why he went to the island and how he was considered a monster or a giant, though her Aunt objects to these characterizations.  The princess wants to leave the palace, but her attendants are even more concerned since an evil monster known as the taotie is believed to live in the waters. Still, she goes to the seashore.  By the end of the second fairy tale, they decide Prince Deep Water likely won’t return with them to the palace.

The third fairy tale continues with the princess by the sea. She sees her brother Prince Deep Water on a small island, though he is a giant. She calls to him, and they chat. She explains that she’s about to be made queen but doesn’t want to be.  She wants to travel the seas with him instead.

After this final story is related, the people in the IDC meeting start talking and thinking deeply about the meaning of Yun Tianming’s fairy tale world. AA says she thinks the princess resembles Cheng Xin. The next day, the IDC analyzes the stories comprehensively. Then the chapter turns to another italicized excerpt on the “Bunker Plan – Earth’s Cultural Ark.” There’s an outline here of topics relating to predictions of the solar system’s dark forest attack, the need for a deliverer of the masses of people, the abandonment of humanity, fleeing the star boundaries, etc. This part gets into the interstellar interactions between the 3 Bodies Fixed Star, the sun, and the various planets in our solar system. One section mentions interesting details of the dark forest attack: at the beginning of the attack Mercury and Venus completely disintegrated, earth and Mars maintained their spheroid shapes but got their surfaces peeled off to varying depths, and the rest of the planets had their orbits adjusted due to some explosion on the sun.

The scene then shifts back to the IDC still analyzing Yun Tianming’s fairy tales using literary techniques and considering their hidden meanings, even hiring a linguist. These parts are intertwined with scenes of Cheng Xin talking with AA about things like bath soap, which is now apparently a historical relic in this era. It’s a very intriguing narrative progression, and this whole volume has been constructed in a rather unusual way throughout the chapters. On that note, I’m going to end this series looking at the trilogy here with this tantalizing glimpse of the story since it gets really philosophical.

Part 3 of 3.

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The Military Deterrence Era and the Feminization of Men – Death’s End, Remembrance of Earth, Book 3, Part 2

Returning to Death’s End or Dead End (刘慈欣的”地球往事:死神永生”), the third book in the Remembrance of Earth Chinese science fiction series by Cixin Liu, Part II of volume 3 begins in a new fictional era. The first segment title is “Military Deterrence Era Year 12, The Bronze Age,” which appears to be referring to a spaceship or warship out in space that can see earth with the naked eye from their windows. The people on The Bronze Age talk about going home to earth to see their children or to finally return to start families. They clearly have been gone from earth a long time on a military campaign but want to go back and are afraid out in space.

Another excerpt like those that come up at intervals to break the narrative appears almost right away, this one regarding humanity and the cosmos’ “dark forest.” It’s about Mars, dark forest phobia, and electromagnetic data.

The next major section is titled “Military Deterrence Era Year 13, Judicial Inquiry,” and it has a rather intriguing format for a few pages, describing a military court proceeding featuring interviews with various witnesses from aboard The Bronze Age. The ships and court are orbiting around Mars, Jupiter and the asteroid belt. Each man is interviewed by a judge and prosecutor, and they include Colonel Neil Scott, who had been The Bronze Age’s Captain; Major Sebastian Schneider, who had been the target and strategy command officer of the ship; and Lieutenant Colonel Boris Lovinsky, who had been assistant captain. The conversations with each witness mostly are interested in a “quantum” attack that occurred. The brief legal judgment is set off in a short paragraph after the interviews: Neil Scott and six other high officers are given life sentences for crimes against humanity and murder.  

In the next section, titled “Military Deterrence Era Year 61, The Executioner,” the storyline returns to Cheng Xin. This is almost the last year of this era, and we last saw her during the Crisis Era at Yun Tianming’s death many decades earlier. I guess as with the earlier book, they have life prolonging technology at this point to make that happen. Maybe the years aren’t normal length either. If they explained any of that, I missed it, but time isn’t affecting people normally now. However, at this point, humanity hasn’t flown beyond the solar system to the stars, though the technology is being developed.

The DX3906 star has planets that were discovered by a new character Ai AA. Cheng Xin and AA talk together for a number of pages before we reach a partial sentence, bolded, stating “at this time, the murderers are put to death,” referring to the men sentenced in the judicial inquiry. The scene with Cheng Xin and AA continues after this brief break. Throughout this section, Cheng Xin notices there seems to be no men around them on the street and comments on it, but AA tells her that all of the men at this time have been feminized and still are men in spite of appearances. They also talk about how Luoji became the savior of humanity in the Crisis Era, though he has apparently now been declared a murderer and sentenced.

Later when she calls AA, AA answers with a man’s voice, so they get into another discussion about gender before AA suggests Cheng Xin become an executioner. The section ends with Cheng Xin asking, “What’s an executioner?”

Next, there is another excerpt, this one on the Wall Facers and the role of the Executioner. It starts off discussing Luoji’s achievements during the dark forest Three Bodies world. It seems Luoji was originally the first executioner, but he is now getting too old. It goes into the Wall Facers plan and even aspects of the Cold War here.

Then we see Cheng Xin in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound that nearly hit her heart. AA and her friends come to see her. Another excerpt pops up here on civilization that I’m going to skip, but this sort of italicized aside that runs for pages does interrupt the narrative regularly, which adds an interesting structural aspect to the story. This particular one goes deeper into the Three Bodies world and earth’s technological data. Once it ends, we return to Cheng Xin leaving the hospital. AA tells her someone wants to see her, a robot named Zhizi or maybe Tomoko if it is pronounced the Japanese way. The name means “child of wisdom” either way, just like the famous Sofia robot in the real world. This robot is also female and is somehow controlled or created by intelligent nanotechnology. Tomoko has tea with Cheng Xin and AA.

Two days later after Tomoko’s visit, Cheng Xin is visited by six more “Common Era People,” which is also a phrase that I think also refers to Cheng Xin in places. This term is kind of odd, but I think it refers to people who were born in the time before 3 Bodies and are older than the new civilization that sprung up in the Military Deterrence era. The group includes men who were also candidates to become Executioners. They are compared here in the text to the feminized men of the era. She talks with the group of men a bit.

When they leave, AA comments on the lifestyle of the candidates for Executioner, but finds it an unpleasant rather than a desirable life. Finally, the chapter comes to a close with a focus on Cheng Xin’s parents and the time when she left them for the first time to go to college. The last sentence has Cheng Xin telling someone, “I will compete to be selected executioner.”

The story moves on with a new boldfaced title, “Military Deterrence Era Year 62, Beyond the Orte Nebula, Gravitation.Gravitation was one of the warship names we were introduced to earlier along with Bronze Age and Blue Space.  Mostly I’m going to skip the warship sections, but this one does have an immediately intriguing excerpt on the Dark Forest and Tomoko’s “blind spot.” This excerpt is only a few paragraphs, and Tomoko seems to be connected to this particular ship just glancing over the section.

A dozen or more pages later, we have a new chapter title, “Military Deterrence Era Year 62, November 28th, 1600 hour to 16:17, Military Deterrence Control Center.” Cheng Xin is now at the Military Deterrence Control Center where she is acting in an executioner-type role as a secondary system controller. An excerpt called “Executioner Selection – Ten Minutes of Life and Extinction” runs through the scientific foundation for their “dark forest military deterrence systems,” which seem to include radiation, electromagnetism and nuclear warheads.

Cheng Xin is one of three people who enter the Dark Forest Military Deterrence System Center where she finds Luoji sitting at a table, his hair and beard neat but very long. There’s a white wall nearby that was breached five times. This section recounts Luoji’s separation from his wife and daughter, and his subsequent role as executioner. It explains how he used Japanese kendo rather than Chinese or Western sword technique in this role and that he spent 54 years as a Wall Facer and Executioner against 3 Bodies World.

At this point, he is introduced to Cheng Xin, who seems to be already considered his successor at this point. Somehow, he is 100 years old and she is 29. She ponders the fact that humanity never thanked him for his service during this meeting.

The next title that comes up is “Military Deterrence Era Year 62, November 28th, 16:17 34 seconds to 16:26 58 seconds, Military Deterrence Control Center,” which has multiple subsections in bold over next few pages. It continues the scene with Cheng Xin and Luoji, emphasizing she’s a woman, not a warrior, and is therefore not the same as Luoji. It also gets fairly abstract in its references to huge time spans, discussing events from 21 hundred million years ago.

The era then shifts with the next section title, “The Post-Military Deterrence Era, The Lost World.” Cheng Xin takes the elevator to the ground level and exits. When she hears someone call her name, she finds Ai AA there dressed in a white dustcoat. The narrative breaks for a reflection on the dark forest military deterrence’s defeat. Things apparently aren’t going well with the selection of the Executioner.

Cheng Xin and AA take a flying car to the Gobi where they have a confrontation with Tomoko. At the end of the section, Tomoko raises her sword, laughing about how foolish they are before saying, “Prepare to go to Australia.”

Under the next title, “After the Military Deterrence Era 60 Days, The Lost World,” the 3 Bodies system is coming closer to the solar system, appearing in an interstellar dust cloud. This is the second warship fleet belonging to the 3 Bodies world. While humanity is working on military deterrence and selecting the second Executioner, 3 Bodies world already can predict their intentions with these projects as the fleet arrives in the solar system.

Another excerpt on 3 Bodies technology is quite short and notes that Tomoko arrived on earth after human civilization started to change, so she is their mouthpiece. Then the whole world gets news of the 2nd 3 Bodies fleet arriving and completely occupying the star system from earth to Neptune. Tomoko announces a change in 3 Bodies policy toward humanity and declares they must move. The 3 Bodies world doesn’t intend to annihilate humanity, though they will attack certain parts of the earth. Immigration is to begin to Australia, and also to Mars and outer space later.

In “The Post-Military Deterrence Era Year 1, Australia,” it goes through the details of this mass movement of humanity, giving the statistics for each location at different time intervals. Cheng Xin and Ai AA are among the earliest to immigrate to Australia. Life is difficult in the immigrant zone, and as immigration continues, Cheng Xin and AA share their room with six other women. The story gets into descriptions of some of their roommates as well as Cheng Xin going to visit one of the murderers sentenced to 30 years in jail. The UN moves to Sydney as people move to Australia, to bases on Mars and Jupiter, or to warships in space.  

By the end of Part II, the story swings back around to the drama embroiling space warships Blue Space and Gravitation.

Next time, we’ll look briefly at the end of the book and finish the series.

Part 2 of 3.

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Lucky Cat Promo Pages and Updated 2019 Summer/Fall Event Schedule

I’ve been busy working on some new artwork for my sales events this summer, and I have a few new ad pages for the Lucky Cat Series:

This one features my cat horde in anticipation for the last book in the series, due out in 2020, Lucky Cat and the Kaiju Horde. I also did a new page in honor of Living Dead Weekend featuring the story’s ball joint dolls.

I have a series of a few  more sketches I want to do for Lucky Cat before I get down to work on other projects, so those will be forthcoming.

Here is my revised schedule of appearances:

June 14th-16th Living Dead Weekend – Monroeville (Confirmed)
http://www.thelivingdeadweekend.com/

July 4th-7th Anthrocon, Pittsburgh (Pending)

https://www.anthrocon.org/

July 26th-28th Confluence, Coraopolis (Confirmed)

http://parsec-sff.org/confluence/

August 1st Monroeville Library at 7PM (Confirmed) I’ll be speaking on the topic, “The Great Asian Space Race”

August 9th-11th Steel City Con, Monroeville (Confirmed)

Home

August 16-18 TBA

September 7th Beaver Book Fest, Beaver  (Confirmed)

Beaver County BookFest

I’m working on more than that, though, and am pushing to get my posts up on this blog, so stay tuned.

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The Death of the Magician – Death’s End, Remembrance of Earth, Book 3, Part 1

The third book in the Remembrance of Earth Chinese science fiction series by Cixin Liu, which was translated into English as Death’s End or Dead End (刘慈欣的”地球往事:死神永生”), is a thick volume with very minimal breaks between the scenes. The English translations mask a layer of meaning in the Chinese title, which has an obvious reference to the grim reaper (死神, which literally translates to death god) and eternal life or immortality (永生, which literally means forever exist). I don’t point this out to judge the translators’ choices, I’m merely pointing out the extra level of meaning knowing the original language gives the reader. Translation is good and gives a lot of people access to world literature, but in the end it’s really no substitute for reading the original work. This volume’s title is far more poetic and not clinical or scientific, which is intriguing. We’ll see if the reason those nuances were translated out makes sense as we read.

This volume will wrap up our ongoing series looking at the trilogy that we started last year. As expected with such a title, the Chinese edition has a very dramatic cover.

Set at 513 pages in the original Chinese and published in 2010, it opens with a list of eras that is worth spending some time on. Here is my tentative take on the list, which may change with the story context.

The Crisis Era                                      201X-2208 AD

The Military Deterrence Era        2208-2270 AD

After Military Deterrence              2270-2272 AD

The Broadcast Era                             2272-2332 AD

The Bunker Era                                  2333-2400 AD
The Milky Way Era                           2273 AD-Unclear

DX3906 Star System Black Territory  2687-18,906,416 AD

The 647th Cosmos Timeline              18,906,416 AD

That’s a pretty ambitious span of years for any writer to tackle, let alone in one volume, so it should be interesting to see what the author does with it. Otherwise, part 1 has around 36 segments, most of which are untitled and only marked off by a line break, again a very difficult sort of text to read in your non-native language due to the wall of text effect. The lack of breaks forms a psychological barrier, in my opinion.

Part 1 opens with some very intriguing story arcs. The first segment is one of the few titled scenes, referencing 1453 AD and the “death of a magician.” The emperor during the Ottoman Empire, his minister Fazhalan, and a manservant are central to the scene. A woman named Diaolunna enters and converses with the emperor about whether she has the ability to kill the sultan, and she mentions she has some skill with magic though she appears to be too weak. The first 13 pages of part 1 follows this storyline. This section also mentions the Holy Grail, decorated with precious stones and made of pure gold and crystal, and a cathedral built in 537 AD, which seems to be a reference to the Hagia Sofia.  It seems Diaolunna knows something about the exact location of a secret room under the cathedral where holy items were kept. Only the Holy Grail was determined to be missing from it. They seem to be interested in recovering it, and the emperor asks Diaolunna again if she can kill the sultan. She says she can try.

In the successive segments of this story arc, Fazhalan gives Diaolunna a sheepskin sack, though she says she doesn’t need it. The Crusades have started, and Diaolunna states her goal is to become a holy woman. Fazhalan says she will if she kills the sultan, who appears to be Mehmed II, also known as Mehmed the Conquerer. Here’s some extra information on him:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehmed_the_Conqueror

Diaolunna enters Rome or a Roman city, I can’t tell which, and goes in with the troops to the battlefield. Later, there’s an uproar over an eclipse, and the characters are unsettled because Diaolunna hasn’t returned and they’ve had no news of her.

Finally, in the last dramatic segment of the story arc, Fazhalan stands before a tower and goes in. He finds no signs of life on the lower level but finds Diaolunna sleeping under a window on the second floor. She’s dirty and disheveled, her face is bloody, and her clothes are ripped. He asks her what she’s doing there, and she says she’s waiting. The conversation ranges from the sultan she was supposed to kill, the cathedral, the Roman Empire, and her goal to transform from a prostitute to a holy woman. Fazhalan takes out his sword and points the tip at her. The exact time and date of her death is given, and it ends with a description of her lying dead in the tower.

On page 13, we have a new title in boldface: “The First Year of the Crisis Era, Lifestyle Alternatives.” The story returns to Yang Dong, the scientist who committed suicide in volume 1. She’s on the control center’s rooftop balcony. This section reflects on her choice to pursue theoretical physics instead of taking the usual path to marriage and children like most women as well as on her mother and computers. Yang Dong knows the secret of Three Bodies, and a discussion with someone ensues about whether she believes in God and her thoughts on the impact of environmental changes on life on earth, particularly whether there will be any life left when the water all dries up. She thinks God isn’t relevant to the present world, though the question of life changing in the cosmos frightens her.

Next, the new boldfaced title, “Crisis Era, Year 4, Yun Tianming” (which literally means Cloud Daybreak), begins a twenty page story arc focusing on this character. We’re backtracking a little through the timeline by returning to this era, but I think this section is far more intriguing than our first pass at it in volume 2.

Dr. Zhang is on the hospital ward examining his patient Yun Tianming, who was hospitalized after the Three Bodies incident. There’s a TV in his room with some kind of news bulletin. The title of the broadcast is set off in bold on p. 19 and says “The Third People’s Congress Standing Committee Special Conference Adopted a Euthanasia Law.” (第三届人大常委会特别会议通过安乐死法). The euthanasia law doesn’t seem to be connected to Three Bodies, but the situation is odd.

The next night, Yun Tianming has trouble breathing and is coughing, and his friend in the next bed, Lao Li, tells him he plans on leaving. Yun Tianming asks if he means he’s leaving the hospital, but Lao Li says it will be euthanasia. The scene ends describing Yun Tianming’s tranquil dreams of riding in a small, oarless ship sailing along the water under a rainy, gray sky. However, he can’t see the shore, and he wakes up feeling strange.

Lao Li’s euthanasia comes next, and the structure of the next twenty pages has the same question bolded at intervals: “Do you want to end your life?” Each time, it gives a bolded variant for the patient’s responses, typically X number button for “yes” and zero for “no.” I don’t think Dr. Zhang wants Yun Tianming to undergo euthanasia, however, we do see Lao Li’s procedure. His family isn’t present since he hid the situation from them. It seems they’re doing the procedure in an office rather than a hospital in accordance with what the euthanasia law allows. Yun Tianming enters and looks around the fearsome room. Lao Li is in bed, appearing very calm.

The euthanasia law has two evidentiary procedures and requires witnesses. Laoli has to sign a notary book, and a person in white who may or may not be a doctor enters. The person in white has Lao Li answer some questions using the 6 buttons numbered 0 to 5. They leave, and Lao Li sits alone in the euthanasia room as the procedure begins. A beautiful female voice asks the question about him wanting to end his life three times. Each time, the “yes” button is a different number. Lao Li pushes the number for “yes” two times, and Yun Tianming thinks he will finally push zero the third time, but he pushes four for “yes” the last time, too. He’s injected without a sound, then doesn’t move. He appears to be sleeping. Dr. Zhang then tells Yun Tianming more about the procedure. It only takes 20 to 30 seconds to complete.

When Yun gets back to his sick room, he finds an old classmate Hu Wen waiting there. They talk about another classmate, a woman they remember by the name of Cheng Xin. This part mentions memories of boats on the water with her, and Yun Tianming suddenly thinks of his dreams of the rain and the shore. Then Hu Wen asks him about some green beverage called “green windstorm” that Yun Tianming has.

Later that night, Yun Tianming hears the TV news again, this time a broadcast on the United Nations and the Planetary Defense Council relaying a meeting about a star cluster plan it’s implementing. He’s distracted from the broadcast by a sudden thought of Cheng Xin before he continues to listen. Another heading is set off in bold, and there is a “Crisis of Childishness” or something along those lines. The effect of the Three Bodies Crisis Era on human civilization is also elaborated upon. The star plan has 2 parts, one regarding the United Nation’s status as the global government the world looks to as it confronts Three Bodies as a common enemy of humanity, and the second is the emergence and popularity of a new fugitive ideology. The general secretary, a woman named Zhang Sayi, made the star plan her first priority, and its foundation in international law is “the Special Pledge.”

Yun Tianming finds a way to call Hu Wen to ask him for Cheng Xin’s contact information, but Hu Wen says she hasn’t been in the country recently. The next day, Yun Tianming receives a short letter from Hu Wen with Cheng Xin’s info but not her work unit. The letter has two mailing addresses for her, one for Shanghai and one for New York. Then the scene seems to shift as we see him talk with a pretty little girl at a UN meeting. Perhaps it’s a memory?

In the next scene, Yun Tianming ends up back in the euthanasia room. Like Lao Li, he hasn’t said anything to his family about the procedure. Five people are in the room: two witnesses, one guide, one nurse, and one hospital director. Dr. Zhang isn’t among them. He tells the guide he already knows the procedure from when he was on the other side of the glass. When he’s alone in the room with the nurse, whom he thinks is pretty, she puts the automatic injection needle in his left arm.

The euthanasia procedure starts, asking the boldfaced question with the button instructions for the first time. It asks it five times, each with a dramatic pause in the procedure as Yun Tianming reflects upon things like his family background, his father, his school days, Cheng Xin, his work, his lung cancer, etc. Each segment has a line break before the question is asked again, and the segments end with him pressing the button choosing euthanasia. At the end of the sequence, it turns out a woman is sitting on the other side of the glass observing him. It’s Cheng Xin. It’s as if she heard him calling out for her in his heart.

This whole twenty page sequence was particularly interesting and nicely done, but it gets more interesting since the next twenty page story arc follows Cheng Xin from the boldfaced heading: “Crisis Years 1 through 4, Cheng Xin.” This part has around twelve segments set off by line breaks. It starts with an acknowledgement that, as the Crisis Era erupted on the scene, Cheng Xin had just finished school and had started working as part of a rocket research group. There is a mention of the UN and the PDC (Planetary Defense Council), but Cheng Xin accepts a job working as a spaceflight technology assistant for the PIA (the Planetary Defense Council Strategic Intelligence Agency).

The next sections go into the PIA and its work against the Three Bodies World before returning to another italicized section detailing an “extract” about the human eye – I can’t figure out what “winter eye” might translate to, but it represents technology providing a considerable advance for humanity once the Crisis Era restrictions on it have been lifted. Cheng Xin is working on this research technology and goes to Sanya, Hainan where there is a research facility at an academy of medical sciences.

A handful of pages later, we get another italicized excerpt about plan titled “a fire dragon emerging from water, a crossbow and a ladder,” which has some reference to Ming Dynasty fire arrows and other weapons, so it’s a war plan. We’ve seen the ladder before with the space elevators, but that’s still coming up.

In the last segment of this section covering Cheng Xin, we see her go to Yun Tianming’s bedside.  She lets him die through euthanasia, thinking this is the best result.   

The final section I’m going to look at closes part 1 of the book and begins with the boldfaced title “Crisis Years 5 to 7, The Staircase Project.” These next five or six segments continue with Cheng Xin’s storyline and the research into the “ladder” plan with a few final thoughts on Yun Tianming, which is a particularly nice touch. All of the story arcs circle back to him somehow by the end. Part 1 is a real tour de force.

Part 1 of 3.

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Conflagration and New Construction – Land, Vol.4, Part 1

This year’s literati corner book is the next story arc covered in three slim volumes from Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》).  The novel covers three generations of the Choi family experiencing the modernization of Korea. It was originally serialized in a literary magazine starting in 1969 and continued for 25 years. 

I will be covering part 2, volumes 4 through 6, in 2019.  I did a profile of Kyeongni Park on my affiliate blog a few years ago, which you can read here:

https://sunrisesintheeast.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/korean-author-kyung-ni-park-land/

This set of books has very nice appendices, which I will mine to aid people interested in the basic story who can’t read Korean as well as for students of Korean who may want to tackle these books in the original language.  So here is a simplified version of its character list.

Kang Tumeo (Tumae) – Kim Posu and Guinyeo’s son.

Kang Wiwon (Wukyu) – This is an actual historical figure (1855-1920)

https://ko.wikipedia.org/wiki/%EA%B0%95%EC%9A%B0%EA%B7%9C

Kong Noin – Wolseon Kong’s uncle.

Kong Wolseon – The daughter of the shaman Wolseonneo.  She has been destined to be separated from her true love Lee Yong her whole life.

Kim Keobok (Kim Dusu) – Kim Pyeongsan’s oldest son. 

Kim Gilsang  – An orphan brought up in Choi Champan’s household who was their errand boy.

Kim Yeongp’al – Lee Yong’s best friend.

Kim Hwan – Wife Yoon’s son with Kim Kaeju through rape.  He has a noble personality and respectable appearance.

Kim Hunjang –Seohui’s writing teacher.

Park Cheongho – A close friend of Kang Tumae and Lee Hong, who went to school with him.

Bongsun (Kihua) – The daughter of the Choi Champan household’s seamstress, Bongsunneo.

Song Janghwan – Song Byeongmun’s second son.

Shim Gumnyeo (Sunyang) – Kim Dusu’s only true love.

Okinyeo – A widow raising her daughter Oki alone.

Yoon Yibyeong – A school teacher.

Lee Dongjin – Choi Chisu’s close friend who studied under the same teacher with him.

Lee Sanghyeon – Lee Dongjin’s son.

Lee Yong – A Pyeongsari commoner whose true love is Wolseon.

Lee Hong – Lee Yong’s son with Imineo.

Imineo – Chilsong’s wife and Pyeongsari’s most beautiful woman.

Jang Inkeol – Also known as Jeombak.

Jeongseok – Jeong Hanjo’s son.

Cho Jungu –  Choi Chisu’s older male second cousin.

Chukap – A happy-go-lucky singer.

Choi Seohui – The Choi Champan household’s only flesh and blood heir, the daughter of Byeoldangassi and Choi Chisu.

Monk Hyegwan – A monk who paints religious subjects at Yeongoksa Temple.

Volume 4 is split into two parts with 9 chapters each. This post will only cover the first few chapters of part 1.

The first chapter, “Conflagration,” begins in May of 1911 with a great fire. Starting at Yong Jeongchon’s, but the village was unable to keep it at bay due to the northwesterly wind. Seohui, Gilsang, Lee Yong, Wolseon, Iminyeo, and Lee Hong survey the fire damage. They eventually go in search of Wolseon’s uncle, Kong Noin, and the group discusses how far the fire has spread. Lee Yong is sitting under a white poplar tree smoking a cigarette while Seohui waits by the door to one of the buildings waiting for Gilsang.  By morning, the fire had burned out, and some of the houses had collapsed. They are concerned over whether an offering was given at the temple.

In chapter two, “A Tree That Won’t Stand,” Sangyeon and Gilsang sit together across a table from each other at a Chinese pub, drinking and talking. The conversation turns to the subject of Seohui and how they think she should get married. Gilsang says he doesn’t know who she should marry, but Sanghyeon suggest Gilsang should marry her. That evening in the streets at twilight, they greet Song Janghwan and invite him to sit and chat with them a bit about the school.    

Chapter three, “Dream,” starts off with a group of characters from the first story arc who pass by an observer: Wife Yoon, Monk Wugwan, Choi Chisu, Kim Sebang, Bongsunneo, and Samwol, among others. Then, after a paragraph describing this parade, Monk Hyegwan calls for Gilsang. They talk about the effect of the sunset on the Buddha’s altar portrait among other topics, including Seohui, who appears suddenly toward the end of the sequence. Her skirt flutters like flower petals while Sanghyeon carries her on his back, and she tells Gilsang she has arrived, but it turns out Gilsang was asleep and this was a dream.  Seohui arrives at his door, and Gilsang mentions he has been thinking about building a house made just of wood. In a second segment, Gilsang rides in a carriage along the river to Huiryeong.  

Chapter four, “Man In a Black Overcoat,” opens with an extended description of Kim Dusu, who is the man in the overcoat from the title. He says hello to Kong Noin, who invites him to sit down and chat. Someone brings out a drinking table. They comment on how his place escaped the fire and talk about Hanbok, Kim Dusu’s brother – as noted above, Kim Dusu’s other name is Kim Keobok.  I’m not sure yet why some characters have multiple names in this story arc other than maybe they are nicknames they are given as they grow up. Kong Noin sees him off after they finish their visit. When Kim Dusu goes down the street, which is in chaos, he runs into Lee Yong, and they chat for a bit. 

In the last chapter I’m going to cover this time, chapter five titled “New Construction,” Gilsang goes to buy wood in Huiryeong, a city he travels to frequently to shop. He hears rumors about laborers and meets Lee Yong, but the scene switches in the middle of the chapter to a domestic scene with Lee Yong, Imineo and their child together, Lee Hong. In the second segment of the chapter, Gilsang talks with Lee Yong about woodcutters.

We’ll continue with this volume in the next break between books.

Part one of a six part series.

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Sohyeon After Midnight Book Reading Videos and Character Roll-Call

I had some time this weekend to prepare a few videos for everyone to enjoy. The first video is my character roll-call, which I made for my readers who have been struggling to pronounce my characters’ names in a couple of my novels.

Character Roll-Call:

Then I prepared a three-part series of me reading selections from my horror novel, Sohyeon After Midnight. Here are the links.

Sohyeon After Midnight Book Reading, Part 1:

Sohyeon After Midnight Book Reading, Part 2:

Sohyeon After Midnight Book Reading, Part 3:

They run between an hour and an hour and a half, so for people who haven’t been able to make it to any of my book launches or other public readings around town, this is the next best thing.

Happy Easter!

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Fate, A Cruel Bridle – Queen Seondeok, Vol. 1 – Part 3

Finishing up volume 3 of the first book of Eunkyeong Ryu’s Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), we pick up with chapter 5 “Deokman, Child of the Desert.” The scene is set in the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim Basin out in Xinjiang. That desert has an evil reputation, and the chapter begins with a description of the sun and sandy soil. Fifteen years have passed. A traveler stops to survey the landscape under the silvery moonlight. Chilsuk, an emissary of Mishil’s, is talking with a woman named Deokman near the city of Dunhuang.

It’s a beautiful desert night. Chilsuk takes off his bamboo hat and sits across from the young woman who is darkly tanned and was raised by a woman named Sohua. He tells her he has been looking for a woman for 15 years, which is rather startling since the reader is aware that she’s the person he’s looking for.  He doesn’t seem to be aware of it, though.

As the story progresses in the desert sequence, they keep using an alternative name for Silla, Kyerim, to refer to that kingdom in ancient Korea, and that is pervasive throughout this volume and important to know. There are also mentions of religious workers in the area and the road leading to Rome.  The next section gets even deeper into the Silk Road trade and the commandery at Dunhuang, which was also known as a major Buddhist hub with a large temple complex. It explains Silk Road geography and the contrast between the severe cold and intense heat of the desert. Deokman talks with Katan, a Roman merchant with an aquiline nose who wears a tunic and paenula. Merchants from every country are in the settlement, but there has been a prohibition on importing tea into the area, even with the possibility of merchants being beheaded for violating it.

In section 3, the story turns back to Mishil in the Silla palace. She talks about the twins and the fact that 15 years that have passed since the second child disappeared. Her faction is concerned about the prophecy of the 7th star becoming 8 stars in the Big Dipper constellation. Mishil’s ally Chilsuk disappeared 15 years earlier looking for one of the twins.

Then the story shifts to Prince Yongsu and Princess Cheonmyeong. They are husband and wife now, and Yongsu gets out of bed after a heavy sleep. Did he have a nightmare? One of them is crying. Mishil’s faction dethroned Yongsu’s father King Jinji and confined him for three years in the palace jail, where he died a miserable and lonely death. Yongsu complains to the king, who in response marries him off to his daughter Cheonmyeong.

The chapter wraps up with the last two sections focusing again on the desert, far away in a steep, snowy mountain pass where the characters arrive at an oasis. Sohua loads up goods on a camel while Deokman walks around. Katan is with them. The first scene describes the process of making tea and focuses on tea bricks.  Centurions are around the area and bust someone over the tea, but Sohua causes a disruption when she turns pale and starts convulsing. Deokman apologizes to her over and over again, Katan sends someone to fetch some water, and Chilsuk draws his sword.

The next scene continues the previous scene. Sohua is having serious trouble breathing, and the group ends up in jail. At one point, soldiers open the prison door and people pull out bound by a rope as criminals are escorted to an execution ground. Sohua calls her daughter’s name, feeling choked up remembering how Munno named Deokman 15 years earlier. Sohua confesses her deep maternal affection for Deokman, and Deokman cries, wiping away her tears. The night sky is mentioned a lot. Chilsuk believes he has finally found the missing princess and thinks of his ally Mishil back in Silla.

Chapter 6, “Fate, A Cruel Bridle,” starts off with Misaeng, Mishil’s brother, and Sejong discussing King Jinpyeong’s plan make former King Jinji’s son Yongsu Crown Prince. Some time is spent considering bone rank, but Mishil and Sejong’s  close associates were involved in deposing King Jinji, so Sejong was furious over this selection since conferring Yongsu with the Crown Prince title means he would later become king. Misaeng and Hajong also weigh in on the topic.

The next scene describes a big farewell party in the desert. Camels loaded with silk, pottery, gold and musical instruments are ready for traveling back to the merchants’ homelands along the Silk Road. There is abundant food and an open bonfire at the party, and they have a farewell drink together. Then they listen to an Indian bagheshiri raga, and this passage has a detailed description of the beat and music. Chiksuk visits Sohua’s room. This continues into the next segment with Chilsuk guessing Sohua’s name and explaining he has been looking for the girl for the past 15 years to bring back to Kyerim. This part ends with Deokman screaming, “mama, run!”

The scene shifts briefly back to Mishil and her brother Misaeng talking about some scheme they are setting up against Prince Yongsu, who is personally going to lead an army when troops are sent out to war.

Then the story goes back to the desert with more drama from Deokman. She guesses Munno is her father, but Sohua says he isn’t and insists that Deokman’s father didn’t abandon them. She begs Deokman to believe her, but Deokman declares she wants details and doesn’t need an irresponsible father.  Sohua apologizes to Deokman and starts crying, knowing King Jinpyeong’s concern about the girl and her need to keep his secret.

In chapter 7, things start to really heat up. The first scene shows Maya and Cheonmyeong talking about Mishil and Yongsu. King Jinpyeong joins them, and they worry about competing with Mishil in a power struggle for the kingdom. They relate to Cheonmyeong the story of Mishil trying to assassinate Maya when she was pregnant with the princess and how Munno rescued her. Cheonmyeong questions them about Munno since she hasn’t heard this story and Munno disappeared 15 years ago. They also talk about the star prophecy of one star in the constellation splitting from seven to eight stars.

After a brief scene of Deokman, we return to a more picturesque scene of Mishil meeting a soldier in a dark forest under the crescent moon. It goes into detail about the setting and the types of trees here, even noting they are zelkova, ash and bush clover trees. They are plotting to stop the plan to make Yongsu Crown Prince. A break in this section shows Yongsu leaving Cheonmyeong for the front lines with the Silla army the next morning. It’s starting to rain.

Sohua dies in the next section, and Deokman tells Katan she wants to go to Kyerim and find Munno, the only person she knows there. She doesn’t know her father’s name, but she thinks Munno does, so she wants to find him.

Two months later, Princess Cheonmyeong dreams that her husband Prince Yongsu is shot in the heart by an enemy Baekje arrow. The dream seems so real, leaving Cheonmyeong with an ominous premonition. Disturbed, she later talks to her mother Maya about it.

Spring and summer pass, and Cheonmyeong holds a baby whose face resembles his father. Her brother in law Prince Yongchun follows the directive left behind by the late Prince Yongsu before he went to war and helps Cheonmyeong select the name for her young son, Chunchu.

Mishil, Seolwon and Sejong discuss Munno in the next section. Seolwon thinks Munno is on the border of Baekje and Koguryo, and they talk about how Prince Yongchun has gone out looking for Munno. They speculate further about Munno’s whereabouts, but Mishil is still unhappy because the position of Crown Prince is empty in spite of being given a special new royal title herself.

In chapter 8, “Meeting,” Princess Cheonmyeong meets Deokman, though she has no idea who the girl is. The description of Deokman here is rather remarkable again, as it was at her birth. She is described as a young foreigner with a bright countenance and a sweet voice. I’m going to skip most of the middle sections of the chapter, but by the end of it, Deokman and Cheonmyeong talk about Deokman’s experience in the desert and Deokman’s plan to find Munno.

Chapter 9 shifts to describe the hardships of the nearby kingdom of Kaya in the beginning before returning back to the twin princesses who have just found each other without realizing it. Deokman talks a lot about Sohua’s dagger, and Cheonmyeong seems to think Deokman is a boy rather than a girl.

In chapter 10, the final chapter in this volume, the twins go looking for Munno and manage to find him as well as the other secretly hidden child, Bidam, whom Munno raised as his own son.  Bidam is now 17. More to come on this situation in volume 2 when we cycle back around next time.

Part three of a three part series.

Next time: We return to China to finish up the final volume of the Three Bodies series!

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