A Killer’s Childhood Tragedy and Her Beloved Rescuer – The Festival Accompanying Chapter, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai, Vol.1, Part 1

As promised, we’re going to revisit one of the story arcs from the “Answers” part of Ryukishi Zeronana’s light novel version of When the Cicada’s Cry: The Festival Accompanying Chapter, Volume 1 (竜騎士07の”ひぐらしのなく頃に解:祭囃し編”). This title is typically left in Japanese when referring to the “Answers” arc since the anime has not been dubbed, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai, but even when it is translated, it often keeps it partially in Japanese, Higurashi When They Cry.

Looking at the translation of the title a little more carefully, I think I would go with When the Cicada’s Cry: The Festival Cheering Chapter, perhaps even The Festival Jeering Chapter, depending on which character’s perspective you want to take. Given the fact that this story arc features the villain’s backstory, jeering might be more appropriate anyway. Accompaniment here seems to be referring to music, but it sounds decent anyway. None of the Japanese dictionaries I consulted gives the connotation of people going somewhere together, not that it has to be translated literally though. It’s just a point of curiosity. If anyone can shed some light on that translation choice, feel free to explain it in the comments.

Unlike the last book I read in the series in December, this one is from the Kodansha boxed novels rather than the newer, tiny pocket bunko release, which means each volume is a plain book with a light cardboard slipcover. It is available only in Japanese and can be purchased here in the newer bunko pocket edition:


This is the edition that I’m actually physically reading, which is apparently out of print:


I assume that they’re all the same text, but I can’t guarantee it. I know from reading a little of the manga edition, which is available in English, that there are differences, which is why I don’t wholeheartedly recommend the manga version here. (The East Asian publishing scene can be so confusing and frustrating at times with all of these issues!)

Here is the boxed set’s cover art:

Festival Accompanying 10001

Box Cover Art Volume 1

It also has a few interior drawings, as does the bunko version.

I mentioned when I covered the story arc from the “Questions” portion of the series that I felt was most noirish that I wanted to emphasize that aspect of the story with the “Answer” selection, and so I picked the story arc written from the perspective of the murderer. This series is going to have major spoilers, so readers, beware. The novel begins by revealing the most shocking part of the murderer’s psyche right off the bat instead of exposing it slowly as the anime version does. But before I get into that, let me explain why I am saying this story fits the noir genre.

I did a lot of reading on noir film and it story characteristics, as opposed to its film technique, since it has really focused on certain types of tropes and characters from the start. I was actually surprised to discover that in general the serial killer story was typical of noir from its earliest days, not horror. It’s a theme that is very popular in the history of noir. Another really big noir theme that applies here is the focus on illicit medical experiments and corruption in the medical field, which goes along with its twin, government corruption. These themes have been common noir tropes from its inception, and we certainly see them here as the Higurashi series reaches its climax with the reveal of the murderer. While most of Higurashi suggests a supernatural source for the murders, it is the murderer’s story arc that moves it fully into the category of noir, since it turns out a human is behind the string of bizarre deaths and disappearances.

Unlike most of the books in this series, this volume doesn’t begin with a poem by Frederica Bernkastel, who is a strange alter ego for Rika Furude, the little girl I introduced last December with the volume from the “Question” arc. (Fredericka really just sounds like her name in the Japanese order, Furude Rika, said really quickly. Ryukishi Zeronana is usually very playful with language and experimental in his writing, which is what makes him much more than just the average video game writer.)

Instead, the first volume starts out in the first person with a little girl talking with an old man who is her adoptive father about his research on parasites in his cluttered study. They talk about how these parasites are distributed across religions, nations and races throughout the whole world, and her adoptive father’s theory is that parasites living in their human hosts are the true cause of cultural conflicts driven by such differences. Their conversation expresses an extreme materialistic, mechanistic view of the world where human emotions come from the brain, not the heart, from secretions of these parasites in the body.

The girl and the old man also talk about psychiatric surgery, the similar symptoms of illness people exhibit, and abnormality in general. The conversation also turns explicitly to Christianity and Jesus’ death and resurrection, including a discussion of how he is no longer physically on earth but in people’s hearts. At this point, the girl worries that her adoptive father won’t live forever. Therefore, at the end of this section, she declares to the reader that she wants to study parasites and make the old man and herself gods so they can be together forever. The last few sentences expressing this come off kind of creepy, I think.







However, this whole idea of becoming gods together is more in line with Shinto beliefs than Christian ones. This kind of goal shows the character is merely unstable with a God Complex rather than someone who is conventionally religious, which is an interesting shift in the Higurashi plot since in earlier “Question” arcs it toyed with the idea that the murders were religiously inspired.

The second, much briefer scene then turns to Showa 32, which comes out to be around 1958 or 1959 before the little girl lives with the old man. The narrator is talking to someone named Eriko. Four of them are planning on getting a key to the “chicken room” and escape, but someone keeps telling them to be quiet because one of the staff is coming.

The book then begins with its first major chapter titled “The Institution,” and here is a scan of the title page:

Festival Accompanying 20001

Interior Picture for Chapter 1

The first section here titled “My Parents’ Deaths” shows her talking with her father as he is dying, and he tells her to contact Hifumi Takano, his teacher, after he dies, since he knows she has no next of kin. He makes sure she gets the name right before she has to leave the room. The mother isn’t really mentioned here, and I assume she is already dead, though she did die at the same time as the father.

The next section is titled “I Prepare for the Institution.” In this scene, she mentions this Mr. Takano whom her father told her about to the government agency staff, but they can’t get in touch with him, so she is sent to a private orphanage. This chapter runs for 20 pages and goes into the difficulty of bringing up children without parents, how they become “problem children” due to sadness and the lack of a loving home. She wishes an angel would come and wake her from this dream, which is referred to a number of times throughout the section.

The orphanage is very unpleasant with lots of angry staff and crying children, and a number of special punishments are discussed here: the “Casket Punishment,” a “Crushed Catepillar Punishment,” “A Duck That Can’t Drink Water Punishment,” and a “Swollen Pig Punishment.” I’m not going to try to figure out what all of those are, but the kids are very scared of being murdered in this place and consider it hell. They plan an escape, which picks up with the storyline we saw earlier with Eriko trying to get a key.

Four of them are plotting to escape, including the so far unnamed narrator, Eriko, Kikuko, and Tomomi, and the narrator describes running out into the rain and hearing the voices of the staff members in the distance. The scene seems to change abruptly to her getting caught  and a staff member’s finger in her mouth, which she bites. It goes into a very detailed description of how the finger feels and how the blood fills her mouth after she bites it. She is afraid she is going to die there, and the staff member is referred to as a beast.

The next section is much shorter and continues the scene with another quite creepy ending. She is screaming and trying to run as the staff member forces her into the car. This is one of the first places we see the name Takano used, this time with a new spelling, which I’ll explain in a moment.  The section ends with a fairly surreal comment about a coffee maker and how coffee would wake her up from this evil dream. She asks for milk and sugar with her coffee to get rid of the evil in her mouth after biting the finger, where the blood has mixed with the saliva and rain. Sweet coffee will clean her mouth and wake her up:







This passage is disturbing on so many levels, but it’s one of the reasons I think Higurashi is such effective horror. He’s very psychological and subtle.

By the time the story gets to page 45, we see the little girl change her name from Hifumi Takano’s spelling of his last name (高野) to a new spelling of Takano (鷹野). The last name with the new kanji means falconry, while the old professor’s kanji spelling refers to a high plain. This is more word play by the author, and it’s significant because of how the villain handles herself later to some degree with bird references to her secret military unit. It also is notable that the change goes from a rather benign image evoked by Hifumi’s version of Takano to the more rapacious, predatory image of the same name with the single character substitution.

Here the chapter jumps even further ahead in time and switches to the third person. We have someone giving a toast at a banquet in this ten page chapter titled “Takano and Tokyo.” The banquet is held in some kind of hotel where the guests are drinking beer. A few hundred people are in attendance, with eight people to a table. An elderly man gives the speech, and its themes include respecting the national flag and anthem, loving Japan, living under Japanese principles, and concern over anti-Japanese teachers. This starts off sounding like a normal patriotic speech, but as most fans of the show would expect, it starts to show some extreme nationalist distortions, veering into talk about how the militaristic brainwashing during the wars years wasn’t foolishness.  Note that the word “brainwashing” in Japanese is used here specifically throughout the passage.

His speech elicits thunderous applause, then he calls up an old man to the podium who is a popular drama BGM player, which I guess is someone who scores TV shows.  This man is introduced in the novel as ○○○○君 or ○○君. The character there means kun or mister, which is used for a younger man. I don’t know how common this is in Japanese books in general, but this author does seem to like to use a lot of “anonymous” or blanked out information such as dates, place names and personal names. Right before this guy is introduced, there is a reference to “XX province,” so maybe its supposed to give you a feeling of reading something classified.

This new speaker discusses the anti-Japanese teaching in his own province and how it is affecting the children and the need for “correct” history. He then launches into a racist commentary on the occupation of Japan by white people and how Japan was restored to self-rule. Both speeches contain lots of exclamation or double exclamation points after nearly every sentence. There’s a lot more here, particularly about the Japanese school system, but that gives you a taste of what it’s about.

What comes next, though is explosive. The section turns to the topic of an alumni association that has existed for decades and sent out invitations to this banquet apparently. It talks about this association for a few pages, then brings up the former imperial university alumni gathering; Takano is a member of this group. There is some sort of secret society or “shadow government,” both Japanese terms are used in this passage quite explicitly, and again, the last sentence of the section just socks it to the reader, identifying narrator Takano Miyo as a member of this shadow government.

(p. 55)

The anime doesn’t get into the political underpinings too much other than to make it clear there’s something nefarious going on at the upper levels of the government that Takano has been involved with and shows many of the minor male characters in those scenes with Hitler-like mustaches. Of course, this references the actual historical situation of Japan’s alliance with the Nazis during World War II, which adds a layer of depth to the series. While the dramatic deaths all ultimately take place in this sleepy little fictional village of Hinamizawa, those historical issues loom large over the whole story in the “answer” arcs as they get closer to revealing the identity of the murderer.

Also of interest here is that we only get the narrator’s name in this section, 55 pages into the story. I’m going to continue to refer to her as Takano Miyo using the original Japanese name order, which a lot of the fan base for the show seems to prefer, as do I.

I’m going to stop here because this post is getting a little long as I try to set the tone and dig into the background material a little more. As a bonus, I’m going to post one of the best pictures I’ve found on the web of Takano Miyo. I’m not sure if it’s officially from Ryukishi Zeronana’s crossover series When the Dolphins Cry (Umineko), which I personally don’t care for (I prefer his Ookamikakushi much better), or if it’s fan art, but it’s by Rouge and can be found over at Zero Chan.



Takano Miyo By Rouge Courtesy of Zero Chan

It just really captures the character better than many of the other renditions I’ve seen.

Takano Miyo is, of course, Rika Furude’s chief adversary in the series, which really goes to show how warped Takano is, too, since she’s a grown woman who has zeroed in on some little girl in middle school as her chief rival. It’s a good story construction, and Ryukishi Zeronana comes up with some very situationally creepy details like that which really make a statement about the characters’ psyche without having to explain everything to the audience.

We’ll dig deeper into the villain’s storyline next time.

Part one of a three part series.

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A String of Human Villains Brings Out the Zombie Berserker Rage – The Joseon Zombie Annals, Part 2

Continuing our look at the Joseon Zombie Annals webcomic by Gonma (조선좀비실록- 곤마), we pick it up in chapter 10.


Our heroes have been arrested and taken to jail where Heo Jun uses some of the medicine he has in a vial to control the infection raging in Soonshin’s body. Heo Jun requires some of Jin’s blood to make the antidote, however, and she pricks her thumb to give him some to mix with the liquid in the vial. This somehow goes back to what the Buddhist woman at the palace said about Jin, and it’s the reason they are taking their dangerous journey with the Crown Prince as her warrior escort. Heo Jun mixes their blood to test their compatibility, then injects the mixture into Soonshin. Soonshin wakens, then the scene shifts back to the kyojunim who had them arrested.

An old man begs him for help, wanting more food, but when the kyojunim embraces the old man, the old man turns into a zombie! After a few panels, the scene shifts back to Yoonshin in jail. When he sees Jin’s wounded and bandaged thumb, he is angry to be the cause of her wound. He blushes at the thought. When the kyojunim arrives at the jail where our heroes are being held, he sees the beautiful girl through the bars but addresses Heo Jun and says he knows Heo Jun has a method for killing the zombies. Threatening Heo Jun with death, tiny asps slither out of the kyojunim’s tunic toward the floor and make their way up each of the prisoners’ bodies, finally coiling near their faces around their necks. He tells them not to move and says the girl won’t die tonight.

Zombies Post 2 A

In chapter 11 when the kyojunim orders the guard to open the cell door and lead Jin out for his pleasure, Soonshin bites the asp around his neck, killing it and freeing himself. He charges the guard, wanting to save Jin from being dishonored, and the guard slashes Soonshin across his torso. However, Soonshin moves oddly, confusing the guard, who is so shocked the blow didn’t kill Soonshin, he falls to his knees, wracking his brain trying to figure out what just happened.

Zombies Post 2 B

The asps bite the rest of the prisoners, knocking them unconscious. Kyojunim knocks out Soonshin with a blow and takes Jin to a private location where he can taunt her. He strings her up stripped to her underwear and tries to seduce her in chapter 12, but she bites him on the lip as he moves to kiss her. His response is to punch her in the face.

Zombie Post 2 C

The scene shifts back to Heo Jun and the Crown Prince in jail. They find Soonshin has blasted a hole through the jail to the outside and escape through it. The scene shifts back to Jin and kyojunim, who has a whip in his hand. She is a little bloodied, and at the end of the scene, she yells out for Soonshin. Soonshin, however, is caught up in some sort of dream full of skulls, but he knows that Jin is in danger. A scary, bloody man he calls Yoon appears, probably the Crown Prince though all of the characters look more modern here, and Soonshin angrily demands to know where Jin is. In a sideways panel, we see Jin standing before them in black with her hair down and a sword through her stomach. He wakes from the dream screaming her name.

Zombie Post 2 D

The guard appears before him, and Soonshin asks where Jin has been taken. The scene carries over to the next chapter, where the guard gives Soonshin back his pair of butcher knives, and they fight, his knives against the guard’s sword. After defeating the guard, Soonshin flees.

The scene shifts back to the kyojunim preparing to whip Jin, but he is interrupted by the arrival of the Crown Prince, who has drawn his sword. The Crown Prince cuts Jin down as he chats with kyojunim, who wants to know where Heo Jun is. Jin anxiously asks about Soonshin, but the Crown Prince tells her not to worry about him just now. Kyojunim fights with the Crown Prince, his whip and fists against the Crown Prince’s sword. Like the previous scenes with Soonshin and the guard, this section has some stunning fight panels. Weirdly, this time when the Crown Prince stabs kyojunim in the gut with his sword, there’s a black box over the wound. The final panel shows kyojunim finally opening his right eye, which is blue, in contrast to the eye he normally has open, which is brown!

The epic battle continues in the first half of chapter 14, while the second half shows Soonshin running into a crowd of zombies he must fight and flee from.  In chapter 15, Soonshin finally sees the tower where Jin is being held, but we quickly switch back to the fight between the Crown Prince and kyojunim. Around this time, an asp bites Jin’s foot, and she falls unconscious.

Heo Jun meanwhile is wandering around the village and talks with an official, pulling a few vials out of his tunic. When Soonshin rushes by, they are reunited, and a little further down in the chapter, Soonshin joins the battle against kyojunim. He is able to really do some damage, but we have already seen that kyojunim has some strange form of regeneration that reattaches severed limbs back onto his body using a red energy force. Then he takes on zombie powers, but that creepy appearance lasts only for a few panels before the fight resumes as normal in chapter 16. Kyojunim appears to have the same infection-immunity that we saw Soonshin diagnosed with last post, which made his eyes turn blue temporarily.

Zombie Post 2 E

In chapter 16, he fights with Soonshin, and Soonshin’s eyes turn blue again, too, surprising kyojunim with his own zombie abilities. About halfway through, the scene shifts back to the wounded guard Soonshin fought in the forest, who awakens in his wounded state. He recognizes Soonshin’s fighting ability matches kyojunim’s and thinks that if kyojunim dies, he will be free. He is suddenly stabbed in the middle of his reverie by the Japanese samurai we met earlier in the story.

The samurai is joined by his girlfriend and a bandaged man who beheads the guard. The scene then shifts back to Soonshin and kyojunim. They fight, then when the Crown Prince rebukes Soonshin for beating kyojunim, the two opponents discuss their respective zombie abilities. They fight some more when kyojunim decides that Soonshin no longer has the zombie berserker ability because his eyes turned back to brown. But then Soonshin pulls out one of Heo Jun’s vials and throws the garlic liquid at him. This time, his butcher knife severs kyojunim’s arm, and it doesn’t reattach!

This continues through chapter 17. Kyojunim jumps out the window of the tower to escape Soonshin. Soonshin jumps out after him, and he lands in the middle of a crowd standing with kyojunim before a zombie tied up to a frame by a noose. Kyojunim’s men notice he lost an arm, and kyojunim directs them to surround Soonshin, which they do with their swords drawn. He gives the order for them to kill Soonshin, but Soonshin grabs their weapons and starts fighting them. Heo Jun interrupts the fight, destroys the bound zombie who disappears when his sword touches him. Meanwhile, kyojunim has made a run for it through the town, but Soonshin catches up with him. He scalps kyojunim, but the samurai arrives, hitting kyojunim with his sword, which makes him disintegrate!

In Chapter 18, the two men fight. About halfway through this chapter, we return briefly to Jin and the Crown Prince. Jin wakes from a dream where she saw Soonshin beheaded and is very anxious. The story shifts back immediately to Soonshin and the samurai. Soonshin’s eyes suddenly turn blue, which makes the samurai wary. Suddenly the samurai’s girlfriend and the bandaged man arrive, and the three of them disappear, leaving Soonshin to think back to certain moments of the night’s many battles.

Before the end of the chapter, Heo Jun arrives with Jin and the Crown Prince, so the heroes are reunited in chapter 19 and find a safe place to discuss how the zombie plague is being transmitted. It seems the kyojunim became a religious figure because of these minor zombie manifestations after he was scratched by one, and he was considered a messenger of heaven as a result.

We’ll pick it up with chapter 20 next time.

Part two of a six part series.

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The Secret Search for Extraterrestrials and A Gamer Meetup – Three Body Problem, Remembrance of Earth Series, Book 1, Part 3

Today we’re going to finish up our look at the first book in the Remembrance of Earth Chinese science fiction series by Cixin Liu, Three Body Problem (刘慈欣的”地球往事:三体”).

In chapter 10, the story continues with Wang Miao’s visit with Sha Duanshan where Duanshan tells him that 20 years later the time of the Red Shore Base had passed. The researchers from the base emigrated to Europe, where they wrote some books. The men’s attention returns to the COBE satellite’s data, which Duanshan thinks is wrong, but Wang Miao disagrees. He checks the other satellite readings then calls the Urumqi base to compare notes, which reveals some sort of cosmic glimmer has taken place.

An hour later, Wang Miao goes to town to visit some astronomy group where workers are waiting for him with 3K glasses. Someone suggests Sha is mentally ill, but Wang Miao puts on the glasses, which remind him of video game goggles. He sees flashes of red, perhaps this cosmic glimmer, and he wonders aloud to Shen Yufei on his cell phone what the clock he discovered measures. She doesn’t have any idea, but he suggests it could be counting down to his death or to some big catastrophe approaching. Afterward, he returns to his car and pauses near a Catholic Church where he runs into a man smoking a cigarette, Da Shi.

Next, Wang Miao and Da Shi decide to go out for dinner, then they sleep in the car overnight. In the morning they talk about concerns regarding a sinister plan someone has to destroy the research facilities out of fear of the scientists. Later, when Wang Miao returns home, he goes back into the “Three Bodies” video game.

Inside the game, it’s daybreak, and Wang Miao is standing before the king’s tower. He sees an entrance and looks for stone steps to reach the observation platform at the top where he can see the stars. On the way, he meets Zhou Wenwang’s follower, who is introduced this time as Mozi. He leads Wang Miao to the observation area, and they discuss the cosmos, shooting stars and the sun. After he finishes the game, he returns to see Ye Wenjie, who confirms old legends about the Red Shore Base.

The next three chapters covers her recollections, and I’m wondering if Yang Weining is Yang Dong’s father. Perhaps it said that, and I missed it, but the two soldiers who brought her to the base, Yang Weining and Commissar Lei, loom large over her life at this point in time. The Red Shore project includes launching satellites and surveillance of enemies in case of war. Wenjie is transferred to the surveillance department under Yang.

This section has excerpts of a few documents from the Red Shore base which Wenjie shows Wang Miao. The documents explain different types of technology and research in various scientific fields, then moves on to discuss the search for intelligent life in the universe, mentioning OZMA conducted in the 1960s and 1970s through the American SETI program. They also received some sort of letters on extraterrestrial civilizations. All of this is interrelated with the government’s plans and its war strategy. The documents all have their 1960 dates blacked out using empty squares.

In chapter 15, Wang Miao briefly discusses with Wenjie the research conducted back then at Red Shore that related to alien civilizations. It seems to have been part of a terraforming project, but Wang Miao wonders why the Red Shore Base was then kept secret.

Next, Wang Miao leaves her, and two days later he re-enters the “Three Bodies” video game, this time under a new character name, Ge Baini, and when he is done, he’s congratulated for successfully determining the cosmos’ composition. Otherwise, that sequence continues with the towers, three suns and three shooting stars.
When Wang Miao gets out of the game, Da Shi calls him over to listen to Shen Yufei’s husband, Wei Cheng, who is present and ready to make a statement. This chapter is very long, and Wei Cheng goes back to his days studying mathematics. This is the chapter actually titled “Three Body Problem.”

In chapter 18, he returns to the “Three Bodies” video game, this time playing on the second level. The towers are Eastern style, but the two men standing there in the freezing morning air are Europeans wearing 16th century clothes. They talk a bit about mathematicians and mathematics, and John Von Neumann is one of the figures Wang Miao meets in the game:


Game time covers many months in the virtual world, since time seems to go by very fast in it as a general rule. After Wang Miao gets out of the game, he receives a phone call from the game administrator who was notified by email that Wang Miao made it to the second level of the game. He invites Wang Miao to a meetup of the online community of “Three Bodies” gamers taking place the next evening. That meetup takes place at a coffee shop, and seven players show up, ranging in age from young adult to 60 years old, and at least one is a woman. Wang Miao already knows two of the gamers. One of the meetup group members suggests that the Three Bodies world is a real place, and they debate this issue for awhile and talk more about mathematics.

In chapters 20 and 21, Wang Miao enters the “Three Bodies” game for the fifth time and meets Einstein, and they talk about the moon and the sun among other things. Then in chapter 22, titled “Earth’s Rebel Army,” the meetup group meets again at a factory worker’s cafeteria, and this time more than three hundred people show up, including government officials. They have some kind of silver globes at the meeting, but Ye Wenjie is also there this time and starts reminiscing again about the Red Shore Base, which continues into the next two chapters.

This is the drawing of the scene, which looks much more high-tech and militaristic than I was picturing, since in modern America most people think of gamers as civilian kids dressed in normal, casual clothes, not as armed military men.

Three Bodies V.1-3

That definitely was  not my mental picture I was getting as I read the text, but this is far more provocative than what I imagined.

Ye Wenjie’s relationship with Yang Weining and Commissar Lei has really deepened over the years at the base, and by the end of chapter 24, perhaps in around 1979, Wenjie wakes up in a hospital bed with Yang Weining at her side, much like the way she did on the plane taking her to the Red Shore Base that first time. This time, however, the doctor says she needs to rest because she’s pregnant! The text mentions here that they married four years after she came to the Red Shore Base. Otherwise, their time at the base is spent studying the sun. She receives a letter from an American astronomer and gets deeply into her sun surveillance.

In chapter 25, titled “Insurrection,” Ye Wenjie talks about the Red Shore Base’s space elevator, but someone interrupts and asks about Ye’s daughter’s death, but she doesn’t really explain anything about that. The group of gamers form the Three Bodies Resistance Army, and a nameless young girl becomes the focal point of the meeting. Da Shi also laughs about aliens. I assume this young girl is the girl in the drawing.

Things take a darker turn in Chapter 26, which starts off as a transcript of Ye Wenjie’s interrogation. She is at this point a professor at Qinghua University. The chapter title seems kind of neutral, “Lei Zhicheng and Yang Weining’s Deaths,” but the interrogator asks about two murders she committed in October of 1979. Her answer is “我杀死过两个人…基地政委雷志成和基地工程师,我的丈夫杨卫宁.” This is her admission of guilt, and that’s a pretty interesting plot twist. I didn’t see that coming.

The Red Shore Base received a signal from an alien civilization near the sun back then which was somehow tied to Three Bodies. Ye Wenjie wasn’t the only one who got this message, however.  Commissar Lei also did and talked with her about it not long after she found out she was pregnant. She kills Lei and Yang, thinking no one would suspect her since she and Yang Weining were known to have a good relationship.

Eight months after the alien contact, Wenjie gives birth to her baby, Yang Dong, and she goes back to stay with her mother. During that time, Three Bodies doesn’t contact her again. She returns to the university and meets an American named Mike Evans. Then when she goes to Europe, she finds there is a second Red Shore Base connected to London’s Heathrow Airport, and she meets Mike Evans again there. He mentions receiving a transmission from Three Bodies. They talk about the idea that Three Bodies’ civilization will change human civilization and will annihilate humankind, which is seen as crazy and evil. Earth will end up under Three Bodies’ rule. The last line is “that day was the birth of the Earth Three Bodies Movement.”

In Chapter 30 it comes out that the Three Bodies video game was the way the alien Three Bodies civilization was spreading its culture and teachings through society, and the followers from the Earth Three Bodies Rebellion also became the Spiritual Nobility Organization. Its growing membership draws from the intellectual class and from the government and economic elites.

Later, Wang Miao is back at the war center with Ding Yi discussing whether they trust Ye Wenjie’s recollections. The ending of the book gets deeper into the message from Three Bodies, and it appears that, like a reversal of Silent Spring, the aliens are going to try to do to humanity what humanity did to the insects. The last few chapters pivot to this insect/locust motif with Da Shi even driving Wang Miao and Ding Yi somewhere to look at insects.

Chapter 36, the last chapter, is very short, but it feels a bit eerie. Ye Wenjie is back on Radar Peak to see the ruins of the original Red Shore Base. She sees a stone tablet commemorating the Red Shore Base, noting it was founded in 1968 and its last date of operation was in 1987. The story ends with Wenjie pondering how the locust survived mankind.

We’ll look at book two of the series later this year and see where this alien invasion goes.

Part 3 of 3.

Next time: we return to Japan with Ryukishi Zeronana’s When the Cicadas Cry: The Festival Accompanying Chapter, Volume 1!

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The Sohyeon After Midnight Graded Korean Reader Project – Introduction

As my regular readers know, I recently published a new horror novel in English called Sohyeon After Midnight, and now I’m ready to start phase two of the project. The idea for a new novel came last year as I was preparing some of my class modules I’m offering at my affiliate channel, https://enlightenedrabbit.wordpress.com/, and compiled my Beginner’s Guide to Korean; I decided I wanted to come up with something exciting to create a graded reader out of to potentially use for my classes, plus it gave me the opportunity to test out the usefulness of the Korean-language textbook I published last summer.

I myself bailed on using graded readers as I reached the intermediate-advanced level for various reasons, but some of it was that the choice of topic or works used to create graded readers out of was rather dull, mainly using either too prosaic of topics or high literary texts, which are extremely limiting and difficult in a second language. My theory is that you have to go on the same arc of interests that you did learning your native language when you were a child or teenager, which most of the time is genre fiction, and the language has to be vivid, even lurid, rather than subtle and philosophical.

Materials for Korean language study for native English-speakers aren’t that plentiful or too easy to come by, so I hit upon an idea based on a technique we used with our ESL students – I have almost a Master’s degree in TESOL in a program that focused more on the mechanics of second language acquisition as opposed to all teaching techniques – something called Student Generated Texts. Most of the research on second language acquisition uses data from speakers of foreign languages learning English because of the dearth of students going the other way, therefore it’s appropriate to align the fields of ESL and US foreign language instruction, and I use a lot of ESL resources when considering how to study my second languages.

The broad outlines of second language acquisition are the same regardless of the particular native and target languages at the end of the day. So in addition to studying techniques for reading in a second language at the extremely difficult transition point between intermediate and advanced levels for years, I’ve also been reading studies on writing in a second language and concluded I also wanted to do some experimentation with that on myself. Many accomplished writers overseas write works in a non-native language, so they also offer so inspiration for making the attempt. Hence Sohyeon was born.

Here are some articles discussing the use of Student Generated Texts and bilingual books for language students to get you in the right mindset:




I’ve also learned from years of studying dance that you can’t just drill forever but need to put it all together into a finished piece for performance before you can really advance in your skill level. That’s also the only way you can assess what you’ve learned.

If you want to look cool and be right all of the time, studying a foreign language isn’t for you, because the only way to really advance in your skills is to make a lot of mistakes. I don’t know if you ever get to the point where it’s perfect; even writing in your native language can be contentious, as my fellow indie writers know. A lot of it is subjective at some point. As I begin this project, I think my biggest areas of difficulty that will emerge will be the unconscious effect of English grammar on the way I write Korean sentences and word choice. The more complicated very tenses will probably trip me up, too, but it is what it is.

The part of my novel I will be working on first will be part 1 out of 6, which is about 30,000 words in English; that went through three revisions before reaching its final form, and I’ll be posting the second revision of the Korean version since I already have around 15,000 words written in the first draft. It will be in fairly simple Korean, probably closer to beginner level than intermediate level.

So like some crazy comic book scientist, I’m going to experiment on myself, and I invite readers who are native speakers of Korean language or have reached the intermediate level to make suggestions for better rendering in Korean in the comments of each segment. If you want to be part of the experiment, this is where I will be posting my short segments of the story in Korean with a select vocabulary list:


You can subscribe to that blog and get updates as I prepare them. I should have the first part posted there in the next month or so.

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Early Summer 2018 Announcements

Since I have a full schedule of appearances and speaking engagements in May and June that may be of interest to my readers, here is the calendar of events.

First up is the Greater Altoona Area Book Festival on May 12, 2018 from 10AM-4PM at the Altoona Area Public Library, where I will be selling my books:


Then the following weekend on May 19th, I will be making an unofficial appearance at the Pittsburgh Japanese Culture Society’s Kennywood Day on Asian Heritage Day there:


In June, my fun begins as I participate in the second annual Living Dead Weekend: Monroeville as a vendor from June 8th through June 10th at Monroeville Mall:


Later in the month, I will be presenting my Tale of Genji New Reader Introduction at the Monroeville Library on June 19th at 7PM:


More dates will be forthcoming for the second half of the summer, but that’s plenty for now.

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Entering a Videogame, Wang Miao Meets a Bronze Age Man and Ponders the Sun – Three Body Problem, Remembrance of Earth Series, Book 1, Part 2

Let’s continue our look at the first book in the Remembrance of Earth Chinese science fiction series by Cixin Liu, Three Body Problem (刘慈欣的”地球往事:三体”). In chapter 4, Wang Miao calls Ding Yi at a late hour, and they discuss an organization dedicated to observing cosmic radiation that Wang Miao is interested in, but Ding Yi asks if he went to see Yang Dong’s mother yet. He feels that she could answer Wang Miao’s questions about the organization.

After the phone call, Wang Miao sits in front of his computer, thinking about the video game Shen Yufei was playing. He brings up the Three Body website, puts on his virtual reality goggles and ends up in the video game. This portion of the text is italicized as Wang Miao finds himself in the Bronze Age Warring States period, which sets the story between 475-221 BC. He meets two men wearing tattered clothes and animal skins carrying short swords and a wooden box. One of the men, Zhou Wenwang, explains where Wang Miao is. The other man is designated in the game as “follower,” while Wang Miao has the designation “sea person,” though I don’t know how literally that phrase should be taken. Maybe it has a political meaning or refers to him being a sailor, I don’t know.

It’s very cold out in this setting, though the strong sunlight makes them sweat. They see two shooting stars, and Zhou Wenwang suggests it portends the start of a new era. They discuss this, the laws of the sun’s motion, and ideas about different chaotic and lasting epochs. They reach two towers where soldiers are stationed and enter one, meeting a king and a priest clad in black named Fuyi. According to Fuyi, the sun is a temperamental god, but Zhou Wenwang considers Fuyi’s ritual to the sun witchcraft, stating the sun is not a god. Instead, Zhou Wenwang talks about the yin yang balance. A lot of time passes in the game with more going on with this king. The game sequence ends with an odd mention of the chemical composition of snow.

When Wang Miao takes off his virtual reality goggles, he immediately goes out to see Yang Dong’s mother as he wonders why the sun in the video game didn’t follow normal laws. One thing he understands is that he hasn’t played a video game in a long time and that games have evolved considerably in that time, yet “Three Bodies” is still different from these. He also doesn’t understand the meaning of the three shooting stars they observed in the game.

When Wang Miao arrives at his destination, he meets a 60 something, gray-haired old woman who looks emaciated. He guesses this is Yang Dong’s mother, Ye Wenjie. She is an old member of the intelligentsia, and she is carrying a big vegetable basket. Children from the neighborhood are playing nearby since their parents are at work. She takes Wang Miao to see her daughter’s old room first, which has a woodsy feel. He notices the black and white photos include one of Yang Dong with her mother when she was a toddler, though there’s something peculiar about the background of the photo. He feels uneasy looking at it. Yang Dong’s mother shows him a drawing she did as a child, and he thinks it seems uncharacteristically angry and despairing for a child that age. Her mother admits she doesn’t know much about her daughter’s education but can say she was drawn to abstract ideas and eschatology. She feels it wasn’t really a woman’s field, though Yang Dong never argued with her about it. Yang Dong was a beautiful girl, but her mother considered her education a failure.

Then Wang Miao remembers the other reason for his visit, and he asks about cosmic radiation. She mentions that there are two places in the country that observe this sort of radiation, one in Beijing and one in Urumqi. Here is some info on the Urumqi site that looks quite interesting, though I think most Western readers wouldn’t be familiar with it:


As she looks for the phone number of her former classmate, Sha Duanshan, at the one facility, she notes that Wang Miao’s face doesn’t look good and offers to help him. He dismisses her concerns, but she tells him to come back to see her in two days. He agrees.

In chapter 6, Wang Miao goes to Sha Duanshan’s laboratory, which is known for collecting the observation data for three satellites: the NASA’s 1989 COBE satellite, NASA’s 2003 WMAP satellite, and the 2007 European Space Agency’s PLANCK satellite.
For more information on the COBE satellite, here are the details:


For more on WMAP, see this page:


For more on the PLANCK satellite, see here:


All three of these satellites research data dealing with the Big Bang Theory and cosmology. The two men talk about Wang Miao’s theory that cosmic background radiation (formally known as CMB, cosmic microwave background) is unstable. After a deep, technical discussion, Shan Duanshan suggests Ye Wenjie is playing a joke on them. They begin to focus on the COBE satellite as the chapter closes.

Chapter 7 begins the flashback sequence I think was referred to in the interview with translator Ken Liu that I posted last time. This part goes back to the 1967 Cultural Revolution, and it was meant to be placed at the front of the book, but the Chinese publisher felt uncomfortable with that given some related anniversary it was published around, so it was moved to a later part of the novel in the Chinese edition. From what the interview said, the English translation puts these chapters back in the front of the book where they were supposed to go – I don’t have a copy of the translation to verify, but my readers who have been reading that version can comment below – however, I think the placement of them could affect the story and certainly the interest of the reader. As a flashback, I think it works to deepen the mystery of the suicide of beautiful scientist Yang Dong and adds some urgency to the text, whereas I think a linear presentation would take some of the drama out of it since we have no idea who the Ye family is in relation to the present day plot.

In this portion, Ye Wenjie becomes a central figure, and it turns out she is the woman pictured in the drawing I posted last time. I’m not sure how literally we should take her appearance as non-Asian there given the tendency in some parts of East Asia to draw Asians as Caucasian, and this isn’t the only drawing in the book like that. I don’t have any particular complaint about it since I’m no purist, it’s just a curiosity. The first part of the flashback shows her father Ye Zhetai’s confrontation with the 200 member “Red Alliance” who are interrogating people on a platform in a school playground in one of the infamous criticism sessions. The text describes this situation as a “factional battle” and mentions it has already been going on for two hours. Four groups are present in the schoolyard: the Red Guard, the Cultural Revolution Working Group, a working announcement group, and a military announcement group. They are engaged in a cruel trial of strength. It looks like they beat some victims to death when they don’t recognize their crimes or drive some to suicide.

Physics teacher Ye Zhetai doesn’t recognize his crimes and doesn’t commit suicide; he is taken up to the criticism platform where two male and four female Red Guard members target him. The two boys are Ye Zhetai’s students, and the kids question him and tell him he’s talking nonsense. They also bring Ye’s wife, Shaolin, and she accuses him of deceiving her, calls him a reactionary and says she wants to stand on the side of the revolution and the people. It turns out that his father had some professional dealings with Albert Einstein in the 20s. The kids also talk with him about the existence of God, which he says can’t be known while they insist God doesn’t exist. After the interrogation session, he finds his daughter, Ye Wenjie, waiting for him, alone.

The scene shifts to two years later when Ye Wenjie is in Inner Mongolia and writes a letter for journalist Bai Mulin from “Big Production News.” This particular character’s name illustrates why making the effort to read the text in the original language has some rewards, like catching this fun image from the man’s name, which means “bathing in torrential rain.” That sounds more like it should be a woman’s name, but it has a nice poetic feel to it. Anyway, Ye Wenjie talks with him about his English translation of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, and she even reads a little about how environmental poisons are killing insects. The book has a huge impact on her for the rest of her life. Then, Bai Mulin brings up the mysterious location, Radar Peak, where there’s an antenna and high tension power lines that has been disrupting the animals in the forest. A story is circulating that the antenna caused snow on the peak to turn to rain within a certain radius, becoming a coating of ice crystals on the trees. Wenjie is an astrophysicist, and he asks her to write this letter, which in the next section turns up suddenly in the wrong place and gets her in trouble.

Denying that she actually wrote the letter and suggesting she only copied it for Bai Mulin, the colleague asking about it mentions that such a letter could be used to frame her. Mulin also seems to be under investigation. In the next section, Ye Wenjie meets a woman in jail to discuss documents relating to Wenjie’s father which detail conversations that her younger sister Wenxue provided to them. It has something to do with a big national defense project, but Wenjie has no direct knowledge of this conversation and refuses to sign the documents since she can’t verify it. Her interrogator wonders how she doesn’t know about it when her younger sister does.

Chapter 9 finishes up the flashback to the Cultural Revolution for now as Ye Wenjie wakes up to find herself in an aircraft of some kind with two men dressed in military uniforms with five red stars on their hats and red insignia on their collars. One of them asks if she wrote some paper on the sun’s inner stratum of radiation, which was in a 1966 astrophysics magazine. The guard introduces himself as Yang Weining, and he is the head engineer of a base called the “Red Shore.” Ye Wenjie recognizes him as one of her father’s research fellows and remembers when he visited her father at their home.

Finally, the aircraft lands at dusk, and Ye Wenjie has some trouble exiting the plane due to the strong winds. She sees the huge antenna and realizes they are on Radar Peak. A military base is there, and the two guards walk into it with her. Lei Zhicheng, the other guard with them who is a commissar, tells her they want to confront her in a trial over the evidence they have of her counter revolutionary crimes. After they talk awhile, a launch of the base’s huge electrical field is announced. As Ye Wenjie looks out over the dark forest with its many birds, she is a little afraid for the animals.

Chapter 10 returns to the present and Wang Miao’s visit with Sha Duanshan, so I will pick up the story there in the next post. Now that I’ve laid the groundwork, we can hopefully pick up speed and finish it up in the last post on this volume.

When I was looking up Bai Mulin to see if he was a real person, I came across a number of Chinese language wikis for this series, and here is the coolest I found featuring that sharp-looking Three Bodies logo to its best advantage:


It has a cool artist’s conception of Radar Peak here:


Part 2 of 3.


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Recruited for the Military’s War Center, a Scholar Investigates a Ghostly Clock – Three Body Problem, Remembrance of Earth Series, Book 1, Part 1

Next up on my reading list this year is the first book in the Remembrance of Earth Chinese science fiction series by Cixin Liu, which was translated into English as Three Body Problem (刘慈欣的”地球往事:三体”). In fact, the book title in Chinese is just Three Bodies with no measure word between them (as opposed to the Chinglish-sounding Three-Body which is printed on the back of the Chinese edition of the novel). Three Body Problem, however, is the title of one of the volume’s chapters, which is a perfectly valid translation choice for the novel. Perhaps we’ll see why that was selected as the translation of the title later when we get that far. Since this series of novels is available in English, I won’t get as detailed in reading it but will only present the broad outlines, though there will be spoilers. Readers can get either the English-language translation or the Chinese-language original here:


You have to pull down the menu to select which version to buy. Of course, the English translations are also available at Amazon. Glancing over the cover art at that site, I see volume 3 even has a quote from Barack Obama – politicians are not your typical blurb writers for most sci fi books, I would bet. The different volumes have won multiple prestigious American science fiction awards, including the Hugo and the Nebula awards. You can listen to an interesting interview with the translator of the first and third volume of this series, Ken Liu, here:


I will also add to their commentary that I have read UFO phenomenon is taken much more seriously in China than in the West, and I wonder if that might also be why this series really took off there. This topic came up when I was researching the Chinese space program, which I’ve been speaking about around town for a number of years now. They have a very different attitude than what we’re used to in the US.

Turning to the book itself, I’m going to read the series in the original Chinese. This volume was published in 2007 and runs about 300 pages. I really like the cover art on volume 1 of the Chinese edition.

Remembrance V1 Cover

The inside of the novel also has some special features, with small sketches of the cover near the page numbers all throughout the books, and there are full-page black and white illustrations here and there. One thing I like about the book from the start is that it’s in more accessible Chinese than many of the more literary works I’ve looked at, so it should be more manageable for low advanced students of Chinese language to tackle. The presentation of the book reminds me more of the books marketed to young adult readers that I’ve read from the region, which are also better for language students.

Since many of the characters have two syllable names, I’m not going to switch them around Western style. The order switch usually sounds better with three character names than two, and it’s just my personal preference. As the story opens, Wang Miao, a professor associated with a scholarly group referred to as “The Scientific Boundary,” is approached by two policemen and two military men who ask him about his contacts with this group. One of the officers, Shi Qiang, questions him about the purpose of the group, and Wang Miao explains it’s an international circle of researchers who are all famous scholars, then objects that it’s all legal and that he’s allowed to contact the group’s members. Shi Qiang tries to calm him down, explaining that wasn’t the reason for their visit. They invite him to a meeting at a newly created center of war that will be held that afternoon. The war center is trying to get scholars and experts to participate, and it extended the invitation to Wang Miao. Wang Miao, however, says he’s too busy to attend, though he wonders to himself what this war center might be.

The next scene shows Wang Miao driving to the meeting. The room where it’s supposed to take place is rather chaotic, with lots of computer equipment set up everywhere and documents lying around. Many of the participants look exhausted, as if they were up all night. Participants include army generals, police bureau members, and specialist academics. Four foreigners are also involved: two colonels, one British Army officer and one American from the Air Force, and two US information center bureau officials. Shi Qiang gives Wang Miao some documents to peruse and a list of names to look over. Wang Miao knows three of them to be famous physicists.

The story then flashes back to the year before when Wang Miao was working on some machinery at a construction site. This part gets into superconductors, and it mentions he meets a female engineer or physicist there named Yang Dong, who later committed suicide though no one knows why. Dr. Ding Yi was her boyfriend, and Wang Miao arranges to get her notes from him.

On the way out of the meeting, Wang Miao asks Shi Qiang what all of this has to do with the military and wonders where a war is taking place that this is necessary. Shi Qiang responds that situations are unpredictable and unforeseen wars can erupt. Later, Wang Miao stops by Ding Yi’s place, where the PhD used to live with Yang Dong. The men spend some time doing physics experiments with black and white billiard balls and talk about the theories behind what they observed. When it’s time for Wang Miao to leave, Ding Yi gives him the address of Yang Dong’s mother to stop by when he has time to try to understand the late scientist better.

Two days later, Wang Miao takes his bicycle out early in the morning on a weekend to take photos, which is his hobby. After a brief meditation on more scientific hypotheses, he returns home after lunch and eventually develops the rolls of film he took. When he gets a look at the negatives, however, he sees each negative has a set of white or black numbers over the images, which is descending like some kind of timer. Curious, he tries another roll of film, and it picks up the countdown where the first roll left off. When his wife and six year old son return home, he even enlists them to take more rolls of random photos to develop, but the ghost clock never disappears, no matter who takes the photos or how many rolls they use. Wondering who he should consult with about the issue, he turns to “scientific boundary” member, Shen Yufei.

Yufei lives in a high end villa in an area of town that has the ambiance of a village. He meets her husband, Wei Cheng, who takes him up to a room upstairs where she is playing a video game. She tells Wang Miao to discontinue his research, but he tells her that he cannot. He doesn’t stay long, doesn’t seem to talk about the ghost clock like he intended unless it was couched in some scientific theory that I missed it, then goes home. Later that night, he dreams of the ghost clock and springs out of bed to observe the city lights from his window.

After breakfast, he goes to Tongren Hospital to talk with an ophthalmology specialist about his eyes to rule out an eye disease as the reason he was seeing those strange numbers. The doctor tells him he likely has floaters, but he also suggests psychological factors could be at work. Wang Miao leaves and goes to a nanometer center to run some experiments. Shen Yufei appears there by the end of the chapter and says they are his friends who will help him if he has a problem, that he should not walk down Yang Dong’s path, which gives him a chill. She seems a little sinister here, and there’s a passing reference to her speaking for something non-human. Finally, she warns him to expect something to happen in three days in the early hours of the morning between 1 and 5AM.

This is a good, dramatic place to stop. We’ll pick up with chapter 4 next time.

Here’s one of the interior drawings from a later chapter.

Remembrance V1 A

Interior Drawing in Volume 1 of the Chinese edition of Three Body Problem

Part 1 of 3.

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My New Horror-Fantasy Novel, Sohyeon After Midnight, is Published!

My new horror-fantasy novel, Sohyeon After Midnight, is now available in the print edition, and I’m working on getting out the e-book this week. You can get your print copy here:


I apologize for the high price, but since I was in talks with Barnes & Nobles about book promotion last year and they told me they couldn’t see my books on their website/database, I set this one up for expanded distribution so it could potentially be carried by that store. Previously, bookstore chains weren’t that interested in indie publishing, but I guess that is changing.

I have a new blurb for the cover:


High school senior Sohyeon Choi and his family are an average second-generation immigrant family living in the affluent DC suburb of Addison. His life of studying, gaming and paintball is suddenly disrupted one night when an odd-looking man in an old-fashioned boat spirits Sohyeon away across the sky into another dimension, pulling his family into a war between two unknown worlds.

One of these strange, distant worlds is Khabu, land of the immortals. Within the ancestral crypt of the royal family, it is rumored Khabu’s ancient kings still live out their days in animal form, and Khabu’s enigmatic high priestess, Minha, searches for a champion to help the royal family heal the rift between the queen and her rebellious brother.

The second world, Eokhmisseun, is a land of humans ravaged by the demonic creature Litt, whose magic has forced the ruling council into hiding and turned most of the citizens into shadowy half-men with a taste for blood. Connected to Khabu through the gift of a flock of magical birds the underground leaders in the capital city use to communicate, one member of the council also holds a mysterious artefact, the only remaining silver weapon to be found in both lands.

As the dark past of Khabu engulfs both lands, the menace begins to spread to Addison and plunges it into darkness.

Sohyeon After Midnight is a genre-bending horror-fantasy inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s The White Ship and Shadow Over Innsmouth as well as H. G. Wells’ Island of Doctor Moreau.

Let me give a shout out to a few really wonderful YouTube composers whose darker works served as inspiration in writing this novel.

Adrian Von Ziegler: https://www.youtube.com/user/AdrianvonZiegler

Peter Gundry: https://www.youtube.com/user/23Alchemist23

BrunuhVille: https://www.youtube.com/user/BrunuhVille

Derek & Brandon Fiechter: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjMZjGhrFq_4llVS_x2XJ_w

Solace (Jeremiah Soto): http://www.soundsofsolace.com/#

I’ll be working on the Korean-language manuscript of the story soon, though I’m not sure yet how or when I’ll publish that. If I can get it together and into shape, it will be intermediate Korean at best and will probably go on my other blog where I sell my classes. Of course, many thanks to my ESL students from the region who told me about their families and invited me into their homes for many years over the years for providing some insight into international and immigrant families, which has formed the foundation of this story.

Also, a word about the stories I typically name check on my cover copy. What I have in mind when I do that is quite specific. Since I rarely read anything in English anymore and the stuff I do read in English is indie novels, non-fiction, or from the 1800s or early 1900s, the stories I reference are often old ones I’ve read recently and am reacting to thematically. Sometimes I am considering the gaps in famous stories as I write my own. In this case, I’m going right against the grain of Lovecraft’s work as much as I’m picking up on his riffs.

I’ll get back to our regularly scheduled series on this blog shortly.

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March-April 2018 Schedule

Spring is nearly here, and some of my favorite Pittsburgh-area events are right around the corner along with some of my personal deadlines. First on my list is the publication of my forthcoming horror-fantasy novel, Sohyeon After Midnight, which should be ready to go in the next week or two. My fans who love shapeshifters will be in their glory with the new book, but it may make me late getting my next post up.

The weekend of April 5th through 8th, I will be speaking at Tekko, and this year my topics are as follows, times TBA:

The Tale of Genji New Reader Introduction
Musical Interludes: K-On, La Corda D’Oro and Beyond

(Before there was Harvey Weinstein, there was Hikaru Genji in 10th century Japan.)

Info on the event can be found here:


I hear back on the results of the IPPY Book Award on April 10th if I recall.

Then the weekend of April 13th through 15th, I will be manning my booth at Steel City Con selling my novels. I’m hoping to have my new novel available for purchase there, but right now I’m either going to just make it or just miss it. Info on that event can be found here. They have lots of great guests lined up:


Hope to see you at these awesome local events!


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The Wings of a Butterfly Draw A Noblewoman into a Sinister Plague – The Joseon Zombie Annals, Part 1

My interim selection for 2018 is the Korean language webcomic, “The Joseon Zombie Annals” by Gonma, which you can read here:


Joseon Zombie Annals 1

Right now it’s up to chapter 272, and you have to page back all the way to chapter one to start it since it runs backwards.  A little popup box to the right of the screen allows you to navigate back to the first chapter quickly by tapping the “<<” button. I will only be covering a limited number of chapters, giving an introduction to the characters and noting some of the more interesting plot points. Here is a screen shot of the “cover” with the navigation panel where you can see it on the bottom right:

Joseon Zombie Annals 2

The opening shots show a port where a nobleman talks with the slaves unloading cargo from his ship. Suddenly, a slave notices the nobleman’s face is turning pale and asks if he’s alright. He answers that perhaps the food in Japan didn’t agree with him, but shortly thereafter he spits up blood and collapses on the ground in front of the slave. Meanwhile, a strange couple standing on the roof of a nearby house watches the scene with interest. Here is a later screenshot of them, and the man looks like a Japanese samurai.

Joseon Zombie Annals 3

The story is set in Korea in the early part of 15th century, and at the beginning, the people are unaware a plague is spreading from the south.

The next scene shifts to Hanyang (the old name for modern day Seoul) six months later – the calligraphy in the scene blocks is very difficult to read in places, but I could make this one out. A noblewoman named Jin is summoned to the palace. She and her servant girl walk through the village.

At the palace, we see a noblewoman in white paying her respects to the Buddha along with two attendants in one of the pavilions. Jin and her servant are allowed into the palace courtyard, where Jin notices a butterfly out of season since it’s autumn. She follows the butterfly, and it leads her to the hall where the noblewoman is kneeling before the Buddha. The woman, known only as “respected believer,” notes Jin is a woman of noble blood and calls for an audience with the Crown Prince. The woman insists Jin’s appearance there is not a coincidence but is the work of heaven.

Joseon Zombie Annals 4

Jin doesn’t understand why she’s there in spite of the woman’s statement, but when the noblewoman has an audience with the Crown Prince, she tells him about Jin and discusses the plague that is spreading through the land. They also have a rather ominous conversation about how Jin will end up as a sacrifice in the temple in T’amna, while the manga block focuses on a sword that is displayed behind the Crown Prince. I don’t get that part of the conversation, but clearly Jin’s arrival has a lot more significance than Jin herself is aware.

Jin is waiting outside the audience hall when the noblewoman finally requests that she enter alone to talk with the Crown Prince. For his part, the Crown Prince is flustered since Jin is so beautiful. One of his guards, a handsome fighter named Muhyeok, coughs to bring the Crown Prince to attention. She introduces herself as the daughter of a Right Bureau government official, and when he asks her if she is willing to risk the danger of going to T’amna, she agrees to go if it will somehow end the plague. The Crown Prince then reveals that he and Muhyeok will accompany her to T’amna. She’s surprised to hear that, but he observes it’s as dangerous in the palace as it is without.

As they chat, night falls, and Jin’s servant is still outside waiting for her when one of the guards suddenly shows signs of illness. As he transforms into a zombie, the servant girl screams in terror, which brings Jin, the Crown Prince and Muhyeok out to see what’s going on. They witness one of the palace’s female attendants, now a zombie, attack another healthy attendant, and that’s the screenshot I kicked the post off with.  I think that block makes the zombies look more like vampires, but the monsters turn out to be pretty interesting for a number of reasons.

In chapter 2, the attendant then attacks the Crown Prince, but he fights her off. She falls, and they study her symptoms, wondering what this means for the plague. When they run out into the palace yard, they discover everything is in chaos since many more people have become zombies and are attacking. The Crown Prince restrains Muhyeok from fighting them, and they flee the palace on horseback, pulling Jin in a wagon behind them. Meanwhile, the Japanese couple is back on the roof watching the scene with some amusement.

Further down the road well after dark, an arrow hits the Crown Prince’s horse’s leg, and they all stop to tend to the fallen horse but find themselves surrounded by bandits deep in the forest.  They talk with them about a Master Byeongpan while the bandits still look like normal humans. This sequence starts to drop some hints that the men with Jin are actually in disguise. The man dressed as the Crown Prince calls his handsome guard “Cheoha,” a title usually reserved for the prince, and the guard calls the man dressed as the Crown Prince “Muhyeok.” So the characters are actually opposite of whom they appear to be, and this emerges clearly as the crisis gets worse. Jin realizes as much in the last block of the chapter.

The scene continues in chapter 3. Muhyeok expresses some concern that Master Byeongpan will take advantage of the situation and suggests the Crown Prince move on with Jin to reach T’amna. After the bandits’ leader commands them to kill the men and spare Jin, the bandits transform into zombies and attack the Crown Prince’s party, leading to an extended fight. The real Crown Prince flees with Jin, and the caption is an apology to Muhyeok, whom they had to leave behind to fight the crowd of monsters alone.

Joseon Zombie Annals 5

When Jin trips and falls, the Crown Prince can’t help her, but a cleaver flies through the air and takes out the lead zombie before it reaches her. A rogue fighter appears, and she recognizes him as Soonshin, someone she met in the city, though she doesn’t understand why he’s there. His flying blade looks really cool, so here is the manga block:

Joseon Zombie Annals 6

Some of the key fight or zombie scenes are presented sideways in long, dynamic blocks, which is a really interesting method that’s hard to take a screenshot of. Readers should flip through chapters one through nine to see the action for themselves since I can’t do it justice here.

Chapter 4 flashes back to Soonshin’s life in town. He’s a butcher preparing beef cuts across from a tavern, and in traditional Korean society, butchers were considered very low class and unworthy of respect. A nobleman harasses him for being rude as he does his work out in the courtyard.  His boss comes out and tries to calm the nobleman, apologizing to him for Soonshin’s behavior. He explains that many members of his family have been dying due to the plague, and he’s short on meat to sell. However, the nobleman gets even more belligerent.

Jin and her servant arrive in the middle of the nobleman’s tirade and intervene. She and the offended nobleman exchange an introduction, and her revelation of her father’s identity makes him hesitate a moment. When he suddenly runs off, Jin cheerfully talks with Soonshin, making him blush. The head butcher also talks with her about Soonshin, embarrassing him even further. He remains flustered and smitten with her for the rest of the chapter, even after they part ways.

Later, when Soonshin is walking alone through the city, he meets the nobleman again, who demands the meat he’s carrying. The nobleman’s huge younger sister appears, too, and the two of them threaten Soonshin, but the sister starts spitting up blue blood, turns into a zombie and attacks. Soonshin finds himself having to defend the nobleman with his cleaver. Suddenly, he realizes Jin is in danger and abandons the nobleman to find her. He just so happens to see the carriage she’s riding in as it comes out of the palace and follows it.

The flashback ends, and they are back in the forest where Jin is demanding to know what Soonshin is doing there. He blushes and is too flustered to speak to her again; the manga keeps a running interior monologue with Soonshin’s emotions as Jin pays attention to him, which is kind of interesting since it clearly positions him as her love interest over the Crown Prince. As they try to speak, the zombies spring back to life and chase them to a wood and rope bridge swinging over a chasm, flanked by a pair of thin, primitive statues. The statues are jangseung, Korean totem poles, which have a very distinct look that gives the bridge some character here. They flee across it, but Soonshin stops partway to keep the zombies from passing while the Crown Prince and Jin get to the other side.

Chapter 5 shows a stunning fight sequence with Soonshin wielding his cleaver against the zombies. He discovers that even when he beheads them, their heads reconnect quickly, and he has to fight them again. When he sees Jin has made it safely to the other side with the Crown Prince, he makes a run for it, the zombies close on his tail. In desperation since he can’t shake them, he cuts the bridge apart so the zombies can’t reach her, and he is on the verge of falling into the chasm with them as the bridge collapses.

The story cuts back to Muhyeok who is back in the forest fighting the zombies alone. He is also discovering that chopping the zombies apart doesn’t kill them as some blue energy or blood keeps the body together and regenerates it. As he starts to despair, all of the zombies around him dematerialize from their clothing, leaving it to flutter to the ground, as the Japanese samurai and his woman approach. Muhyeok wonders if they have some sort of special weapon that caused the zombies to disappear and realizes they are from Japanese – the word used here is waenara, not the modern ilbon, so let me give a little context for that designation:


This is an old Chinese term for Japan that is not that uncommon in the region’s historical novels and documents.

The Japanese samurai’s face is very scarred, though the girl with him is young and attractive. She is apparently an onmyōdō (yin yang) master, which is possibly why the zombies disappeared. The samurai talks about his resentment of Joseon’s people as he stabs Muhyeok first in the stomach, which is pixelated for some reason, then through the head before the scene cuts back to Jin and the Crown Prince, who are looking into the chasm where Soonshin is hanging on the cliffside by a rope.

In chapter 6, Soonshin crawls up the side of the ravine where Jin and the Crown Prince are watching him. Jin slaps him, angry that he risked his life like that, but he’s in a daze and blushing once again since she touched him with her hand. When she finally coaxes him to talk, he feels he can’t really tell her the reason he showed up is because he was worried about her. Instead, he mentions something about her traveling the wrong way…she admits they are going to T’amna, and Soonshin then eyes the Crown Prince dubiously.

He asks the Prince how old he is as they both get more aggressive toward one another. The Prince answers he is 17. When Soonshin suggests the Prince is too timid, the Prince gets angry enough to admit his true identity as a member of the royal family and pulls his sword on Soonshin. He and Soonshin get into a big fight over class divisions in their society, and they nearly end up coming to blows until Jin angrily intervenes and declares she will travel alone. They make up after her declaration.

We briefly see the samurai and his onmyōdō girlfriend again, then the very last scene in the chapter shows a zombie tied up in someone’s house at night. A man with glasses comes in with an axe and frees the zombie from his bonds, jubilant that he found the creature.

Chapter 7 shifts back to Soonshin, Jin and the Crown Prince, who are hiding out in the dark near a residence. At first they confront a large wild boar, then we see them serving meat from the boar by firelight in the courtyard of the deserted house. After Soonshin serves them a delicious dinner, they relax a bit, and he asks them why they are going to T’amna. The Crown Prince takes out a map to explain his plan, but he and Soonshin get in a fight again, much to Jin’s dismay.

While they are fighting, the man in the glasses with the axe comes out to find out what’s going on. He stomps out the fire, fearing it will attract the zombies, and tells them to come into the underground storehouse with him since it’s dangerous to be out. As Soonshin asks what zombies are, the zombies start to surround the house.  The man in glasses gives the group of heroes small white bottles of liquid to pour over their blades. This time, when Soonshin hits the zombies, their bodies turn to ashes, leaving their clothes to flutter to the ground, empty.

Joseon Zombie Annals 7

But Soonshin gets scratched by one of the zombies before he can stop it, and he wonders if that will turn him into a zombie, too. The fight with the zombies continues in chapter 8, but the Crown Prince and man in the glasses notice Soonshin’s unusual sword technique and wonder about it. The Crown Prince particularly marvels because Soonshin is merely a butcher. By the end of the chapter, Soonshin gets into a brief knife battle with the Crown Prince again, this time claiming he’s just being playful.

As they talk amongst themselves, we see a man hiding in the bushes watching them. The scene changes to show a regal house that the informant goes to with information about this special zombie-killing method. The man who lives in this house looks more like a character out of “The Three Musketeers” than traditional Korea, but he refers to the man with the glasses as the famous Joseon physician Heo Jun. He questions the spy about Heo Jun’s knowledge and if the physician told the others about this method. The spy calls the man of the house “kyojunim,” which refers to someone who is the leader of a religious sect, but there are no hints yet as to who this man is exactly. The sect leader tells one of the palace guards to bring Heo Jun to him the next day.

Meanwhile, Heo Jun takes Soonshin, Jin and the Crown Prince down into the storehouse where he kept the zombie earlier, and they talk about the zombie action they’ve observed. Heo Jun examines Soonshin, too, and determines he has an infection because the color of his eyes has changed. Indeed, looking back over the chapter, his eyes turn from brown to blue then back to brown for some reason, but this infection is somehow supposed to be evidence of an immunity. Heo Jun explains two types of immunity to the Crown Prince.

When the Crown Prince brings up the liquid Heo Jun gave them for their weapons, Heo Jun explains the zombie condition and their craving for human blood. Therefore, he discovered their weakness is garlic. These zombies seem to be a cross between zombies and vampires in actual fact, so the first impression we get with the palace ladies was correct. Heo Jun explains the situation with the outbreak in more detail to the trio. In chapter 9, they emerge from the storehouse to find a contingent of guards from the palace awaiting them….

Part one of a six part series.

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