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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The Lucky Cat Series Volume 3, Lucky Cat and the Gods of War, Now Available

Volume 3 of my Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and the Gods of War, is ready in both print and e-book editions at Amazon or at any of the conferences I’ll be selling at, so be sure to pick up a copy:

Print Edition Cover

Here’s the description:

Vengeance comes on soft, black wings.

The murder of a Movement double agent draws the superstate’s attention back to the sleepy village of Tyosha where Chika Hagiwara has been banished along with her family.  Now in possession of the Lucky Cat statue her mother made her as a farewell gift, Chika must elude the robotic sentinels that guard the village to follow the magical cat to a ghostly castle waiting out in the empty plains beyond the village’s barbed wire.

With Chika’s help, the Empress of Nambata Castle begins her assault upon the superstate’s supreme capital city with Leader Xing as her main target. Harnessing the power of mystical roses destroyed in the French Alps by the superstate decades earlier, the Empress and her royal court of hinamatsuri dolls bring their own unyielding form of justice to the city.

In the wake of the attack, Leader Xing appoints her right hand man General Shulga to head the superstate’s new Special Doll Finding and Animal Control Task Force. Along with his son Trofim, Chika’s old school friend, they set out to destroy the Empress’ allies and find a way to neutralize Nambata Castle. 

I’m not doing volume 4 until next year, so the two new volumes should make my fans who were looking for the next book early last year happy for awhile. This volume continues with the horror and political satire while expanding my new mythology surrounding the Lucky Cat statues, with even more cats and ball-joint dolls than volume 2 – I had some requests for the ball joint dolls, too, at a summer conference.

Related to this series and its themes, I am doing a special series as things come up on 20th century totalitarianism called the Lucky Cat Series History Lessons, which readers can find on my Facebook page over the past few months. I’ll be adding to it as I come across information and articles in the news:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wendelin-Gray/1599652066960945

I also recently did an interview with Book Marketing Buzz about my horror novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, and you can read that here:

https://bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com/2019/04/interview-with-award-winning-ya-author.html

For readers redirected to this blog from that interview, let me also add that my range of characters in it also came naturally because of my experience working with the pan-Asian festival, Silk Screen for over a decade.  The festival commonly had committees with just about every race and ethnicity, from Chinese to Indian to Filipino to American and everything in between. It was just part of the regular milieu I had around me at any given time when I was at their events, and it was a big contrast to my experience in other organizations.

Now that this book is done, I will be getting the blog back on track, so be on the lookout for the next installment of Queen Seondeok.

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2019 Summer Event Schedule

My summer schedule for is set to kick off next month, and while I’m still waiting for more details or confirmation on a few events, here is what I have coming up:

April 12th-14th Steel City Con, Monroeville (Confirmed)

https://www.steelcitycon.com/

May 11th-12th Three Rivers Comic Con, Homestead Waterfront (Confirmed)

http://3riverscomicon.com/

June 14th-16th Living Dead Weekend – Monroeville (Confirmed)

http://www.thelivingdeadweekend.com/

July 4th-7th Anthrocon, Pittsburgh

https://www.anthrocon.org/

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

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

August TBD Steel City Con, Monroeville

https://www.steelcitycon.com/

I’ve been going at a slower reading pace on this blog for the 1st quarter because I’m finishing up my final edit of Volume 3 of the Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and the Gods of War, which should be available in April, though I’m not sure how early. I’ll definitely have it by the May show at Three Rivers Comic Con at the latest. This is basically the second half of book 2 that I split into two volumes. Once I get that out of the way, I’ll be back to my usual posting schedule on this blog, though I have been posting more on my other channels in recent months. Those blogs are linked to the right side of this blog, so you can check that content out by clicking there. I’m also hoping to get some more reading videos out there in the next month in addition to getting back to some of my other projects.

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The Birth of Twin Princesses and Flight Into Danger – Queen Seondeok, Vol. 1 – Part 2

This post we will continue our look at the first book of Eunkyeong Ryu’s Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), which is a novelized version of the Korean TV show by the same name.

Chapter 2 continues with a focus on Mishil but starts to get into the storyline of Deokman’s family somewhat. It has seven scenes.  Four years after chapter 1’s events, a lot has happened in Silla. King Jinheung has died, and King Jinji has taken the throne in the first scene. The second scene shows Munno going to visit a cottage or hermitage at the base of a steep mountain in the springtime, where a young man sits on the floor and talks with him. The two discuss the baby boy in silk swaddling clothes that Munno has brought to him. They talk about something that happened 4 years earlier between Mishil and the Hwarang. 

Munno emphasizes to the young man that Lady Mishil shouldn’t know about the child even though this will be difficult to hide. Mishil didn’t need the boy to become empress, and it even seems she nearly kills the baby at one point by attempting to crush its windpipe, but Munno takes him and names him Bidam in the hopes he won’t become as corrupt as his mother, who is now subject to Buddhist karma. The name Bidam is Munno’s prayer to ward off this terrible fate.

This is a dramatic quote from the novel where Mishil discards her son:

미안하다, 아기야. 하지만 나를 황후로 만들어주지 못하는 아들은 필요가 없구나. (p.68)

“I’m sorry, baby, but I don’t need a son who can’t make me queen.” (My translation)

We have a few more definitions that are special for historical fiction to add to my earlier list. Gukseon (국선, 國仙) refers to a hwarang leader.  We see this used a lot here to refer to Munno. The title gungju (궁주, 宮主) sounds a little like the word for princess, but it has a different vowel and actually means milady or lady. This title is often affixed to Mishil’s name indicating she is a queen, concubine or princess used from the Koryo through the Choseon eras, so it is a bit close in meaning to gongju 공주, princess (公主 ).  I think the latter is more restrictive in its use, however.

In section 3, the story turns to King Jinji and his two sons King Yongsu and Kim Yongchun, but before it’s done, we are shown a scene between the next king and queen, Baekjeong  (later known as King Jinpyeong) and his wife Maya. They’re coming from an ancestral shrine, and Maya reveals to Baekjeong that she’s pregnant.  The next few sections also continue with these topics, but Sohua, an attendant, appears, and they question her about whether the Hwarang are putting on their makeup, which is their signal that they are preparing for war. She says they are.

In sections 5 and 6, Maya goes to visit her mother’s house on urgent business, but her palanquin goes missing. She has been been kidnapped, and her ten guards have been killed. The chapter closes in its seventh section with Baekjeong conferring with Munno to determine Maya’s whereabouts and come up with a way to rescue her. It also comes out that this kidnapping was Mishil’s scheme to get rid of Maya. 

Chapter 3 has four sections and begins with Maya’s safe return and her elevation to Empress along with Baekjeong taking the throne as King Jinpyeong. Mishil must now humble herself and call Maya empress. In the second section, Maya goes into labor, and Jinpyeong wants his wife and child to be safe. As Maya screams in pain, clutching her abdomen, the attendants cover her with a quilt. Sohua watches for the head, and when it appears, she realizes there are twins!

When Jinpyeong hears that there are two babies, he urgently tells Sohua to lock the door. Sohua hesitates but eventually does as he asks. He tells her he intends to give her one of the children to take for safekeeping, but she thinks he’s joking. The medical lady-in-waiting takes Maya’s pulse.

In section 3, Mishil and her brother Misaeng are in her palace along with Seolwon, and Misaeng is angry at Munno’s interference and “ careless provocation.” They also talk about deposing King Jinji and the rumor that Maya gave birth to twins.

The last section of the chapter turns somewhat more meditative as it portrays Munno with Seolwon standing out on a watchtower. It describes the stars in the night sky and Munno’s sleeves blowing in the wind, his general demeanor, a grove of trees, and Seolwon’s appearance.  This passages has very little dialogue and ends with someone yelling for him to come back to the palace.

Chapter 4’s title is particularly important since it really kicks off the action surrounding the novel’s title character, who is one of the newborn twins. “Pursuit” begins with describing the two princesses Maya has given birth to, and the contrast between the babies is very strong. The first one is born bald, the second with luxurious black hair. The emphasis is on the remarkable appearance of the second born daughter. Her eyes are also clearer than those of the firstborn, etc.

Jinpyeong worries the second born child will come to harm because Mishil’s eyes and ears are everywhere around the palace.  Everything they do will get back to her through this network, so he considers sending the child away even though Maya doesn’t want him to. He admonishes Sohua to protect the child, and Munno is also recruited into his efforts, with Maya eventually imploring Munno to save the children.

In the next scene, Mishil and her allies Misaeng, Sejong, and Chiksuk note that Munno was at the delivery room and went inside. Mishil is surprised by this news. Then they hear that Munno later broke in on the Hwarang after leaving the delivery room with a bundle in his arms. They speculate again that twins were born and that Munno took one of them, however, they think the Hwarang doesn’t know that there are twin princesses. 

Meanwhile, King Jinpyeong announces the birth of Princess Cheonmyeong and demands everyone bow to her.

In section three, we see Munno and Misaeng addressing the military. Misaeng is primarily frustrated and wondering who Munno gave the twin to in this passage. Later, Seolwon gives Mishil a letter Munno left behind.  It seems there is some sort of star prophecy about the constellation of Ursa Major involving eight stars (note that the Big Dipper, which consists of seven of Ursa Major’s stars, is very important in East Asian astronomy and religion) that signals Mishil’s fall from power, but the letter explains that what they knew was not the whole prophecy. The letter completes the prophecy with a key section about the seven stars become eight, indicating the appearance of Mishil’s adversary!  This part is bolded in the text.

I’m a little unclear about whom the letter Munno dropped was actually addressed to, though it is addressed to “milady.” I haven’t seen the series in a long time, but I don’t think he was talking to Mishil in the letter. She wasn’t meant to read about her own evil fate, and the letter is clear that the prophecy is against her.

The final section is a fairly long passage featuring Munno, Sohua and the baby.

I’m going to stop here since the story is about to take a great leap in time. I’ll end with a few more important, difficult historical definitions for some of the palace attendants. The medical attendant is a special female lady-in-waiting called a uinyeo (의녀, 醫女). The definition of this term that I found also gives an alternative synonym of uigi (의기, 醫妓). This secondary term is used much later in the Joseon dynasty for a woman who learned simple medical skills and was treated as a member of the female gisaeng entertainment class.

The term shinyeo (시녀, 侍女) is also a more generic term for a court lady that may also be commonly used in the Joseon period. I’m not sure if there are different terms used in the Silla era for these positions or if the Joseon era terminology is just more typically used in all modern historical fiction, but at any rate, this is what they use here in the novel for the Silla ladies-in-waiting.

Part two of a three part series.

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A Cry in the Night With a Quick Linguistic Lesson – Queen Seondeok, Vol. 1 – Part 1

This year, I’m rearranging our reading schedule back to the old order I usually do them in, so I’m starting with my short-term Korean selection, Eunkyeong Ryu’s Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), which is a novelized version of the Korean TV show by the same name. It was a very popular show when it came out, and I know it is among my favorites though I haven’t watched it recently. This novelized version comes in a three volume set, so I will look at volume 1 for this go round through the region. The cover has a paper wrapping with a partial secondary cover featuring a photo from the show. The characters here are Mishil and Seondeok, left to right.

Published in 2009, volume 1 runs 343 pages and has front matter printed on thick, pearlized silver paper with a decorative border. It’s a bibliophile’s dream if you’re into print books and feels very nice to the touch; many of these novelized TV shows have spared no expense in the printing. This section includes a character list with descriptions and a chart of character relationships that I will at some point do a modified translation of for you.  The book, therefore, has a very nice presentation.

It also is my first example of a mixed text in Korean, especially with its historical footnotes, which is probably kind of hard for a foreigner to run across. I think in the US there is a very low perception that Korean is structured even remotely like Japanese or still retains anything in common with Chinese since there is an overemphasis on the hangul alphabet to the exclusion of the actual historical development of the language and the limited continuing use of hanja in US pedagogy.  Korean actually does use hanja (though in the US, Chinese characters are usually known by their Japanese name, kanji, rather than either the Korean name hanja or the Chinese name hanzi. These are all the regional pronunciations for the same word/characters  漢字).

Historical novels are no joke anyway in any of these languages, and they should be approached as more advanced texts than novels set in contemporary settings, even for TV tie-ins. They use antiquated language, definitions of words are often not in most Korean-English dictionaries, and verb endings that aren’t explained in most available textbooks. This book has enough of an emphasis on hanja that I’m going to do a quick rundown of the main characters of the novel and give the hanja as well. Every single character listed has hanja for their name as well as hangul.

Here is my abbreviated character list – I’m not switching names to American order just for the sake of my sanity as I read the book:

King Jinpyeong (眞平王) – Deokman’s father, the 26th king of Silla.

Mishil (美實) – Silla’s unsurpassed beauty, power hungry and skilled in seducing kings and hwarang.

Empress Maya (摩耶) – King Jinpyeong’s wife.

Munno (文努) – I’m going to translate this as the 8th Hwarang master. The word used here is a historical title with the hanja 風月主 (p’ungwolju), wind and moon master.

Deokman (德曼) – Silla’s 27th ruler, also known as Queen Seondeok.

Princess Cheonmyeong (天命) – Deokman’s twin sister.

Kim Yushin (金庾信) – The 15th Hwarang master (風月主) and descendant of the rulers of the Korean state of Gaya. He is a well-known historical figure in his own right. He was born in 595 and died in 673 AD.

Bidam  (毗曇) – Mishil’s son with King Jinji and a minister in Queen Seondeok’s court.

Kim Chunchu (金春秋) – Silla’s 29th ruler and Princess Cheonmyeong’s son.

Kin Yongsu (金龍樹) – Son of King Jinji and Princess Cheongmyeong’s husband.

Kim Yongchun (金龍春) – Kim Yongsu’s younger brother and Kim Chunchu’s uncle.

Misaeng (美生) – Mishil’s brother.

Sejong (世宗) – Mishil’s husband.

Seolwon (薛原) – Mishil’s lover.

Wolya (月夜) – The son of Greater Gaya’s Crown Prince Wolkwang.

Seolji (雪地) – A migrant from the fallen Gaya state.

Chilsuk (柒宿) – A character in Mishil’s faction.

Seokpum (石品) – A hwarang with royal blood.

Jukbang (竹方) – A refugee from Gaya.

Kodo (高島) – A character who serves Jukbang like a brother.

Bojong (寶宗) – Mishil’s son with Seolwon.

Hajung (夏宗) – Mishil’s son with Sejong.

Seungman (勝曼) – Silla’s 28th ruler, also known as Queen Jindeok.

Kim Munhui (金文姬) – Kim Chunchu’s wife and Kim Yushin’s younger sister.

Sohua (昭火) – Deokman’s foster mother.

Seori (誓理) – Mishil’s ally and head of a shrine. This is the character whose description I’m least certain of.

Yeomjong (廉宗) – Bidam’s closest advisor among the hwarang.

King Wija (義慈王) – Baekjae’s king during Queen Seondeok’s reign in Silla.

Yeongaesomun (淵蓋蘇文) – Koguryo’s general and government official.

One such historical reference that comes up here that you won’t find in any Korean-English dictionary is 화랑 (hwarang), which is the special military corps of young men during the Silla era that emphasized integrity and artistic cultivation beyond merely fighting. They engaged in writing poetry and other more civilized arts.

The hanja for hwarang, 花郞, it literally means flower gentleman. (I would never translate it as flower boys in US English, though that is a commonly encountered translation, because of the disrespectful way the word boy has historically been used for adult minority men in our country. The word 郞 isn’t a casual word for man or boy anyway but is higher style and can be seen used in words like bridegroom throughout the region.) But you have to be able to read dictionaries that are Korean-Korean, Korean-Japanese, Korean-Chinese or Korean-Spanish to get even the most basic, accurate historical definition of hwarang.  According to historical texts, the hwarang was originally all female, but jealousy and murder among the female leadership caused them to be banned in favor of an all male corps. However, here we have the main villain of the story, Mishil, who is a woman still formally connected to the hwarang.

The story is set in the time of the Three Kingdoms, with some references to the proto-Three Kingdoms states, and focuses on the royal court of the Silla, which puts it roughly in the first thousand years of the common era. Here is a decent map of the region during that era with the incorporation of the Gaya state in it.


Map by Ashraf Kamel, courtesy of the Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited

https://www.ancient.eu/img/r/p/750×750/5790.jpg?v=1509309436

I’m going to just look at the first chapter this time, which is split into four parts. This chapter mostly introduces the characters of King Jinheung, the 24th king of Silla who reigned from 540 to 576 AD, and Mishil. It also mentions two other Silla kings, Beopheung his predecessor, and Jinji, his successor who only ruled three years, as well as Baekjae and Koguryeo rulers, too.

The chapter starts off describing the cold wind, the early frost after the harvest, and the Buddhist temple where prayers were going up for King Jinheung to be cured of an illness. It gets very detailed about the Buddhist service’s wooden bells and overnight prayer sessions.

Mishil is introduced next with a very detailed physical description since she is considered so strikingly beautiful, and she is presented in the context of the hwarang.  It also talks some about her intense love affair with her husband Sejong, whom she fell in love with at first sight, and their son together. Sejong was King Beopheung’s grandson through an illicit affair, therefore a relative of King Jinheung and a member of the true bone class rank in society, which was the extended royal family’s class rank as opposed to the king’s closest family’s rank. That’s the best I can tease out the rather complicated relationship described here. Mishil and another character introduced here named Myodo are both one rank below Sejong’s, which would make it sixth rank.

Mishil spends most of the chapter talking with King Jinheung, the Empress and the Crown Prince Dongryun.  In the final section, Mishil goes to King Jinheung’s bedchamber late at night with medicine, but when she knocks on his door and announces herself, he doesn’t answer.  She enters and puts her hand under his nose but doesn’t feel him breathing. She touches his body with a trembling hand. He is as cold as ice. All of the information in the chapter is just preliminary, years before the title character is born, so I’m not going to spend too much time on the minor characters that come up here. But the chapter ends on the dramatic note of the king’s death.

Two long footnotes in the chapter, which feature a lot of mixed text, too, describe the background of Silla Founder Pak Hyeokgeose and Silla Kyeongju Kim Clan founder Kim Alji. There are actually quite a lot more short footnotes in this chapter, considerably more than you usually see in a fictional piece, but those two were the most in-depth.

Part one of a three part series.

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