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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The Servant Who Once Painted Buddhist Images – Land, Vol.1, Part 3

This year’s literati corner book is the first story arc of Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》), and this is the last post for my winter installment. We’ll pick up with volume 2 in the summer.

The story shifts in chapter 6, “A Seoul Yangban,” back to the Choi Champan estate where Wife Yoon greets a guest from Seoul. Cho Jungu, a relative of the Chois who has fallen onto hard times from his former yangban status, last came to the estate 6 years ago before Seohui was born. Before he retires to the men’s quarters, they talk about how long it has been. Cho Jungu has had his topknot cut off, and now his hairstyle is unbecomingly short.  His clothes are like the Japanese, and he wears a western-style hat and shoes that are all the rage in Seoul.

Choi Chisu wonders why his distant relative has come to stay with him. He is not happy to see him, but he does acknowledge the 1894 Kabo reforms that freed the slaves had a directive for them to cut their topknots. It is also mentioned here that the Donghak army also wants to kill yangban. Later in the chapter, Choi Chisu goes for a stroll with Cho Jungu.

In the next chapter, “The Shaman’s Daughter,” Wolseon rides on a ferry across the river on a cold, moonless night, thinking of her late mother and wondering why she came back to the village. She ponders whether her mother would think she is crazy because she is going to Yong’s house and acknowledges that she really wants to see Yong. She regrets that she was born the daughter of a shaman.

After she gets off the ferry, she finds Yong’s house.  In the lamplight, she sees Yong sitting on the floor smoking a cigarette. He looks up, calling out “Who’s there?” a few times. When he sees her, she explains she was just passing through and came to visit. She says she has to take the ferry back in the morning and lights more candles. They talk a bit, then he tells her to go to sleep, which she feigns. After midnight, Yong sits for a long time listening to the sound of Wolseon’s breathing.

The next morning at daybreak before the sun is up, Wolseon travels along the village road.  Running into someone in the dark, she screams – it is Imineo, who wonders why Wolseon is there at that time since she doesn’t live in the area. She thinks it is strange and improper. This chapter I think was particularly well-paced and had a nice overall effect.

Chapter 8, “Hoodlums and Witches,” starts the storyline of Kim Pyeongsan, who is out walking along the village road the next morning. After some banter with village woman Makttalneo, the chapter introduces his family, moves on to a scene with Kim Pyeongsan and Guinyeo at a tavern, which gets back into the story about Choi Chisu and his runaway wife. An interesting detail here is that Guinyeo tells him that she has a set of two gold rings and the genitals of a fox which have properties that allow a woman to bewitch a man she likes. Kim Pyeongsan guesses that she wants to bewitch Choi Chisu and maybe have a child with him!

Land v.1 p.68

Guinyeo and Pyeongsan, Interior Painting p. 68

The next chapter returns to Cho Jungu at the Choi Champan estate. A month has passed, and Cho Jungu has returned from a trip to Pusan. When Choi Chisu feels well enough, Cho Jungu plays baduk with him or they go to the archery ground to shoot bows. Later in the chapter, Cho Jungu is out in bad weather and decides he should to visit Kim Hunjang, who has just celebrated his 60th birthday. When he reaches Kim Hunjang’s manor, he calls out until Kim Hunjang appears at the door, asking what he wants. Cho says he wants to just shoot the breeze with him. He goes in, and they drink together, talking a little about regional politics.

In “Surprise Attack,” Kang Cheongtaek discovers Wolseon came to see Yong and is very angry about it. Yong is sitting in the yard smoking when the chapter begins but disappears as his wife takes over center stage, and Kang Cheongtaek gets into a conversation with village women Tumanneo, Makttalneo and Imineo when Chilseong stops by.

They admonish Kang Cheongtaek to not be jealous, but the women launch into a discussion of lovesickness and its cures, such as having a shaman use her gong and perform an exorcism to diminish its hold. At the mention of Wolseonneo, Kang Cheongtaek goes on another tirade against the “shamen bitches.” The women suggest she go to Wolseon’s house and see if she is there. She travels the 30 li road to the tavern and yells for someone to come out. When Wolseon answers, she tries to calm Kang Cheongtaek and reassure her that Yong isn’t there with her. Kang Cheongtaek expects peers into the house and doesn’t seem him there as she expected and just calls Wolseon more nasty names.

The next chapter begins with the women talking together again but gradually shifts to focus on Chilseon and Kim Pyeongsan. The men chat then go to a gambling den, staying out all night. At daybreak, they go to Wolseon’s tavern to sleep until noon.

The chapter “Seohui and Gilsang” takes an enchanting turn as it introduces the character Gilsang, who is an eager artist, carving some unspecified substance with his pocket knife and rubbing it smooth. Gilsang used to work in the Buddhist temple Yeonguksa painting Buddhist images. The novel mentions a couple of monks in this context, one of which is Monk Wugwan. Ultimately, Gilsang was sent to the Choi Champan estate to serve Choi Chisu, and he taught the slave Kucheon to write.

Now, Gilsang has made a mask, and when the paint dries, he takes it to the kitchen to show Bongsunneo. She is very moved by the mask and tells him where to find Bongsun, whom he goes to see at the detached house. Bongsun is sitting with Seohui in the yard by the lotus pond, watching a water strider and ant moving around there. The bugs become their main topic of conversation.

The second part of this volume is a bit shorter than part 1 and is titled, “Pursuit and Conspiracy.” In the first chapter, “Missing Woman,” Wife Yoon sends Gilsang to see Yong, and Bongsun tags along. The kids have heard stories that Guinyeo has run off to the mountains at night like Kucheon, perhaps possessed by a ghost, thought they wonder if her trip there could have a more mundane reason, such as going to the mountains to bathe.

When they arrive at Yong’s, Kang Cheongtaek launches into another round of abuse toward Wolseon as she grinds barley. She tells them Yong is in the rice paddy, so they wait until he returns after lunch to relay the request from Bongsunneo that he pick up two bolts of Wolseon’s ramie cloth on market day, which is two days way. When market day arrives, however, he finds the door doesn’t open and Wolseon isn’t there. He asks an old woman passing by her whereabouts and is on the verge of tears.

The next chapter shows a conversation between Wife Yoon and Choi Chisu along with a flashback to shaman Wolseonneo dancing crazily to a drum and gong during an exorcism. I’m not sure when this took place, only that this section uses only Chisu’s first name and it talks about how gloomy and solitary his childhood was, but Wolseonneo tells Wife Yoon to go to the temple because she can’t get rid of the ghosts attached to her.

Wife Yoon rides in a palanquin to the temple, but something dramatic is happening there with gunfire in the mountains and crowds of the Tonghak there five years earlier. When Wife Yoon is at the temple, she meets Kim Kaeju, though again I’m not certain of the timeline, but it seems like she already had their child together after he raped her at the time of this flashback.

In the present, Samwol comes in while Wife Yoon and Choi Chisu are talking together to bring Wife Yoon a letter that has arrived. It is from Monk Wugwan, who is inquiring about Kucheon.

After Yong has been back home for a few days after market day when he discovered Wolseon’s disappearance, word spreads about it among the women. The story then turns back to Kim Pyeongsan talking with Cho Jungu about the yangban. Later, Pyeongsan goes out and stays in an embankment near a water mill until the early evening when he meets Cho again. Cho hangs around to see why Pyeongsan is there and eventually notices a woman disappear into the mill. By the end of this chapter, they talk about parents and children and how a man who doesn’t have children with his wife thinks of finding another woman to take as a concubine to have a child with.

In the next chapter, “A Yangban’s Violence,” Imineo and Chilseong go to Hamantaek’s threshing ground. While the village women are there talking, Pyeongsan shows up, insults fly, then they get into a fisticuffs. Pyeongsan hits Makttalneo, whose nose starts to bleed. The others watching the fight says it’s the usual yangban misbehavior and discuss expelling Pyeongsang from the village.

Meanwhile, Kang Cheongtaek is in her kitchen chopping garlic to make kimchi. She spends some time reflecting on her rivalry with Wolseon for Yong’s affections.

The plot twist in chapter 6, “A Gold Rainbow,” came as a surprise. After Pyeongsan’s expulsion from the village, he sneaks around gambling dens and drinks, but then he meets Guinyeo again at the water mill. He asks her if she is still after Choi Chisu, and they discuss how if she has Choi Chisu’s baby, that alone will improve her social status. They decide to meet Chilseong that night, and maybe I missed them talk about the reason, but it turns out to not be what I would have expected.

When Chilseong arrives at the mill, Guinyeo is already there, but they don’t say anything until Pyeongsan gets there.  When they go into the place, they put candles before the three gods of childbirth, and Guinyeo makes her request there before the Buddha then conducts a ceremonial bath before she is united with Chilseong. It seems to imply some sort of wedding ceremony between them, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding that. They meet there regularly to try to have a child together, and Pyeongsan keeps their secret.

In the next to the last chapter, Imineo and Hamantaek come to Bongsunneo’s room at the estate to help her sew clothes for Chuseok, which indicates a year has passed since the opening chapter. Later, Bongsun joins them.

The final chapter is a little long. Choi Chisu goes hunting with Kang Posu. A lot of the chapter has Choi Chisu thinking about the incident with Byeoldangasshi running off with Kucheon and his mother’s stay at the temple back at the time she met Kim Kaeju. Days pass and he hears rumors before meeting up with Monk Wugwan. The men chat at the Buddhist temple, where Chisu says he’s looking for someone. A boy brings tea in for them, and they talk a little about Gilsang’s parentage, but Wugwan is evasive, saying he is the child of heaven and earth. Chisu stays at the temple a few nights and finally has a brief encounter with Kucheon before he goes to find Wugwan to say goodbye. The last lines of the volume describes the main hall of the Buddhist temple with the sounds of a wooden bell and chanting of sutras.

Part three of a nine part series.

Next time: we turn to the Hugo Award-winning Chinese sci-fi novel by Cixin Liu, Remembrance of Earth: Three Body Problem, with an intermission series featuring Gonma’s Joseon Zombie Annals.

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A Henpecked Husband Meets An Old Flame On Market Day – Land, Vol.1, Part 2

Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》) kicks off in volume 1 with part 1, which is titled “Footsteps in Darkness.” The first chapter begins with a description of Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving, which is on Hangawi, or August 15, in 1897. Children wearing new clothes are roaming the village streets eating half-moon shaped rice cakes. The adults are observing ancestor rites, visiting graves and sharing food with their neighbors. A gong rings as an exorcism is performed, and everyone eats their fill of rice. The peasants have a day where they can forget toilsome farming and enjoy the exorcism and eat, while the children don’t have to endure scoldings. Still, the festivities also stir up people’s sad memories of years of famine and epidemics, and they can’t forget their destitution.

The next scene introduces the wealthy Choi Champan estate shining luxuriously in the sunshine. Two little girls, Bongsun and Seohui, are running around playing tag. Seohui runs behind a male servant’s leg, a man named Kucheon, and the girls are sent to the men’s quarters to greet Seohui’s father, Choi Chisu, the head of the household. Choi Chisu is chronically ill with a cough and has a rather gloomy expression and voice, which always frightens Seohui. He tells her to eat well so she won’t get a cold, then waves for them to leave as he succumbs to a severe coughing attack. Seohui obeys, feeling queasy and bursting into tears.

In the next scene, a female slave named Guinyeo stands at sunset before the men’s quarters. Although the country has already outlawed the slave system, there are still many male and female slaves at the Choi Champan estate. When no one answers Guinyeo from the pavilion, she enters to light the oil lamp and check on Choi Chisu, who glares at her. He asks her to spread out his bedding near the fireplace, and when he doesn’t answer any of her questions, she goes to her own room and looks at herself in the mirror.

The scene shifts back to Kucheon, who is roaming the mountains at night. The women in the village are all in love with him because he has a beautiful face, trim body, and a pure, childlike smile. He also knows how to read and write, secretly taught by Choi Chisu’s errand boy Gilsang, though he is a farmhand, but he can come and go as he pleases. On this night, he is wandering through the pine trees deep in the mountains.  He jumps over a brook and listens to the horned owl hooting. Standing on a large rock in tears, he looks at the moon and cries out. As his weeping dies out, he dashes into the mountains.

Land v.1 p.18

Illustration of Kucheon in Volume 1 of Land

A big scandal breaks in the next chapter, titled “A Mystery.” The Choi Champan estate has fallen under a blanket of silence because Choi Chisu’s wife Byeoldangasshi has run off with the farmhand Kucheon. Their relationship had been discovered and the couple jailed, but someone secretly left the doors open so they could escape. The incident isn’t even investigated; the servants in the household feel conflicted over the matter since they sympathize to some degree, but when a married woman with a child runs off with another man it is still an unforgivable matter, especially since she left her yangban nobleman husband for a servant. They all think Kucheon is a good man, and Byeoldangasshi is known to be a kind and beautiful woman. So everyone in the household but her daughter Seohui is silent.

Seohui is devastated that her mother has abandoned her, and she cries and faints in confused rebellion day and night. She even pleads with her absent mother to take her with them. Bongsunneo, Choi Chisu’s seamstress, pities Seohui and tries to comfort her, wiping her tears and discussing where her mother went. Seohui asks why she couldn’t go with her, and Bongsunneo explains that her mother went to Seoul, which is very far away, and that they have to cross the mountains where there are tigers and therefore had to go on foot rather than by palanquin.

Apart from this, only Guinyeo reacted differently, which irritates Bongsunneo. Bongsunneo’s daughter Bongsun asks her what Guinyeo is saying, and Bongsunneo doesn’t know how to answer her. Bongsun is only seven years old, and Seohui is five. At a pub, Bongsunneo confronts Guinyeo about her attitude, but Bongsunneo pauses to observe that her daughter Bongsun has a pretty voice that the servants like listening to, so she worries that her daughter could become a singing kisaeng, a very low class profession. Bongsunneo’s questions to Guinyeo leaves Guinyeo unimpressed with her anger, and Bongsunneo ends up flustered and stammering while Guinyeo remains cool and logical. Someone tells them to stop fighting and reminds them they all live under the same roof.

Bongsun goes outside, throws a stone in the lotus pond, and hums then sings a sad song about losing a mother, which makes Seohui cry. Another servant Samwol comes out and carries Seohui around on her back, telling Bongsun to stop singing such sad songs. When Guinyeo comes out, Seohui spits on her, and the group all has a good laugh.

The next chapter, “Market Day,” shifts to the storyline between Kang Cheongtaek and Lee Yong. Yong’s thatched house is glowing golden in the winter morning while he is distributing cattle feed in the stable and his wife Kang Cheongtaek is out in the yard sweeping furiously while complaining and sharply rebuking Yong. Yong tunes her out as he finishes his chores. She tells him not to go to the market and complains that Imineo is getting fat because she has too many kids. She also complains about how husbands are lazy.

Chilseong, Imineo’s husband, is sitting on the porch. Yong changes clothes and comes back out to leave with Chilseong, carrying a bag with two chickens in it. Kang Cheongtaek yells after them as they go, and they discuss how she is such a severe and jealous woman as they hurriedly head for the marketplace on foot. Their discussion on the way ranges from the Choi Champan estate’s land and the incident with Choi Chisu’s wife running off with a servant to Seoul.

They take the ferry across the river to the opposite side, arriving at the marketplace and ending up at a tavern, where they are greeted by the barmaid Wolseon. They discuss both Wolseon’s mother, who was a shaman, and the Choi Champan estate, particularly how Bongsunneo is doing.

The next chapter, “Village Women,” continues with this storyline by returning to Kang Cheongtaek. While Chilseong and Yong are drinking at the tavern, Kang Cheongtaek is waiting at home that evening out in the yard, gazing at the river. She calls Wolseon a wench and thinks Yong is probably glued to the bar she runs. She pities herself as someone who has it bad. The text notes again that she is a jealous woman who thinks all of the women have their eye on her handsome husband. She calls Wolseon more slurs.

She has already figured out that when Yong goes out on market day, he is with Wolseon. She knows he has been dropping by her tavern for a while now, therefore Kang Cheongtaek hates market days. Yong and Wolseon loved each other years ago but couldn’t be together because Wolseon is a shaman, a disdained profession similar to the low-class butchers. Yong and Wolseon couldn’t marry in spite of their deep love for one another because Yong’s mother was opposed, and she arranged for him to marry Kang Cheongtaek instead. Therefore, Wolseon left the village, but she returned the autumn before and set up a tavern on a three-forked road. Kang Cheongtaek continues her lament about the situation.

She knows she isn’t beautiful like Chilseong’s wife Imineo, and she thinks Yong’s interest in another woman is why she and Yong have no children. Complaining to the other women in the village about it, Kang Cheontaek continues to call her rival ugly names. However, Kang Cheongtaek, only 28, notices Imineo, who is three years older, is healthy and beautiful and barely looks pregnant at all with her white skin and glossy hair even in the middle of winter. The conversation eventually shifts to Byeoldangasshi. They ultimately are interrupted by Imineo’s child announcing Chilseong has returned.

In the last chapter I’ll be looking at for this post, chapter 5, “The Mask Dance,” Yong wears his traditional Korean overcoat, and Kang Cheongtaek shoots him a dirty look before they discuss going to watch a mask dance.

Here is a video of the sort of dance this chapter references, the ogwangdae:

It still is an unpleasant scene between the two of them, but it’s interrupted by the calls of a little girl and boy. Bongsun and Gilsang arrive, then Imineo, all asking if they are going to town to watch this dance. Once they arrive at the dance, Yong’s and Wolseon’s eyes meet, and they are drawn together like magnets. The text goes into an extended description of the dancers’ colorful masks and clothing as the performance starts. At the chapter’s end, Yong pulls Wolseon into a room, turns off the lights, and the two of them embrace in tears.

Part two of a nine part series.

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Free Noir E-Book Kumori and the Lucky Cat – Five Days Only!

In honor of the IPPY Award nomination of my wild, experimental noir novel Kumori and the Lucky Cat, the e-book version will be available for a free download on Amazon between January 30th through Feburary 3rd. Here is the link:

This is the first time I’ve ever offered the e-book on this one for free, and I definitely play with the stereotypes and tropes of noir as well as dystopian fiction by throwing in a magical talking statue and channeling the popular Japanese anime trope of the magical girl by using it with an adult female character. I hope the result is as fun to read as it was to write. So check out this limited time offer.


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The Cast of Main Characters Takes the Stage For An Epic Korean Novel – Land, Vol.1, Part 1


This year’s literati corner book is Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》). The novel covers three generations of a family going through the modernization of Korea, and it was originally serialized in a literary magazine starting in 1969 and continued for 25 years.

The version I decided to use is the 12 volume, partially-illustrated edition for teens in easier Korean, but it will take four years to cover. The original Korean version runs to 20 volumes in the edition carried by the distributor I bought the youth version from. There is also a manga version in the works, but they have only prepared the first story arc. All of these sets are very expensive and hard to come by. You can buy the set I will be using here:


I will be covering part 1, which consists of volumes 1 through 3, in 2018. I did a profile of Kyeongni Park on my affiliate blog a few years ago, which I’ll post again here:


These books have a very nice set of 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. I will be preparing a study guide at the end of each story arc/year that we finish, rather than at the beginning, since it is such a complex book. Here is the cover art:

Land Vol 1 Cover

Land Cover Volume 1

For this post, I will work more extensively with the character list before we delve into the story. It’s a rather long list, but for an epic novel like this, a huge cast of characters is to be expected. I’m uncertain of how some of the names should be translated since they may not be personal names or they may refer to lower class characters, so those may take some time to sort out as we read and their titles and the naming conventions become clearer, so please bear with me. I’ve decided to leave them Korean-style last name first and reorganized the list according to related groups of characters.

Lee Yong – A Pyeongsari commoner.

Kang Cheongtaek – Lee Yong’s violent, unpleasant wife with whom he suffers intense marital discord since he has returned to his first love Wolseon.

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

Wolseonneo – Pyeongsari’s shaman.

Monk Wugwan – A Buddhist monk at Yeonguksa Temple and Kim Kaeju’s older brother.

Kim Kaeju – Monk Wugwan’s younger brother. As a hero of the common people and leader of the anti-Japanese Donghak resistance, his character is based on the historical figure Kim Kaenam.

Let’s pause here and take a look for a moment at the Donghak peasant rebellion.  More details of the rebellion and social changes it brought are laid out here:


This commemorative video also gives you the basic details of that historical event:

Here is an article on Kim Kaenam (Korean only):


Choi Chisu – The nervous and cynical head of Choi Champan’s household.

Choi Seohui – Choi Champan’s only flesh and blood heir through Byeoldangassi and Choi Chisu.

Byeoldangassi – Choi Chisu’s wife and Seohui’s real mother.

Wife Yoon – Choi Chisu’s mother. When she went to pray for the soul of her dead husband at Yeonguksa Temple, she was raped by Kim Kaeju, and the subsequent birth of their son Kim Hwan is a deeply buried family secret.

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

Lee Dongjin– Choi Chisu’s friend and Lee Sanghyeon’s father.

Kang Posu – Jirisan’s famous hunter. He accompanies Choi Chisu trekking through the mountains and falls in love with Gwinyeo, who is staying at Choi Champan’s house.

Guinyeo – A servant girl in the household of Choi Champan. She is full of resentment toward the yangban nobleman class and feels inferior because of her low social status.

Kim Gilsang – An orphan brought up in Choi Champan’s household. He later becomes their errand boy.

Park Sudong – Choi Champan’s honest and profoundly thoughtful manservant.

Bongsunneo – Choi Champan’s seamstress, mother of Bongsun. After her husband participated in the rebellion and had been driven out of the house, she settled in Choi Champan’s household.

Bongsun – Bongsunneo’s daughter who is good friends with Seohui.

Kim Yipyeong – A farmer in Pyeongsari.

Tumanneo –Kim Yipyeong’s wife.

Kim Pyeongsan – A military class, impoverished yangban without the nobility’s education or money.

Hamantaek – Kim Pyeongsan’s wife.

Kim Keobok – Kim Pyeongsan’s oldest son.

Kim Hanbok – Kim Pyeongsan’s second son.

Kim Hunjang – Pyeongsari’s all-around man in charge and Seohui’s teacher.

Chilseong – A farmer in Pyeongsari and Iminyeo’s husband.

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

Cho Byeongsu – Cho Jungu’s son.

Cho Jungu – An impoverished yangban who is a distant relative of Choi Chisu.

Here are some photos of Yeonguksa Temple since it appears to be a major setting for this story:


This site appears to have actual photos of the TV series set for Land, which shows Pyongsari and the home of Choi Champan:


This is plenty to cover as an introduction to the series. Next time we will delve into the actual story and find out what has made this such an important novel for Koreans.

Part one of a nine part series.



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