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Author Topic: EP394: Good Hunting  (Read 1804 times)
eytanz
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« on: May 02, 2013, 09:24:27 AM »

EP394: Good Hunting

By Ken Liu

Read by John Chu

--

Night. Half moon. An occasional hoot from an owl. The merchant and his wife and all the servants had been sent away. The large house was eerily quiet. Father and I crouched behind the scholar’s rock in the courtyard. Through the rock’s many holes I could see the bedroom window of the merchant’s son. “Oh, Tsiao-jung, my sweet Tsiao-jung…” The young man’s feverish groans were pitiful. Half-delirious, he was tied to his bed for his own good, but Father had left a window open so that his plaintive cries could be carried by the breeze far over the rice paddies. “Do you think she really will come?” I whispered. Today was my thirteenth birthday, and this was my first hunt.

“She will,” Father said. “A _hulijing_ cannot resist the cries of the man she has bewitched.”

“Like how the Butterfly Lovers cannot resist each other?” I thought back to the folk opera troupe that had come through our village last fall.

“Not quite,” Father said. But he seemed to have trouble explaining why. “Just know that it’s not the same.”

I nodded, not sure I understood. But I remembered how the merchant and his wife had come to Father to ask for his help.

_”How shameful!” The merchant had muttered. “He’s not even nineteen. How could he have read so many sages’ books and still fall under the spell of such a creature?”_

_”There’s no shame in being entranced by the beauty and wiles of a _hulijing_,” Father had said. “Even the great scholar Wong Lai once spent three nights in the company of one, and he took first place at the Imperial Examinations. Your son just needs a little help.”_

_”You must save him,” the merchant’s wife had said, bowing like a chicken pecking at rice. “If this gets out, the matchmakers won’t touch him at all.”_

A _hulijing_ was a demon who stole hearts. I shuddered, worried if I would have the courage to face one.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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jenfullmoon
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« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2013, 05:52:19 PM »

Wow, really cool, intriguing story. Really interesting take on "the magic goes away due to technology" and how to ah, fix that situation.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2013, 06:54:04 PM »

Y'know what people are gonna complain about, right? Wink

(from his exit, Norm clearly does)

I liked the way this piece dove down some unexpected (by me, at any rate) alleys. I felt the whole "rational Westerners drain China of its qi" aspect to be a tad worn, but what I did not expect was the direction the world takes from there and the transformation of the narrator.

I'm beginning to think that transformation is a major theme of Ken Liu's work. It's certainly a major theme of this story, as everyone and everything seems to be in a state of transformation, from the mother and daughter hulijing to the narrator to China itself. The daughter of course is the one who undergoes the most transformations, but our narrator is also a completely different person by the end as well, and he welcomes the coming changes in his final speech.
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Windup
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« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2013, 09:10:53 PM »


Y'know what people are gonna complain about, right? Wink

(from his exit, Norm clearly does)


Oh, yeah.  But I agree completely with Norm's implied point -- the best stories completely defy categorization.  I think we have to remember that categorization of stories or anything else is just a tool used for a particular purpose.  If the purpose changes or the tool stops working, get a different tool.

With that out of the way, I loved this story, and I absolutely did not see where it was going at any point -- Liu went further and faster and better through the development of his history and his characters than I would have believed possible.  The story struck me as much like his Hong Kong -- while nothing much seems to be going on, transformational change is accumulating and suddenly becomes obvious. Wow.

I'm also curious: Was anyone besides me reminded of Ray Bradbury?  Liu's handling of the intersection of magic and technology, the juxtaposition of a sentimental past with a technology-driven future, and his detailed description of the feel of a technology while avoiding most of its actual details all struck me as very similar to what Bradbury was up to in The Martian Chronicles.
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LadiesAndGentleman
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« Reply #4 on: May 02, 2013, 10:03:05 PM »

This absolutely did it for me.  The synthesis of magic, the introduction of alternate history science, and then a steam engine chrome fox?  This shouldn't have worked but it's Ken Liu so of course it did.

Liu went further and faster and better through the development of his history and his characters than I would have believed possible.  The story struck me as much like his Hong Kong -- while nothing much seems to be going on, transformational change is accumulating and suddenly becomes obvious. Wow.

Couldn't have said it better.  Liu is a master at taking a concept in an unexpected direction, specifically as it pertains to themes of colonialism, change, and hope for the future.

My big complaint is that while his storytelling is fantastic, Ken Liu's characters sometimes come off as cold to me, like in The Paper Menagerie and The Perfect Match, and now here.  The main character cuts down his suicide father...and just moves on.  Sure, he's in shock, but there doesn't seem to be a real moment of anguish.  Similarly, though Yan's acceptance of her robotic legs is logical, her transformation is missing grief.  Someone initially chose machine legs for her.  Splinters of the feelings are there, but glimmering hints can't save these otherwise wonderful characters from being sterile. 

This makes me sad because I absolutely love everything else about this well-woven tale.
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flintknapper
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« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2013, 10:06:58 AM »

I am bias. I think Ken Liu is perhaps one of the best writers of science fiction/fantasy today. His use of Chinese culture in his narratives pulls the reader into a setting and/or perspective that is under represented in the Sci Fi genre. While I am a hick from the American Southwest, his stories keep my interest. Not only are these stories a great escape, but I feel like I am learning about Chinese folklore. The guy is an inspiration to others who wish to write about their own culture. While Good Hunting is perhaps not my favorite Liu story, it was an excellent choice for escapepod.

The narration was also a perfect fit for the story. I would suggest Cho continue to be a go to for readings,  especially those which involve an Asiatic perspective.

As for whether this one was sci-fi or fantasy, I agree with Norm that it doesnt matter. However, if one was to push the issue, I think it depends where you place steampunk. Is steampunk fantasy or sci-fi? To me it is sci-fi, so I thought escapepod was a good fit.
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matweller
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« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2013, 11:09:46 AM »

My big complaint is that while his storytelling is fantastic, Ken Liu's characters sometimes come off as cold to me, like in The Paper Menagerie and The Perfect Match, and now here.  The main character cuts down his suicide father...and just moves on.  Sure, he's in shock, but there doesn't seem to be a real moment of anguish.  Similarly, though Yan's acceptance of her robotic legs is logical, her transformation is missing grief.  Someone initially chose machine legs for her.  Splinters of the feelings are there, but glimmering hints can't save these otherwise wonderful characters from being sterile.
My exposure to China centered fiction is pretty much limited to Clavell and the occasional movie, but that vibe you mention has been a common thing in all my exposures. It seems that characters are very stoic and that the tone is set in the overall story more than in any fluctuations shown by the characters. There tend not to be radical shifts as often. Themes shift some or multiple themes join and move together, but the overall tone tends to get set and carried throughout. It would seem that Chinese fiction values a character that sets practicality over emotion and clearly separates public and private faces. Western cultures used to value that more as well. I sometimes think it's a shame we still don't. Point is, I don't find that a let-down at all. I very much expect it and reserve a special place in my reader's heart for it
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LadiesAndGentleman
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« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2013, 12:33:05 PM »

It would seem that Chinese fiction values a character that sets practicality over emotion and clearly separates public and private faces. Western cultures used to value that more as well. I sometimes think it's a shame we still don't. Point is, I don't find that a let-down at all. I very much expect it and reserve a special place in my reader's heart for it

Hmm.  I can certainly say that's an interesting theory.  I wish my knowledge of East Asian fiction, or at least fiction by authors of East Asian descent, were more broad.  I'll be working to fix that soon.

Otherwise, I can neither confirm nor argue this point.  Does anyone who might be more knowledgeable have an opinion?
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2013, 09:55:16 PM »

Chinese fictional literature has a long, rich, and varied history. There's a famous episode in the late 1700s (I think) where a friend asked Goethe what he was reading; it was a Chinese novel. His friend said it must be strange, Goethe replied no, it's very much like a European novel and they've had them for far longer, which is quite correct.

From the fantasy of "Journey to the West" (which is deeply Buddhist, and is a very fictionalized account of an actual journey to India by a monk), to the super-heroics of "Men of the Marshes" (aka The Water Margin, aka All Men are Brothers) and the heroes - and villains - of "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" (a "historical novel" set in the breakdown of the Han dynasty written many centuries later) to the more "literary" and "naturalistic" dramas of The Scholars and especially "Dream of the Red Chamber" , the overall structure of storytelling would be very familiar to Westerners, and if they had problems, it would probably be in not understand some of the traditions and cultural events going on. Otherwise people fight battles against evil, or scheme, or fall in love, just like in Western literature.

Following the May 4th Movement of 1919, there was a whole new series of Chinese authors who wrote mostly naturalistic fiction, somewhat (though not totally) influenced by Western literature, such as "Midnight" by Mao Dun, the stories of Lu Xun, and "Rickshaw" by Lao She, who also wrote a strange little piece of Science Fiction called "Cat Country" about a society of humanoid cats on Mars (it's really a satire of China). A lot of the May 4th stuff tends to be moral-heavy.

I'm not sure (perhaps he'll tell us) but I think Liu is drawing on Chinese ghost stories, such as those collected in the translation "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio" and graphed it on to a steampunk story. That's not meant as a slight, however.

(here endth the lesson)
« Last Edit: May 03, 2013, 10:03:55 PM by InfiniteMonkey » Logged
Just Jeff
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« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2013, 03:13:23 PM »

I like where it started and where it went, but at times thought a little shorter story might have been better.
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JDoug
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« Reply #10 on: May 06, 2013, 05:49:31 PM »

The paper menagerie was the first escape pod story I ever listened to. This story was just as beautiful and reminded me that I really need to seek out more of Ken Liu's work. 
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #11 on: May 06, 2013, 09:50:40 PM »

I like where it started and where it went, but at times thought a little shorter story might have been better.

This is what I found myself thinking throughout the story. That it was interesting, and had a great start, but seemed to be meandering. Especially once we got into Liang's work on the steam engines. I kept thinking, why did we have such a long intro only to end up in a steam-punk-esque story. Then it all tied together and I suddenly saw why it started where it did, why each segment of the story was vital to the overall crafting so that we could not only easily, but happily, accept his complete clockwork recreation of Yan. As Windup said, nothing seems to be going on, then suddenly we realize that it's been building the whole time to this exact moment and it's beautiful.

I must admit, Cho's reading bugged me a bit at first. I like his natural voice for oriental characters, but at the same time his reading tends to be a bit stilted. However, once I get into the flow of the story, the voice ceases to bother me, so that's a good thing.

And I'm with Flint. Steam-punk is science fiction, therefore, this story fits comfortably right where it is. 
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TheArchivist
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« Reply #12 on: May 07, 2013, 05:41:26 AM »

This is what I found myself thinking throughout the story. That it was interesting, and had a great start, but seemed to be meandering.
I struggled with that too. I started out thinking it was a well-crafted, if a little slow, fantasy tale. Then it became a story of how techonolgy killed the qi. Then, not comfortable being that either, it drifted into steampunk. But steampunk lost its charm and the story brought magic back in (because, let's face it, that uber-Transformer body is simply not believable as steampunk-technical) before being willing to admitting it.

Perhaps if it had done one thing only it would have done it brilliantly. Perhaps if it had embraced cross-over from the start I'd have liked that, too. But as it was I felt the story didn't know what it wanted to be.

I must admit, Cho's reading bugged me a bit at first. I like his natural voice for oriental characters, but at the same time his reading tends to be a bit stilted.
It wasn't just the stilted that bothered me. When he was doing the female voice his voice got unremittingly strident, which entirely didn't fit with most of Yan's actual words. I realise it's hard to get that right, but Cho seemed... less good at it than some of EP's readers.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #13 on: May 07, 2013, 07:44:37 AM »

My big complaint is that while his storytelling is fantastic, Ken Liu's characters sometimes come off as cold to me, like in The Paper Menagerie and The Perfect Match, and now here.  The main character cuts down his suicide father...and just moves on.  Sure, he's in shock, but there doesn't seem to be a real moment of anguish.
They're demon hunters. At any point in time they could come to a gruesome death, or a fate worse than death. Dying peacefully of one's own volition in a place one lived and loved... that's a rare blessing for people like Liang and his father.

Similarly, though Yan's acceptance of her robotic legs is logical, her transformation is missing grief.  Someone initially chose machine legs for her.  Splinters of the feelings are there, but glimmering hints can't save these otherwise wonderful characters from being sterile. 
I, at first, had similar thoughts, but then remembered that she's a demon. She doesn't have the same connection to her body that we, mere mortals, have. She keeps calling the fox her true form, the human one was just a temp, borrowed, a replacement for the fox stolen from her. So when she starts to lose the human flesh... there really shouldn't be any sense of loss. It's like you lose a watch. Sure you needed it, sure you liked it, sure it had been yours for ten years. But with a smartphone, who needs a watch?
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #14 on: May 07, 2013, 07:50:14 AM »

I really liked this story. I was totally absorbed throughout, and every plot turn was unexpected and thrilling.
Also I loved how it all made so much internal sense. Long time readers of the forums know that internal consistency is a must-have for me, and in this case it was beautifully done. Nothing stood out as being wrong or not belonging. More than that, as Cutter McKay said, it all pulled together very nicely.

As for the narration... I get the feeling that with a little practice and a better mike John Chu would be perfect for stories like this. But I couldn't handle it, I ended up reading the story instead of listening to it. Maybe it's because I listen on commutes and couldn't devote 100% of my attention to filtering out background noises and getting past the stilted reading style. Maybe if I had listened in the comfort of my home with a good headset I'd feel differently.
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psyque
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« Reply #15 on: May 07, 2013, 10:43:33 AM »

My big complaint is that while his storytelling is fantastic, Ken Liu's characters sometimes come off as cold to me, like in The Paper Menagerie and The Perfect Match, and now here.  The main character cuts down his suicide father...and just moves on.  Sure, he's in shock, but there doesn't seem to be a real moment of anguish.
They're demon hunters. At any point in time they could come to a gruesome death, or a fate worse than death. Dying peacefully of one's own volition in a place one lived and loved... that's a rare blessing for people like Liang and his father.
I thought his father didn't just commit suicide, he committed it in a way that was supposed to create a new demon--in effect, the father felt that he could only help his family through death. Was I wrong? The narrator/protagonist didn't seem to dwell much on it.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #16 on: May 08, 2013, 02:25:10 PM »

Wow! I've really enjoyed all of Ken Liu's stories on EP and PC, but for me this one blew them all away! I also think the reader did an excellent job, I hope he stays around.

I saw that this was a Ken Liu story, and a longer one at that, so I settled in to let it take me on a ride. I'm glad it did, because I didn't experience any of the frustration others have mentioned at how the story (seemingly) meandered. The musical interludes to show the passing of time also helped set the mood for me, and were really well done, so thank you to whoever added those in. Smiley

The very first lesson Yan learned was that the world does not always work the way that we think it does. This lesson set the stage for each subsequent shift the world underwent during their lifetime. I'm glad that she was eventually able to return to her true form, but grieve for everything the world lost in the process. Change isn't always equivalent to loss, but in this case I think it was.
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Fenrix
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« Reply #17 on: May 08, 2013, 03:57:04 PM »

Well, someone's got to break up this love-in, so it may as well be me. My biggest complaint about this story was how the racism of every single imperial colonial was so extreme, as if everyone from the Empire thought the Chinese were barely evolved. This was White Street Society levels of racism without any of the humor. What moves this from annoying to deep disappointment is that I know Ken Liu has a lot of skill and has proven he can do subtlety, so the presentation completely lacking in nuance was a turn-off. The racism was tangential to the core of story, and could have added depth with subtlety rather than subtracted with cardboard cut-outs. 

The musical interludes to show the passing of time also helped set the mood for me, and were really well done, so thank you to whoever added those in. Smiley

I wanted to second the appreciation of the section break indicator. Nicely done.
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« Reply #18 on: May 08, 2013, 10:16:28 PM »

I really wanted to dislike this story at first because of the stereotypical depictions of both the British empire and the Chinese, but nope, totally grabbed me and didn't let go. I was listening to this on my drive home from work, and I circled the block a couple times so I could finish it.

There's lovely yin-yang symmetry here. It's not just that technology and magic are in opposition, but that when one dominates, that domination leads to the rebirth of the other.

Buy more Ken Liu now please!

P.S.  I just realized that I recently read a completely unrelated story that involved a Japanese fox spirit/demon, the Kitsune, and wondered if this was parallel cultural evolution or cross-pollination. According to Wikipedia, it's the latter, with Japan inheriting the Huli Jing from their Chinese roots and making it their own. Neat.
« Last Edit: May 08, 2013, 10:27:54 PM by Peevester » Logged
Kaa
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« Reply #19 on: May 09, 2013, 02:02:27 PM »

The musical interludes to show the passing of time also helped set the mood for me, and were really well done, so thank you to whoever added those in. Smiley

I wanted to second the appreciation of the section break indicator. Nicely done.

Yes, me, too. More of this kind of thing, please.
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