Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The first book of the year: Understanding Chinese Fantasy Genres

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Two days back I finished a big translation job I was eager to get out of the way to clear my desk for the upcoming novel writing job I will be doing these next two months (more details soon).
To celebrate the conclusion of the translation, I awarded myself an ebook, and got me a copy of Jeremy “Deathblade” Bai’s Understanding Chinese Fantasy Genres: A primer for wuxia, xianxia, and xuanhuan.

Now, first of all, how cool it is to have “Deathblade” as a nickname.
I mean, me, my friends call me “Doc”.
Boring.
But “Deathblade”? Ah!

I first became aware of Jeremi Bai’s work through the excellent Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blades roleplaying game, published by Osprey. A game designed to simulate the wild action of wuxia movies and novels, and a great alternative to the ubiquitous mock-medieval fantasy roleplaying game.

I was really impressed by the game, and checked out the authors (Brendan Davis collaborated with Bai on the game), and found myself going down a rabbit hole.

Now, I like Chinese fantasy, but I have experienced it mostly through “classical” texts – Romance of Three Kingdoms, the Water margin, Journey to the West etc – than through the more recent multi-volume serials that seem to be extremely popular. And of course I used to watch Hong Kong movies way before it became cool.
And I have often flirted with wuxia in my stories (I do not know how successfully or convincingly).
Jeremy Bai’s primer on the genre(s) of Chinese fantasy is exactly what I needed to put some order in my patchwork knowledge of the tropes, the themes and the trends of a HUGE world of stories.

The book is short (148 pages in ebook, that go for less than 3 bucks) and to the point, illustrating the basic ideas and the quirks of wuxia (basically Chinese sword & sorcery), xianxia (high-powered, universe-shattering Chinese high fantasy) and xuanhuan (that mixes Western and Eastern modes in its storytelling).
Short chapters provide cultural background, examples and historical context for the building blocks of the stories. It’s a useful primer for both readers and would-be writers, and has many interesting insights on the issue of translation that, as a translator myself, I found particularly interesting.
A light but highly informative read and yes, one that will lead to checking out more movies, more books, and who knows, maybe will lead to the writing of a few stories.

Highly recommented to anyone with an interest in Chinese and Oriental fantasy.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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