The Way Spring Arrives And Other Stories edited and collected by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang (book review).

March 9, 2022 | By | Reply More

‘The Way Spring Arrives And Other Stories’ is a brand-new collection of stories translated from Chinese, with essays and a couple of stories originally written in English thrown into the mix, offers a much broader spectrum of Chinese speculative fiction than the other translations I’ve read in previous years. I generally only read Science Fiction, whereas this volume includes fantasy, too.

Being Chinese, the definition of fantasy is not what one would expect from the Western sword-and-sorcery tradition. The authors are all female or non-binary in this collection, so I was interested to see if this would add a different feel to the book or whether the fact that the stories come from another culture to my own would blur any distinctions that a native Chinese speaker might note.

The opening story is ‘The Stars We Raised’ by Xiu Xinyu, which takes place in a poor mountain village where the locals are fascinated by what seems to be some kind of Chinese-lantern-like lifeform that have started appearing in the mountains. It’s a touching and thoughtful tale of childhood fantasy vs harsh reality that leaves behind a sense of wonder.

‘The Tale Of Wude’s Heavenly Tribulation’ by Count E reminded me of something from ‘Aesop’s Fables’, in which various enlightened animals attempting to take on human form pass through a series of tribulations both personal and of divine origin. I don’t know enough of the subject to know whether this is based on traditional Chinese folklore or something entirely made up by the author, but the irreverent humour was very enjoyable.

‘What Does The Fox Say?’ is a meta-story by Xia Jia that illustrates how an artificial intelligence could write a story. It’s a clever and thought-provoking little piece.

‘Blackbird’ by Shen Dacheng is the kind of story that I don’t normally like a great deal: a gloomy tale of life in a care home for the elderly. The unfeasibly old Mrs. An is a fascinating character, though, a woman proud, somewhat tragic and ineffably disturbing and made this an effectively creepy tale.

‘The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe: Tai-Chi Mashed Taro’ is one of a series of stories by Anna Wu. I read a previous story in the series in the collection ‘Broken Stars’ a few years back and wondered at the time if I would get to read another tale of the restaurant owner and the Agency of Mystery that engages in Faustian deals over a meal. That story is referenced in this one, which is another cleverly convoluted tale of time travel, food delivery and artistry.

The first essay of the book is ‘The Futures Of Genders In Chinese Science Fiction’ by Jing Tsu. It discusses some of the history of early Chinese SF in which, unlike in the UK and US, the main characters were often female and looks forward to the new wave of Chinese authors of all genders.

A computer game to simulate raising a child is the subject of ‘Baby, I Love You’ by Zhao Haihong. Given the chance to develop a new holographic version of the game Raising Baobao, a programmer decides he needs the real-life experience of a child of his own. He soon finds the demands of the real and the virtual causing conflict and making him question his life in what turns out to be a very effective and touching tale.

‘A Saccharophilic Earthworm’ is the first of two short and whimsical tales by BaiFanRuShuang. After some kind of breakdown, a former film director now keeps to herself at home where she is training the house plants to put on a new musical production. Her husband thinks it’s all in her imagination, but the magical style of the story makes things open to interpretation.

BaiFanRuShuang’s second entry is ‘The Alchemist Of Lantian’, in which a distracted immortal being clumsily knocks an expensive jar from the hands of an old woman. Bemoaning his own life, he soon realises that the lives of mere mortals are much worse than his own. It’s a quirky and satisfying little tale.

The title story ‘The Way Spring Arrives’ by Wang Nuonuo harks back to Chinese mythology and follows the story of two immortal beings who literally bring on the spring each year. It’s a hopeful tale of unrequited love and interesting theories on how the world functions.

In the essay ‘Translation As Retelling’ by Yilin Wang, the author discusses the challenges of translating the subsequent two stories in the collection, both of which rely on pre-existing knowledge of Chinese mythology which is likely unfamiliar to Anglophone readers. I’m always fascinated by the process of translation, so this is an excellent addition to the volume.

‘The Name Of The Dragon’ by Ling Chen focusses on the travails of well-known dragon Yinglong, who seems to have been trapped genie-like in an ancient chest, which is discovered in the opening section by two people searching through an old antiques collection. The preceding essay made this a particularly interesting story to follow the intricacies of translation.

‘To Procure Jade’ by Gu Shi follows a eunuch of the imperial court named Deyu, who is sent to look for a mythical fountain-of-youth called Yu Spring. Instead, they go off to make a life for themself in another tale where the preceding insight into the translation process makes you realise there is more to the tale than is immediately obvious.

My favourite story of the collection, possibly because it’s the most purely Science Fictional, is ‘A Brief History Of Beinakan Disasters As Told In A Sinitic Language’ by Nian Yu. Told as a series of preserved memories with interspersed commentary, it details the history of two symbiotic aquatic species, their rise to sentience, their struggles against natural disaster and their eventual flight from their home planet. It has an epic, sweeping scale and a sense of grandeur.

The essay ‘Is There Such A Thing As Feminine Quietness? A Cognitive Linguistics Perspective’ by Emily Jueni Jin looks once more at the subject of translation, this time addressing more technical aspects of the process. Interestingly, it revolves mostly around the translation of one particular word and how it could possibly be translated in both directions. This one example highlights the challenges faced by all translators.

Delving back into a mythical history, ‘Dragonslaying’ by Shen Yingying follows a young doctor who travels to an obscure seaside village in the hope of discovering the medical art of dragonslaying. This turns out to be a euphemism for a medical procedure that transforms mer-people by giving them two legs. The doctor is not squeamish when it comes to the medical details, but what she discovers of the ancient practice is possibly one of the most profoundly chilling tales I have ever read.

An antiques dealer discovers the remnants of a ‘New Year Painting, Ink And Colour On Rice Paper, Zhaoqiao Village’ in a tale of karma by Chen Qian. A village legend, a bullied girl and a seeming miracle all form the background to the painting, gradually uncovered by the antiques dealer and his restorer friend. It’s a wonderfully-painted tale.

A famous artist attempts to paint his hundredth beauty in ‘The Portrait’ by Chu Xidao. Enraptured by his muse, he struggles to complete the painting and begins to wonder if there is something unnatural about her. It’s another magical tale full of whimsy and wonder.

‘The Woman Carrying A Corpse’ is a bizarre little tale by Chi Hui, which follows a woman carrying a corpse around the countryside. She encounters a series of characters who try to find out why she is doing such a thing. A melancholic and intricate character study.

The inhabitants of a small mountain village routinely watch the wreckage of discarded rocket boosters rain down from the sky in ‘The Mountain And The Secret Of Their Names’ by Wang Nuonuo. Traditions and legends clash with technology as an old man and his grandson try to cope with the future in different ways in what turns out to be a touching and satisfying tale.

‘Net Novels And The ‘She Era’: How Internet Novels Opened The Door For Female Readers And Writers In China’ by Xueting Christine Ni is a long essay with a lot of interesting modern publishing history. It’s a fascinating look into how Chinese female authors faced similar roadblocks to the those in the west and how the publishing industry developed in different ways.

‘Writing And Translation: A Hundred technical Tricks’ by Rebecca F. Kuang is another fascinating look into the world of the translator in this closing essay and rounds the volume off nicely.

Although many of the stories in this book, being more fantasy than Science Fiction, were not really to my taste, this was altogether a intriguing glimpse into the length and breadth of Chinese speculative fiction. The essays added to my appreciation of many of the stories and gave an extra layer of interest to the book. I’d only come across two of the authors previously, so it’s opened up my eyes further to a huge field of literature that I remain mostly unaware of and has whetted my appetite for more.

Gareth D Jones

February 2022

(pub: Tordotcom, 2022. 400 page hardback. Price: $26.99 (US), £20.99 (UK – in April 2022). ISBN: 978-1-25076-891-9)

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Category: Books, Fantasy, Scifi

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