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A China That Never Was
November 18, 2005 8:36 AM   Subscribe

"I shall clasp my hands together and bow to the corners of the world." Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart won the World Fantasy Award in 1985. Set in a China that never was, it tells the tale of Master Li Kao, who has a slight flaw in his character, and Number Ten Ox as they uncover the mysteries of a cursed town, a terrible duke, and a beautiful woman. Originally intended to be the first in a series of seven, Bridge of Birds spawned only two sequels. The reclusive author explains some of his influences and poor luck here. Also, for those of you familiar with the story, the original draft of Bridge of Birds (PDF version) is available online!
posted by robocop is bleeding (18 comments total)

 
Amazon link included so folks can compare/contrast the final draft via Search Inside the Book with the original draft.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:38 AM on November 18, 2005


This book has been on my Amazon wishlist forever. I think I'm just going to buy it, along with the DVD of Seven Samurai that's been there since Amazon started wishlists.

I think the World Fantasy list is the most interesting of all the SF/F award lists.
posted by selfnoise at 8:47 AM on November 18, 2005


Bridge of Birds was great, as was Story of the Stone. I was so looking forward to more books with these characters, but I thought Eight Skilled Gentlemen was a big disappointment.
posted by jasper411 at 8:51 AM on November 18, 2005


If you'vre read Bridge, be sure to check out the original draft. Big changes (Master Li is 19, Ox only makes a brief cameo, etc.) abound.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:53 AM on November 18, 2005


i can't wait to read the original draft. the published version of bridge of birds is among my top 10 favorite books (not just fantasy novels). i've never been able to find a copy of the story of the stone. :-(

i used to imagine a movie version of birds with sammo hung as ox, and the other roles filled by various hk cinema greats. that's one of those movies i figure i'll get to see in heaven.

thanks, robocop is bleeding.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:15 AM on November 18, 2005


Yeah, I loved this book. And always thought of Lam Ching-Ying as the perfect Master Li. Too bad he up and died on us.

An intersting companion/contrast to these books is to read a couple of the Chung Kuo books. They're set in a 'China that never will be'
posted by lumpenprole at 9:28 AM on November 18, 2005


Bridge of Birds was great, so I was very pleased to see the interview with Hughart. I discovered that my local library has Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen. Thanks for the post.
posted by LeisureGuy at 9:43 AM on November 18, 2005


Awesome post robocop!

I really enjoyed this series and after reading it wanted to read more about a fantastic China but never quite found anything as satisfying. The Devil Wives of Li Fong by E. Hoffman Price was as close as I could get, and that is a very pulpy and much less clever.
posted by rks404 at 9:54 AM on November 18, 2005


Anyone read Ernest Bramah (Kai Lung)? Is it worth reading if I end up liking "Bridge of Birds"?
posted by selfnoise at 9:56 AM on November 18, 2005


I really loved this book. Wow, sudden flashbacks of where and when I first read it...
posted by arcticwoman at 10:25 AM on November 18, 2005


The Kai Lung stuff is definitely worth reading. I don't know how much similarity there would be with Bridge of Birds though. Kai Lung's Golden Hours, at least, has a 1001 Arabian Nights type of format
posted by Quip at 10:57 AM on November 18, 2005


These books were a joy to read, especially the first two. Funny, touching, and with a wonderfully high body count. I only wish he could have done all seven.
posted by Ber at 11:19 AM on November 18, 2005


I've enjoyed the entire series - it's a shame there won't be more, thanks to the cluelessness of the literary business.
posted by FormlessOne at 1:11 PM on November 18, 2005


It's interesting that in the interview, Hughart says he is not comfortable with the fact that the Master Li books are labelled "fantasy". Much as JK Rowling seems unwilling to have the Harry Potter books called "fantasy". There seems to be a real bias against the genre.
posted by Rubber Soul at 1:18 PM on November 18, 2005


Rubber Soul: It's interesting that in the interview, Hughart says he is not comfortable with the fact that the Master Li books are labelled "fantasy". Much as JK Rowling seems unwilling to have the Harry Potter books called "fantasy". There seems to be a real bias against the genre.

Well, there is a sort of "ghetto effect" with fantasy and science fiction that is hard to escape. Both genres cater to a relatively specific audience (of which I used to be much more a part) and earn their authors a permanent place in the "Fantasy and Science Fiction" section in bookstores, even if they go on to write, say, nonfiction or literary fiction. For instance, William Gibson's recent novels aren't science fiction at all, but that is where you will find them.

Unfortunately, authors who wish to be taken seriously outside of the relatively small genre world have to avoid it or make a Herculean effort to get out. I can't blame them.
posted by graymouser at 5:05 AM on November 19, 2005


For instance, William Gibson's recent novels aren't science fiction at all, but that is where you will find them.

That's because bookstore categories are not about telling you what the book is about. They are about trying to wave books in front of the right people.

People who liked Gibson's SF work are more likely to enjoy his other stuff than the average reader. So it makes much more sense for the bookstore to wave his new stuff it at those people.
posted by straight at 2:08 PM on November 19, 2005


Really late on this thread, saw it looking back through some other posts. Great thread!
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 9:28 PM on November 28, 2005


I just started reading the book thanks to this post and it is quite awesome.
posted by euphorb at 4:03 PM on December 1, 2005


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