Outlaws of the Marsh

“There are hairs in this dumpling that look a lot like pubic hairs.”

“Ximen was frolicking with Golden Lotus upstairs. At the sound of Wu Song’s voice he farted with terror and pissed in his pants.”

The Goriest, Raunchiest Chinese Classic of All Time

I’ve been reading Sidney Shapiro’s translation (1980) of the 14th century Chinese classic Outlaws of the Marsh, aka The Water Margin (authorship usually attributed to Shi Nai’an, Luo Guangzhong — author of Romance of the Three Kingdoms — or both). It’s highly readable. In fact, I’m finding it addictive.

It’s full of badass characters and it goes along at a clip. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny in places. It’s almost all action and plot, with very little introspection or showy writing (though there was a flowery metaphor concerning how the blood flowed out of someone’s head wound). The narration tells you when it’s leaving a character behind or skipping over something. If you’ve read Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds, it has some of that feeling of “an Ancient China that never was” but it feels more like a tall tale than a myth — more Robin Hood than King Arthur. Apart from a legend told at the beginning that frames the story, there hasn’t been any magic in it yet, though chapter titles hint that there might be some further on.

The translation uses modern-sounding terms like “grog shop”, with occasional slight archaisms like “clove him in twain” — perhaps with humorous purpose, or perhaps the original dips into slight archaisms of its own? With the vernacular language and the highly organised and bureaucratised medieval Chinese milieu, which can seem like a modern enough world on its own, it feels contemporary as well as ancient.

I remember reading, as a fan of “Monkey”, a translation of Journey to the West, and being frustrated by its slow pace. If I remember right, the translator had cut out a lot of incidents in order to do justice to the details and style of the text within a volume that could be picked up in one hand. I was a kid, and I was expecting the book to be like the TV show. Outlaws of the Marsh, so far, is not unlike a TV show — episodic and busy. The start has a bit of a patchwork feel, as it skips from character to character, though the framing legend helps to ward off the sense of a shaggy dog story. Then it settles down and concentrates on one guy (whose personality reminds me of Monkey) — or at least, it has been concentrating on him for a couple of chapters now. It looks like it’s going to move on to other characters, but hopefully without jumping around as much as it did at the beginning.

Anyway, I’m pretty hooked on the fun of it all. The Kindle edition that I bought is entirely no-frills. It doesn’t even have page numbers, and there are a few typos and ebook conversion errors, but not enough to be terribly intrusive. But it was only $3.49, and it’s 768 pages. Bargain, mate!


Pan has hands

Pan now has two little hands made out of hard wax that I had to keep warming in the toaster oven to make it workable. (Did I melt a hand I’d nearly finished? Yep!) I’m about 90% happy with them. Fingernails and all!

And I now have a lot of respect for people who make detailed small models. It’s a way to go crouched and crosseyed. I always wondered why sculptors like making big abstract lumps. Now I know!


Hearts & Guns beta

Done it — finished the story collection, still with the working title of Hearts & Guns. It’s about 76,000 words and covers material from 1997 to 2010. It includes most of my published short fiction, a new story, and some odds and ends of poetry and ultra-short things.

Generally the older the story, the more I’ve revised it, though I’ve tried not to go overboard (and I brought The Art of Dying back closer to its original form than its other revised versions).

It does need beta reading. If anyone would like to volunteer, please email me. I’ll have your babies reciprocate any reading/critique.

ETA: Thanks everyone who offered, I’ve got enough now!


Digested classics

By John Crace at The Guardian. Cheeky fun!

Le Grand Meaulnes
The Sheltering Sky
The Thief’s Journal
The God of Small Things

and many more (plus opera)…

Speaking of cheeking literature, I would love to have this book, Literary Blasphemies, by Ernest Boyd. “The best traditions of English letters seem to present to him an endless and enchanting vista of abstract crockery to be broken with loud pagan snorts and bellows,” says this ancient review.


Maldoror Abroad @ Weird Fiction Review

An old story of mine, Maldoror Abroad, originally published in Album Zutique, is online for a limited time at Weird Fiction Review. The story is a riff off of, or love letter to, the original, inimitable 1869 work of batshit genius, Les Chants de Maldoror by “Comte de Lautréamont”, nom de guerre of Isidore Ducasse.

Also at WFR is an essay by Mark Valentine on Sarban, another pseudonym, and one which caught my attention because I randomly gave one of the cities in my head-world that name. “Sarban” was John William Wall, a diplomat who spent many years stationed in the Middle East and North Africa and who published three books of strange fiction in the 1950s. I was intrigued enough to buy The Doll Maker, which is now sitting on my Kindle.

Agan for a short time, WFR has Sarban’s A Christmas Story online. I like this story a lot. It goes from:

“We always gave the meteorological data of Good King Wenceslaus with feeling”


“Far and wide we could see now over the immense, sad taiga: a level, lonely waste of drab brown and faded grey, every particle of life in it stilled by that one terrible grip of the Lord Frost and its dead body stabbed through and through by the bayonets of the snow-wind. When the wind ceased we knew that the winding-sheet would fall from the black sky.”

My favourite contest — between irony and sincerity. The world of emotion under the groomed convivial facade and the agreed rules, even the rules of celebration. A time of carnival opens a wider than wanted door? And isn’t that what Christmas is about?