Hero Born Q1: Length and pacing

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I admit, I got it wrong. "Condor Heroes" is a stand-alone book in the trilogy, but it's a long book that's spread over four volumes. It's long for a western novel, but seems typical for the wuxia books and TV shows I've encountered.

What did people think of the length and pacing? Did this book keep you engaged? How much of Guo Jing's origin story did you need? Did the various plot twists and characters make sense in this volume, or were they too obviously being introduced to foreshadow events later?

Comments

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    I wasn't bored by the book and there was never a time when I thought about abandoning it. So that was clearly a plus. I guess looking back at it you're right - some of the developments seemed a bit random at the time and I suppose were there either to foreshadow later stuff, or else because it is an event or trope which the original audience knew and would be expecting.

    Something I did find fascinating is how many books there are all dealing with approximately this place and time, all from slightly different perspectives. So ages ago I read a straightforward HF novel about Genghis Khan and his immediate successors, in which they (the Khans and their immediate family) were the centrepiece, and other groups and nations were only there as foils (Of Battles Past, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16005274-of-battles-past).

    Then just recently I came across She Who became the Sun (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48727813-she-who-became-the-sun) of which I read a sample but not yet the whole thing, this one set at the end of the Mongol rule and (from what I read) covering how the Chinese restored their own rule.

    So these three books, and probably a whole lot more, are all tackling roughly the same period but from very different points of view.

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    edited July 5

    I was often bored by the book, and it wasn't because of the setting, which I found really interesting. It was because of the writing (or possibly the translation, but I think it was the writing).

    I found very little to distinguish between the characters, apart from their martial art styles and where they came from, so I was often confused as to who they were. The character primer at the beginning helped a little, but many characters had 2 or 3 names, and the name by which they most appeared in the text wasn't the name they were listed by in the guide. Hurricane Chen (aka Copper Corpse) and Cyclone Mei (aka Iron Corpse), for example (one a man, the other a woman, though that's not obvious from their English names) are listed together in the index under Twice Foul Dark Wind.

    It didn't help that character motives were generally obscure to me. Yes, I know some were Han and some were Jin (and some were Jin disguised as Han) but that didn't really go far enough to explain things.

    The dialogue was very cartoonish, honestly - you could practically hear the overdub.
    "Damned Cripple! We can see you. Come out and Surrender!" The book is full of childish taunts.

    ""Your family's spear technique is famous throughout our land, but in the absence of a spear a pitchfork will have to do. Your best friend Guo, however, prefers to fight with a double halberd. The pitchfork doesn't fit his skills. Such friendship is rare!" What does one's ability to adapt to a pitchfork have to do with friendship? Is this a sloppy attempt at 'show don't tell'?

    A couple of years ago I read Musashi, a Japanese epic about wandering Samurai, and it was very similar in subject matter and writing style. In that book, the Musashi wanders around the countryside, often being confronted by other 'gangs' of samurai who don't recognize his talent so they pick fights with him only to realize their mistake when beaten. I think that book was better than this one, but honestly neither really held my interest.

    My experience of Wuxia is limited to the rather famous films - Crouching Tiger, House of Flying Daggers, and Hero. I found all of these managed to convey a lot more depth of character and motivation than this novel did. Plus they were visually stunning!

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    The story was episodic so I found it kept moving forward, but each episode seemed of equal importance, which makes the larger structure flat. I thought this particularly showed in the lack of preparation for the end of the book lading to book two, but again I don't know exactly what the publishing history of the book is. How was the serialisation the same or different between the original publication and the books chapters?

    I didn't have so much trouble with the names of characters and moves etc., and although it was not always immediately clear to me who or what was being referred to, I found the book dragged a bit because of the details of people or techniques were not described, or even their functionally. I got the feeling that it would work much better in a illustrated format, where the picture would provide the detail (what their face looks like, what their arms and legs are doing, what is the stance etc.) and the text would provide the name.

    I also found that the translation I read made all the characters sound the same, and don't know if that was part of the original or not. I would have expected that the differences of class etc. among character would be clearly telegraphed by the words in the original text, wheras here I had to be told, and remember.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I also found that the translation I read made all the characters sound the same, and don't know if that was part of the original or not. I would have expected that the differences of class etc. among character would be clearly telegraphed by the words in the original text, wheras here I had to be told, and remember.

    Typically with stories from China, Japan and similar cultures, social structures and signals are so embedded in the language that the reader or listener can tell immediately the relative perceived rank of two people meeting. There are obviously games that story-tellers can play with this, such as having royalty in disguise and using inverted linguistic signals, but by and large the use or non-use of the right form of language signals something important going on - ignorance, perhaps, or a deliberate insult.

    A translated version in English - even a good translation - struggles hard to keep any of this, outside of honorifics like sir/lady, or descriptions like "he cowered slavishly". In this case it's difficult to know if this is a translation issue or else something that Jin Yong aimed for deliberately (my guess is the former).

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    @Apocryphal said:
    I found very little to distinguish between the characters, apart from their martial art styles and where they came from, so I was often confused as to who they were. The character primer at the beginning helped a little, but many characters had 2 or 3 names, and the name by which they most appeared in the text wasn't the name they were listed by in the guide. Hurricane Chen (aka Copper Corpse) and Cyclone Mei (aka Iron Corpse), for example (one a man, the other a woman, though that's not obvious from their English names) are listed together in the index under Twice Foul Dark Wind.

    It's a classic problem with many novels from other cultures! - Russian novels in particular are often made opaque to the British or north American reader because of the different names and titles that the same person can legitimately be called by - given name, family name, pet-name, job title and so on. In principle it gives important clues about the relationship between two people - is person A close enough to person B use their pet-name, for example.

    I tried something similar when I wrote In a Milk and Honeyed Land, where for example the main character might be called by any of half a dozen names or titles, ranging from "the seer" to "Damariel son of Yeresheth" to "Mari" depending on who was involved. I'm not sure it was entirely successful for readers, but I enjoyed the process of thinking who would call whom by what name.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    The story was episodic so I found it kept moving forward, but each episode seemed of equal importance, which makes the larger structure flat. I thought this particularly showed in the lack of preparation for the end of the book lading to book two, but again I don't know exactly what the publishing history of the book is. How was the serialisation the same or different between the original publication and the books chapters?

    I don't know for sure, but I believe the serialisation was by chapters, and the division into volumes now is a somewhat arbitrary split for publishing logisitics. Saying that, I think the end of this book was pretty thrilling and a decent place to pause the story.

    I didn't have so much trouble with the names of characters and moves etc., and although it was not always immediately clear to me who or what was being referred to, I found the book dragged a bit because of the details of people or techniques were not described, or even their functionally. I got the feeling that it would work much better in a illustrated format, where the picture would provide the detail (what their face looks like, what their arms and legs are doing, what is the stance etc.) and the text would provide the name.

    Could the same be said of other action-based literature, such as swashbuckling adventures like Captain Blood or various war stories? Is this an issue of the style of story, or is it a symptom of our current cultural preponderance of visual media?

    @Apocryphal said:
    I found very little to distinguish between the characters, apart from their martial art styles and where they came from, so I was often confused as to who they were. The character primer at the beginning helped a little, but many characters had 2 or 3 names, and the name by which they most appeared in the text wasn't the name they were listed by in the guide. Hurricane Chen (aka Copper Corpse) and Cyclone Mei (aka Iron Corpse), for example (one a man, the other a woman, though that's not obvious from their English names) are listed together in the index under Twice Foul Dark Wind.

    Multiple names and titles for people is something I found confusing when I first encountered wuxia.

    It didn't help that character motives were generally obscure to me. Yes, I know some were Han and some were Jin (and some were Jin disguised as Han) but that didn't really go far enough to explain things.

    I think the motivations were generally more person-scale than nation-scale. Who are your teachers, who have you seen being assaulted, that sort of thing.

    The dialogue was very cartoonish, honestly - you could practically hear the overdub.
    "Damned Cripple! We can see you. Come out and Surrender!" The book is full of childish taunts.

    "Childish" or "pulpy"? A genuine question. I agree that this isn't deep literature with finely-drawn nuanced characters. But is simple, direct melodrama always "childish"? There is, I think, a place for escapism.

    Though whether that place is in this forum is, I concede, a question to be asked.

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    There is, I think, a place for escapism. Though whether that place is in this forum is, I concede, a question to be asked.

    I don't see why we can't have escapism, but one must concede we don't all want to escape from the same things. I, for one, would like to escape from bland dialogue! LOL

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    > @NeilNjae said:
    > "Childish" or "pulpy"? A genuine question. I agree that this isn't deep literature with finely-drawn nuanced characters. But is simple, direct melodrama always "childish"? There is, I think, a place for escapism.
    >

    I tend to agree that dialogue style is part of genre. We have been watching the BBC crime drama _Sherwood_ and the dialogue there is not sparkling... lots of exchanges of the basic nature "you alright, Bob" or "we should get over to the house now" and so on. I don't really like the series (my other half rates it a lot better than me) but the dialogue seems just right for the show. Likewise here, I agree with @NeilNjae that the dialogue fits the action melodrama form of the book.
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    Huh! I loved the pace of the book - it starts off like a dragster at a green light and never takes its foot off the gas. A series of events linked by relationship and history unfolds at breakneck speed. Who your teacher is becomes vital knowledge for your opponent , who may end up your enemy or your friend in three more breaths!

    This is wuxia!

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