The stories behind Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Scale-Bright
Posted September 19, 2014on:
As I mentioned in my review of Scale-Bright, there are three short stories that are connect to and have been included with the novella. Some of you have already seen these, as “The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate” was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies in 2013, “Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon” was published in GigaNotoSaurus in 2012, and “Chang’e Dashes From the Moon” was first published in Expanded Horizons in 2012. The short fiction take places chronologically before Scale-Bright, and they are the mythological foundations for what occurs in Sriduangkaew’s newest contemporary urban fantasy.
The too long didn’t read of this review is that if you aren’t reading Benjanun Sriduangkaew, you need to be.
No bones about it, these short stories are gloriously bewitching, and the more I read them, the more they glowed. As with all mythology, these are stories are that coming to me through the eras of history. Like the dying light of a super nova that takes generations to reach me, being warped and dimmed by clouds of dust and time along the way. But this light, was different. These are characters who are saying “this is my real story, this is what really happened, this is the true color and depth of my light, of my life”. In these retellings of how Xihe gave birth to the sun, of how Houyi the archer God shot down the suns, and of how Chang’e became the Goddess of the moon, Sriduangkaew has done the impossible: she’s convinced Goddesses who exist on high to tell us lowly mortals the silken secrets that shine deep within their hearts.
In “The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate”, Xihe is looking back on her regrets. She’d never call them regrets, but that’s what they are. How she was naive, and in denial of what was happening, how her marriage proposal never included a question mark, how Dijun’s gift to her would be her undoing, how she was wed long before she understood that in marriage, love helps. Xihe’s only crime was that she did not love her husband, and by the time she realized this, it is too late. A time of darkness came, and Xihe returned to the heavenly court with a solution: her sons. The sun crows were not exactly her children, but she did birth them, raise them, love them, care for them. Xihe will spend the rest of her days loving her sons, and seeking a legal divorce. In the scrolls of the heavenly court, she is on paper eternally Dijun’s wife. But every day, as she flies across the sky, searing her body to her promise, at least there she is free.
As all children do, the sun-crows yearned for the love and approval of their father, Dijun, and when he suggested they all them fly up and light the sky like a hundred glinting coins, how could they say no? But earth is not meant to survive under that kind of heat, and someone had to bring them down. And who is best suited for this, but the best archer in heaven?
“Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon”, is the story of the archer of heaven, Houyi, who is not an archer god as the stories have always said, but an archer goddess. The Celestial Court is unsure of what to do with this woman who wears men’s clothing and carries a man’s weapon. She has no wish to be married, no wish to be reincarnated as a man. She doesn’t fit their orderly image of what a woman is, so no one has any idea what to do with her. However, she is the best archer in heaven, and is convinced to save the Earth from the searing heat of ten suns by shooting them down. She did it to save humanity, but she killed the children of a goddess, and must face her crime. In was in this conversation that I fell more than a little in love with Houyi:
“All I ask, lovely Houyi, is that once in a while you wear soft silks and hairpins. Oh, not much, not often – but perhaps one day out a year, or even five? The rest of the months are and hours are yours. You can practice with my men, if you like, to show them just why it is you are named heaven’s best archer and feared by all the wicked.”
The archer sipped the wine he’d poured her. “That sounds very well, Marshal. Then on those days you will also wear soft silks, hairpins, maybe even bangles on your wrists?”
Tianpeng paused in his drinking. “what?”
“It is both your custom and mine to dress martially, and you wish me to spend a few days every year changed. Therefore it seems logical that on those same days you will alter yours so that we can be well matched. It’s not orderly otherwise, and as wife and husband we’ll be subjected to ridicule. Or so I gather, being yet new to existence and not tutored in the ways of our kind.”
He stared into his gourd for a long time. Upending it he found the last drop gone. “I’m not sure it works like that, Houyi.”
“Why not, Marshal?”
She’s not asking much. Only to be accepted. It’s too bad Houyi and Xihe got off to such a bad start, they have more in common than they think. Regardless, those two will always have a strong, if not friendly relationship. Anyways, Houyi is already in love with a mortal woman named Chang’e, and while they gained the blessing of Guanyin, the heavenly court is not ready to accept same sex marriage (although they seem fine with an immortal who marries a mortal). Among other things, it’s the discussions between Houyi and Chang’e that make this story so amazing.
“Chang’e Dashes from the Moon” is a very important story in the chronology, but of the group it was my least favorite (which means it’s still better than 90% of the short fiction I’ve ever read). I will not go into why, but Chang’e has been granted immortality and banished to the moon, where she lives with a rabbit apothecary a wood cutter, and all the solitude a person could ask for. This is a story steeped in loneliness and yearning. Houyi is still paying for her crime, and when you are immortal, how long does a sentence last? Forever? Until the person you wronged forgives you? Until you can forgive yourself? Even the scenes of Houyi’s pain and punishment were a joy to read. Houyi may not be able to escape her fate, but maybe at least she can save Chang’e. Their plan hinges on finding a very specific person on earth, a woman named Julienne.
These stories are the foundation, a prequel of sorts, to Scale-Bright. Which means that Julienne’s story, is the next chapter of the mythology. I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of that, and I think Julienne might too.