Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin – I remember being drawn to this book on a library shelf, but not checking it out because I already had several books checked out. More recently, Amy mentioned it in response to a post I made, and by that time I’d already requested it from the library. I think there might have been a magical red ribbon of fate connecting me to the book. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s been compared to The Wizard of Oz, in that it’s the journey of a little girl and her magical companion to see a powerful man whom she hopes will grant their requests. Minli is living in poverty near the Fruitless Mountain, and she seeks help from the Old Man of the Moon in changing her fortune, meeting a painted dragon who can’t fly along the way. Her adventures bring her into contact with several characters from Chinese mythology, including the Buffalo Boy and the Da-A-Fu. The former is sometimes known as Niu Lang, and I wrote about his story here. It also reminds me of something from a book I read when I took a Chinese history course in college, Jung Shang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, about life in Mao’s China. At one point, Shang mentions her mother being sent to a camp on the Buffalo Boy Flatland, which was named after the legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl because it’s a place where the Milky Way and the stars Vega and Altair are particularly bright. For some reason, the name “Buffalo Boy Flatland” really stuck with me. As for the Da-A-Fu, they’re the lucky children displayed on doorways at the Chinese New Year, who according to folklore destroyed a green beast through trickery.
In the book, the beast is a nasty green tiger. The story is told in short chapters, with frequent breaks from the narrative for legendary flashbacks of a sort, usually based on Chinese mythology. Minli eventually achieves her goal by being selfless and realizing that her life isn’t so bad, which leads to a happy ending. Too bad that kind of thing doesn’t always work in real life.
The Collector’s Book of Science Fiction by H.G. Wells – I don’t think I’d read anything by Wells previously, although I knew the basic outlines of some of his stories from other sources and popular culture in general. This volume includes the full novels The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon, and When the Sleeper Wakes, all printed in the form in which they originally appeared when serialized in magazines, as well as several short stories. Some of them are fairly forgettable, but they all show a large amount of creativity. It’s interesting to read old science fiction to see what they got right and wrong. Wells correctly predicated human voyages to the Moon, synthetic diamonds, airplanes, and tanks; although the details were somewhat off. Some of his best work, however, came when he let his imagination run wild and come up with such things like the bizarre flora and fauna of the Moon, or the ornate but oppressive future into which the Sleeper wakes. Wells freely acknowledges his antecedents in such sorts of fiction, like Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon for space travel and Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward for someone waking up in the far future. And to today’s scientists, why hasn’t Cavorite been discovered yet?