Story Notes: “Good Hunting” in Strange Horizons

“Good Hunting” is now out in Strange Horizons (read). It’s published in two parts as part of their bonus fund drive issue.

Spoilers below the fold.

After “The Paper Menagerie” won the Hugo, whenever I’m interviewed by Chinese reporters, they keep on asking me whether I consider the story “science fiction.” I’m baffled by the question. Are genre boundaries that big a deal for some Chinese readers?

Well, if they were confused by “The Paper Menagerie,” “Good Hunting” is really going to make those readers unhappy. This is a story that begins as a fantasy fairy tale and ends as a gritty piece of steampunk.

The story begins with a pair of Chinese demon hunters, a father and son, chasing down a hulijing, a shape-shifting fox spirit. To his surprise, the son befriends the hulijing‘s daughter. As this was the time of the Opium War, the two are caught up by the tumultuous events of history and end up in Hong Kong, where they learn another kind of magic, the magic of chrome and steam.

In writing this story, I wanted to do two things. One, to turn the misogynistic hulijing legends upside down. In these legends, usually composed by male scholars, the hulijing is a dangerous feminine creature who uses her sexuality to deprive men of their vitality and essence. My hulijing questions that narrative.

Two, I think there’s a paucity of good steampunk that addresses the dark stain of colonialism in a satisfactory way. Like many of my stories, this tale has an anti-colonial theme. One of the character says, at one point, “A terrible thing had been done to me, but I could also be terrible.” It is about as succinct a summary of the experience of being a member of a colonized population as I can give.

I consider this my best story published this year.