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THE LAND OF THE MORNING CALM
Date: 2018/04/19 14:17 By: bulldust Status: Admin  
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People suck. I’ll just say this straight out. The majority of the time they will do whatever it takes to validate themselves and boost their egos. They are overly entitled, petty and self-serving. The Bull is not beyond this failing. There have been many times that Bull has wasted his time fishing for recognition for his hard work, recognition that feels much deserved. Sometimes there is none. That’s when life gets somewhat bleak and dreary. The Bull frequently reminds himself that the cause of suffering is wanting, and tries to practice mindfulness. But hell, wouldn’t it be the shit to score a bestseller or win the lottery. These things don’t happen often. That’s part of what makes them so freakin’ special.

Yet people fall victim to crazy scams promising everything they ever dreamed of. No matter what anyone tells you, we are all self-centered. With the exception of a few unique souls, everyone thinks they are just a little more special than the next guy. They deserve the victory, to be passed up is simply not right. So when they are offered something that is too good to be true, they don’t always suspect any nefarious intent. They deserve the win and it was about time that they got it.

The Land of the Morning Calm is a cap about a young woman who wants to break free of the norms and bonds of her culture. Hana is not selfish in her desire, but maybe a little naïve. Against the advice of her family, she bravely hurls herself into a new job and country to claim the success she knows she can achieve. Unfortunately, she discovers the deception too late.

Instead of working in South Korea as a language instructor as promised, Hana is kidnapped and brought to North Korea. She is trapped in a situation that is hard to navigate and nearly impossible to win. The people she works with are mostly tools of the government, discarded when they fail to obtain their objectives. She is lucky to find comfort in the friendship of Mrs. Park, a matron who guides her through the perils of her difficult situation.

Grammar-wise, there were a couple of missing hyphens and misplaced commas. The name Hana was accidentally spelled Hanna twice. Otherwise, it is technically good.

The cap is good. It reads a bit like a documentary. And when you get to the end, where she is giving an interview, it really drives that feeling home. The ending was fulfilling. However, something was lacking. I felt like I wanted more, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I didn’t feel as emotionally connected to Hana as I should have been. It felt emotionally anemic. I was very close to making this a yes, but I think it needs more of something. Maybe Rocks has a differing opinion or better insight into the cap. But for now, my vote is no.
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Re:THE LAND OF THE MORNING CALM
Date: 2018/04/28 16:49 By: rockefeller Status: Admin  
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Rocks has come to realize and accept of late that he's something of a Goldilocks reader. There's almost no pleasing him. Been reading Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel, which he finds the literary equivalent of maple syrup: a good lick, but not something he can drink a lot of before bed. Plus all the characters are pretty unlikable so far. Plus there are no similes. Seriously. None. Maybe they weren't invented yet. So then Rocks picked up Olson Scott Card's and Aaron Johnston's prequel to Ender's Game, Earth Awakens, at the local library's five-bucks-a-bag book sale. Might've enjoyed it when he was eight years old, but now, flat as a pancake, needs some of Wolfe's syrup. Also had to wonder why Card needed Johnston to cash in on his big SF hit. Figures Johnston must've wrote the book and Card only lent his name. Like how Patterson does all his now. Too sweet. Too dumb. Too slow. Too confusing. Too full of shit. Too pointless. It's like everything Rocks reads is too something now.

But, for some reason, not this Land of the Morning Calm cap. Never once, during its half hour or so read, was Rocks inclined to skim or bail. He enjoyed it. Ate the whole bowl. Even though he knows almost nothing about N. Korea except what Dennis Rodman tells him, the story rang true. Real autobiographical-like.

If Rocks ever got sucked into teaching English there, and some N. Korean hottie was tasked with hunkering down and making babies with him, however duplicitously, he'd be all in, all like you-me-baby-jigjig-right-now in. So he did find the narrator a little detached in this regard. But not unbelievably so. Maybe women are different. He also didn't totally get why Mrs. Park, a pretty well connected lady, was willing to stick her neck so far out for Hana. Figures he must've missed something. Still, this could, even should, be a longer piece.

Rocks didn't trip over any typos or grammatical snafus, though this sentence, for obvious reasons, gave him pause: "When we get up tomorrow, our arms and shoulders are going to be so sore we won't be able to lift them above our shoulders." Seems to suggest that a dozen or two more rereads by the VC wouldn't have hurt. Good rule of writerly thumb: if you can't read your work over at least ten times, don't expect others to read it once.

The Bull pretty much nailed it. There is something lacking. But, for Rocks, wanting more is a lot better than wanting less. And some of it might be attributable to the art of the unsaid, a form Rocks ascribes more to the East than the West. So, even though he's pretty sure that higher-up's here will shitcan it, he's saying yes. It deserves at least another look. And, in any case, to the VC he's saying, consider the novel. Whether or not you write or, god forbid, try to publish, do consider it. You owe it that.
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Re:THE LAND OF THE MORNING CALM
Date: 2018/05/18 06:34 By: architext Status: Admin  
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Here comes the big wet blanket. How did I just read 25 pages involving a kidnapping to, and a daring escape from, one of the world's most fascinatingly bizarre places, and come away feeling nothing?

The venture's main positive: this is a great plot, with lots of potential, and it's somewhat topical, given the nuclear rumblings coming from America's bilious gastropod of a chief. Safe to say we'll be hearing plenty more news out of this place one way or the other.

The main negatives: 1) Hana is completely unconvincing as a human being, 2) there's too much backstory in the opening, and 3) the bulk of the setting details are flat and pointless.

Re 1 - Consider this: if you were misled and kidnapped and taken to a notorious totalitarian police state, wouldn't you completely freak out? OK, suppose for the sake of argument that Hana's chief character trait is that she keeps cool under pressure. In that case we'd need it illustrated in some way, ideally before she's kidnapped. Or maybe another character should at least challenge her on her failure to freak out. She does not even reflect on the fact that she isn't freaking out. It's just another day in the life of someone about to spend the rest of her life as a prisoner and a traitor. She also has no agency whatsoever at any point in the story after her initial decision. That adds to the flatness also, as character is best revealed by decisions and behavior, and she never makes any.

Re 2 - nothing important happens before page 4. Watching the character slowly conclude that she's in North Korea from these details is actually painful. Girl, you're obviously in North Korea, I kept saying, but somehow the details are presented as if they are deep clues (the longer flight, the colder weather, etc.).

Re 3 - I think a great deal of this venture's length owes to passages like the visit to the military museum which are designed to establish that the author is an authority on North Korea. And yet, it actually sends the exact opposite impression because of chunks of prose like this: "The main structure partially encircled an arrangement of fountains, and complex statuary depicting groups of soldiers bearing the flag of the fatherland graced both sides of the design. Considerable land had been allocated to the museum, making it easier to appreciate of the overall conception." That reads like it was put together by someone looking at photos of the museum. But it does not establish what it would *feel* like to be kidnapped and then taken semi-voluntarily to a museum in North Korea.

Knowing scientific facts about Mars does not prepare you for the feeling of actually being on Mars (where you'd basically die instantly). The distinction I'm trying to make is between the information as fact (i.e. an encyclopedia entry), and the information as storytelling (i.e. feeling something empathetic toward a character due to their impression of what is happening or what they are seeing). Really this is just the old cliche, "show don't tell" -- but that cliche happens to be correct unless you are Jorge Luis Borges. There has to be a *feeling* to a formerly free person enslaved in North Korea, besides "golly, this is a crappy predicament but what majestic concrete they have!" And when the setting actually matters--during that escape sequence--that's when all of the sudden we *don't* even get the basic information. They just go up north and get on a boat and a few blisters later they're walking to China.

One other note is that the whole journalist thing at the end should be retooled. It's an info dump disguised as a scene, and it actually hurts the narrative since we are never informed in the beginning that there's a journalist, for the obvious reason that it would kill any possible will-she-survive tension. But the sudden appearance then breaks the fictive trance and got this reader thinking about narrative artifice instead of just reading for enjoyment.

Lest anyone think I'm going soft, rest assured I have some other quibbles but they are primarily about smaller details and would likely disappear if the above issues were addressed.

What IS praiseworthy here is that the venture actually seemed plausible. I mean, it's fiction, but there's nothing in here where I had to suspend disbelief, bite my tongue, and death march my way to the end. But for me to give this the thumb's up, I'd need to feel some sort of human connection to the characters. But what I felt was more like if I just asked Amazon Alexa to read me the Wikipedia page on Pyongyang. Imagine being abducted by aliens and taken to another planet. That's the feeling I expect out of Hana.
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