This story takes place in a world I first ran into in the December 2013 issue of ANALOG’s sister magazine, ASIMOV’S. That story had the intriguing, fascinating, and doubtless clumsy-title-in-English, “The Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters”:
The ANALOG story seems to take place in the same, though earlier Chinese dynasty-derived world that the ASIMOV’S story does. While on reviewer seemed to think that “The Great Leap of Shin” took place on Earth in some ancient historical past, for whatever reason both stories felt to me as if they took place elsewhere in space.
I can’t tell you for sure what the author Henry Lien intended, but I do have evidence. In “Leap”, Master Tian-Tai, a boy from the island of Pearl, arrives in the Imperial Palace just as the master of the Great Leap, the Eunuch Mu Hai-Chen arrives as well. Tian-Tai and his partners, martial arts skaters, ask to perform for the Eunuch as a plea to save their island from the earthquake the Eunuch has planned to initiate to prevent a larger earthquake that would level the Imperial city.
The Eunuch, unafraid of a bunch of kids, agrees to let them try.
In order to do so, Tian-Tai has brought his skating rink with him. The Pearl islanders do NOT skate on frozen water! They skate on a living substance reminiscent of an oyster’s pearl: “...looked like milk, smelled like brine...Looked like smooth tofu or sheets of milky liquid silk…Heard liquid crisp into solid as skates ran over it. Not cold or wet. Smooth like glass. Or like firm white of an eye. Pressed long nail into it hard, drew line in it, smoothed and healed itself instantly…We told him that the pearl came from spiders. We did not want to tell him that it came from the seas surrounding the island of Pearl because we did not want to give Shin one more reason to try and invade Pearl…The pearl felt alive under my slippers, bounced my foot up with each step I took off it.”
While it may be that this substance exists on Earth, the story took me to another world, colonized by descendants of Chinese explorers. This isn’t impossible as China has a viable space program – as well as the person-power, the drive, and the push to do something like this.
At any rate, the atmosphere of the story is its greatest strength. Even if it does take place on Earth, the writer evokes a sense of place deeply alien to me. The characters of the children from Pearl and the Emperor’s Eunuch seem at first unlikely participants, but as I read, I could see that they were the ONLY characters able to tell this small slice of this much larger – one might say “operatic” – story.
Lien accomplished for me what every writer should seek to do: he took me from this world of the mundane and catapulted me into another world – and for me, onto another planet. If you can find the ASIMOV’S story, read that as well, but if you can only read this one, do. You’ll find yourself transported to another world.
(From brief correspondence with Mr. Lien, I know he’s at work/recently completed a novel set here. I for one, cannot wait to read it!)