Spirits Abroad: Stories

Spirits Abroad: Stories

by Zen Cho
Spirits Abroad: Stories

Spirits Abroad: Stories

by Zen Cho


    Qualifies for Free Shipping
    Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Tuesday, October 3
    Check Availability at Nearby Stores

Related collections and offers


Winner of the LA Times/Ray Bradbury Prize

Nineteen sparkling stories that weave between the lands of the living and the lands of the dead. Spirits Abroad is an expanded edition of Zen Cho’s Crawford Award winning debut collection with nine added stories including Hugo Award winner “If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again.” A Datin recalls her romance with an orang bunian. A teenage pontianak struggles to balance homework, bossy aunties, first love, and eating people. An earth spirit gets entangled in protracted negotiations with an annoying landlord, and Chang E spins off into outer space, the ultimate metaphor for the Chinese diaspora.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781618731869
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Publication date: 08/10/2021
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 202,958
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Zen Cho is the author of the Sorcerer to the Crown novels and a novella, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, as well as the short story collection Spirits Abroad. She is a Hugo, Crawford and British Fantasy Award winner, and a finalist for the Locus and Astounding Awards. She was born and raised in Malaysia, resides in the UK, and lives in a notional space between the two.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from "If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again" The first thousand years It was time. Byam was as ready as it would ever be. As a matter of fact, it had been ready to ascend some 300 years ago. But the laws of heaven cannot be defied. If you drop a stone, it will fall to the ground—it will not fly up to the sky. If you try to become a dragon before your thousandth birthday, you will fall flat on your face, and all the other spirits of the five elements will laugh at you. These are the laws of heaven. But Byam had been patient. Now it would be rewarded. It slithered out of the lake it had occupied for the past 100 years. The western shore had recently been settled by humans, and the banks had become cluttered with humans’ usual mess – houses, cultivated fields, bits of pottery that poked Byam in the side. But the eastern side was still reserved to beasts and spirits. There was plenty of space for an imugi to take off. The mountains around the lake said hello to Byam. (It was always safer to be polite to an imugi, since you never knew when it might turn into a dragon.) The sky above them was a pure light blue, dotted with clouds like white jade. Byam’s heart rose. It launched itself into the air, the sun warm on its back. I deserve this. All those years studying in dank caves, chanting sutras, striving to understand the Way… For the first half-millennium or so, Byam could be confident of finding the solitude necessary for study. But more recently, there seemed to be more and more humans everywhere. Humans weren’t all bad. You couldn’t meditate your way through every doctrinal puzzle, and that was where monks proved useful. Of course, even the most enlightened monk was wont to be alarmed by the sudden appearance of a giant snake wanting to know what they thought of the Sage’s comments on water. Still, you could usually extract some guidance from them, once they stopped screaming. But spending too much time near humans was risky. If one saw you during your ascension, that could ruin everything. Byam would have moved when the humans settled by the lake, if not for the ample supply of cows and pigs and goats in the area. (Byam had grown tired of seafood.) It wasn’t always good to have such abundance close to hand, though. Byam had been studying extra hard for the past decade in preparation for its ascension. Just last month, it had been startled from a marathon meditation session by an enormous growl. Byam had looked around wildly. For a moment it thought it had been set upon, maybe by a wicked imugi—the kind so embittered by failure it pretended not to care about the Way, or the cintamani, or even becoming a dragon. But there was no one around, only a few fish beating a hasty retreat. Then, another growl. It was coming from Byam’s own stomach. Byam recollected that it hadn’t eaten in about five years. Some imugi fasted to increase their spiritual powers. But when Byam tried to get back to meditating, it didn’t work. Its stomach kept making weird gurgling noises. All the fish had been scared off, so Byam popped out of the water, looking for a snack. A herd of cows was grazing by the bank, as though they were waiting for Byam. It only intended to eat one cow. It wanted to keep sharp for its ascension. Dragons probably didn’t eat much. All the dragons Byam had ever seen were svelte, with perfect scales, shining talons, silky beards. Unfortunately Byam wasn’t a dragon yet. It was hungry, and the cows smelled so good. Byam had one, and then another, and then a third, telling itself each time that this cow would be the last. Before it knew it, almost the whole herd was gone. Byam cringed remembering this, but then put the memory away. Today was the day that would change everything. After today, Byam would be transformed. It would have a wish-fulfilling gem of its own—the glorious cintamani, which manifested all desires, cured afflictions, purified souls and water alike. So high up, the air was thin, and Byam had to work harder to keep afloat. The clouds brushed its face damply. And—Byam’s heart beat faster—wasn’t that winking light ahead the glitter of a jewel? Byam turned for its last look at the earth as an imugi. The lake shone in the sun. It had been cold, and miserable, and lonely, full of venomous water snakes that bit Byam’s tail. Byam had been dying to get away from it. But now, it felt a swell of affection. When it returned as a dragon, it would bless the lake. Fish would overflow its banks. The cows and pigs and goats would multiply beyond counting. The crops would spring out of the earth in their multitudes… A thin screechy noise was coming from the lake. When Byam squinted, it saw a group of little creatures on the western bank. Humans. One of them was shaking a fist at the sky. “Fuck you, imugi!” “Oh shit,” said Byam. “Yeah, I see you! You think you got away with it? Well, you thought wrong!” Byam lunged upwards, but it was too late. Gravity set its teeth in its tail and tugged. It wasn’t just one human shouting, it was all of them. A chorus of insults rose on the wind: “Worm! Legless centipede! Son of a bitch! You look like fermented soybeans and you smell even worse!” Byam strained every muscle, fighting the pull of the earth. If only it had hawk’s claws to grasp the clouds with, or stag’s antlers to pierce the sky… But Byam wasn’t a dragon yet. The last thing it heard as it plunged through the freezing waters of the lake was a human voice shrieking: “Serves you right for eating our cows!” The second thousand years If you wanted to be a dragon, dumb perseverance wasn’t enough. You had to have a strategy. Humans had proliferated, so Byam retreated to the ocean. It was harder to get texts in the sea, but technically you didn’t need texts to study the Way, since it was inherent in the order of all things. (Anyway, sometimes you could steal scriptures off a turtle on a pilgrimage, or go onshore to ransack a monastery.) But you had to get out of the water in order to ascend. It was impossible to exclude the possibility of being seen by humans, even in the middle of the ocean. It didn’t seem to bother them that they couldn’t breathe underwater; they still launched themselves onto the waves on rickety assemblages of dismembered trees. It was as if they couldn’t wait to get on to their next lives. That was fine. If Byam couldn’t depend on the absence of humans, it would use their presence to its advantage. It was heaven’s will that Byam should have failed the last time; if heaven wasn’t ready to accept Byam, nothing could change that, no matter how diligently it studied or how much it longed to ascend. As in all things, however, when it came to ascending, how you were seen mattered just as much as what you did. It hadn’t helped back then that the lake humans had named Byam for what it was: no dragon, but an imugi, a degraded being no better than the crawling beasts of the earth. But if, as Byam flashed across the sky, a witness saw a dragon… that was another matter. Heaven wasn’t immune to the pressures of public perception. It would have to recognise Byam then. The spirits of the wind and water were too hard to bluff; fish were too self-absorbed; and there was no hope of hoodwinking the sea dragons. But humans had bad eyesight, and a tendency to see things that weren’t there. Their capacity for self-deception was Byam’s best bet. It chose a good point in the sky, high enough that it would have enough cloud matter to work with, but not so high that the humans wouldn’t be able to see it. Then it got to work.

From the B&N Reads Blog

Customer Reviews

Explore More Items