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“Yellow Sky” F.A.Q.s

I receive many questions about “Yellow Sky”: as far as questions and historical authenticity (historicity) go, I wanted to address some of the more common things that are asked. For general questions, see the General F.A.Qs page.

Q: Is this book an alternate translation of an excerpt of Romance of the Three Kingdoms?

A: SHORT ANSWER: No, it is an original historical fiction work that uses material from a variety of sources, primarily historical documents..

A: LONG ANSWER: I was, as most people are, brought to this subject by the Sanguoyanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or ROTK) novel and derivative works, but when I realised that there was so much more to look at I decided to have a go at a partial retelling that drew upon a range of historical sources.

Q: So is this book completely 100% true to written history so far as events go?

A: SHORT ANSWER: No.

A: LONG ANSWER: “Yellow Sky” is historical fiction by definition, not an academic textbook. My own personal estimate for historicity is 85 to 90%, but others may disagree depending on whether or not you agree with my choice of source or changes/liberties for the purpose of storytelling.

Q: What is the time frame?

A: The story proper (beginning at chapter 1) starts in 166CE, just as the “Partisan Crisis” -- a political crackdown initiated by the Emperor but orchestrated by his self-serving eunuch attendants -- is about to begin; the story ends (at chapter 120) in 194CE, shortly after a famine has brought an early conclusion to a battle between the warlords Cao Cao and Lü Bu for control of Cao's province of Yan.

Q: So what did you take from history or from the ROTK?

A: SHORT ANSWER: A couple of popular vignettes and one or two “origin stories” are adapted from the ROTK, the overwhelming majority is adapted from the Sanguozhi or other historical sources..

A: LONG ANSWER: I looked at numerous English-language translations of documents and other historical textbooks in order to construct my work, but this is a constantly evolving area, so I have actually completed parts of this long, long project that I have committed to only to find that the research has moved on and a new account of a person or event has emerged. There is nothing that I can do about that.

I might rarely use an ROTK “simplified origin story” for a character that I either lack historical information for at the time that I research them or cannot develop too much if I am to keep to the restrictions of self-publishing; some are/were necessary for story structure and I make no apologies for them, but others are regrettable omissions of interesting information.

Q: Is “Yellow Sky” basically Three Kingdoms “fan fiction”?

A: SHORT ANSWER: It is not intended to be, no.

A: LONG ANSWER: Unlike Crouching Dragon, I approached this book with a clear idea of what I was setting out to do from the start. In my Crouching Dragon F.A.Q I talked about my first intention being to write a straightforward fiction piece in the style reminiscent of Taiko or Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, but that I became less and less reliant on ROTK and more focussed on the historical sources; this was always intended to be an attempt to paint as realistic and historically-influenced piece as possible. So everyone behaves realistically and, where possible, in-keeping with their historical mentions.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: Interest in the subject and maybe a impossible-to-ignore need to finish something that I had started.

Q: Is the finished product what you expected it to be?

A: Not at all. I originally intended to start with the “Yellow Turban Rebellion” as most adaptations do, but when I realised that I wanted to delve into the causes of the rebellion and explore the characters of Cao Cao and Yuan Shao for one of the main set pieces -- the Battle of Guandu in 200CE -- I edged further and further back and ended up at the start of the “Partisan Crisis”. But once I went back and fleshed out the story from that point, I was forced to abandon the idea of ending the story any later, meaning that I did know that I would probably have to write another book if I even wanted to go as far as 200CE.

Q: Why is the infamous Yellow Turban mantra different?

A: For me, keeping the 16 word structure and making it rhyme were the most important things, as the purpose was to convey how powerful it would have been as a short, memorable soundbyte that carried the beliefs of the “Way of Peace” across the empire. The meaning is not changed: the mantra I use still has the same message, but conveyed in a style that the target audience will grasp more quickly than a direct translation.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to help you. How can I help?

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

Q: (POST-READING) So many factions! So much information!

A: SHORT ANSWER: That was an unavoidable consequence of the path I chose.

A: LONG ANSWER: There was never going to be any way to do this in that way that I wanted to do it that wasn’t complicated. I wanted to show the true scale of the conflict(s) of the time, military and political, and that meant writing this somewhat sprawling piece as I did.

Q: (POST-READING) Why end the book at such a point?

A: The final end point -- the end of the Battle for Yan Province -- was good enough, as it coincided with Li Jue and Guo Si seizing power and beginning the “co-regency” period, which -- along with the resurgence of the Yellow Turbans -- served as a fittingly bleak foreshadowing of the Han Dynasty’s now inevitable demise. To end the story anywhere else would have meant cutting or severely paring down other plot threads, and I did not want to do that as it would have meant the story returning entirely to the Cao Cao-Yuan Shao-Liu Bei focus that most adaptations have.

Q: (POST-READING) _______ is the protagonist?!

A: SHORT ANSWER: No.

A: LONG ANSWER: There is no protagonist in the straightforward sense. Some characters, typically warlords, do get a lot more time on stage than others, but that does not make them the protagonist. The finished piece was not meant to be “Cao Cao -- the novel”, or “Yuan Shao -- the untold story”, or whoever else might be considered too prominent and therefore the protagonist. Cao Cao is impossible to overstate in his importance, and he knows pretty much everyone personally as well, so it was always inevitable that he would dominate a novel about the last years of the Han court. But he is certainly not the protagonist. He is not the antagonist either, despite his actions in Xu Province: this book is one giant grey area, where there are many heroes in the classic sense but none in the modern sense.

Q: (POST-READING) You were very fair/unfair to _____. Why?

A: The root cause of the question is typically Cao Cao, Dong Zhuo or Lü Bu. I purposefully made Dong Zhuo obviously unhinged because it indicated a man that was drunk on power whose ability to hide his true nature had eroded from years of being forced to impress the Qiang warlords; Lü Bu is seen to be boundlessly and blatantly arrogant because he was reported to be, and Cao Cao is eccentric and unable to remain calm when afflicted by his famous migraines because, again, that is how he is often described. Another noted name is Sun, as in the entire Sun clan that suffer from a noticeable absence of presence: this was addressed by giving the southerners their own work, ‘East of the River: Home of the Sun Clan’. This third book was directly the result of having too much material but realising that I had enough Sun material to give them their own piece; many scenarios are shared between the books and seen from different perspectives, such as the Liang Province Rebellion and the Eastern Pass Coalition’s blockade of Luoyang.

Q: (POST-READING) This is a very politically charged book. Was that deliberate, and was there any attempt to draw parallels with the present day?

A: I will not lie: I despair at a lot of what I see and hear day-to-day, year after year: cycles of destruction and insanity, repeated mistakes, repeated crimes dressed up as mistakes, it all annoys me, and the self-inflicted isolation that writing required really did not bother me for quite a bit of those 6 years of non-stop work. But I presented the story as it was reported in historical documents: I did not set out to specifically reflect anything in the present day in any part of the world.

Q: (POST-READING) You made mistakes. How/why did they get through the proofing process?

A: SHORT ANSWER: Human error..

A: LONG ANSWER: I know about most of the errors now, five years down the line, and I could/would release a second edition to fix these if time allowed, but I have to spend my time on other things and cannot go back to that at present.

Q: (POST-READING) No “further reading” section this time around?

A: I had this idea that I was going to include a list of all of my sources and a list of further reading at the end of every book, but I quickly realised that I was bound to miss somebody out that deserved recognition and that it was better to say nothing than only half-say something. All I can say is that the research carried out by the historian Rafe de Crespigny is a very good place to start if you want to know more about the history, and there are many great adaptations of the ROTK story out there in print, on film and as playable video games.

Q: (POST-READING) I have read every Three Kingdoms historical source out there, Chinese and English language both, and I cannot find most of the dialogue or any of the poems that you have transcribed in your work. Where did you source them from?

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

Q: (POST-READING) I did not really like “Yellow Sky”.

A: SHORT ANSWER: That is unfortunate.

A: LONG ANSWER: I did not expect to please everyone. There is always ROTK to go back to, and I am sure that there will be other efforts by other authors in the future that will better suit your tastes. I would appreciate constructive feedback on why the book was not appreciated in the future, but at the moment I am too busy and could not find the time to read it.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to see it translated into ____/would like to translate it into ____.

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to talk to you directly. What is the best way to do that?

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

That’s it for now: happy reading.

T. P. M. Thorne

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(last site update 2019-07-10).