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Catalog no. 003
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The Path of The Red Dragon A novel of martial arts adventure and science fiction. In 1984, a reporter's assignment to cover the war between the dragon tongs in Chinatown San Francisco leads him on a journey to hell when he discovers that nothing is as it appears. When he investigates the murder of a loved one, he must forge an uneasy alliance with the Red Dragon tong and learns that he is more than human. ♦
About the book: It came to me as rather a surprise. I had been casting around for an origin story for my character Michael Burton, who was then only a minor character introduced in Destiny's Forge about 3/4 of the way through the book, and I had already established him as being a regular member of the ensemble. But he was not as well known to me as part of the series theme and as a fully developed character. I kept thinking that there was a backstory for him somewhere, but where?
As luck would have it, I was called on to do some background work for the movie Rush Hour III, starring Jackie Chan, as I had a calling service which arranged extra work around town. I was told it was "crowd work", and I was to be the ambassador of Lithuania. I remember it was January of 2008, and it was freezing cold. Armed with this extremely sketchy description of my role, I went downtown and was dressed, then made up, and found myself in what looked like an assembly room in an empty office building. It turned out to be the stage for the opening scene in the film where the World Court was to hear a speech by an official, played by Max von Sydow, in which he tells the court about the existence of the "xai-xen" (shai-shen), a long list of Chinese crime lords which has been kept secret for decades.
It was quite exciting because the scene called for Chan to defend the court against a sniper who shoots at Sydow. The court representatives were then to panic and evacuate the room while shots ring out and our hero shoots back, etc. It was all quite exciting, and I had fun doing it. But while the scene was being rehearsed and shot the kernel of an idea crept into my mind and I wrote it down before I left the set.
After doing some historical research it seemed like serendipity had struck. I emerged with a full blown martial arts adventure featuring Michael Burton as a reporter in San Francisco, who is assigned by his editor to cover the war between the dragon tongs in Chinatown. There is a lot of action and adventure, mystery, murder and romance in this story. I set the plot in 1984 because that was the year the announcement was made that the UK was going to release its charter for Hong Kong to the Chinese government, sparking a roaring debate among capitalists and creating quite a political stir.
During this time boatloads of Chinese dissidents tried to enter the US illegally and hoped to remain under the protection of political asylum. Some were successful, some simply slipped under the radar and disappeared into the community. I don't recall how many people were allowed in but I do remember the descriptions of the horrendous conditions the passengers lived in on the way here, and how many died without ever seeing land. On the whole it was a very unpleasant way to gain one's freedom, but there did not appear to be any way to help all of them and diplomatic channels were constrained by our trade agreement with China. Actually I think China was more embarrassed by the mass exodus of refugees than its record of bad quality for exporting inferior goods, but at the time they were benefiting greatly from our willingness to trade with them and they saw no reason to upset the applecart by creating a noise about the dissidents.
Attendant with this news, there was also a revelation of the rapid growth of black markets both in Hong Kong and in the US for weapons, drugs, counterfeit merchandise and money, underage brides, slaves and other illegal goods lurking just beneath the surface of the economy. I talk about it as part of Michael's own research and his investigation, which soon lands him in hot water. It also set up the conditions under which he finds himself radically changed into a vampire, so that he never returns to the life he once lived; and he loses all that he loves because of his curiosity. It is a fact that reporters and journalists are often equated with spies in foreign countries, but Michael discovers that he is no safer at home than abroad.
The crime lords are often depicted as mysterious, secretive and even invisible. Efforts to discover who they are and how broad their criminal empire is are frustrating to law enforcement. We see a lot of open warfare on television shows between cops and gangsters but we are looking at a mere appendage, while the rest of the monster is concealed from sight. Mock corporations engage in money laundering disguised as "banks", prostitution rings import and export women and even kidnap them off the street, but not in broad daylight. Drugs are popular means of financing terrorists because they are in demand among the young, and when law enforcement catches a drug lord these days, he is usually a member of a southern cartel. But the Chinese drug lords are never seen and rarely caught. They continue to operate freely because their organization is more guarded and secretive, their approach more subtle, and they would never resort to the open skirmishes for power you see below the border.
Using these facts, I constructed a story of the war between the Red Dragons and the Black Dragons, my ficticious factions who are embroiled in a war which has been going on for over a century. And Michael's life turns upside down in more ways than one when he discovers that vampires rule the shadows. He meets several people who explain more of the world he is entering, and it soon becomes clear that he had better choose which side he is on or he would lose everything he holds dear. Three women in his life help him to make the choice, while he learns more from a fullblood ring fighter called "Xue Yaoli", who is far more than he appears to be.
There is more to the story as it is interwoven with the concept of the superhero, part of the series theme; and the role of the journalist as an eyewitness to history. The story is about change, about choices, about consequences and about taking responsibility for one's actions.
I dedicated the book to martial arts masters Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, as well as the Xiaolin monks who began the tradition of kung fu.
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