S. L. Huang’s New Take on the Most Famous Chinese Novel You’ve Never Read in English: Announcing The Water Outlaws

Tordotcom Publishing is thrilled to announce that Hugo Award winner S. L. Huang’s next book will be The Water Outlaws, a queer epic fantasy full of bandits, heroes, and revolution inspired by the Chinese classic Water Margin.

Shi Nai’an’s sprawling fourteenth century novel is one of China’s best-known works of literature, spawning sequels, spin-offs, numerous adaptations, and fields of study. Originally published during the dynastic upheaval between the fall of the Yuan Dynasty and the rise of the Ming, it’s been banned by nervous governments and then canonized as one of the Four Great Novels of Chinese literature, but remains the least known to English-language readers.

The Water Outlaws brings this raucous classic into the vivid present of the genre and turns it upside down. In Huang’s take, the famously bawdy bandits are women and genderqueer martial artsts ready to break the law, and the jianghu has never been ready for them.

This is wuxia fantasy that owes as much to classic Hong Kong action movies as it does to classic literature, from stunts professional, armorer, and award-winning author S. L. Huang.

Said author S. L. Huang:

The original Water Margin is a Robin Hood story that predates Robin Hood, starring an eclectic group of bandits who come together against the backdrop of a crumbling, corrupt Empire. Their mission: steal from the rich and destroy tyrannical government officials. If that’s not a story for our times, I don’t know what is.

The 14th century novel is filled with snarky dialogue and colorful violence, which give me great joy, but one of my favorite parts about my retelling is the genderflipping—or as a genderqueer person, perhaps I should say genderspinning. In a patriarchal fantasy world, I’ve designed a group of bandits that people on the margins of society would self-select into—mostly female, queer-normative, with a high percentage of gender nonconformity and of gender identities that in modern times we would call trans or nonbinary. And most of them are martial arts badasses—Water Margin is widely considered the first wuxia novel, after all!

All that said, my bandits run the gamut of morality in their violence. Some are vengeance-minded after being persecuted themselves; some have joined up because they felt a moral obligation to hamstring bullies and oppressors. And, well, some are murderous murderers who like chopping people up with axes…

Said editor Ruoxi Chen:

S. L. Huang, who is fresh off a Hugo Award for their short fiction and their extraordinary fairytale novella Burning Roses, is exactly the writer to take on the task of bringing the energy and story of Water Margin to English language readers in the twenty-first century. This is the kind of rollicking fantasy I grew up reading and soaking in as a kid, and Water Outlaws gives it the queer and genderqueer heroes its readers always deserved, alongside the quips, kickass action, and epic heist narrative any fantasy reader will want to devour. Lisa takes a globally iconic story known to millions in the diaspora and gives it bloody, funny new life, full of queer joy, competent women, and a found family you’ll want to join.

The Water Outlaws will be available in hardcover and ebook from Tordotcom Publishing in 2022.

S. L. Huang is a Hollywood stunt performer, firearms expert, and Hugo Award-winning writer with a math degree from MIT and credits in productions like “Battlestar Galactica” and “Top Shot.” The author of the Cas Russell novels (Tor Books), including Zero Sum GameNull Set, and Critical Point, as well as the fantasy novella Burning Roses (Tordotcom Publishing)Huang’s short fiction has also appeared in AnalogThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionStrange HorizonsNature, Tor.com, and more, including numerous best-of anthologies.

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