Sixty-Four Chance Pieces is a novel of sorts that puts the I Ching 易經, or Chinese Book of Changes, to work as a literature machine to generate new stories and new possibilities.
I started out on this project some time around 2005, and over the years it has grown into something of an obsession. Each of the sixty-four chapters of the book draws on a chapter of the Chinese text, and combines storytelling, travel writing and often wayward philosophical reflections as it traces the three thousand year-old intrigue of the I Ching.
Sixty-Four Chance Pieces was launched in March at the Bookworm Literary Festival — China’s biggest English language literature festival — with events in English and Chinese in Beijing, Chengdu, Suzhou and Ningbo.
The book is now available worldwide in paperback and ebook formats.[box color=”gray” size=”big”]
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“Buckingham’s stories are glimpses into worlds familiar yet somehow distant, their landscapes and cultures verging on the mythical… Eclectic, with a healthy dose of humour, the stories of Sixty Four Chance Pieces act as provocations to consider the nature of our respective political, social and personal realities—a quality it shares with its parent text.” — The Asian Review of Books
“Travelling without arriving, seeking without expectation of finding; Will Buckingham is a writer and philosopher of great humility and talent. Profoundly spiritual, entrancingly enigmatic, this is a magical book about the author’s quest to understand the ancient Chinese art of divination—and ultimately himself.” — Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang, author of The Woman Who Lost China.
1. Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor, saves the Yijing from the flames.
2. A traveller meets with an old woman whom death has overlooked.
3. The philosopher Leibniz has a vision of cats, pigeons and binary numbers.
4. A mathematician’s house burns down as he contemplates chance and order.
5. An old sibyl brings about the ruin of a city.
6. The tale of the destruction of the Book of the Law, and an act of casual robbery.
7. Three soldiers are eternally damned for not eating an apple pie.
8. A dictator with Hemingway obsessions has an encounter with a bear.
9. A brief tale about offerings made to a small, pea-shaped god.
10. The perils of treading on the tails of tigers.
11. A non-existent ruler who rules by means of a remarkable machine.
12. A brief tale of poets, borderlands, and lutes strung with the guts of singers.
13. Once a feral child, the narrator recollects the courtesy of lions.
14. A story about the difficulty of travelling with gods.
15. Major General Kolatkar, of the Indian army, encounters a stratospheric monk.
16. Solemn Mayan ceremonies are interrupted by a wayward dream-elephant.
17. The Chancellor of the Exchequer disappears in pursuit of a naked girl.
18. An archaeologist destroys the past for the sake of the future.
19. A priest of a forest temple loses a son; a prince gains an heir.
20. Father Gaudet, a Jesuit in China, is confounded by the philosophers.
21. A model filming a breath-mint advertisement in Irian Jaya suffers misfortune.
22. A bride-to-be dreams of Henry Wellcome’s moustache.
23. A grandfather, his grandchildren, and an alarming fruit.
24. A bureaucratic problem in the underworld.
25. A tale of failed seduction by means of formal logic.
26. A story about calculating the number of things in the world.
27. An archaeologist uncovers Tang dynasty jam tarts, far out in the desert.
28. A brief story about the perils of marrying poets.
29. A mad uncle’s obsession with a damp hillside crevice.
30. The benefits of burning books, and how the revolution at last began.
31. A game of passionate chess with a nun.
32. On a houseboat, on a lake, looking for the great fish Kun.
33. Guo Pu, the diviner, encounters a prehistoric beast.
34. A writer wrestles with a goat caught in a thorn bush, like Jacob with the angel.
35. The sad tale of a “five-skilled rodent”.
36. Saint Ada of Norwich attempts the miracle of flight.
37. A traveller befriends a seller of dog-meat.
38. Out in the forest, meeting with fox spirits, cartloads of ghosts, and blind tigers.
39. A middle-aged couple takes the wrong path.
40. A girl shoots a winged creature, acquiring an urn containing her father’s soul.
41. The last performance, from her hospital bed, of a singer: the Lady Empress.
42. The ten thousand ways of reading a poem.
43. A pensioner accumulates purely spiritual value as she shops for bargains.
44. After an act of patricide, the narrator finds immortality in a smokehouse.
45. A philosopher contemplates the possibility of a world with many gods.
46. The inventor Bi Sheng ascends to heaven with his dogs and chickens.
47. A novelist sets traps for stories, high in the mountains.
48. A stranger seeks to understand the city that has become his home.
49. Fu Xi, sage and inventor of pills to make erections last, appears in a dream.
50. A three thousand year-old stew causes trouble with the Health Department.
51. A woman and her cat experience an earthquake.
52. An office worker is converted to philosophy and to uselessness.
53. A cantankerous pensioner kills the last ever goose.
54. Story on the advantages of marrying the one-eyed.
55. King Wen of Zhou, during an eclipse, debates with the corpse of his father.
56. Meeting with an alien, in the city of Precious Treasure Chicken.
57. A mafia boss summons a scholar to deal with a troublesome magpie.
58. Diners at an exclusive restaurant are bothered by a naked swimmer.
59. The historian Sima Qian is castrated.
60. Three sages discuss the Yijing. Laozi burps.
61. Drinking fizzy drinks with the great poets of the past, by Yellow Crane Tower.
62. An army of small story-machines, and the monophysite controversy.
63. A widower meets with the spirit of his dead, unfaithful wife.
64. Qin Shihuang lies on his death bed, dreaming of foxes and immortality.
Sixty-Four Chance Pieces draws on a long years of research into the I Ching. In 2010, I was awarded a British Academy grant to research the book in China, and the book was eventually launched in 2015 at the Bookworm Literary Festival.
Over a quarter of the sixty-four stories from the book have been published in publications such as The Packingtown Review, The Interpreter’s House, Brittle Star, The Frogmore Papers, New Writing: the Journal of the Theory and Practice of Creative Writing, Overheard: Stories for Reading Aloud published by Salt Books, , Necessary Fiction, Spilt Milk Magazine, The Lowestoft Chronicle, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and on internet radio station Radio Wildfire. I have also presented papers on the project at conferences such as the Bangor University East Asian Conference 2012, the CCWWP conference in Toronto (2012), the Borders and Crossings travel writing conference in Birmingham (2012), the Bangor conference on Cultural Translation and East Asia (2012), Sheffield Hallam’s short story conference (2011) and the Essex university conference on Literature, Myth and the Unconscious (2010)