The Wind of the Future Blows from China
For years science fiction seemed to have lived in a suspension state, even a slow death, an agony of ideas caused by the fact that it has come mostly from a single market, a single language, a single lifestyle and thus a limited point of view to represent the immense diversity of the future. Then, all of sudden, 5 years ago, Liu Cixin’s Hugo Award (the first ever Non-English speaking author to win in more than 70 editions) changed the situation. Still, nobody knew about Chinese sf and at conventions in the West people were commemorating the death of sf and complaining about the rising of fantasy (except for commercial sales claims and big-industry blurbs which don’t necessarily mean quality of books).
I’ve come across Chinese SF thanks to Ken Liu’s translations in English on the magazine Clarkesworld, and then to Chiara Cigarini and Professor Wu Yan, who have introduced me to this “new futuristic world.”
Indeed, it was a true revelation, mostly because I was scouting non-English stories for my small press Future Fiction and because I wanted to prove that science fiction doesn’t belong to any culture but it emerges as a social necessity and a tool to imagine possible scenarios to tackle human problems through imagination and creativity even before technology and politics in all the countries of the world.
Reading Chinese sf gave me a feeling of freshness and cautious optimism–even among the shadows and pitfalls of the incredible transformation and acceleration the country has experienced during the last 30 years–but in general a unique “sense of wonder” permeated many of the stories I’ve read: from climate-change, intergenerational scenarios in Liu Cixin’s “Yuanyuan’s Bubbles” to android caregivers employed to support an aging population in “Tong Tong’s Summer” by Xia Jia to the blessing app Buddhagram developed by a stressed marketing geek in Chen Qiufan’s “Coming of Light” or the use of a sign language to express what is missing from the Web in Zhang Ran’s “Ether.” All these ideas are coming straight from a rapidly-changing society that is living them on its own skin, sucking the essence of the future from a privileged point of view. To paraphrase Han Song, “you simply need to open a window in China to see a preview of the future.”
These stories were too good and innovative–blending cutting-edge innovations developed by Chinese tech-companies with old traditions, philosophies, spiritualism and a popular folklore that dates back to more than 3000 years ago–not to appreciate them.
No other country can benefit from such a rich past and an innovative present like China.
No other country–from fandom to scholars, from conventions to academic meetings–is investing so much energy and passion in science fiction like China.
No other country has the level of support–including public sector grants and private institutions funding–like China.
That’s an incredible leverage to use for boosting the storytelling of a huge, highly populated country that has come to realize the power it holds in its hands and imagination to shape the future awaiting the whole world.
Science fiction writers are well aware of this; that’s their virtue and vice, like fortune tellers they are sometimes praised for their intuitions and wild guesses while most often, like Cassandras, they are ignored or criticized. The old generation of Chinese sf writers were shyly trying to imitate Western canons, ashamed to represent their reality and to offer their own identity to the judgment of the outside world, while the new generation–namely “balinghuo” – speaks English, has travelled or studied abroad, reads books in original language and is proud to sit among the so-called developed countries.
Nowadays Chinese sf writers can speak for themselves and don’t need to look at the West to produce excellent ideas and contents.
I even think they could lead the way to show what’s behind the corner for humanity in the stories of the latest generation of writers, called “linlinhuo,” born in the new millennium: geo-engineering projects, socio-technological mass experiments, biotechnological breakthroughs, the raising of AIs and algorithms biases, Big Data-driven virtual relationships, a self-sustainable industry running on solar energy and renewable resources, a 5G low-latency and environmentally friendly metropolis of 20 million people… In China these concepts are science fiction and mainstream at the same time, and are being used to build future case scenarios and matrixes for projecting long-term policies into the future of mankind.
I’ve visited China 6 times in 3 years and I’ve published in Italy three anthologies of Chinese sf(in Chinese and Italian language), Nebula (星云), Sinosfera (汉字文化圈) and Artificina (赛博格中国) and collections of stories by Han Song, Xia Jia, Chen Qiufan, Regina Kanyu Wang and soon Mu Ming.
China has welcomed me with interest and generosity. I have been invited to many sf cons, I have been appointed as Honorable Dean of the Chongqing Fishing Castle Workshop of Science Fiction, I’ve signed contracts–as writer and editor–for Guangzhou Blue Ocean Press for an anthology of international sf called “What’s the future like?” and Bofeng Culture to publish two of my novels, Nexhuman and Bloodbusters, and a series of books about sf in translation.
I believe we need to include as many futures as possible to embrace more realistic visions of the direction where the world might go.
I believe we need to diversify voices, backgrounds and cultures to be sure that we will not leave something relevant behind.
I believe the evolution of the genre passes from its ability to mingle with the “other,” wherever it comes from, however it looks like, because sf is fiction of transformation and it’s about overcoming barriers and limitations, often posed by language, politics and economy.
The future is like the wind, it blows in all directions. Now it’s blowing from China and we should welcome it and enjoy it.
 Science Fiction Studies, v. 40, March 2013, p. 18.
Francesco Verso is a multiple-award Italian Science Fiction writer and editor. He has published: e-Doll, Livido, Bloodbusters and I camminatori (made of The Pulldogs and No/Mad/Land). Livido and Bloodbusters – translated into English by Sally McCorry – have been published in the USA, UK and soon in China. He also works as editor and publisher of Future Fiction, a multicultural project, publishing the best SF in translation with authors like James P. Kelly, Ian McDonald, Han Song, Ken Liu, Liu Cixin, Pat Cadigan, Vandana Singh, Chen Qiufan and many others. He may be found at www.futurefiction.org.