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On Writing and Translating Science Fiction


The latest issue of Logic, a quarterly technology magazine, focuses on China. It includes an interview with Chinese-American sci-fi writer and translator Ken Liu, who has done much to introduce China’s thriving speculative fiction scene to English-language readers. In the interview, Liu reflects on how he came to be a writer and translator, the fuzzy genre boundaries of science fiction, and the ways that censorship shapes Chinese literature. Check out an excerpt from the interview below.

Why do you think that China is such an interesting place to write science fiction right now?

I don’t know that it actually is any more interesting than anywhere else. It’s very common for Western observers to focus on the Chineseness of Chinese science fiction. But I’ve always been very resistant to the idea that Chineseness is a meaningful analytical category. The writers I know are as diverse and varied in their goals and means and interests as writers anywhere. Han Song for instance, is a very surreal kind of writer. He writes like Philip K. Dick. If you read him next to Liu Cixin, who’s more like Arthur C. Clarke, it would be hard to identify many useful commonalities even though they’re both Chinese science fiction writers.

For every subgenre that you can identify in the West, be it cyberpunk or biopunk or social critique fiction, you can find some analogue in the Chinese science fiction community. I think many of the writers view themselves as participating in a global science fiction tradition rather than a national one.

A great deal of Chinese science fiction, of course, is grounded in contemporary Chinese society. The way so much “progress” has been compressed within a few decades does lead to acute problems that Chinese writers are more sensitized to than most American writers are. But what’s happening in China is not unique to China. You see the same kinds of issues manifesting in South Africa, South Korea, Eastern Europe, and other places. Many of the problems that are often described as uniquely Chinese are not if you really probe into them.

Image: Writer and translator Ken Liu. Via The Straights Times.