Awesome to find this interview. After thoroughly enjoying Karin Tidbeck’s _Jagganath_ (my review here) I found out via her blog that she had been in Beijing for the Bookworm Festival for a talk with fellow science fiction writer Fei Dao. Fei Dao had already been on my radar for the last couple of weeks while compiling an annotated list of contemporary Chinese authors (using the very awesome but somewhat sparse author’s list on Paper Republic) and so the coincidence was serendipitous to say the least. That talk isn’t online to my knowledge* but this intereview covers at least some of the same territory.
Science Fiction in China: A Conversation with Fei Dao
by Alec Ash
Fei Dao, a science fiction writer born in 1983, chose for his pen name the two characters for “flying dagger” (飞刀). When he achieved some success, he changed the second character to another, also pronounced Dao (氘), that made the nom de plume sound less jejune.
Science fiction in China is attracting special interest of late. The mind-bending trilogy Three Body by Liu Cixin has been selling strong for its genre. Sci fi is also a theme of the new edition of the Beijing-based (English language) literary magazine Pathlight, slated to come out next week. Alice Xin Liu, managing editor of the magazine, tweeted “Chinese scifi is, politically, most daring genre in Chinese contemporary literature”.
So, who should we be reading? Does this sci fi have Chinese characteristics? What is its history in the mainland? And does it matter?
I sat down with Fei Dao in Tsinghua university, where he is studying comparative literature, to ask him these questions and more. Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth.
Alec Ash: How did you start writing science fiction?
Fei Dao: When I was at middle school, 16 or 17, I started to read a lot of sci fi. I read the magazine Science Fiction World, and became more familiar with sci fi literature. I liked it because there was a lot of imagination and novelty in it. At that time, my dream was to become an author. When I started out, I didn’t think at all about writing science fiction. Back then I felt sci fi was very difficult to write, and needed some knowledge of science, so I could only appreciate it but not write it myself.
Like many post 80s authors, I started out writing campus stories about young people in school. But I couldn’t get them published. Until one day in university, I wrote a science fiction story on the side, and sent it in to Science Fiction World. I was just giving it a go, I had no idea that that first story would get published [in 2003]. A year later, I had another idea, and that second story also got published. So that encouraged me, and I started writing sci fi.
AA: How popular is sci fi in China?
FD: In my opinion, it’s mostly popular among young people. This has a big connection to Science Fiction World, because a lot of students at middle school and university buy that magazine. It has a very large readership. But after people graduate and start to work, most people don’t read science fiction. They think it’s just youth literature and that grown-ups should read more mature stuff, not childish stuff.
AA: How do you feel about that?
FD: Of course I don’t think it’s childish literature. But Science Fiction World is, after all, for young readers. The whole feel of the magazine is like that. So while there is lots of mature science fiction for grown-ups, the readers are still mostly young.
I feel lots of people are prejudiced against sci fi. They think that if you’re a certain age and still read sci fi, that’s immature and unrealistic, like you are letting your fantasies run wild. So I think that prejudice is a problem. But now that Three Body (三体) [by Liu Cixin] has been publically praised, I hope that is slowly changing people’s opinion.
AA: Who are the Chinese authors we should read?
FD: The most popular authors now are Liu Cixin, Han Song and Wang Jinkang. Those three are the most famous at this time. Some people jokingly call them “the three generals”.
Sounds like Fei Dao might be making a nod to the ‘big three’ of Western sci-fi (Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke). Neat stuff. You can read the rest of the interview here.
*Karin Tidbeck responded to my request for a recording of the talk with a link to a blog post by Fei Dao in Chinese, which I am about half-way through translating right now.