I am considering creating a space here on Typosphere where I can talk about and point my meager but brilliant readership toward other really interesting people. I may do that if I get some extra time, which I’m hoping to do Sometime Real Soon Now (he says, grinning with cunning slyness). If I had such a space today, I would be writing about one Tang Fei, who is a writer of speculative fiction in China.
I stumbled upon her through a series of events that occurred last week in San Antonio. I attended a panel there titled “What Does SF Tell Us About Dealing with China in the Future?” Seeing that I’ve worked in global roles for a long time, and that I’m naturally inclined to be interested in both SF and cultural questions like that, I was intrigued. But I admit that I found the question itself to be a bit brusque. Who, after all, is “us” and what are we doing “dealing with” China?
Anyway, the panelists were a three people with deep connections with China (one Chinese, one Chinese-American), and one Big Name writer with some level of experience in the more political realm. The conversation was snappy and very interesting, but I couldn’t help note that the BNW kept pushing the conversation into political directions, while the others were expanding the conversation across the whole of the cultural spectrum. To be fair, there is an apparent push from the Chinese government to use SF to increase interest in technological fields. But, as the panelists mentioned, SF has been alive and active in China for 150 years (give or take). So it’s not like someone is trying to dump the genre on a new, unsuspecting Chinese public as if it’s some kind of thought-drug.
At the very end of the session, one panelist mentioned that we had a writer from China here with us, and invited her to make any statements that she wanted.
Enter Tang Fei.
This woman, who is quite young, quite tiny, has English as only a secondary language, and was facing a crowd of people in Texas, fer cryin’ out loud, proceeded to stand up and through an interpreter tell us in an very engaging fashion that (to paraphrase), writers in China are like writers everywhere–some work around political angles, yes, but not many, and that the best work is work about human conditions and what it means to be a human being. That science fiction in China is about those things.
It made my heart jump, because after about half an hour of the conversation, these were the thoughts going through my own mind. It was mentioned that she had recently published a short story in Apex Magazine that had been translated by Ken Liu, and immediately after the panel I chased it down and read “The Call Girl,” which I think is a fantastic read.
Read it. Definitely about the human condition, political only in the way that all good fiction about the human condition is political, and definitely interesting.