A Translation and Commentary
Thomas E. McAuley
The Competition and Appeal are presented here for the first time in complete English translation with accompanying commentary and explanatory notes by Thomas McAuley.
Edited by Paul Manfredi and Christopher Lupke
The Writing of Fiction in the Great Transformative Epoch of Modern China, 1937-1949
Chinese science fiction (sf) writer Liu Cixin (b. 1963) has constantly been dubbed as China’s Arthur C. Clarke (1917−2008) ever since he won the 2015 Hugo Award for best novel. He himself humbly states on several occasions that everything he writes is just clumsy imitations of Arthur C. Clarke. One similarity between Liu and Clarke is the obsession with the imagination of the alien encounter. But their imagination of the alien other has one major difference: While the aliens in Clarke’s sf are mostly benevolent, those in Liu’s are mostly malevolent. This essay compares the differences between their alien encounter sf, focusing on Childhood’s End and The Three-Body Trilogy (Santi sanbuqu). I will especially look at how the narrative point of view and the consequence of the alien encounter differ in the two texts. And I argue that Childhood’s End is an unapologetic justification of (British) colonialism (dressed up as the benevolent Overlords) and propaganda for colonial logics, whereas Liu’s trilogy is a representation of the colonial encounter story written from the point of view of the (semi-) colonized, for whom this experience is characterized by dehumanization. The Three-Body Trilogy could be considered as resulted from the revival of the national humiliation discourse in the 1990s.
The current ecological crisis is the single most pressing problem for utopian projects today. The ever-expanding intersections of technology and capital in the Age of the Anthropocene are, if nothing else, invitations to consider the possibilities for utopian thought particularly as it is embodied in the formal structures of science fiction (sf). Science fiction is a genre whose origins in post-Enlightenment industrial modernity align it with globalization’s valorization of the scientific progress and limitless economic expansion that have contributed so much to the shape of the current crisis. This introduces a significant tension into science fiction’s efforts to imagine a way out of the crisis and toward some kind of utopian future that is not simply a repetition of the present. In the context of today’s climate crisis, what are the possibilities for utopian thought that succumbs neither to the anxieties that arise in the face of inevitable and radical change nor to an optimistic “techno-utopianism” that threatens to repeat all the errors of the past? What are the possibilities for utopian thought that takes account of human beings as an inter-relational species deeply imbricated with all life on Earth? I look at a variety of twenty-first-century Anglo-American sf stories through the lens of eco-philosopher Timothy Morton’s theory of climate change as a “hyperobject” and in the framework of sf writer Geoff Ryman’s “Mundane Manifesto” (2004)—his call for a kind of science fiction that recognizes the Earth as the only home that can sustain us.
Following China’s large-scale process of urbanization, the distinctive characteristics of China’s “city(s)” has also begun taking shape. Descriptions and imaginative writings about the city found in contemporary Chinese science fiction have demonstrated unique and yet very specific ways of understanding the city. They have displayed discontentment with the high-level fragmentation of urban space as well as its implicit social inequality, yet also have reflected upon the urban individual’s resort to acquiescence and self-justification as a result of their inability to effectively dismantle such predicaments. In these kinds of imaginary relations, the city becomes an object which is difficult to fathom yet unable to be resisted. Though science fiction novels are able to reconceptualize the city through the reconstruction of space and time, thus bringing about seemingly new visions of the city, yet when these narratives begin to deviate from topics such as the “social property of time,” or that of “social labor,” they themselves then become problematic.