Science Fiction Studies

#137 = Volume 46, Part 1 = March 2019

Li Guangyi and Nathaniel Isaacson

China Turns Outward: On the Literary Significance of Liu Cixin’s Science Fiction

Abstract. The history of modern Chinese literature has seen more than one wave of realist movements aimed at effecting change by “writing the world.” This is both a reflection of writers’ national consciousness and a modern expression of the classical political ideals of “All Under Heaven” and the “Great Unity.” Liu Cixin’s science fiction is characteristic of China once again “turning outward” to engage with the world at large. His works carry on the nationalist tradition of Chinese salvation from ruin prevalent since the late Qing Dynasty. Though they have not abandoned their exuberance for the shimmering aura of “third-world” internationalism born in the Mao era, his works also embody a true universal humanism, showing profound concern and hope for the challenges and fate of humanity. The concept of “national allegory” is insufficient for understanding the significance of Liu Cixin’s work as an author and his investigations as a philosopher. Only by understanding his fiction and essayistic oeuvre as a whole, placing it in the context of the birth of Chinese sf at the turn of the twentieth century and its evolution through the socialist period and beyond, can contemporary Chinese literary studies adequately breathe in the vital air of Liu Cixin’s science fiction.               

Gwennaël Gaffric

Liu Cixin’s THREE-BODY TRILOGY and the Status of Science Fiction in Contemporary China

Abstract. The recent success of Liu Cixin’s hard sf trilogy Santi [THE THREE-BODY TRILOGY, 2006- 2008] is symbolic of the important rise of Chinese science fiction both  in  China and  in  the rest of the world. This trilogy tells the story  of the future invasion  of Earth  by  a belligerent extraterrestrial civilization with advanced technology and the ways in which humans try to defend themselves. It begins with the Chinese Cultural Revolution and ends with the heat death of the universe. A huge bestseller and great critical success, it is also being adapted to film. The English translation of the first volume  also won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015. With the considerable success he achieved with this trilogy, Liu Cixin has become for the readers, critics, and supporters of Chinese soft power the standard-bearer of a new “era” of Chinese science fiction, called upon to promote the “Chinese dream” to  the international community. In light  of the history of science fiction in China since 1949 and its political reappropriation, this present contribution offers an examination of the conditions of production and reception of THE THREE-BODY TRILOGY  in China and abroad  and details the reasons for   the critical, academic, and even political passion that it arouses today.

Stephen Dougherty

Liu Cixin, Arthur C. Clarke, and “Repositioning”

Abstract. This essay investigates the work of the contemporary Chinese science-fiction writer Liu Cixin in the context of his relation to the British sf icon Arthur C. Clarke. Liu  identifies himself as a great fan of Golden Age Anglo-American sf, and I argue that  Liu is no more original, no more distinctively “local” a writer, than when he is channeling the ghosts of his Anglo-American forebears, especially Arthur C. Clarke. My aim is to consider the relation between Liu and Clarke in terms of a dynamic that the translation theorist Emily Apter refers to as “repositioning.”

Val Nolan

Nostalgia for Infinity: Hard Determinism and Hard Science in Alastair Reynolds’s  REVELATION  SPACE Sequence 

Abstract. This article examines Alastair Reynolds’s REVELATION SPACE sequence (with a focus on the trilogy Revelation Space [2000], Redemption Ark [2002], and Absolution Gap [2003]) as an intricate working-through of philosophical questions associated with the implications of free will and current understandings of quantum mechanics, a series of experiments conducted through the medium of fiction by a talented novelist with a background in space science and astrophysics. It is argued that Reynolds’s fiction offers readers a credible compromise between the determinism described by classical physics and the “mere randomness” implied by quantum mechanics. Specifically, the REVELATION SPACE sequence is shown to function as a laboratory of sorts, a successful translation of complex processes and theories from the cutting edge of physics (particularly the “Closed Timelike Curves” described by physicist David Deutsch) into a rich fictional tapestry that is itself underpinned by a contentious metaphysical debate over the primacy either of intuitively felt freedom or material determinism. In the process, Reynolds is shown to combine hard (that is realistic) science with an interrogation of hard determinism (the belief that every event derives from initial conditions), as well as of the so-called hard problem of consciousness (simply put: where does consciousness come from?).

Silvia G. Kurlat Ares

Argentine Science Fiction: Between Everyday  Politics and Dystopia

Abstract. This article explores some fundamental political and ideological questions posed by Argentinian sf. Despite its volume, Argentine critics still consider sf a minor, popular, and sometimes not especially serious form. This article discusses how sf contests these assumptions and proposes a new understanding of Argentinian culture, using as examples three recent Argentinian sf novels: Pola Oloixarac’s Las constelaciones oscuras [The Dark Constellations], Juan Diego Incardona’s Las estrellas federales [Red Poinsettias], and Pablo Plotkin’s Un futuro radiante [A Glowing Future]. Read by mainstream and sf readers alike, these dystopian novels occupy an uneasy space in Argentinian culture. They ask fundamental questions about the role of the individual subject who cannot always sustain his or her political and ideological commitments vis- à-vis the community. They express fear about worsening social and economic conditions of an ever-changing present. Written after one of the worst economic crises in Argentinian history, these novels propose not only new forms for approaching the real but also new ways of reading the national ideological landscape.

Hee-Jung Serenity Joo

Racial Impossibility and Critical Failure in W.E.B. Du  Bois’s Darkwater

Abstract. This essay examines the relatively overlooked speculative short fiction included in
W.E.B. Du Bois’s Darkwater (1920): “The Princess of the Hither Isles,” “Jesus Christ in Texas,” and “The Comet.” I read these pieces in Darkwater through the lens of “racial impossibility” to discern the interconnectedness between Du Bois’s fiction and his political theory in order to explore the role that his creative writing played in his imaginations of social change. I argue that Du Bois’s fictional writings are not merely illustrations of his utopian thought but rather where it emerges. Specifically, it is precisely the failures of these fictions in imagining utopia that can be read as moments of political refusal that helped him cultivate his political theories.

Siobhan Carroll

Lost in Space: Surviving Globalization in Gravity and The Martian

Abstract. The Martian (2015) and Gravity (2013) join a group of recent maritime disaster films in depicting American individuals struggling to survive in hostile natural environments. Noting the ocean’s historical function as a signifier of internationalism, this essay examines these science-fictional stories of shipwreck in space as expressions of anxiety in the face of globalization. Where The Martian promotes a vision of the resilience of American skilled labor, Gravity portrays the emotional consequences of the isolation produced by globalization’s network culture. Both films ultimately, however, urge acceptance of a global economic system in which, by virtue of the international distribution of movie production, the film’s creators are invested. Examining the spatial politics of Gravity and The Martian allows us to see not only the filmmakers’ attempts to negotiate the anti-globalization backlash of the 2010s, but also the way in which ostensibly neutral natural spaces convey political and cultural meaning.

Vitor Bonifácio

A Singular Novel—Amaral’s 1886 Os habitantes do planeta Saturno [The Inhabitants of the Planet Saturn] 

Abstract. Os habitantes do planeta Saturno [The Inhabitants of the Planet Saturn] by the mysterious nineteenth-century Portuguese author António Peixoto do Amaral may be the first fully realized work of sf in Portuguese. Published in 1886, it shows a clear  debt to Jules Verne’s interplanetary voyage extraordinaire, Hector Servadac (1877), but it also includes elements specific to the contemporary Portuguese cultural context such as the promotion of a Catholic conservative political agenda, among others. Despite the book’s didactic content and positivist tone the perversion of a few of Verne's plot devices implied it failed to find an audience.

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