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Event Report|The Blurred Boundaries Between Reality and Science Fiction

Clemens J. Setz (Austria) and Jiang Bo (China)


Austrian writer Clemens J. Setz(克莱门斯·J.塞茨) and Chinese writer Jiang Bo (江波)discussed their literary constructs and the theme of “vivid, complex, and nuanced – building a new world ” at the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival. Moderating proceedings was Li Shuangzhi (李双志), a famous German-Chinese literary translator who has recently translated Setz’s award-winning title Indigo (《靛蓝症》), which is soon to be published in China by CITIC Press.


In Indigo, the protagonist not only shares the same name as Setz, but is also a maths teacher, as the author was in his early career. Setz said placing himself into the narrative allowed him to feel more directly the emotions of the characters in the creation. “When I put myself into the plot of the novel, maybe there will be new ideas for the development of the plot. When people write themselves as a character in the novel, they also let themselves experience a variety of different things in the novel. Take risks, so that something will be reflected into your own spiritual world.”


Jiang Bo’s literary works are influenced by his own experiences with technology, and he believes the huge technological advancements witnessed in China in recent years have made people more receptive to the whole science fiction genre.


“Because of its own development, China’s overall scientific and cultural literacy is constantly improving, which has also increased the acceptance of science fiction literature. Science fiction literature may have been accepted by fewer people in China in the past, but in the past two or three decades that has increased and the number of readers will grow very quickly,” he said.


Speaking of the development of science fiction, during the discussion there was a consensus that reality and science fiction were catching up with each other. Although science fiction writes about the future developments in technology, in many cases the boundary between reality and a future vision was no longer clear.


Jiang Bo feels that the space theme will remain a constant in the field of science fiction, but some other science and technology areas might be phased out of the genre. “Because such things as genetic science and artificial intelligence technology have actually entered reality, that is to say it will come later, maybe in less than 30 years. So it is possible then to change from the category of science fiction to the category of realism. This transformation is obvious; if a science fiction writer writes about these subjects you may be surpassed by realist writers, or it may even happen in reality. Reality becomes more sci-fi than the scenario you described, and this kind of thing is actually happening now.”


The intertwining of science fiction and reality also plays a role in Setz’s new book, The Bee and the Invisibility (《蜜蜂与不可见之物》) which centres on the invention of artificial language. In his creation, Setz said he incorporated a lot of research on Lu Xun’s literary language, a classic Chinese writer he was now learning a lot about and had huge respect for. “In fact, many people in Europe already know that he is a classic writer, and many people have read his works – like a vast universe.”


With the changes and developments over time, Setz pointed out that some decades ago science fiction in Europe was generally hopeful and aspirational, featuring technological development and scientific discoveries, but currently he felt the field was bleaker, generally dystopian in tone.


Jiang Bo said a similar trend could be seen in China, which he put down to “literature being directly affected by the real society”, and secondly, that a plot setting often requires conflict and contradictions and the creation of pessimistic scenarios to attract readers. “But from my point of view, I still tend to write something that can express a kind of positive optimism. Even if a story takes place after widespread destruction across the world, I tend to let human civilization survive, or at least offer hope rather than complete despair,” he said.


The 7th EU-China International Literary Festival brought leading European and Chinese writers together to embrace the core theme of “Explore·Imagine·Inspire – Science Fiction, Fantasy and Worlds Beyond”.



– Report by EU-China International Literary Festival Team