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Event Report | Intertwining Strands: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Reality

Hannu Rajaniemi (Finland) and Tang Fei (China)

Finnish writer Hannu Rajaniemi and Chinese writer Tang Fei – two renowned literary talents who consistently develop spellbinding narratives that seamlessly blend the real, the unreal and the surreal – joined together at the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival to discuss the wider science fiction and fantasy literary scenes, their own writing, and the intricate weaving of intertwining strands in their narratives. The two writers were joined in conversation by literary translator Sun Jia, who has translated two of Rajaniemi’s books into Chinese.


Hannu Rajaniemi is the holder of several advanced degrees in mathematics and physics. Multilingual from an early age, he writes his science fiction in English. He is the author of, among other titles, The Quantum Thief(《量子窃贼》), The Fractal Prince (《分形王子》)and The Causal Angel (《因果天使》)(published in China by Sichuan Technology Publishing House), a trilogy that is described as a crazy joyride through the solar system several centuries hence, a world of marching cities, ubiquitous public-key encryption, people communicating by sharing memories, and a race of hyper-advanced humans. Tang Fei is a multi-award-winning Chinese author of speculative fiction. She is the author of Odysscyber(《奥德赛博》) as well as The Person Who Sees Cetus(《看见鲸鱼座的人》) and The Unnamed Feast(《无名盛宴》).


Discussing the unique structure of his book The Fractal Prince, Rajaniemi said the influence for that structure came largely from the work of artificial intelligence researcher and cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter who has a famous book called Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. “That is all about strange loops and how these kinds of recursive self-referential structures, and how they play a key role in music, in mathematics, in biology. And what the studies argue is that our consciousness, our awareness of the world and our self-image is also this kind of strange loop. And of course, a novel is a kind of an attempt to convey a stream of consciousness or somebody’s point of view or make us feel how it is to be inside someone’s consciousness.”


Tang Fei said that “entering consciousness in consciousness” may sound far-fetched but it is not uncommon in science fiction, and she compared it to the moment of waking up from a dream. “It’s in a dream nested in layers, and in fact we don’t know which layer of reality we are in, and whether this reality is the reality that we usually recognise in the physical world.”


Turning to the related subject of memories, Rajaniemi discussed how great thinkers during the Renaissance would use a range of mnemonic tricks to enhance their memory, and would conceptualise their mind as a type of storage space where they would place particular memories and knowledge in certain places to aid retrieval at a later point.


“So, I kind of like this idea of memory also as a place as a physical environment,” he said.


Tang Fei said her work Odysscyber (2021, Post Wave) revolves around the theme of memory and how when one person’s memory is entangled with another person’s memory a new story is generated. “At that time, you have a huge sense of futility or a sense of nothingness. What you love is not what you remember, what you miss, what you deeply care about, and everything in your mind belongs to others. In this case, who are you? I think this is a story I really want to tell,” she said, adding that the concept also could raise existential questions.


“If your memory has changed, once your memory is someone else’s memory, then are you that person or yourself?” she asked.


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