Event Report | Learn from the past, looking forward to the future
Vladimir Poleganov x Tian Rui Shuo Fu
The 21st century that we live in is a future world, one which has been constantly imagined and depicted by the science fictions of the past. But how do we rethink the past and the future if we are disillusioned with the futuristic scenes we are confronted with in reality?
At the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival, we were joined by Tian Rui Shuo Fu, a Chinese online writer and science fiction writer, and Vladimir Poleganov, a writer, translator and screenwriter from Bulgaria. Hosted by the scholar and science fiction expert Jiang Zhenyu, we embraced the core theme of: “Literary Adventures: Engaging with the Non-Human” in the literary landscape.
During the conversation, Tian Rui Shuo Fu and Vladimir Poleganov discussed science fiction novels and movies that had depicted the future world. Vladimir Poleganov mentioned the science fiction writers who were all the rage in the 1960s, saying many were adept at predicting future developments. “Writers like JG Ballard and also John Bruner were right about that. Also, the way media is controlling our perception of the world is very important, like social media, and some of the old books were right about it.”
Discussing science fiction movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, Tian Rui Shuo Fu said: “when we are forecasting the future, we always tend to think that the future world would correspond to our current state and rate of development, that it would follow a predetermined path. So I believe that shows most people have this linear way of thinking.”
But in fact, the development routes did not go deep into space, but turned to the scientific and technological development path, which regarded the Internet meta-universe and microchip research as its main focus. If the level of scientific and technological development represented by space exploration is taken as a measurement standard, 2022 fell far behind science fiction’s early expectations.
Many writers and artists have turned to retro-futurism, referring to the imitations of early futuristic design styles in contemporary art, such as cyberpunk, steampunk, and diesel punk. The first to be defined as retro-futurism was the now-familiar cyberpunk, which originated in 1980s science fictions written by authors such as William Ford Gibson and Bruce Sterling.
Tian Rui Shuo Fu said the reason why retro-futuristic was popular was “because it has a unique way of presenting the image, there are some very special elements. For example, multi-turret tanks, rivets and all that, these are very unique elements and very distinctive visual elements. It can give especially film and television viewers, and gamers, a very unique experience.”
Science fiction is a niche, but it is also for the masses.
As a traditional science fiction writer and literary translator, Vladimir Poleganov works include the short story collections The Deconstruction of Thomas S (published in 2013 by St. Kliment Ohridiski University Press), and The Birds, and other short stories. He first learned of China’s Internet science fiction literature scene while attending international writing programs at Shanghai university and Sun Yat-sen university in China. Tian Rui Shuo Fu started serializing novels on the Internet in 2014, and has published online a total of more than three million words. Death on Mars, one of his early hits, was named “the best Internet literature” of the 30th Milky Way Prize for Science Fiction of China and was among the top 10 of Chinese Internet Literature. His new novel We Live in Nanjing (soon to be published by China Citic Press) was honoured as “the best Internet science fiction” of the 32nd Milky Way Prize.
The writers noted that in both of their countries sci-fi works, whether in traditional book publishing or network distribution channels, still did not have huge followings and were considered quite niche. Tian Rui Shuo Fu indicated that he was trying to make science fiction more accessible “So I’m trying to make it as local as possible. For example, to put it within the context of local cities and to combine it with some local cultural background, which will reduce the barriers and thresholds of reading it.”
Vladimir Poleganov said that the popularization of science fiction requires more works like The Three Body Problem, which he said was hugely popular in Bulgaria in translation,“which I think is a sign, you have to find one work that would ignite the readers desire to read science fiction.”
Concluding, Poleganov also emphasized that “actually, science fiction is the only literature that is able to keep us constantly curious, and it’s the only form of literature that’s working with the world and the way it is here and now. Because science fiction is about carefully reading the world that is surrounding us at this very moment. And it is a literature about the future, but it is also literature.”