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Event Report | Will human nature be changed by science and technology? 

Thomas Olde Heuvelt x He Xi


Dutch novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt and Chinese author He Xi both showed exceptional writing talent from a young age. Out of a fervent obsession with fantasy stories, they embarked on the journey of science fiction writing and have both written many excellent works.


In conversation as part of the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival, the two writers discussed the topic of “Human Nature, Fantasy, Social Reality and the Supernatural”, in a session that was moderated by Yang Feng, a senior editor, publisher, and Deputy Secretary General of the World Science Fiction Association.


Exploring Human Nature through Science Fiction
Dutch novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt has published five novels and various short stories of fantasy to date. HEX (《欢迎来到黑泉镇》, 2018, UnRead) is his most celebrated novel to date and is highly recommended by celebrated writers such as Stephen King and George R.R. Martin. Chinese author He Xi, hailed as one of the “Four Kings of Chinese Science Fiction”, represents a new generation of the Chinese science fiction. He Xi has won the Galaxy Award 17 times and the Chinese Nebula Award multiple times. Some of his better-known works are Who am I, Never Meet Again and The Six Paths of Lives.


The two authors’ popularity can be attributable not only to the fantastic and supernatural elements such as “space exploration” and “parallel universe”, but also to the theme of “science and humanity” embedded in their works. For example, He Xi observed in his short story The Six Paths of Lives: “If nature were a mother, then man would be her cleverest but also her most vicious child. Man possesses intelligence, yet he is constantly hungry. But there are things his mother wouldn’t and couldn’t afford to give. However, this cunning child always gets what he wants. Eventually humans altered the physical constant and strategized the space in order to make room for themselves.”


Similarly, in his short story The Boy Who Cast No Shadow, Thomas Olde Heuvelt also delves deep into humanity. The story revolves around a boy whose body can be penetrated by light, thus casting no shadow on the ground. But one day he met a boy made of glass, on whose body people can project their images. Consequently, when the two encountered each other, wonderful chemical reactions took place. Thomas’ ability to interweave the innocent darkness into the harsh reality plucks numerous readers’ heartstrings.


Will Human Nature Be Changed by Science and Technology?
In the discussion, He Xi mentioned that as a sci-fi author he was frequently asked whether human nature will be changed by rapid science and technology developments. He answered: “I’d say it is a pseudo-proposition. Because technology has long shaped and altered our humanity.” And he further maintained: “The reason why our humanity is the way it is now is that science and technology has advanced. We humans invented weapons, metallurgy, ironmaking, and monogamy. And the human race’s unity, cooperation as well as our deep love for our children all has a lot to do with the advancement of science and technology.”


Indeed, one of the preoccupations of He Xi’s works is this debate over human nature, science and technology. In the novel The Doomed Year, the author associated the mortality of individual beings and the immortality of human existence, highlighting the fact that despite being in the midst of an era of scientific and medical advancement, the human species is still faced with ever greater existential crises.


A similar discussion concerning human nature and science and technology also reverberates in Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s works. At first glance, HEX recounts a horror story, yet it evokes universal emotions in readers around the globe. Just as Heuvelt commented: “This is the kind of society we actually live in. So, even though it is a horror story, there is also room for making social commentary.”


He Xi’s works shed some light on how science and technology has shaped human nature, while Thomas Olde Heuvelt extends the bounds of science fiction, blending perfectly together the “Human Nature and Fantasy, Social Reality and the Supernatural”.


Thomas Olde Heuvelt said he made a wish when he was age eleven that readers all around the world would someday enjoy reading his stories. Now this dream has come true and both authors boast wide readership throughout the world. We are looking forward to seeing more and more aspiring writers fulfill their dreams and bringing more brilliant works to readers.



– Report by EU-China International Literary Festival Team
– Translated into English by Xiao Dong