Fantasy as a Sharp Weapon to Seek a New Life
Tang Fei is a Chinese author of speculative fiction and a member of SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) with representative works such as Odysscyber （《奥德赛博》）, The Person Who Sees Cetus （《看见鲸鱼座的人》）, The Unnamed Feast （《无名盛宴》）, etc. At the opening of the 7th China-Europe International Literary Festival, Tang Fei expressed her views on topics such as the boundaries of science fiction and the border crossing between science fiction and art.
The boundaries of science fiction
Tang Fei explores the boundaries of science fiction in her new book Odysscyber. The boundaries are, first of all, a tentative framework, she believes. ”Human understanding is not as solid as imagined, but loose, ready to be revised or even overturned at any time. From the discovery of new continents in the Age of Voyage to the deep space exploration through James Webb Space Telescope, from the macro world to the micro world, human beings are rewriting the definition of the world’s boundaries. However, we do need boundaries. The establishment of the boundary is to establish things themselves. Through boundaries, things appear from chaos, even though they’re only temporary and incomplete.”
As for the boundaries of science fiction, it is difficult to tell which elements are indispensable, since any definite answer will give rise to a lot of counter-examples. In science fiction, readers can encounter all kinds of bizarre plots, elements in other genres of fiction, and every piece of time and space – “from the beginning of everything to its end, from the infinitesimal matter to the infinite universe.” Tang Fei added, “That’s why I love science fiction so much. It’s so lively and full of possibilities. Science fiction is an active metamorphosis genre, a revolutionary thinking tool that draws people’s attention to the impact of change and how humans respond to it, and foresees the direction of future development. For these reasons, a lot of possibilities can be achieved.”
Tang Fei’s works were selected as the best science fiction in awards in the United States twice, with The Panda Keeper （《熊猫饲养员》） as the best micro-fiction of Smokelong Quarterly in 2019, and Wu Ding’s Journey to the West （《无定西行记》） as the Silver Award for the most loved translation work of speculative fantasy fiction in the United States. Talking about the influence of Chinese literature in the world, Tang Fei believes that “the importance of a country’s literature is largely due to the improvement of the country’s overall strength and international influence, especially science fiction. Many countries are interested in China, an ancient and powerful country with considerable mystery, and they are full of curiosity and eager to learn about it. Literature is undoubtedly one of the best ways, and science fiction literature is the most visible of all literary genres, in which one can see how people in this country understand science and technology.” Tang Fei continued, “As a Chinese science fiction writer, I feel very lucky that my novels have the opportunity to be translated into various countries. Thanks to the translators who work with me. Many of them are also excellent writers. Especially thanks to Liu Yukun, who was the first to take my novels abroad.”
The cross-border between science fiction and art
In addition to literary creation, Tang Fei is also involved in different art forms such as installation and photography. For her, photography, installation, and writing are mutual forms of growth and nourishment. Before the emergence of the division of labor in the modern industrial society, people were diverse. Instruments, chess, calligraphy, painting, poetry, wine, flowers and tea are interconnected with each other. One does not need to be “slash”. Tang Fei also takes photography as an example. Just like writing, it comes from a spontaneous creative impulse. “Photography teaches me to see, and allows me to temporarily get rid of pure abstract spiritual activities, in order to remain sensitive to the lively and vivid world and reduce prejudgment. Vision often appears in non-daily images in my novels. For example, in 1761（《1761》）, people with superpower can see the image of the other people, and other information related to him/her also floods into his field of vision; in Union （《相见欢》）, the people who choose to be alien species peer into the more magnificent face of the universe through inhuman eyes.”
“I am only a beginner in the field of installation. As part of the Science Fetish Museum project curated by artist Liu Zhangbo Taki, the science fiction novel The Heart of the Museum was exhibited in New York, Beijing and Shanghai. I tried to use different ways of connecting novels and exhibitions, such as audio tapes or lettering stickers. I think the cross-border between science fiction and art is not about obtaining new ways of presentation from each other, but sharing the same starting point or source of inspiration. They have different forms to explore some common issues.”
Fantasy literature responding to reality
According to Tang Fei, novels develop from myths and legends to tales of mystery and the supernatural in ancient China. “Not to mention earlier novels from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, such as China’s four great classical novels; they all have strong fantasy elements. But for people at that time, the past marriages of gods and ghosts may be real. The authors present these fictions to readers with a naive and enthusiastic belief. Interestingly, today, technology seems to have dispelled the darkness of human beings’ pre-modern civilization. But reality and fantasy are mixed again in another form. Especially in the past two years of the pandemic, shock has become the norm. Many unimaginable and absurd things used to happen only in fantasy, but now they happen in real life. People use magic to describe their own life. Indeed, more than a decade ago, people used science fiction to describe the great changes in reality such as works of Asimov. Now people are talking about magic, and Kafka.
“When we are already living in fantasy – whether it is a dream life given by highly advanced technology, or a nightmare reality, how should fantasy literature represent and respond to reality is a question I have been thinking about. Compared with other literature, fantasy is not shackled by common sense and experience; on the contrary, it derives its upward force from both, expanding infinitely inward and outward. Its task is not or not only to produce spectacles of different realities, but to reverse, exaggerate, distort, stretch, duplicate, regenerate, segment, reverse, compress, transform, and do everything in their power to defamiliarize, to bring the unfamiliar reality back to the readers, and force them and itself to re-examine this “reality”. Whether this reality is something we are accustomed to or something shocking us, the key is to get out of our usual perspective and way of thinking, and not be shackled by the old self. Using fantasy as a sharp weapon instead of illusions, we can seek a new, independent, and complete life and refuse to be easily shaped.”
At the upcoming 7th China-Europe International Literature Festival, Tang Fei will join Finnish author Hannu Rajaniemi, in conversation with Yao Haijun, to discuss their writing, their literary perspectives, and the topic “Intertwining Strands: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Reality”.