The other day, I received an email from someone who wanted to book me to be on a news segment about Chinese science fiction. After making sure someone wasn’t pulling my leg, I watched their program for a while and was impressed by the quality of what I saw: real reporting and international news. I’ve never been on TV, let alone live international TV, and the prospect intimidated me more than a little, but I eventually agreed.
We were supposed to have a pre-interview on the phone with Rachelle (who I’d be on-air with) earlier in the day, but unfortunately, the call didn’t come in until after their driver had arrived to take me into their NASDAQ studio in NYC. We arrived early, so I spent about an hour sitting in the lobby admiring the massive curved video wall they had. (It turns out that my brother-in-law worked on that.)
About ten minutes before air time, a very friendly young woman escorted me through the maze and up the narrow spiral staircase to a booth with a closet-sized room off to the side. I think the room had just enough room for the camera, my chair, and the lights. There were times sitting in that chair that I felt like I was in an old spy movie, with the lights shining right in my eyes. They tinker with the audio levels and then things go quiet for a while.
The voice in my ear asks if I can hear the DC studio, which is where Rachelle is located. I can and we have a few minutes while they finish up the taped segment that played before. So, here I am, in a dark closet with lights in my eyes, suddenly realizing what is happening. It’s a deer-in-the-headlights sort of moment. The Rachelle comes on and then starts asking questions. I know I stumbled a couple of times, but looking back at the video, I think I felt worse about it than it really was. Even though they provided me with some excellent advice (emailed) in advance, I don’t think I had a full grasp of what to expect. If I ever have the opportunity to do this again, I suspect I’ll be able to relax a bit and speak more eloquently.
I’m glad I said yes and the experience was largely a positive one. I’d like to thank everyone at CCTV America for inviting me and I sort of want to apologize for the nervous ums that snuck in.
Here’s the video:
And because I don’t feel like the answers came out of my mouth the way I wanted to (or simply because we didn’t have time), here’s something written:
Let’s start by looking behind the factors for some of these two Hugo-winning novels: The Three Body Problem and Folding Beijing. What do you think gave them that winning edge?
For starters, both are very imaginative works with compelling characters and strong writing. I have to add that the quality of the translation is incredible. You’ll note that Ken Liu, a gifted translator and talented writer, was involved with both of these stories. Both awards were given to the author and translator because the success of a translated work depends on that team.
And why do you think that issue of translation, why do you think that is so significant?
While there have been translations throughout the history of science fiction, it’s always struggled to gain a foothold in our community. As a community, we’ve had very little exposure to the works being published in other languages and allowed ourselves to become isolated from it. Science fiction is at its best when it embraces new perspectives and voices and translated works are finally being accepted for their value to the field. You also have to take into consideration, that right or wrong, success in the English speaking market, particularly winning a Hugo, is internationally respected as a major accomplishment. Perhaps even more internationally than it is here. Wins like this indicate not only the quality of the work, but honor the community from which they come.
With this spotlight on Chinese science fiction, what sort of opportunities do you think that could open up in China and beyond?
I think we’re only seeing the start of a long-term relationship between two large science fiction communities here and I hoping these early successes help encourage more publishers to consider translated works. English language science fiction has been translated into Chinese for a long time, but we’re only scratched the surface when it comes to works translated from Chinese or other languages. More of a balance would be good for the international science fiction community and in particular, spur increased regional growth in the industry at large. These successes also mean a great deal beyond China as they indicate to writers in other countries that doors may be opening for them and that they too, may want to translate some of these works.
As we can see, this is a growing genre in China, so how would you characterize the size and scope of the scifi market in China at the moment?
While there’s a long history of science fiction in China it has been marked by periods were it was suppressed or dismissed. What we’re seeing today is a post Cultural Revolution version of the genre that has roots in the early 90’s, so in that respect, it’s quite young. What they’ve accomplished in that time is impressive and there are some amazingly talented writers working their way up through the ranks. They may not have the volume of writers we have, but they have an audience that makes ours seem small. For example, the world’s largest science fiction magazine is Science Fiction World in China, which has a readership that is many times that of our leading genre magazines. Given the difference in our population numbers, it also says they still have a lot of opportunity for growth. That’s a very interesting place to be and I think they have some exciting times ahead of them.
We clearly see that there is an interest from Chinese cinema-goers when it comes to consuming Western media and sci-fi films, why do you think that hasn’t developed into similar excitement when it comes to supporting some of these Chinese made scifi films and what initiatives perhaps could the government be putting in place to help grow that industry?
It does sound like things are beginning to change on that front. I understand that they are currently filming a movie based on The Three Body Problem and there was some news out of the Galaxy Awards yesterday of a partnership that will emphasize IP development in TV, games, and film. I also know that the company I’ve been working with, Storycom, has an interest in film. I believe it’s only a matter of time before these efforts start paying off. Here, it took quite some time for science fiction to gain the mainstream popularity it celebrates today. I suspect it will happen much more quickly for them.
As for the government, I’m not certain that they should be involved beyond the common economic incentives to film in certain locations. That said, CAST, the China Association for Science and Technology, which is something like their NASA, announced in June that they’ll be establishing a new award and international festival on science fiction. These are the kinds of foundation-building things that can help draw domestic and international attention to science fiction works in a productive manner.
As we look at the awards and the films that can really be spawned from some of this science fiction writing they are a window into how some of these writers would like the world to be and some of the value that they’d like to see. Why do you think that is so significant when it comes to crossing borders?
When reading these stories, you realize just how much we have in common. They come from different perspectives, but we have the same concerns, the same dreams, the same hopes, and the same fears. No matter where we’re from, we’re much more alike than we often led to believe.