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How sci-fi from China became a global proposition

23 August 2017

From The Bookseller:

For the best part of a century, the science-fiction Silk Road was one-way: manufactured in the West and shipped to China. But inside China an SF revolution was brewing. At its vanguard was one extraordinary work which took a decade to make its way to the West. But when it did, Mark Zuckerberg selected it for his Facebook Reading Club, Barack Obama blurbed it, SF readers propelled it to win the Best Novel Hugo award – a first for translated fiction. It’s been a New York Times bestseller, spent 11 weeks on Germany’s Der Speigel bestseller list, and sold over 100,000 copies for Head of Zeus in the UK. The book is Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem.

Initially serialised in Chinese magazine Science Fiction World in 2006, its triumphant arrival in the West nine or so years later may be the crowning achievement of an extraordinary flowering of Chinese SF, but it is by no means the end of the story. I suspect it is only the beginning.

Chinese SF was in the doldrums as Liu wrote the first volume of his Three-Body trilogy. He didn’t feel China was ready for the more hardcore elements of his SF imagination, so he was careful to base the first two instalments in a world he felt readers would recognise. The final instalment stretched the boundaries – it was truly the book he wanted to write – and both Liu and his publisher worried it was a non-commercial indulgence. But it made the series.

China’s online community loved Three-Body. Fans composed songs, created fake trailers for the movie they hoped for, and wrote fan fiction. Baoshu’s Three-Body X, a “side-quel” to Liu’s books, started appearing online within a week of the final volume’s publication and, with Liu’s blessing, was itself traditionally published.

. . . .

Ken Liu was born in China, emigrated to the US at 11, went to Harvard, and has written 120 short stories and an epic “silkpunk” fantasy series, picking up Hugo, Arthur C Clarke and Nebula awards on the way. He became a translator and, almost predictably for a man with so many SF awards in his trophy case, added a Best Novel Hugo to it for his translation of The Three-Body Problem.

Li Yun’s initiative found the trilogy 12 (and counting) international publishers, and has led to Li launching Cepride, a literary agency dedicated to bringing not just the best of Chinese SF, but the best of Chinese genre fiction to the rest of the world. Agencies that once sold rights West to East are increasingly representing Chinese authors – Hao Jingfang is repped by Andrew Nurnberg Associates.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Fantasy/SciFi, Non-US