Read Ken Liu’s Introduction to Broken Stars, a New Anthology of Chinese SF

Broken Stars is a thought-provoking anthology of Chinese short speculative fiction edited by multi award-winning writer Ken Liu—translator of the bestselling and Hugo Award-winning novel The Three Body Problem by acclaimed Chinese author Cixin Liu. Following Invisible Planets, Liu has now assembled the most comprehensive collection yet available in the English language, sure to thrill and gratify readers developing a taste and excitement for Chinese SF.

The stories span the range from short-shorts to novellas, and evoke every hue on the emotional spectrum. Besides stories firmly entrenched in subgenres familiar to Western SFF readers such as hard SF, cyberpunk, science fantasy, and space opera, the anthology also includes stories that showcase deeper ties to Chinese culture: alternate Chinese history, chuanyue time travel, satire with historical and contemporary allusions that are likely unknown to the average Western reader. While the anthology makes no claim or attempt to be “representative” or “comprehensive,” it demonstrates the vibrancy and diversity of science fiction being written in China at this moment.

Broken Stars publishes February 19th with Tor Books. We’re excited to share Ken Liu’s introduction to the anthology below!

 

 

Since the publication of Invisible Planets in 2016, many readers have written to me to ask for more Chinese science fiction. Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past series (sometimes known as the “Three-Body” trilogy), praised by President Barack Obama as “wildly imaginative, really interesting,” showed anglophone readers that there is a large body of SF written in Chinese to be discovered, and Invisible Planets only whetted their appetite.

This has been a gratifying result for me and my fellow translators; fans of Chinese SF; the agents, editors, and publishers who help make publishing translated works possible; and above all, the Chinese authors who now have more readers to delight.

Compared with the first anthology, I curated Broken Stars with an eye toward expanding the range of voices included as well as the emotional palette and the narrative styles. Beyond the core genre magazines, I also looked at stories published in literary journals, on the web, and in gaming and fashion magazines. In total, there are sixteen stories in this anthology from fourteen authors—twice as many as were present in Invisible Planets. Seven of the stories have never been published before in translation, and almost every story was first published in Chinese in the 2010s. I included stories here longer than the longest story in Invisible Planets as well as stories shorter than the shortest story there. I picked established writers—the sardonic, biting wit of Han Song is showcased here in two stories—as well as fresh voices—I think more readers should know the works of Gu Shi, Regina Kanyu Wang, and Anna Wu. I also intentionally included a few stories that might be considered less accessible to readers in the West: Zhang Ran’s time-travel tale plays with chuanyue tropes that are uniquely Chinese, and Baoshu’s entry deepens its emotional resonance with the reader the more the reader knows of modern Chinese history.

One regretful consequence of the shift in editorial approach is that I’m no longer able to include multiple stories from each author to illustrate their range. I hope that the inclusion of more authors makes up for this lack.

Despite the broader range of authors and stories, I must continue to caution readers that this project is not intended to be “representative” of Chinese SF, and I make no attempt at curating a “best of” anthology. Given the diversity of stories that can be called “Chinese SF” and the heterogeneous makeup of the community of Chinese SF writers, a project that aims to be comprehensive or representative is doomed to fail, and I am skeptical about most methods for picking the “best” stories.

Instead, the most important criterion I used was simply this: I enjoyed the story and thought it memorable. When wielded honestly, very few stories pass this filter. Whether you’ll like most of the stories in here will thus have a lot to do with how much your taste overlaps with mine. I don’t believe in picking “perfect” stories; in fact, I think stories that do one thing really well are much better than stories that do nothing “wrong.” I claim no authority or objectivity, but I am arrogant enough to be confident in my taste.

 * * *

A few quick notes before we get to the stories.

For readers interested in some context on Chinese SF, I’ve added three essays at the end from Chinese SF scholars (some of them are also authors). These essays focus on how the rising commercial and popular interest in Chinese SF has affected the community of fans and authors.

As is my standard translation practice, the names of Chinese characters in the stories are rendered in customary Chinese order, with surname first. However, there are some complications when it comes to author names. Reflecting the diversity of self-presentations in the online age, Chinese authors have different preferences for the name they’d like to use in publication. Some authors write under their personal names (e.g., Chen Qiufan) or pen names that are based on their personal names, and so I treat them as standard Chinese personal names. Some authors, however, prefer using an English name for their foreign publications and/or rendering their Chinese name in Western order (e.g., Anna Wu and Regina Kanyu Wang), and in such cases I follow the author’s preference. Still other authors write under pen names that cannot be treated as standard Chinese names because they’re allusions or wordplay (e.g., Baoshu, Fei Dao, and Xia Jia), in which case I make a note in the author intro that the name should be treated as a single, indivisible unit (think of these as being somewhat analogous to Internet user IDs).

Unless otherwise indicated, the stories and essays in this volume are all translated by me. (Footnotes will indicate when I collaborated with another translator or when the contribution was originally written in English.) All footnotes should be assumed to have been added by me (or my cotranslator) unless prefaced with “Author’s note” or similar language.

Finally, you can find the original publication information (with author names and story titles in hanzi) as well as copyright notices at the beginning of the anthology.

 


Stories include:

  • “Goodnight, Melancholy” by Xia Jia
  • “The Snow of Jinyang” by Zhang Ran
  • “Broken Stars” by Tang Fei
  • “Submarines” by Han Song
  • “Salinger and the Koreans” by Han Song
  • “Under a Dangling Sky” by Cheng Jingbo
  • “What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear” by Baoshu
  • “The New Year Train” by Hao Jingfang
  • “The Robot Who Liked to Tell Tall Tales” by Fei Dao
  • “Moonlight” by Liu Cixin
  • “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: Laba Porridge” by Anna Wu
  • “The First Emperor’s Games” by Ma Boyong
  • “Reflection” by Gu Shi
  • “The Brain Box” by Regina Kanyu Wang
  • “Coming of the Light” by Chen Qiufan
  • “A History of Future Illnesses” by Chen Qiufan

Essays:

  • “A Brief Introduction to Chinese Science Fiction and Fandom,” by Regina Kanyu Wang,
  • “A New Continent for China Scholars: Chinese Science Fiction Studies” by Mingwei Song
  • “Science Fiction: Embarrassing No More” by Fei Dao

 

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