Monday, November 27, 2017

... just not evenly distributed

There is a striking regularity with which the state of science fiction literature in a society could predict its stage of economic development. Modern science fiction appeared in Victorian England post Industrial Revolutiona period of heady growth and technological innovation. The golden age of classical American Science Fiction was during the '50s and '60s (dominated by Asimov, Clark and Heinlein)the halcyon days of the American economy when growth was high, inequality low and (thanks to the Cold War) disruptive technologies swept the nation.

And hence the strides that Chinese Science Fiction has taken in recent times comes as no surprise. The massively acclaimed trilogy: the Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin won him a Hugo recently. Another Chinese macroeconomist-cum-science-fiction-writer (yay!) Hao Jinfang won the Hugo this year, beating Stephen King (yes!) for her book Folding Beijing

The role that online publishing has played in this growth is especially well captured in this Foreign Policy piece published early this year: How China Became a Sci-Fi Powerhouse

Of course, since this is China, every aspect is mega-scale:
Much of the interest in science fiction within China is now driven by film and television companies, say writers and editors. China’s fast-growing media and entertainment industry is already worth about $180 billion, and companies are eager to capitalize on the burgeoning enthusiasm for sci-fi stories. A September 2016 article in Chinese outlet Today’s Headlines speaks of a “science fiction film investment fever.” It mentions that 85 sci-fi related film projects were undertaken in China in the first eight months of 2016 alone.
South China Morning Post also highlighted this issue a while back while featuring Hao Jingfang (among others) in Hong Kong's first science fiction conference. 
Hao Jingfang works as an economic researcher for the China Development Research Foundation think tank, so her research informs and inspires her writing.
“Half of the theme [of my writing] concerns social systems, their history and future development. The other half concerns philosophical aspects, such as human agency and willpower,” Hao says. 
For example, her award-winning novelette Folding Beijing addresses the inequality perpetuated by the social and economic system. The story takes place in a futuristic Beijing that is divided into three time dimensions. Protagonist Lao Dao travels illegally between dimensions to raise school fees for his adopted daughter. The story idea stemmed from a conversation Hao had with a taxi driver in Beijing, who had to spend a whole night queueing to get his child into kindergarten.

Thick at the center of all this action is Ken Liu—the translator of both Cixin and Hao—and is profiled in South China Morning Post's: How novelist Ken Liu is bringing Chinese sci-fi to the Western world.
The conspicuous successes of Liu Cixin and Hao have made Ken Liu the unofficial cheerleader for Chinese science fiction on the global stage. This status will only be enhanced by the recently released Invisible Planets, an anthology of short stories compiled and edited by Liu, from some of China’s leading science-fiction authors.
Here is an explanation why societies experiencing high rates of growth and commotion see growth and innovation in their respective cultures' science fiction literature too. Again, since this is China, everything is mega-scale:
While grappling with cutting-edge technological develop­ment is nothing new, in science fiction or life, what distin­guishes China from the rest of the world is the sheer scale and speed of that change. “The industrial advances that took centuries in Western nations have occurred in roughly 30 years,” he says. “Within the space of two generations, you have families where the parents lived an existence essentially like the 19th century and their children are now in Beijing working at some of the most advanced technological companies in the world.”
Here is the link to Ken Liu's latest offering (Amazon): Invisible Planets, 13 Visions of the Future: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction. Highly recommended of course!


On the basis of all this, could one predict that the stage is set for an inexorable rise in the profile of Indian science fiction? After all, in terms of growth rate and technological disruption, India certainly ranks very high; and in NF's humble opinion, that it will continue to do so in the foreseeable future is an almost mathematical certainty. 

There's certainly some evidence to that hypothesis. It is in this respect that the following HT article assumes some significance. It showcases the rise of digital publishing and its enabling push in helping speed up the expansion of an erstwhile niche maket—in both literary and science fictional capacities. Published early this year and titled A host of new digital literary magazines are giving a boost to India’s literary magazine culture, it profiles the founders of these exciting new voices in Indian publishing.
India has always been in the back seat when it comes to a literary-magazine culture. In fact, Brooklyn borough of New York boasts of more literary magazines than the whole of India.
But lately a host of new digital ventures are trying to change that.
Much like acclaimed literary magazines such as The Paris Review, The New Yorker and London Review of Books, these new online lit-magazines are named after cities or regions -- The Bombay Review, The Bangalore Review, The Madras Mag, Mithila Review, etc.
Visually appealing, these magazines publish high quality work – art, essays, fiction, non- fiction, poetry – merging genres, forms and realities.
In particular, the Mithila Review, published from Delhi, is leading the charge on the science fiction/fantasy front and has received a thumbs up from the mighty Bruce Sterling himself! 

Here is the link to their 9th issue: Mithila Review: Issue 9. Follow the link and salivate!

So given this simplistic model, what's the prognostication regarding the Indian SF scene in say, 10-15 years? NF won't be shy to wager a small sum for the case for a high growth rate in the segment—even more so in the numerous Indian languages than in English. If you can't wait for the future to happen right-friggin'-now, you have company. Bravo you guys!

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