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  • Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (II)
    Nov 09, 2020 / By Bernie Yang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (I)

    In terms of foreign translations of Taiwanese science fiction, the number of translated works remains relatively low and they only tend to be discussed in an academic context. This means it isn’t a market-driven genre so most of the perspectives on it tend to come from within academia and it’s hard for science fiction translators to emerge. For example, take two of the Taiwanese sci-fi translations currently available in English: The City Trilogy by Chang Hsi-kuo and Zero and Other Fictions by Huang Fan. Both are published by Columbia University Press which has a long history of publishing anthologies of Taiwanese literature and were translated by John Balcom who has a close relationship with Taipei Chinese PEN and is also a long-time translator and advocate of Taiwanese literature. Translating works and introducing them to foreign readers generally tends to be quite sporadic and is often out of touch with the mainstream market. 

     

    However, it is worth mentioning that the recent rapid developments in Chinese science fiction prompted renowned sci-fi research scholar Mingwei Song(宋明煒) to edit The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First-Century Chinese Science Fiction for Columbia University Press in 2018. The anthology included excerpts from works by two Taiwanese authors: a chapter of Daughter by Lou Yi-Chun titled “Science Fiction”, and chapters 5-7 of The Dream Devourer by Egoyan Zheng. Their respective styles definitely stood out among the crowd of Chinese writers.

     

    As well as supporters in academia, another important promoter of Taiwanese science fiction in recent years has been the French translator of The Three-Body Problem, Gwennaël Gaffric, who has translated many works including Wu Ming-yi’s The Man with the Compound Eyes, The Illusionist on the Skywalk and Routes in the Dream, as well as War of the Bubbles by Kao Yi-Feng and Membrane by Chi Ta-wei, and in the process he has introduced each work to a French readership.    

    The Illusionist on the Skywalk

    Publishing mediums have also changed dramatically following rapid technological developments in recent years. Taiwanese science fiction has taken advantage of the popularity of e-books and even audiobooks. For example, in 2018 Chang Hsi-kuo’s short story collection Ten Billion Names of the Devil was published first as an e-book and the English edition, also in e-book, will be available online imminently. Isaac Hsu’s long-awaited novel Skin Deep will also be published first in e-book, proving that science fiction writers are staying at the forefront of the times.

     

    While the recent expansion of Taiwanese science fiction overseas might to a certain extent be due to the surging popularity of Chinese sci-fi, what is clear from the examples outlined above is that for Taiwan the genre has developed in a way that encourages considerable diversity, with mainstream writers and sci-fi authors alike consistently publishing works of a high standard. It’s hoped that by including Green Monkey Syndrome by Andrew Yeh and The Puppet’s Tears and Other Stories by Isaac Hsu in the selections here at Books from Taiwan, more readers will get a glimpse of Taiwan’s golden age of science fiction which in turn will promote further translations and development. By reading these classics and considering them in the context of current developments, readers can gain a deep understanding of science fiction’s timeless charm as a genre.

  • Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (I)
    Nov 09, 2020 / By Bernie Yang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Thanks to the success of The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin(劉慈欣), over the last few years there has been a surge of interest in Chinese-language sci-fi across the international book market. Taiwan had already developed its own extensive culture of sci-fi writing by as early as the 1980s. This year, Books from Taiwan has chosen to highlight two classics of the genre: Green Monkey Syndrome by Andrew Yeh and The Puppet’s Tears and Other Stories by Isaac Hsu, which gives us the chance to review how Taiwanese sci-fi has developed and been translated over the last forty years.  

    Green Monkey Syndrome

    It would be impossible to have a discussion about authors who represent Taiwanese sci-fi without mentioning Chang Hsi-kuo(張系國). He began writing sci-fi novels in the late 1960s with his contemporaries, such as Chang Show-foong(張曉風) and Huang Hai(黃海), and started translating science fiction from overseas during the 1970s. He introduced many famous, award-winning foreign works to Chinese-language readers and even had a science fiction column in the United Daily News. An anthology called Death of the Sea was published in 1978 and among the writers featured was George R. R. Martin who would go on to become world-renowned for his series A Song of Ice and Fire. It can certainly be said that those early days of translating works from overseas played an important role in the development of Taiwanese science fiction.

    The Puppet’s Tears and Other Stories

    The 1980s officially ushered in the golden age of Taiwanese sci-fi. Besides authors who were constantly writing and publishing new works like Chang Hsi-kuo and Huang Hai, there were also new authors in this genre. For example, Huang Fan(黃凡) wrote the ground-breaking dystopian novel Zero, which explores serious issues in the stories, and thus gained recognition from the mainstream literary award. The China Times Open Book Award soon had its own sci-fi prize (later renamed the Chang Hsi-kuo Prize for Science Fiction) which helped support many authors including Chang Ta-chun(張大春), Andrew Yeh, Isaac Hsu and Ho Ching-Pin(賀景濱).  

     

    By pure coincidence, both Andrew Yeh and Isaac Hsu began to combine martial arts elements with science fiction. While Yeh’s short story “The Ancient Sword” only featured sci-fi themes at the very end, there was a strong sense of science fiction in his writing style. In “The Puppet’s Tears” Hsu combines science fiction with the kind of landscapes and grievances found in wuxia novels, and one can’t help thinking that this was a sign of the long-term developments to come. Elsewhere, Yeh’s other works use grounded sci-fi settings as well as narrative techniques that interlace true and false realities to portray each of his terrifying, eccentric futures. Even though it’s been over thirty years since it  first published, his work still coincides with the global trends we’re currently seeing during the pandemic. On the other hand, The Hamlet Trilogy by Isaac Hsu has come to an end after thirty years. Through its depiction of a superpowered AI version of Hamlet, the trilogy has explored the value of human civilization and continues to inspire debate.

     

    At the beginning of the 2000s, Isaac Asimov’s Chinese translator Lee-Hwa Yeh(葉李華) established the Centre for Science Fiction at National Chiao Tung University and it seemed as though Taiwanese sci-fi was about to reach another peak. However, other than periodically hosting the Ni Kuang Science Fiction Award and a seminar, the research centre’s influence is relatively limited.

     

    Recent developments in Taiwanese sci-fi can be broadly divided into two categories. The first consists of mainstream writers using sci-fi settings as narrative techniques or background stories so they can explore a diverse range of issues. For example, the ocean trash vortex that attacks in Wu Ming-yi’s The Man with the Compound Eyes is a background element in a story that explores environmental issues and Taiwan’s experience as an island. Similarly, Ground Zero by Egoyan Zheng is set in Taiwan during the wake of a nuclear disaster, while Lou Yi-Chun’s(駱以軍) novels Daughter and Ming Dynasty explore themes of identity and separation through his personal complex writing style, taking a meta perspective to subvert readers’ perceptions of science fiction as a genre.

    Ground Zero

    The second category features works which blend sci-fi with local culture and other genres such as fantasy or crime fiction. Ocean Hordes Press, which takes its name from Li Wu-Hsun’s popular Ocean Hordes series, is dedicated to promoting original Taiwanese sci-fi and fantasy works. Elsewhere, the website PanSci launched the PanSci Award in 2018 which has become a crucial new component in Taiwan’s developing sci-fi scene. There are also some excellent translations of foreign sci-fi works on the market including modern classics such as Foundation by Isaac Asimov and the dystopian novels of Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as works from the “New Weird” genre that’s developed in the twenty-first century, and various award-winning books by Chinese-American writers like Ken Liu(劉宇昆) and Ted Chiang(姜峯楠). Readers undoubtedly have a wide range of choices when it comes to science fiction today.

    Read on: Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (II)