By Hai Ya

Recently, my novelette “The Space-Time Painter” won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, which was announced at the 2023 World Science Fiction Convention in Chengdu, southwest China’s Sichuan province. It was a great encouragement to me to receive the trophy from my predecessor Liu Cixin.

My steps along the path of science fiction creation are fueled by a deep passion inside. When I was a child, I liked to visit the Xinhua Bookstore near my home, where I stumbled upon reading sci-fi works including Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island, and Chinese work Dense Fog over the Old Gorge.

During my middle school years, I consciously looked for sci-fi novels to read, and sci-fi magazines were always shared by my classmates then. This reading environment further fueled my love for science fiction.

The allure of science fiction lies in its ability to create worlds different from reality through scientific imagination, allowing people to experience the wonders of fantasy.

For sci-fi enthusiasts, writing their own stories seems a natural next step. As you repeatedly soar through the wonders crafted in novels, there comes a day when you want to create your own literary universe with your pen.

A common challenge in sci-fi creation is that authors often use lengthy and esoteric terms to explain the sci-fi settings. This not only raises the barrier to reading acceptance but also disrupts the narrative flow, making it difficult to gain widespread readership and popularity.

On the contrary, Liu Cixin’s works such as The Three-Body Problem and The Devourer stand out with prominent sci-fi elements while telling intricate and captivating stories that provoke deep thoughts. These works have inspired me to believe that storytelling is paramount in science fiction, whether it is hard or soft sci-fi.

In my creative work, I always adhere to the principle of putting the story first and pay particular attention to whether the sci-fi elements can be easily comprehended by readers. Gradually, I have learned to naturally introduce sci-fi settings through plot evolution, revealing the sci-fi world to the readers step by step.

The opening of my work The Space-Time Painter doesn’t have many sci-fi elements but rather resembles a mystery story. As the story unfolds, the sci-fi settings start to emerge. Judging from the results, this creative approach has made my works beloved by more readers.

After I won the Hugo Award, many people asked me where the inspiration for the innovative setting in The Space-Time Painter came from, which combines science fiction and traditional culture.

The direct inspiration came from the ancient painting A Thousand Miles of Rivers and Mountains by Wang Ximeng of China’s Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). The renowned artist left behind this masterpiece, but only sparse biographical details about him exist in historical records, leaving ample space for literary imagination.

As a child, I repeatedly read an accessible edition of Zizhi Tongjian (Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance), whose gripping contents have stuck with me over the years, leaving me yearning for more of the unfinished story threads. Just one historical detail, when unfolded, can be turned into an outstanding work of literature. My series of historical science fiction exactly originated from such unfinished story threads in history.

Every writer’s creation has historical and cultural imprints, and the science fiction sector is no exception. Chinese civilization has a long and continuous history, and the fine traditional Chinese culture serves as a vast “database” for literature creation. By drawing from and innovatively transforming this cultural heritage, new literary works, films, television programs, tourism projects, and cultural and creative products can be continuously produced.

In China today, more and more creators are actively engaging in the creative transformation and innovative development of China’s fine traditional culture. Seeking inspiration and materials from our ancient civilization has become a consensus among creators.

For me, the combination of science fiction and traditional culture is not a deliberate choice but a natural progression. I believe that even without The Space-Time Painter, other writers would make the same choice.

Science fiction can only bloom in the spring of science and technology. No matter what kind of science fiction, it originates from science. With the continuous advancement of science and technology and the constant breakthroughs being made, people are filled with longing and curiosity for science. This attracts them to read sci-fi works and thus brings vitality to the industry. It can be said that the prosperity of science and technology in China today is the biggest engine driving sci-fi creation.

As a financial practitioner, I often think about the future of China’s science fiction from an industrial perspective, hoping that the industry can truly thrive.

I believe that to achieve this vision, a more complete industrial chain is needed to address the shortcomings in the development of the industry. At the same time, key aspects such as film and television adaptations need to be well managed to play a leading role.

For example, the successes of excellent film and television works such as The Wandering Earth, Moon Man and The Three-Body Problem have had a significant impact on the overall improvement of the sci-fi industry.

On one hand, they have made sci-fi works widely spread and stimulated market demand. On the other hand, they have refined the division of labor in the industry, allowing professionals to do their specialized work, thereby solidifying the cultural industrial system and foundation of the industry.

Developing the sci-fi industry is not a short-term task; it requires the joint and synergetic efforts of various aspects such as literary creation, copyright trading, and film and television adaptations.

While attending the World Science Fiction Convention, I found that most foreign sci-fi fans and authors are seniors, but in China, we have a vibrant community of young sci-fi enthusiasts and creators. We are seeing an increasing number of teenagers and even younger individuals who are passionate about science fiction. This signifies a promising future for Chinese science fiction.

As long as we put in sincere efforts and dedication, we can create rich and impactful Chinese science fiction that moves the world.

(Hai Ya is a Chinese science fiction writer. The article is compiled by People’s Daily journalist Zhang Mingse based on an interview with Hai Ya.)


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