The Long and Winding Road to Science Fiction: A Brief Overview of SF Development in Taiwan (2003) (2/5)

Part I <<<

The Seedtime (1968-1983)
There was no Taiwanese sf until Chang Hsiao-Feng's novelette 'Pandora' appeared in 1968. Though Chang herself was not a main contributor in this field, this story influenced Huang Hai, who later became the most prolific literary sf writer in the next decade. Huang could be considered as the only writer dedicated in sf before 1976. Chang Shi-Kuo made his first sf story 'The Chronicles of Over-men' published in 1969, but his early contribution was mostly on concepts delivering and introductions to western sf texts. Between the years 1976 and 1980, Chang wrote a series of short stories, which 'plotted the futuristic world between the 20th to 200th century.'[6] These short fictions were collected in The Suite of Nebulae, the most important sf book in Taiwan, which is also the only literary sf book still in print over 20 years.

After Huang Hai and Chang Shi-Kuo, a number of newcomers to the mainstream literature society selected the form sf for creation. They left a few works, most of which were collected in The Anthology of Contemporary Science Fiction, a two-volume set edited and printed by Chang in 1985. But among these writers, only Yeh Yen-Tu (who was not a professional writer but a journalist), Cheng Wen-Hao (who was an amateur writer without any publication in book form) and Huang Fan (who got fame because of his advocating 'urban literature' in the 1980s) continued creating sf stories.

Almost at the same time, some other people took another path to popularise sf. 'The Godfather of Taiwanese UFO Research' Lu Ying-Chung and an encyclopedist Chang Chih-Chieh respectively encouraged sf writing through their various popular-science or futurology magazines from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, such as Tomorrow's World, The Cosmic Science, Youth Science, and UFO and Science Fiction. They even wrote sf stories themselves though lacking literary potentials. The Cosmic Science, Youth Science, and UFO and Science Fiction were not popular but for short lives. Tomorrow's World, under the direction of Lu, printed a great number of sf materials in its long life from 1976 to 1988, including local writings, western sf introductions, art and comic works. However, it was quite unknown to general readers than Chang Shi-Kuo's contribution. Because of its rarity on the market, this magazine was usually omitted in Taiwanese sf research. Even so, they still provided opportunities of sf appearance. Another noted contributor was prose writer Fang Ta-Cheng. He wrote sf in the late 1970s under the pen name 'the Descendent', but he claimed that what he wrote was 'science reality fiction', not 'science fiction.'

'Science fiction' is emphasised in presenting imagination, while 'science reality fiction' is devoted to describe reality. The difference between these two is the same with the difference in the cultural background and ideologies of western and Chinese societies. Due to the difference, western 'science fiction' cannot be popular in our society.[7]

This 'science reality fiction' concept was not accepted in local sf field.

The phenomenon reflected two controversial issues: one is the definition of science fiction; the other is the relationship between sf and science. Like Brian Stableford mentioned in his commentary of 1991 World SF Conference in Chengdu, 'in Chinese, as in many other languages, "science fiction" is translated into a term more closely equivalent to "science fantasy", which seems to many of its hearers to be oxymoronic and inherently pejorative',[8] we have been facing a similar problem in Taiwan. The translated term of 'science fiction' in Chinese language – 'Ke Huan Hsiao Shuo', which is shortened from 'Ke Hsueh Huan Hsiang Hsiao Shuo', became extensively known through Chang Shi-Kuo's 1970 essay 'After We Flew to the Moon.' 'Ke Hsueh' means 'science'; 'Hsiao Shuo', stands for 'novel'; however, 'Huan Hsiang' can be translated not only into 'fiction' but also 'fantasy', 'imagination', 'romance', 'wonder', even 'conceit', 'daydream', 'illusion' and 'maggot.' Therefore a certain people consider sf as nonsense or pure illusion with some scientific or technological gadget. But on the other hand, another group wishes sf could increase the popularity of popular-science. One of the most interesting topics of local sf conversaziones is the 'perfect' ratio of science to fiction in sf works.

In Alternate Worlds, James Gunn mentioned that one editor had explained:
Extrapolation is one of the two basic methods for constructing a science fiction story – spotting a trend and predicting its probable course into the future – a method summed up in the title of a story by Robert Heinlein, "If This Goes On …" The other method, speculating about the effect of some unique event, is summed up in the title of Isaac Asimov's "What If?"[9]
The plots of early Taiwanese sf stories simply followed these two methods. Huang Hai pointed out one formula for sf writing: 'If … (something happens or comes true) then what is it going to be?'[10] Mainstream critic/writer Li Ou-Fan brought out a similar formula in the preface of The Suite of Nebulae when analysing stories in that collection. Stories usually began with a trend, and then predicted its probable course later on. These trends are mostly scientific progresses like the invention of artificial life, FTL space travel and etc, but sometimes they are also discoveries of supernatural phenomena, such as reincarnation or mental telepathy. Owing to the publishing of these stories and the promotion by futurologists, general public have always reminded predictions and prophecies while reading sf. On this account foretell of the future has been regarded as the main function of science fiction in Taiwan.

During this period, translated sf works were far more influential than local sf writings, for their greater quantity could attract more readers. Most hardcore sf readers, in their childhood or juvenile ages at that time, started to cultivate their interests with reading these translations. Even now, new sf readers are usually suggested to dig out these old and out-of-print books. Records[11] showed that some titles, such as 1984, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and some of Burroughs' Tarzan books had been translated into Chinese as early as the 1950s. After 1968, more works were introduced to Taiwanese readers.

The sf translation boom started in the late 1970s, which was concurrent to the development of local sf writing. It was a 'golden age' for sf translations, because the number of translated works is still unsurpassed until today. Four publishing houses were the main contributors. Enlightenment Publishing, where Huang Hai was the editor-in-chief, printed both local sf creation and translated works, including some sf related books like David A Kyle's A Pictorial History of Science Fiction, which was the only translated western sf related non-fiction book in Taiwan. Interstellar Publishing, directed by Chang Chih-Chieh, retranslated 20 volumes of western sf from Japanese translation. Kuo-Chia Publishing's sf series, all translated by Wang Kai-Chu, contains 22 books and is still available on the market. Ta-Chung Publishing's series, in spite of tagged as 'juvenile sf', were in fact translated from adults' titles.

Quite a few western sf writers' works were translated. Among them, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke were the authors who received especially promotion by the major players of the field. During this period, there were 14 Asimov's titles and 9 Clarke's got published; the Foundation Trilogy and Space Odyssey series (only 2001 and 2010 then) had two different editions respectively. They were made the most famous western sf canons in Taiwan, while no other authors and works enjoyed the same popularity.

However, there were still problems in this sf translation boom. First of all, it did not last long. The Kuo-Chia series, which enjoyed the longest life, ceased publishing in 1983. Other series folded much sooner. Secondly, it was a time of piracy, as the law of copyright was yet to establish, almost all the translated titles got published without paying royalties. This may explain why this phenomenon could not reappear at the later times. Since sf books have been sold badly, few publishing houses would like to invest in this field after the enforcement of the law. In such a circumstance, the original titles of translations were hardly respected. Translators often freely rewrote or omitted the text in their translation; some of the translations did not even bear their original titles and author names, making it much more difficult to trace back for research or further reading.

The third problem is the lack of introduction to other sf authors and sf genre itself. At that time, it was far more difficult for readers to directly hear from other countries; the only sf information available was the introduction written by sf promoters or footnotes printed along with translated works. But even the promoters did not have enough knowledge and usually misguided the readers. Chang Shi-Kuo, who has lived in the United States for years and claimed to be an experienced sf reader, still had quite a few biases on writers and sf genre itself. The following quotations are his opinions on 'new wave' movement, 'hard core sci-fi' and the writer George R R Martin.
Maybe by treating themselves as 'non-mainstream', sf writers in previous ages could get rid of the restriction of traditional literary fiction and create astounding works. The years between 1930 and 1960 were the 'golden age' of science fiction. And then the mainstream literary society started to notice the existence of sf; several superstar sf writers were highly praised by critics; the number of courses on sf held in colleges was booming as well. All these made sf worse. A couple of young writers were not satisfied with the status of sf as a non-mainstream, entertaining genre; they fought for 'transcendence', even substituted the genre name 'science fiction' by 'speculative fantasy.' Their works were extensively decorated with skills from mainstream fictions, which caused sf, formerly interesting, to become 'tasteless' as mainstream fictions and destroyed its spirit.[12]

The author George R R Martin used to write so-called 'hard core sci-fi.' Sf, like adult video, has the categorisation of 'soft core' and 'hard core.' Soft core porno is usually censored; on the contrary, hard core porno is full of genuine sexual actions. Likewise, 'Hard core sci-fi' has to contain battles of UFOs, galactic empires, extra-terrestrials, and etc. It is full of actions and driven by plot. Sometimes it is also called 'old-style science fiction.' As for 'new-style science fiction', it contains more literary atmosphere. …… Martin always wrote 'old-style science fiction.' However, without any reason, he put lots of elements of romance in the recent 'The Lonely Songs of Laran Dorr.' Maybe he got some similar feelings. Science romance
[13] is on the border of sf; crossing the boundary, it will become 'true romance!'[14]

When more and more sf works, no matter local writings or translated titles, appeared in Taiwan, there were also two phenomena which to greatly influence the sf development of later periods. One is the categorisation of sf. While discussing over the issue 'what is science fiction', sf promoters and academic scholars also defined sf categories in order to support their opinions. These categorisations were introduced to readers and then became the basis of later sf studies.

The most influential categorisation is the dualism of 'moral teaching sf' and 'gadget sf', which was submitted by Chang Shi-Kuo in his 'After We Flew to the Moon' along with the introduction of the term 'Ke Huan Hsiao Shuo.'
Modern sf can be generally divided into two categories: one is 'gadget sf'. The authors of 'gadget sf' have more or less knowledge on science, even being scientists themselves. Based on their knowledge, authors manipulate various scientific 'gadget' and form a story. …… Pure 'gadget sf' sometimes gives intensive predictions of future society, like works written by Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov. The other category can be called 'moral teaching sf.' Most of the authors are amateur philosophers, former scientists or professional writers who changed their jobs. They do not care about nonsense like time machine, robots, or the fourth dimension but want to express some 'philosophical thoughts' through sf. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's 1984 are the masterpieces in this category.[15]
When Chang's The Suite of Nebulae was regarded as the first canon of Taiwanese sf, this dualism was once again stressed, and then became the mainstream viewpoint of sf categorisation. Though Chang's 'gadget sf' includes some of Clarke's or Asimov's hard sf works, his definition of this term is not equivalent to 'hard sf' but sf works contain advanced scientific technology as their settings. On the other hand, the term 'moral teaching' came from the long controversy on prose writing about a thousand years ago. One faction of scholars, at last controlled the ideology of Chinese literature, insisted that prose writers must not forget their responsibilities of moral teaching in their works while pursuing the beauty of text. Hence, this concept, which also despises folks' creations like novels, has been the traditional point of view on Chinese literature. It is obvious that Chang considered 'moral teaching sf' to be superior to 'gadget sf' when he used these two terms for categories.

Several years later, Chang revised his categorisation of sf into four types in the preface of The Death of the Sea, an anthology of world sf short fictions selected and translated by Chang himself.
1) Adventure sf: this type of science fiction shows human]s adventure stories in time and space.
2) Gadget sf: these fictions depict the good or bad effects to human beings brought by newly technological inventions.
3) Social sf: this kind of science fiction predicts the possible development of human society. It can be divided into two types: 'satire sf', though being science fiction, is to satirise all kinds of unjust phenomena in the reality. 'Doomsday sf' mainly foretells how terrible human societies will become, and then lead to destruction.
4) Fantasy: this kind of science fiction is based on imagination; the ingredient of science was reduced or even missed. It still can be refined to three different types: 'utopia sf', which shows people's adoration of a perfect land, like Thomas More's Utopia and Plato's The Republic. 'Science romance' tells love stories in the form of science fiction. At last, 'literary sf', or 'genuine fantasy', describes people's inner worlds through imaginations. Some of Borges' and Kafka's works, novels of surrealism could be included in this type.
By tracing back the history of science fiction and comparing to the categorisation of western sf genre, researchers can find out the absurdity of Chang's definitions on several categories. Since he mixed the ur-science fiction materials together with sf genre, omitted the history of sf/fantasy genre development and obviously made his own conclusion in a mainstream literature viewpoint looking downward to science fiction. Chang's promotion was not helpful in forming a local sf genre but even a hazard to it. All in all, however controversial this categorisation was, it was still far more unknown than 'gadget/moral teaching' dualism since Chang did not work on sf translation and western sf introduction any more.

The other phenomenon affecting later local sf development was the emphasis of 'Chinese flavours' in local sf writings. It was arisen in the 1982 sf conversazione, one of the most important events on sf discussion in Taiwan. While scholars traced back sf history and stressed the connection between mythologies and science fiction, they found out some famous western sf titles had their 'folk, historical, and psychological backgrounds.'[17] They criticised that local sf works cited from western mythologies but not Chinese ones. In addition, the success of the combination of Chinese culture and sf in Chang Shi-Kuo's The Suite of Nebulae backed this thesis up. Therefore when discussing the issue of local sf development, these scholars urges writers to adopt from Chinese mythologies; they believe this way could connect sf with traditional folklores and make sf more popular. This opinion was approved by other writers/critics, including Huang Hai, Chang Shi-Kuo, and became the convention in local sf writings thereafter.

[6] Chang Shi-Kuo, 'The Introduction to The Suite of Nebulae', in Chang, The Suite of Nebulae (Taipei: Hung-Fan Books, 1980), p. 1.
[7] The Descendent, 'What Is Science Reality Fiction?', in the Descendent, Aurora Australis (Taipei: China Times Publishing, 1980), p. 5.
[8] Brian Stableford, 'The World SF Conference in Chengdu', in Foundation 53 (autumn 1991), p. 47.
[9] James Gunn, Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: A&W Visual Library, 1975), p. 48.
[10] Huang Hai, 'The Writing of Science Fiction', in Huang, Wanderers in the Galaxy (1978, Taipei: Knowledge Sytem, 1985), p. 220.
[11] All the statistic figures and records used in this paper are from my 'The Complete Bibliography of Taiwanese Science Fiction.'
[12] Chang Shi-Kuo, 'The Voyage of Solitude', in Chang, The Voyage in the Sky City (1977, Taipei: Hung-Fan Books, 1987), pp. 44-45.
[13] Chang invented a term 'Mandarin duck sf' to substitute 'science romance.' Mandarin duck (Yuan Yang) is one of the noted symbols representing 'love' in Chinese culture.
[14] Chang Shi-Kuo, 'Afterword of George R R Martin's "The Lonely Songs of Laran Dorr", in Chang (trans.), The Death of the Sea (1978, Taipei: Pure Literature Publishing, 1989), p. 84.
[15] Chang Shi-Kuo, 'After We Flew to the Moon', in Chang, The Earth (1970, Taipei: Pure Literature Publishing, 1985), p. 238.
[16] Chang Shi-Kuo, 'The Re-departure of science fiction: preface of The Death of the Sea', in Chang (trans.), The Death of the Sea (1978, Taipei: Pure Literature Publishing, 1989), pp. 2-3.
[17] Quoted from Yang Wan-Yun in 'Mr Democracy, Mr Science and Miss Fantasy: the Transcript of SF Conversazione held by United Daily News Feuilleton Publishing for Literature Festival in 1982', in Chang Shi-Kuo (ed.), The Anthology of Contemporary Science Fiction Vol 2 (1982, Taipei: Knowledge System Publishing, 1985), p. 237.

>>> Part III

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