The Long and Winding Road to Science Fiction: A Brief Overview of SF Development in Taiwan (2003) (3/5)

Part II <<<

The Reign of Chang Shi-Kuo (1984-1993)
From the description above, it is obviously shown that Chang Shi-Kuo played a very important role in Taiwanese sf field since the 1970s. His fame as the 'sf grandmaster' has been secured after 1980, the publishing year of The Suite of Nebulae. And then Chang started his 'reign' of the Taiwanese sf field. In 1983, he persuaded Hung-Fan Books forming a sub-brand publishing house – Knowledge System Publishing – and directly controlled its business. So some researchers may consider the second period of Taiwanese sf development started in 1980.[18] However, in my opinion, it was until 1984, the year China Times started to host sf writing contest subordinate to its Annual Literary Award, that the second stage began. Because 1) the sf translation boom, which lasted to 1983, was not under Chang's influence. Besides, it was the boom that secured the population of sf readers and made Taiwanese sf development possible; 2) at first, Knowledge System seemed to dedicate to Chang himself. It printed only his own works, including the first book of 'The City Trilogy' – Five Jade Disks[19], his second sf short story collection The Night Melody and two volumes of The Anthology of Contemporary Science Fiction under his editing.

The China Times Sf Award was a milestone. It provided a way to raise new writers though in the beginning a portion of competitors were professional writers. Stories in the final shortlists were collected and published in Chang's Annual Anthologies of Science Fiction printed by Knowledge System. In the first few years, quite a number of amateur authors showed their excellent creativity, but most of them did not continue writing sf after their first appearance. Among these amateurs, Fan Sheng-Hung, Hsu Shun-Tang and Yeh Li-Hua showed up at least twice, and only Yeh, who inherited Chang's sf leadership in the late 1990s, had his own collection Games of Time and Space. Winners of this award did not gain more opportunities in their writing career. Only one of the amateur winners, Liao Chih-Chien, got his works published by publisher other than Knowledge System. Liao wrote two novels for Crown Publishing Co under the pen name 'Liao Ta-Yu' (Ta-Yu means 'big fish') but both were badly sold.

As for sf contributors since the seedtime, Chang Shi-Kuo continued working on his 'City Trilogy', which exemplified his 'whole history' idea. Chang's 'whole history' was similar to the 'future history' submitted by multiple writers but emphasised more on the integration of both histories of the past and the future. He thought that 'modern people must know not only the past but also the future, in order to find the root of history from the future.'[20] Huang Hai followed Chang's 'moral teaching' ideal and 'tried to take advantage of sf from to express the cultural crises human beings will face.'[21] He started this project, 'the Cultural Trilogy', in the early 1980s and got them printed in book form respectively in 1984 and 1987. Not as outstanding as other writers of the same period, Huang was treated just as an active figure in Taiwanese sf society but whose works were often ignored. After 'the Cultural Trilogy', he devoted himself to children's sf and became an important figure in that field. Quite a few of his children's sf works are in fact simplified or rewritten from his past adult titles. Cheng Wen-Hao, who was highly expected in the late 1970s, seemed to be quiet during the 1980s. Yeh Yen-Tu, whose first novella 'The File of Kao-Ka Battles' astonished not only sf field but the whole literature society in 1979, finished another three short fictions based on the same world, and published his only collection – Dragon Battles Among the Seas and the Sky.

As Chang Shi-Kuo's The Suite of Nebulae and The Night Melody blended Chinese culture with science fiction, giving new interpretations of traditional Chinese literature, Yeh's Dragon Battles Among the Seas and the Sky somewhat depicted an imaginative eastern Asia in metaphor to the confrontation between Taiwan Strait. The nation 'Pu-Lung' (which was usually seen as the representation of Taiwan) was in rapid development during the 1960s to 1980s while facing an extremely strong enemy 'Garcia' (which obviously meant China). Stories in this collection except 'The Ancient Sword' described the development/usage of secret untraditional warfare inside 'Pu-Lung' or in her confrontation with 'Garcia.' Though lacking vivid characters, Yeh's intriguing plots successfully dealt with moral issues and impacts arisen by the uses of these war tools, no wonder this book has been regarded as the greatest sf canon after The Suite of Nebulae.

Other successful sf authors during this period were actually mainstream literature writers who only occasionally produce science fiction. It was interesting that almost all these people were at the beginning of their own writing careers. They tried their best in experiment on all kinds of genres including sf to show their creativities. Chang Ta-Chun, Ping Lu, Lin Yao-Te, and Huang Fan were most famous ones. Chang Ta-Chun started his writing career with sf, but soon back to the mainstream, writing magic realism novels by mimicking Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Umberto Eco. He left merely one immature juvenile time-travel novel The Time Axis and four well-written short fictions. As one of the most praised writers in feminism, Ping Lu's sf short stories were no exception, concentrating on feminism issues. Lin Yao-Te, whose sf works were very few, but his 'The Rise and Decline of Two Planets' was indeed the most successful epic space opera in Taiwanese sf, which was expanded to the novel The Time Dragon in 1994. Lin was also one of the most important literary critics who concerned about science fiction; his 1993 essay 'Contemporary Taiwanese Science Fiction' was the mostly referred conclusion of Taiwanese sf development in the 1970s and 1980s. Huang Fan, though being one of the most active literary characters in the 1980s, still contributed sf while advocating 'urban literature' and experimenting on meta-fiction. He was also the only mainstream writer who published more than two books in sf during this period. A great part of his sf works, like 'The Gods', 'The Supreme Directory of War', 'Ice Cream' and God's Ears and Eyes, dealt with the question of the existence and the belief of the world creator/supervisors. Other works were either satirical social sf ('Pete's #3 Wine Glass', 'One-Thousand-Storey Building', 'The Era Without Currency') or dystopia ('Zero'). These works were written in the contemporary urban atmosphere, perfectly showing Huang’s style. These writers and works were more noticed in the literary society than Chang Shi-Kuo's followers, but there were still strong connections between them. All these four writers were once competitors of the China Times Sf Award in its early years, so their sf works were also collected in the annual anthologies. Huang Fan even had a short fiction collection printed by Knowledge System. When Chang Shi-Kuo started running Mirage later, they also participate in, contributing some not so brilliant works.

The publishing of Mirage could be regarded as the most significant sf event in Taiwan.[22] It completely united the whole Chinese sf society under Chang Shi-Kuo's banner; some of the contributors were even from Hong Kong and China. During its short life from 1990 to 1993, there were eight issues printed. The content included Chinese sf works (both short fictions and comics), translated short stories (much fewer), articles of science facts and UFO research, reports on international sf events (only brief ones on James E Gunn's visiting Taiwan and two WSF annual conferences held in China and Germany), introductions to Japanese sf comics/animations and Star Trek. Each issue had its own topic; two of them were the shortlisted stories of Chang Shi-Kuo Sf Award and Worldwide Chinese Sf Art Award (both were new names of China Times Sf Award); three were introductions to western sf writers, two for Isaac Asimov[23] and one for Philip K Dick; one was feminist sf ('Women in the Future'). This issue contained another topic 'Japanese Sf Animation.'

In 1993, Mirage finally folded, so did the reign of Chang Shi-Kuo. Years later, in his essay 'The Cosmic Incense Pot: on the Trend of Science Fiction', Chang suspired, 'Mirage indeed drained every efforts of its contributors; however, it still has been always highly praised but badly sold. The great event in sf field unfortunately proved that the sf "golden age" was yet to come in Taiwan.'[24] But by looking through the sf development history of this period, Mirage's doom was inevitable. In spite of the lack of readers' support, the decline in both quality and quantity of local sf writings directly hazarded the continuation of this magazine. Compared to its western counterparts, Mirage did not have sufficient fictional works. The amount of sf stories (both local writings and translated works) went from 18 in Issue #1 down to 5 in #7 and 7 in #8. A greater percentage of pages were reserved for local comics (including the winner and runners-up of Worldwide Chinese Sf Art Award), essays and introductions to Japanese comics/animations since #6. This fact revealed not only the shortage of local sf writings but also the change of this magazine in order to attract new readers in a new decade.

When professional writers ceased participating in the sf award (whatever name called, it was always the same one), the quality of its competing stories started to drop. There was no award given in 1988, only specially mentioning Hsu Shun-Tang's 'The Affair'; Yeh Li-Hua's 'The Game', the winner in 1989, was explicitly inferior to previous ones. The award suspended in 1990, and then competitors from China dominated the 1991 contest. Taiwanese titles only won the first runner-up, sharing with another Chinese work. Popularising sf through writing contests was proved to be failure.

In 1993, Lin Yao-Te further concluded the most written sf themes under Chang's reign. He pointed out Taiwanese sf in the 1980s could be divided into two groups: macroscopic sf and microscopic sf. The first category is affected by Chang's concept of moral issue and deals with problems of human society as a whole. Microscopic sf is 'small sf' which emphasises more on personal problems resulted from sfnal factors.[25] Despite their literary quality, microscopic sf was fewer and received much less attention. He also argued that

All the sf advocators, such as Chang Shi-Kuo, Huang Fan and Kin Yuen Wong, directly or indirectly approved of sf with large structures and 'whole history', which emphasised the authors' world-building and the impact of the world history. 'Utopia' and 'dystopia' then became the traditional restriction of sf creation. … In other words, there would be good opportunities for microscopic and light sf. On one hand, they give fewer burdens to both authors and readers, which is advantageous to spread sf concepts; on the other hand, microscopic sf does not lack the literary value in spite of its smaller structure.[26]

Lin foresaw the development of Taiwanese sf in the 1990s from the author's point of view; however, sf has still been in decline due to the more fundamental problem – the lack of support from readers.

Chang Ta-Chun attacked Chang Shi-Kuo in 'The Great Sf Duel' conversazione, accusing Chang Shi-Kuo of murdering Taiwanese sf:
Since he (Chang Shi-Kuo) established the sf award, Taiwanese sf works has been burdened with heavy ideologies, such as novels have to reflect social/political phenomena to a certain degree, therefore sf has never been popular. … Sf written according to Chang's way had less attraction to those reading sf just for fun, which made his 'moral teaching' restrict the directions of Taiwanese sf development. Therefore Chang Shi-Kuo is to blame for all these consequences.[27]
Lin Yao-Te did not agree that the failure of Taiwanese sf was due to 'moral teaching' but pointed out another drawback in Chang Shi-Kuo's promotion:
Other genres all firstly established their own lower parts, but Chang Shi-Kuo only constructed the upper parts and forgot the lower.[28]
Chang Shi-Kuo admitted this flaw:
Owing to local sf history, we had the upper structure first because the awards appealed to some authors. At the same time, we also found out there was not enough support from lower structure, so we started Mirage. Inquest into this failure, the dilemma did not lie in the scale of readership we had attracted but in our narrow-mindedness of attempts to draw only a certain kind of readers. We have not developed new readers, nor have we met the favours of general public.[29]
Therefore, we can say that author development (mentioned in this dialogue as the upper structure in sf genre hierarchy) weighed much more heavily than marketing (the lower structure). As a publisher, Chang even omitted the importance of marketing. All the publications of Knowledge System could be hardly found in anywhere, large chain bookstores were no exception. The sf award was an event in literary society but quite unknown to sf readers. It was absurd that Chang had long claimed that 'sf, being a subculture, should be independent to mainstream literature'[30]; however, Taiwanese sf under his reign was always treated as a part and the marginalised part of mainstream literature. If a literary genre is 'someone stands up and declares that a genre exists and persuades writers, publishers and critics that he is correct'[31], Chang's advocating of sf was loud, affirmative and impressive in Taiwanese literary society. But a literary genre is without any hope when its readers must try every effort just to find something to read. They would disperse first, and then so would the fellowship of writers.

So, where have all the readers gone? Since 1978, the Feuilleton of China Times started introducing Hong Kong writer Ni Kuang's works, and his pulp sci-fi adventure novels have enjoyed unsurpassed popularity. We can divide his sci-fi novels into several series according to their protagonists. Wesley is the most popular one among them. The name should be translated ‘Wisely’ for better accuracy, since he is actually the fantastic image of Ni Kuang himself. Wesley is not only full of wisdom and curiosity but 'also an international kung-fu adventurer, whose more than 80 books in the series so far, making him more popular than James Bond, Bourne, and Nero Wolfe put together.'[32] The novels, somewhat like 'combination of Resident Evil and The X-Files'[33], are filled with action, adventure, exotic settings and most of all, the revelation of alien intervention inside mysterious events or phenomena. Novels of other protagonists sometimes have nothing to do with the extraterrestrials but contain more erotic or kung-ku elements, which make them more unlike sci-fi, let alone sf. Though critisised 'anti-science fiction'[34] by Lin Yao-Te, Ni's entertaining novels have been extensively read since the 1980s, mostly through the channel of comic/novel rental houses.[35] Ni has been so popular that he is the only extensively well-known sf writer. General readers may not hear of Chang Shi-Kuo, but most of them must have noticed Ni Kuang. Local sf society finally, maybe was laid under necessity, accepted Ni, even though the aims, contexts and spirits in the works were totally different.

Comparing to the seedtime, the quantity of sf translations during this period was very small. Most of them were marketed as mainstream novels or juvenile novels. Simplified/rewritten editions of classical works in the 19th century were still printed by different publishers, often labeled as classical literature for young adults, eg Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and H G Wells' The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds. George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World respectively had 7 and 3 different translated editions printed from 1984 to 1993, becoming the most available 'sf' titles on the market.

Few genre sf works were published. If so, they were categorised in the series like 'popular hit novels in US', which was the way publishers deciding which titles for translation. Isaac Asimov's Foundation's Edge, Robert A Heinlein's Job: A Comedy of Justice and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls were thus published. Some movie/TV series tie-ins were translated because the popularity of original works. We had Return of the Jedi, Back to the Future, Batman, ET the Extra-Terrestrial with its un-filmed sequel, and three tie-in novels of Star Trek. All these publications did not help breed new sf readers as what titles in the translation boom did. Isaac Asimov's and Arthur C Clarke's fames have lasted owing to introduction articles of genre promoters. Besides them, the most famous foreign sf writers were Shelley, Verne and Wells, the 'mother' and 'fathers' of science fiction. Other western sf writers were seldom systematically introduced in Taiwan except the special Philip K Dick theme in Mirage #6.

However, the most influential single sf translated title was publishing in this period. Its popularity was not started among sf readers but Japanese comic/animation fans. After the success of its TV series animation adaptation in 1988 and soon imported into Taiwan through underground channel, Japanese writer Tanaka Yoshiki's The Legend of Galactic Heroes drew the attention of local comic/animation otakus. Sharp Point Publishing, a publisher then dedicated to Japanese comic/animation books, illegally translated and printed the first edition of this 10-volume space opera.[36] It became the most read sf title in Taiwan and arose extensive discussion among fans. Most young readers consider it as a great political novel because its theme of the military conflicts between an absolute monarchy galactic empire under a brilliant general emperor and a democratic planet alliance ruled by corrupted politicians. Though introducing a number of colourful but idolised characters, its plot and discussion on further issues was quite naïve compared to sf classics. But the selling figure talks. Its influence has lasted until now, and affected the sub-genre of 'fictional historic novel' a few years later.

[18] For example, in his master's dissertation 'The Cultural Research of Taiwanese Science Fiction (1968-2001)', Fu Chi-I concluded that the 'golden age' of Taiwanese sf was from 1980 to 1994.
[19] 'The City Trilogy' was expanded from Chang's successful short fictions in The Suite of Nebulae – 'City of the Bronze Statue' and 'Love in a Fallen City' (which was an intentional 'coincidence' while famous literary writer Chang Ai-Ling had written one of the most noted romance stories in modern Chinese literature under the same title, though there were no connections between these two except they were both love stories.) This trilogy contains Five Jade Disks, Defenders of the Dragon City and Tale of a Feather, all published by Knowledge System Publishing. Columbia University printed its English translation in March 2003.
[20] Chang Shi-Kuo, 'To Find the Root of History from the Future', Mirage 1 (January 1990), p. 11.
[21] Huang Hai, 'About "the Cultural Trilogy" – preface of The Tales of Rat City', in Huang, The Tales of Rat City (Taipei: China Times Publishing, 1987), p. 5.
[22] See Chang Shi-Kuo, 'The Cosmic Incense Pot: On the Trend of Science Fiction', in Chen Yi-Chih (ed.), The Collective Critics on the History of Modern Taiwanese Fictions (Taipei: Linking Publishing Co, 1998), p. 300.
[23] One is the memorial special issue of the decease of Asimov in 1992.
[24] Chang Shi-Kuo, 'The Cosmic Incense Pot: On the Trend of Science Fiction', in Chen Yi-Chih (ed.), The Collective Critics on the History of Modern Taiwanese Fictions (Taipei: Linking Publishing Co, 1998), p. 301.
[25] Lin Yao-Te, 'Contemporary Taiwanese Science Fiction', in Lin, The Starry Sky of New Generation (2001, Taipei: Book4u, originally in Youth Literary #475, #476, July – August 1993), p. 173.
[26] Ibid, pp. 177-178.
[27] Chang Kuo-Li (chronicled), 'The Great Sf Dual', Mirage 6 (March 1992), p. 99.
[28] Ibid, p. 102.
[29] Ibid, p. 103.
[30] Lu Hsueh-Hai and Lu Wei-Chin (chronicled), 'The Voyage of Science Fiction: a Conversation between Chang Shi-Kuo and Kin Yuen Wong on Science Fiction', in Chang Shi-Kuo, The Night Melody (Taipei: Knowledge System Publishing, 1985), p. 124.
[31] Gary Westfahl, 'On the True History of Science Fiction', Foundation 47 (winter 1989/1990), p. 13.
[32] Quoted from 'Program #396: Film: The Adventures of Wesley: Hong Kong's Greatest Sf Writer', in 2002 ConJose Pocket Program, p. 65. The 60th WorldCon presented three of the best movie adaptations of Wesley, but it was obviously only a time-killing activity for those who were unable to go to the Masquerade and uninterested in the Ceremony for the Golden Duck Awards.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Lin Yao-Te, 'Contemporary Taiwanese Science Fiction', in Lin, The Starry Sky of New Generation (2001, Taipei: Book4u, originally in Youth Literary #475, #476, July – August 1993), p. 174.
[35] The popularity of comic/novel rental houses is a strange phenomenon in Taiwan, or other places where the concept of copyright is not strictly enforced. Like video rental stores, readers just pay a small sum of money (usually 20p to 40p per book) and then they can rent some comics or books for several days. Traditional genre novels, such as romance and emprise (Chinese kung-fu fantasy, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), often get their readers through this channel. Ni Kuang's sci-fi novels are sometimes treated as modern emprise novels here because of their kung-fu elements.
[36] The 1st (illegal) and 2nd (copyrighted) edition of The Legend of Galactic Heroes were printed in 20 volumes. Each original book was divided into two in Taiwanese edition. Sharp Point Publishing finally restored the original in the latest edition.

>>> Part IV

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