The Long and Winding Road to Science Fiction: A Brief Overview of SF Development in Taiwan (2003) (4/5)

Part III <<<

The Era of Decline (1993-1998)
After the demise of Mirage, sf writing in Taiwan entered an era of decline. Only a small group of new writers would like to create stories barely crossing the boundary between mainstream literature and sf. Though in 1994, Youth Literary magazine hosted an sf contest subsidiary to its own literary award, which attracted a few of talented young writers, the heat soon cooled down. Hong Kong scholar Kin Yuen Wong, one of the judges of the award, pointed out:
Under such umbrella terms as postmodernism, feminism, and postcolonialism, these writers (Chang Chi-Chiang, Hung Ling and Chi Ta-Wei) took it upon themselves to explore the hitherto uptapped areas, namely eroticism, city, body politics, cultural hybridity, diaspora, globalism, postnationalism, etc. … [t]hey also support each other in representing a kind of absolute world of simulacrum in which the virtual and the real have no significant boundary whatsoever.[37]
Just like Lin Yao-Te had predicted, 'microscopic sf' substituted 'macroscopic sf' in the 1990s, nevertheless, these attempts were not converted to a trend. Among the shortlisted writers, Chang Chi-Chiang, the champion writer, and Chang Kuo-Li did not write sf any more; Chi Ta-Wei, after winning the 1995 United News Literature Award with queer sf novella 'Membranes', also left sf field and went further into queer/gay/lesbian writing. Only Hung Ling and Hong Kong writer Tam Kim kept writing sf. In spite of establishing another milestone, these works were quite unknown to readers and drew fewer followers.

Hong Kong writer Dung Kai-Cheung's novella 'Androgyny' and Taiwanese novelist Hao Yu-Hsiang's novelette 'Genesis, 2300', which are the merely representative sf works after 1994 besides Hung's, are genuine feminism stories with sfnal novums. Both of them are unsurprisingly unknown among sf readers. The protagonists of these two stories are female characters who tried to fight out a way of independence. Both were suffered from masculine assaults, but then found out their destinies and transcended. In 'Androgyny', the heroine researcher found the fictional 'androgyny' lizard at the moment of being raped by a man she met in the forest. Finally she understood that she is the lizard 'Androgyny' herself. 'In a certain degree, every woman who is interested in exploring the futuristic gender predicament is also "Androgyny."[38] In 'Genesis, 2300', the female sufferer, who is younger sister of narrator, finally understood her destiny and played the role of 'Gaia.'

During this era of decline, Hung Ling (Lucifer Hung) was the most active figure in sf field. Since her first sf appearance 'Crime and Sin' in Mirage #2 in 1990, she has written 9 novels, 4 short story collections and 5 non-fictional essay collections. Her novels belong to three different series; the fully depicted one is 'the cosmic odyssey'. Originally published in one volume in 1995 and later revised and expanded to 6 volumes, Hung has used the form of space opera to represent an invasion of 'the others', including queer, feminism, hard rock, and etc, against traditional paternal power structure of eastern society. Hung's style is influenced by her favourite authors, Elizabeth Hand and Samuel R Delany, as well as Japanese comics, especially space opera Five Star Stories and a certain girls' comic titles concerning about bloody but marvelously beautiful vampires. She combines sf/f/h with gothic romance, Middle Age tales, mythologies of ancient cultures in order to 'spread sheen baroque poetry and forge a postmodern mythology containing metaphysics and psychoanalysis.'[39] Hung's style is revealed not only in her fiction works but also in her essays. Her nonfiction collections The Devil's Notebook and The Vampire Bat Who Is Hanging on the Net include articles about western sf. Though filled with her predilections for a certain type of writers, these articles are still uncommon resources since the late 1980s. Calling herself Vampire or AntiChrist, Hung was also an active cybercultural advocate when Internet trend was in its infancy in Taiwan. Quite controversial among traditional sf readers and writers, Hung Ling undoubtedly appeals to her own fans and brings a new aura to Taiwanese sf society.

After the fold of Mirage, Chang Shi-Kuo gave up his 'moral teaching' concept and tried to attracted readers with 'interactive sf stories' in Exuberance Pages, a part of the feuilleton in United News. What is an interactive story? Chang wrote the first half of a story beforehand (a few of them were in fact stories from his collection Clothes of Gold), posting them on the newspaper, and then asked readers to finish it. His first attempt 'The Story of Red Envelope' drew 189 replies and encouraged him to continue six more. It sounded as if Chang finally succeeded this time. However, there was only one reader's contribution included when Chang got these stories printed in a collection. This result completely contradicted to the original motive of interactive stories. It seemed that in Chang's opinion, only one response was either good enough or fit into his plot. That also showed Chang himself did not want to sacrifice the integrity of a story. Therefore, interactive story is just a funny game, not a way of serious writing, not to say becoming a method to breed sf readers/writers. Besides, without 'moral teaching', Chang's stories are quite tasteless, much worse than his previous works. After that, though still idolised by his followers, Chang Shi-Kuo gradually faded out of Taiwanese sf society. As for Huang Hai, in the 1990s he entirely converted himself into a children sf writer, though still comparatively prolific, his fame and influence in this field also diminished.

The only traditional sf title worth mentioning was Lin Yao-Te's Time Dragon, somewhat like a legacy because of his sudden decease in 1995. Expanded from his 1984 'The Rise and Decline of Two Planets', Time Dragon should be categorised into 'macroscopic sf', which was more similar to local sf in the previous decade. Lin took advantage of a space opera theme to metaphorically depict the political power wrestling in Taiwan after the death of semi-dictator Chiang Ching-Kuo in 1989. In her essay 'Time Dragon and the problems of postmodern violence writing', literary scholar Liu Chi-Hui compared the context of this novel and the literary history of Taiwan, finding out Time Dragon reflected the fighting on ideologies and the leadership in Taiwanese modern poetry societies as well as contemporary Taiwanese politics.[40] However, this novel was neglected in the sf field in spite of its high literary value.

During this period, Ni Kuang still enjoyed great popularity, though other entertaining media drew attractions of many readers who just wanted to read for fun. Because of Ni's success, publishers started to raise other sci-fi adventure writers; Huang Yi was the greatest example. At first, Huang wanted to start his writing career with emprise novels. But his early writings were not good enough, so he was persuaded to follow Ni Kuang's way. When he got a little more fame from his 'Lin Tu-Yu' series, he soon went back to emprise genre. There were many other followers/imitators of Ni, but only few of them survived because their stories were worse woven.

As for sf translations in this period, both Kurt Vonnegut Jr and Michael Crichton's complete works were translated. Vonnegut was marketed as a writer of serious mainstream literature, and Crichton was labeled the writer behind box office hit films. It was perhaps not so surprising that Vonnegut's books sold very poorly in Taiwan, partly due to lack of media exposure. What was more amazing was Crichton's books did not sell much better either, since Jurassic Park and other movie adaptations were quite popular here. Publishers had a myth that fans of media titles would like to buy their peripheral products, so tie-in books based on sci-fi hit movies, The X-Files, Gundam and other comics were once continuously published. Most of them failed on the market, too.

Isaac Asimov's Robot and Foundation series (without two prequels) were published by Han-Sheng Publishing, a company who always prints books in an expensive hardcover/library binding set, which cannot be individually sold and only directly traded through their own salespersons. Readers cannot buy even glimpse these books in a bookstore. Each of Asimov's original title was divided into two or three volumes, and the whole set cost more than 200 pounds; only the most faithful and wealthiest fans could afford it.

Aside from those mentioned above, sf in the 19th century went on printed and marketed as juvenile classical literature; some other titles were introduced but concealed their own sf attributes. Startlingly, two of them sold quite well; one was Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon, a sleeper hit that achieved bestseller status and has enjoyed at least ten printings. Keyes' non-sf works, such as Milligan series and The Fifth Sally, were even more popular and often discussed in Internet forums. French writer Bernard Werber's Les Fourmis (Empire of the Ants) has also gained similar popularity and praises, so the publisher then continued printing its two not-so-good sequels three years later. Sadly, only few people recongnised them as sf novels. But again, if they had been labeled sf, they probably would not attract the wide audience they did.

[37] Kin Yuen Wong, 'Urbanity, Cyberpunk and the Posthuman: Taiwan Science Fiction from the 60's to 90's', Tamkang Review, Vol XXXI, No 2, p.78.
[38] Ping Lu, 'An Astonishing Colourful Text – "Androgyny"', in Dung Kai-Cheung, Androgyny (Taipei: Linking Publishing Co, 1996), p. 81.
[39] Liu Liang-Ya, 'Commendation to Return from the Edgy End of the World', in Hung Ling, Return from the Edgy End of the World (Taipei: Rye Field Publishing Co, 2002), p. 3.
[40] See Liu Chi-Hui, 'Time Dragon and the problems of postmodern violence writing', in Liu, Orphan, Goddess, and Writing of the Negative: The Performance of Our Symptoms (Taipei: Li-Hsu Publishing, 2000), pp. 396-422.

>>> Part V

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