Imagination is the lifeline of science fiction. In the 20th century, Chinese science fiction has produced the three distinct imagination modes of desire, possibility, and principles, conveyed through at least five expression techniques in neologisms, verisimilitude, temporal disjunction, situational extremes, and metaphorization. Although imagination is critical to the creation of science fiction, there are polarized views about its nature. A necessary task for the future development of Chinese science fiction is challenging false conceptions of imagination so as to establish more imagination modes.
This article provides an existentialist reading of Liu Cixin’s novel The Three-Body Problem (Santi). Luo Ji, with the chance/miracle of Trisolaran invasion, got rid of the unreal status and became the self-conscious existence and the hero who protected the mankind by his decisiveness and responsibilities. However, he gained terror and hostility from human. Eventually, human civilization was extinct because of the rejection to the heroes. The Three-Body Problem showed Liu Cixin’s endeavor to revive heroism in the contexts of China and the world, but also represented the writer’s confusion as a symptom of the era when he was dealing with the ideological theme of hero and the common people.
Zheng Wenguang described the concept of “science fiction realism” in 1981 as a form of misreading, aiming at exploring social problems. Personally, he was rethinking and developing a series of his own writing ideas since the 1950s. As for the science fiction community, it was a powerful challenge to the idea that “science fiction is a part of popular science,” which had existed for almost five decades. As soon as Zheng’s idea was put forward, it quickly received a warm response from Jin Tao and Wei Yahua, etc. The works, such as “The Moonlight Island” (Yueguangdao) and “Destiny Nightclub” (Mingyun yezonghui), broke down the narrow boundaries of contemporary popular science discourse. “Science fiction realism” should be understood to mean “realistic science fiction.” However, from a theoretical perspective, all kinds of writings in this period not only narrowed and vulgarized the understanding of “realism,” especially as they ignored heated discussions of this concept, but also blurred the core and boundary of the “science fiction” genre and even dissolved its autonomy to a certain extent. Zheng and his proponents’ explorations are Chinese science fiction authors’ beneficial attempts to construct local traditions. They reflect a profound anxiety towards reality and a strong desire for self-identification among a generation of science fiction authors. The core point they observe reappears in various guises across the development of the science fiction genre in the following decades. The basic conceptions they are trying to convey have also become important resources for the development of Chinese science fiction literary theory.
Contemporary Chinese science fiction author and journalist Han Song’s works often cross the lines dividing reality from imagination, science fiction from literary mainstream, technology from the supernatural. This article, focusing in particular on Han’s novella “The Rebirth Bricks” (Zaisheng zhuan), aims to investigate the role played by the senses in a shift from the science fictional novum to the fictional “uncanny.” Featuring technological bricks, haunted by sounds of the dead which are perceived through sight and hearing, this novella is analyzed from the standpoint of this perceptual complementarity which expresses Han Song’s “science fictional re-enchantment,” a re-use of supernatural themes of the past that allow him to express the (technological) anomalies of China’s current reality.
Compared with pure literature, Liu Cixin’s science fiction novels show a high degree of novelty. Due to his creative accommodation of third world experience and the Chinese cultural spirit of the 1950–70s, he is able to challenge the universal hegemony of the Enlightenment. The deep feelings of Liu Cixin’s novels come from the “guerrilla” character of third world intellectuals who resisted colonization and guarded the country, a resistance derived from China’s vanguard position in the third world independence movement. Liu Cixin’s continuous writing of the story of weakness over power is not only a response to China’s modern and contemporary situation, but also a borrowing from the revolutionary experience to imagine the possibility of another world for readers of the post-revolutionary era.
In the view of the relation between science fiction and social reality, the core question of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem trilogy is the clash of civilizations between human and Trisolaran, which causes the future possibility of the end of human history. The narrative perspectives of the trilogy are the intelligentsia narrative by Wang Miao (The Three-Body Problem), the heroic narrative by Luo Ji (The Three-Body Problem II: The Dark Forest), and the narrative of “the last man” by Cheng Xin (The Three-Body Problem III: Death’s End). If the future civilization of the human beings is likely to encounter the cosmic catastrophe which is caused by the clash of civilizations between human and aliens, contemporary human elite have to rethink the values of morality and civilization, and bravely creating new history of human by rejecting the temptation of era of the end of history.
The imagination of the social form has been an important theme in the 21st century Chinese science fictions. The imagination of a social form on the model of “Elder’s dual vector foil” contains a logical asymmetry—high-level technology and a primary social form. From the perspective of historical materialism and dialectics, this imagination and other imaginations of the social form, such as intelligent algorithms, that internally dominate or distort the social form through technology, reveal its flaws and limitations. Compared to the imagination of specific technology, the imagination of social form emphasizes the entirety and connection of multiple social factors, and it is hard to thoroughly dispense the invisible dominance of existing human experience. Marxist theory and methodology are indispensable to the imagination of social form in science fiction. Reigniting the Marxist critical imagination of future social form and activating the aesthetic power of this imagination are the future directions of the development of science fiction.
From inventing cutting-edge technology to designing ideal society, science fiction has always been considered as a literature of future. With the introduction of historical dimension, can science fiction provide us a new perspective to speculate on the future? In 2004, Qian Lifang’s debut novel The Will of Heaven (Tianyi), known as the representative of contemporary Chinese “historical science fiction” won both reputation and market. Her second novel Mandate of Heaven (Tianming) was published seven years later. Compared to the tremendous success of the former, it has received less attention. In existing scholarship, neither The Will of Heaven nor Mandate of Heaven has never been studied and analysed in depth whereas the concept of “historical science fiction” remains ambiguous. Taking Mandate of Heaven as an example, this paper will first discuss the generic problem of “historical science fiction” by comparing it with “alternate history.” Based on this, it continues to exam how the science fiction element is incorporated into Qian’s narrative with the aid of “time travel” and “multiverse” as narrative device. Finally, the paper will examine the conceptual experiment of “Mandate of Heaven” embodied by three characters in the book, comparing different views on the compatibility between free will and determinism. The paper concludes that “historical science fiction” is a re-invention of history. Its value lies not in defining a new genre, but in the possibility offered to readers to reflect on the dialectical relationship between fiction and history.