What was the driving force behind “Exuviation”?
Every person may experience many changes in one’s life. You are willing to change yet still you may feel a bit uneasy about what may come after the change. Personally speaking, as a young writer who felt a bit bored about my old way of writing, I wanted to try something new and I was not afraid at that moment. But a good story should be the story of everyone, a story which could touch everyone. So I needed to reveal the other half of humanity: the other half that is afraid of what lies ahead. In the story I’ve created two characters, Tou and Gong, the special Cavers who should exuviate nine times in their life. But Cavers are not human beings, so the [aim of the] story is to gradually let in multiple meanings and directions in the process of writing; it’s not only a story of whether to change or not to change, but a story of the Other in the human world. Even the “authenticity” and “inauthenticity” of Heidegger’s Dasein could be introduced in the further understanding.
“Exuviation” was published in 2000 in Science Fiction World Magazine and received the Galaxy Award. You also have an MA in English Literature. How have these acknowledgements changed or affected your approach to writing science fiction?
Studying literature helped me to understand the literature in a different way; before that I was a constant reader of literature for more than sixteen years, but what I’d gotten from that was the natural feeling of a reader—my feedback was not guided by anything else. After I studied for the M.A., I came to know more about the theories and how to understand a story from a scholar’s perspective. Personally, I don’t think studying literature can tell us how to create good literary work, yet it’s not totally irrelevant. Since I know how to appreciate the beautiful images in poems and stories, I may consciously create some images in my stories, like in “Exuviation.”
In an interview dated in 2010 with Small Beer Press, you mentioned that you said “to continue writing is like exuviation to me” in a discussion with your editor in 1999. Taking into account the difference between that first quote and today, how does this quote still hold true to your writing?
“Exuviation” is more like a symbolic story to me. I had established my writing style in 1999 with “Yocasta”, which had won the Galaxy Award in Science Fiction World Magazine and marked the maturity of my first period. Since then, I had really felt the need to change. I had already published eight short stories, all together over 100,000 Chinese characters (about 50,000 words) by the end of 1999. The idea of “how to create a story more like a pure story but not very typical SF” appeared in my thoughts at that moment.
I’ve started my new study as a doctoral candidate for Art History in the Chinese Academy of Art. The new studies enlarge my knowledge and broaden my horizon. I believe if I can learn more and improve myself through study, I could have more to share in my future stories. Therefore, I may not concentrate on the change of styles or techniques but what I understand of life and the world.
As a translated work, which was hardest: writing the story, or ensuring the vision through the change to English?
“Exuviation” is not the most difficult one to translate of my stories. Still I should admit it takes a lot of trouble for me to translate it into English, as it’s not a 100% translation actually, but involves a little bit of rewriting. I was always afraid that some of the words and phrases I used were not proper for native speakers. I should show my gratitude to a list of people here: Geoffrey Landis and Mary Turzillo had assisted me greatly in my first translation, and they told me some words in my first translation were not often used in current English. Michael Swanwick helped me to fix my second edition and Gavin Grant, the editor of LCRW, discussed the final edition with me very carefully. He didn’t make any changes without my permission.
Among all my stories published in Chinese, “1923, a Fantasy” would be the greatest challenge to translators, and the brilliant English translation by Nicky Harman and Pang Zhaoxia was published in 2012 in a special issue of Renditions, a Chinese-English magazine founded by the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Their Special Issue of Chinese Science Fiction, edited by Mingwei Song, will be republished in the U.S. by Columbia University Press, or so I am told.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have three different plans for new SF novels and more for short stories. If the time is available (I’ve been a very busy teacher-student-mother in the past four years), I will try to rewrite some of my stories in English, and if I can get the help, may have them translated.
The World series is the most important one among them all. I started the World series in 2005, and the first short story of the series, “The World,” was published in 2006 in Science Fiction World. It creates a new world on the terrestrial planet Gaya, which has become the sole human civilization after a series of disasters that hit Earth as well as most of the human colonies on different planets. The World is running on a very special system called the Soulwave/Magicwave (a special material which may restore solar energy and collect all the friction from industry and people’s activities which would have been wasted in the old times) system. Soulwave taxes are put on everyone and a new utopia is built on that system. It’s an eco-friendly culture and since everyone is devoted to the process of creating energy, new beliefs in life and in society are created. The series started from the angle of a man who finds himself an outsider from the society and begins to find some dark secrets of the World. Up till now, three World series stories have been published in Science Fiction World and the fourth one might be a novel.
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