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Interview: Chi Hui, and story translator Brian Bies, on “Deep Sea Fish”

Questions for the author, Chi Hui (Bies’s translations in English of the author’s responses):

What was the inspiration for this story?

故事的灵感来自一个关于“彗星探索和登陆器设计”的科学报道,上面写道,如果登陆器的力度把握不好,那么很有可能会把自己弹进太空里去。于是当时就想,如果彗星上有生命,那么它们离开自己生长的地方,实在是非常容易的事情。而人类就不得不带着自己的“小环境”到处跑。所以,人类在地球的环境下所向披靡,但同时也被这个环境束缚住了。就像是深海里的鱼一样。

The inspiration from this story came from a report on “Comet Exploration and Lander Design,” in which it was discussed how lander thrust must be carefully controlled to prevent the vehicles from bouncing off into space. After reading that, I began to think about how incredibly easy it would be for comet-based lifeforms to leave their birthplace. We humans, meanwhile, have to bring “mini-environments” along with us. We are unstoppable in our natural environment, but at the same time our environment constrains us. Just like deep sea fish.

 

Was “Deep Sea Fish” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

关于个人因素:我很渴望飞行,但胆子很小,又很害怕飞行。我很喜欢思考低重力或者零重力下的环境,那种环境下,人类可以仅凭自己的肌肉来模拟飞行,是很酷的事情。所以我让女主角穿着翼装登场,又穿着翼装离去。

Regarding personal aspects: I dearly wish I could fly, but I’m not very brave and I’m terrified of flying. I enjoy thinking about low-gravity or zero-gravity environments where humans could fly using only the strength of their own muscles. It’s a very cool idea. That’s why the female lead makes her entrance on wings, and leaves the story on wings.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

写这篇小说的时候,最困难的部分是寻找关于土卫六的资料。还有关于低温环境的资料。除了报纸和杂志上的新闻,相关科学研究很少有浅显的介绍内容可读。我不得不去翻看各种很难读懂的论文。而它们几乎都不是中文的。我的英文水平又不算很好。幸运的是,那时候我有了自己的电脑,并购买了一个翻译软件。它让我能够慢慢地阅读这些资料。

The most difficult part of writing this story was finding information about Saturn VI and cryogenic environments. Other than articles in newspapers and magazines, there are only a rare few cursory introductions to the relevant scientific research. My only option was to search through dense scientific papers, almost none of which were written in Chinese. My English is not very good, but luckily I had my own computer by then and had purchased a translation program. This allowed me to slowly work through the materials.

晶簇的设计灵感来自于我大学时的有机化学实验课。那是我大学生涯里最美好的记忆之一。:)

Inspiration for the crystal forests came from an organic chemistry lab course I took in college. It’s one of the most wonderful memories I have from my college years. :)

 

Questions for Bies as translator:

Tell us a bit about “Deep Sea Fish.”

This is one of my favorite Chinese sf stories and a rare example of excellent Chinese hard sf, particularly given its length. I would rate it on par with if not better than some of Liu Cixin’s best works, and I am very happy to have been able to translate it. Chi did an excellent job of building a world to support her story. I would love to read a sequel expanding on different aspects of this world (the different clans on Titan, the ruins left behind by the Titans on other plants in the solar system, etc.)

 

What can you tell us about the author of the story, Chi Hui?

I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her in person, and I’ve only read four or five of her stories. A recurring theme in her writing seems to be the detrimental effect of human activities on the environment.

 

You have your own translation business in Nanjing, translating texts on history, law, and machinery.  How does that experience inform your fiction translations, and why did you decide to branch out into translating sf?

I do, though recently I have shifted to translating almost exclusively texts on Chinese history and culture (particularly folk art). I was actually interested in translating sf before I began doing other translation work. I wrote my master’s thesis on a Chinese sf author, Han Song, and the translation of one of his stories was the first major project I worked on (as yet unpublished, sadly). Unfortunately, literary translation—particularly sf translation—doesn’t pay much, and it was necessary for me to branch out into more lucrative areas. I think that my experience as a professional translator leads me to err on the side of fidelity as opposed to creative interpretation when translating stories. Literary translators who are authors in their own right may be more inclined to fiddle with the details and adjust things to suit the tastes of their target audience.

 

What can you tell us in America about the state of the Chinese sf lit scene?

In your opinion, how is Chinese science fiction different from American sf, if it is different at all?

It might be easiest to reply to these two questions together. Chinese sf authors face a number of difficulties that are reflected in their writing.

Historically, sf in China has never been given enough time to take root and form a continuous tradition. It was condemned soon after its appearance in the early 20th century, again after the founding of the PRC, and again in the 90s. As a result, Chinese sf authors tend to be more influenced by foreign sf than by earlier Chinese works.

Socially, the genre has widely been viewed as “just for kids” since the early 20th century. Stories with adult themes or written particularly for adult readers are relatively rare, though some authors intent on changing this have written extremely adult pieces.

Economically, it’s very difficult for Chinese writers to support themselves on writing alone. The Chinese labor market is extremely competitive, with long hours and minimal vacation time required for almost all jobs, so writing as a hobby isn’t sustainable for most either. Authors don’t have as much time to put into their stories, and this is reflected in the overall quality of their work. The rise of “online novels” has pushed this to an extreme: one author I know who writes for a major fantasy novel site is required to publish 10,000 characters (~8,000 words) each day!

Politically, stories containing certain themes simply cannot be published. Some outstanding pieces on sensitive topics are circulated in forums, but they are a very small minority. Stories about the distant past, stories about strange races on faraway planets, stories about bright futures, and stories condemning firmly established social problems (i.e. pollution) are relatively safe and thus more common.

 

“Deep Sea Fish” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

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comments

One Response to “Interview: Chi Hui, and story translator Brian Bies, on “Deep Sea Fish””

  1. Stories I Love: May 2018 | Robert J. McCarter on June 5th, 2018

    […] Sea Fish Chi Hui translated by Brian Bies The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction March/April 2018, $8.99 for the ebook issue, approx […]

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