Book Review: Sinopticon

by @edent | , , | 1 comment

Spaceships flying over a Chinese city.

A stunning collection of the best in Chinese Science Fiction, from Award-Winning legends to up-and-coming talent, all translated here into English for the first time.
This celebration of Chinese Science Fiction — thirteen stories, all translated for the first time into English — represents a unique exploration of the nation’s speculative fiction from the late 20th Century onwards, curated and translated by critically acclaimed writer and essayist Xueting Christine Ni.
From the renowned Jiang Bo’s ‘Starship: Library' to Regina Kanyu Wang’s ‘The Tide of Moon City, and Anna Wu’s ‘Meisje met de Parel', this is a collection for all fans of great fiction.
Award winners, bestsellers, screenwriters, playwrights, philosophers, university lecturers and computer programmers, these thirteen writers represent the breadth of Chinese SF, from new to old: Gu Shi, Han Song, Hao Jingfang, Nian Yu, Wang Jinkang, Zhao Haihong, Tang Fei, Ma Boyong, Anna Wu, A Que, Bao Shu, Regina Kanyu Wang and Jiang Bo.

This is a brilliant and fascinating set of short stories. Xueting Ni has lovingly translated this collection into British English - which makes a nice change from having everything in standard American! As well as translating, each story gets a "translator's commentary". A set of notes which gives a little insight into the interpretation process - as well as some context on the author. There's also some great explaining of some of the symbolism lost in translation. For example, the characters 比喆 and 赫林 are star-crossed lovers on twin worlds - something which doesn't come off in their Romanised forms.

The stories themselves are excellent. Sure, there are a couple of recycled plots - but told from a Chinese perspective. Is that perspective so different from the West? Just like my review of Black Sci-Fi Short Stories, it is sometimes hard to pick out what makes the stories uniquely Chinese. If these were in a mixed anthology, would you know they were all from authors from one region?

A few of the stories have an undercurrent of nationalism to them which feels very old fashioned. It's unusual to find a modern story which revels in the innate superiority of the English, for example.

That said, I never thought I'd feel sympathy for a zombie!

My 中文 isn't good enough to rate the quality of the translation - although I'd love a simultaneous version - so I can't comment on that. But the book raises the interesting question of how you translate a story about time travel from a language which uses tenses quite differently to English.

Most importantly, each story is fun! With a good mix of lengths, styles, and genres, there really is something for every type of sci-fi fan here.

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. The book will be published in late 2021.

One thought on “Book Review: Sinopticon

  1. Great #review by ⁦@edent⁩. As a British Chinese writer, proud to be working in the languages I love & have been immersed in, to bring you Chinese #sciencefiction stories in the language whose #literature nurtured my literary awakening and development…

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