[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Apex Book of World SF edited by Lavie Tidhar. It’ll run every Monday to Friday until I run out of interviews. Two of these interviews will be reprinted in Apex Magazine but the rest are exclusive to SF Signal.]
Han Song is a Chinese science fiction writer of some note, and works as a journalist for the Xinhua News Agency. He won China’s Galaxy Award four times for short fiction and is the author of several novels, the most recent being Red Ocean (2004).
First off, how did you become acquainted with speculative fiction? What’s the appeal of the genre for you?
I became acquainted with the genre when I was a middle school student in the early 1980s when China began to open to the outside world. A lot of Sci-fi translations appeared in Chinese magazines. All these stories were attractive to a child who had little feelings about the future. I became crazy about these kinds of fiction at that time. The genre for me is quite unique. It describes a bizarre and untouchable world that can evolve by its own logic, different from the one in our life. That is very wonderful. Then I noticed that the genre is also a mirror to better reflect the dark side of human beings.
What made you decide to write science fiction/fantasy?
In 1982 there was a Sci-fi writing competition in China for students. I was selected by my school to attend as the teacher thought I was good at composition. I tried writing a number of short stories. I did not win any prize, however, I felt rewarded. After I entered university, I started to write Sci-fi again and I thought at that time that I could write better than some the renowned writers. Then I got my first piece published in the Science Fiction World, China’s best magazine for the genre with its best single issue circulation topping 400,000 per month.
What were the difficulties writing in English? Do you also write fiction in Chinese?
It is very difficult to write in English as it is not my native language. Actually I seldom write Sci-fi in English. Most of my stories and novels were published in Chinese and sold only in China.
Who are some of your favorite writers or what are some of your favorite books?
There are a lot of them, including George Orwell, the writer of 1984, Mishma Yukio, a famous Japanese writer, who wrote the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and Abe Kobo, the writer of Woman in Dune.
What were the difficulties in getting published?
One is the market factor. There is a small readership for Sci-fi or speculative fiction in China, so a lot of publishing houses are reluctant to publish this genre. Another is the censorship.
How would you describe the speculative fiction field in China?
It does exist, and keeps on expanding. But most of the fans are too young to understand the profound meaning of speculative fiction. More people have begun to write speculative fictions but the quality is not as good as we expect, and there is a lack of insight in the works. Anyhow, it is encouraging.
In your opinion, what makes Chinese fiction unique?
It gives a Chinese perspective on the universe. That is quite different from that in the West. In our eyes, the future world is a one with Chinese characteristics. We behave in a unique way that you cannot find in Matrix or Terminator or Star Wars.
Why do you think Chinese fiction isn’t more popular in other countries?
One is the language barrier, another is that the Chinese have not created really good works. Our imagination is restricted by a lot of things in daily life. China is not a “world country” yet.
Where do you see Chinese fiction headed in the future?
As more writers are intending to write for themselves and speak in their own voice, and with a more open platform created by the Internet and the speeding of the flow of free thinking, the future is promising.
For unfamiliar readers, where can we find more of your work?
Some are on the web, but just in Chinese. Some in bookstores.