Culture Rant: Issue 8 / Winter 2017

A Reflection on Chinese and Asian American Representation in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

By Jennifer Liu

A re we neglecting Asian American writers in the U.S. in favor of translated Chinese science fiction? The recent global phenomenon that emerged from the success of Liu Cixin’s Hugo Award-winning Chinese sci-fi novel Three Body Problem has led many new and old sci-fi fans to take interest in Chinese science fiction. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be much of the same hype going for our own country’s Chinese and Asian American sci-fi and fantasy writers.

This leads to my concern for the invisibility of Asian (American) representation on our bookshelves.

As a Chinese person, I am proud to see more diversity and more Chinese sci-fi books hit the shelves, but as a Chinese American person, I am concerned about how this new interest in Chinese sci-fi will affect our bookshelves’ diversity demographic. It seems to me that the recent trend of Chinese sci-fi has many fans now looking toward newly translated sci-fi books by Chinese writers. Although the translations of foreign works, which are bringing in additional interest to diversify our bookshelves for the American market, is to be greatly celebrated, it can come off as rather one-sided.

We shouldn’t let that additional interest be limited to works in translation.

There is an apparent invisibility in Asian American sci-fi and fantasy compared to the recent trend for translated Chinese sci-fi. Here in America we have a great number of amazing sci-fi and fantasy writers of Asian descent, but I only really see one Asian American sci-fi/fantasy writer receiving just as much attention as the recently celebrated Chinese writer Liu Cixin, and that’s the translator of Liu Cixin’s well received novel The Three Body Problem himself: Ken Liu.

Asian American sci-fi/fantasy writers like Marjorie Liu, Marie Lu, Wesley Chu, Lawrence Yep, and Malinda Lo are all very talented and well-received. They have received positive attention for their works and several can be seen on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. Still, they are very much underrepresented among many of the sci-fi/fantasy audience.

With newly translated Chinese sci-fi coming into our market, the works of Asian Americans are being overshadowed.

As Asian representation in sci-fi and fantasy were already marginalized and bordering on invisibility, the push that they get from the attention received by translated Chinese sci-fi seems concerning. But it is with high hopes that instead of neglect for our home country’s Asian American sci-fi and fantasy writers, translated Chinese works like Cixin’s will encourage more readers to read Asian sci-fi and fantasy across all spectrums, including those of Asian Americans.

 

Jennifer Liu is currently an undergraduate student of Binghamton University working toward a degree in Asian and Asian American Studies. She aims to work in the publishing industry and seeks to bring more diverse literary authors, pieces, and otherwise unknown translated works to the public.

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