Thursday, January 30, 2014

Vietnamese science fiction and literary realism

In 2008, there was an interesting interview in the Vietnamese news with one of their leading science fiction writers, Vu Kim Dung.

One of the striking quotes to me from his interview was his idea that "to write science fiction, an author has to love both the social and natural sciences and be a skillful writer. Moreover, you should have a deep knowledge of social issues. As a writer, an imaginative mind is necessary to create interesting work. First begin writing short stories, then try with novels. You must combine scientific knowledge and literary skill."

I also found it interesting how he made an effort to have science fiction regarded seriously, when he remarked:
"Writing science fiction doesn’t mean basing stories on imagination alone. I have to study science and find scientific evidence. Then I work as a normal writer, finding context and making the stories interesting.

On the other hand, a writer must be creative and predict the future. That’s the big difficulty. The writer’s role is to create what hasn’t been invented. Writing on what already exists creates a story without value."
While I respect his position, I think that remains a key part of the difference between certain Asian nations' traditions and American speculative literature. This question of creating stories with value.

Certainly, there's a good deal of American speculative literature written with grand purpose and themes that make a comment on the human condition or seek to build a genuine love of the sciences, but there's also a great body of work that is is created without ulterior motive and grand purpose. Art that is indifferent to its value. That should be something of interest to us, this purity of effort where one has no illusions, no pretensions that what is written will change the face of arts and letters forever, yet one still creates.

I think many writers undermine their texts by trying to create something with 'worth' that ultimately goes into the dustbins of literary history because they become too much a product of their time.  There are some who succeed, but I think art can be extremely interesting when it can accommodate the truly unanticipated.

Vu Kim Dung's position on what science fiction and writers in general must do is something I'm taking note of: "The writer's role is to create what hasn't been invented," because it brings to mind, for me, Marx's classic assertion that "philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it".  I would hope that many officials within Marxist-inspired systems can appreciate this and give their speculative fiction writers the latitude to explore and to be ambitious, because good speculative literature does not have to be in contradiction with their value systems, but it will also thrive when it's given broad latitude to imagine.

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