Over at the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, I sneak away from my usual China and Japan entries to write up the Norwegian thriller Occupert (Occupied), in which the perfidious European Union colludes with the nasty Russians to invade Norway.

“…if the narrative of similar Anglophone sf is one of good versus evil and open conflict, Occupert draws instead on a national experience of quisling collaboration, the thinning of everyday comforts and freedoms, and the slow but sure assembly of an effective resistance…”

Yoshiki Tanaka

gineiNow up in the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, my justifiably massive entry on the Japanese author Yoshiki Tanaka. Despite being a familiar name to anime fans and manga readers, this is the first time anyone has published an overview of his work, and even this 2500-word behemoth misses out a lot of his detective fiction and Sinology publications.

However, there’s plenty there on The Legend of the Galactic Heroes and the Heroic Legend of Arslan, as well as his lesser-known works like the Victorian Horror Adventures and Red Hot Dragoon.

Bodacious Data

b-pirate-1-2Work continues over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, with yours truly writing entries about Yuichi Sasamoto, creator of Bodacious Space Pirates, and Kazumasa Hirai, creator of Harmagedon. The wordcount of my combined Japan and China entries in the SFE is now actually bigger than Anime: A History, and it’s all available for free.

Chinese Whispers

Science fiction is not as easy to find in China as one might think. I never saw a massive “SCI-FI” section in Chinese bookshops, although there were often entire bays dedicated to internet novels and how-to-draw manga books; SF is more often than not still lumped in with children’s fiction. It’s a long story.

I pestered numerous newsstand vendors in four or five Chinese cities for the latest issue of Kehuan Shijie (“SF World”, pictured), but only struck gold outside the gates of the Beijing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics, where the passing traffic might be reasonably expected to be interested in all that Buck Rogers stuff. Otherwise, science fiction in China, with a readership in the tens of thousands, is still something of a minority interest in the People’s Republic.

Which makes it all the more ironic that I should get back to my office and find in my in-tray two publications that massively increase the footprint of Chinese science fiction abroad. A double-issue of Renditions, published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is packed with translations of Chinese SF, including stories by Liu Cixin, Han Song, La La, Zhao Haihong, Chi Hui and Xia Jia. There’s also some intriguing proto-sf such as a piece from 1912 by Xu Zhuodai, as well as an incredible exercise in academic recursion: a translation into English of Lu Xun’s translation into Chinese of a Japanese translation of a story by Anna Louise Strong, showing to what degree Chinese whispers might be reasonably said to have set in.

Fei Dao, another author in Renditions, also shows up in the latest issue of Science Fiction Studies under his real name of Jia Liyuan, with a different hat on as a doctoral candidate in Chinese literature. The new SFS is a China special issue, and includes articles about utopias in Chinese fiction, Chinese SF movies, alien contact and the role played by translation in the spread of the medium, as well as non-fiction essays by Liu Cixin, Han Song and Wu Yan. In my role as a contributing editor to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I was asked to be a peer reviewer on several of the papers in this issue, and I was very impressed with the level of achievement. It’s certainly very salutary, albeit rather odd, to see the amount of work on Chinese SF in English increasingly so exponentially, almost overnight.

Bubble Fictions

It is a scene straight out of Evangelion. At the offices of a secret government project, a stern-faced leader informs a reluctant young protagonist that the world is about to end. A clock on the wall counts down the seconds until disaster, unless… unless someone climbs into a dangerous, untested prototype machine, and does battle with the fates themselves.

But Japan is not under attack from avenging angels. The countdown clock is financial, ticking away the moments until Japan’s debts spiral completely out of control, and the country comes crashing down – collapsing banks, armies of starving ex-workers, and considerably less anime in the stores.

2007’s big Japanese sci-fi movie was the satirical Bubble Fiction, in which Ryoko Hirosue is catapulted back to the boom year of 1990 in a last-ditch attempt to save the Japanese economy. The effect is not unlike Back to the Future as written by accountants – Japan’s modern woes are tracked back to a tiny loophole in a proclamation by the Finance Ministry, and high jinks inevitably ensue.

Inevitably, there are sly digs at the fashions of yesteryear, and cameos from whichever future stars the producers could persuade to play their younger selves. Most notably, Ai Iijima, the future author of Time Traveller Ai, can be found dancing at a discotheque. Phones are the size of bricks, shoulder pads the size of helipads, tight ruffled dresses on body-conscious Tokyo ladies and men wear suits two sizes too big for them. Written by Bayside Shakedown’s Ryoichi Kimizuka, Bubble Fiction presents a fantasy view of the 1990s, in which people literally give money away in the streets, taxis need to be hailed with a ten thousand yen note, and champagne flows freely among the party set.

But there is also a sense of impending doom. It’s here, as Tokyo land prices soared to silly heights, that the seeds were sown of economic collapse. The Bubble, warned some pundits, was sure to burst, bringing disaster on the hedonistic Japanese.

Creatively, the Bubble years have a lot to answer for. Outside Japan, the economic might of Japan led Hollywood to make Black Rain and Rising Sun. The great growth in wealth among the Japanese turned them into the owners of video players, and hence helped drive the modern anime industry. The idea of a future economic implosion even gave us the name of a famous anime, Bubblegum Crisis. Deep pockets nurtured the garage kit and figurine industries. The largest disposable income of all turned out to be in the hands of the charmingly named “parasite singles”, twenty-something women living rent-free with their parents, hence a similar emphasis on bespoke cute. Hello Kitty might have been around long before the Bubble, but she certainly achieved megastar status with the help of all those yen with nowhere else to go.

But let us also remember the indirect effects of the crash. With profit margins constricting in Japan itself, producers and publishers became more amenable to foreign sales. Anime and manga abroad, particularly in America, are another side-effect of the boom and bust, and a generation on, the fact that the American market plays such a great part in Japanese business decisions is, at least in part, a result of deals done in the Bubble period.

But what if the American economy starts to slump…? Who’s going to pay for anime then? Sub-prime days ahead, my friends?

This article first appeared in Newtype USA in 2007, and was reprinted in the book Schoolgirl Milky Crisis. Bubble Fiction is screening at several UK cinemas as part of the Japan Foundation’s touring film season.

Chinese Science Fiction

In October, after many months of work, the “China” entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction was updated for the third edition. This reflects the fact that almost all the cross-references within the entry are now live, pointing readers in turn at my newly written entries about authors such as Chi Shuchang, Gu Junzheng, Wang Jinkang and Ye Yonglie. It all amounts to a book-length work inside the Encyclopedia, dedicated to an entire culture of often-overlooked authors, not only in the People’s Republic, but also on Taiwan, in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the Chinese diaspora.

It’s been fascinating reading through a century of Chinese stories and biographies, and I’ve uncovered some really interesting creators and works. Moving on now to the “Japan” entries, which I also have to knock into shape. You can see how far I’ve come, and how far there is to go, by looking at the Seiun Awards entry.

Galaxy Quest

My quest to get the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’s China entries ship-shape continues, with the addition of the latest Galaxy Awards, announced this month, including big wins for Wang Jinkang and Chen Qiufan. Wang gets 10,000 yuan (about £1,000) prize money, which makes a big difference in a country where authors get paid, can you believe it, even worse money than they do in Britain. If Chinese SF is your thing, I also draw your attention to the new, utterly massive entry on Ye Yonglie, which helps tie a lot of the new Chinese material together.

Korea Advice

The London Korean Film Festival starts today. In its honour, I point you at a few of the Korean entries I have written for the as-yet unfinished Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: the alternate universe dramas 2009: Lost Memories and Goong, and the author entry on Bok Geo-il. I’m supposed to be concentrating on Chinese and Japanese entries, but every now and then I get distracted… either by Korea or by something that seems like an omission, such as the entries on Roberto Bolano and Chuck Palahniuk. If an entry has “[JonC]” at the bottom, it’s one of mine.

Speculative Japan 2

Although cover, front page and spine are all in disagreement about this book’s exact title, it contains stories of SF and fantasy from Japan, many lifted from a 2006 best-of survey. The oldest story here is Naoko Awa’s fairytale “A Gift From the Sea” (1977), while the most recent are a bunch from 2007. Clustered among them are superlative works such as Yasumi Kobayashi’s super-hard SF “The Man Who Watched the Sea” (2002) and Issui Ogawa’s “Old Vohl’s Planet” (2003), a first-contact tale told by the last survivor of a race of creatures from a gas-giant planet. There is a wide range of tone and quality in both stories and translations – one tale inadvisably attempts to make Japanese-speaking space-farers speak like 1930s English sea dogs, while another is a superior translation of a sub-standard sentimental romance. But in bringing thirteen Japanese authors to the attention of a wider English-speaking audience, this is one of the most important contributions to Japanese prose SF abroad in the last twenty years.

Jonathan Clements is a contributing editor to the new edition of the Encylopedia of Science Fiction, with special responsibilty for Chinese and Japanese material. This review first appeared in the SFX Ultimate Guide to Anime, 2011.