Science fiction, sometimes called speculative fiction, is obliged to be intriguing. It’s a missive from the future or from far out in the cosmos that speaks, in the final analysis, about our current situation instead of accurately portraying that unknowable distance.
“Dark Fluid”, a compilation of Hong Kong-based science fiction organised by visual artist Angela Su, is doubly intriguing for this reader, as most of the book is presented in Cantonese. This really puts the speculation in speculative fiction.
However, the book does include an excellent bi-lingual overview of sci-fi via social activism by Chan Kit-Sze, and each chapter has an English language synopsis.
Regardless of your linguistic abilities, the mission of “Dark Fluid” is clear: to use science fiction as an addendum to activism, to speculate on the future of Hong Kong from the literary perspective of its native Cantonese speakers.
Most of the text should be classified as dystopic, as we pessimistically ruminate on the future of Hong Kong. One can nevertheless see potential in Hong Kong’s inherent instability, in the unintended ineptitude of the bureaucracy and concurrent citizen dissatisfaction. Things are bubbling under.
“Dark Fluid” chooses to grab the tail of a rocket (or time machine), recognising the anxiety of that mode of transport while also settling in for the ride. Let’s see where it goes…
The anthology’s authors include experimental sound artist Audio Lai; architect Charles Lai (who provides a fold-out artwork); Mary Lee, writer and factotum at “Things that Can Happen” (the gallery under whose umbrella the project was produced); Mr. Pizza, best known for his online fiction recently adapted for the screen by Fruit Chan; photographer, historian and social activist Tse Pakchai; independent filmmaker Heaman Yip; and Cally Yu, a prolific writer of both journalism and fiction.
That roster alone speaks highly of the experimental and cross-genre ambitions of “Dark Fluid”. The participants are also given solo and group space to discuss their literary ambitions and the nature of futurism, both utopic and dsytopic.
Some of the themes broached in “Dark Fluid” include: Artificial mosquitos that surveil for the state while collecting data from blood samples in a drought ravaged city prey to mysterious cases of arson; abolished family units supplemented by AI robots; a student who orgasmically explodes during an examination which is later explained by member of a resistance group; rainfall that subsumes and isolates Sham Shui Po causing an epidemic both deadly and rejuvenating; a nuclear accident that destroys parts of the city giving rise to a bio-weapon known as Face-Eaters who actually are victims of a designer drug; and a re-telling of the Great Flood, now in the future, as explicated by a team of archeologists.
As we might find potential in the erratic, we can also note – as Angela Su does in the interview below – that art itself is erratic, so while “Dark Fluid” aims to further the scope of progressive or activist discourse, the flip side is that it also critiques or speculates on those very same progressive strategies.
This points to something like the tangential beauty of the street occupations in 2014. The stated goal was universal suffrage and direct elections, but that time and space created a kind of creative, playful space; a city that had more going on than high-end malls or over-priced real estate.
That kind of opening, autonomous and erratic, made the city, at least for a moment, much more liveable. We can recognise these same inclinations in a project like “Dark Fluid”.
Angela Su was nice enough to answer a few questions about the project.
How did the project evolve and how has it gone so far?
We all took a risk, not knowing how the project would be received. It has been a difficult journey for the writers. But I think despite our inexperience we can be given credit for trying to look at Hong Kong, specifically its social and political issues, through a new lens.
I tried to find a common ground for the stories, so it became obvious to me that the writers were not only writing about the future of Hong Kong but they were also expressing implicit concerns about history, memory and identity.
The discourse and cultural identity of Hong Kong have remained more or less the same for the past 30 years, perhaps it is time to rethink who we are and how we should look at the city.
How did you select the authors and did you leave anyone out?
I knew from the beginning that I wanted Mr. Pizza because of the wondrous imagination of his Lost on a Red Mini Bus to Taipo (originally posted on the internet forum HKGolden and then adapted for film by Fruit Chan), and then I wanted writers who are community organisers or activists and to make sure to have at least one female writer on board.
There were lots of writers I had in mind but with the very limited resources that we have, I am satisfied with the decisions I made.
By mostly using Cantonese did you have a specific audience in mind?
The choice of language has been a big dilemma. We did consider having both English and Cantonese speaking writers very early on, Then I started to narrow down the framework to feature writers who are active in social movements, and most people I know who are involved in activism are Cantonese speakers.
At some point, we thought about having their stories translated so that Dark Fluid will be a bilingual publication. Unfortunately, we had barely budget enough for printing, not to mention translation.
We realize the choice of language is a very sensitive issue in Hong Kong, especially in the art field. In this case, favoring Cantonese over English is a practical decision.
Seeing as many of the stories deal with cyborgs or AI, what would you say truly distinguishes humans from computers/machines?
First of all we need to ask, “What is human?” And then we would enter into a far reaching and never ending discussion about the posthuman. The line between human and machine is still quite clear today, but down the road the line will become blurry until we become an artificial superintelligence as suggested by the theory of technological singularity.
The question is do we gladly embrace this change or try to hold on to the old flesh (as opposed to David Cronenberg’s new flesh in Videodrome). More importantly and more realistically, how do we prepare for a new social structure where the labour force will be replaced by machines, where science and technology are in the hands of corporations and government?
I think most of the stories in Dark Fluid are concerned about control, or social control through science and technology.
Given the impetus of your project, what are your thoughts about the role of art in society?
I am not sure if art should serve any function other than as a pursuit of an ideal, to invent and to reinvent. Artistic language is too ambiguous to become a driving force of change; at most it can raise awareness towards certain issues.
However, artistic strategies can be employed by artists or for that matter, anyone, as a tool to bring about changes. This is why I consciously keep Dark Fluid separate from my own art practice.
For Dark Fluid, I use my role as an artist to initiate something, to mobilize other practitioners in the field. I look at Dark Fluid as an artist-led project which serves a particular function but not as a piece of art.
Is sci-fi a hopeful way of dealing with hopelessness?
I think the act of writing, story-telling, myth-making, or any kind of artistic creation can be a hopeful way to deal with hopelessness. A simple piece of music gave hope to prisoners in Nazi Concentration Camps. It all depends on the context.
Having said that, I do think sci fi with its subversive qualities can go a step further in providing new realities where there are countless possibilities. This is very empowering especially for marginalized communities and is probably the reason why Afro-futurism has become such a powerful force in the US.
Science fiction is not an escape to another world, rather it engages people to envision the future and to reject the status quo. This is the first step towards change and this kind of imagination can even be potentially threatening to authorities.
Is HK innovative as far as new forms of literature and/or modes of artistic distribution?
According to Mr. Pizza, people in Hong Kong always trail behind. He said that online fiction emerged in China back in 2000 and Hong Kong is only beginning to catch up now.
But one good model in Hong Kong is the literary magazine, Fleur-des-lettres. I would say it bridges literature, graphic arts, visual arts, performance and social culture. Each issue of the magazine is thoughtfully curated even though the publisher copes with very limited resources. I am particularly impressed with its newly launched website www.zihua.org.hk
“Dark Fluid” is available at at Kubrick, Eslite, Hong Kong Reader, and Book B @ Common Room