Note — Mar 14, 2021

The Hyperreal Life of Chen Qiufan

Basically “just a profile” of Chinese sci-fi author Chen Qiufan, yet a fun read for his take on how he comes up, researches, and writes his stories, some more inklings on how sci-fi is being created and used within their political landscape, and the interplay of tech, sci-fi, dealing with society in the present, and interpreting it by projecting ideas forward.

Once he has a feel for a given landscape in the real world, he transports the scene into what he calls the imagined “hyperreal”—a zone where the fantastical and factual are so blurred it is unclear where one begins and one ends. […]

“With science fiction, I can probe real-life issues through an imaginary narrative without explicitly arguing who is right or wrong, good or evil.” […]

The tech industry has learned how to monetize not only consumer goods but also experiences, attention, relationships. In many ways, we’ve become just like our devices—efficient, optimizable, operating faster than ever, caught in the endless churn of increasing productivity. But nobody knows to what end. […]

There’s even a word for this sense of sped-up purposelessness today—an arcane, academic term that has exploded on Chinese social media and popped up in Chen’s speeches: involution. The opposite of evolution, a process of involution spirals in on itself, trapping its participants.