Wang Yuan believes in recording history through fiction, and he does so beautifully in his story “Casualties of the Quake” [in our current issue, on sale now]. Below, Wang delves further into the disaster that his story pays tribute to, shares his literary inspirations, and explains why he’d like to be immortal.
Analog Editor: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
WY: I’ve heard my parents talk about the Tangshan Earthquake of 1976 since I was a kid. Basically everyone in China knows about this disaster. I really started to understand it in high school, when I came across a magazine with an article about the earthquake. The post-quake scenes were described in detail and much of this actually made me cry. After graduating from college, I saw the film Tangshan Earthquake and it was even more moving. It’s not that imagery is more powerful than text, but when it comes to disaster movies, it is obviously more impactful, with the crying, pain, dust, and collapse all recreated and made immediate and raw. I wrote my story in 2016, on the fortieth anniversary of the Tangshan Earthquake. I wanted to do something within my power as a science fiction writer. I read a newspaper column at the time commemorating the anniversary, and some of that material was so impressive, I was inspired to write my story. Since it happened in 1976, I went with the conceit of time travel, which was logical, but actually a bit tricky.
AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
WY: I am not exclusively a science fiction writer. At least, before writing science fiction full time, I read and wrote in the field of contemporary Chinese literature, or so-called traditional literature. Some contemporary writers who have had a deep influence on me: Wang Xiaobo, Wang Shuo, Liu Zhenyun, Mo Yan, Jia Pingwa, and Yu Hua. Since writing science fiction, I have been trying to expand my reading. I have many favorite writers and works, such as Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God and Mike Resnick’s “Kirinyaga,” but my favorite science fiction author is Ken Liu. To me, he is a role model. As for science fiction writing, my biggest inspiration is Global Science, the Chinese version of Scientific American magazine.
“I know there are many made-up elements in fiction, but it’s good to draw people’s attention and interest to a period of history through fiction, and through clues, help these readers find something, each according to their need. Fiction is like a window, through which people can see the ‘outside’ sky.”
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
WY: My theme throughout this project has been to remind people of what happened, and not let the past be forgotten. Good or bad, history is history, and it should be exhibited to posterity authentically, or at least talked about. As a writer, I’ve always felt I have an obligation to record history through fiction. I know there are many made-up elements in fiction, but it’s good to draw people’s attention and interest to a period of history through fiction, and through clues, help these readers find something, each according to their need. Fiction is like a window, through which people can see the “outside” sky.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
WY: To be honest, I hope there will be consciousness upload, and based on this, immortality. After all, people have pitiable fates. Moreover, I have a lot I want to write, and I won’t be able to finish it in a normal human lifespan (assuming I reach one hundred, I have seventy years left). As I grow older, there will be many new ideas and plenty of new source material. By the way, if I had unlimited time on my hands, I wouldn’t have to worry about delays in my writing.