Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Let’s have a talk

Futures is delighted this week to welcome Xia Jia to our pages with her story Let’s have a talk. Although she is a multiple winner of the Yinhe and Xingyun Awards for Chinese science fiction, this story marks the first time that she has written completely in English. A writer, filmmaker, actress and artist (among other things), she very kindly took time out of her busy schedule to explain what inspired her to write this tale. As ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Let’s have a talk

Since the first fairy tale scrawled in a notebook, I have been writing fictional stories in Chinese for more than 20 years. In 2004, I published my first science fiction story The Demon-Enslaving Flask in Science Fiction World, China’s biggest SF magazine. In recent years, some of my stories have been translated into English and published in Clarkesworld and other venues. All of these have exceeded my expectations of 20 years ago.

Let’s have a talk is my first story written in English. It came from a simple idea: if I’m lucky enough, I could be the first Chinese writer who publishes a science fiction story in Nature. That sounded so cool! Then I sat down at my computer and tried to make this dream come true.

When I pursued my PhD in Comparative Literature and World Literature at Peking University, I was fascinated with these questions: How can we explore the frontier between worlds? How can we achieve any knowledge of the unknown, as well as the understanding and empathy of the Other? If our languages are created by different social and cultural constructs, how can we possibly have a real talk with strangers? So far we have not figured out any easy answers to these questions.

I embodied this idea in a dramatic situation. Some unknown creatures are speaking an unknown language in a sealed black box: would you dare to knock at the door and say hello?

As I am not a highly skilled English speaker, writing a story in English seemed like jumping into unfamiliar territory without any survival kit, which also requires imagination and courage. I’m so pleased that my adventure succeeded.

Several months ago I complained to my friend Fernando Ran Wei that some dreams can never be realized because of my limited capacity. “Like what?” he asked.

“For example, I can never write science fiction in English!”

“That’s weird. You told me that you believe in your life you would probably have an opportunity to travel to Mars, but you don’t believe you can write in English?”

I was stunned by his words. After a while, I finally answered: “You got me. Why not?”

Thanks to Wei, who made me believe in something I used not to. My odds of getting to Mars are rising now.

Also thanks to my friend Ken Liu, a talented author and translator of speculative fiction. He helped me to modify my story and also gave me many valuable suggestions.

By the way, I drew a picture of the seal pup in my story. It looks harmless and huggable. So don’t panic if one day in the future it shows up in the real world. Try to shake its paw in a friendly manner — and have a talk with it.



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