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Chinese authors

Hong Kong science fiction writers and artists paint dystopian future in new book

Compilation Dark Fluid, a collaboration with art gallery Things That Can Happen, conjures some terrifying prospects for Hongkongers, but it’s also a manual for social change infused with a fearless imagination

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 5:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 5:37pm

Writing science fiction requires a subversive spirit and a curiosity about how humans would fare under new social systems, physical and biological laws, and concepts of morality.

The genre’s qualities therefore make it a suitable outlet for Hong Kong’s frustrated social movements in the wake of the anticlimactic “umbrella movement” and the city’s lack of progress in addressing a range of issues.

This is what inspired Hong Kong artist Angela Su to compile Dark Fluid, a science fiction book that brings together short stories, transcripts of discussions and artworks by local contributors involved in grass roots community projects promoting alternative visions for the city.

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The book “sets out to explore the possibility of using science fiction as a method for social critique, as a tool of empowerment, a survival kit for a dystopian future, a manual for organising different alternative community models,” Su writes in the foreword.

The short story Epidemic Investigation” is an example of how the book merges familiar, contemporary references with a futuristic, dystopian setting. It was written by Tse Pak-chai, a photographer, local historian and social activist who has fought for the rights of poor communities forced to make way for urban redevelopment since the 1990s.

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The story takes place in Sham Shui Po – the district of rooftop squatters, cage homes, Apliu Street culture and home to Things That Can Happen, the independent art space that co-published Dark Fluid with Su.

It is set in the year 2064 and Sham Shui Po has become an anarchic quarantine zone after a mysterious downpour left many people dead (they simply dissolved). Those who survived emerged as young, healthy teenagers with perfect skin. This provides the backdrop for a classic sci-fi conspiracy theory: did political and financial interests conspire to cause the downpour, sacrificing the poor neighbourhood to protect wealthier ones, and are they seeking the elixir through turning the survivors into lab rats?

Other stories were provided by the writer known as Mr Pizza, who in 2012 wrote Lost on a Red Minibus to Tai Po, an online sci-fi thriller that was turned into a film; Yip Heaman, an independent filmmaker; and Cally Yu, a Hong Kong writer who initiated “Grey and Green Ping Pong” in 2012, a project that advocated the concept of “creative ageing”.

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There may be allusions to the writers’ own local concerns, but the book is by no means just about Hong Kong. The stories also present scenarios such as Niagara Falls turning into a dry canyon, robots imposing their morality on humans, a government releasing artificial mosquitoes to manipulate public opinion.

Su didn’t contribute a story to Dark Fluid, although she and Mary Lee, manager of Things That Can Happen, produced the science fiction book BERTY in 2013 to accompany an exhibition of Su’s faux-anatomical drawings of part organic, part mechanical creatures.

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Dark Fluid is an unconventional anthology. One story is unfinished and half the book comprises articles dissecting the sci-fi genre and transcripts of the contributors’ discussions about everything from technology to urban design.

But it’s a thoroughly engaging collection and most of the stories contain just the right amount of verisimilitude to make them all the more terrifying. Perhaps more importantly, the book represents a fearless exercise of the imagination that is sadly too rare in a city in need of more creative solutions to its current malaise.

Dark Fluid, only available in Chinese, is distributed by Kubrick.