The HKRB editing team attended the first annual Melon HK, reflecting on the place of sci-fi in rapidly developing technological capitalism.
With our interest in video games, technology and science fiction, both editors at HKRB were excited to attend the first annual Melon HK conference. The aim of founder, Fritz Demopoulos, along with co-founders Dominik Nagiller and Siew Hoon Yeow, was to bring together science fiction writers and industry professionals from China and the West in order to ‘brainstorm, share and be inspired’. Melon’s aim reveals how the current ‘golden age’ of Chinese science fiction is having global impact and also shows the West’s interest in capitalizing on this new market. Combining discussions of those at the forefront of technological development with some of the world’s prominent speculative sci-fi novelists, the event looks to illuminate the future which is already here.
The event took place over two days. The more intimate ‘Industry Day’ was comprised of ‘fireside’ chats with award winning and emerging sci-fi authors, panel discussions and presentations from writers and industry insiders working in technology or cinema. The bigger ‘Fan Day’ featured a Chinese Science Fiction Writer’s Panel and an English Science Fiction Writer’s Panel in which authors could discuss their works with fans.
Melon HK very much delivered on its mission of bringing award winning and emerging science fiction writers to Hong Kong. The fireside chat with Hao Jingfang (whose notable work Folding Beijing received the Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 2016) was one of the highlights during Industry Day, along with a presentation by Albert Tam and both were on the Chinese Science Fiction Writer’s Panel the following day at Fan Day. Whilst Jingfang might be known to HKRB’s western readers, unfortunately Tam’s works have not yet been translated into English. A Hong Kong based writer of novels and screenplays, he has earned 9 major awards in mainland China and Taiwan. His Humanoid Software series combines cyberpunk with Hong Kong culture and received the Nebula Award in China. Another novel by Tam, Rhythm of Night is a novel in the vein of Black Mirror, for the editors at HKRB, he was the most exciting speaker at Melon HK. His presentation emphasized the importance of human elements and story in a genre that sometimes, especially in recent Hollywood cinema (e.g Marvel World), places more emphasis on big budget spectacle. This theme of spectacle and big budget special effects versus story carried on with the panel discussion ‘SciFi Filmaking: Challenges and Opportuinties’ with Andrew Sharkley, Anna Wu and Derek Ting. Whilst the genre of sci-fi is inextricably linked with its aesthetics in order to tell its stories, the message at Industry Day was that it’s the stories which are important.
The talks from authors showed how science fiction and its projections of the future are always rooted in its current political moment. The fireside chat with Stanley Chan (representative of China’s new speculative fiction generation and author of Waste Tide, Censored and Future Disease) discussed Virtual Reality as a new medium for telling narratives and the new challenges and opportunities presented for people to tell stories.
Discussions throughout the day showed how science fiction’s projection of the future is always political and also revealed how science fiction as a genre is a useful tool in critiquing government, even more important in the context of this event. For the speakers at Melon HK, the genre of sci-fi is a vitally political one which responds to the technological innovation which so often helps corporate and state government. In this climate, sci-fi can provide an important means through which to subvert the dominant trends in both the modern city and the technological space.
Other panels took the focus away from literature and on to the latest technologies themselves, from live video to videogames and mobile applications, something discussed recently at the HKRB. One panel brought together 4 notable games developers to discuss mobile phones taking over as the future of China’s gaming community and how this could provide both opportunity and danger for the future citizen. While the focus was on how to take advantage of this emerging market, the unusual collection of delegates at the event also meant that those advocating the development of new technologies to make money were also forced to reflect on the deeper politics of their projects.
The conference was a fantastic example of Hong Kong’s internationalism, bringing together those working in China with those at the forefront of their area of expertise – whether sci-fi writing or application development – in the West. One thing to emerge is that China is experiencing both a technological boom and a simultaneous ‘golden age’ of science fiction. While the rapid technological developments which characterize China (and the US) today may tend towards the production of capital and the encouragement of conformism, a renewed interest in the genre of sci-fi shows a subversive side which reflects closely and critically on the politics of new technologies.
At the event, Lavie Tidlar posed spoke of his anthology and the problems getting it funded, discussing his project to produce anthologies of ‘world sci fi’ and exploring how funding opportunities in the West had been very limited. One issue here is a lack of interest in the West in the stories that come from ‘other’ times and places, a gap that Melon attempts to fill with its internationalism. The resurgence of sci-fi in and around China suggests a subversive potential that should certainly be harnessed in a dystopian moment in which it is more important than ever to reflect on the future in which we are living. Melon somehow succeeded in walking a near-impossible tightrope, encouraging the development of new technologies while also insisting on a reflection about what they mean. For these attendees at least, it brought those creating technological change into conversation with those critiquing such developments, a vital achievement and hopefully the start of many more of such debates.
Kimberley Clarke and Alfie Bown are co-editors of the HKRB.
Melon’s event graphics, shown at the top of this article, are created by artist Scarlett Fu.