Carolyn Lau curates a special issue on Science Fiction in Hong Kong penned by some of the territory’s most outstanding school-age literary talents.
Janice Lam thinks alongside a pioneering Hong Kong science fiction anthology in order to reflect on the importance of holding hope against hope.
“Dark Fluid: Light within Darkness”
We humans seem to never see eye to eye on anything, but there is one thing that we can collectively agree on – that the past few years have been dark times. If so, then reading dystopian science fiction stories would seem to make our already depressing lives even more harrowing. Yet, after reading Dark Fluid, you will realise that we can often find hope in the most hopeless situations.
Dark Fluid is a science fiction collection with stories about the possible futures of Hong Kong. After each short story, there is a transcript of a roundtable discussion among the writers on the themes of the story and the inspiration behind it. I had the honour to speak to the project’s initiator, local artist Angela Su, about this thought-provoking project.
When asked about the main message of Dark Fluid, Angela said, ‘Are Hongkongers capable of picturing how the future will look? What would Hong Kong’s future be like? Although these questions cannot be answered in Dark Fluid, we hope to inspire the readers to imagine Hong Kong’s future. If we can get more people to read and write sci-fi stories, there will be more chances to reflect on the various possibilities of Hong Kong.’
If so, then what does Hong Kong’s future look like in the writers’ eyes? The worlds of these stories are horrifying yet oddly familiar scenarios that extend from our present. From artificial mosquitos that collect our information for the government in ‘The Mosquito Factory,’ to manipulated assessments in ‘The Examination,’ from the disaster coverup in ‘Epidemic Investigation,’ to conflicts in the transferal of sovereignty in ‘Then Comes the Mirage,’ these fictional worlds are far from utopian. However, they reveal that the future consists of endless possibilities. Science fiction is a great reminder that the events that will happen are often the most unexpected ones. For instance, while counting down to 2020, no one had expected the appearance of such a devastating pandemic. Currently, many Hongkongers view the future of Hong Kong in terms of a homogenous pessimism. Seeing other scenarios beyond our imagination play out in these stories is surely a reassurance that the future may turn out differently, regardless of how bleak these scenarios are. In that case, maybe the future might not be as bad as we imagine.
Of course, these imaginations of the future are by no means baseless. It is true that anything can happen in the future, but the scenarios in Dark Fluid are specifically derived from the writers’ views about the present. As a result, we often see shadows of our own problems and concerns in the stories. When asked about the functions of science fiction, Angela said, ‘Since our imagination of the future is based on past and present experience, writing about the future is also writing about the past and reflecting on our present situation.’ In a way, science fiction also provides us with a way to adopt another perspective or experiment with different solutions to our problems. When writing science fiction stories, we get to evaluate and alter conventional arrangements. In Dark Fluid, that means challenging the definition of the human, and even creating the possibility of eternal youth. In the preface of the book, Angela calls science fiction a ‘survival kit for a dystopian future.’ Perhaps science fiction can provide us with workable solutions to our society’s pre-existing problems. By creating another version of our future, we can also understand what humanity truly wants and needs as we envision what our utopia can really look like. We also get to see what is harmful to us, and hopefully divert our paths from disaster before apprehensions become reality.
Suppose we have created a blueprint of our ideal future. However, after seeing multiple alternative and alarming ways of how our future can turn out through dystopian science fiction stories, it is perfectly reasonable for us to be left perturbed. Nevertheless, if we look closely, there is still hope for change in the most hopeless situations. As Angela notes in the preface of Dark Fluid, all four stories contain characters that are ‘variables that have the potential to alter the situation.’ Knowing that characters can change their situations, we naturally become more confident in our own power to resolve the troubles that face us. In Angela’s words, science fiction is ‘a tool of empowerment.’ It inspires us to become a variable in our situation, and to take action to change it for the better. Having realised our potential as variables, we can once again find hope. This is the first step forward in our path to solve the problems we face, and to turn that blueprint we created into reality.
Perhaps the future is fluid in nature, containing many potentialities beyond our imagination. It may also be dark, filled with equally numerous possibilities of unfathomable horrors. There is no way of telling what will happen. Nevertheless, through science fiction, we can find the hope and inspiration needed to imagine the otherwise and to achieve better futures. This way, we can find our way towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
Janice Lam is a school student in Hong Kong. She enjoys reading fictional stories and playing the piano in her free time.
[ed. – Dark Fluid is an experimental science fiction anthology written mostly in Cantonese. It was originally only made available for sale in independent book stores in Hong Kong.]