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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

Let There Be Light

Chen Qiufan (A.K.A. Stanley Chan) was born in Shantou, Guangdong province. Chan is a science fiction writer, columnist, script writer, and Technology start-up Noitom VP. Since 2004, he has published over thirty stories in People's Literature, Science Fiction World, Esquire, and Chutzpah!, many of which are collected in Thin Code and Future Disease. His debut novel, The Waste Tide, was published in January 2013 and won several awards including Chinese Nebula Best Novel and Huadi Award, was praised by Liu Cixin as "The pinnacle of near-future SF writing." Chan is the most widely translated young writer of science fiction in China, with his short works translated into English, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, and Polish. They have been published in Tor, Clarkesworld, Interzone, Lightspeed, and F&SF. He has won Taiwan's Dragon Fantasy Award, China's Galaxy and Nebula Award, and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award along with Ken Liu. He lives in Beijing.

Ken Liu (http://kenliu.name) is an author and translator of speculative fiction, as well as a lawyer and programmer. A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards, he has been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimovís, Analog, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among other places. He also translated the Hugo-winning novel, The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin.

Kenís debut novel, The Grace of Kings, the first in a silkpunk epic fantasy series published by Saga Press, is a finalist for the Nebula Award. Saga also published a collection of his short stories, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, on March 8, 2016. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Let there be light, Mimi thought.
She was the leader of the waste people--the despised, possession-less, barely human workers fit only to pick through the electronic wasteland walled off from civilization to extract what could be reused, each bit of rare earth metal more precious than the sum of their lives.
But they were here now, in the heart of the city that had been off-limits to them--at least their minds, woven into the skeins of radio waves stretched across the fetid air, were, even if their bodies remained far away, rooted in their assigned muddy lot.
And then she saw them. Hundreds of thousands of dynamic images loomed in front of her eyes, data so complex that the human brain was incapable of processing it. She felt dizzy, nauseated, lost.
Welcome to the city of Shantou's "Compound Eyes" system, which connected hundreds of thousands of cameras and image recognition artificial intelligence. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the system kept under surveillance the city's every street, every corner, every expression on every person, searching for signs of crime or acts of terrorism and protecting the lives and properties of the inhabitants. Mimi was now an invader in its heart. She examined the feeds one by one.
But that was too inefficient, a technique bounded by the habits of the flesh. Mimi reorganized the logic for presenting the video feeds and re-created all of Shantou from a first-person point of view based on the geography of the streets and the locations of the cameras. Unlike regular human vision, this was a view where each perspective was all encompassing, panoramic. It was like Correggio's dome fresco, Assumption of the Virgin, at the Cathedral of Parma, where everything around the observer appeared in a vortex of concentric rings, with the vanishing point of the perspective the apex of the dome. As the observer moved closer, more details were revealed at the center of the vortex without end.
Imagine the world as a strange apple. The depressions at both poles are deformed and deepened until they connect, turning into a doughnut. The skin of the apple, meanwhile, remains intact and can slide up and down the "hole" of the doughnut like an endless treadmill. The observer is situated somewhere in the hole, and what he sees is the ring-shaped world endlessly unfolding.
More fantastically, as the observer moves towards any point in the wall of the doughnut, the point would automatically open up, expand and surround the observer in a new doughnut-view. A perfect, self-organizing, fractal structure.
Hundreds of other consciousnesses, her followers, wriggled under Mimi's wings, getting impatient.
She moved. Rationally, she knew that her body was still imprisoned in that tiny corrugated-iron shack quaking in the storm and that her consciousness was only about a dozen kilometers away, wandering inside the dull, metal boxes of a data center. However, the images swirling around her gave her the illusion of having transformed into a winged angel gliding over this concrete and steel jungle. Her virtual body swept over streets, passed through houses, shops, bridges, parks, elevators, trains, and buses; and glanced quickly into countless lit windows, not overlooking any spot.
It was dusk, but the city was already awakening into a sparkling tapestry.
In the rain, the traffic crawled through the city's main arteries and capillaric side streets like gleaming blood. Hundreds of thousands of equally anxious and numb faces hid behind the windshields, cleared by the unceasing sway of wipers that polished the wet glow of neon against glass. The self-driving cars were stuck between cars driven by those who refused to trust computers, and horns blared as the decibel counters on noise monitors rose and rose. Many glanced in the rearview mirror with a crooked set in the mouth that indicated ill intentions.
Three hundred thousand windows automatically lit up; the smart sensors understood the moods of the men and women coming home and automatically adjusted the temperature, the color of the lighting, the channels showing on the TVs, or the music playing through the sound systems; five thousand restaurants received automatically generated take-out orders; the health monitoring systems synced up with the body films, and based on dozens of parameters such as body temperature, heart rate, caloric intake/consumption, galvanic skin response; suggested plans for the next day's activities. Exhausted face after exhausted face.
The offices in the skyscrapers were lit bright as day. The giant eye zoomed in and observed a hundred thousand faces staring at computer monitors through closed-circuit cameras; their tension, anxiety, anticipation, confusion, satisfaction, suspicion, jealousy, anger refreshed rapidly while their glasses reflected the data jumping across their screens. Their looks were empty but deep, without thought of the relationship between their lives and values, yearning for change but also afraid of it. They gazed at their screens the way they gazed at each other, and they hated their screens the way they hated each other. They all possessed the same bored, apathetic face.
Below an overpass, the homeless picked through trash for food; a woman who had consumed too many useless calories walked by with her dog.
An aging dancer at an adult club carefully applied her makeup in the mirror, paying no attention to the black shadow noiselessly approaching from behind.
A naked man wielded a whip to force the girls before him to caress an albino alligator whose skin was studded with tactile sensors; the electrical signals were transformed into sexual stimuli injected directly into the cortices of wealthy patrons.
In a luxurious apartment, a man sat stiffly on his bed, impassively observing the exaggerated expressions and stale routine of a comedian on TV. He stared at his own face on the giant screen, sobbed noiselessly, and lifted a gun.
A flock of birds rose into the evening air, dissipated like a column of black smoke, and then gathered back together, forming a series of irregular shapes against the indigo sky. Occasionally, the beam of a searchlight swept through, and the black smoke transformed into a flickering patch of silvery gravel. The cameras went through a series of quick cuts and the focal distance was set to maximum in an attempt to follow the flight of one particular bird. All the birds looked like the same bird, following the direction of the flock, imitating the posture of companions nearby; no one dropped out; no one set out on its own; in the jungle, this meant food and safety.
She browsed through the cameras rapidly and patched the disparate images into a smooth, dynamic vision. Like a diving bird, she swooped past a glass wall hundreds of meters tall, and in the mirror was the strange, deformed reflection of the city with its flashing neon lights that engraved the mental patterns of consumerism into the retinas of all viewers, drifting and changing with their shifting gazes.
She saw everything, but the seeing could not explain, could not assuage, could not change.
Mimi saw even more: the lonesome, the gamblers, the addicted, the innocent... hiding in brightly lit or dark corners of the city, worth millions or penniless, enjoying the convenient life brought about by technology, pursuing stimuli and information loads unprecedented in the history of the human race. They were not happy, however; whatever the reason, it seemed that the capacity for joy had degenerated, had been cut off like an appendix, and yet, the yearning for happiness persisted stubbornly like wisdom teeth.
Mimi felt a wave of pity for them, civilization's favorite children. Were they any better off than the waste people, who they scorned and disdained? Or was that but an illusory strand of hope they clung to lest they drown?
Her followers wriggled some more. There had been enough seeing. It was time for doing.
Let there be darkness, she thought.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Author Comments

This short piece is an excerpt from my debut novel The Waste Tide which is set in a near-future southern China, a small peninsula "Silicon Island" near my hometown Shantou. I put my emotion and assumption of the future China in this story, part of which might not be as bright as the government describes in their annual report. You can easily find the influence from William Gibson and Paolo Bacigalupi, two of my favorite writers in the SF genre, as well as the magical realism elements from traditional China, brutal, dark and sometimes absurd. I will always remember the feelings of being teletranspotted back to the Silicon Isle when writing the novel, it looks even more real than the reality. I hope it will never happen, not in my timeline.

- Chen Qiufan (translated by Ken Liu)
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