Post Editorial in leading Bengali daily ‘Pratidin’ by Dip Ghosh about WorldCon
After a lengthy sixteen-hour journey, I arrived at Tianfu Airport in China, where the radiant blue sky greeted me. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, is set to host the 81st World Science Fiction Convention, known as WorldCon. I am honored to be invited as a special guest representing India at this event. Notably, this marks the first occasion a Bengali literary advocate has received an invitation to WorldCon with a particular focus on Bengali science fiction or Kalpabigyan.
The WorldCon event started in 1939, and it’s where the World Science Fiction Society bestows the Hugo Awards for achievements in science fiction and fantasy literature, named after the renowned science fiction editor, Hugo Gernsback. This five-day convention features an annual vote by delegates from various countries to determine the location of the next convention. Following a previous WorldCon held in Japan in Asia, Chengdu of China has been selected for the event for the second time.
In recent years, science fiction has been steadily gaining popularity within China’s literary circles. In particular, the year 2006 marked a significant turning point when Cixin Liu’s book, ‘The Three-Body Problem,’ achieved tremendous success, catapulting science fiction to the forefront of China’s publishing scene. Liu also earned the Hugo Award in 2014 after the translation of this book. The series has since been translated into numerous languages and adapted into comics and television. Chinese SF literature has made a substantial impact in the traditionally English-dominated realm of science fiction.
A glance at the Hugo and other prominent Award nominations in recent years emphasizes a shifting landscape where American and British science fiction’s dominance is waning. Science fiction and fantasy from China, Africa, and other underrepresented languages is emerging. Readers are yearning for a diverse array of perspectives and a future seen through different cultural lenses, moving beyond the traditional viewpoint offered by Anglocentric first-world authors.
Is the appeal of Chinese science fiction solely attributed to its diversity? Not quite. The city hosting this year’s WorldCon, Chengdu, secured the honor in 2021’s WorldCon through a voting procedure. In the past two years, outside the core city, in the Pidu area, surrounded by an artificial reservoir, a remarkable architecture took shape. The Chengdu Science Fiction Museum, designed by the world-renowned architectural firm Zaha Hadid, was constructed within a remarkable timespan of just one year, even amidst challenging circumstances. Chengdu, one of China’s prominent cities, boasts a population of approximately 20 million, and still its boundaries are continuously expanding into new territories, both literally and figuratively.
For WorldCon, an area in Pidu district is witnessing the construction of not only the museum but also new laboratories, offices, universities, and renowned hotels. This undertaking not only enhances the convention’s allure but also positions Chengdu as a global hub for tourism, scientific research, information technology, business, culture, and heritage. Local newspapers have drawn parallels between the event and China’s preparations for the Olympics, underscoring the significant influence of science fiction on China’s current economy.
In contrast to countries like India, where science fiction is often considered a niche genre, in China, it has blossomed into a thriving $12 billion industry. The realm of science fiction in China encompasses books, merchandise, comics, movies, TV series, and an enthusiastic fan base, with major cities across the country keen to immerse themselves in this burgeoning wave.
The publishing office of the world’s largest science fiction magazine ‘Science Fiction World’ is in Chengdu. Besides, the city which is ahead in terms of scientific research and technology now wants to establish itself as a city of the future based on the popularity of science fiction.
This year’s WorldCon featured prominent authors, including Canadian writer Robert Sawyer, Russia’s Sergey Lukyanenko, and, of course, Liu Cixin. The five-day event encompassed the Hugo and Lodestar Awards, along with the highly-anticipated Galaxy Awards for Chinese science fiction. Right from day one, the passion of China’s science fiction enthusiasts was unmistakable.
The Science Fiction Museum held three primary attractions: the Hall of Merchandise, the Hall of Tech Giants, Publishers, and Movie Studios, and the Hall of Fan Magazines and Science Fiction Organizations and a book shop. Simultaneously, discussions on various genres within contemporary science fiction unfolded in various seminar halls and rooms. Notably, the event marked the debut of a discussion on Indian science fiction at WorldCon. During this session, I primarily elucidated the history of Indian and Bengali science fiction. I brought with me around thirty Indian science fiction books in both English and Bengali which all was very well received by distinguished foreign writers and editors.
I also had the privilege of discussing Kalpabiswa magazine, India’s sole science fiction vernacular, during the SF magazine panel. In another panel about year’s SF book recommendation, I presented a list of Indian speculative fictions. The hall that hosted the opening ceremony, the Hugo Award ceremony, and the closing ceremony accommodated up to 3,500 spectators. These events featured a blend of music and traditional dance intertwined with science and futuristic technology, diverse cultural presentations, and speeches by renowned authors, adding to the overall appeal of the occasion.
Another significant aspect of WorldCon lies in the opportunity for networking with writers, translators, and editors hailing from diverse countries. Following the day’s various events, meaningful face-to-face discussions often occur over dinner, and participants may venture out into the city at night in smaller groups.
During these conversations, the topic frequently centers around how science fiction serves as a compass for envisioning the future in distinct nations. For instance, one author shared her approach of using science fiction as a metaphor to voice her protest against the social violence. Another explores avenues within science fiction literature to champion the cause of environmental conservation. One science fiction enthusiast has devoted many years to recovering the forgotten magazines and books of his homeland, reintroducing them to the global audience.
In these exchanges, it feels as if we transcend the boundaries of both countries and time, coming together in a shared dream of a future world for a few precious days.
The history of Bengali and Indian science fiction spans a considerable period. It had its origins with Kailas Chandra Dutt’s alternative history narrative in 1835, and writers like Satyajit Ray, Premendra Mitra, Adrish Bardhan, and Ranen Ghosh brought it to a broader readership in the 1960s. Esteemed science fiction authors such as Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury even commended their efforts by writing to them. However, it seemed that, over time, Bengali science fiction veered towards more juvenile storytelling, perhaps losing touch with its rich heritage and reality.
Nevertheless, the presence of approximately twenty thousand readers and one and a half thousand writers from various countries at this event in China serves as a poignant reminder that the significance of science fiction transcends the confines of books. Its importance extends to fostering a society with a science-oriented mindset, contributing to the advancement of science and technology, and informing policymaking and preparation for the future.
China’s case serves as a compelling illustration of how science fiction writers in the country have achieved significant popularity, on par with actors and singers, supported by government patronage of their works. I firmly believe that in the forthcoming days, a fresh wave of Indian science fiction authors will emerge, disseminating stories not just of the present but also envisioning our future to the world.
If India can aspire to host the Olympics, there’s no reason to doubt that Kolkata may one day become the host city for WorldCon, further cementing the growing importance of Indian science fiction on the global stage.
Author: Dip Ghosh is a Computer Engineer by profession. He is one of the founders and editors of Kalpaviswa magazine and publication. He translates science fiction in his spare time. Collaborating with his co-author Santu Bag, his research resulted in a credible book that delves into the history of Bengali science fiction. His articles and interviews on science fiction have been published in newspapers and magazines abroad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org