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Anthology review: Sinopticon edited by Xueting Christine Ni

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ABOUT EDITOR: Xueting Christine Ni was born in Guangzhou, during China’s “re-opening to the West”. Having lived in cities across China, she emigrated with her family to Britain at the age of 11, where she continued to be immersed in Chinese culture, alongside her British education, realising ultimately that this gave her a unique cultural perspective, bridging her Eastern and Western experiences. After graduating in English Literature from the University of London, she began a career in the publishing industry, whilst also translating original works of Chinese fiction. 

Publication date: September 21th, 2021 Publisher: Titan Books Page count: 352 p (paperback). Cover art by Brad Sharp.

OVERVIEW: Xueting brings to readers an impressive collection of short stories representing Chinese speculative fiction from the late 20th Century onwards. Each story has earned its place in the anthology and demonstrates the range of themes found in Kehuan (the Chinese term for science fiction).

An introductory essay places Chinese science fiction in a general context. Xueting explains that Chinese SF has been influenced by Western science fiction, but also contains elements intrinsic to Chinese identity, culture, and history. For each piece, there are notes about the author and the particular story. The notes discuss everything from translation considerations to events or cultural customs that might be unfamiliar to Western readers.

The result is varied and entertaining; slice-of-life stories mingle with whimsical galactic adventures and post-apocalyptic black comedy. Han Song's "Tombs of the Universe," for example, shows how humanity treats the remains of the dead in the age of cosmic exploration. In "The Last Save," by Gu Shi, technology gives people the option for rebooting their life, and unlimited memory allows them to correct any mistake by going back in time and making different choices.

There are many great stories here, but A Que's "Flowers of the Other Shore" is probably my favorite. Imagine a story about the zombie apocalypse told from the perspective of a zombie who, despite his urge to hurt people, has no desire to do so. It is excellent in every way. The writing style, the idea, the execution, the ending. I absolutely loved it. 

Another story I want to mention, Starship: Library by Jjang Bo, tackles the themes of artificial intelligence, the purpose of life and death, and the importance of learning. It somehow spoke to me on a deeply personal level. 

In its entirety, Sinopticon is a stunning collection. With such a wide variety of themes and tones, everyone should find something for themselves. Sinopticon is a must-read for readers who want to discover what science fiction looks like from an Asian perspective. Heck, it'll be a treat for any fan of sci-fi short stories! Highly, highly recommended.

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