In Mar of 2023,Ji Zhu,Brand manager of Mecrob Team,decided to interview Nebula Award finalist,Ai Jiang,A Chinese-Canadian writer and an immigrant from Fujian. She is a member of HWA, SFWA, and Codex. Her work can be found in F&SF, The Dark, Uncanny, The Masters Review, among others. She is the holder of Odyssey Workshop’s 2022 Fresh Voices Scholarship. Her debut novella Linghun (April 2023) is forthcoming with Dark Matter INK.
Ji:Could you introduce the short story 'Give Me English' ,which was nominated for Best Short Story (Nebula Awards):
Ai:There was number of things running through my head when I was writing this story and at the center of it all was the way language impact our lives, our identities, the power or the lack of in society. In "Give Me English", language is used as currency: the more words you have, the more languages you know, the more power, wealth, and status you have to your name. And though in our society we don't pay with language, if we really think about it, we do. Communication, the creation of connections and relationships, can afford us better employment, it can perhaps allow our words to weigh more than others. Words can also be used to manipulate, to diminish, to lord over others with superiority—something I'm no stranger of, less so now, but especially when I first arrived in Canada and held no English words in my vocabulary. But not just power and wealth, in trading language, our mother tongue specifically in exchange for one foreign to us—at least initially—we are also giving up part of ourselves, our identity, and for me, immigration does exactly that to those who try hard to assimilate. It rewards those who leave their pasts behind, and disadvantages those who cling on.
Ji:I know you're an immigrant from Changle, Fujian. What do you think of the differences between Chinese science fiction and Asian-American/Asian-Canadian science fiction?
Ai:From my personal encountering with Chinese science fiction and Asian-American/Asian-Canadian science fiction—which admittedly is not as expansive as I'd like—I would perhaps say that Chinese science fiction might more commonly come in the form of "hard sci-fi" and more so based on science that could possibly be proven or does exist, whereas the science in some—not all of course—Asian-American/Asian Canadian science fiction, much like my own work, might be difficult to imagine implemented and may be inspired by science and its innovations/creations but perhaps not on concrete calculations and research/discoveries. I would also say that culture has a big impact on the types of politics and social issues we explore—or don't explore—through our science fiction, and living in North America, whether consciously or unconsciously, I'd say, impacts our worldview as well, and ultimately bleeds into our stories.
Ji:How did you start writing science fiction, and what led you to become a professional science fiction writer?
Ai:I suppose I always have an interest in technology, its consequences, and the ways it impacts us politically, socially, as well as psychologically. I've always been a fan of dystopian works growing up I'd say, but much like horror, I wrote science fiction without realizing it was science fiction until the story idea began to take shape, when I put fingers to the keys, when the story finally flows. I would say most of my stories have an aspect of societal or political commentary to some degree, and science fiction seems to be often a very fitting outlet for this type of idea exploration, particularly in our current tech-dominated landscape.
Ji:We all know that Chinese parents generally hope their children become doctors or lawyers, What do your parents think about your career choice?
Ai:Of course, like most Chinese parents, they—my father more so—wanted me to choose between becoming a doctor, lawyer, or an accountant. So, I gave them another option—a teacher. But I find I quite a bit of anxiety when it comes to public speaking, and it's something I've been working on, though I don't find it has improved much. When the pandemic hit, I'd let go of that pursuit and turned to writing—something that I have always loved but didn't dare risk as a profession. At first, my parents were afraid. They were afraid that I'd fall into poverty, that I'd struggle to stay afloat because I'd become a "starving artist". These were all valid worries. They tried to convince me to treat writing only as a hobby and to do it in my spare time. I'd always been a rebellious child, and I'd always been stubborn, but most of all, I have always been someone very insistent when it comes to what I am most passionate about. They did come around eventually when they started seeing that my efforts were slowing paying off. There is still a long way for me to go, but for now, they have come to support me.
Ji:What are your thoughts on Chat GPT, particularly with regards to Clarkesworld magazine cutting off submissions due to a flood of AI-generated stories recently?
Ai:I've always been on the side of technology as a tool, not a replacement, in the sense that art has taken the direction of being digitalized with software like Procreate, Adobe Photoshop, among others that might remove extra steps such as acquiring physical tools to create art (brushes, paint, pencils, charcoal), and increased accessibility as well. This can be said to be true for fiction in terms of perhaps helping writers organize their ideas, sort table of contents, offer prompts for writing. But I think to rely on AI to generate stories, even if it might be based on our own work or ideas, would take away the aspect of creation that makes it truly human. Like individual brush strokes, the way humans might craft and choose individual words and sentences is lost through the use of AI; the spontaneity and unpredictability of allowing the pen to fly, the fingers and keys to click, when we feel most passionate and inspired is removed if we simply feed an AI our ideas and allow it to do the painstakingly difficult yet rewarding task of creating a story.
Ji:What are your thoughts on Cyberpunk nowadays? How do you think cyberpunk has influenced science fiction literature?
Ai:I think science fiction is often shaped by the direction of tech and innovation in our society. Given that tech is always seemingly posing a threat to humanity with each advancement, at least until people have settled and figured out how to navigate the new tools without great sacrifice, cyberpunk, I think, will be a genre of increasing popularity, as I find that people might gravitate towards their fears and find interest in exploration unconsciously rather than withdrawing from it (though some might of course). I think cyberpunk explores the grimmest futures and consequences of technology, and the science fiction literature that tackles the genre, provides us with a view of futures to avoid, much like how the newer solarpunk genre might introduce solutions to inspire climate and environmental consciousness.
Ji:Our Cyberpunk spider lamp takes inspiration from Alexander Trufanov, Concept artist on Artstation and Clarkesworld magazine, and we use the art of remaking to turn it into an Assembled toy. What do you think about this combination? Is it possible to combine the Scifi short story with our toys?
Ai:I think its utterly fascinating because of the complexity and inventiveness of the toy. I think much like art inspired by sci-fi short stories, or sci-fi short stories inspired by art, toys like Mecrob have the potential to inspire further creations as well, just as it draws on existing creations to craft something new. One thing that came to mind is the way that video games have storylines, and I think the same can be said for Mecrob.
Ji:Are you working on any new or upcoming projects? Can you introduce them to our readers?
Ai:So far it seems my next couple of projects will be sci-fi leaning, drawing on the subgenres of solarpunk, cyberpunk, lunarpunk, and steampunk. I'm also planning on expanding "Give Me English" into a novel and have many notes accumulated already, so I'm excited to be starting on it! On June 20th, I have a novelette titled "I AM AI" coming out with Shortwave Publishing which touched on toxic productivity, especially in relation to job markets dominated by tech and saturated by A.I.
Ji:Is inspiration necessary in writing? Why or why not?
Ai:I think it depends on what the writer's goal is in their writing. There might be writers who are more focused on output and more formulaic writing to keep up with the demand on their audience, and thus (though not always) sacrificing inspiration and passion in favour of consistency and speed. But there are other writers who might work slower, wanting to think out each aspect of their work, to be inspired and passionate about their stories and characters and ideas and themes. But of course, there might be very prolific and formulaic writers who are also always inspired and passionate. I'm not sure if that really answered the question, but for me personally, I like to be inspired by both before and during the writing of a particular project.
Ji:Steve Jobs said technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts married with humanity that makes our heart sings, what do you think of this concept?
Ai:I do think this is true. I think everything in the world is interconnected—everything draws on one another, influences each other, and perhaps cannot exist without the other. An example might be that there cannot be silence without sound, light without darkness, predator without prey. And for stories, though not always the case, readers might find most resonate and enjoyable the works that interweave expertly plot, character, and setting. I think in relation to technology, which might be more technical and calculating, when combined with liberal arts, that might be more spiritual and philosophical in nature, and the uniqueness of individual humanity, interiority, and thought, the result is one that offers balance that might target all aspects of our mind both emotionally and intellectually. Technology is often created because there is a lack that needs to be filled or addressed for humans and humanity, and technology is often inspired by the ideas of liberal arts and its musings as well. I don't think we can think of these three things as separate.