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Tang Fei

Entry updated 19 February 2024. Tagged: Author.

(1983-    ) Chinese author and photographer, Beijing-based, whose work seemingly sprang into the Anglophone sphere fully-formed, although her biography hints at earlier stories under other pseudonyms in multiple venues, including fantasy and Wuxia publications. She is also an occasional critic for the Jinji Guancha-bao ("Economic Observer"), a role that has imbued her with a cynical sense of distance towards her own work, as if she is already appraising it with the sharp and objective eye of a scholar.

Many of her stories have a tone touched by Magic Realism, as if the mundane world of modern China is just out of reach behind a veil of romantic allegories. Like Ma Boyong and Hao Jingfang, she derives rich inspiration from the tropes of Beijing life, most notably in "Jiyu zhi Lu" (venue unknown; trans Xueting Christine Ni as "The Path to Freedom", December 2016 Paper Republic), in which the city's infamous dust storms reach gargantuan proportions, causing mutations among the hapless population (see Mutants). In the epistolary "Wanzheng de Ai" (date unknown Xin Kehuan, literally "The Completeness of Love" trans John Chu as "A Universal Elegy" in Clarkesworld January 2015), an account of an inter-species relationship begins as a recitation of relatively simple cultural differences, before devolving into a terrifying and unresolvable Conceptual Breakthrough, inspired by modernity's willingness to compartmentalize human lives.

Her titles can be slippery: often deliberately misdirectional even in the Chinese original, given further spin through retitlings in English with the author's approval. "Huangse Gushi" (venue unknown; trans Ken Liu as "Call Girl", June 2013 Apex Magazine) teases the reader with a title that translates as "a dirty story", and an opening sequence that appears to set up a drab, grubby tale of a teenage schoolgirl earning money through "compensated dating". In fact, however, she is a modern-day Scheherazade, able to magically summon stories to entertain her clients, in a mood piece that reconfigures the storyteller's profession as an allegorical whoring of dreams.

Such Fabulation also plays a role in "Kanjian Jingyu-zuo de Ren" (in Cosmos Is Calling Gogo, anth 2015; trans S Qiouyi Lu as "The Person Who Saw Cetus", May 2017 Clarkesworld), which initially purports to narrate the life of a young woman as perceived through the old technologies and legacy code on her devices, and her memories of her father. In an indication of the chaotic scramble for attention abroad that characterized the late-2010s in Chinese sf (see China), it is available in two, or arguably three different English versions – a rare occurrence anywhere (see Haruki Murakami) and a valuable commodity in comparative translation studies. A second iteration, translated as "The Man Who Saw the Cetus" by Nick Stembler in Dawning in the East (anth 2017) presents a more conversational rendering of the same text, with intriguing decisions taken on certain points, starting with the title itself, which assigns a gender to the unspecified "person" of the Chinese title, and thereby erodes some of the original's ambiguity. The aforementioned Lu translation also appears in A Collection of Tangfei's SF (coll 2017), with many of the paragraph breaks removed, possibly simply for space. In this version, perhaps inadvertently, the former splitting of dialogue and description elide into in long blocks of text, accentuating the impression of a gushing, breathless narrator, whose memories of a performance-artist father are hence rendered somehow sweet and comedic, even as she recounts what appears to be his ghastly public death. It creates a stream of consciousness that diverts and distracts the reader from the broader genre content. Instead of gazing with a Sense of Wonder at the narrator's journey through a Wormhole, we instead reflect along with her on the formative experiences that led her to volunteer for such a mission.

The above-cited A Collection of Tangfei's SF is a 170-page English-language compilation of five short stories, seemingly self-published, but in too accomplished and professional a form to be discounted as an amateur production. [JonC]

see also: Women SF Writers.

Tang Fei

born Shanghai: 4 April 1983


about the author

  • Ken Liu. "The Spurred Storyteller: An Interview with Tang Fei" (February 2015 Clarkesworld) [mag/]


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