Jiankun Wu ’21 Translates Undiscovered Chinese Sci-fi Writer
When someone recommended she read an anthology of science-fiction stories by Qiang Fu, Wu figured she’d be thumbing through an amateur work. After all, Fu’s primary job is as a physicist for a Chinese oil firm (though he does aspire to be a full-time writer).
Yet by Wu’s accounts, she didn’t end up with a lightweight book. Instead, she was so impressed with Fu’s stories she declares they’re better than many other popular authors. “I think not very many people write as well,” she said, adding, “He wants his stories to be concise and scientifically logical and reasonable.”
Because she loves science and fiction—she studies physics and English at Bowdoin—Wu decided to take on the task this summer of translating Fu’s 2017 book, The Loners’ Game, from Chinese to English.
To support her endeavor, she has a Martha Reed Coles Summer Fellowship from Bowdoin, one of nearly 300 fellowships awarded to students for summer research projects or internships.
Explaining why she appreciates science fiction so much, Wu said: “It provides alternatives. It either tries to change history or the future. More recently, it is beginning to envision new social structures and personal relationships instead of focusing on technology. That is very intriguing to me; it’s like thought experiments.” (When she discovered the website for Bowdoin professor Arielle Saiber’s class, World Science Fiction, she says she read all the stories on the syllabus in a week. Saiber is a professor of Romance languages and literatures who teaches courses on, among other topics, medieval and Renaissance Italian literature, and science fiction.)
So far this summer, Wu has translated one of the four stories in Fu’s The Loners’ Game, an 87-page piece called The Infinite Town. Because she knows the author, she is in regular contact with him to discuss the occasional inconsistency she finds. But it is up to her to translate the nuances. “Translation is so much fun,” she noted. “I have to do close reading, several times.”
In Infinite Town, a group of college students in a science-fiction club get trapped in a place where space-time is infinite. They are eventually rescued by a female detective. “It has a lot of philosophical inquiries, it gets at the meaning of life. He implies existentialist ideas,” We said.
When she is finished with her translation, Wu wants to find a U.S. publisher for the book or get one of Fu’s stories published in a magazine. She has the support of the author, too, because if Fu is published here, he could become better known in China. “Even Chinese readers become more interested after Chinese literature gets translated into English,” Wu said.