"Gods Behind the Masks" /《假面神祗》(2021) by Chen Qiufan / 陈楸帆
Translated by Emily Jin (2021)
Our reading for September 2021
FAKA declared that Nigeria was in dire need of a new language that transcended ethnic boundaries, “to purge our mind and language of colonial poison.” It lamented that the mothers of Nigeria were the people who “suffered the most and deserve the highest reverence”; with their own hands they have “welcomed the descent and buried the corpses” of countless children. FAKA boasted that “music is a weapon of the future,” and that only when education and wealth were “distributed evenly like drumbeats permeating the air, could the heartbeats of people coalesce into one steady rhythm.”
Like a rainstorm descending upon a long-parched land, FAKA’s words had begun to quench a thirst in Amaka’s heart, too.
---from Gods Behind the Masks / 《假面神祇》（2021）by Chen Qiufan
* * *
Ten stories, in ten cities, with ten lives, and of ten adventures. When Chen Qiufan talks about AI 2041, a story collection he co-authored with Kai-Fu Lee, he claims that “the kind of future you want to create starts with imagining it.” In such imagination, in the near-future setting of AI 2041, we can see the intervention of technological development into people’s social life and even political and economic structure. When the products of technology are no longer seen as “objects”, when terms such as “post-human” or “trans-human” are no longer just “possibilities”, when all the current cutting-edge technologies become easily integrated with our bodies, will our world become a desirable paradise, or will it be alienated into a wilderness?
AI 2041 takes us on a peek into the future twenty year from now, imagining the impact of technology on different countries, different peoples and different cultures. Smart insurance programmes in Mumbai, virtual idols in Tokyo, natural language processing in Seoul, and robot labour in San Francisco – these technologies are changing the world while bringing with them many new problems to be solved. The story we have chosen for this month’s seminar is “Gods Behind the Masks”, a story set in Nigeria at a time when video face-swapping technology is able to pass for reality and, naturally, people were aware of the potential political and economic implications of video face-swapping. In this story, the Yoruba and Igbo radical nationalist groups in Nigeria coincidentally see video face-swapping as a crucial place to send out their political demands and to construct a specific social discourse. The technology is neutral, but people have sides. So what will be the actions and resistance of the ordinary citizens in face of this? In this seminar, we are very honoured to have our old friend Chen Qiufan to share with us his vision of the world in 2041.
Chen Qiufan was born in 1981, in Shantou, China. (In accordance with Chinese custom, Mr. Chen's surname is written first.
He sometimes uses the English name Stanley Chan.) He is a graduate of Peking University and published his first short story
in 1997 in Science Fiction World, China's largest science fiction magazine. Since 2004, he has published over thirty stories
in Science Fiction World, Esquire, Chutzpah, and other magazines. His first novel, The Abyss of Vision, came out in 2006.
He won Taiwan's Dragon Fantasy Award in 2006 with "A Record of the Cave of Ning Mountain," a work written in Classical
Chinese. In English, his short stories have been published in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, MIT Technology Review, Slate,
Pathlight and other venues. His novel, Waste Tide was published by Tor in 2019.
Emily Jin is a translator of science fiction and fantasy, translating Chinese into English and the other way around. She graduated from Wellesley College, Massachusetts in 2017, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literature at Yale University.
She is one of the core members of the Clarkesworld-Storycom collaborative project on publishing English translations of Chinese science fiction.