Friday, December 18, 2015

Folding Beijing, by Hao Jingfang

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(Science Fantasy) Lao Dao processes trash in a fantastic future "third-space" Beijing. To get money for his daughter's education, he makes a dangerous trip to first-space--a city that unfolds when his own Beijing sleeps. (16,336 words; Time: 54m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆, Average
Recommended By: RHorton:5 LTilton

"," by (translated by Ken Liu), appeared in Uncanny Magazine issue 2, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The story is a beautiful metaphor for the existing inequality in China (and, arguably, the whole world.). The different lives of different people are drawn quite well. It's also pleasant than instead of a mindless dystopia, we have a place that's merely uncomfortable, but which clearly does work. Even the rulers aren't all bad--they hesitate to deprive tens of millions of workers of their livelihoods.

Con: The metaphor may be clever, but it's also very obvious. Long before we reach first space, we know what we'll find there. Lao Dao completes his own personal mission, but nothing in the larger world changes. This is a story about small things, not big ones.

None of the characters is admirable--not even Lao Dao, who is willing to deceive Qin Tiang for money. The speed with which he squanders a 10,000 yuan note tells us the rest of the money will disappear soon too.

Occasionally the story degenerates into infodumps. It also has POV problems.

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5 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. My goodness! Amazing how much tastes in fiction can differ! :D This was the best story I read this year; I absolutely loved it!

    1. A lot of people have. So what did you like about it?

  2. I think it's an award-worthy story because of it's clever take on inequality in economic AND temporal terms, done in a fantastic setting, with a simple but satisfying plot and characters.

    I like how the people in charge come across as "regular folks" with sympathy for the poor, but they also are duty-bound to enforce the rules governing the system in which they live. We are all cogs in the machine.

    I'm fine with this type of message fiction that doesn't beat me over the head with stock heroes and villains.

  3. I just finished this and am not sure how I feel. I share some of your criticisms - the reveal was predictable and I didn't like the way it was presented - a 2 para infodump about GDP and whatnot.

    But the metaphor of the folding city was a very striking and effective one. The people we meet are all well sketched, but ultimately insignificant, and this really enhances the 'cogs in the machine' metaphor. The fact that none of them are admirable makes it quite depressing, but that's exactly the mood the author wants to convey. It isn't quite to my taste - I don't like the bleak aimlessness of the story - but I can't deny it was an effective portrayal.

    1. Under our 2016 rules, this would be a 4-star story precisely for the reasons you give. Yes, it does have its problems, but it's a solid story and it's very memorable.