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When Fiction Meets Reality: An Interview with Sci-Fi Author Sugar Bandit on Her Novel “Later Humanity”

  ”How do you think about killing someone in a place with complete surveillance?” an intermittent voice came from the phone. In the early autumn of 2023, in a cafe on the streets of Shanghai, science fiction writer Tang Bandit talked about the original idea of ​​the new novel collection “Later Humanity” in a telephone interview.
  In April 2021, when it was difficult to travel freely due to the fluctuations of the new crown epidemic, the sugar bandit began to re-examine the house where he lived. At that time, she lived in an old house in downtown Beijing. The house was small and the study was filled with books. Sugar bandits prefer this kind of tranquility amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life. Although many friends have equipped their homes with a complete set of voice-controlled smart appliances, there are not many smart appliances in her home. Sugar Bandit lives alone, and the only camera installed in his home is to take care of his dog, which has been with him for 18 years.
  When you re-examine your own residence, you will have a somewhat alien feeling: a house is like a building block that makes up a city. People live in it and use their mobile phones to pull a series of smart appliances in the house – they are electronic creatures in the technological age. , listen to the master’s call. When smart appliances are domesticated enough to be intelligent, will they protect their owners and families like pets?
  Science fiction writing is the prism through which sugar bandits view the world. Hugo Award and Nebula Award winner, Chinese-American science fiction writer Yukun Liu translated Sugar Bandit’s first science fiction novel “Dirty Stories”. When he saw Sugar Bandit, he felt that she was just like the stories she wrote, not bound by conventions. , do not write fast food dessert literature for sales. In the science fiction collections “The Odyssey” and “The Man Who Saw Cetus”, the sugar bandit is obsessed with traveling through cities, illusions and the universe. “Whether it’s aliens or time travel, whether it’s urban horror or virtual reality technology, Sugar Bandit’s novels are good at using these common metaphors in science fiction to express and question our insights as human beings.” In Liu Yukun’s view, this is exactly what Characteristics of the science fiction world: “Reality is more science fiction than fiction, and science fiction thinking has become a way to tell the truth.” ”
  The future has arrived, but it’s just not popular yet.” Although Kevin Kelly has already reminded people to face it in “The Inevitability” Attitudes towards technology, but when AlphaGo and ChatGPT arouse social attention, it is still difficult for people to regard artificial intelligence as the current reality. Instead, they either imagine the vast future opened by technology, or they continue to be vigilant about it. Sugar Bandit is a technology enthusiast who is keen on researching new technologies. However, in her collection of science fiction novels “Later Humanity”, she has set her sights on the “posthumanity” left behind by the technological era. She writes about those Ordinary people who have disappeared from society unknowingly use science fiction to re-describe the lives of those abandoned by the times, revealing the profound changes that technology has had on people’s lifestyles and interpersonal communication patterns.
  In Sugar Bandit’s novel, the future has arrived, and mankind has entered the era of comprehensive artificial intelligence. However, people still carry the memory of their past lives. Half of them have stepped into the clean future in the cloud, and the other half of them are stuck in the memory of the physical body on the ground. In the cyber world where humans and machines are coupled, people have virtual clones uploaded to the cloud, brain-computer assembly surgeries to enhance brain power, artificial intelligence “family masters” that control everything in their apartments, and machines that satisfy the sexual desires of family members. “Happy”, people can also rent out their bodies in the spherical vibrator field… The sugar bandit describes the later human beings with delicate brushstrokes: He Lai who disappeared with his memory, Xin Min, the housewife who was monitored by the “family mastermind”, ” Chen Keqing, a beauty blogger who has a stable mentality and is like Plastic Man…
  ”These stories tell about the most common daily human things, but they describe Zhang Ailing-like feelings in the technological age, touching the softest and hardest parts of human beings. They have always been I have never seen science fiction express them in such a detailed, lingering and heart-wrenching way.” Science fiction writer Han Song said that he feels that such science fiction novels are real literature that belongs to the future.
  In “Happy Days,” Sugar Bandit imagines a new kind of apartment in the future. In the future, people will no longer worry about mortgages and rents. The housing problem that once strained the entire society has long since dissipated. The right to residence is people’s birthright. “The younger generation has forgotten that era of housing tension. Due to the climate Conditions shortened the durability of a large number of buildings, living resources were highly concentrated, and housing supply was once very tight. Even if the last generation of baby boomers has passed and the urban population has dropped sharply, the habitable land area still cannot satisfy the existing population. The emergence of new apartments has ended that period Chaotic and crowded days.” (“Happy Days”)
  In the future, intensive and intelligent smart apartments will be given warmth by technology, and the warmth will be passed on to those who choose it in the future. In new apartments, the artificial intelligence “home master” controls everything in the apartment, from the use of various furniture and appliances to the collection of data from earphones, air composition analyzers, and infrared camera needles throughout the home, and can even be refined to the Data analysis of pressure, heat and micro-radiation in each plane of the home. Technology provides a happy, efficient, and convenient life for the people who live here, and it also controls and monitors everything in these homes.
  But in these families, who is qualified to control the machines?
Are humans and machines enemies or friends?

  Novelist Liao Jing felt a little scared when she read “Happy Days” by Sugar Bandit. She sent Tang Bandit a WeChat message saying that she thought of “1984”. In the novel, the “family master” of the apartment is omniscient. “It appears as a server, knows everything, and takes care of the couple in every possible and subtle way, but in fact it is a monitor.” , and even became a ruler.” Liao Jing said.
  ”Actually, in the past few years, everyone has often felt this way. It’s like I spent money to buy a mobile phone, and after downloading some software, I put a chain on myself.” Liao Jing said at the Sugar Bandit’s New Book Salon Sharing his feelings on the Internet, “We feel that we are the owners of the mobile phone, and that the mobile phone is mainly about me, but if I forget to take my mobile phone when I go out, I may not be able to go anywhere. When you feel that technology is omnipresent to you When you care and take care of you, you are actually trapped in some kind of shackles.”
  And with the penetration of technology in the digital age, people’s sense of being monitored seems to be everywhere. When writing “Happy Days”, Sugar Bandit was curious that if people lose their initiative in the apartment where they live every day, then whether this apartment where people are taken care of in every possible way is more like the “French philosopher Michel Foucault” proposed “Panopticon”, can technology really empower the disadvantaged, or will it intensify exploitation and accelerate differentiation?
  In the novel, even in the technological future where people can upload all their memories and ways of thinking to the cloud, families living in future apartments will still have a family model of “men take charge of the outside and women take charge of the house”. This comes from the special setting of the sugar bandit. The wife does housework at home. By arranging the “domestic mastermind”, the wife controls all matters in the home and appears to be the master of the home. However, the control authority of the “family mastermind” lies in the hands of the husband. Even if he just adjusts the electrical parameters in the home, he needs to wait for his permission after he comes home from get off work.
  ”Although it is a story that takes place in the future, the actual reading experience is very contemporary. As a housewife’s situation that we often talk about, it has also appeared in many movies and TV series. Her status in her family life is even low As the ‘brain’ of the apartment, she has always been in a controlled and monitored environment. Although she seems to be the owner and has constant needs, in fact she does not even have the authority to modify the parameters, and she will not get this authority.” Liao Jing said, “She was thinking, what do I need AI for? To enable me to be more proactive and better at completing housework. This question actually involves a core issue, which is who is using whom and who is using it. Who to enslave.”
  In the technological leaps one after another, what is seen is technological progress, and what is not seen is the hidden labor. In the novel, Sugar Bandit specifically depicts the relationship between this woman and the family AI: at home, the person who understands her best and gives her the most time to spend with her is the “family mastermind” AI that she has trained with her own hands. Her job is also to use human experience and emotions to “feed” AI, type it into text and input it into the AI ​​backend, so that AI can better serve humans. Faced with the ubiquitous family boss in the smart apartment, her cheating husband who turned a blind eye to her, and the sudden death of her best friend, the protagonist Xin Min fell into a fear of losing her subjectivity.

  In the eyes of sugar bandits, the most cruel punishment is “the disappearance of a person.” “Lock a person in a small space and pretend she doesn’t exist. You seem to be free in this society, but you are made transparent. No one cares about what you think or what you like, and the occasional conversation with you is It all revolves around his needs. Your labor is small because it is covered by technology, and personal value cannot be realized through intellectual labor. Domestic labor does not count as labor, and your emotional labor is also exploited. In this case, this The heroine is the person who ‘disappeared’ and does not exist.” Sugar Bandit said.
  ”Science fiction is a way of thinking. It uses extreme situations, the construction of different worlds, and other unfamiliar creative methods to rescue us from our daily stereotypes and inherent thinking. Thereby changing our way of looking at problems. At the master class of the 7th China-Europe International Literature Festival, Sugar Bandit was invited to share her knowledge and understanding of science fiction novels, and she once pointed out that the meaning of science fiction is not just about staying. The key to creating spectacles that are different from reality is to break away from ordinary perspectives and thinking. This imagination is rooted in the heavy reality and gains the power to grow upward from the future.
  The setting of the machine in the novel is different from previous novels. When the “family mastermind” faces this seemingly inseparable couple, its only need is to maintain the stability of the family. It quietly helps the couple cover up traces of each other’s derailments and protect the existing family’s orbit. Like a parent, he wants this to happen. The home runs well. The desire of women in the novel is also to restore order, but they are not satisfied with the beautiful order restored by machines, but hope to obtain their own subjectivity. In the extreme setting of the novel, she kills her husband and disposes of the criminal tools through the smart apartment, and in the end the “family mastermind” also helps cover up the crime.
  ”It’s not so much about revenge as it is about her finding a way to exist as a living person after her own human value has been erased. This is not an opposition between men and women, but a problem of social structure.” Sugar Bandit said , the novel transfers people’s helplessness and indignation towards the world into personal plight. Breaking free from it and breaking through it are actually a matter of personal confrontation with the plight of the entire world. With the help of the machine, the woman gains freedom and her true identity.
  How will the relationship between humans and machines change in the future? In the view of the sugar bandit, people today no longer treat technology like the confrontation or blind worship they had in the early 21st century. In the future, people may stand together with machines to fight against the so-called “inhumanity”.
“The people who came after”

  The sugar bandit is in poor health and had a major operation in 2022. “My condition this year is worse than last year. I have been sleeping for only two to three hours a day for a long time. And when I was in Beijing, I couldn’t go out. The whole person In a shaky state.”
  Before the disease came, Sugar Bandit felt that he had finally entered an excellent writing state. Several novellas have been written. Different from previous novel collections, she has developed a very complete and systematic world in the new novel collection. She feels that she has found a very clear writing direction and has a very clear understanding of science fiction. Concept, can’t wait to enter a new stage of creation, “At that time, if you gave me an apple, I could write science fiction novels. That state was very stable and very wild, and I felt that I could do anything.”
  ”The results will come out . “My son, I went to the hospital for a check-up and suddenly found out… Then I started to be rubbed by death for two years.” Sugar Bandit recalled the medical treatment at that time in the noisy cafe, about her difficulty in going to the hospital for surgery during the epidemic.
  Technology is always improving, and people tend to move forward with time and are good at forgetting. The English title of the new collection of novels “After Humanity” has two translations. The first one is “posthumanity”, which is a very important concept in science fiction novels. The second is to use Shanghai dialect to say that “latecomers” are those who are left behind. “Those who arrive first will become more successful and resourceful people. Those who come later will obviously be more passive and will slowly and unknowingly slide into a marginal position. The future in the novel is very pessimistic.” Sugar Bandit Said, “Novel is the author’s best mirror, and his understanding of the world is presented in the text in a very honest and unpretentious way.”
  In Sugar’s view, science fiction is not just a literary genre that carries fantasies about science and technology. She loves science fiction because it is so lively and full of possibilities. In ancient China, novels developed from myths and legends to fantasy novels. The authors presented these fictional objects to readers with a naive and enthusiastic belief. Although technology has long dispelled the darkness of human pre-modern civilization, reality and fantasy have been confused again in another form. Especially in the years of the COVID-19 epidemic, shock has become the norm. Many incredible things happen, and people use science fiction to describe reality, whether it is a dream life given by highly developed technology or a nightmare reality.
  When people are already living in science fiction, how should science fiction literature express and respond to reality?
  In the writing of “Later Humanity”, Sugar Bandit felt that this process was a “flying close to the ground”, and several novels imagined future cities along the lines of real life. “Such science fiction gives people a huge sense of surprise, and it will Does it make men feel excited? Not necessarily, but I want to be a little provocative and stinging to make people understand that even if technology is so advanced, domestic work still requires a huge amount of labor, patience and time. Not only domestic work, but also domestic work. In modern life, due to the emergence of technology, many labors have been covered up due to the advancement of technology.” ”
  People often say that AI will replace humans, but when AI replaces humans, what will humans do? Humans will serve and train AI.” Sugar Bandit said that “technology is green” is a huge illusion. Whether it is ChatGPT or many well-known artificial intelligence software, it requires a lot of manpower to train it, and these simple, repetitive and boring tasks often correspond to people in less developed areas of the world.
  In the novel, she writes about the future of many people who have been left behind by the technological era, but these science fiction novels are almost becoming reality. In “Half Articles and Half Diao” written two years ago, residents living on an island are affected by marine microplastics and gradually become plastic people. Recently, reports about microplastics harming human health have been appearing in the news. The body for rent in “Running Ball” involves the exploitation of the lower class by the upper class. When productivity develops to a certain extent, what people are exploited is not their labor power and intelligence, but their subjectivity and the joy of being a human being.
  ”Why should we arouse concern for these people? Because today of these people may be our tomorrow. Now everyone seems to have no worries about food and clothing, live and work in peace and contentment, but tomorrow it is very likely that due to something, the trajectory of life will continue to slide to the same position. If Taking care of marginalized people and speaking out for them is also doing something for our tomorrow,” she said.