[publishing] A visit to Science Fiction World in Chengdu

I had a very good visit this afternoon at the offices of Science Fiction World here in Chengdu. I was hosted by Li Ke Qin, Chief Editor for Foreign Literature. He’s the gentleman who handles the Western fiction acquired in translation, both as an editor and as a translator.

Li Ke Qin, Chief Editor for Foreign Literature, Science Fiction World Translations.

The offices are on the sixth floor of a building on South People Road here in Chengdu. In a city of ten million people, this doesn’t tell you a lot, but my local guide and driver were able to find the place. The offices are quite large, with a staff of at least a dozen editors. Ke Qin explained to me that they edit four magazines there: Science Fiction World, Fantasy World, Newton and Science Fiction World Translations. We had a long discussion of their readership, circulation and marketing processes.

The editorial offices.

First of all, they don’t mix SF and fantasy in general. With respect to this, Science Fiction World roughly corresponds to Analog, while Fantasy World roughly corresponds to Realms of Fantasy. Newton is a magazine of stories for children, not so much fantastic or SFnal as science-oriented. Those three markets all publish exclusively Chinese fiction for Chinese readers, usually with Chinese cover artists.

Science Fiction World Translations is the sister publication which publishes Western fiction, primarily from the US and the UK, in translation. All of the acquisition and much of the translation is done by Ke Qin. (Among other things, he has translated Ted Chiang’s work.) They also acquire a limited number of novel properties.

The current issue of Science Fiction World Translations, featuring C.S. Friedman.

Ke Qin regretfully reports that readership for Science Fiction World is down from a paid circulation of over 400,000 to approximately 300,000. They are still the largest genre magazine in China (and, presumably the world), but the field is very tough right now in the Chinese market. He says they have six or seven competitors, the best of which was published out of Fujien and sadly has recently folded. Fantasy World has a comparable circulation. Demand is much lower for foreign-sourced fiction, his speciality, with circulation in the tens of thousands.

Most copies are sold via newsstand, with subscriptions going primarily to readers in remote and rural areas without ready access to newsstand. Ke Qin says his readership is from the teens through the twenties, students with little disposable income who can afford one magazine a month and must choose between the available competitors. This in turn drives what they can emphasize in the acquisition process — for example, adventure or military SF is far more popular than complex, style-driven work. (He then pointed out that this is not the whole truth as Ted Chiang has been very popular, but attributed that to the “core readership.”) Their long-term plan is to try to keep their readership as the demographic ages, and branch out the style, tone and content of the offerings accordingly.

We talked a while about the state of the US markets, both for short fiction and novels. We also talked about my life and career a bit, and I showed Ke Qin my Clarkesworld stories, “The Sky That Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and Into the Black” from last year, and my current collaboration with , “Rolling Steel: A Pre-apocalyptic Love Story“. We also talked about his work as a translator and editor, and what it meant to write fiction as opposed to translate. I expressed my profound respect for anyone who can work in two languages, and mentioned both Kathy Sedia and Sarah Hoyt as examples of this in the American scene — writers for whom English is not their cradle language, but who write with more grace and beauty than most of us native speakers. We also discussed the dearth of Chinese fiction in translation, and a little bit about Cordwainer Smith.

Li Ke Qin’s current reading, on his desk.

Ke Qin was kind enough to give me sample copies of Science Fiction World and Science Fiction World Translations. I’ll take them back to the US, and show them to folks when I get the chance. I’ll also be sending him some books from the United States, as those are very hard to get in China.

It’s an interesting market, staffed by dedicated people most of us would readily recognize as fans even without any common language, working with the largest potential readership in the world. I’d love to see American markets with their kind of numbers, and I’d love even more to see some Chinese fiction making the jump across the water, and the language barrier, to our pages.

11 thoughts on “[publishing] A visit to Science Fiction World in Chengdu

  1. Val says:

    I think you might find this entry on Gord Sellar’s blog very interesting.

    I’ll point him your way as well.

  2. I’d enjoy knowing a bit more about that bit about Cordwainer Smith. I’ve often wondered how his work is perceived by whatever Chinese know it.

    Rosana Hart, Cordwainer’s daughter

    1. Jay says:

      They didn’t know as much as I’d hoped. I’m planning to send a couple of your father’s books when I mail them a package in a few weeks. I think he very much deserves to be read in China.

      On an odd note, my Dad (who is here in China with me) knew your father back in the 1960s. Dad’s a retired State Department officer, and a China specialist, and they crossed paths at the beginning of Dad’s career. I found this out today. Small world…

  3. Sounds like a trip I should have planned to make while I am here. Probably not though — up to my eyeballs in astronomy. Got an email for Li Ke Qin?

    1. Jay says:

      Talk to me Saturday.

  4. Your article is very good! And you want to be friends!

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