Ladies and Gentleman, Good evening!
It’s my great honor to receive the Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society.
很荣幸获得Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society Award。
This award is a reward for imagination, a capability that should have been exclusive to God but we, as human beings, luckily have. And the meaning of the existence of imagination is far beyond our imagination. A historian used to say that the main reason why human beings have been able to surpass other species on Earth and build civilizations is that they can create, in their brains, something non-existent in reality. In the future, when artificial intelligence becomes smarter than us, imagination may be the only advantage we have over AI.
Science fiction is a literary genre based on imagination. And the first sci-fi works to greatly impress me were those by Arthur C. Clarke. Together with Jules Verne and George Wells, Clarke was among the first Western modern sci-fi writers to enter China. In the early 1980s, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rendezvous With Rama were published in my country. At that time, the Cultural Revolution just came to an end. While the old life and faith had collapsed, the new ones had not yet been established. Like other young people, I was confused. However, these two books aroused my imagination for the first time. My mind opened up like never before. I felt like a narrow stream finally embracing the sea. At the midnight when I finished 2001: A Space Odyssey, I walked out of my room and stared at the starry sky. I was able to see the galaxy thanks to the unpolluted sky of China back then. That night, in my eyes, the starry sky was completely different from the past. For the first time in my life, I was awed by the grandeur and mystery of the universe. That feeling was religious. And later, Rendezvous With Rama made me amazed by showing how imagination could build a lifelike, fantastic world. It was Clarke that brought me such feelings, and that brought me here as a sci-fi writer.
科幻小说是基于想象力的文学，而最早给我留下深刻印象的是Arthur . Clarke的作品。除了Jules Verne和George Wells外， Clarke的作品是最早进入中国的西方现代科幻小说。在上世纪八十年代初，中国出版了他的《2001:A Space Odyssey》和《Rendezvous With Rama》,。当时文革刚刚结束，旧的生活和信仰已经崩塌，新的还没有建立起来，我和其他年轻人一样，心中一片迷茫。这两本书第一次激活了我想象力，思想豁然开阔许多，有小溪流进大海的感觉。读完《2001:A Space Odyssey》的那天深夜，我走出家门仰望星空，那时的中国的天空还没有太多的污染，能够看到银河，在我的眼中，星空与过去完全不一样了，我第一次对宇宙的宏大与神秘产生了敬畏感，这是一种宗教般的感觉。而后来读到的《Rendezvous With Rama》,也让我惊叹如何可以用想象力构造一个栩栩如生的想象世界。正是Clarke带给我的这些感受，让我后来成为一名科幻作家。
Today, more than 30 years later, it gradually dawns on me that people like me, who was born in the 1960s in China, are probably the luckiest people in human history, because no generation is like us, who have been able to witness such tremendous changes in the world around us. The world we are living in today is completely different from that in our childhood. And such changes are taking place with even greater speed. China is a highly futuristic country. It is true that the future of China may be full of challenges and risks, but never has this country been so attractive like today. This reality provides fertile soil for the growth of science fiction, which is enjoying unprecedented attention in the country. And, as a sci-fi author born in the 1960s in China, I’m the luckiest in the luckiest generation.
At the very beginning, I wrote sci-fi because I decided to escape the dull life, and to reach out, with imagination, to the mysterious time and space that I could never truly reach. But then I found that the world around me became more and more like science fiction, and this process is speeding up. Future is like a pouring rain. It falls right on us even before we have time to open an umbrella. Meanwhile, it is frustrating to find that when sci-fi becomes reality, it won’t be hailed as magical any more. It will soon become part of our lives. Therefore, the only thing I can do is to push my imagination to even more distant time and space to hunt for the mysteries of sci-fi, which will become part of our daily life with greater speed. As a sci-fi author, I think my job is to write things down before they get really boring.
This being said, the world is moving in the direction opposite to Clarke’s predictions. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, in the year of 2001, which has already passed, human beings have built magnificent cities in space, and established permanent colonies on the moon, and huge nuclear-powered spacecraft have sailed to Saturn. However, today, in 2018, the walk on the moon has become a distant memory. And the farthest reach of our manned space flights is just as long as the two-hour mileage of a high-speed train passing through my city. At the same time, information technology is developing at an unimaginable speed. With the entire world covered by the Internet, people have gradually lost their interest in space, as they find themselves increasingly comfortable in the space created by IT. Instead of an exploration of the real space, which is full of real difficulties, people now just prefer to experience virtual space through VR. Just like someone said, “You promised me an ocean of stars, but you actually gave me Facebook.”
但另一方面，世界却向着与Clarke的预言相反的方向发展。在《2001:A Space Odyssey》中，在已经过去的2001年，人类已经在太空中建立起壮丽的城市，在月球上建立起永久性的殖民地，巨大的核动力飞船已经航行到土星。而在现实中的2018年，再也没有人登上月球，人类的太空中航行的最远的距离，也就是途经我所在的城市的高速列车两个小时的里程。与此同时，信息技术却以超乎想象的速度发展，网络覆盖了整个世界，在IT所营造的越来越舒适的安乐窝中，人们对太空渐渐失去了兴趣，相对于充满艰险的真实的太空探索，他们更愿意在VR中体验虚拟的太空。这像有一句话说的：“You promised me Mars colonies, instead, I got Facebook.（说好的星辰大海，你却只给了我FACEBOOK。）”
This reality is also reflected in science fiction. Clarke’s magnificent imagination about space has gradually faded away. People have taken back their eyes from the stars. In the sci-fi works today, there are more imagination about how we live in cyber utopia or dystopia. Writers focus more on various problems we encounter in reality. The imagination of science fiction is abandoning the vastness and profoundness of Arthur Clarke, and embracing the narrowness and introversion of cyberpunk.
As a sci-fi writer, I have been striving to continue Clarke’s imagination. I believe that the boundless space is still the best direction and destination for human imagination. I have always been portraying the grandeur and mysteries of the universe, interstellar expeditions, and the lives and civilizations in the distant worlds, even if for today’s sci-fi writers, this may seem childish and even outdated. As Clarke’s epitaph says, “He never grew up, but he never stopped growing.”
Unlike the misconception of many people, sci-fi is not written to predict the future. It just makes a list of possibilities of the future, like displaying a pile of cobblestones of imagination for people to see and play with. Science fiction can never tell which possible future will become the real future. This is not sci-fi’s job. It’s also beyond its capabilities.
But one thing is certain: in the long run, for all these countless possible futures, any future without space travel will be bleak, no matter how prosperous our own world becomes.
I look forward to the day when, like the sci-fi works writing about the age of information, those about space travel finally become ordinary. At that time, Mars and the asteroid belts will be boring places, where countless people are making a living. Jupiter and its many satellites will be tourist attractions, but the only obstacle preventing people from going there will be the crazy price.
But even at that time, the universe is still something so big that even our wildest imagination fails to catch its edge. And the closest star is still out of our reach. The vast ocean of stars can always carry our infinite imagination.
Thank you all.