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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Zero and Other Fictions

Huang Fan

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To purchase Zero and Other Fictions

Title: Zero and Other Fictions
Author: Huang Fan
Genre: Fiction
Written: (Eng. 2011)
Length: 158 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: Zero and Other Fictions - US
Zero and Other Fictions - UK
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Zero and Other Fictions - India
  • This collection contains the following pieces:
    • Lai Suo [賴索, 1979]
    • The Intelligent Man [1989]
    • How to Measure the Width of a Ditch [如何測量水溝的寬度, 1985]
    • Zero [零, 1981]
  • Edited and translated and with a Preface by John Balcom

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Our Assessment:

B : decent introduction to the author, but a bit of an odd mix

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 1/1/2012 David Cozy
Publishers Weekly . 1/8/2011 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Huang's dystopian science fiction novella, Zero, is so faithful to tired convention, and so smothered by its model, 1984, that it pales by comparison with the three short stories that precede it. Those stories, though, are good enough that we must hope that Balcom and others will make more of Huang Fan's abundant output available in English." - David Cozy, The Japan Times

  • "These character-driven stories illustrate the range of Huang's creativity and narrative dexterity -- a feat considering the brevity of these shining tales." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Huang Fan is a leading contemporary Taiwanese writer -- a "literary phenomenon" who has "won every major literary award multiple times" as John Balcom notes already in the first paragraph of his Translator's Preface.

Despite being a well-received writer in Taiwan, he has not been widely translated; this is the first collection of his work to appear in English.
       Zero and Other Fictions collects three stories and one novella, all written between 1979 and 1989, and Balcom explains:
     The works included here were chosen as representative of Huang's oeuvre as a whole, and serve to illustrate the range of his creativity.
       (Given that nothing that he published in the past twenty-two years is included, on might however suspect it's not entirely representative .....)
       The three stories do show some of Huang's range. The narrative in Lai Suo shifts in time across the life of the title-character, who is unmoored in contemporary Taiwan and overwhelmed by the political-party games that have played out there over the decades. The Intelligent Man is a more conventionally-told story of a man who moves to the United States and eventually becomes a fairly successful businessman -- and winds up with a wife in every port; it leads to a 'family meeting' in Singapore, where all the wives get to know each other (and their husband decides that this too might be a good place to open a branch ...). How to Measure the Width of a Ditch takes a more playful approach in a narrative that also actively draws the reader in -- "As you read this story, you also are 'involved in' the story", the narrator reminds the reader -- while returning repeatedly to what turns out be the absurdist premise of the difficulty of measuring the width of a ditch.
       The center- -- and by far the longest -- piece of the collection is the novella Zero, a quite clever piece of dystopian science fiction. Though it appears fairly conventional in its presentation of a utopia gone (or at least going) totalitarianally bad, Huang does add some nice and surprising science-fictiony twists to his story.
       The novella presents the life of Xi De, born into this new world that has arisen several decades after the collapse of what we know as civilization. A radical transformation has been made possible by the great Max Kristen, who helped develop a super-element called Nanning that can, among other things, neutralize "all forms of nuclear weapons". It also: "had unlimited power and could consume all other forms of energy", and utilizing it the entire world was reshaped into this new society. Xi De is only the son of agricultural workers, but he is tapped early on for advanced schooling and makes it fairly high up in the hierarchy, getting a good job in Central City. He is, however, less single-mindedly obsessed with being the perfect drone in this new world, and retains a streak of open- and independent-mindedness. This gets him in a bit of trouble -- and eventually he is reassigned to a less impressive position, in a less impressive locale -- but all that also helps open his eyes further.
       Xi De also comes across an alternate story of the great Max Kristen and everything Nanning, which suggests that entirely less laudable motives and actions were behind the transformation of the world. Eventually, Xi De also comes across a group opposed to what is happening, the Defend the Earth Army, who have their own idea about what's behind all this, and he joins forces with them.
       Where the truth lies remains a mystery -- but the human tragedy is presented clearly enough in how Huang cleverly brings Xi De's story to its conclusion.
       Zero begins as a rather conventional and simple story of a dystopia, but Huang's presentation does eventually add up nicely. By American standards, the novella is underdeveloped -- loads of padding could easily have been added, and certainly would have made for a richer picture -- but it's strong enough to impress even in this almost spare form.
       Zero and Other Fictions is a somewhat odd collection because the pieces are quite different; certainly the novella Zero stands at odds with the stories. While it's great to get a sampler of the author's work, and while arguably Zero is too thin to stand entirely on its own, it's hard not think that author and reader would have been better served by a different presentation -- a collection consisting only of short fiction pieces, and/or Zero as a stand-alone, or in a volume solely with similar material.
       Showing Huang to be an obviously able writer, Zero and Other Fictions at least whets appetites for more of his fiction.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 September 2011

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Zero and Other Fictions: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Taiwanese author Huang Fan (黃凡) was born in 1950.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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