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Burst Your Bubble With Taiwan's Queer Sci-Fi Classic

A review of the new English translation of the Chi Ta-Wei's "The Membranes," an eerily relevant imagining of the future

June has passed, a month dedicated to the stories of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. In many parts of the world this means parades, festivals, and parties celebrated with fresh vigor after a cloistered 2020. For the literary world, this month of Pride kicked off with the English release of a Chinese-language queer sci-fi classic: Chi Ta-Wei’s The Membranes.

In Ari Larissa Heinrich’s adept translation, the prose of this Taiwanese 1995 novella arrives direct and declarative, like the semi-confessional writing that internet users committed to sites like LiveJournal around that time. It’s short, propulsive, and deceptively approachable. We very quickly understand the backstory of the protagonist Momo, told in wistful vignettes that reveal a future where all humanity has fled to the ocean’s floor to survive.

Chi presents a charming and somewhat naïve introduction to this disturbing future. The publishing industry flourishes—in this New Renaissance, writers can earn a living!—not in physical books or online publishing, but endless laserdiscs produced by MegaHard, a corporate behemoth that battles Microsoft and emerges victorious. Momo’s mother, a marketing Vice President at the company, helps distribute this plastic memory with useful tips on how to scrub away viruses and enjoy drugs without addiction. AIDS has been tamed with a mandatory vaccine, but the skin allergies it provokes—and the age of free love it awakens—create a booming market for the beauty industry, especially celebrity dermal care technicians like Momo.

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Burst Your Bubble With Taiwan's Queer Sci-Fi Classic is a story from our issue, “Call of the Wild.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Adam Robbins

Adam Robbins is a writer and editor based in China since 2014, with work appearing in The World of Chinese, NewsChina, City Weekend, and That’s Shenzhen, along with his recently published Plagueworld Chronicles: Day by Day Through the 2020 Pandemic with an American Locked Down in China. This peripatetic Yankee is originally from a small town in Maine, educated at Harvard College, and worked in Minnesota for ten years to help achieve marriage equality. He’s already enjoyed his ten minutes of fame, on a 2011 episode of The Daily Show, and now looks forward to baking at home. He’s lived and worked in Boston, Austin, Minneapolis, Taipei, and Beijing before moving to Shenzhen with his husband.

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