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The Dark Room Problem

Award-winning sci-fi author Chen Qiufan investigates how technology manipulates our consciousness in this short story

I won a raffle at a Korean hot pot restaurant.

I was on an unsuccessful blind date with a guy that some distant relatives hoped to fix me up with. There was nothing wrong with him, exactly. Just like me, he was trying to grind his way upward in the world of finance. He took care to dress the part. As soon as he opened his mouth, I could hear something familiar in the way he spoke. He had the habit of taking any subject and trying to break it down into figures and formulas that he could then split into A, B, C, D, and enter into spreadsheets. His face floated in the steam between us. He was using the same face on me that he must have used for sucking up to his boss or trying to sell clients on some new scheme. I plucked a quivering rice cake out of the red-hot broth. I mumbled uh-huhs and oh yeahs back to whatever he said. I hadn’t expected anything less out of the date.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “You’ve got everything a man is looking for. If you’re too picky, you’re going to miss the window of opportunity and won’t be able to cash in any options.”

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The Dark Room Problem is a story from our issue, “State of The Art.” 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 Chen Qiufan

Chen Qiufan is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

Translated By
author Dylan Levi King

Dylan Levi King is a writer and translator. His most recent translations are Cai Chongda’s “Vessel” (HarperCollins) and Jia Pingwa’s “The Shaanxi Opera” (AmazonCrossing).

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