Water Margin, whose authorship is traditionally attributed to Shi Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong, is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. Among these Four Greats, Water Margin was the only one I was studiously dissuaded from reading as a Confucian schoolchild during the 1980s, for the same reasons it became so popular in the Sinosphere: its shockingly violent action, anti-authoritarian themes, and colourfully vulgar depictions of everyday life in the Song Dynasty. Despite my elders’ disapproval, I managed to read The Water Margin through means more foul than fair, and it has since become one of my favourite stories (even as I become more aware about its casual misogyny and centring of masculine perspectives).
Many trans and marginalised people in our world can do the exact same things that everyone else has done to overcome challenges and find happiness, only for others to come in and do what they want as Ren Woxing did, and probably, when asked why, they would simply say Xiang Wentian: to ask the heavens. And perhaps we the readers, who are told this story from Linghu Chong’s point of view, should do more to question the actions of people before blindly following along to cause harm.
Before the Occupation, righteousness might have meant taking overt stands against the distant invaders of their ancestral homelands through donating money, labour, or expertise to Chinese wartime efforts. Yet during the Occupation, such behaviour would get one killed or suspected of treason; one might find it better to remain discreet and fade into the background, or leave for safer shores. Could one uphold justice and righteousness quietly, subtly, and effectively within such a world of harshness and deprivation?
This is an essay on the commodification and extraction of time—from bodies and space through a conceptual and historical detour, asking questions of the science(s) that inspired it and the fiction written about it.
I’ve come to think of trans-inclusive worldbuilding as an activist project in itself, or at least analogous to the work of activists. When we imagine other worlds, we have to observe what rules we are creating to govern the characters, institutions, and internal logic in our stories. This means looking at gender from the top down, as a regulatory system, and from the bottom up, at the people on the margins whose bodies and lives stand in some kind of inherent opposition to the system itself.
Criticism was equally an extension of Maureen’s generosity. She not only made space for the text, listening and responding to its own otherness, but she also made space for her readers. Each review was an invitation, a gift to inquire further, to think more deeply and more sensitively about what it is we do when we read.
Reverse extractivism is a colonial fever-dream, one that the reveals the colonist’s ultimate desires through its uncanny logics If extractivism is empire’s removal of resources from the periphery without industrial development or fair compensation, reverse extractivism is the imbrication of the colonizer into the very being of the colonized, such that resources don’t need to be removed to be exploited for the benefit of empire.
Strange Horizons is a weekly magazine of and about speculative fiction. We publish fiction, poetry, reviews, essays, interviews, and art. For more information, see our about page. All material in Strange Horizons is copyrighted to the original authors and may not be reproduced without permission.