“Another Planet”: APSFcon in Beijing by Terry Bisson

Conference attendees and Terry Bisson (furnished by Peter Watts)


3,000 miles from California, not across the Pacific but around it, over British Columbia, Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, Siberia, Kamchatka, and North Korea. Tossed over the broad left shoulder of the Earth, to land in Beijing.

APSFcon was perhaps China’s first major SF-themed gathering. It was put together by the Future Affairs Admin­istration (FAA) of Guokr Publishing. AP is for Asia-Pacific but they also called it “Another Planet” Con. I’m not sure if that stuck. I was an American guest, along with some 150 mostly Asian but also Russian, Canadian, Ukrainian, British and other guests. It was an astonishing success, with 5,000 attending and packing the panels. The organizers (mostly young women, chief among them Vera Sun) were harried, hassled, but smiling. They’d been expecting a few hundred.

It was short – two days in May – and since my Mandarin is non-existent I met few Chinese writers, though I shared a cigar with Cixin Liu, author of The Three Body Prob­lem, and China’s international SF star. I hung out mostly with Canadian writers Peter Watts and Derek Künsken, and a Canadian-Chinese contrarian cosmologist, Xiang He, and of course the Russians, always a favorite of mine. There was collusion.

We were put up in a sleek little boutique hotel near the “Olympic area” and shuttled to the magnificent Museum of Technology every morning, where the event took place. It makes the Smithsonian look dowdy and is loud with gangs of school kids.

The panel discussions (“Cities of the Future”, “Female Power in SF”, “Cyberpunk in China”, and many more) were attended by thousands. All paid attention, none snored. I was on several panels, and also presented the Gravity Award for short story. It was a tie.

I was pleasantly surprised to be approached every day for autographs and selfies, since I am not widely published in China, but apparently a short-short of mine, “They’re Made out of Meat”, is all over the internet these days. (Plus I was wearing a red VIP badge!)

China is taking SF seriously. I like that. Science, technology, and film were more featured than literature – though I snuck into a special “Translators’ Discussion” (as a translat-ee rather than -or). Unlike writers, translators are smart. One big attraction was a VR helmet/mask, which folks lined up to try. Another, even bigger, attraction was the phone booth from Doctor Who flown over from London. Dr. Who?

China! My last trip there a decade ago was with Charles Brown of Locus, and Beijing’s air was a brown soup. It’s much cleaner now and many cars, bikes, and even rickshaws are electric. The masks are off. A one-party state makes things happen. I like their long-term plan, which is socialism.

The beer was warm but the food was great. The guests were treated to a final banquet of Peking Duck in a ten-story modern mall (“Lone Star Steak House” next floor). It was all enormously interesting and fun. It was not like our US cons, where the writers hang out in the bar with Gardner and the other editors with expense accounts, but perhaps I’m remembering the old days.

It was over too soon and I was back aboard Air China, pleased as punch and musing on it all. Not planning an article, I took no notes or pictures. Most of these pics are from Peter Watts’ blog, which I recommend to all.

–Terry Bisson

This report and more like it in the August 2018 issue of Locus.

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