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The Membranes
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The Membranes
Promiscuous Literacy: Taipei Punk and the Queer Future of The Membranes, by Ari Larissa Heinrich
Acknowledgments

About the Author

Chi Ta-wei is a renowned writer and scholar from Taiwan. Chi's scholarly work focuses on LGBT studies, disability studies, and Sinophone literary history, while his award-winning creative writing ranges from science fiction to queer short stories. He is an associate professor of Taiwanese literature at the National Chengchi University.

Ari Larissa Heinrich is a professor of Chinese literature and media at the Australian National University. They are the author of Chinese Surplus: Biopolitical Aesthetics and the Medically Commodified Body (2018) and other books, and the translator of Qiu Miaojin's novel Last Words from Montmartre (2014).

Reviews

This rather astonishing science fiction novel is a powerful story about consciousness and connection with other people. It cuts right to the heart of our current moment by way of metaphor, but in a manner that is entirely Chi's, and thus a new thing for English-language readers. What a surprising and exciting addition to science fiction and world literature. -- Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Red Mars
What a breath of retro-fresh air! This wicked-smart cyberpunk throwback from the early days of networked digital culture presciently foregrounds issues of gender, embodiment, identity, and technology that have become all the more relevant over the quarter-century since its original publication. -- Susan Stryker, executive editor of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly
A classic that appeared far ahead of the current new wave science fiction in the Sinophone world, The Membranes remains a unique alterity in terms of genre-crossing and gender reflexivity. Chi's beautiful, mesmerizing, provocative narrative creates a splendid labyrinth of metaphors and significances that leads to a revelation about the (post)human changeability in a matrix of monotonous inhumanity. -- Mingwei Song, coeditor of The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First-Century Chinese Science Fiction
Readers will notice prescient echoes of modern life in Chi's depictions of all-absorbing media consumption and loneliness in the midst of hyper-connection . . . [T]his captivating novel is rich and rewarding. * Publishers Weekly *
A fascinating new book. * MIT Technology Review *
A mind-blowing book . . . I have NEVER read anything like it. * Literary Infatuation *
On the one hand, in this book, gender, sex, sexuality, and attraction are all fluid, evincing a body politics that is refreshingly and unapologetically queer . . . On the other hand, the story strips down the notion of 'the real' so completely that it gives rise to an ontological horror grounded not so much in our fear for living in unreality, as in an anxiety about losing grasp on any meaningful notion of realness altogether . . . In the end, The Membranes speaks as much to hard-core sci-fi fans seeking an exhilarating read as to regular readers who desire a moment of introspection. -- Stella Jiayue Zhu * Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing Book Review Network *
The Membranes is a welcome addition to the small but growing ranks of international science fiction available in English translation, and is an excellent early example of climate fiction. * Booklist *
There's something very timely about [The Membranes'] play with gender fluidity and the social construction of identity. There's also something timeless about Chi's future, because of how it bends and defies time itself. The novel is about how identity is a story we tell ourselves through time - or back through time. And that story, for Chi, is queer . . . English readers who finish it now, 25 years after it was first published, may regret finding it so late, and missing out on all the stories and selves we could have been, even as it seems like it's been here the whole time. * Los Angeles Times *
A plunging submersible disguised as a novel-filled with incisive, inventive peculiarities. * Du Mois Archival Institute, 2021 Reading List Selection *
It is almost unfathomable that, in 1995, Chi could have imagined a world so full of the terrors that technological rises inevitably bring, but he does and mostly to devastating effect. Chi's project is large, as is his vision . . . it imagines the future like the best of our dystopian meditations. * South China Morning Post Magazine *
Mind-blowing . . . This 1995 Taiwanese sci-fi with casual queer characters is a short read, but it kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Way after finishing the story, the questions it posed still linger, surely to haunt me for a long time to come. * Hsinju's Lit Log *
Chi is an excellent novelist and Momo's story, with the unanswered questions, her mental state and the climate change issues and consequences, all help make this a first-class novel. * The Modern Novel *
An exploration of the contact zones between human and non-human consciousness, corporality, and identity. Reading it feels like peeling off the skin of a fruit, except that when it seems you are getting to the juicy flesh, it turns out to be only another veil-a membrane-and you've got to keep going. * Cha: An Asian Literary Journal *
Effectively a modern fable, The Membranes creates a punk, dystopian novella set in the near future. It is ideal for anyone who wishes to immerse themselves in a queer future which interrogates the very nature of authentic humanism. * Saoirse Edits *
The Membranes is a fascinating and beautifully conceived novel, deceptively simple and alluringly deep, smoothly mediated by the membrane of Heinrich's excellent translation. -- Astrid Moller-Olsen * Xiaoshuo Blog *
[The Membranes] lives up to its reputation as a classic of the genre . . . Compact enough to be read in an afternoon, the novella contains a plot so expansive that it will preoccupy the mind far longer. * Asian Review of Books *
Books are all time-capsules, of course, but Chi's novel offers an exquisite dual experience-because while The Membranes is a modern classic, it hasn't lost an ounce of its provocative significance. As a gently incisive puzzle-box it works to pry at the readers' own emotions about the nature of stories and how we're made of them; as a novel of queer attachment, it explores how we attempt to connect to one another through endless membranes-and often fail to do so. * Tor.com *
One of the most profound LGBTQ books of our time. * Books & Bao *
A slim, intelligent novella that ambitiously projects a militarised and corporate new world order in the rubble of environmental collapse, Chi's brand of world-building is equally invested in envisioning new global formations as it is in attesting to emerging sexual subjectivities. It bristles with the emancipatory energy that characterises the novels coming out of post-martial-law Taiwan . . . Beneath its troubling view of a world plunged into crisis, there is still a hint of humanism in the novel's belief that if selfhood is not an eternal truth but a queer fiction, then we must keep reading, writing, translating, pirating, photocopying, citing, and sharing ourselves into existence. * Asymptote *
The Membranes is both a novel of and outside of its time. It extrapolates a future where humanity retreats underwater not due to the effects of global warning, but to escape deadly holes in the ozone layer. It's a future where the world's most powerful company sells its wares on computer discs. Yet in other respects--its matter-of-fact approach towards sexuality, its narrative of young adulthood rebelling against parental and corporate control, and its last-minute twist that turns the whole book on its head--this is as modern a novel as you'll find published today. Whether as time capsule or prophecy, this novel holds up. -- Adam Wescott * Politics & Prose Staff Picks *
Originally published in Chinese in 1995, this sci-fi novel is still able to sweep you off your feet . . . Boundaries are softened in this narrative in more than one sense and even 25 years after its debut in Taiwan, this classic of queer speculative fiction still gives us plenty of food for thought. * 24stories *
The Membranes is an exceptionally well-conceived and turned science fiction story. Deceptively simple-looking on the surface, it is a truly impressive piece of work. * Complete Review *
[This book] is so deliciously weird . . . The plot twist at the end is one of the best I've read. * Biblio Obscura BookTube *
The Membranes rewards repeated reading, growing increasingly poignant as it builds toward its startling - and haunting - conclusion. * ABC News (Australia) *

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