cover image Zero and Other Fictions

Zero and Other Fictions

Huang Fan, edited and trans. from the Chinese by John Balcom. Columbia Univ., $19.50 (160p) ISBN 978-0-231-15740-7

Four of the best works by award-winning Taiwanese author Huang are anthologized in this first-ever English translation, which covers four distinctive periods in the author's literary life. "Lai Suo," written in 1979, reflects work from Huang's political period. The story focuses on a Taiwanese ex-con who had been imprisoned for 20 years for his supposed involvement in a Taiwan independence conspiracy. Lai Suo's new lease on life is shaken by the thought of confronting the movement's leader, Mr. Han, who has surprisingly reappeared in Taipei. Two slim entries follow: "The Intelligent Man," a smart, satirical fiction about the unexpected opportunities arising from migrating to America and starting a business, and "How to Measure the Width of a Ditch," an unremarkable first-person allegory of youth and obsession with Taipei's "excrement channel." Taking its cues from Orwell's classic 1984, the last entry, Fan's unsettling 1981 science fiction novella "Zero," concerns postapocalyptic survivor Xi Jin, who questions the dictatorial authority of a host of policing "ministries" and bureaus, and makes himself a target of the agencies' omnipresent overlords. These character-driven stories illustrate the range of Huang's creativity and narrative dexterity%E2%80%94a feat considering the brevity of these shining tales.(Sept.)