September 24, 2019

Critical Conversations: Ning Ken’s Ultra Unreal, how to define a genre, and genre gatekeeping

For today's episode, Matt & Adrian read an essay about Chinese Science Fiction by Chinese SF author Ning Ken, and talk about it. The essay, published as "Modern China is So Crazy It Needs a New Literary Genre" on LitHub (, outlines a subgenre of SF that (supposedly) doesn't exist in English, and discusses why it's so important in China.

We take the conversation far afield pretty quickly, asking what makes a genre, whether Ultra Unreal works exist in English, how relevant these works actually are in Chinese SF, and who ultimately gets to define genre. Adrian rants a little about one particular author who annoys him online when he talks about genre, and Matt has very reasoned and smart things to say about whether it's even a good idea to argue about genre in the first place.

As always, the essay is an interesting one, and we hope you'll read it in addition to listening to us argue about it. In addition, here are some other related works to the conversation:

- Follow-up essay by Josh Feola & Michael Pettis
- "Folding Beijing" by Hao Jingfang
- Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan (see also the 18.x episodes of this podcast)
- The New & Improved Romie Futch by Julia Elliott (see also our 4.x episodes)
- Sorry to Bother You, dir. Boots Riley
- "Welcome to the Future Nauseous" by Venkatesh Rao

As always, links at if they don't show up in your podcatcher.

We'll be back next week (Oct 1st) for our Waste Tide post-read, then October 8th we'll have the post-read for our horror-themed October novel.


As always, we'd love to hear from you! Chat with us on twitter at @spectologypod, send us an email at, or submit the episode to r/printSF on reddit. We'll reply, and shout you out in the next podcast when we talk about your comment.

And if you like the episode, subscribe at or whever you listen to podcasts, and share it with your friends!

Many thanks to Dubby J and Noah Bradley for doing our music and art.

More episodes

Load more

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App