Waste Tide would be a poolside summer read if that pool were toxic swill of first-world effluence. CHEN QUIFAN’s science fiction novel was first published in China in 2013 and he’s currently futurist-in-residence at SCI-Arc. Set amid the e-waste trash heaps of Silicon Isle, a fictional polluted strip of land in a dying sea off the coast of China, the story evokes a future ravaged by climate change choking on obsolete consumer electronics. Modeled in part on the very real town of Guiyu, it’s an uncomfortably recognizable portrait of the Capitalocene and reflection of near-feudal class disparities. In this way, it resonates with novelist and socialist political activist China Miéville’s musings on utopia: “[W]e live in utopia; it just isn’t ours. So we live in apocalypse too.” The twin condition that someone else’s utopia is another’s dystopia is central to Waste Tide’s narrative, but not a foregone conclusion. From the piles of stripped circuity and heavy metal poisons of the dump emerges a worker revolution.
Waste Tide by Chen Quifan and translated by Ken Liu. Tor Books, 2019.