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From ‘Wandering Earth’ to the universe

CHENGDU (AFP) – In a sleek silver building designed to look like an expanding nebula, thousands of delighted Chinese science fiction fans gathered recently for a massive international convention.

The World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, globally the oldest and most influential sci-fi event, has never been held in China before.

The convention’s venue is the striking Chengdu Science Fiction Museum – designed by the renowned Zaha Hadid Architects, built in just one year and opened for Worldcon.

Its cavernous atrium was filled with a buzz of excited voices.

“To be attending a science fiction convention is one of the happiest occasions of my entire life,” said a young woman who gave her name as Monet.

The 21-year-old wore a costume inspired by the hit film Wandering Earth 2, though with some customisations – a plethora of badges and ribbons, and furry ears that swivelled to match her head movements.

A red armband showed she was a member of an underground Wandering Earth fan group based in Chengdu, she explained. “I didn’t expect to meet so many friends here, who also like science fiction,” she said, visibly moved.

Visitors walk next to a giant sculpture at the 2023 World Science Fiction Convention in Chengdu, China. PHOTO: AFP & XINHUA
ABOVE & BELOW: A performance during the event and visitors at the convention. PHOTO: AFP & XINHUA

“It’s really very precious. It is hard to share my interests with people who don’t understand.”

“I think science fiction should be a way of life,” Icing, a 21-year-old sporting a blonde wig and amber contact lenses, told AFP. “For example, me wearing this outfit today… I think we should incorporate sci-fi, incorporate fantasy into our own lives. We shouldn’t ever lose our childlike innocence,” he said.

Around him, groups of tracksuited schoolchildren chattered happily as they were shepherded through the entrance hall, dominated by a massive statue of a beloved robot dog from Wandering Earth 2.

This Worldcon also looks very different compared to past ones in other global cities, which historically are run by volunteers with costs covered by members.

Global interest in Chinese science fiction has spiked in recent years, after Liu Cixin’s Three-Body series became an international phenomenon. Liu was the first Asian author to win best novel at Worldcon’s Hugo Awards, described as the “Nobel Prize of science fiction”.

The queue for Liu’s book signings snaked around the museum’s curves for hundreds of metres, with some fans proudly telling AFP they had waited four hours.