“No Way Back” (2006) by Chi Hui

Listen to this review

English Translation by John Chu (2020)

(Read in Clarkesworld Magazine #171, December 2020. Link to the story.)

“When I’m online, Aksha keeps me company. Anyone who says cats can’t go online is an idiot. Twenty years ago, people said humanity couldn’t go to Mars. Ten years ago, people solemnly swore that there was no way to connect a human mind to the network. Five years ago, people said that cats and dogs couldn’t speak.”

My Thoughts

Xuejiao is a “Master Hacker”. She lives in a small apartment with a cat called Aksha. The cat joins Xuejiao online as backup guarding her against “government surveillance programs.” Master Hackers dive into the Net, searching for “ancient abysses” to “excavate data from and turn them into cash.” The author likens it to “spelunking” and makes it clear there are dangers involved in the process:

“Some abysses absolutely must not be tested. Hiding there are vast existences beyond our comprehension. All the jackholes who go there are drawn into a vortex of data, forever gone. They leave behind stiff bodies, lying comatose in hospital ICUs.” 

At the beginning of the story, Xuejiao is tracked down by a man searching for his daughter. He believes she is lost in the Net and the “person” occupying his daughter’s body is not his daughter. She has been replaced by a stranger. Still with me? Parts of this story reminded me of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Specifically the act of jacking into the matrix or cyberspace, and the dangers this could pose for the unskilled user.

The main character Xuejiao felt real. I loved her frankness, her humour, her wisdom and her flaws. She has a great relationship with her cat, and the banter between them is fun to read. As the story moves forward, she reveals more about her own family and the distance that has grown between them. I really appreciated how the author Chi Hui explored the different relationships in the story, however briefly, using family to help ground the more fantastic elements of the tale.

You can probably tell by now that I really fell for this story. Yes, it’s a little rough around the edges–possibly because it’s a translation–but it spoke to me and it moved me. I got pulled into the world of the story, enjoying its humour, invention, imagination and emotion. A strong connection was made, and that is what we all seek in these stories, right? 

In Summary

Part cyberpunk, part mystery, part family drama, “No Way Back” is a fascinating and touching story about downloading our “selves” onto the Net and the dangers this may leave us open to. I read it twice, and immediately started looking for more fiction by Chi Hui. Unfortunately, there isn’t much available in English translation at the moment.

How about you? Have you read any Chinese science fiction or fantasy? Do you have any recommendations apart from Ken Liu who I’ve read before?

Thanks for reading!


12 thoughts on ““No Way Back” (2006) by Chi Hui

  1. Would South Korea count as well? Because I have a collection of Kim Bo-Young on my next tbr. China and Korea are currently quite hot in publication, I can see a trend here.
    That cover… what do robots need tits for? That looks just like one of those sexualized covers from 50s pulps. I thought weโ€™re beyond that!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So you read Clarkesworld. How do you like it? I’ve never been able to get into the SFF magazine side of things when I have so many books to read.

    As for the chinese authors/books, I tend to stay away from them. Anything published over there is controlled by the government and anything let outside the country for translation doubly so.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just finished reading the story, and like you I really enjoyed it. And the timing is great because I just finished a reread of Neuromancer yesterday, and I definitely see the similarities. These have me wanting to read more cyberpunk. Thankfully I have lots of William Gibson and some Bruce Sterling I’ve yet to read. As for other Chinese authors, I suspect I’ve read some short stories in various magazines like this one, though I don’t recall them. I’ve read and enjoyed some by Ken Liu, and I read the novel Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang (translated, of course, by Ken Liu). I enjoyed it, but it was a bit slow and not one I really got that pulled into. I have a few others on the shelves (physical and virtual) that I hope to read one day, by Liu Cixin and Baoshu (all translated by Ken Liu, he’s everywhere). I love being exposed to the different views and perspectives you find in works from other countries and cultures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Todd. I love Neuromancer and plan on reading it again in the future. I’ve been re-reading Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy recently–one more to go–and think they hold up really well. They are noticeably different from Neuromancer, with hardly any explorations of cyberspace. They read more like near future thrillers and are bursting with cool concepts and ideas. Recommended.

      Thanks for your info on Chinese authors. I was just thinking that it’s ironic I haven’t read much Japanese SF, either. Reading in Japanese is so difficult that I have to look for English translations. I can’t think of any names of authors who write in the genre, outside of manga writers. Something I need to address.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good to hear about the Bridge trilogy, I plan to read that after I finish the Sprawl. I’ve read some translated Japanese books, but I don’t think any yet have been SF. I did purchase a number of Japanese SF books, though, through one of these bundle deals back in 2016. Authors like Project Itoh (Satoshi Ito), Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Koushun Takami, Yoshiki Tanaka, Taiyo Fujii, Issui Ogawa and others. I just need to make the time to try them. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds pretty cool! I can recommend Ken Liu, wholeheartedly, and Ted Chiang (though he’s Chinese American and I don’t remember much of Asian culture influence in his stories).

    If Korea is within your purview than Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire is an absolute must-read.

    Cixin Liu’s new short story collection I cannot recommend to anyone, really, but I heard his previous collection was pretty good – as was his Three-Body Problem (translated by Ken Liu ;))

    You can also try Fonda Lee’s Green Bone saga if you’re keen for Asian-inspired mafia fantasy – not my cuppa, but it has its fans ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Okay, thanks for the recs, Ola. Yes, your recent review of Cixin Liu’s collection has put me off him. I need to read more Ken Liu and Ted Chiang. I wasn’t intrigued enough to try the Fonda Lee books…

      I’ve read a couple of Yoon Ha Lee’s short stories but not any of their novels. Always been tempted, though. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

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