WHAT will the world be like after 500 years? What if you were still alive at the time without acquaintances? How would your life be in this brand-new world?
Chinese author Yong Cheng describes a futuristic world in his newly published book “Awaken.”
The sci-fi novel tells a story of a man who freezes himself together with his terminally ill wife.
The story begins after they wake in a so-called “perfect world” 500 years later.
“I define ‘Awaken’ as a social novel with a sci-fi label. Most of the pages are dealing more with the human society in the future than technology. What would people be like after 500 years?” asks the author, 44. “Through the experiences of these main roles in the book, I want to express how and why the future society would take its shape.”
Born Sun Yanjie, or Jay Sun, Yong Cheng is a pseudonym, which originated from Yongdingmen’s Gate Tower where he lived and grew up in Beijing.
Sun says “Awaken” was inspired by a piece of news two years ago. A 61-year-old Chongqing writer became the first person in China to cryogenically freeze herself because she was suffering cancer. She was supposed to be awakened after 50 years.
In 1994, after two years in Tsinghua University, Sun transferred to University of Michigan — one of four Asian students with a scholarship.
“At that time, most of my peers went abroad after graduation. But I thought ‘why not do it as soon as possible?’ So I tried to apply for overseas colleges and got an offer,” he recalls.
At the time, he worked four part-time jobs at one time. “The scholarship could only cover my college tuition. My parents even borrowed money for my flight ticket to the United States,” he says.
Born in a family of intellectuals, he had to rely on himself.
“I rented a cheap basement which was a boiler room before,” he says. “At first, I felt strongly frustrated and depressive. In the Cantonese restaurant where I worked, everybody could swear at me for I was the lowest one knowing nothing,” he says.
Sun recalls the hardships: “Every day back home at around midnight, I began to study untll 3-4am, listening to the tapes I recorded in classes but can hardly understand.
“And I was also worried if I would lose my scholarship the next semester.”
Later he gained his master’s in artificial intelligence at Stanford University.
He worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley for several years before returning to China doing simultaneous interpretation for IT companies such as IBM and Microsoft Co, and later dealing with venture capital investment.
Since 2014, he has been a full-time author and screenwriter. “It’s just bluffing,” he says of the fancy resume.
But he confesses that he gathered a lot of experience and knowledge from these jobs which became material for his writing.
Through his own experiences, Sun began to write and serialize a story about Chinese students abroad in 2001. People got to know him and several publishing houses started to contact him. He published his first novel in 2003.
“I like novels. When I was a middle school student, I liked to read novels written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha Leung-yung). Now I like reading suspense novels like Dan Brown’s,” says Sun, eyes sparkling.
“I think there’s a shortage of European writers, especially in suspense novels. They do not depict or portray the roles in a deep way, which means roles usually lack of personalities,” he says.
“American writers more likely to tell a splendid and compact story than to tell you the reason why these people would do such things. And that’s also a shortcoming in my previous work — ‘The Investigators’ series,” he adds.
“After reflection, I did better in ‘Awaken,’ a story paying much attention to characters,” he says. “Actually, social novels influenced me most.”
Sun says his two favorite novels are “The Kite Runner” and “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
“I like ‘Kite Runner’ best and have read it several times,” he say. “Both are not only telling stories, but also reflecting the distinctive features of the people at the time.”
Sun says he also appreciates Chinese writers like Eileen Chang, Lao She and some works written by Yan Geling and Yu Hua.
He often shares readers’ feedback in WeChat — and most are criticisms.
“I like interacting with readers,” he says.
He says he usually needs about half a year on average — with three to four hours every day — to finish a book.
“Writing is a lonely job, and books are like my children,” he says. “When the books are published, I will feel proud, although a little perturbed.”
In his eyes, when writers finish their work, they finish only half. “Let readers do the rest,” he explains. “I like to know what kind of recreation my readers are doing.”
Recently Sun just finished a script of Du Chongyuan, a renowned patriot and also a gangster, for the big screen, after Du’s daughters saw his work “The Secret Eyes” which was serialized in Shangai’s Xinmin Evening News and got really impressed. So they invited him to be the screenwriter for the film.
Now Sun is writing a business spy story through three front-desk girls in an investment bank, a law company and an accounting firm respectively. It will be published within the year.