Besides the discussion on sweatshops from last class’s page, I wanted discuss Salt Fish Girl‘s moment in time and how it reflects some turn of the century anxieties about globalization and a very specific computer bug, Y2K. Paul Lai, a specialist on Asian-American Literature, has the following to say about the novel:
- Salt Fish Girl is first and foremost a millennial novel, conceived in the frantic moments of the turn of the twenty-first century. This era’s ethos included fears of the Y2K bug that threatened to paralyze the world’s economies by disrupting computer systems; anxieties over rapidly emerging genetic technology such as transgenic crops, the mapping of the human genome, and cloning; and late capitalism’s stranglehold on labor and personhood.” (p. 168)
That’s quite a bit to unpack, so we’ll consider the novel science fiction qualities.
Science Fiction Vision
Although the novel is a retelling of the Nu Wa creation story–it’s a reinterpretation, so it might not exactly follow other versions–it differs from the traditional myths that want to identify timeless fables that instruct people to live a certain way. For instance, fairy tales where a knight rescues a fair maiden from some torment. As Paul Lai points out the novel “offer[s] critiques of contemporary norms rather than reach for unchanging truths”; the science fiction aspect asks what could be as opposed to proscribing what should be (p. 172).
Consider the way the cloned janitors are described (as if they’re almost out of the Matrix):
“The muscle and skin of their backs had been replaced by some kind of transparent silicone composite so that you could see their spines and behind them, their hearts pounding, their livers and kidneys swimming in oceans of blood and gristle” (pp. 76-77)
Ian and Miranda are skipping class and comment that the janitors “are illegal….primary carriers of the Contagion” (p. 76).
One Last Allusion
Salt Fish Girl is full of allusions, too many to find all of them to discuss in class. I want you to consider the Sonia clone, Evie Xin, a subtle reference to Eve from the Bible, and “Xin” is awfully close to the word “sin” (Paul Lai, p. 174). The Sonias use the science of transgenics to create fruits that can impregnate women who eat them. This “subversion” of “building a free society of their own kind from the ground up” (p. 256) reflects what feminist concept that we’ve discussed?
Through science, these women, cloned by a father figure, have found a way to reproduce and circumvent whom?
Finish up Salt Fish Girl for Friday’s class (11/15). Next week, we’ll discuss The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, our last novel. Test 5, which will be on Salt Fish Girl and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will be on Canvas on Monday, 11/25–the Monday before Thanksgiving Break.
Lai, Paul. “Stinky Bodies: Mythological Futures and the Olfactory Sense in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl. MELUS, 33(4) (Winter, 2008): 167-187.