What's the state of Southeast Asian sci-fi?


Asians have rarely been the stars of modern mainstream science fiction. Japan has had a long history of science fiction media from Godzilla to Akira, while Chinese scifi literature in currently its golden age with writers gaining recognition globally through translations into English.

But what about Southeast Asia?

Our story maps out the state of Southeast Asia’s science fiction by showcasing the region’s diverse collection of sci-fi stories and their talented creators. Drawing from the story structure of the Hero’s Journey, we created a data story based on historical research and our crowd-sourced database of Asian sci-fi works that resembled an actual sci-fi novel. We combined an exciting plot with natural language processing, data visualisations, breathtaking illustrations in the style of comics, and a “choose-your-own-adventure" mechanism.

This was a labor of love that paid tribute to the books, anime, and movies I and other team members grew up with. Aside from project management, story pitching and data collection, I drove the creative direction of the data story, and contributed writing and editing. I also performed data analysis on the crowdsourced database by applying TFIDF and t-SNE onto keywords that described each works’ key tropes.

Data Visualization
Data Storytelling
Bianchi Dy, Angel Martinez, Griselda Gabriele, Amanda Teo, Siti Aishah, Nabilah Said, Gwyneth Cheng
Landing page of SEA scifi story followed by common tropes and stereotypes of Asians in Western scifi

The landing page with a parallax effect (which was surprisingly simple to implement). To set the context, we featured Astria Suparak's thought-provoking work on the lack of Asians in futuristic Asian settings within Western science fiction

Comic style dialogue accompanied by illustrations accompanying each country's chapter

In the style of the hero's journey, we created a cast of mentors based on significant Asian sci-fi creators. For each country we featured, I picked out pivotal works and elements as part of the design brief. I created scatterplots from our database of combined SEA, Japanese and Chinese scifi works based off of t-SNE and highlighted key franchises/standalone stories, working with Angel closely to match these pieces of media to historical events or trends within each country.

Instructions of SEA scifi survey form

The instructions for filling out our survey form on Southeast Asian works. We relied on crowdsourcing to augment our knowledge of the landscape of books, movies, shows and comics in the region. This was particularly helpful in the context of identifying very old movies and books that had long gone out of print.

How we prioritised which keywords to classify SEA scifi works by

Griselda and I identified key themes for the tropes and key words we would tag each work by. We used a mix of synopses, reviews and personal experience (i.e. we read/watched the work ourselves) to ascribe tags to each. Our goal was to identify works with similar themes, settings and sci-fi mechanisms across the vast landscape of books, movies, shows and comics. Give the scatterplot of works a try in the story and see for yourself!