A new science fiction novel addressing the ongoing Chinese genocide against the Uyghurs has attracted buzz as a potential Hugo Award nominee in 2023.
Andrew Gillsmith’s “Our Lady of the Artilects” is primarily an exploration of the fuzzy boundaries between science and faith and the dangers of transhumanism. Set in the 23rd century, the story pits a largely Christian sub-Saharan Africa against a fading Chinese state that has used brutal repression to retain its power. In the future, Christians and Muslims work together against secularized “Economic Zones” in North America, Western Europe, and China. Gillsmith gets deep into political and Vatican intrigues as the Roman Catholic Church and China work out the details of rapprochement following a genocide and a 50-year cold war.
In Gillsmith’s narrative, the genocide of over 100 million Chinese Christians was the follow-up act to the present genocide against the Uyghur Muslims of Xingjiang. One of the main characters—a Sufi Shaykh named Ilham Tiliwadi–is a descendent of Uyghur refugees.
Human rights organizations estimate China has arrested over one million Uyghurs against their will in a vast network of “re-education centers” and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms in recent years. China denies any claims of human rights violations in Xinjiang. Following the recent publication of the Xinjiang Police Files, the Chinese government stated that the calm and prosperity delivered to Xinjiang due to its anti-terrorism actions were the best answer to “all sorts of falsehoods.”
Xinjiang is home to over 12 million Uyghurs, almost all of whom are Muslims. The Uyghurs speak their own language and consider themselves culturally and ethnically comparable to other Central Asian nationalities. Uyghur activists say that China is arresting Muslim religious figures, outlawing religious rituals in the region, and demolishing mosques and graves, all while conscripting Uyghurs into re-education and forced labor camps. Sophisticated surveillance systems have been deployed in all Uyghur areas, leading researcher Darren Byler to call this the world’s first “high tech genocide” in his recent book, “In the Camps.”
A Showdown in Chengdu?
Last year, the members of Worldcon—the largest science fiction fan organization in the world—voted to host their 2023 convention in Chengdu, China. Gillsmith’s novel is currently #1 on Goodreads’ list of candidates for the Hugo Award, the sci-fi community’s most prestigious award.
If Gillsmith’s novel continues to win accolades and ends up on the organization’s Hugo Award ballot, it could set up a showdown between the science fiction community and the Chinese government. Gillsmith has also been openly critical of bestselling author Cixin Liu (“The Three-Body Problem”) in a 2019 interview with The New Yorker in which he expressed support for China’s policies towards the Uyghurs, which could definitely add an additional wrinkle to Worldcon.
Andrew Gillsmith is a science fiction writer whose education in religious studies and passion for the cyberpunk genre have helped inform and mold his storytelling style. Fittingly, his first job out of school was delivering mail for Jeff Bezos when he was still selling books via Listserv. Since then, he’s worked in several interesting roles, including head of the customer experience for the Kentucky Derby, leader of a proposed hyperloop project in the United States, head of data analysis for a healthcare company, and SVP of sales for a digital marketing agency. He currently works in publisher development in the programmatic advertising space.
Andrew lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife Cheryl and their two young sons. His new novel, Our Lady of the Artilects, is available for purchase on Amazon.