Book cover designed by Gordon Robertson, photographed by Morgan Mazzoni and Tim Hall, courtesy of Getty Images

Salt Fish Girl, published in 2002 by Thomas Island Publishers, was written by Canadian professor Larissa Lai. The second novel written by Lai, Salt Fish Girl was shortlisted for several awards, including the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, the Sunburst Award, and the City of Calgary W. O. Mitchell Award.

Telling the stories of Nu Wa (based on the story of an ancient Chinese goddess) and Miranda, a sheltered girl living in a city called Serendipity around the year 2044, Salt Fish Girl is considered to exist within the genre of speculative fiction, which encompasses stories of many varieties, including fantastical fiction and magical realism.


"The creators of characters, in the traditional sense, no longer manage to offer us anything more than puppets in which they themselves have ceased to believe." (Shields, 50)

Nu Wa

Nu-Wa begins as a snake-person and as the creator of humans but she quickly becomes jealous of the humans that she creates and she wishes to become one of them. She is reborn in China in the late 1800s. She falls in love with the Salt Fish Girl and they run away together to the city. She is lazy, preferring to steal from people instead of working. She is easily manipulated into betraying the Salt Fish Girl for a pretty woman who offers her freedom from poverty. She is easily manipulated; however, she has no guilt in murdering the woman who tricked her into leaving the Salt Fish Girl. In the end, she preferred to commit suicide to being murdered.

Salt Fish Girl

The Salt Fish Girl is never given a real name, only referred to by her previous occupation. She works hard to earn a “respectable living” by working in factories. She represents the workers of sweat shops and their strenuous conditions.


Edwina is the manipulative woman who convinces Nu Wa to come with her to the Island of Mists and Forgetfulness. She feels no regret in tricking Nu Wa. She is the temptress of the book, acting like the snake in the Garden of Eden.


Miranda is growing up in Serendipity in 2044. She reeks of the smell of durian which smells like “cat piss.” As she is growing up the smell slowly becomes weaker and weaker. Although it is implied that she is the reincarnation of Nu-Wa, it is never specifically stated. She comes from a family in which her father worked for the government and her mother was an old cabaret singer. She relies on her family a lot because as she is growing up they are the only ones who are consistently there for her growing up. She has a sheltered life until she explores the virtual word within her father's “business suit.” As she uncovers the bioengineering world that Dr. Flowers has created she becomes more and more knowledgeable. Miranda is the representation of a world sheltered from government involvement. But as she becomes more involved with Evie she becomes more involved in government issues while not entirely understanding them herself.

Miranda’s dad

Miranda's dad originally worked for the government as a “tax collector.” He enters the “real world” and the government pays him for the work he does there. He is a working class citizen until he is fired from his job and he moves to the “Unregulated Zone.” In the “Unregulated Zone,” he owns a shop where he sells durians.


Evie is a bioengineered human-clone. She is part carp, leading the reader to believe that she may somehow be connected to the Salt Fish Girl. She befriends Miranda and they have a homosexual relationship as she tells Miranda about how she came into existence and how there are others that are almost just like her (the Sonias). She was supposed to be Dr. Flowers’ “daughter.” In addition, she is a revolutionary leader, trying to gain recognition for clones like her. She represents those who have been affected by discrimination and seclusion.

Dr. Flowers

Dr. Flowers employs Miranda to draw blood from patients who may have the dreaming disease. He is a dark man with evil intentions. He creates clones for the means of manual labor, not caring that they have emotions like other humans. He represents big corporations trying to exploit cheap labor.

Miranda’s mom

Miranda's mom represents the way life used to be. She is an old cabaret singer. She dies when Miranda accidentally drops a box of durians on her.


Aaron is Miranda's brother. He fixes up old cars after his wife, who is never actually in the book, dies.


Seto is one of the Miyako clones. She works in Dr. Flowers’ office as a receptionist. She was created to be Dr. Flowers’ “wife.”


Ian is Miranda's only friend from Serendipity. His mother also has symptoms for the dreaming disease. As a kid, he is indifferent to the smell that exudes from Miranda. He helps her explore the “real world.” As they grow up, Miranda moves to the Unregulated Zone and they only speak briefly. He convinces her to come to a party where she is convinced to give up the rights to her mother's cabaret songs. While he is not a major character, he has a key role in plot progression.

The Sonias

Carp clones made by Dr. Flowers. They are responsible for staging the uprising.

The Miyakos

Cat clones made by Dr. Flowers.

Plot overview

"Resolution and conclusion are inherent in a plot-driven narrative." (Shields, 318)

"How can we enjoy memoirs, believing them to be true, when nothing, as everyone knows, is so unreliable as memory?" (Shields, 63)

Salt Fish Girl tells the story of one girl in two different incarnations, Nu Wa and Miranda. Nu Wa, a girl struggling to survive in 19th-century China, is reincarnated as Miranda, a girl forced to live with a strange durian-like odor in North America in the year 2044. Although the two live in separate countries and eras, Larissa Lai intertwines both characters by alternating between their stories.

The Bifurcation (Nu Wa)

(Bank of the Yellow River, pre-Shang dynasty) The first chapter begins with Nu Wa in the very beginning of time as the only creature on the earth. She is half-woman, half-fish. Due to her extreme loneliness she decides to create life out of mud. Nu Wa, feeling constricted by her tail, begins to long to walk with the created beings. When she sees a man in a boat above the water's surface, she visits an enormous green fish at the bottom of a cave and requests to be transformed into a human. The fish grants her wish. As Nu Wa sits on the shore inspecting her new body, she sees another woman near her also inspecting herself. The woman's face resembles the man in the boat that Nu Wa saw earlier.

First Symptoms (Miranda)

(Serendipity, a walled city on the west coast of North America, 2044) Miranda Ching's narrative begins in the first-person voice, telling the story of her mysterious conception to a mother who is a good eight years past menopause. When Miranda is born, she emerges from the womb with a cat-pee-like smell. As she grows older the smell only becomes more powerful. Miranda's father argues with her mother to take Miranda to be treated for her odor, but her mother refuses to prevent making her feel self-conscious.

Miranda's father shows her his Business Suit, a large black suit made of synthetic material, which he says allows him to go to his office in the evenings. He puts the suit on to demonstrate how the tax collecting simulation works. Displayed on a screen is a younger, stronger version of her father in the Real World. Miranda watches him help the helpless, shoot mechanical crows with lightning bolts and swallow birds transformed into digits. When he begins to be beaten by policemen, she attempts to turn off the Suit. Her father immediately stops her and warns her to never do it again.

One night, after taking a bath, Miranda notices a few silver fish scales left in the bathtub.

The Salt Fish Girl (Nu Wa)

(South China, late 1800s) A woman takes a drink from the river and swallows Nu Wa along with it. Nine months later, the woman gives birth to Nu Wa. At the age of fifteen, Nu Wa falls in love with a dried goods merchant who specializes in dried fish—the Salt Fish Girl. It is the Girl's salty scent that initially attracts Nu Wa. When the Salt Fish Girl's father forbids her to see Nu Wa, Nu Wa finds her and they escape together. Before that, however, they bury Nu Wa's clothes covered in chicken blood to frame the Salt Fish Girl's father for murdering Nu Wa. He would be the number one suspect for committing the murder due to the fact that he didn’t like Nu Wa's relationship with his daughter.

The Memory Disease (Miranda)

(Serendipity 2044-2062) Years pass. At the age of twelve, Miranda meets a classmate named Ian Chestnut. He seems to completely ignore her foul odor and they quickly bond over playing games during recess. They have a play date at his home and visit the Real World using his “swimming suits.” In the Real World, he finds her father, bruised and fatally beaten. Back in Serendipity, she rushes home to her father, whom she finds lying face down in the Business Suit. In his hand she finds an exchange of letters between her father and Dr. Flowers arranging for Miranda to receive treatment for her odor disease in the Unregulated Zone.

Miranda and her family move to the Unregulated Zone and open a decently successful produce store. While putting boxes of durians on a high shelf, Miranda accidentally drops one on her mother. Miranda's mother is taken to the hospital, but to no avail. Miranda is willed the rights to all her mother's songs and any hard copies of them. Her father makes her promise that she will never sell the rights. Miranda promises.

Dr. Rudy Flowers pays a visit to the Chings’ store, asking Miranda to be his apprentice in his blood lab. When she goes to his office, she finds that he has moved to continue research in the Unregulated Zone. Desperate to get the job, Miranda is trained by Dr. Seto in how to look at cells under a microscope and take blood samples and skin scrapings. Evie, a lean and frail patient, comes into Miranda's lab and catches her attention with a scent described as “briny and sweet.” When Miranda seems to recognize her, Evie immediately flees the premises.

Dr. Flowers questions Miranda's two fistulas, one beside each ear. He explains that he suspects people with those fistulas to be carriers of the drowning disease, possibly contagious through the soles of the feet. After she agrees to journey with him to the Unregulated Zone to be tested, he slits the back of her neck and places a round object inside her body.

The Island of Mist and Forgetfulness (Nu Wa)

(South China, early 1900s) After living on the streets of Canton for a little while, the Salt Fish Girl murders a man in return for attacking her. She is blackmailed and forced to work in a toy factory. Despite Nu Wa's plead to run away, the Salt Fish Girl refuses. Nu Wa resorts to pick-pocketing as her way of provision. This lifestyle of theirs continues for about three years until the Salt Fish Girl loses much of her vision and becomes gravely ill. She gives Nu Wa a gold coin to retrieve medicine for her. On her way to complete this errand, Nu Wa gets sidetracked and follows an elegantly dressed woman named Edwina to the City of Hope on the Island of Mist and Forgetfulness—an island in the sky.

The City of Hope is beautiful, glinting pink and gold. The west gate says “Democracy” and the east gate says “Progress.” Edwina tricks Nu Wa into staying in a fancy hotel, only to leave her stranded and unable to pay the bill at the end of her stay. To work off her bill, Nu Wa agrees to clean the hotel rooms. When the hotel burns down, she finds new work at a telemarketing firm, claiming to have insider knowledge on horse races. She is caught for being a scam and runs away once more. Edwina returns to take Nu Wa to get a pedicure on Spool Island. On their return to the Island of Mist and Forgetfulness, they are caught smuggling in brown heroin. Without a second thought, Edwina places the full blame on Nu Wa, sending Nu Wa to prison for five years.

When Nu Wa finally gets out, she finds Edwina to find out how to get off the island. Edwina sells her a map in exchange for the gold coin that the Salt Fish Girl gave her to buy medicine. Disgusted, Nu Wa kills Edwina.

A Song for Clara Cruise (Miranda)

(Unregulated Zone and Serendipity, 2062) While bicycling through town one day, Miranda finds herself surrounded by a tear gas-like substance (B324). She is rescued by Evie. Miranda notices the same sweet scent as before and seems to remember her from the past. Evie immediately becomes defensive once again, causing Miranda to run away. They meet again later and steal Dr. Flowers’ car, destroying it in the process. After escaping into the forest, Miranda notices a scar on Evie's back that looks like a long wire has been ripped out from underneath the skin. Evie reveals that she is actually a new kind of life form (99.7% human, 0.3% freshwater carp) and that the scar on her back came from ripping out a tracking device put inside of her from the people who monitor her breed.

Drowning (Nu Wa)

(South China, early 1900s) After returning to Canton, Nu Wa notices a fishy odor coming from a house. She knocks on the door and finds the Salt Fish Girl in an elderly form (white hair, wrinkled skin). It takes no time at all for Nu Wa to realize that she is no longer able to speak Cantonese. Feeling helplessly unable to communicate, Nu Wa ventures off and finds her mother and brother. She comes to learn that for the past fifty years she has been gone for, her father has been holding the Salt Fish Girl's family accountable for her father's “murder” of Nu Wa. In order to remain “dead” and out of the picture, Nu Wa's brother adopts Nu Wa as his daughter and tells her to marry the fish merchant's son because he would never suspect who she was. Nu Wa takes his advice.

The New Kubla Khan (Miranda)

(The Unregulated Zone, 2062) One evening, Ian Chestnut returns to invite Miranda to a party in Serendipity. At the party she is persuaded by money into singing. Miranda sings her mother's song “Clara Cruise” and becomes recognized by Adrian Withers, Ian's friend who is in charge of company advertising. Withers offers to buy the song from Miranda. Miranda, remembering her promise to her father, refuses. When he threatens to legally steal the song, she takes the money and signs over the rights. Dr. Flowers and Dr. Seto arrive and threaten Miranda to finish the experimental testing if she does not want to be thrown in jail for stealing Flowers’ car. They kidnap her and thrust her into an underwater, Plexiglas cage.

A Seed (Nu Wa)

(South China, early 1900s) Eventually the village discovers the truth behind her marriage and attempts to capture her. As a last resort of escape, Nu Wa drowns herself and becomes ones with the river. It takes 250 years for her to come back into being. A durian tree near the water stretches into the water and Nu Wa coils her body around a durian seed. She sees her mother and father above the surface of the water. Her mother argues to eat from a durian tree near the water, but her father refuses, stating that the Unregulated Zone cannot be trusted. Nu Wa tightens her grip on the seed. She seems to become one with the fruit and its stench; growing within it and it growing within her.

Water On Rock (Miranda)

(The Unregulated Zone, 2062) After three days Miranda breaks out of the cage and returns home to find Aaron, her brother, married to Karen, a woman with a strong resemblance to Evie. Unwelcomed at home for selling the rights to her mother's song, Miranda goes with Evie to meet the other girls who were created just as Evie was. All their names turn out to be Sonia, distinguished only by numbers (i.e.: Sonia 113, Sonia 14, etc.).

Out of work, Miranda makes a deal to create drawings for advertisement companies. She offers to create an ad for Pallas shoes if they are willing to create memory-proof soles as protections against the dreaming disease.

She goes back with Evie to visit the Sonias, only to leave that they have all been killed. Knowing Dr. Flowers is behind the murders, Miranda and Evie find and kill him. They then escape to find safety with Chang, Evie's friend. While taking a moonlit walk they come across a hot spring. Both Miranda and Evie strip and enter the water. Their pairs of legs fuse together, becoming tails and intertwining with each other's. Miranda gives birth to a baby girl.

*Things that are left unexplained (i.e.: Dreaming disease, Unregulated Zone, Real World) are up for interpretation by the reader.



In the novel, a great focus is placed on a shoe company that appears to own the entire city. In this future world, the workers for the shoe company are genetically engineered human-hybrid clones. Since the 1970s, scientists and politicians have debated the morality of genetically engineered plants and animals. In November 2001, an article in Nature (a British science publication) reported that researchers from the University of California at Berkeley discovered genetic material from genetically engineered plants in wild corn growing in southern Mexico. This led to a conflict regarding the spread of genetic technology. It was argued that it was spreading uncontrollably, and that it should be stopped.[2]

In an interview, Lai discusses the Sonias—genetically engineered escaped shoe company workers—and their “superhuman fertility”: they are able to reproduce without the intervention of the corporation for which they were created.[3] This can be directly tied to the 2001/2002 debate on the spread of genetically engineered corn. The debate that sparked was in regards to the ethics of “releasing” a living man-made thing into the wild. Lai seems to take an apparent stance on the issue in the fact that the Sonias were not released by the corporation, they escaped. Lai also takes a stance on the morality of human cloning in that Dr. Flowers, the man responsible for the creation of the Sonias, is primarily an antagonist with evil intentions. He has created living beings but does not give regard to the fact that they have emotions just like all humans.

Another important aspect of Lai's novel is the fact that Miranda, the protagonist, is not heterosexual. While it is not explicitly stated that Miranda is a lesbian, or that she is not sexually attracted to men, it is made clear through her sexual interactions with Evie that she is attracted to females. While sexuality is a relatively common focus of many authors, Lai's readers are thrown out of their comfort zones by the fact that Miranda and Evie's sexual relationship is put in the novel without much build-up or discussion—the regularity of lesbian relationships is not questioned, or even mentioned.

Even though the idea of homosexuality is fairly nonchalant throughout the novel, Miranda and Evie are both very flawed characters. Lai states in an interview, "I certainly don't set out thinking, 'Okay, now I'm going to create some positive images of lesbians…'"…"I think there are other ways of being political that are not necessarily about making positive representations."[4] In another interview [see reference 3], she discusses the fact that her characters are intentionally flawed to make them seem more human and relatable. Her result is a more positive view of the controversial characters than would have been possible had they been unflawed and inhuman.


"We live in difficult times; art should be difficult (my goal is to make every paragraph as discomfiting as possible)." (Shields, 249)

"The Mimetic function in art hasn’t so much declined as mutated. The tools of metaphor have expanded." (Shields, 240)

Larissa Lai has a few consistent themes running through her major works. These include but are not limited to feminism, diaspora, homosexuality, bioengineering, honor and family, and smell. Feminism, homosexuality, and bioengineering are all intertwined to characterize her novel, "a postmodern mix of science fiction and the mythological". Diaspora with honor and family crystallize whiteness and addresses it. [see reference 3]


A major theme is the diaspora-like nature of both the Nu Wa and Miranda narratives. Diaspora refers the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland. Kate Liu argues that 'Salt Fish Girl pluralizes the meanings of 'home'.'[5] Furthermore, the text contextualizes elements associated with the “Oriental in a Caucasian rhetoric”. Tamara Ho also states that: “The novel not only riffs off a diverse range of creation stories but also refracts 1990s headlines: maritime smuggling of Chinese migrants.”[6] In one of her interviews, Larrisa Lai herself notes that, "in my fiction I am trying to move beyond the instructive mode of Oriental settling in Caucasian culture." see reference 3 The book has references to the mythic goddess Nu Wa, the "New Kubla Khan," the opium den and various ethic foods associated with Oriental culture (durian and salt fish). Miranda, the protagonist in one of the narratives, struggles with diaspora as she is relocated to new "homes": the Unregulated area, the Sonias' House. She constantly struggles with her notions of honor as when she is scattered away from her "home" she maintains various loyalties from previous homes. In the Nu Wa narrative, we see her also moving from place to place, especially at the beginning, simply leaving her family to continue on her journey with the Salt Fish Girl.


Many critics agree on the homosexual elements found within Salt Fish Girl, but they often disagree on how to critically interpret these areas in the text. Larrisa Lai chooses to permeate this theme through the major motif of smell that reoccurs throughout the text in various areas, most notably the "smell of salt fish" when Miranda kisses Evie, and the smell of durian that is associated with Miranda. Tamara Ho talks about the subject, noting that, "Nu Wa bifurcates her serpentine body to pursue the Salt-Fish Girl in late 1800s South China. This taboo desire between feminized Asian bodies is revivified as Nu Wa is reborn as Miranda Ching in the twenty-first century. Miranda, whose body stinks of durian, falls in love with Evie Xin, one of the 'Sonia series,' worker clones resisting their enslavement to the Pallas Shoe Corporation." According to Ho, the Sonias and Miranda articulate a desire to defy institutionally managed borders of sexuality and gender. Nicholas Burns comparatively argues that, "Salt Fish Girl, offers a model by which identities of homosexual people can be understood in a way that can actively frame a trans feminist discourse."[7] He continues on, making sure to note that trans gendered people are foregrounded in Salt Fish Girl, but are neither the sole participant nor focus.


As many critics have noted, bioengineering also has a large influence in the Miranda part of the narrative. Where Nu Wa was set in a 19th-century china, Miranda was set in a 21st-century walled city. Many critics, including Tamara Ho note that many of Blade Runner’s characteristics are seen within Salt Fish Girl. As Ho notes, "akin to Blade Runner's replicates, the Sonia cyborgs have been patented by their scientist-father and incarcerated as exploited workers. Generated from the DNA of a carp and a Chinese-Canadian woman who was interned with her Japanese-Canadian husband, the Sonias articulate a historic desire to defy institutionally managed borders of ethnicity, race, and gender." Also, along with the various chimeric humans that Dr. Flowers creates, another large step in bioengineering is revealed: modified durian seeds that asexually procreate free daughters without male intervention upon consumption. Salt Fish Girl embraces unruly desire, olfactory assaults, sensual pleasures, and the hopefulness of queer kinship and xenogenesis: "we are the new children...of the earth's revenge. Once we stepped out of mud, now we step out...of DNA both new and old, an imprint of what has gone before, but also a variation. By our difference we mark how ancient the alphabet of our bodies. By our strangeness we write our bodies into the future." The various themes of bioengineering that play throughout the whole novel eventually culminate in the birth of a new child from Miranda, after she eats the modified durian seeds.


As more of a motif rather than a theme, smell is often associated with both the homosexual attraction between the two protagonists, yet at the same time is also associated with the other aforementioned major themes. Miranda specifically smells of durian; her smell is unavoidable and penetrates not only inanimate objects, but also other humans insofar as bodies. As Paul Lai argues, "olfactory sense in a broad style offers a productive analytic for unraveling the novel’s playfulness with genre as well as its critiques of biotechnology, and species boundaries." As the novel focuses on strong, foul smells as an aspect of both past and present worlds, Lai notes that "it rescripts what Walter Ong calls our 'sensorium' the sensory apparatus as an operational complex. By privileging the olfactory sense rather than relegating it to primitive temporalities; foul orders jolt us into rethinking our assumptions about modernity and knowledge."[8] While Lai argues for that, it is important to note the importance of smell as it pertains to homosexual eroticism. Specifically, in the Nu Wa narrative, she makes sure to note that "a girl from the coast…stank of that putrid, but nonetheless enticing smell that all good South Chinese children are weaned on. The scent calls up all kinds of complicated tensions having to do with love and resentment." Notably that the smells, and the scent here erupts from desire, tying Nu Wa and the Salt Fish Girl through a smell strongly associated with mothers that at once replaces mother's milk and mimics it.


The reception of Salt Fish Girl varies greatly among literary critics and other individuals. While some see it as a boundary pushing, eye-opening piece of literary art, others find it underdeveloped and poorly finished. In the October 2002 issue of Quill & Quire, a Canadian magazine of book reviews, reviewer Craig Taylor writes that, while Lai's vision of the future is enticing, she "…shuffles them away too quickly." The fast pace of the novel does not, according to Taylor, allow for the reader to truly absorb and understand each topic fully.[9]

By some — namely, feminists — Lai's book is seen as a novel of activism. In a review for Herizons: Women's News + Feminist Views, T.L. Cowan states that Salt Fish Girl "…is the creative, lyrical voice of an activist. Or maybe, the activist voice of a storyteller."[10] Cowan views the controversy of the reproductive abilities of human clones as a redeeming factor among "…ghastly images of a world gone to hell…". Cowan clearly views the novel as a fantastic piece of literary art, and seems to enjoy the non-linear plot (unlike Taylor).

Overall, Salt Fish Girl is clearly a source of literary debate, but the mixed reception and plot point controversy make it an increasingly read novel.


"Art is not truth; art is a lie that enables us to recognize truth." (Shields, 82)

The decision to make a Wikia page for Larissa Lai's Salt Fish Girl stems from a multitude of reasons, but the main reason is that, seeing how Salt Fish Girl, a widely acclaimed novel, did not have a Wikia page previously, possible discussions and disseminations about the novel were not possible. By creating this page, we believe that we are able to facilitate the discussion of emerging genres and innovative novels, allowing the dissemination and discussion of literary texts to flourish. Salt Fish Girl, an increasingly favored text among academics and in classrooms, is a complex narrative with twisting stories, characters, and themes. By creating this Wikia article, it allows for students and academics to have a fully versed understanding of the more complex and convoluted aspects of Salt Fish Girl.

Another aspect of this article to note is the connections that the authors make between Salt Fish Girl and David Shield's Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. The authors have made this connection because of what Reality Hunger contributes to the discussion between contemporary novels and genres and how authors are trying to resist the pressure the publishing industry and mass media place on creating novels that stick to the genre conventions. Shield's book talks about the death of the novel and how people today, living in an increasingly fragmentary culture, crave reality or at least fake reality, as evidenced by the trend of mockumentaries and reality television. We incorporate discussion about Reality Hunger into this Wikia article because of how Larissa Lai's Salt Fish Girl either disproves Shields’ arguments or shows how authors try to change the boundaries of fiction by creating new genres or writing in nonexistent genres. What we find is that Shields incorporates quotations from literary authors Roland Barthes and Theodor Adorno, who both talk about the ideas of the culture industry, homogenized culture, and how authors trying to break the social and genre conventions of our times affect society today.

By incorporating and using Shield's text, we can see how authors, both traditional and contemporary, talk about culture in our society. Barthes, in his text, Pleasure of the Text, argues that texts that try to break genre and social conventions may appear as boring or odd. This is the kind of reception that both Reality Hunger and Salt Fish Girl have been subjected to. Regarding Reality Hunger, the collage style of writing introduces audiences to a new form of writing which Shields believes in, the idea that the new writing styles shall stem from the ideas of collages and lyrical essays. Regarding Salt Fish Girl, we can see that Lai talks about a wide variety of themes in unorthodox ways that may seem new, boring, and odd. Both represent how authors try to break societal conventions on writing and genres, and as such, the authors have decided that to talk about Salt Fish Girl, it would be beneficial to incorporate discussion regarding Reality Hunger.

The knowledge that both Salt Fish Girl and Reality Hunger are meant to be genre-pushing texts that challenge our ideas of conventions explain why audiences either love or hate the books. Salt Fish Girl and the genre it represents, speculative fiction, is a new and upcoming genre, one that most people have not had experience with. As such, it's hard to determine the genre conventions surrounding the speculative fiction and how to read the book. Contrasted with firmly cemented genres, such as science fiction or detective fiction, we know how to read the text, and consequently, what to expect. Thus, when faced with the speculative fiction genre, we are unsure on how to read it, creating a scenario where we do not fully understand what is occurring, why, and the significance of any of the events. At every scene, the reader is forced to reread and try to understand what events have occurred. As such, it polarizes the reading base into two groups, the ones who hate not understanding what is occurring and hate reading this new type of genre, and the group that doesn’t mind and enjoys the book. The same applies to Reality Hunger as well. Collage-style writing is a technique society is not familiar with, and as such, readers and unsure how to interpret the book. For the first couple of sections, readers may be trying to guess the purpose of the book, is there is a plot or storyline, and how to read the book, but when readers discover techniques on how to understand and digest the book, it becomes much pleasurable. This is why both Reality Hunger and Salt Fish Girl are such polarizing books, as they present to the readers an unfamiliar format the reader must adjust to fully understand what is occurring.

Additionally, these new genres not only present to the readers an unfamiliar format that they must adjust to, but new genres serve to reinforce or unsettle social, cultural, or political values that we as society hold. Reality Hunger’s collage format is a reference to the aphoristic collections, or wisdom literature, that was the main and oldest genre of ancient societies. The collage genre is meant to reinforce the social and cultural values we hold today of building upon wisdom and ancient works, while it also serves to challenge the political value we hold today of copyright law. Shields often breaks copyright law, and his book challenges our notions of copyright law and plagiarism, working to challenge our political values regarding copying. Lai's Salt Fish Girl, on the other hand, works to challenge our societal values today of logic, linear storylines, and rationality. Her book, a prototypical speculative fiction text, is unlike most books in today's society. The logic and reasoning in her world is different from normal books we’ve read, making us uncomfortable as we try and understand what is occurring. Her book highlights current political and social problems in the world, such as the free market zones where corporations like Nike are able to use cheap labor to produce their goods. Thus, what we see is that both speculative fiction and the collage genre both try and shape our values and how we see the world by addressing some of the current political and social problems of modern-day life through emerging genres.

The last thing that we would like to add is where we got our information, our sources, and our ideas. Knowing that Salt Fish Girl is speculative fiction, it requires a lot of analyzing and dissemination of the text. However, we want to only emphasize the themes that Lai meant to put in the book, and not just ideas that we believed the book was trying to tell us. Thus, what we find is that all the themes and information that we have taken from Lai's Salt Fish Girl stems from not only deep analyzing of the text, but also by examining and watching interviews. It is through watching Lai talk about her text that we were able to gather all of our information and create an informed Wikia article. Regarding Shield's book, we also gathered a lot of our information from analyzing the aphorisms as well as watching Shields in interviews. We also tried to set up our own interview with David Shields, as the authors of this article and Prof. Shields attend the University of Washington, but unfortunately, Shields decided not to answer any of our questions due to scheduling and time conflicts. However, by looking at interviews and lectures given both by Shields and Lai, we have been able to ensure that all information remains credible and true.[11]

Note that these numbers are references to passages, not pages, within Shields' book.*


  1. Lai, Larissa. ‘’Salt Fish Girl’’. Thomas Island Publishers: 2002. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. ISBN 978-0-88762-382-0.
  2. Grow, George. AGRICULTURE REPORT – April 9, 2002: Genetic Engineering Debate. Voice of America. Accessed: 10 March 2012.
  3. Morris, Robyn L. Sites of articulation – an interview with Larissa Lai. University of Wollongong Research Online: 2005. Accessed: 10 March 2012.
  4. Grubisic, Brett Josef. The future according to Larissa Lai. XTRA!West Archives. Accessed: 10 March 2012.
  5. Liu, Kate Chiwen. Hybridization as the Postcolonial Anti-Exotic in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl. Accessed: 9 March 2012.
  6. Ho, Tamara. Larissa Lai’s "New Cultural Politics of Intimacy": Animal, Asian, Cyborg. Accessed: 9 March 2012.
  7. Birns, Nicholas. “The Earth’s Revenge”: Nature, Diaspora, and Transfeminism in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl. Accessed: 9 March 2012. e-journal
  8. Lai, Paul. Stinky Bodies: Mythological Futures and the Olfactory Sense in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl. The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS). Accessed: 9 March 2012. url=
  9. Taylor, Craig. Salt Fish Girl. Quill & Quire: 2002. Accessed: 10 March 2012.
  10. Cowan, T.L. Salt Fish Girl. Herizons: Women’s News + Feminist Views. Accessed: 10 March 2012.
  11. Shields, David. Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. Alfred A. Knopf: 2012. United States. ISBN 978-0-307-27353-6

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