Saturday, December 30, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: Cixin Liu

Science fiction is hugely popular in China. The leading light of Chinese science fiction is Cixin Liu, whose novels are now being translated into English. The gateway drug here is The Three Body Problem, the first volume in a mind-blowing space opera trilogy called Remembrance of Earth's Past. Here's the basic setup of the novel which interestingly starts with the Cultural Revolution:
During the Cultural Revolution in China, Ye Wenjie, an astrophysics alumna from Tsinghua University, witnesses her father being beaten to death by Red Guards from Tsinghua High School, the latter being supported by Ye's mother and younger sister. Ye is officially branded a traitor and is forced to join a labor brigade in Inner Mongolia, where she befriends a government journalist who recently read Silent Spring, and who wishes to write a letter to the central government containing policy suggestions based on the book. When the central government responds, viewing the letter as an act of sedition, the journalist betrays Ye, who helped to transcribe the draft, and Ye is set to enter prison. However, she is salvaged at the last minute by Yang and Lei, two military physicists working under Red Shore (a Chinese initiative for alien communication similar to SETI) who require Ye's skills in physics. Ye discovers the possibility of amplifying outgoing radio messages by bouncing them off the sun, and fires off a message. Eight years later, by now in a loveless marriage with Yang, Ye receives a message from a concerned alien pacifist, warning her not to respond or else the inhabitants of Trisolaris will locate and invade Earth. The alien proceeds to describe Trisolaris's environmental conditions and societal history. Ye, who has come to despise humankind, responds anyway, inviting them to enter Earth to settle Earth's problems. Ye murders her husband, Yang, and Lei to keep the alien message a secret.
And off we go, through many, many plot complications and two further books (The Dark Forest and Death's End), both of which are now available in English. Cixin Liu's work has been very well received in the English speaking world, with The Three Body Problem winning the two most prestigious science fiction awards, the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel. 

All the cool kids are reading this guy (including Barack Obama!). Can you afford to be left behind?

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