Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Invisible Planets by Ken Liu

Invisible Planets: contemporary Chinese science fiction in translation walks a fine line.  It seeks to both promote the Chinese-ness of its authors while maintaining that their creations do not reflect Chinese culture.  For me the exotic element is a major draw.  How’s science fiction different over there?  The first short story, “Year of the Rat”, recalls Robert Heinlein and Joe W. Haldeman, a bunch of soldiers fighting a strange war.  Aside from the allusion to the Chinese zodiac and a small nod to overpopulation/totalitarian governance this scenario could happen anywhere.  So, for better or for worse, I am recommending this book not because it presents bleeding edge science fiction but because it contains a bunch of quality dystopian stories. 
“Folding Beijing” details a city that saves space by reconstructing itself three times a day so three different social classes can inhabit their particular zones. The social commentary could not be more pronounced.  Another good one, “Taking Care of God”, envisions a million Rip Van Winkle-esque figures returning to Earth.  How does the Earth handle all these refuges?  Well, we assign each one to a family, honorary grandparents.  There is good reason its author Li Cixin has three other books in our system.  The Three-Body Problem and its sequels would be excellent read-alikes.  But you should start here.  In the back Ken Liu supplies a couple essays exploring the way Chinese science fiction honors influences like Star Trek as well as it warps them. 

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