Liu Cixin Writes Science Fiction Epics That Transcend the Moment

From The Wall Street Journal:

Science fiction can be hard to disentangle from the real world. Futuristic tales about advanced technology and clashing alien civilizations often read like allegories of present-day problems. It is tempting, then, to find some kind of political message in the novels of Liu Cixin, 57, China’s most famous science fiction writer, whose speculative and often apocalyptic work has earned the praise of Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. The historian Niall Ferguson recently said that reading Mr. Liu’s fiction is essential for understanding “how China views America and the world today.”

But Mr. Liu insists that this is “the biggest misinterpretation of my work.” Speaking through an interpreter over Skype from his home in Shanxi Province, he says that his books, which have been translated into more than 20 languages, shouldn’t be read as commentaries on China’s history or aspirations. In his books, he maintains, “aliens are aliens, space is space.” Although he has acknowledged, in an author’s note to one of his books, that “every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it,” he says that he writes science fiction because he enjoys imagining a world beyond the “narrow” one we live in. “For me, the essence of science fiction is using my imagination to fill in the gaps of my dreams,” says Mr. Liu.

In China, science fiction has often been inseparable from ideology. A century ago, early efforts in the genre were conspicuously nationalistic: “Elites used it as a way of expressing their hopes for a stronger China,” says Mr. Liu. But the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution banned science fiction as subversive, and critics in the 1980s argued that it promoted capitalist ideas. “After that, science fiction was discouraged,” Mr. Liu remembers.

In recent years, however, the genre has been making a comeback. This is partly because China’s breakneck pace of modernization “makes people more future-oriented,” Mr. Liu says. But the country’s science fiction revival also has quite a lot to do with Mr. Liu himself.

In 2015, he became the first Asian writer to win the Hugo Award, the most prestigious international science fiction prize. A 2019 adaptation of his short story “The Wandering Earth” became China’s third-highest-grossing film of all time, and a movie version of his bestselling novel “The Three-Body Problem” is in the works. His new book, “To Hold Up the Sky,” a collection of stories, will be published in the U.S. in October. (His American books render his name as Cixin Liu, with the family name last, but Chinese convention is to put the family name first.)

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

2 thoughts on “Liu Cixin Writes Science Fiction Epics That Transcend the Moment”

  1. 1- SF is always anchored in the present.
    2- Mr Liu is never going to say his work is about the CCP.
    3- On the other hand, if enough publicized evidence piles up…

    “Forget it Jake, its China…”

  2. Not only is his book anchored in the present, so is he, as NETFLIX is “surpringly” discovering.

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/us-republican-senators-confront-netflix-over-chinese-sci-fi-show/ar-BB19qUS7

    Five Republican US senators have confronted Netflix over the streaming giant’s plan to adapt a Chinese sci-fi book trilogy, expressing concern over the original author’s comments about claims of forced labor in Xinjiang.

    Liu Cixin’s bestselling “The Three-Body Problem,” which tells the story of humanity’s first contact with aliens, is set to become a major Netflix series co-written by the creators of “Game of Thrones.”

    In a letter to content boss Ted Sarandos, the senators accused Liu of “parroting dangerous [Communist Party] propaganda” and suggested Netflix was “providing a platform to Mr Liu in producing this project.”

    They highlighted a New Yorker article from last year in which Liu is quoted defending mass internment in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, where activists say more than one million Uighurs and other Muslim Turkic-speaking people have been incarcerated in camps.

    “Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks?” Liu told the magazine. “If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty.”

    More at the source.
    (A man of his time, indeed.)

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