Newspaper article International New York Times

Homegrown Science-Fiction Thriller Revitalizes Genre in China ; 'Three-Body' Series by Liu Cixin to Be Published in English

Newspaper article International New York Times

Homegrown Science-Fiction Thriller Revitalizes Genre in China ; 'Three-Body' Series by Liu Cixin to Be Published in English

Article excerpt

Liu Cixin, whose best-selling "Three-Body" science-fiction series is being translated into English and being released in the United States, has revived the genre in China.

With a state-owned power plant in nearby Shanxi Province temporarily shut down to reduce air pollution, one of its engineers, Liu Cixin, is using the free time to work on his hobby: reigning as China's best-selling science fiction author.

Along with working on a new novel and advising on screenplay adaptations of his earlier fiction, Mr. Liu, 51, has been promoting the English translation of "The Three-Body Problem," the first book in his best-selling apocalyptic space opera trilogy. Translated by Ken Liu, an award-winning science fiction writer in his own right who is based in the United States (the men are not related), it is one of the few Chinese science fiction novels to be translated into English. It will be released in the United States on Tuesday by Tor Books.

The success of the "Three-Body" series, as it is called in China, has gained a following beyond the small but flourishing science fiction world here. Since the third book was published in 2010, each entry in the series has sold about 500,000 copies in the original Chinese, making Mr. Liu the best-selling Chinese science fiction author in decades.

In addition to the usual high school and college-age fans of science fiction, China's aerospace and Internet industries have embraced the books. Many interpret the battle of civilizations depicted in the series as an allegory for the ruthless competition in the nation's Internet industry.

The series has also breathed new life into a genre that, here as elsewhere, the literary establishment often marginalizes.

For decades, science fiction was subject to the whims of Communist Party rule. The genre went from being a vehicle for popularizing science for socialist purposes to drawing criticism in 1983 from party newspapers for "spreading pseudoscience and promoting decadent capitalist elements." When the prestigious People's Literature literary magazine published four of Mr. Liu's short stories in 2012, it was a sign that the genre was back in official good graces.

At its core, science fiction capitalizes on uncertainty about the future to push the boundaries of the reader's imagination. In fast- changing China, stories that lay out what coming years may hold in store have therefore found deeper resonance among readers.

"China is on the path of rapid modernization and progress, kind of like the U.S. during the golden age of science fiction in the '30s to the '60s," Mr. Liu said. "The future in the people's eyes is full of attractions, temptations and hope. But at the same time, it is also full of threats and challenges. That makes for very fertile soil."

Chinese science fiction serves another purpose in the eyes of Xia Jia, a science fiction writer and professor at Xian Jiaotong University. "Chinese science fiction, in a way, has borne the weight of the 'Chinese dream' since the genre first appeared in China in the late Qing dynasty," she said, referring to the turn of the 20th century.

"The dream is about wanting to overtake the Western countries and become a very powerful modern China while still preserving these old elements," she added. …

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