Apr 16, 2021

Confucian science fiction: The Three Body Trilogy by Liu Cixin

I just finished this stunning series, enormous in scope, powerful in imagination, and notable in bringing a Chinese voice to the forefront of science fiction for the first time. The following snippet excited me more than any fiction in decades. Mild spoilers:

An advanced alien invasion fleet approaches earth. In desperation, they shoot the brain of a single man named Yun to intercept. The hope is they will revive him, and he will negotiate or trick them to save humanity. The ship fails and flies off course. The invasion is cancelled for unrelated reasons, yet humanity finds itself in the shadow of a more terrible doom. Then it receives a message from Yun, not lost after all. He is a guest of aliens who allow him to talk once with his former lover, but he is warned against sharing any technology or strategy. So he tells her a long and intricate fairy tale from their childhood, with troubled kingdoms and strange magic. Except they didn't grow up together. Humanity begins a race against time to decipher this coded metaphorical message, hoping for a deus ex fabula.

This is but one example of Liu's talent for weaving together history and theory, the poetic and scientific. If you're anything like me, or Barack Obama, you'll be thrilled.

I will nitpick on one point. I felt the author's voice as universal, and humanist, and cosmopolitan, with one laughable exception:

"Rey Diaz was the current president of Venezuela. He carried forward the Bolivarian Revolution instigated by Hugo Chavez: In a contemporary world ruled by capitalism and market economics, he promoted in Venezuela what Chavez called Socialism of the Twenty-First Century, founded on lessons drawn from the experience of the international socialist movements of the previous century. Surprisingly, he had achieved considerable success, boosting the country’s power across the board and—for a time—turning Venezuela into a city on a hill, a symbol of equality, justice, and prosperity for the world. The other countries in South America followed suit, and socialism briefly caught fire on the continent. Rey Diaz inherited not only Chavez’s socialist ideology but his strong anti-Americanism, which reminded the United States that its Latin American backyard could become a second Soviet Union if left unchecked."

Only a Communist Party education could make a smart person write something this dumb.

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