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The Rise and Rise of Chinese Science Fiction (factordaily.com)
249 points by mathgenius 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 196 comments

Cixin Liu's 'Remembrance of Earth’s Past' trilogy are the greatest sci-fi books I've ever read. I still remember when I picked the first volume and than patiently waited for a very long time for translations of the next books to arrive. The wait was well worth it. He manages to put his characters into seemingly insurmountable situations and it feels like he won't be able to write his way out of them but somehow he manages to achieve the impossible. His world-building skills are second to none and he introduced so many novel and interesting technologies into his universe.

Liu's a true master of sci-fi (and definitely a genius) and these books are my favorite fiction books of all time. After I finished the last book, I was depressed because I realized that I'm not going to read something this great again for a very long time. They're also the first Chinese sci-fi books I've ever read. Since then, I read the rest of Liu's books (including the Ball Lightning which came out last year).

Can't recommend these books highly enough but beware that it might make subsequent sci-fi books less enjoyable since you'll be judging them by a different yardstick. I tried to read so many sci-fi books since (I usually buy various award winning books since it's a decent filter) but I rarely finish them because they never capture my attention (and imagination) like Liu's books.

Wow. I couldn’t stand the first book of this series. Interminable, I never built any empathy for any of the characters.

I’ve been told it gets better after the first book, but why would I subject myself to another book after my experience of the first?

Anyway, to each their own, but as a huge sci-fi fan, I generally love the Hugo winners and nominees. The Chinese sci-fi that’s been nominated has all left me cold.

>I’ve been told it gets better after the first book, but why would I subject myself to another book after my experience of the first?

I was not a huge fan of the first book either but saw the potential. Second book, The Dark Forest, is the greatest of the three (IMO anyway). Third book is also amazing. Definitely 'endure' reading through the first one and then you'll be rewarded with 2nd and 3rd.

The second is my favorite by far as well, but I find it funny how it's described as amazing Sci-Fi when I have to describe the plot. Half the book is


The result of granting a nerd all the resources of the Earth at his disposal. He promptly uses it to find the perfect waifu and seduces her in his idyllic European villa.

That's not Sci-Fi; That's a power fantasy as old as time.

May reflect on how different people read things differently. I agree that a lot of pages are spent on what you've just described, but to me it was a weird and minor plot point, and I never mention it because I don't see how it's worth mentioning.

The game-theoretic aspects of the book, on the other hand, and the final comeback of aforementioned nerd, are something I like to point out when summarizing this book.

I enjoyed that part, but he could have done it in a 20 page short story.

I'm not sure if Liu Cixin is emblematic of Chinese science fiction, but the services of a more aggressive editor seem to be missing. Imho, it would have vastly improved the series, and possibly cut it down to a single volume.

The game theory parts of the book made me pretty annoyed personally. He's oversimplifying a problem, ignoring obvious compounding factors, and then proclaiming that it's the only possible solution and everybody else must have made the same flawed assumptions and be operating under the same principles.

And then of course everybody does operate under those principles and feel compelled to act irrationally as a result.

Because resources are limited the only solution is to blow up almost all of the resources to make sure nobody else gets them. The idea that there might be natural limits (even basic thermodynamic ones) to growth apparently never occurs to the author. It's kind of shocking how casual some unnamed alien species is about literally destroying the universe.

You described like 90% of Chinese webnovels.

I still read some of them from time to time, but theyre all basically the same.

Interesting to see how that translates to actual hard-copy books as well.

What's a webnovel? Fanfiction? Or like an online Japanese visual novel?

Guessing, but maybe an original novel published freely on the web? That’s what the name appears to imply.

Yep, it's novels published online in a chapter by chapter format. You'll also find translations of some of them, but beware that some sites provide automatic translations, which are naturally a bit wonky. Here's an example site, specialized in the wuxia genre: https://www.wuxiaworld.com/

> That's a power fantasy as old as time.

Yes, if by "old" you mean "dumb".

I couldn't finish this insufferably cringe-worthy book. Sorry.

> I couldn’t stand the first book of this series. Interminable, I never built any empathy for any of the characters.

I didn't entirely have this problem (though it was more difficult), but I had a problem with some of the plot points. Namely, (minor spoiler) scientists killing themselves when science did something they couldn't explain. I just couldn't buy that people who dedicate their lives to discovery would do that. I mean, the double slit experiment didn't cause such problems. It was just too unbelievable to me.

> Namely, (minor spoiler) scientists killing themselves when science did something they couldn't explain.

This was more of "science turned into magic", experiments started to produce arbitrary nonsense, though I don't remember if they realized the cause at the time. That said, I found it weak and weird too; I'd expect those scientists to try much harder before giving up.

Re: experiments started to produce arbitrary nonsense [leading to scientist suicides]

That would normally stimulate scientists into trying to find the pattern of "arbitrary". If it's completely random, that's a discovery in itself. If it has a pattern, then the pattern becomes a subject of experiments and speculative models, even if "weird". It's roughly comparable to the observer seemingly affecting the results of quantum experiments.

Scientists rarely quit or get bored just because they have no clear-cut explanation. Most of them like puzzles, even tricky ones more.

Maybe the culture in China is different and perhaps filters out the genuinely curious for those who produce definitive results? I'm only asking, not claiming.

All of human society is treated pretty poorly in those books. People make fundamental society level decisions once and never ever re-examine those decisions, even when the circumstances are wildly different. For the most part everybody who isn't a named character is a total sheep and a total idiot. Many of the name characters (even the protagonist in some cases) aren't much better.

In Chinese culture, rocking the boat is generally heavily discouraged and decisions by family heads and/or leaders are not to be questioned or second-guessed. It's again another hint there may be some cultural differences that readers in the USA and other democracies find odd. (Yes, I know the USA is arguably not a democracy, but I don't want to get into a vocabulary or political debate here.)

I found just the opposite. I thought the first book was OK, but definitely not great. I thought the second and third atrocious, and a couple of the least memorable books I've ever read. I didn't finish the third. I wouldn't had started it had I not bought the set.

I couldn't understand the appeal or relate to them at all. That said, I'm glad they exist, it's refreshing after so much copy-cat blandness in today's publishing.

I wouldn't say attrocious but the third one isn't holding my attention. I don't want to know what happens next, I just want to know what happens at the end.

Meanwhile, I'm really bummed that the last book of the Expanse got delayed 4 months. I don't know how they're going to wrap up the story line in only one more book.

Maybe a tad harsh. Then again, that lack of memorability means my main memory of the series is the first had rough edges but enough potential to want to start the second, but I retain barely anything of the story.

Mind, I'm getting rather jaded with many series and trilogies, though I also want to see how the Expanse finishes up. A trilogy seems to have become the current expectation (from publishers perhaps?) where too often just a book or two would fit the story much better.

I’m now halfway through and the story introduces a lot of new information.

Slow intros are dangerous for reader retention.

I'm a third through Death's End, but I had a similar experience connecting with the characters. I had a hard time keeping the Chinese names straight (to the point of confusing gender), but even when that wasn't an issue, I still just wasn't invested in them personally (Da Shi is one exception). It's probably my lack of familiarity with Chinese cultural, but sci-fi generally often disappoints in the character development department.

That said, I thought the story was fantastic, huge, and believable through details. I loved the Cultural Revolution backdrop in the first book, the second book was more action packed than the first.

I had the same experience with the first book, and never proceeded further. I kinda wonder if it's a translation/cultural issue - the characters' decision making processes and the ways things were described felt very foreign to me.

> characters' decision making processes and the ways things were described felt very foreign to me.

the book isn't a dramatic book - it doesn't follow a hero's journey or the typical greek style storytelling trope. It's more like a description of what happened. But i like that - the sci-fi elements described a pretty fantastical, concepts are fresh and original (however you can argue that it has been done before?!).

I feel that the book is bifurcated amongst readers who read for literary quality vs conceptual quality.

> I feel that the book is bifurcated amongst readers who read for literary quality vs conceptual quality.

Yup. I'm strongly in the latter camp (as I'm fond of saying, if I wanted to read character development, I'd pick up literally any other genre - everything nowadays is about people and their emotional dramas; I like my sci-fi when it's about ideas). The whole Trilogy is pretty dense in concepts, including some insanely beautiful ideas, while also not venturing too far outside established science. I liked in particular how thinking of various... factions (to not spoiler too much) is built around lack of FTL in the books' universe.

Curious, have you read Asimov? Specifically Foundation?

Not yet. I've been meaning to, and recently my wife bought me hardcover Foundation books for my birthday; it's my next fiction to read after I finish the newest Safehold book!

Funny. I can look down my nose at David Weber’s wooden and cringeworthy characters and dialog, but at the end of the day, I lapped up every Safehold book.

I don’t need my sci-fi to be literature, but I need the story to move every ten or twenty pages, or characters I care about. Character development is an alternative to plot development, basically, but to go along side your interesting science bits, you have to give me at least one of:

A) short

B) characters who I care at least slightly about

C) a plot that moves faster than your average snail

The Three Body Problem had none of the above. Although the last 40 or so pages was at least a perfectly good short story in its own right.

Ironically, while I always react to new Safehold books like children to candies, I find them to be overly long and spending too much time on introducing (and then killing off) characters whose names I won't remember by the end of the chapter - and it's something I don't remember feeling about 3BP. Then again, Uplift saga felt sluggish to me too at times. However, in all of those cases, the plot is good enough for me to like it. I guess I can bear overly long stories if they're still interesting stories.


> I can look down my nose at David Weber’s wooden and cringeworthy characters and dialog

"Truer words have never been spoken." ;).

Re: Safehold:

I mostly skip the soldier narratives after the first few books taught me they were all going to become either red-shirts or over the top permanent sycophants within 10 pages.

But man, Safehold has far and away the best set up for “what if I knew everything about the history of militaries and military technology and wanted to conquer the world circa 1200 A.D. with it” I’ve ever seen. So satisfying ;)

I’ve actually recommended people who can’t abide military sci-fi or David Weber in general just read the first 50 pages of the first book.

Surprisingly many of these people go on to read the whole series.

That's a good a three prong test as I've ever heard for sci-fi!

I've never been able to explain as succinctly how I can enjoy both Asimov and Bacigalupi.

I'm guessing you'll enjoy it, from you preferences!

The Asimovian characters-as-plot-revealers isn't for everyone, but he does an entrancing job.

Thanks! I'll be sure to remark on it the next time the "your favourite sci-fi" thread pops up on HN :).

Possibly cultural but the Dark Forest (second book) is definitely worth the read whatever your experience with the first book. It is quite remarkable the breadth of the ideas that were explored.

Yeah, it's become my currently-preferred explanation for the Fermi Paradox.


My preferred idea is that the great paper clip maker gets bored and eventually gets high on simulations which - irony all turn into paperapoca clips in the end

My preferred theory at the moment is they all end up getting turned into paperclips.

> It is quite remarkable the breadth of the ideas that were explored.

For example?

A solid, game-theoretic explanation for the Fermi paradox based on assumptions of no FTL and technological growth being sudden and rapid, both seemingly applicable to our universe.

I couldn't help but read that with historical-political overtones, which in light of 19th century Chinese history and the modern CCP seemed terrifying.

I also took issue with the implicit assumption that two civilizations cooperating would develop no faster than a single civilization. Or, another way, that all civilizations would climb the same technology ladder the same way.

On Earth, historical competition between nation-states has suggested a very different reality.

> I also took issue with the implicit assumption that two civilizations cooperating would develop no faster than a single civilization.

I don't remember that assumption; I felt the implicit assumption was that development of any civilization can experience unpredictable rapid acceleration, so even if two civilizations cooperated, it doesn't help them much against others out there.

> Or, another way, that all civilizations would climb the same technology ladder the same way.

That I think was explicitly denied in the basic axioms of Dark Forest theory - again, civilization's technological level can jump unpredictably.

> historical competition between nation-states has suggested a very different reality

The core axiom of Dark Forest theory is that lack of FTL makes communication delays be of the same length as periods of possible technological leap-aheads, which makes cooperation unlikely and contact too dangerous. On the scale of our planet, that never applied. Communications between civilizations that knew about each other were on the order of months, and technological developments tended to make that delay shorter.

Dark Forest translated to Earth would be as if I noticed your sail ships, sent you a hello from my steam civilization, only to get preemptively hit by an ICBM you've managed to build in 200 years it took for my message to reach you.


Maybe there was more historical politics in this book than I noticed; I'm not well versed on history of China, and thus lack necessary context. I'd love to learn more, if that is so.

> implicit assumption that two civilizations cooperating would develop no faster than a single civilization

From memory, the basic tenant of dark forest theory was 'In the time it takes to communicate, you could become more powerful than me.'

My point is that if two+ interacting (I don't believe cooperation is strictly necessary) civilizations make technological progress at an exponentially faster rate than a single civilization, then they are highly unlikely to be outclassed.

Furthermore, this provides a disincentive (where 3BP notes none) to wipe out other civilizations, as you're giving up their potential benefits.

> history of China


tl;dr - late-Qing+ China (like the Muslim world) goes from a thriving, scientifically leading, expansionist trading society to an isolationist stagnant one, then suffers 200 years of being taken advantage of by foreign powers.

Culminating in both the British and Japanese invading with radically advanced military hardware and imposing their will.

It's hard not to see parallels, but a bit terrifying that the 3BP take-away is 'you should launch a first strike on your enemies the second you can obliterate them without retribution.'

The tone is very different to the British/US science fiction I have read. I think it works well, almost like the whole thing is an official report of what happened, lending it a 'stranger than fiction' quality. Mind you I listened to the audio version which tends to introduce a bit more colour to the characters by virtue of the voice acting.

As others have said, the second book is by far the highlight of the series, although I did like the first, in part because of the cultural differences. I hated the third though, if anyone is struggling with the characters decision making process in the first then they will be completely lost on the third. The whole thing felt like it was trying to cover way too many directions for one book, especially in the last part, even without that I think it was a poor book.

I think the cultural differences wouldn't have been as apparent if they had anglicized names though, I had a hard time tracking the characters, was assigning some of the thoughts to the wrong people and things like that. I struggle with games set in Asia like Shogun Total War for the same reason.

Same for me.

From reading only a few Chinese/Asian books I think the problem is that each culture has its own style of writing fiction and Chinese books tend to have a slower pace and more introspection. You also get that in some English language fiction, but not so much in sci-fi, so the average English culture sci-fi reader is going to going to get frustrated with Chinese language sci.fi.

It's the same in films a lot of slower long shots.

So just like US films -- including action films like Dirty Harry and co -- before Spielberg?

this is fascinating, as I loved the first book and hated the 2nd.

I felt the translator of the first book was better by a lot.

>I never built any empathy for any of the characters.

I have a guess that's why the Warcraft movie did so well in China. The characters are so thin, and life is cheap in that film.

I think it depends on what you want out of it.

In western sci-fi, the story exists to make the reader feel good about themselves. At least, the successful ones are like this. It makes for good movies, and good story telling.

Think about that for a moment. All the western sci-fi that we've been used to: Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, etc.. All these stories are not really science fiction, but rather, science fantasy.

It goes through the normal story telling, of establishing a good guy and a bad guy. And it tries to pull you in, to empathize with the challenges of the good guy, so that you can experience his trials and tribulations. And then, at the end, the good guy always wins. He always succeeds, in some way or other. And you're left with feeling a sense of joy.

But, Cixin Lui's stories, threw all that aside. He presented you with the cold hard reality, of survival in the jungle. That there are not really any good or bad sides. Just different perspectives. And everyone is just trying to survive.

And the jungle is the galaxy. Western sci-fi is all about being human-centric, as if we are the only species in the universe that matters. Whereas Cixin, presented us with a reality, where humanity is only one of billions of intelligent species. Those that had survived the jungle, or those that hide from the rest, or those that evolved into another form, or those that end up hunting, to maintain their probability of survival.

So, if you want to continue to feel good about yourself, then stick with what you know. Keep reading western sci-fi. If you want to expand your mind, then try out Cixin's novel.

Admittedly, I think something was lost in translation. The translated text was overly wordy. But the concepts behind it, was still incredible.

I especially loved the story about the human computer system, the Qin 1.0 Operating System. That was quite creative.

> In western sci-fi, the story exists to make the reader feel good about themselves. At least, the successful ones are like this. It makes for good movies, and good story telling. > > Think about that for a moment. All the western sci-fi that we've been used to: Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, etc.. All these stories are not really science fiction, but rather, science fantasy.

I'm not sure how much Wetern Science Fiction you know, but those are all Cinematic Franchises, not western science fiction-books. That popcorn-movies have a specific angle for being successful is not a surprise.

If you wanna compare Cixin Lui's stories with modern western writers then be more honest, and take recent books from modern western writers. Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, Neal Stephenson, they all come to mind in that regard.

I think you are confusing the terms "western" and "american". Not only that your examples of American SF are all TV and film which tends to be even further along that axis than American print SF. Certainly lots of UK science fiction is not about optimism and making the reader feel good.

I have read a few Cixin Lui books and just didn't find them particularly good. The characters are dull and the plots are bad. His proponents tend to go on about him being not being optimistic and him being introspective as though that is a new thing and I just need to open my mind to this new radical way of thinking, but it just isn't new - people like Brian Aldis just did it so much better for me many decades ago.

I don't think the cliche Hollywood ending that presents the feel good about yourself, happy resolution, complete with positive family messages at the end of absolutely sodding everything is anything to do with good story telling. It's just the very tired Hollywood cliche that's proven time and again can draw an American family audience.

It's not an either/or. Books are often much, much darker than Hollywood adaptations.

Why is a US programme such as Breaking Bad considered ground breaking and hugely refreshing? For the first time in decades the USA has produced something where the hero is also the bad guy. You end up with some sympathy, and conflicted, for a complex main character, with many shades of grey and black. None of the usual black/white, so obvious it's painful.

Something like Stross's Merchant Princes can finish with a horrible ending and still be a fabulous series and story telling without many reasons to feel good to be found. Then derail after those 6 brilliant books with a clumsy reboot/relaunch.

> It's just the very tired Hollywood cliche that's proven time and again can draw an American family audience.

Global family audience. They're doing something right.

As big as China is getting and will get in the future, I wonder if their movie industry will ever become a global draw. They seem to be awfully local right now. Same goes for Japan or even India.

Indeed, the GP ignores the whole Cyberpunk scifi movement and the effect it has had on almost all scifi writing since Gibson et al.

> All these stories are not really science fiction, but rather, science fantasy.

How do you define science fantasy?

I would agree Star Wars is fantasy, but I don't think Star Trek (pre Discovery) can be classed as fantasy. For example, a few of their concepts are now real, e.g. they envisioned tablets back in the 60s, now we have iPads etc. More is explored here: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/star_trek.ht...

There is no objective definition for a line between "science fiction" and "science fantasy," but I've come to view Star Trek as no less science fantasy than Star Wars. Replicators and transporters violate physical laws to such a degree that they might as well be magic. The way the universe and tech are described (subspace, particles of the week, negative space wedgies, etc.) have little to do with the actual universe, or the way space and time actually behave. Beings with arbitrary, if not omnipotent, reality-warping powers like the Q, Trelane and Douwd exist, which are basically space gods.

I mean, there is little real difference between "the Force did it," the Q did it" and "a wizard did it."

That the show also happened to have imagined portable computers and other technological innovations ... makes it science fantasy, rather than fantasy outright. But more to the point, what makes Star Trek more science fantasy than fiction is that it isn't about science, or extrapolating a plausible future, but simply using a futuristic setting as a backdrop for drama, without regard for actual scientific plausibility.

I'm not mocking Star Trek, I love the franchise and the original series, for what it was, was the first attempt at describing a persistent futuristic setting on television that I'm aware of (also, it was the series with the least technobabble and "teching the tech" which always helps.) That also (to me) makes it the most "science fictional" of the series, maybe the only one that counts as science fiction. YMMV.

Fair point. Totally forgot about Q (assuming we're not in a simulation, the feats that Q pulled off are most probably not realistic in the real world.)

As with most things, I think it's probably more on a spectrum. I probably should have said that Star Trek leans more towards science fiction than Star Wars - so yes - I agree with your points.

Another one that's more 'science fictional' is the Expanse - worth checking out if you haven't yet.

All the human originated technology seems fairly plausible in the Expanse.

All the proto-molecule derived stuff isn’t particularly plausible, but it’s not really worse than most sufficiently-advanced-technology tropes, and it tries pretty hard to express a universe with rules, just different rules.

I would give Star Wars an F for science-y-ness, Star Trek a varying score depending on the episode (ranging from A to F) but overall a C, and The Expanse a B+.

It is galling when people define sci-fi by its cinematic imitators, for sure.

Your post is a bit dismissive given your familiarity with western sci-fi seems to extend only to incredibly popular film series.

Yes, but only if you count Star Wars or other American-style production "action movie but in space" movies or series (like Stargate, Firefly, ...).

When you go into the things that don't get blockbuster movies, you end up with old-school scifi. Newer like The Expanse or Blindsight, older like The Culture or Hyperion, or proper old school stuff like

In general, piece of unwanted and unrequested advice - whenever you make a huge sweeping statement about complex topic with many examples (like "In western sci-fi, the story exists to make the reader feel good about themselves.") you are inevitably wrong.

You may want to read Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space.

I would also recommend David Brin's Uplift Series, set in a universe where the human race is just a very small (and barely tolerated) side-note.

While sometimes being overly focused on the ecology angle - although not as much as his standalone book "Earth" - they're great reading.

I agree with you, but I dont think the schema makes for "good story telling". It more that we defined we defined "good storyleling" in a way that limits options and forcing us to be repetitive. It makes for predictable story telling we are used to.

But I think it is changing slowly with new popular shows being bit different.

Battle Star Galactica is a bit on the Grimdark side as I Starship troopers and the forever war.

Completely disagree. The science was pretty good, for a pop audience, but there was zero character development - beyond Luo Ji, zero characters develop in the _entire series_. I don't want to spoil anything, of course, but you can pretty much decide the rest of the series based on what I've already written. Extremely disappointing.

I'd disagree that the science was good, even for a pop audience. It reads very much like somebody got a bunch of random "cool" scientific concepts, and then proceeded to treat them as deus ex machina devices without much understanding of the underlying physics.

Just to give one example, at one point the first book features an integrated circuit somehow "etched" on the surface of a stretched-out elementary particle. And that's not just a random curiosity, but a key plot device, without which said plot collapses.

I can't in good conscience call this hard sci-fi (which is how the book is usually advertised).

The sophons were basically deus ex machina particles for whatever the author needed them to do. They were omnipotent, undetectable, able to be everywhere at once, had unlimited energy, and apparently are no good at all for scouting out other uninhabited solar systems to colonize (so they don't have the Dark Forest problem with Earth during their journey).

If the Trisolarians had sent them out in various directions to scout out solar systems they could have avoided so many headaches.

If that's what you think then you seem to have a very narrow view of what constitutes hard scifi. For example, the stretching as a recall is from the part about the elementary particles being folded into higher dimensions. Either you've dismissed that as fantasy or it seems your take on "hard" scifi is wholly unimaginative.

My take on hard sci-fi is that it must either use science and technology that we already understand, in ways conforming to that understanding, or - if it presents new technology that is posited as something beyond our understanding - it must be consistent, including other "magic" as well as interactions with things we do know. Some examples of what I would consider hard sci-fi: "Tau Zero", "Tales of Pirx the Pilot", "2001", "Seveneves", the Mars trilogy.

All of these components are lacking in the book, and it's not just the particles. It reads very much like someone subscribed to some popular science journal for a few years, and then just dumped every idea that sounded interesting into a book without much understanding of what it is about.

To give another example, the author references string theory - great! - but then he has a one-dimensional string - that makes up an elementary particle - break apart into "pieces" from gravity.

Or take alien propulsion. It supposedly works by collecting antimatter from space - but where in space is there enough antimatter to collect like that, and why hasn't it annihilated from interaction with the much more prevalent hydrogen? The interesting thing about this example is that it's not insurmountable - hard sci-fi could explain it away in some convincingly sounding way - but the book doesn't even bother to, it's just presented as fact, without even pointing out the contradictions.

It's not dismissive to call it fantasy.

Do we have any scientific evidence that any of higher-dimensional antics in 3BP are possible?

If not, then the author is making up his own world building rules (completely acceptable). But that makes the story more akin to scientific fantasy than hard scientific fiction.

And unless the English translation excised a LOT of technical details, there are some huge leaps of scientific faith in 3BP.

There's a rule I remember, that in hard-ish sci-fi, the author gets to invent one unrealistic thing. I wouldn't put Cixin Liu's trilogy as hard hard sci-fi, as it invents a few more, but all in all, there aren't that many "fantasy devices" there. It definitely has a flavour of hardness.

> I wouldn't put Cixin Liu's trilogy as hard hard sci-fi, as it invents a few more, but all in all, there aren't that many "fantasy devices" there. It definitely has a flavour of hardness.

Even that much is being overly kind (at least to the first book - I gave up after that). Hard SF introduces a small number of well-defined ideas and then works through their logical consequences. Science fantasy introduces magical devices with particular consequences as and when the plot demands. The magical VR system and magical particle computer - essentially all the SF elements of Three Body Problem - were examples of the latter.

The second two books definitely approach it more closely.

I guess the piercing of my suspension of hard sci-fi disbelief happened in the 2nd book(?), where post-Fall they rebuild into a militarily space capable society with relatively advanced weaponry.

If you're going to take 1,800 pages (English translation) to lay out your series, and you can't spare a few for 'well, now we're building giant fusion-powered warship fleets'? That's not anything approaching hard sci-fi in my book.

Yes, all the technologies used on the ships are extrapolated and believable, but the realignment of society, economics, and the organization of such a construction effort boggles the mind. And to say 'it just happens'? That's kind of like going from WWII to 'and so we landed on the moon' in a single page.

Fair. The time jumps were a bit jarring, though I guess I got used to those after a similar one pulled in Seveneves. I wouldn't mind if Cixin Liu shortened some parts of his book and used the reclaimed space to fill in those time jumps a bit, though.

They get to invent as many "impossible" things as they want, really. But they all need to have plausible-sounding explanations (given our current level of scientific understanding), and they need to act in a consistent, predictable manner, including consistency with known laws of nature - e.g. if you have antigravity, the default assumption is that it obeys the inverse square power law, and if it doesn't, that needs to be called out and have some explanation of its own.

I'd hew closer to TeMPOraL's definition.

On the one hand, one obviously needs some technological leeway to write a fun novel set in the future.

On the other, if every roadblock is responded to by suspending scientific treatment, it doesn't seem like that's a good faith "hard" effort.

I think Ringworld is instructive. The Wikipedia article specifically calls out technical inaccuracies in the original... inaccuracies Niven specifically made an effort to patch up in later books.

So the count of intentional lapses seems as decent a proxy for hardness as anything else.

I would consider Ringworld to be borderline hard sci-fi, but precisely because it has some reasonably sounding explanation for his technomagic. E.g. the General Product hulls - them being a single macro-molecule is a reasonable pop-sci explanation for their properties, even if the book doesn't explain how such a molecule is made. Does that count as an intentional lapse?

What are your thoughts on Diaspora? (Greg Egan)

> there was zero character development - beyond Luo Ji

Da Shi (together with Luo Ji, my favourite characters), Ye Wenjie, Yun Tianming and Thomas Wade develop across the series. If you cast the various human masses, the Trisolarans and Sophon as characters, which they resemble, they—too—develop compellingly over the series. Certain family lineages also cast favourably as “characters”.

It does take a different view of character development to make things pop. For me, the best part about the characters was experiencing Liu’s worlds through their odd perspectives. (Cheng Xin was not a pleasant perspective. But against Wade’s and Beihai’s foils, it is thought provoking.)

If your tastes require solid character development then sure. But other people might enjoy a book more for its plot or ideas. There are books (especially in science fiction), movies, and TV shows that are widely recognized as very good without a lot of character development.

> But other people might enjoy a book more for its plot or ideas.

I'm on the "don't care about character development" side. But those books are atrociously slow. The whole "3 body problem" could be condensed to maybe 50 pages.

To be "best of all time", it definitely needs all three: ideas, plot, & characters.

Not according to everyone ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I actually thought that there was some character development (like the Swordholder woman, I forgot her name). It's not "good" development but I think it's there. I also think that other parts of the series make up for it. Ofc, to each their own, books are subjective.

Interestingly I was thinking of her when I made the initial comment - I didn't mention her specifically, in order to avoid spoiling anything, but in my opinion she did not develop at all. Again, I don't want to talk specifically about any further events in the series, but to me, she didn't evolve at all as a character.

I am a Chinese, I agree with you. This book is consist of many wonderful "ideas" and bad-portray characters. In fact, IMHO, the characters in this book are only used to introduce those "ideas". But, those "ideas" are really amazing. This why some people love it, some think it is bad.

I accidentally read the third book in the trilogy first. I didn't notice until I finished it and looked for the second one. I was in camping mode on a kindle with a pirated copy. But I still remember the first chapter of that book, about buying the star, it was so beautiful I almost cried. I stayed awake all night reading. And I remember slowly learning about the Trisolarans and about the history of the wallfacers, and the centuries of conflict between earth and this other civilization. I thought it was just hard sci-fi and I loved it. I later picked up the first and second. They were great but never came close to how special my experience was of reading the third, and I'm even thankful for having read it first.

Dude - spoilers!

According to comments in this thread this book seems to be either at the top or the bottom of the pile. To me this is a good indicator of a good book. Like in music, if you want to be interesting you can't cater to everyone, adding stuff that some people hate will make other people love it.

Personally I really liked the series, although I think that the story could have been cut a little shorter at the end and it could have done without perpetrating the stereotype of young women marrying way older men.

I read the first book and I liked it conceptually. Sometimes I feel like sci-fi authors try too hard to follow "show don't tell" [1] when it comes to characters' emotional state, but this author tells us at every point explicitly how astounded or confused the character is, almost to an absurd degree.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Show,_don%27t_tell

I'm reading the three body problem right now and I find the declarative (Tell) nature of characters emotional states and descriptions ("beautiful young girl") to be a real weakness.

In reality both are a highly nuanced and subjective. I would say my own emotional state is rarely definable as a single adjective with a direct cause.

I'm trying to ascribe it to translation and cultural difference, but it really does just seem like poor or childish writing. I'll have to read some other Chinese fiction as a control experiment.

'Remembrance of Earth’s Past' trilogy is spectacular. At the risk of this becoming a list of everyone's favorite novels, I'd put the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons in the same league as that trilogy.

Good comparison, in that there were chapters in both sets of books that I had to persevere through. But that paid off in the Hyperion Cantos but unfortunately I never felt the reward was worth the work for Remembrance of Earth.

The first introduction to the “Dark Forest” theories is worth the first book and the lead up in the second. I enjoyed the first book, was blown away by the second and the third felt like it went too far though it did introduce interesting concepts, I did not care about the main female protagonist at all. I do not and could not recommend the entire series wholesale though. It’s definitely not fore everyone.

I listened to them. The audio books are truly wonderful and immersive narrative (all 96 hours!). I can’t recommend them enough to hard sci fi fans. Although I did have a few false starts with the first book.

After reading I've been wondering what some of the unique themes are which arise from the author being Chinese. Here's what I've thought of (Spoilers Ahead):

1. Tri-solaran civilization = chinese civilization in many ways:

Unlike say America, where technology has developed constantly, in tri-solaris technology develops only during "stable eras" and stops developing or regresses when too many suns are in the sky, or not enough suns are in the sky. Compare that to chinese history: periods of technology/cultural development interspersed with being conquered by "barbarians" or large civil wars.

Also tri-solarans are a pretty unforgiving culture, in one scene a tri-solaran king casually executes someone for failing to do their duty. Later in the series they import ideas like human rights from Earth.

2. The scene where tri-solaris wipes out the entire earth fleet with technology unknown to Earth seems pretty reminiscent of a lot of instances where one culture armed with a thousand spears meets another armed with a dozen guns. Earth comes into the exchange feeling confident too, perhaps reminiscent of the boxer rebellion.

3. Black and white thinking in the first book (tri solarans are evil vs tri solarans are gods) might be similar to the various ideological movements in china, from the cultural revolution to capitalism today.

Not necessarily uniquely Chinese trait, but an idea I had never read in western sci-fi.

1. The most powerful human trait is the ability to hide ones true feelings and thoughts from others.

I have not read enough Chinese sci-fi to know if this is a recurring theme.

Honestly the trilogy isn't that great as literature. It feels like an amalgam of all the cool ideas the author ever had forced into a narrative. The individual ideas are really interesting and cool but there is little to no character development and the plot can be silly at times. I don't think it is the worst science fiction I have read but to me it doesn't hold together as a story.

Which ones would you recommend instead? I'm looking for new book suggestions.

I'd say that the author that is the most similar but with what I think are better stories would be Larry Niven (Ringworld).

I am also a fan of Da Liu. I think that Da Liu’s novel sci-fi color is only a part of it. It brings us more of his thoughts on human nature in a close-up environment. It is worth pondering.

I read the first book in that trilogy, and it struck me how much it was a product of the Hu Jintao era. Under the presidency of Xi Jinping this book would have never been allowed. Way too snarky about the Cultural Revolution (I mean, in it there's a university professor that gets literally lynched by 'revolutionary' students because he refuses to parrot some party line. And that's just chapter one), and the Xi administration are not known for their sense of humour.

One interesting thing: The English translation starts with the cultural revolution bit, but the original book has it in the middle. The author said that he actually intended to start with this part to put things in a context but ultimately moved it around in order to not stir things up.

There is also a movie that has finished filming but is in post production hell. Allegedly because of money issues but who knows.

I'd worry about about how the books translate to film. A lot of what makes the books interesting is the sort of game-theory parts that are going to be confusing and boring on the big screen.

I did wonder about this; I was a little surprised how political it was (both with the Cultural Revolution bit and more generally).

Three body problem does suffer the problem of weak characterization. Liu's account of his characters are often robotic and functional, in a way that is pretty anti-climatic, since you hardly feel for those characters and their fate. They are disposable vehicles with string attached, who don't control their own fate or make their own decisions but simply carry out appointed missions from the author himself.

Granted, his vision for the story is simply brilliant, which covers up a lot of weak points in his literary skills, but weakness is weakness nevertheless. In a way, Three Body Problem series aren't good novels, since it lacks humartian elements in them, but great sketchbooks of some of the craziest, but at the same time, most beautiful SF ideas in decades.

So basically your saying: don’t read the novels but instead read the Wikipedia articles if you’re interested in crazy SF ideas?

I think he's saying the ideas are good, but characterization sucks. I might compare it to Asimov: one would never read Asimov for the characters or the psychological insight (like one would read Tolstoy), but one reads Asimov for the plot and the ideas. It's not for everyone, but you would need to read the book to see if it's for you. To say just read the Wikipedia articles would be unjust.

My advice: read it if you liked Asimov or learning about Chinese culture. For example, another commenter pointed out one theme in this trilogy is "The most powerful human trait is the ability to hide ones true feelings and thoughts from others". This is a markedly Chinese trait that it was noted by a missionary who visited China in the 19th century and wrote a book called "Chinese Characteristics".

Chinese book market, or fiction market has now almost fully embraced digital self-publishing. Magazine are now almost dead, books are just physical copies of their online version.

Sad but true, the one most important Chinese SF magazine, the SF World, where all the mentioned authors started their career, has been hanging on the edge and gradually becoming irrelevant for some time now.

The new generation of readers has put their vote on longer, daily updated, fast paced Wuxia(Martial Arts)/Xianxia(Martial Arts with Fantasy element) series, which focuses entirely on pleasing the readership with favorable characters/troupes.

With a strangling market, I wouldn't say the Chinese science fiction's future is a bright one.

Do you value the medium or the content? I can't see why you think 'digital self-publishing' is a bad thing.

If anything, digital publishing where you can circumvent the publishers should allow for more content to reach market (not saying it's all good...see geocities webpages as an example of this) but I'm not sure why you think this would be bad for the Chinese SciFi scene.

The problem with digital self-publishing in China is a unique one. I don't want to expand too much on this subject because it is pretty complicated, but in short, digital self-publishing is not merely a publishing channel, it has reshaped the fiction genre in return.

The Chinese online fiction is now a rat race, every author is measured by the characters they are written PER day, which ranges like 3000 characters to 10k characters. To output that amount of text per day is not trivial task, it is not writing more like manufacturing. And works that doesn't meet such standard gets no chance to even reach the readership at all, per algorithm.

So, to answer your question, medium and content in this case are intervened. Medium is not neutral, it shapes the content by itself, and sadly in China's case, it opts to optimize for volumes not quality, and changes the readers' taste and expectation along the way.

Tradition publishing has one unique quality to itself that it offers advice and quality control through editorship. Not the case for self-publishing though, the market is flooded with more products with lower qualities, and it makes no easier for real good work to stand out since there is too much noise.

Sounds a lot like the market for many genres on Amazon.

I will say you’re not wrong about the value of editors in traditional publishing. As far as I know, there isn’t really much of an answer to that in the “new media” world - even if you want to pay someone directly for the work, editors open to such engagements seem hard to find.

Isn't it that what's a strangling market in China, actually is good enough for its members to strive? All the readership numbers considered. I'd argue that a niche in China is enough to sustain itself.

I don't know really. China is a huge. But a shrinking market for a genre that isn't big in the first place isn't a good sign while other mediums are blooming. It makes it harder to attract new blood and vitality into this system.

I actually read Chinese sci-fi light novels, although a lot of it is trash, there are good ones that come out.

I think with traditional publishing, it's hard to get your book in but easier once you get in. Whereas with self-publishing on the web, it's easier to get in but harder to maintain because of the many demands from readers.

I have only read "Three-Body Problem", and I found it to be atrocious writing on pretty much all levels. Language-wise, it was more cliched and wooden than many fanfics I've read. Character development is non-existent, and most of the characters are very shallow and only exist to advance the plot. The plot itself, aside from the basic idea of a three-body system with life, was also very boring - the only part of it that I actually looked forward to continue reading was the Cultural Revolution flashbacks. And then there's the whole sci-fi part of it, which was beyond ridiculous - sentient elementary particles etc.

I still don't understand how that book gets so many good reviews, and especially don't understand people comparing it with Heinlein. Those reviews were the only reason why I forced myself to read it all the way through, and it still feels like some elaborate hoax, or accidentally ending up in some postmodernist art convention by mistake.

There are more axes than character development or adherence to the constraints of current scientific understanding on which to judge a book.

To me, originality and "philosophical development", or how the perspective of science influences the future and nature of humanity are very important, and that's why I consider this series an absolute masterpiece.

It's great in the same vein as 2001: a space odyssey, or rendezvous with rama, or childhood's end

I didn't see anything particularly original in the first book. Maybe it shows up later.

The other axis is quality of writing - i.e. how easy it is to read and understand, and how aesthetically pleasing the writing is. On that axis, I would also rank it very low.

"Dark Forest" is a fascinating idea that would make for an interesting short story, but I agree with you that the characters and plot are extremely lacking.

That's from the second book, right? A lot of people appear to be saying that the second one is the best. But then the same people mostly say that the first one is, if not great, then at least okay, and that's where my calibration goes off.

the second book is definitely the best (in my opinion), but yeah, if you were frustrated by the first book i don't think you would love the second (as exciting as the ideas may be).

for me personally, i approached it less as a hard sci-fi book and more of a fantasy/sci-fi novel with some big ideas, and loved it for that!

No Harry Potter local as no magic, no god, no fiary after 1948.

Too violent no ...

It is not just the rule. It is the arbitrary rule suddenly comes up. Any funny bear like honey

No fairy tale is allowed if the plots were set after 1949, when the New (P.R.) China regime was established.

This should actually be interpreted as a loophole/compromise under the draconian censorship as fairy tales are indeed allowed before the regime.

The closest to of Harry Potter in China are probably either Wuxia or Xianxia, in which the equivalent of "god", "magic" and "violence" are actually very common.

Harry Potter is somewhat popular in China as well, though way less than it is in western countries. "Harry Potter" style stories (and Lord of Rings, etc.) are simply too "foreign" to a lot of Chinese, and that has very little to do with the government.

I can’t parse this

I read it as:

No Harry Potter local as no magic, no god, no fiary after 1948.

After 1948 anything seen as promoting magic, god, fairies (more broadly fantasy) is banned.

Too violent no ...

If something is too violent it’s banned.

It is not just the rule. It is the arbitrary rule suddenly comes up.

Ultimately these rules are the whim of whoever is in power, and there isn’t necessarily any logic to it.

Any funny bear like honey

Flukes is definitely correct, Winnie is a big no-go.

it looks like he's posting from hong kong, and he is trying to avoid the Chinese government censors or get thrown in jail.

Fair enough statement, but it looks more like a direct translation from Chinese sentences to me.

> "No Harry Potter local as no magic, ..."

We don't publish localized Harry Potter (don't they? I am not sure) because magic fantasy is abandoned.

> "... no god, no fiary after 1948."

Why 1948? The year is not that meaningful for modern Hong Kong people, but it is a important year for China and Taiwan. At 1948, KMT was de facto defeated by CCP and start to retreat to Taiwan.

> "Too violent no ..."

A book cannot be published if it is too violent.

> "It is not just the rule. It is the arbitrary rule suddenly comes up."

I suppose this looks like normal English? Chinese Government intentionally keeps the publish law vague and blur, so that they can "dynamically" decide what to ban and who to capture.

> Any funny bear like honey

@flukus got this.

The first sentence is probably parsed wrong, Chinese fairy/mythological novels are very popular in China, they've surpassed Chinese martial arts novels which has broken my heart because the fairy/mythological novels suck: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xianxia_novel

Note 仙 can mean fairy in Chinese, they are part of the Chinese category known as 仙侠 or 玄幻,which is Asian/Chinese themed fantasy that differs from Western fantasy novels because its about Taoism/Buddhism, Chinese dragons, demons, immortals and Chinese legends.

As well Chinese magical fantasy or 奇幻 is still alive and well but they're basically Western fantasy genres written by Chinese people with similar ideas of Kings, Queens, Western Dragons.

Xinxia has some really high highs, and some really low lows. There are epic moments that make your blood pound mixed with endless repetition of things like mc meeting paper thin arrogant masters that are there only for some satisfying face-slapping scene.

> No Harry Potter local as no magic, no god, no fiary after 1948.

I read that as “after 1948, no references to magic, religion, fairies (in other words, the supernatural) is allowed”.

The last line in particular seems like a reference to their current leaders dislike of cartoon bears: https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/18/15993136/winnie-the-pooh-...

There is no censorship of the Internet in Hong Kong...

He may be posting from mainland China via a VPN that ends in HK though?

Harley Potler is indeed popular in China. When my Chinese friend asked me if I liked Harley Potler, it took me a few moments to figure out what she was saying.

Long overdue. When South Korea and Japan have super interesting Sci-Fi books and movies (e.g. Korean Bladerunner "Natural City"), why not China? I am glad China is coming along.

Since I learn Mandarin, feel free to recommend Chinese movies. (I am trying to read 三体 already, don't need more books).

I start with the first (non-scifi) movie:


Please recommend more Chinese movies if you can

Three Chinese movies I've seen get fairly widespread acclaim are: 1. Hero 2. Flowers of Shanghai 3. The Legend of the Drunken Master

Wong Kar-Wai is a Chinese director I like a lot.

Wong Kar-Wai grew and made his main films in Hong-Kong, which was not part of China (AKA People's Republic of China). I believe most of his actors spoke Cantonese, not Mandarin. Since these languages are mutually unintelligible, it's of little use to the OP which was learning the latter.

As far as I know the Chinese book market is heavily censored.

I'd be curious about how this affects Chinese authors, and if and how they have to limit the topics and the creativity of their writing due to this.

Famous authors can write for the international translation market, essentially. A few months ago there was a submission about Yan Lianke's struggles: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18206445

It's still possible to read banned books on the mainland if you know the right sites, but most consumers of banned literature are probably just looking for porn, so you might need to do some digging to find something more high-brow.

I'm not sure what lesser-known authors do, but I guess they try to keep their fiction as fictional as possible.

Is porn banned? Or only some types?

By law, yes.

And redistribution of porn materials is a crime that can send committers to prison, depends generally on how much money they've earned from it or/and how many redistribution has been made etc.

But personal consumption is not illegal.

To put it simple, if you want to be a 100% law obeying person in China, then you can watch porn, but you cannot produce it, you cannot copy it and send to others, you cannot recommend it to others. The real life situation is bit different of course.

I read Liu Cixin's trilogy cover to cover about a year ago. Many references to Western thought including the Bible, social topics, and a surprising (for me) amount of diversity injected into the plot line. Grand and sweeping, it's great Sci Fi literature. It's hard to imagine that it is the result of any significant censorship. I found it a fascinating glimpse into the modern Chinese way of thinking.

But it wasn't written today. Can someone point to such a free and exploratory book is written in China today? I hope writers there will again have the freedom of the three body rule.

Sci-Fi novels are generally less impacted by censorship as they are undoubted considered as fictions. References to religion, social topics etc. are not a focus of censorship

I suspect it's the same as it was in the Soviet Block.

Sci-fi allows more freedoms for writers and good sci-fi flourishes.

I really enjoyed Liu Cixin‘s Three Body Problem trilogy when I read it last year. Really creative and interesting. I also just finished his prequel to the trilogy Ball Lightening.

Would you recommend reading Ball Lightning before the TBP Trilogy if I've never read any of this...because it's a prequel?

I don't think it's a prequel - he just wrote it before TBP. There is one character in common with The Dark Forest, but only to the extent that this character is regarded as a great physicist in both books and makes some discoveries.

I've read (and thoroughly enjoyed) them all, didn't even know Ball Lightning was a prequel (it was written after the trilogy). Perhaps some repeat characters?

I don't believe there are any spoilers either way.

I only know about it being sort-of a prequel because of the afterward material in the audible audio book. The books can be enjoyed in either reading order.

Strong recommendation for "Usurper of the Sun", have yet to read another book like it.

> science Literature which first came out in 1979, continued to publish during the campaign against spiritual pollution and continues to this day under the name of Science Fiction World.

Here are some interesting trivia about Science Fiction World

- Nearly all of Liu Cixin's work was first published on this magazine

- The publisher was located in Chengdu, Sichuan, it's an official member of Sichuan Science Society, which is under direct control of Communist Party Sichuan Committee.

- One of the chief editor of SFW, A-Lai[1], who is a Tibetan, also a very established award-winning writer. His most famous work is about the conflict in feudal serfdom Tibet in the 20s century. A very interesting novel.

- SFW was once considered the largest science fiction magazine published by volume. In 2010 there was an online campaign from its staff requesting step down of Party appointed president & chief editor, LiChang.

- LiChang was also responsible for opening another magazine lineup, the famous Magic Fantasy World. Because of the LotR and Harry Potter influence. The magazine was discontinued in 2013.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alai_(author)

Cixin Liu and Ken Liu (admittedly American) are in my top-10 SF authors now.

Cixin Liu's "Three Body Problem" is a trip. Recommended.

I had not an inkling of an idea that this was a thing; but I am glad that I have stumbled upon this. Thank you for sharing! Will have to explore further.

Do they have any scifi to speak of in TV yet? I wonder how long it will take, given the growing popularity of these novels.

There is the series Guardian (2018), which is interesting. Probably more fantasy and really low budget though:



Liu Cixin already covers this in his well-known trilogy.

Also, Folding Beijing is an award winning short story encompassing all three things plus class strife, written by a Chinese author.

One thing I really appreciated about the three body problem (Liu Cixin), was the “completely different perspective” brought to bear. I feel to often with (American) science fiction, you have well known and “expected” themes. What will be interesting is how much further they can go. I personally prefer a “wealth” of perspectives, and you can only get that if people are coming from different cultures.

It was amazing, and it was such a startling, yet “obvious-in-hindsight” way of packaging the potential isolation imposed by the sheer scale of the universe. The sense of dread, loss, and ultimately hope was almost overwhelming. I feel lucky to be alive at a time when I can hear on a website about a book written in China, find a digital copy of the whole trilogy professionally translated, and then discuss the experience on another site full of like-minded people.

This is one of the reasons I devoured the trilogy and started looking for more: a whole different set of expectations and norms that are subtly different. I think scifi audiences might be primed for that?

Folding Beijing was linked in TFA, but in case someone overlooked it or went straight to the comments, here's the English translation: http://uncannymagazine.com/article/folding-beijing-2/

I hate that story so much. It’s practically the platonic ideal of engineer written fiction without the tiniest patina of knowledge of social science. A story about monstrous people and three worlds occupying one space over the course of a day in fantasy, good. As something vaguely purporting to be a plausible depiction of a possible reality it is absolute garbage. It makes no sense on a political, sociological or economic level. The machinery described is insanely complex and would be very, very expensive and all to get a tiny bit more use out of space when you could do as well by building skyscrapers, or going underground, or expanding the city. Beijing is big but there’s plenty of flat land to expand around it.

If you can turn off all knowledge of how things work and just look at the human story of love, loss and sacrifice the translation and writing is excellent.

Rabbit hole: one of the acknowledged magazine supporters is the creator of a verbless language https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kēlen

(4 or 5 clicks and a search/name check, must get a grip ...)

Trilogy which was written before Xi became a dictator. None of the new books will.

I don't know if you read the article, but the investment in science fiction is state sponsored:

> A big clue comes from the author Neil Gaiman’s collection of non-fiction essays, The View from the Cheap Seats, where he relates an anecdote from the time he attended the 2007 China SF/Fantasy Conference in Chengdu:

> “A few years ago, in 2007, I went to China for the first-ever, I believe, state-sponsored science fiction convention, and at some point I remember talking to a party official who was there and I said, ‘Up until now I have read in Locus that your lot disapprove of science fiction and you disapprove of science fiction conventions and these things have not been deliberately encouraged. What’s changed? Why did you permit this thing? Why are we here?’

> ‘And he said, ‘Oh you know for years, we’ve been making wonderful things. We make your iPods. We make phones. We make them better than anybody else, but we don’t come up with any of these ideas. So we went on a tour of America talking to people at Microsoft, at Google, at Apple, and we asked them a lot of questions about themselves, just the people working there. And we discovered they all read science fiction… so we think maybe it’s a good thing.”

> The more things change, the more they remain the same. Lu Xun in 1903 had written that ‘science fiction could play a crucial role in the advancement of the Chinese nation’ and 104 years later, the purpose of the 2007 Chengdu SF/F Conference seems to have been no different for it was described as ‘an ambitious Chinese effort designed to inspire public creativity toward future scientific and technological development as well as promote national insight for scientific exploration’. A laudable step towards sparking the imagination and fostering innovation, but the state support of science fiction is also about advancing China’s soft power. As the writer Chen Quifan said in a speech (co-written by the organisers) at the eighth Chinese Nebula Awards in November 2017, saying that the purpose of Chinese science fiction was to, “grasp what General Secretary Xi has put forward, and advance the establishment of the power of the international spread of the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics, in order to tell the China story.”

That's back in 2006. Now everything has changed.

Now China thrives on closing down churches, jailing pastors, censoring 'sensitive' materials in Hong Kong, indoctrinate muslims to eat pork and drink beer, etc etc etc.

Doubt any book of significance will arise in this environment

CCP thrives on atheism, most Chinese science fiction novels actually are also non or anti-religion which wins them points in the censor department. At least I've read several post-2015 Chinese sci-fi and whenever religion comes up, the religious figures are always greedy, corrupt and using their religious title for power, "polygamous-cultish" or fanatically stupid.

Although the ones I've read have been remixing Cthulhu with Cyberpunk so I might be digressing. Also note that most Chinese modern sci-fi now begin life as internet and web forum novels because the web is the most important and fast-spreading medium for Chinese fiction readers now.

As well, near-future sci-fi and most importantly those kind of TV shows are pretty much banned in China.

So don’t hold my breath for the Chinese Version of ‘Black Mirror’ hm?

China is Black Mirror

Soviet censorship used to be less heavy on science fiction then on other subjects. is that true for China as well?

Still plenty heavy though. Infamously, one of Strugatsky's books was censored because it described an alien totalitarian society ruled by "The Unknown Fathers"; the censors demanded that the label be changed, among other things. Then there was Efremov, who had trouble publishing some of his stuff at all, despite it being heavily ideologically communist.

Still they got it out in 1969, when everything was in deep freeze as the tanks rolled into Prague in 1967.


The Three Body Problem (which I recommend highly) begins with a terrifying scene during the cultural revolution. I think most Chinese people are generally proud of modern China. They know it has problems, but they see problems in the west too.

I was blown away by the beginning of that book. Was not expecting something coming out of contemporary China to be so pointedly, brutally critical of the revolution.

the official party line is that the Cultural Revolution caused "the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People's Republic". many Communist party leaders suffered horribly at the hands of the Red Guards.

criticizing Mao is pretty dangerous but as far as I can tell it's pretty safe to criticize the Cultural Revolution.

We have plenty of western books on that.

Hopefully Chinese SF can deal with some western neglected or taboo topics!

Such as?

Edit: especially curious about which topics folks think might be considered taboos in Western science fiction.

Maybe the primacy of individualism/freedoms as the only path to collective prosperity? Like, what if the Chinese model really is the best way to run a country (not an endorsement, btw)?

Not "taboo," persay, but it's something thing that's not really seriously considered by most westerners (not the ones I know, at least).

Any of his works in particular? (Sadly, it looks from the wikipedia article like I'm not likely to find an english translation for most of his work)

But collectivism is widely popular in the west, no?

To some extent - but it is also explicitly contrasted with individual freedoms (presented as a good thing), and limitations on those freedoms have to be justified and rationalized in far more detail than "social harmony".

You could read Ken MacLeod or Iain M. Banks to get some Western views on that.

The ones we may not realise are worth talking about.

Just because this new wave of non-Western science fiction has issues, this doesn't mean it cannot contribute some novel richness to a genre that has so far been dominated by white Westerners.

Innovation doesn't lie in perfect solutions, and that's especially true for art.

I found western science fictions tends to promote heroism in some way, and whatever obstacle the main character faces, they fight off their enemies in the end. Chinese novels indeed feel different in many ways.

As a westerner, I'm not the right person to ask.

Can you think of a Western science fiction novel that portrays eugenics in a positive light?

Sterling’s Shapers come to mind, but it’s not common.

Neal Stephenson's _Seven Eves_ ends up with several distinct branches of humanity. It was a necessary adaptation to a population bottleneck -- after a global apocalypse there were only 7 living women and no men or sperm, but they did have a genetics lab. So they cloned themselves with some small changes to avoid inbreeding. Some of the changes weren't so small.

Some of the populations did well, some were strange, and some were constantly warring. So not quite "positive", but not gratuitously negative either.

I wouldn’t quite say “positive” light, but Stand on Zanzibar is surprisingly balanced as it contrasts overpopulation with eugenics.

Of course this is almost unreadable fifty years later, so I’m not actually recommending the book.

An Anti-Enlightenment message would be one. There's a lot to unpack there.

Maybe something like Adrian Tchaikovsky's "The Expert Systems Brother" touches on what you mean? It explores what a back-to-basics society with hidden tech keeping it afloat might look like.

Perhaps we have fewer children to make our ongoing existence sustainable.

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