Many of us love stories about time travel, aliens, and the future, but most science fiction comes from the West. But one completely Chinese sci-fi work has attracted the world’s attention. On April 4, the World Science Fiction Society announced the finalists for the 2017 Hugo Awards, the top award for science fiction. Death’s End (《死神永生》), the final book in Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past (《地球往事》) trilogy (三部曲), is among the nominees (被提名者). The winner will be revealed on Aug 11.
Liu, 54, is not a Hugo Award newcomer. In 2015, The Three-Body Problem, the first novel in the series, made him the first Asian to take home the prize.
Ever since it was published in English in 2013, The Three-Body Problem quickly became the best-selling Asian work of literature on US retail (零售) platform Amazon. Former US President Barack Obama even took it on holiday, while social media billionaire Mark Zuckerberg recommended it on Facebook. The novel has also been adapted into a movie starring Feng Shaofeng, which will be released later this year.
According to Ken Liu, the novel’s US-based translator, many of the themes explored in Western sci-fi have found their place in the Chinese trilogy. Things like space exploration, alien contact, artificial intelligence (人工智能), and life science are all included. Problems of modern development are also addressed, like environmental pollution and the negative effects caused by new technologies.
“Chinese sci-fi does have its own unique themes as well, such as the attempt to re-display the ancient history of China from a sci-fi angle (角度),” Ken Liu told The Guardian.
Yet most importantly, Liu’s work, like many successful works of science fiction, is popular because it voices our concern with the future.
“With the rapid development of China, the way of thinking of the Chinese people – the new generation in particular – is undergoing profound (深刻的) changes,” Liu Cixin told Wired magazine. “They have broader horizons. They view themselves as part of humanity instead of being just Chinese. They have also started to think about the ultimate (终极的) questions concerning the whole universe, which Chinese people seldom thought about before.”
“随着中国的快速发展，看待中国人的方式 —— 特别是新一代 —— 正在经历深刻的变化。”刘慈欣在接受《连线》杂志采访时表示，“他们拥有了更宽广的视野。他们将自己视为人类的一分子，而不仅仅是中国人。他们也已经开始思考关于全宇宙的终极问题，而这些问题是中国人先前很少会考虑到的。”
Han Song, another Chinese sci-fi writer, agreed that the development of science fiction is closely related to a nation’s development. “Sci-fi novels show a nation’s imagination and creativity,” he told Southern Metropolitan Daily.
And Italian science writer Giulio Prisco believes that China is the place to watch for sci-fi fans. “Chinese writers are taking the lead in writing imaginative science fiction that is able to inspire whole generations,” he wrote on his blog. “China is starting to think big and is ready to take first place in the race toward a bright future on Earth and in space. Modern Chinese science fiction shows that.”