The Wandering Earth
by Cixin Liu
Head of Zeus
Hardback, 2017 (orig. 2013), 447 pp
Cixin Liu has built a huge reputation as a science fiction writer in a relatively short time. As this is a genre in which I’ve only ever found a few really excellent authors – namely Philip K. Dick, Stanslaw Lem, the Strugatsky brothers.. and the odd one-off – I was keen to read his work. The fact that the Chinese are making a blockbuster movie from the title piece of this anthology of stories and novellas was not an extra incentive. Regardless of the virtues of Liu’s writing, I’m pretty certain the film will be CGI trash, although I’d love to have this prejudice overturned.
The translations, for starters, are amazingly fluent, particularly when one considers all the complex scientific topics Liu discusses. Like Lem or Fred Hoyle he is a writer who understands the science, and is able to construct stories based on extrapolations of known phenomena. There’s a lingering sense of logical possibility about his inventions even at their most implausible, as in the title story, in which the earth is transformed into an interstellar vehicle to escape the sun turning into a super nova. As an idea it’s grandiose, outlandish, absurd – but Liu makes it sound completely plausible.
I was more impressed with these pieces than I expected to be, and the plot lines have lingered in my head. There is a certain affinity with the works of Cai Guo-Qiang, whom I interviewed recently. Cai has titled a large proportion of his monumental works “Projects for Extra-Terrestrials” and is constantly creating explosions. The sci-fi aspect of his work is a neat fit with Liu’s way of thinking.
I’m seriously tempted to add another name to my small pantheon of certified sci-fi masters.