Liu Cixin on China’s Rise

Liu Cixin’s trilogy has sold some eight million copies worldwide. Fans include Barack Obama, who met Liu in Beijing two years ago, and Mark Zuckerberg.

In Liu Cixin’s science-fiction trilogy, “Remembrance of Earth’s Past”—also known by the title of its first volume, “The Three-Body Problem”—Civilization A is a distant planet named Trisolaris and Civilization B is Earth. Life on Trisolaris has become increasingly difficult to sustain, so its inhabitants prepare to colonize Earth, a project made possible by their vast technological superiority. Using higher-dimensional geometry, they deploy supercomputers the size of a proton to spy on every terrestrial activity and utterance; Earth’s entire fleet of starships proves no match for one small, droplet-shaped Trisolaran probe. Yet Trisolaris’s dominance is far from assured, given the ingenuity of the underdogs. Seeking out the vulnerabilities of its adversary, Earth establishes a deterrence based on mutually assured destruction and forces the Trisolarans to share their technology.

When the first volume of the series was published in the United States, in 2014, the models for Trisolaris and Earth were immediately apparent. For the Chinese, achieving parity with the West is a long-cherished goal, envisaged as a restoration of greatness after the humiliation of Western occupations and the self-inflicted wounds of the Mao era. As Liu told the Times, “China is on the path of rapid modernization and progress, kind of like the U.S. during the golden age of science fiction.” The future, he went on, would be “full of threats and challenges,” and “very fertile soil” for speculative fiction.

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