[Updated] Popular Chinese Sci-Fi Novel to Be Released in English on November 11


We’ve been anticipating the English translation of Liu Cixin’s (刘慈欣 / 劉慈欣) popular sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem (三体 / 三體) since it was promised at MFA Lab’s sci-fi themed screening in April.  Finally, the wait is over!  The first book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past (地球往事) trilogy has been translated by award-winning sci-fi writer Ken Liu and will be released by Tor Books on November 11, 2014.

In the book, which The Register says is “The War of the Worlds and The Day The Earth Stood Still from a 1984 standpoint”,  a secret Chinese government project makes contact with an alien civilization that faces extinction on their home planet.  The aliens threaten to invade Earth (which Liu likens to European colonization of Canada), and in this “worst of all possible universes”, humans are split whether to welcome the aliens to help them take over our corrupt world or to fight them.  Its title is taken a concept from classical physics where gravitational pull of a third mass perturbs the interaction between two two masses.

Liu is one of the most prolific and popular science fiction writers in China.  In 2010, he was named Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Writer by the Nebula Awards (全球华语科幻星云奖 / 全球華語科幻星雲獎).

Even before publication, The Three-Body Problem has been selected by Amazon as of one the best books of 2014.  In its serialized form in Science Fiction World (科幻世界), it won the China’s science fiction writing Galaxy Award (银河奖 / 銀河獎) in 2006 and helped launch a new interest in science fiction in China, selling over 1 million copies since its publication in 2008.   Testifying to the popularity of the book and showing that Chinese sci-fi fans are just like sci-fi fans in the America, there are fan-composed songs, fake trailers, and Sina Weibo accounts based on the books characters where the users act out the story.  Even more humorously, Liu recounts, “When CCTV, China’s largest state television broadcaster, tried to hold an interview series on the topic of science fiction, a hundred plus studio audience members erupted into chants of “Eliminate human tyranny! The world belongs to Trisolaris!”—a quote from the novel. The two TV hosts were utterly flummoxed and didn’t know what to do.”

Talking about the significance and evolution of science fiction in China with Tor Books, Liu says

“The experience of Three Body caused science fiction writers and critics to re-evaluate Chinese science fiction [whose fan base was “small and insular”] and China . They realized that they had been ignoring changes in the thinking patterns of Chinese readers. As modernization accelerated its pace, the new generation of readers no longer confined their thoughts to the narrow present, as their parents did, but were interested in the future and the wide-open cosmos. The China of the present is a bit like America during science fiction’s Golden Age, when science and technology filled the future with wonder, presenting both great crises and grand opportunities. This was rich soil for the growth and flourishing of science fiction.”

In this Wall Street Journal article about the release of the English translation, editor Liz Gorinsky says that the book is “very different than anything you would expect from an American science-fiction novel” and points out the opportunity for English readers to see a Chinese cultural perspective: “China is in the news a lot, but there aren’t many direct cultural exports being published as part of mainstream media…Obviously, you can’t get the Chinese cultural perspective from just one author, but there are relatively few opportunities like this to see what the modern Chinese social landscape is like.”

WSJ‘s China Real Time has an interview with Liu.

The first three chapters can be read on the Tor website, and excerpts from later on can be found here (three specific stories are highlighted) and here.

Update: Editor Liz Gorinsky talks more about the book on the Tor/Forge Blog.