This past weekend, Liu Cixin’s (刘慈欣) revered sci-fi novel The Three Body Problem 《三体》won the Hugo Award, a prestigious sci-fi and fantasy genre accolade, for Best Novel. First published in serial form in 2006 in Chinese science fiction magazine Science Fiction World (科幻世界) and later as a book in 2008, the English translation by writer Ken Liu was released in the United States last November by Tor Books. The announcement for the top award was made from international space station, and Ken Liu accepted the award on behalf of Liu Cixin, who graciously said in an interview with Sina that he and Ken Liu “won the award together,” at a terrestrial awards ceremony in Spokane, Washington.
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In the story, aliens pick up radio signals sent by a secret military project during the Cultural Revolution and launch an invasion of Earth. Mankind is split whether to welcome or to fight the aliens.
Joining the ranks of past Hugo Best Novel winners which include legendary sci-fi writers Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, and Arthur C. Clarke and popular contemporary writers Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling, Liu Cixin is the first Asian to win the award. Additionally, The Three Body Problem is the first translated book to win at the Hugos.
Liu Cixin’s win is a recognition of the talent in a genre dominated by white writers. Interestingly, his novel only became a nominee only after another writer withdrew his work because it was on the voting list of a conservative faction named the Rabid Puppies that bemoans what they see as a liberal agenda infiltrating contemporary science fiction.
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His win also brings international attention to the burgeoning genre of Chinese science fiction. In an interview with The New York Times, Liu Cixin explained the popularity of the genre in his country, “China is on the path of rapid modernization and progress, kind of like the U.S. during the golden age of science fiction in the ’30s to the ’60s. The future in the people’s eyes is full of attractions, temptations and hope. But at the same time, it is also full of threats and challenges. That makes for very fertile soil.”
Yet, he is cautious about the future of Chinese science fiction. “It is not fair to say that China has world-class science fiction after just one or two novels became successful abroad,” Liu told Phoenix TV after his nomination for the award. “The significance of the nomination is that it lets the world know Chinese people can also write science fiction.”
The film adaptation of The Three Body Problem has finished shooting and is expected to be released in July 2016. The film’s post-production special effects budget of 23 million USD is the largest ever for a Chinese film. While foreign special effects-laden films like the Transformers series are huge in China, critics are skeptical whether the country is capable of making one domestically and whether it can successfully capture the book. For his part, Liu Cixin, a producer for the film and who has signed a five-movie deal to adapt his works for the big screen, is optimistic, saying that “everything needs a start,” before invoking Steven Spielberg and George Lucas as examples of unknown directors who became blockbuster directors.
An English translation of the second book, The Dark Forest, was released on August 11, 2015.