Friday, August 10, 2018

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation by Ken Liu (Editor, Translator)

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation by Ken Liu (Editor, Translator)

Hardcover, 383 pages

Published November 2016 by Tor Books

Science Fiction should be a universal language, in many ways it translates better than comedy, which is much more dependent on delivery. I have always loved to read Sci-fi and horror translated from other cultures, the Russian Nightwatch books, the many novels of Stanislaw Lem and various Japanese authors have been favorites.

I have long been a fan of Chinese story-telling, besides having a shelf of Wuxia (kungfu high fantasy) movie DVD's I followed that passion to the hard to find translations of those classic novels. In research for my Chinese Vampire novel Hunting the Moon Tribe I read the classics of Chinese fantasy like the bizarro collection Tales From a Chinese Studio and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. So in that respect I am not a totally averege American genre readers coming to this work, not to mention that I also read few years back the Ken Liu translated The epic Chinese novel Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin'

I reviewed here on my Blog and said: "a really interesting novel, and not just for the fact that it is a rare that a Chinese science Fiction novel published here. That is very significant. The story can't take place in an American setting with the main character losing parents to a Chinese work camp. It is hilarious that the novel is marketed as having "The scope of Dune and the commercial action of Independence Day," anyone reading this novel hoping for that will be disappointed. It has more in common with Asimov's "The Gods Themselves."

So I don't know how I missed that this book existed but until a recent tweet by local San Diegan and bestselling author David Brin mentioned this collection. Glad he did because I am really enjoyed this collection. I enjoyed the variety of voices and styles and feel like I have learned alot about Chinese sci-fi and I want MORE!

The book has four essays, one as introduction from the translator and three in the caboose. Liu smartly reminds the american audience that Chinsese sci-fi can not be stereotyped with one voice or style anymore than American sci-fi can.

The collection starts off with a super weird horror tale called Year of the Rat by Chen Quifan. This story of soldiers in a battle with genetically enhanced neo-rats was a bonkers and a great kick off to the book. The story was imaginative, dark and gritty. The City of Silence while being a homage to 1984 also feels just as Black Mirror or Twilight Zone influenced. The very modern concept of society that takes internet censorship down to the very words we use and this story extends the blurred line between internet and real life. That balance is clearly a huge part of our lives.

Each story is good, all the authors have wonderful voices but it was the neo-noir PKD like stories that hit me perfect. My favorites included the neo-noir "The Flower of Shazui" by Chen Quifan, the high concept story about class "Folding Beijing"by Hao Jingfang and the techo-dsytopia of "The City of Silence" by Ma Boyong. As dark and gritty as they were "Tongtong's Summer" by Xia Jia was equally sweet. Many of the stories have a Black Mirror vibe to them, and it had me thinking that a season of Black Mirror directed by Asian filmmakers set in China, Korea and Japan would be amazing and many of these stories would be perfect. Liu Cixin the hugo award winner ends the collection with a weird and powerful story "Taking Care of God" This story about an advanced civilization that seeded our species and have returned. There are several amazing deep crazy space and physics ideas in this story.

Despite being translated by the same person the stories had a different feel, although Liu has a way with words and in that sense it feels unified. It might seem like hyperbole to say this, but this was a totally amazing experience. I liked every story in this book and I loved three of them. I think this is an important read. Not only will you get mind expanding and interesting Sci-fi but you'll learn about another culture. Can't say enough good things about this book.

No comments: