Friday, December 26, 2014
A Chinese science fiction novel
Here is a paragraph from a science fiction novel I've been reading, The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, ably translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu:
An hour later, Wang arrived at the new planetarium and got out of the car. The bright lights of the city penetrated the translucent walls of the immense glass building and dimly revealed its internal structure. Wang thought that if the architect had intended to express the feeling about the universe, the design was a success: The more transparent something was, the more mysterious it seemed. The universe itself was transparent; as long as you were sufficiently sharp-eyed, you could see as far as you liked. But the farther you looked, the more mysterious it became.
The Three-Body Problem is one of the first science fiction novels translated from Chinese into English, if not the first. Cixin Liu is a bestselling writer in China. His novel, an unusual first contact story, reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke (an influence the author acknowledges) but is more political; the abuses of the Cultural Revolution are vividly depicted. I'm most of the way through the book and I really like it. (Arthur C. Clarke probably was my favorite science fiction writer when I was a teen.)
Stanislaw Lem was famous for years in Europe before his books began appearing in English, and the early translations were often poor; the Strugatsky brothers (a favorite of mine, unlike Lem) were important Russian science fiction writers long before their books started coming out in English. How many other good writers do Americans not know about, because we are separated by the barrier of language?