Reviews

Invisible Planets

Editor: Ken Liu28220730

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 1 November 2016

Rating: 4/5. Stars

Diversity: POC Characters

TW: murder mention cw

Summary: Award-winning translator and author Ken Liu presents a collection of short speculative fiction from China. Some stories have won awards; some have been included in various ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies; some have been well reviewed by critics and readers; and some are simply Ken’s personal favorites. Many of the authors collected here (with the obvious exception of Liu Cixin) belong to the younger generation of ‘rising stars’.

In addition, three essays at the end of the book explore Chinese science fiction. Liu Cixin’s essay, The Worst of All Possible Universes and The Best of All Possible Earths, gives a historical overview of SF in China and situates his own rise to prominence as the premier Chinese author within that context. Chen Qiufan’s The Torn Generation gives the view of a younger generation of authors trying to come to terms with the tumultuous transformations around them. Finally, Xia Jia, who holds the first Ph.D. issued for the study of Chinese SF, asks What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?

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Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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This is a lovely collection of Chinese SFF short stories.It’s a great introduction to Chinese Sci-Fi, featuring the current top Sci-Fi Authors in China. It offers a great insight in Chinese culture and thought, but as all good Sci-Fi should it also reflects on humanity in general.

In the beginning Ken Liu asks western readers to set aside their expectations regarding Sci-Fi. It features 13 short stories written by 7 different authors. The collection ends with 3 essays that examine the role of Sci-Fi in modern China. All authors get a short introduction in which their life and former publications are named.

The Year of the Rat – Chen Qiufan: A bunch of teenagers are lured into military service to trap and fight genetically modified rats in exchange for a job later on. Due to their poor grades they see no other future for themselves. Their drill master also constantly reminds them that they have thus far only wasted their lives and spent their parents money. A bloodthirsty killer and a reluctant innocent flank the morally neutral protagonist. The story is definitely quite nice and full of unsettling subtext.

The Fish of Lijiang – Chen Quifan: An overworked businessman is sent to Lijiang, a rehab clinic, after weeks of insomnia and stress-related illness. The story explores the extreme working conditions in China set in a creepy surreal world.

The Flower of Shazui – Chen Quifan: A very poetic short story. A man who ran away from something in his past for which he feels guilty has moved into a new place where he sells and fixes body films, a kind of neon tattoo. When a high-class prostitute comes to him to get her body film fixed, he finds out something troubling from her home life and tries to help her.

A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight – Xia Jia: Ning was left as an orphan on Ghost Street, a street that is solely inhabited by ghosts, which were fused in robots. There have been no tourists for a long while. A truly magical read and incredibly nice.

Tongtong’s Summer – Xia Jia: This story is narrated by Tongtong, a young old girl whose 80-year-old grandpa is moving in with her family after an accident to be cared for. He hates sitting in a wheelchair and would much rather continue to work. After his wife’s death he has also grown very distant. But when he is offered the change to use robot carer, which was controlled by a technician offsite, his life starts to look better again. This is definitely one of the most interesting looks at robots and the story is really heartwarming and lovely. It is definitely one of my favorites.

Night Journey of the Dragon Horse – Xia Jia: This wondrous and mystical story follows an ancient metal dragon horse which after awaking from a long slumber, finds out that humans have disappeared and that it doesn’t understand the world any longer. On its travels it meets a friend to share its stories with.

The City of Silence – Ma Boyong: Set in a dystopian city where the internet is restricted to a few special websites, address bars don’t exist and a list of ‘healthy words’ keeps getting shorter. All this is done to reduce stress for the people. The government not only supervises the internet use, but also every day language in public or at home is supervised. Our protagonists daily trott is interrupted when a man starts cursing in a way that hasn’t happened for years. During his search for answers he soon finds a small group of people who regularly meet to talk about everything they want. The story is highly influenced by 1984 and the novel also plays a huge part in the story, which was nice.

Invisible Planet – Hao Jingfang: An older person tells a young person about incredible planets they have visited. As a traveler of the worlds they have apparently seen many thousand diverse planets. All off them have their own social structures, cultures, sense of time and inhabitants. Despite only playing a little part in the story all of them are well fleshed out and incredibly interesting to read. Definitely another one of my favorites.

Folding Beijing – Hao Jingfang: Set in a world where the population was split into three parts. Due to the incredibly high population only one part is awake for a while, while the other two parts are folded away and stashed underground with the help of chemicals. One man who wants to earn enough money to make it possible for his daughter to go to a reputable kindergarten so she can have singing and dancing lessons, attempts to deliver a rich man’s illegal message to his loved one. To do this he has to travel between the three spaces and hope he won’t get caught.

Call Girl – Tang Pei: A call girl of a different sort. She offers out of this world experiences trough special stories. The story is definitely one that you have to read more than once, but I still enjoyed it.

Grave of the Fireflies – Cheng Jingbo: This story is very fantastical in nature and feels like a fairy tale. A girl was born between worlds as their family flew from a dying star. While the universe is slowly cooling, her mother hides away in a magical castle and is not seen again. When the girl is twelve she meets the Magician of Weightless City. Growing up she discovers the secret to his eternal youth and why her mother disappeared, as well as her ancient and secret past.

The Circle – Liu Cixin: An assassin is sent to kill the king but instead he offers him the secret to eternal life. As the secret lies in the never-ending and never repeating digits of Pi, the mathematician invents a system of calculating that is based on ones and zeros. This can be easily done with men holding flags. To easily get this done he trains the three millions soldiers of the king and forms a gigantic formation. The mathematics parts are remarkably logical and the story definitely fascinated me.

Taking Care of God – Liu Cixin: The story starts with God and his family. He is not really liked, the wife constantly nags, the husband doesn’t care, the son is too preoccupied with school to care and the grandfather just wants to play chess and lets us his temper on God. He is not really well liked by anyone except the families daughter. One day thousands of spaceships appear in the sky and a lot of old people suddenly wander trough the cities, all saying the same thing: “We are God. Please, considering that we created this world, would you give us a bit of food?” In exchange for their pension they give humans all of their scientific research. But as it turns out that humans are not yet developed enough to apply it, the situation quickly becomes more and more uncomfortable for the gods and the abuse sky rockets. The story is very awe-inspiring, but it also made me quite sad. I definitely adored it.

The three essays in the end are written by Liu Cixin, Chen Qiufan and Xia Jia and I definitely enjoyed them as well.

All in all this anthology offered me an incredibly unique entry point to Chinese Science-Fiction. I also liked Ken Liu’s translations.

 

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