Book Review: Invisible Planets

Ken Liu, the Editor of this story collection, spends a part of the foreword to warn the reader:

Given the realities of China’s politics and its uneasy relationship with the West, it is natural for Western readers encountering Chinese science fiction to see it through the lens of Western dreams and hopes and fairy tales about Chinese politics. “Subversion” in the pro-West sense may become an interpretive crutch. It is tempting, for example, to view Ma Boyong’s “The City of Silence” as a straightforward attack on China’s censorship apparatus, or to read Chen Qiufan’s “The Year of the Rat” only as criticism of China’s education system and labor market

It’s often hard to follow his advice when reading the stories in this book. I don’t want to delve too deep into this, but “The Year of the Rat” is not only about education but also about genocide.

He is right though, there is much more to those stories than a critique of the government. I enjoyed Liu Cixin’s stories the most. Especially “The circle” delighted my computer science nerd’s heart. I was a little disappointed by his “Ball Lightning” novel, but now I have newfound enthusiasm to tackle his “Three Body Problem” series.

“The Grave of the Fireflies” was also something very special. It felt to me like a combination of Asimov’s “The Last Question” and the “Dark Souls” video game series.

Other stories I very much enjoyed were “Tongtong’s summer”, “The City of Silence” and the Title story “Invisible Planets”. The language was sometimes a little jarring to me, probably mostly as a byproduct of the translation process and my lack of knowledge regarding Chinese culture. Luckily Science Fiction stories don’t need beautiful language but can rely on the ideas behind the stories. The language of science is universal.

There are also three short essay’s about Chinese Science Fiction at the end of the book. I liked this quote from Xia Jia’s “What makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?”:

The Chinese people once believed that science, technology, and the courage to dream would propel them to catch up with the developed nations of the West. However, now that Western science fiction and cultural products are filled with imaginative visions of humanity’s gloomy destiny, Chinese science fiction writers and readers can no longer treat “where are we going?” as an answered question.

A big “yay!” for optimistic SciFi!

While there were some stories (like “Night Journey of the Dragon Horse”) that failed to grab my attention, I found this to be a rewarding read and can’t wait to delve deeper into Chinese SciFi.

A final word of warning: The Kindle edition I read had quite bizarre typos, “disappear” was always written as “dis appear” for example.

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