Review copy provided by Tor Books.
I don’t usually note the translator of translated works I read, but in this case it’s Ken Liu, and he is himself a notable writer of science fiction. It’s one of the best works of translation I’ve ever read: the translator notes are clear, concise, and well-chosen. At the risk of playing armchair psychologist, I would guess that Ken has a lot of insight into what he would want someone in China or Tanzania or Bosnia to know about his stories if they didn’t have that background, while simultaneously being able to say, “Ah, okay, here’s a place Anglo readers are going to trip.”
As for Cixin Liu’s book itself, I recommend it to hard SF readers and to people interested in China, because oh my goodness, it is so Chinese. It starts with the Cultural Revolution, and the awareness of that permeates the book so thoroughly. Even western authors who are trying to write about Chinese characters who endured that period have never managed, in my opinion, to make it so organic and integral as it is to these characters’ thought processes. It shapes all their reactions to the science fictional elements. The fact of having to rephrase “sunspots” so that they don’t have political implications is exactly the sort of grounding detail it’s hard to figure out you’ll need from a different cultural background. Of course a scientist who has had that as their life circumstance will react very differently to news of aliens, will speculate quite differently about who those aliens might be and how humans should react to them. It’s hard to get all that right from the outside. This is why we need more SF in translation.
So anyway: you have people–scientists, thinkers, mostly, celebrities, a few ordinary people–playing a game that’s helping them think through the biggest news in the world: that aliens are coming. That aliens have already interfered from afar and are about to interfere from closer up. And I don’t want to spoiler more than that. It’s fun, it’s good, you should read it. Especially if you like near-future SF or literature in translation, but especially especially if you like both.
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