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21st century China as 1950s America

Posted November 5, 2014 into Books by John Birmingham

I'm really looking forward to release of Cixin Liu's The Three Body Problem. Partly because it's about invasion by space aliens (who must surely get their space lizard arses kicked, as is only right), and partly because it's a Chinese take on a very western genre.

Liu is a power plant engineer, so the science is probably going to be reasonably accurate; not that I give a shit. And it's been a genuine best seller in his home country already, so I'm guessing the story chops are the goods.

The Wall Street Journal ran some interview extracts recently, including a question about the reasons for Liu's success in the SF genre. His answer was revealing of a China we don't often think about, a modern industrial and even post industrial state emerging from thousands of years of agrarian backwardness.

Why do you think your book has generated so much interest?

It’s hard to say. I asked this same question of a person who has a lot of experience in selling books. He didn’t know either. Perhaps it’s linked to the fact that Chinese society is industrializing rapidly. Chinese people are increasingly considering the world not from the perspective of their own nation, but from the perspective of all mankind. They are concerned with the problems of all humanity. Those problems are often philosophical in nature. More and more Chinese have begun to care about where we come from, where we are now and where we are going. And they have begun to care about the fate of our planet and the entire universe. This is especially true of young Chinese.

You could say this about America, or any of the anglophone countries in the early to mid 20th Century and you would not be far wrong, I reckon.

9 Responses to ‘21st century China as 1950s America’

Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted November 5, 2014

I have been looking forward to this one a lot, then its tempered by how much I was looking forward to reading Ancillary Justice until I actually read it.

I am torn between cheering China on with is endeavours in space and renewable energy and booing their attitudes to freedom of expression and voicing dissent.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 5, 2014
I'm still struggling through the first chapter of AJ. After 6 months.

Barnesm mumbles...

Posted November 5, 2014
I wonder if AJ is one of those books more reviewed than read.

pitpat puts forth...

Posted November 5, 2014
Just finished AJ, and it felt like the eternity that I waited for something to actually happen. It was a well written back story and in all probability just exposes my preference for things to go BOOM at irregular and surprising intervals. For my sins I have started the latest Hamilton opus and am having the same problem of actually giving a rats.

Blarkon asserts...

Posted November 6, 2014
Book awards aren't necessarily about the quality of the work, but may be more about the people that vote for the awards.

AJ's much awardedness may be more about burnishing the SF community's progressive credentials than it is about rewarding a groundbreaking, thought provoking, paradigm redefining work of fiction.

(There is certainly the same sort of bitter controversy within the SF community that there is within the gaming community with progressive and conservative factions each attempting to define the nature of the community)

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Surtac reckons...

Posted November 5, 2014


Liu's book looks really interesting. I'll look out for it.

Re Ancillary Justice, which I enjoyed immensely btw, I think the issue is that Leckie has been heavily influenced by the writings of CJ Cherryh and the particular style in which she writes. CJC will never infodump at you and you as the reader are expected to handle a lot of the heavy lifting working out the background that the action takes place in. And CJC's themes are almost always sociological in nature - it's not all about the 'splosions..

Full disclosure - I'm one of the moderators of a message board forum dedicated to CJC in particular and SF/F in general. We don't see her around there much anymore, but Leckie has been a member there for longer than I have.

Pitpat, I'm reading the new Hamilton right now too and I'm finding it quite engrossing halfway through.

Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted November 5, 2014
"it's not all about the 'splosions".... HERESY

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pitpat asserts...

Posted November 5, 2014
Thanks Surtac, I will keep going. I didn't mean it to sound like I was dissing AJ or Leckie. The book has a refreshing POV and her writing style is polished with more than a little bit of subtlety. And yes the reader is expected to work for the reward which is generally a good thing. If I could I would blame my children for my inability to concentrate. It is easier to blame society as a whole for bombarding me with useless shit that I just have to read or watch. Ah fuck it I blame the Internet. and Santa.

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NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 5, 2014
I think of America leading the world into the machine age. A tsunami of mechanisation eddying around the Appalachians, surging up the Mississippi and crashing onto the great plains. Great mighty scale technology of cast iron and grease. Capable men learnt the systems of coal and oil as the horse age passed. This is still part of the culture with bike & car customisation.

Now the digital age is surging and another nation is finding themselves. I wonder what ripples will eddy through the future.


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