TRANSLATED BY KEN LIU, Broken Stars is a welcome second collection of 16 Chinese speculative fiction short stories and three short essays recounting the genre’s recent cultural and academic prominence. The volume gives voice to an eclectic group, serving as a who’s who of SF authors, critics, and other anchors in China’s burgeoning SF culture industry brought to Anglophone audiences by Ken Liu’s deft translation. The eclecticism of these works provides testament to the breadth, allure, and challenges of Chinese-language SF as a genre that miraculously thrives even in the repressive atmosphere of the Xi Jinping era.
As i’m tweaking my paper for the fast approaching ACCL conference in Changsha I’ve run across a lot of interesting things on Chen Qiufan (陈楸帆, whose work I’m writing about), with perhaps the most intriguing being this (uncredited) image of the author posing in shades with the legendary Stan Lee.
In six years, Liu has published more than 100 short
stories. In “Paper Menagerie,” a young Chinese-American boy’s mom makes
origami that comes to life. “Single Bit-Error,” a tale of love
lost after a car crash, uses programming language as metaphor. “Mono No
Aware” tells the story of a Japanese boy who earns a coveted spot on an
American evacuation ship from Earth (hit by an asteroid). “Everything
passes, Hiroto,” the boy remembers his late father saying. “That feeling
in your heart: It’s called mono no aware. It is a sense of the
transience of all things in life.”
Liu references his heritage in The Grace of Kings
not by writing characters of his ethnicity, but through the aesthetic
of his futuristic world landscape — “silkpunk,” mixing Victoriana and
East Asian classical antiquity. The world uses East Asian technological
sources like bamboo, silk and wind power, while Liu drew from Chinese
historical romances and foundational narratives well known in Chinese
At first, most Chinese sci-fi was imported
translations of authors like Jules Verne. In 1932, the same year as
Aldous Huxley came out with Brave New World, Chinese author Lao She wrote a dystopian satirical novel set on Mars called Cat Country. But the communists pushed most sci-fi aside beginning in the 1950s.