Monday, November 14, 2016

Invisible Planets Translated and Edited by Ken Liu

If you read fantasy/steampunk, you may have heard of The Grace of Kings. If you read sci-fi, you may know The Three Body Problem. Ken Liu is related to both these works - he is the author of the former and the translator of the latter. So when I heard that he has translated and edited a collection of Chinese Sci-Fi, I knew I had to read it.

The anthology had stories from Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Ma Boyong, Hao Jingfang (who contributed the story that gives the collection its name), Tang Fei, Cheng Jingbo and the man of the hour, Liu Cixin. The authors, while all writing Sci-Fi, all have write in the different subgenres, which makes this a pleasure to read.

I'm not going to review each story individually, but I will say that if you're read The Three Body Problem, Liu Cixin's The Circle will feel familiar to you.

My favourite story has got to be A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight, which is about robots, ghosts and even talks about tourism! Actually, I think Xia Jia (the author of this story) is my favourite author of them all because I enjoyed all three stories that were contributed.

Liu Cixin's stuff was good too, though that may be because I already have a very good impression of him. But in general, all the authors wrote enjoyable stories (though I didn't completely understand a few of them).

At the end of the collection, there are three essays: "The world of all possible universes and the best of all possible earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction", "The Torn Generation: Chinese Science Fiction in a Culture of Transition" and "What makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?" All three are pretty interesting and definitely worth reading too.

The only part of the book I didn't really agree with was the request not to view the works through Western lens. While I think it's an interesting exercise if the reader wants to, Reader-Response Criticism is a valid way of reading texts. And in its most extreme form (if I'm remembering correctly), the author's intentions don't even factor into the interpretation. I'm all for reading stories the way you want to read them, so asking people to avoid a particular way of reading isn't really something I can get behind. Basically, if you want to read and digest it naturally, go ahead. If you want to try and read without preconceived notions, then go ahead and do that.

Plus, if you have a story about censorship that was censored to pass the Chinese censors, I think it's not a wild/extremely unorthodox thing to read it as being about the censorship by the Chinese government.

If you're looking to widen your reading horizon but still want to stick to the English language, definitely get this collection. It's a good look (though as Ken Liu admits, not comprehensive) at Chinese Sci-Fi.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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