Head of Zeus | 2017 | 447p | Review copy (and bought copy) | Buy the book
When I devoured the Three-Body Problem trilogy by Cixin Liu, I discovered an author who gives me everything that I want from science fiction. There is a beautiful melancholy to his vision of the distant past, the present and the future, and he fills it with the most enormous, jawdropping ideas. All of this was confirmed and more by The Wandering Earth, an anthology of ten (or eleven if you’re reading certain earlier ebook editions) glorious stories written by Cixin Liu over the last twenty years.
I’m not a big reader of short stories generally but my eyes were recently opened by Alastair Reynold’s collection Beyond the Aquila Rift. The Wandering Earth confirms my better-late-than-never opinion that there can be just as much to love about a science fiction short story or novella as there is about a brickbook, which is what I traditionally go for. The majority of the stories here are about fifty pages long, with chapters, and are more than long enough to pull the reader into the most extraordinary of times and places.
The collection kicks off with the story that gives the anthology its name, ‘The Wandering Earth’ and it is absolutely fantastic! Earth knows that the Sun will die in a thousand years or so, in a burning flourish that will destroy the inner planets of the solar system and eradicate all life and possibilities for life on Earth. The generations who live under this foreboding decide to do the seemingly impossible. They will turn Earth into a starship. It will travel through the Galaxy to find a new home, its inhabitants surviving deep below the surface, never seeing or experiencing daylight. It is an extraordinary story – there are moments in it that made me sit up and my jaw drop – and it sets the theme for the rest of this collection.
Ideas and themes recur through the stories – first contact, the creation of life on Earth, the end of that life (globally and on a more intimate level), the distant past of dinosaurs and ants, exploration within the very core of the planet, judgement on how well humanity has done, sacrifice for the good of the Earth. There is a sadness to many of these stories as men and women are faced with the demise of life by a variety of methods, but they must also face the natural end of a single life. Even Gods must die in the end. But this sadness is counteracted by the wonder that comes through knowing that we are not alone in the universe or indeed on this planet – just as other civilisations travel through the universe, there are other species on our own planet who deserve consideration. Humans can look at existence with a limited perspective but these stories suggest we open our eyes.
I love the way that, even though each of these stories stands alone, some of them make reference to others – names and people occasionally recur, ideas pop up more than once, such as the suggestion that the Earth is just one of several identical Earths that were created at the same time and will inevitably fight for supremacy.
There are amazing wondrous moments in The Wandering Earth, such as the description of a fall through the centre of the Earth, a micro-Earth, an alien eating a human to see whether the species is tasty enough to keep it alive – for food, an extraordinary dispersal of wealth, the construction of a new sun, the beauty of a flower. I couldn’t read these stories fast enough. I couldn’t imagine where they would take me next.
As well as the hardback, I also bought the kindle version and it’s worth mentioning that this turned out to be an older version, with different translations and with an additional story (‘Of Ants and Dinosaurs’, which is a marvellous story and I wish it were in the hardback). I’ve been told that this is currently being replaced but it did cause me some confusion as you can imagine! For the time being, these two editions are not the same book. Certainly, the hardback is a thing of beauty and its translations are wonderful. So praise galore must go to translators Ken Liu, Elizabeth Hanlon, Zac Haluza, Adam Lanphier and Holger Nahm.
If you’ve never read Cixin Liu before then this would be a great place to start. And hopefully, after reading it, you will be inspired to take a look at this wonderful writer’s masterpiece, the Three-Body Problem trilogy which is now complete and ready for the taking.