Head of Zeus | 2019 (19 February) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book
Broken Stars presents sixteen short stories by fourteen Chinese science fiction writers. Seven of the stories haven’t been available in English before and almost all of them were first published during the 2010s. The book closes with three essays on the history and rise of Chinese science fiction, which has been receiving so much attention outside China in recent years, largely due, one would think, to the brilliant Cixin Liu (who is represented in this volume) and Ken Liu himself.
Ken Liu’s criterion for selecting the stories is made clear in his introduction: ‘I enjoyed the story and thought it memorable’, a sound basis if ever there was one. The stories, each of which has a brief introduction, vary greatly as you’d hope but the majority are Earth-bound. I must admit that I prefer to escape the limits of Earth for much of the science fiction that I read, whether long or short, but there are some intriguing themes here and quite often they reflect philosophical and political ideas that help to make Chinese science fiction so distinct and fascinating. Another frequent theme, and one I particularly enjoy, is time.
The stories that I particularly enjoyed include a poignant discussion, a growth of understanding, between an AI and Turing (‘Goodnight, Melancholy’ by Xia Jia) and ‘What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear’ by Baoshu. This story, one of the two longest, presents China’s history in reverse so that a man living today must travel forwards into a time that is really China’s history in reverse, going back through Tiananmen Square, the Cultural Revolution and so on, with all of the loss and pain that this entails. It’s an intriguing idea – how would a modern man or woman cope with the tragedies of recent Chinese history? ‘The New Year Train’ by Hao Jingfang is a favourite of mine in the collection, although it was one of those, like ‘Submarines’ by Han Song, that I wished were longer. A train can journey almost in an instant through a ‘space-time curve’. But one day a train doesn’t arrive. It is lost. But where?
Cixin Liu is a favourite author of mine of any genre and I’ve enjoyed his long novels (the incredible The Three-Body Problem trilogy and Ball Lightning) and short stories (The Wandering Earth). His story in this collection is ‘Moonlight’ and it could well be my favourite of the anthology. A man receives three phone calls, each from a future version of himself and each with instructions for how he can change the future of the planet.
The more I read of Chinese science fiction, the more I want to read and Broken Stars, and Ken Liu, has introduced me to more authors writing today as well as confirmed by deep admiration for the astonishing Cixin Liu.