So I recently completed my dissertation on Chinese science fiction and whether or not English-language publishers were missing out on a gap in the market (spoiler alert: results are inconclusive). I’ve had a fair few people ask me for recommendations from my reading list, so I thought I’d post about it here. Many thanks to those who got me started with this reading list and more!
All the linked short stories are free to read online and are completely legal!
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
This is the book that pretty much kickstarted the idea for this dissertation. Liu, one of the ‘Three Generals’ of science fiction in China, became the first author to win the Hugo for a Chinese novel (the Hugo was awarded to the English-language translation). The Three-Body Problem is a dual narrative split between modern day China and the Cultural Revolution and follows mankind’s first contact with an alien race. It’s a tough read — Liu is an engineer in real life and a lot of the science goes straight over my head. Regardless, it’s an incredibly rewarding read and I highly recommended it to fans of hard sci-fi. The entire trilogy, Remembrance of Earth’s Past, is available in English.
Preserve Her Memory by Bao Shu
The beautiful and celebrated actress Ye Lin climbs to the highest tower in the city and jumps off, recounting the tragedies of her charmed life on the way down. The police go over her memory black box, a device that records a person’s memories as they recall them, and relive her final thoughts before her death. This was one of my favorites and I highly recommend it!
You can read this absolutely compelling and unique short story here.
The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
You’ll see Ken Liu’s name pop up everwhere as soon as you start to look into Chinese science fiction. He’s a major translator — and the Hugo-winning translator of The Three-Body Problem — and an author in his own right. The Paper Menagerie is the titular story in his award-winning collection of original short fiction in which an American boy struggles with his heritage and his relationship with his Chinese mother. It’s incredible how much Liu makes you feel in so few words.
You can read the short story here, but I recommend you go out and grab a copy of The Paper Menagerie collection.
Yuanyuan’s Bubbles by Cixin Liu
A short story by the author of The Three-Body Problem, this follows the story of a young girl who loves bubbles and her father who cares for her.
Annoyingly, this novellette won the Hugo just two days after I handed in my dissertation — it would have been amazing to include that fact! I read it regardless and I’m so glad I did. One of the most unique stories I’ve read, it’s a tough one to explain. Just go read it here.
I read a LOT of essays and articles that I could probably go back and find, but these are the ones I remember best:
Conveniently, you can also pick up Ken Liu’s collection calledInvisible Planets. It contains hand-selected translated short stories and all three essays mentioned above. I’ve got a whole lot more that I can dig up from my dissertation, but quite frankly I don’t want to look at that thing for another 5-10 years.
If you really want to dive into Chinese sci-fi, I highly recommend familiarising yourself with the Cultural Revolution. So many authors who have gained recognition were born during or lived through this horrific period in history. The Three-Body Problem is heavily grounded in the history of the Cultural Revolution.
Have you read any of these? Do any sound interesting? I’d love to hear!