Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds

In a previous post, I discussed the socio-poltical aspects of scifi stories in terms of The War of the Worlds. The selection of this story is intentional for two reasons. First, there is a timeline of the telling and retellings of this story that can be viewed in parallel to socio-political events. The second reason for selecting this text is because over on The New Yorker website, there is an article titled “Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds” by staff writer Jiayang Fan. The previous post serves as a sort of background introduction for this post.

Regular readers here will note this is not my first post on Cixin Liu. A previous post discussed one of his latest Chinese-to-English translated novels, Ball Lighting. However, here the focus of this post and the related article is on his first major set of English translated works, the Remembrances of Earth’s Past Trilogy.

Fan’s article is based on interviews conducted during his visit the U.S. to receive an award for his works’ impact on American scifi readership. Liu sees Chinese modernization programs creating a “future… ‘full of threats and challenges'” resulting in “very fertile soil” for scifi works.

However, Fan notes at one point that Liu “briskly dismissed the idea that fiction could serve as commentary on history or on current affairs. ‘The whole point is to escape the real world!’ he said.” Later in the article, Fan writes of Liu: “’I’m a writer,’ he told me, with a shrug. ‘I don’t begin with some conceit in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.’”

These statements would appear to place Cixin Liu firmly in the camp with the persons who believe scifi should be absent of socio-political issues. And it would be easy to accept author/artist intent at face value. However, Fan’s article discusses the impact that The Three Body Problem has had on and the number of high profile fans of the book who work in scifi, science, and politics.

Further, Fan remarks that “Liu, unlike many Chinese writers popular in the West, is no dissident” and quotes Liu making the statement that “the relationship between politics and science fiction cannot be underestimated.” Here we have Cixin Liu himself acknowledging that scifi cannot be completely separated from socio-political issues it addresses and raises, even if they may perhaps be unintentional statement.

Fan offers a description of scifi that allows for socio-political issues by stating that “Speculative fiction is the art of imagining alternative worlds, and the same political establishment that permits it to be used as propaganda for the existing regime is also likely to recognize its capacity to interrogate the legitimacy of the status quo.”

So, while Cixin Liu may shy away from direct connections between scifi and socio-political issues, he acknowledges that scifi is by necessity about socio-political issues. And, I think it’s because of his ability to make the socio-political issues in China relatable to readers in the U.S., despite his support for, and my refusal to accept, the current political structure in China, that Cixin Liu stands as one of my favorite scifi writers.

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