China’s technological capabilities have, in a period of roughly 40 years, experienced a meteoric rise to global prominence. Armed with the most STEM graduates in the world, China’s government has also emphasized the importance of technological innovation. This has led to the creation of world class technology companies who continue to push the boundaries of innovation while also transforming the daily lives of Chinese people into a flourishing digital existence.
Nowhere is this insatiable desire for scientific advancement and innovation more evident than in Cixin Liu’s critically acclaimed trilogy “Remembrance on Earth’s Past”. More commonly known as “The Three-Body Problem”, the name of the first book released in 2007, this literary masterpiece inspired millions in China and then worldwide to imagine and create a world with fundamentally world-altering technologies.
Cixin Liu was a computer engineer at a power plant in Shanxi province, who would spend his nights writing science fiction, designing worlds and stories with incredible depth and breath. “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” displays such a sophisticated imagination, the scope of which is scarcely rivaled in the genre of science fiction. Spanning millions of years, Liu’s boundless creativity takes his reader on a trip throughout an entire history that follows human’s first contact with an alien race, the Trisolarans.
Citing the early influences of George Orwell and Arthur C. Clarke, Liu developed a penchant for clarity amidst complexity in his writing style. The power of Liu’s narrative stems from his incredible grasp of the scientific intricacies of the story. Liu tackles questions of physics throughout the trilogy, and deftly explains complicated scientific concepts. He has always said that the science creates the structure for his expansive narratives, while the characters in his stories populate a world that is born out scientific curiosity. In this way, Liu embodies a new ethos of the Chinese people, who are increasingly fascinated with and inspired by the capacity for technological innovation.
Liu’s story effortlessly weaves future technologies like intergalactic space travel, and long term human hibernation into a narrative that grapples with abrupt and seismic changes to the world. In a way this sense of rapid change also parallels modern Chinese society post Reform and Opening, where an ancient culture has managed to be incredibly flexible and adaptive to the new technologies that constantly reface their environments. The capacity for Chinese society to embrace the ubiquity of technological advancement in areas like smartphone technology, complete with revolutions in mobile payments and O2O services, is remarkable to say the least. Similarly, in Liu’s trilogy, humans are constantly faced with new status quos and are forced to exert maximum effort to adapt and overcome. The ability to embrace changes at a breakneck pace is something Liu would have observed in modern China, and especially felt during the mid 2000s when he was writing “The Three-Body Problem”. During this time, many Chinese tech startups were born, ranging from Beijing’s Zhongguancun, to the southern shores of China in Shenzhen. As the country was becoming more and more infatuated with technology and its potential to change the future, Liu was already busy envisioning an entire timeline of human history influenced by radical new changes in technology.
Liu achieved significant fame domestically, winning China’s highest distinction for science fiction, the aptly cosmic themed, Galaxy Award. Then in 2014, “The Three-Body Problem” was brilliantly translated into English by Chinese-American author Ken Liu (no relation). This sparked a whole new generation of international stardom for Cixin Liu, who, despite the newfound literary fame, retained his job at the Shanxi power plant. In 2015, he became the first Asian writer to win the Hugo Award, the most prestigious international science-fiction prize. President Barack Obama included the trilogy in his recommended reading list, and the series also received the endorsement of American tech entrepreneur and Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Liu’s narrative transcends cultural divides as the people of Earth must unite to face an extraterrestrial threat posed by Trisolaris, who are in search of an environment conducive to supporting life after their home devolved into a resource depleted wasteland.
The ensuing struggle for existence enraptures the reader in three volumes of nonstop entertainment, often posing gut-wrenching moral quandaries, as Liu constantly implements circumstances that test the boundaries of humanity’s ability to solve problems. The series asks questions about the basic value systems we hold as humans and how those systems may respond to extreme situations. For example, as Trisolaris dominates Earth and condemns all of humanity to relocate to Australia, the sheer chaos that ensues pushes humans to yearn for the order and structure of totalitarian, authoritarian leadership.
In addition, the scarcity of resources caused by the conflict with Trisolaris causes people to consider the sustainability of resource production, an allusion to the impending crisis global climate change could cause. Social structures and resource management are two key themes in the series, as people grapple with prioritizing the long term survival of the human species rather than the short term myopic approach that seeks to satiate petty national interests. This is clearly evident in the establishment of a multinational space force, which although it requires a massive amount of resources, is prioritized because it is seen as the only way to combat the impending arrival of the Trisolarans. Similar cooperation would be useful today in combating climate change, however rising temperatures and climate deterioration are less tangible threats than the arrival of an alien race, although science suggests it may be just as dangerous.
The series has many instances that push humanity to the brink, both literally and psychologically, as human’s set out to explore the newly accessible universe. The development of the series’ setting begins on Earth, and slowly transitions to a more cosmic focus, with the end of the series blazing new trails in humanity’s cosmic diaspora. This intrepid exploration of the cosmos’ farthest limits unearths the sense of loneliness in the infinite expanse of outer space.
For all his technical brilliance, Liu’s writing is not devoid of emotion, as there are passionate themes of love and sacrifice throughout the series, which maintains the humanity of future generations among a futuristic space age where distances are increased, and a sense of isolation pervades.
In short, Liu’s “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” is an eternal classic of literature and although it represents the pinnacle of science fiction, it can be enjoyed by enthusiasts of any genre as his story fundamentally addresses questions about humanity and society in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. For anyone with an eye towards the future, Liu offers a brilliant example of what is possible when the unbridled human imagination is paired with the technological innovations of the future.
Featured photo credit to Tor.com