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A message from author: 'The words mean what they mean'

By David Blair | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-23 10:12
Liu Cixin [Photo provided to China Daily]

Liu Cixin's trilogy portrays a lose-lose universe, but he says reality need not be that bleak, can be win-win

The Three Body Problem, the first volume of the science fiction trilogy by Liu Cixin, has become such an international cultural phenomenon that business and government leaders have studied the books and drawn lessons from them.

However, Liu has warned against drawing too many analogies from his stories.

When the former US president Barack Obama was in Beijing in November he asked to meet Liu, and he has described the books as "wildly imaginative, really interesting". The book was recommended by the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The first volume won the Hugo award, a first for an Asian author, in 2015.

Xinhua News Agency says more than 1 million copies of the Chinese original and 160,000 copies of the English translation have been sold, previously unheard of numbers for a Chinese science fiction novel.

Wu Yan, a science fiction scholar and professor of humanities at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, says Lei Jun, chief executive of the electronics company Xiaomi, reckons the book gave him ideas about how to deal with market competition.

"It gave him very important ideas about how to make a market work," Wu says. "I've heard that all his company members were told to read this book, study it, and use it as a kind of guide to new developments in the market. ... I've heard that 360, Tencent, and Baidu also pay attention to it. In the business world people respect science fiction."

However, Liu says the uncertainty of living on the home planet of the aliens in the Three Body Problem is not a metaphor for some era in Chinese history, he says.

"The book discusses the fact that the biggest feature of a physical three-body system is that there are no known ways to predict its operation. With three suns, people would not know when the next day would begin. The words mean what they mean."

Furthermore, an alien attack on Earth should not be seen as representing China's "century of humiliation".

"On Earth the most appropriate analogy is the Mayan or other American civilizations when they first meet the Spanish invaders. But it's really about the relations between the future Earth and other stars. Although Chinese civilization has been impacted by foreign civilizations, it was not destroyed, and the impact was limited. Chinese cultural heritage has continued."

Yao Haijun, chief editor of Science Fiction World, China's leading science fiction magazine, says The Three Body Problem has drawn attention from Western readers partly because they seek to understand China.

"It has also set up a link between China and the West through which foreign readers can attempt to hypothesize about the future of the country," he said in an interview with Xinhua.

Liu makes clear that his work reflects the concerns of all peoples.

"It is not my purpose to show the reality of China from a science fiction perspective. This may not meet the expectations of Western readers. My purpose is very simple: that is, science fiction itself. The content in the book is not a metaphor for reality. If it was understood this way the logic of the book would be absurd. This is a common misunderstanding of readers. I prefer to be understood as a sign that Chinese writers are now taking off in imaginative literature and science fiction writing. However, whatever way readers understand it, I am happy I have readers in the West."

Writers from the golden age of British and American science fiction influenced his work.

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