Saturday, June 30, 2018

Book Review: The Wandering Earth by Liu Cixin

The Wandering Earth is a collection of short stories by Liu Cixin and translated by Ken Liu, Elizabeth Hanlon, Zac Haluza, Adam Lanphier, and Holger Nahm. I picked this up at Balticon, a local science fiction and fantasy convention. I had already read the titular short story (you can find my review here), but had not yet read any of the other ones. Because this is not a novel, I won't review it in the same fashion but rather give you my impressions as a whole.

Read on after the jump for my impressions.

There are 10 short stories in this collection. It's not clear if these are ordered by publication date or in some other fashion. I would classify these as hard science fiction as they generally take a few scientifically motivated topics and explore them in some way. I couldn't help but compare them against The Three Body Problem series. In fact, I think several concepts there were probably seeds of ideas that would eventually make it into the The Three Body Problem.

There were many themes throughout Liu's stories. Several dealt with humanity's first contact with alien species. Sometimes this was benign, if puzzling, other times it was world shattering. A few stories also touched on concepts of money and capitalism. In some you had a character bringing himself out of poverty, in others you had philosophical discussions on the distribution of wealth and its consequences. Another prominent theme was that of destruction or the end of the world. Catastrophes happen, either by natural phenomena, human negligence, or alien intervention, and we get stories of humanity's survival in these dark times. Despite some of the themes being on the darker side, they are not overbearing.

Some stories did have a bit of humor in them, the most prominent of them being Curse 5.0. The author himself is a character in Curse 5.0 and he is hard at work writing The Three-Thousand-Body Problem with plenty of comical mischief thrown in. One of the other stories also had what are effectively space dinosaurs, which was cool to see.

A few stories also seemed to be connected, the main case being With Her Eyes and Cannonball. There is a common character that is mentioned in both these stories, though it's not completely clear if the rest of the world are shared.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the stories. They served well in my daily commute as they didn't require a huge investment of time to get into and resolve. Many left me thinking for days on end about the topics presented, which is perfect for hard science fiction stories.

Of all the stories, probably The Wandering Earth was my favorite. It's just such a powerful tale of human connections and follies in the face of incredible catastrophes. I strongly recommend at least reading that one.

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