How many have read all of Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Cixin Liu in the 11 years since The Three-Body Problem was first serialized in the Chinese magazine Science Fiction World?
How many have read it only in English?
Wie viele Leute haben Gesamtheit dieser Trilogie nur auf Deutsch gelesen?
I ask because having just finished the trilogy in English as published by Tor in New York – The Three-Body Problem (2014), The Dark Forest (2015) and Death’s End (2016), translated by Ken Liu and Joel Martinsen – I wonder if many people stuck with it all the way through. I’m eager to converse with those who have. In any language:
For full disclosure, I worked very briefly as a freelancer at TOR in 2001, but I have no relationship with them. I ordered each volume to my local branch of the public library, received hardbacks in an orderly fashion and read the three this May.
These were released in English in 2014, ’15 and ’16 but I binge-read it all as one novel. I get the feeling many people who finished the first book, didn’t read the second because it wasn’t released until a year later.
If you have not read any of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, I recommend you read those two reviews before continuing here.
Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Cixin Liu
I’m not a scientist. I’m not formally educated in computing or astrophysics or chemistry or astronomy or biology or nano-science or any of the disciplines Cixin Liu uses to sustain his startlingly creative projection of humanity hundreds of years and eventually hundreds of million of years into the future.
The consumption of this work is about the STEM level of people in China, India, Europe, and the United States of America – where STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math. You have to have proper education in these disciplines to comprehend and indeed to enjoy this work.
Computer geeks, science nerds, rootless intellectuals, unite.
I struggled to put together the science, but I was continually amazed by the thought Liu put into his fantastic inventions and conceits.
In Death’s End, humanity uses hibernation and near-light-speed travel to extend human consciousness millions of light-years across space and hundreds of millions of years into the future. This extends the philosophical reach of the first two volumes exponentially.
This trilogy is intellectually complex work that starts with the highest current levels of technology, imagines liberally and then sustains a creative and technical specificity that pushes wide the willing suspension of disbelief. The technical creativity got so immense I stopped doubting the science.
It was exhausting.
During Book One I started taking one Extra-Strength Tylenol™ roughly every 150 pages to deal with headaches. This continued until I finished the trilogy this morning.
It was educational.
I learned more hard science from a work of fiction than I have in decades. I ended up re-learning the basics of astronomy and physics, of chemistry and biology that I had let fall aside. Liu’s scientific and technological detail is great for re-firing dusty synapses concerning cosmology and for grasping a view of our universe with rich scientific ideas and creative philosophies.
It was exhilarating.
Liu’s seemingly inexhaustible imagination kept providing new ways of thinking about us as human beings or about various disciplines. He takes on huge issues of science and then drills down on the tech. He takes on philosophy with a handful of characters and large masses and manages to capture so many human qualities and conundra. He then pushes these as far as he can, exploring an immense range of human responses to conditions I’ve never – and perhaps nobody’s – ever considered.
From the standpoint of strategic and military thinking these books have a freshness that seems composed not from any one culture’s way of thinking about conflict – not Chanakya’s nor Sun-Tzu’s nor that of Von Clausewitz nor Machiavelli – but rather from gathering ways all humans have acted and reacted to this point, pulling it together, and then shoving forward en masse to address how we would struggle among ourselves to deal with his imagined future contexts: extra-terrestrial invasion, mundicide, global annihilation, solar annihilation, the annihilation of the universe itself.
This is a huge reach and there are problems with it.
I noticed often that I’d think of a strategy from human history that could be applied or a way we approach a problem that Liu doesn’t include in the discourse. It made me feel like he hadn’t really covered all the bases before launching into a new direction.
The result is a feeling that Liu is continually guiding us through the narrative by what his characters thought of and how they reacted not necessarily the totality of human possibility.
This bothered me, but then it made a deeper sense. History is composed of how people act and react in a moment and what flows from their decisions. This work does read like human history told from the very distant future.
Creatively that’s astonishing. Cixin Liu is bold and dares to imagine how we’d think and act and then tries honestly to faithfully represent us in his wild future.
It’s important to note I could rationalize the many different approaches that characters took in the works and decisions they made. Liu is exceptional at projecting a wide range of human flaws and brilliance into the way the characters move this thing along.
It lead me to realize how compartmentalized my own thinking of humanity is. My biases about the Chinese were revealed many times as I read Remembrance of Earth’s Past.
I want to be clear and honest about this as a means of discussing translation of the work. I’ve read that the German translation has been considered more faithful to the original. I wonder if that’s about differences between English and German and/or Chinese.
I’m eager to write more and to discuss with anyone who has read the complete trilogy. As usual I’ll update this post here over the next day or two, so look for a final version in a couple of days, but I must stop now.
Remembrance of Earth’s Past, the trilogy, by Cixin Liu
May 31, 2017