from the engineer-by-day,-writer-by-night dept.
Joshua Rothman has a very interesting article in The New Yorker about Liu Cixin, China’s most popular science-fiction writer, author of thirteen books who until very recently had retained his day job as a computer engineer with a State-run power plant in a remote part of Shanxi province. It helped him to stay grounded and enabled him to "gaze at the unblemished sky" as many of his co-workers do.
In China, Cixin is about as famous as William Gibson in the United States and Cixin is often compared to Arthur C. Clarke, whom he cites as an influence. Rothman writes that American science fiction draws heavily on American culture, of course—the war for independence, the Wild West, film noir, sixties psychedelia—and so humanity’s imagined future often looks a lot like America’s past. For an American reader, one of the pleasures of reading Liu is that his stories draw on entirely different resources.
For example, in “The Wages of Humanity,” visitors from space demand the redistribution of Earth’s wealth, and explain that runaway capitalism almost destroyed their civilization. In “Taking Care of Gods,” the hyper-advanced aliens who, billions of years ago, engineered life on Earth descend from their spaceships; they turn out to be little old men with canes and long, white beards. “We hope that you will feel a sense of filial duty towards your creators and take us in,” they say. "I doubt that any Western sci-fi writer has so thoroughly explored the theme of filial piety," writes Rothman. In another story, “The Devourer,” a character asks, “What is civilization? Civilization is devouring, ceaselessly eating, endlessly expanding.” But you can’t expand forever; perhaps it would be better, another character suggests, to establish a “self-sufficient, introspective civilization.” "At the core of Liu’s sensibility," concludes Rothamn, "is a philosophical interest in the problem of limits. How should we react to the inherent limitations of life? Should we push against them or acquiesce?"