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When still a boy, Cixin Liu sneaked away on a sweltering day from the gaze and gossip of the adults, to read Jules Verne’s classic: Journey to the Centre of The Earth. The boy’s rapturous reading was abruptly interrupted when his father unbeknownst to him crept up and snatched the book from Liu’s hands. “It’s called science fiction” the father said before handing the book back to his son. This incident transformed Cixin Liu into a sponge for science fiction and led him to garner subsequent fame as one of the best writers in the genre.
A View from the Stars is a unique collection that places fiction and non-fiction side by side. A selection of short stories penned by Liu from the past three decades are interspersed with non-fiction essays and interviews. The book begins with Whale Song, a short story written in 1999 and first published in Science World Fiction. A notorious drug tycoon simply known as Uncle Warner is finding it an impossible task to dispose off his enviable stash consisting of twenty-five tonnes of pure heroin due to the advanced surveillance and technological prowess of the United States Law Enforcement. A whiz kid from Caltech, Dave Hopkins may turn out to be Uncle Warner’s saviour. A friend of Warner Jr, Hopkins produces a mind-blowing idea of transporting the stash on multiple trips in a submersible that is hidden within the bowels of a live whale! Programmed to obey instructions the whale would swallow the submersible and spit it out at the points of destination. A gob smacked Uncle Warner agrees to ride shotgun with Hopkins on their very first journey. All goes super smooth until……
The Messenger (published in King of Science Fiction in 2001), has a traveler from the future listening to Albert Einstein play the violin daily before presenting a unique violin to the genius scientist. The only condition being the violin needs to be returned when the messenger comes back for a final visit. Little does Einstein realise that the violin by itself carries a message that may trump all theories conceptualised by Physics till such time.
In the essay One and One Hundred Thousand Earths (published in Modern Weekly in 2012), Liu bemoans the lack of progress in space exploration since the time man first landed on the moon. He attributes two reasons for such a regression. The first cause according to Liu is technological. The basic and most critical aspect for spaceflight, propulsion technology, is still lagging. While the technology required for undertaking a successful planetary voyage is nuclear propulsion, space technology is still in the stage of chemical propulsion.
The second and more obvious reason is economic. The Apollo moon landings set the United States back by $26 billion (approximately $100 billion in terms of 2012 values), in exchange for about two tonnes of lunar rocks. A similar attempt today would be many times more expensive with the attendant benefits not amenable for quantification.
The Battle Between Sci-Fi and Fantasy (published in Science Fiction World in 2002), has Liu calling for a truce between advocates of two genres who are perennially at each other’s throats. “The truth is that sci-fi and fantasy have many more similarities than differences. They have the same goal: both strive to create ethereal, free worlds of the imagination from which readers can derive the shocks and delights of beauty.”
In The “Church” of Sci-Fi,” (published in 2001 on the “Science Fiction” message board of Tsinghua University’s SMTH BBS), Liu goads the sci-fi authors to be true to their readers and not to get them benumbed by resorting to prosaic and conceptual fare. Contending that science fiction is at its most charming when depicting the relationship between people and the universe, he urges sci-fi writers to treat the universe itself as a protagonist, as much as any of its characters.
A View From The Stars, is a very thought provoking, introspective and reflective collection that cleaves fiction and non-fiction in a way many could not have imagined.
(A View From The Stars is published by Tor Publishing Group and will be available on sale beginning 02 April 2024).
(Thank You Net Galley for the Advance Reviewer Copy!)