Translators: John Chu, Adam Lanphier, Joel Martinsen, Carmen Yiling Yan,
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Genre: Social SF
Publication Date: 01/10/2020 (this translation)
With Hold Up the Sky, Head of Zeus continue their excellent track record of putting out English translations of Chinese SF. This particular collection stems from the pen of Cixin Liu, arguably the most famous Chinese SF author in the Anglophone world. I’ve reviewed his novels before, and happily Joel Martinsen is back to share in the translation duties. Though there are four translators at work here, Liu’s unique and direct style comes through strongly in each piece. This is a slimmer volume than his previous collection, The Wandering Earth, but is an equally fine display of his strengths as a writer. Though his novel length works are my preferred medium, there is no denying that Liu’s idea-oriented style is uniquely suited for the shorter format. The limited word count makes his innovative ideas shine even brighter.
There are eleven stories contained here, the oldest dating to 1985, but all translated specifically for this book. There is a great deal of variety here, covering centuries-long interstellar wars, time travel, climate disaster, and the odd more personal tale. As Liu write sin his foreword, however, all these stories are linked by the common themes at the heart of all his work. The parallels between individual human lives and the greater expanse of the universe is something that a fair few of my favourite books touch on, and that focus may be why I enjoy Liu’s work so much. He really does have a special touch for the wider scope that SF offers the writer.
If I had to pick a favourite story from this collection, it would either be ‘Contraction,’ which has a brilliantly original take on what will happen at the end of the universe, as well as a heavy discussion on the interconnected nature of space, time and humanity, or ‘Ode to Joy,’ in which a giant mirror appears over the Earth and begins playing music. There is an abundance of images and motifs in this book that I’ve never seen the equal of. Even the infrequent story which fails to work for me, such as ‘Fire in the Earth’ has a kernel of greatness in it.
Possibly because of the translation, there are times when the dialogue comes across as stilted. This didn’t bother me all that much, but is one of Liu’s weaker aspects. Like Star Trek, there is a lot of talk that sounds significant and portentous, but is also sort of gibberish if you look too closely. But this deficit is more than made up for by the content of those conversations. As with all of Liu’s work to date, this book has multiple moments that pretty much fried my brain as I tried to comprehend the situation. And I mean that in the best possibly way. It’s quite simply mind-blowing.
If you have yet to encounter Cixin Liu’s work, this collection is a great introduction. if you are familiar with the man, then this is a perfect opportunity to get more of his work in the English Language.