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Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation

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Award-winning translator and author Ken Liu presents a collection of short speculative fiction from China. Some stories have won awards; some have been included in various 'Year's Best' anthologies; some have been well reviewed by critics and readers; and some are simply Ken's personal favorites. Many of the authors collected here (with the obvious exception of Liu Cixin) Award-winning translator and author Ken Liu presents a collection of short speculative fiction from China. Some stories have won awards; some have been included in various 'Year's Best' anthologies; some have been well reviewed by critics and readers; and some are simply Ken's personal favorites. Many of the authors collected here (with the obvious exception of Liu Cixin) belong to the younger generation of 'rising stars'. In addition, three essays at the end of the book explore Chinese science fiction. Liu Cixin's essay, The Worst of All Possible Universes and The Best of All Possible Earths, gives a historical overview of SF in China and situates his own rise to prominence as the premier Chinese author within that context. Chen Qiufan's The Torn Generation gives the view of a younger generation of authors trying to come to terms with the tumultuous transformations around them. Finally, Xia Jia, who holds the first Ph.D. issued for the study of Chinese SF, asks What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?.


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Award-winning translator and author Ken Liu presents a collection of short speculative fiction from China. Some stories have won awards; some have been included in various 'Year's Best' anthologies; some have been well reviewed by critics and readers; and some are simply Ken's personal favorites. Many of the authors collected here (with the obvious exception of Liu Cixin) Award-winning translator and author Ken Liu presents a collection of short speculative fiction from China. Some stories have won awards; some have been included in various 'Year's Best' anthologies; some have been well reviewed by critics and readers; and some are simply Ken's personal favorites. Many of the authors collected here (with the obvious exception of Liu Cixin) belong to the younger generation of 'rising stars'. In addition, three essays at the end of the book explore Chinese science fiction. Liu Cixin's essay, The Worst of All Possible Universes and The Best of All Possible Earths, gives a historical overview of SF in China and situates his own rise to prominence as the premier Chinese author within that context. Chen Qiufan's The Torn Generation gives the view of a younger generation of authors trying to come to terms with the tumultuous transformations around them. Finally, Xia Jia, who holds the first Ph.D. issued for the study of Chinese SF, asks What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?.

30 review for Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    4.5 stars for this collection of Chinese SF short stories. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature: Invisible Planets is an interesting and varied anthology of thirteen speculative short fiction stories and three essays by seven contemporary Chinese authors, translated into English by Ken Liu. As Liu mentions in the Introduction, several of these stories have won U.S. awards (most notably the 2016 Hugo Award for best novelette, given to Hao Jingfang’s Folding Beijing) and have been inclu 4.5 stars for this collection of Chinese SF short stories. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature: Invisible Planets is an interesting and varied anthology of thirteen speculative short fiction stories and three essays by seven contemporary Chinese authors, translated into English by Ken Liu. As Liu mentions in the Introduction, several of these stories have won U.S. awards (most notably the 2016 Hugo Award for best novelette, given to Hao Jingfang’s Folding Beijing) and have been included in “Year’s Best” anthologies. Chinese fantasy and science fiction is richly diverse, and this collection amply proves that. While there is political commentary in some of these stories, it would be, as Liu comments, doing these works a disservice to assume that they can be reduced to metaphors about Chinese politics. These stories offer insights not just into Chinese thought and culture, but about life and humanity generally, which is what the best science fiction and fantasy does. “The Year of the Rat” by Chen Qiufan. Genetically engineered rats, rodents of unusual size and intelligence, and programmed with certain behaviors (like walking upright), are exported from China as luxury pets. When a mass escape of rats from their farms occurs ― whether by accident or as a political ploy ― and the rats’ genetic limitations on reproduction begin to break down, they create a threat to the country. Unemployed college students, like the narrator, are enlisted to hunt and kill the Neorats. But the hunting and the killing turn out to be more difficult than expected: the rats’ intelligence makes them difficult to trap, and some of the students begin to question the morality of the cause. Among other things, this story explores how our ideas and perceptions can be manipulated, whether by rats, love interests, or hidden political powers. “The Fish of Lijiang” by Chen Qiufan. A workaholic office worker, stressed and burned out, is placed on a mandatory two-week leave and sent to the beautiful historic city of Lijiang, now a center for rehabilitation. He meets a girl there and they begin spending time together, seeing the sights, playing drinking games, listening to strange Naxi music, watching the red fish hover in the waterways, struggling against the current to maintain their positions. The girl opens the narrator’s eyes to some high tech tricks that are being foisted on unsuspecting workers. The class themes in “The Fish of Lijiang” are echoed in the later story Folding Beijing, which I felt handled that theme more creatively, but the repeated symbol of the fish was thought-provoking. “The Flower of Shazui” by Chen Qiufan. An engineer, on the run from a failed criminal scheme at his prior job, has made a new life in Shazui Village, selling black market augmented-reality software and “body films,” a thin film applied to people’s bodies that displays words or pictures. When Snow Lotus, a lovely high class prostitute, needs his services one day for a malfunction in her body film, he finds out about the troubles in her life and decides to use his high tech skills to assist her. This story, set in an alternate reality version of the Shenzhen Bay area, juxtaposes hard science fiction and high tech with the underside of society and its desperate and very human problems. “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” by Xia Jia. Ning was left on the steps of a temple as a baby, and was picked up and adopted by the ghosts who dwell on Ghost Street, a long, narrow street inhabited only by the ghosts ― and Ning, who loves them. Ghost Street is a defunct tourist attraction: no tourists come any more, and the buildings are falling to pieces. Gradually it becomes apparent that Ghost Street is a type of Westworld amusement park: the souls of real people have been fused into mechanical bodies that mimic some of the characteristics of actual ghosts: they cannot stand direct sunlight, which burns them irreparably; they can remove their heads and put them back on again.Before she became a ghost, Xiao Qian tells me, she lived a very full life. … And then her children got sick, one after another. In order to raise the money to pay the doctors, Xiao Qian sold herself off in pieces: teeth, eyes, breasts, heart, liver, lungs, bone marrow, and finally her soul. Her soul was sold to Ghost Street, where it was sealed inside a female ghost’s body. Her children died anyway.Ning thinks he is the only living being on Ghost Street, but it may be that there is something artificial about Ning as well. “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” is a lovely, bittersweet tale, enhanced by Xia Jia’s wonderful imagery. This is a story that confused me at first (I initially missed the shift from fantasy to science fiction), but once I understood the premise, I reread it with tremendous pleasure. It’s a magical but sad world, left behind in society’s unceasing search for newer, more sensational amusements. “Tongtong’s Summer” by Xia Jia. Tongtong’s Grandpa, who can no longer live on his own, moves in with her family. Grandpa grumpily resists getting a caretaker, so Tongtong’s father decides to try out a prototype robot caregiver, which they call Ah Fu. One day Tongtong begins conversing with Ah Fu, and finds out that the robot is remotely controlled by Wang, a university student working in R&D at the robot manufacturer’s facilities. Grandpa’s temper continues to worsen, until Wang comes up with a creative solution. This is a fairly straightforward tale that sensitively explores the needs and concerns of the elderly in a near-future science fictional setting. I was especially moved by the author’s note at the end, dedicating this story to “all the grandmas and grandpas who, each morning, can be seen in parks practicing tai chi, twirling swords, singing opera, dancing … You made me understand that living with an awareness of the closeness of death is nothing to be afraid of.” “Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse” by Xia Jia. A huge, ancient and rusted dragon-horse awakens from a long sleep to find a desolate world from which humans have disappeared. Where cars once filled the street like a river of steel, lush trees now dance in the wind. The dragon-horse begins a journey to explore this changed world. He befriends a chatty bat, and they exchange stories as they travel. It’s a leisurely tale, a melancholy tale, a poetic meditation on the effects of passage of time. As a bonus, Xia Jia provides links for some YouTube videos to an actual robotic dragon-horse, built by France and gifted to China to commemorate the friendship between their nations, which inspired this story. “The City of Silence” by Ma Boyong. In the year 2046, the State tightly controls the lives of its inhabitants, in a polluted, stagnant world. People’s lives are solitary and rather empty, with the Web as the main vehicle for human interaction. They are only allowed to use “healthy words” in their communications in person or online. Originally a list of forbidden words deemed unhealthy (for example, “tired,” “love,” “movement,” and all sexual and curse words), now it is a list of the words that people are permitted to say or write. And the List of Healthy Words gets shorter every day. People’s speech is constantly monitored and policed by the state. Arvardan applies to use the BBS forums, but they don’t contain any more interesting speech or ideas than he normally sees. However, he notices that the documents given him by a woman working in the Department of Web Security contain a hidden message … and a dangerous invitation. Evidently inspired by George Orwell’s 1984, which is discussed in one of the meetings of the Talking Club that Arvardan joins, “The City of Silence” takes the concept of thought police and applies it to a technological age. As one of the characters comments, “technology is neutral. But the progress of technology will cause a free world to become freer, and a totalitarian world to become ever more repressive.” Arvardan and his friends know and can still think the words that the State now deems unhealthy, but one wonders what will become of the next generation in Ma Boyong’s nightmarish society. "Folding Beijing" by Hao Jingfang: Lao Dao, a humble man who works in a waste processing plant in “Third Space” Beijing, sorting recyclable trash, finds a bottle with a message offering what for Lao Dao is a fortune, to take a message from a man in Second Space to a woman he loves who lives in First Space. Travel between the three areas is dangerous and illegal, but Lao Dao, desperate to earn enough money to pay for his young daughter’s education at a decent school, is determined to make the trip. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Beijing literally folds and unfolds as well: the city has been completely rebuilt, with huge sections of ground that turn upside down every 24 hours. The inhabitants of each space are put into a drugged sleep while their part of the city folds up and disappears underground. This increases Beijing’s ability to support a large population … and, disturbingly, also increases the physical and emotional separation between the haves, have-nots, and “have-somes.” First Space has by far the lowest population and most of the wealth; it also gets the largest amount of time above ground (24 hours in every 48), while Second Space, filled with white collar workers, gets 16 hours and the underclass in Third Space only gets 8 hours. The setting is the real jewel of this science fiction novelette, a clear symbol of the economic and social differences between the classes and the lack of fairness in the way economic benefits and even life itself have been parceled out. With such a dramatic setting, the story itself is far more understated than one might expect — even the exciting scenes have a quietness to them, and every time the tension ramps up it soon ramps right back down again. Rather than pursue a more dramatic story, Hao Jingfan chose to focus on the domestic details of life. As she mentions in her interview with Uncanny Magazine, “The characters themselves care more about things that touch their daily lives: family, love, power, and wealth, but a reader can see the fundamental inequity of their world.” It’s a thought-provoking story that melds well with the unique setting, and illustrates human nature in action, as well as some larger truths. A highly recommended read. Liu Cixin’s two stories, "The Circle" and "Taking Care of God," were among those in this anthology that impressed me the most. "The Circle" is set in ancient China, where Jing Ke, an intellectual and would-be assassin of the king of a neighboring dynasty, is co-opted by King Zheng as an advisor instead. King Zheng is entranced by Jing Ke's studies, hoping it might open the door to eternal life. When Jing Ke explains pi to the king, and the difficulties of calculating its digits, the king pushes him to do whatever he can to calculate pi much further. The answer that Jing Ke comes up with, a primitive man-powered computer, is absolutely fascinating. Anyone with an interest in computer programming should read this story. “Taking Care of God” uses a science fictional setting to explore the interrelationship between the youthful and the aging, both on an individual level and on a macro level, as we see here how an entire civilization echoes the aging process. There is frustration and some understandable self-interest on both ends of the spectrum. As bad as the elder abuse gets in some situations, it hits hard when one of the Gods explains that they have been treated even worse in the past. Their urgent advice to humanity in the end was an interesting and unexpected turn in the narrative. The rest of the stories in this collection were reviewed by Jana and Kat, two of my co-reviewers at Fantasy Literature; you can read their insightful reviews right here -- and I highly recommend doing that! I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher and NetGalley. Thanks!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alex ☣ Deranged KittyCat ☣

    3.15 There! I did it! I must say that this was a somewhat hard journey as there are many cultural differences. But I am curious now in regard to Chinese sci-fi, and I'll be reading some more in the future. 1. "The Year of the Rat" by Chen Quifan - ★★★☆☆ "In the Year of the Rat you're going to fight rats. Now that's funny." This was... Well, I'm not sure what this was. It felt like some kind of dystopia, where you either have a job, or you end up fighting rats. It felt like a horror story, wh 3.15 There! I did it! I must say that this was a somewhat hard journey as there are many cultural differences. But I am curious now in regard to Chinese sci-fi, and I'll be reading some more in the future. 1. "The Year of the Rat" by Chen Quifan - ★★★☆☆ "In the Year of the Rat you're going to fight rats. Now that's funny." This was... Well, I'm not sure what this was. It felt like some kind of dystopia, where you either have a job, or you end up fighting rats. It felt like a horror story, where you wait for the monster to appear. It felt like something political, where you doubt anything and everything. It was extremely confusing and I'm left feeling uneasy. Uneasy because the government can trick you at any point, and because science left unchecked can bring nightmares to life. 2. "The Fish of Lijang" by Chen Quifan - ★★★★☆ This is the only truly free choice I have left. This is the second story that hints at lack of freedom. Say hello to a workaholic man who is sent by his company to a rehabilitation center. He is not allowed a phone or anything else that might tell him the time. And this center is completely artificial. There, he meets a woman and the two hit it. But their meeting is not by chance. It's actually pretty sad if you ask me. Are all the stories in this anthology sad? I hope not. 3. "The Flower of Shazui" by Chen Quifan - ★★☆☆☆ I have a bit of a problem with all the names. They sound so alien to me that sometimes it's hard for me to follow. This story is about a man who committed a crime and had to run away. He becomes infatuated with a prostitute who is in a relationship with her pimp. Trying to help her, things get out of hand. Again, a sad story. 4. "A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight" by Xia Jia - ★★★★★ And then her children got sick, one after another. In order to raise the money to pay the doctors, Xiao Qian sold herself off in pieces: teeth, eyes, breasts, heart, liver, lungs, bone marrow, and finally her soul. Her soul was sold to Ghost Street, where it was sealed inside a female ghost's body. Her children died anyway. This is by far my favorite story. It's that of a boy living on a street full of ghosts, robots that are shells for human souls. These ghosts were toys for humans, but newer toys were invented, so Ghost Street was abandoned. Again, a sad story, but a very interesting one. Saying more about it would mean spoiling it. 5. "Tongtong's Summer" by Xia Jia - ★★★★☆ This is an emotional story about a little girl, Tongtong, and the summer her grandpa moved in with her family. The SF element comes in the form of technology. People have invented robots operated by other humans as caretakers. We get to see things from Tongtong's POV. Even if she's an innocent child, she's quite perceptive and you cannot help getting attached to the characters. 6. "Night Journey of the Dragon-horse" by Xia Jia - ★★★★☆ 3.5 stars These short stories are becoming quite hard to review. They are beautifully written. And they can be pretty boring at the same time. Maybe it's the cultural difference, but it's getting harder to finish this anthology with every story. This one is part SF, part post-apocalyptic, part urban fantasy. In a world where humans don't exist anymore, a dragon-horse robot and a bat set upon a journey. As they reminiscent about the past, we get to see glimpses of a world before humans disappeared. With more details and more action, this would have been an amazing novel. So far, Xia Jia is my favorite Chinese writer. 7. "The City of Silence" by Ma Boyong - ★★★★★ This is very 1984ish. In fact, Orwell's book is much talked about in this short story. But instead of Big Brother watching you, you have the appropriate authorities listening to your every word. The web has become a control tool and people rarely leave their houses. Some said that outside the borders of the State there are other Web sites, but those were only urban legends. As a huge fan of 1984, I loved The City of Silence. 8. "Invisible Planets" by Hao Jingfang - ★★★★☆ "Yes, what you say sounds like the Truth. But the world is full of Truths. So what if you have a Truth?" This short story feels like a discussion between an adult and a child. The adult tells stories about different planets and their inhabitants. I especially liked the story of planet Amiyachi. This planet has two intelligent races, one ruling during the winter, and one during the summer. They don't know about each other and have no clue how if one perished, so would the other. 9. "Folding Beijing" by Hao Jingfang - ★★☆☆☆ The title says it all, as the city of Beijing is actually folding (think Inception or Doctor Strange). There are three spaces (inhabited by three social classes) that get to take turns to be above ground. Needless to say, First Space gets to enjoy the fresh air the most, as they are the privileged class. Second Space consists of white collars, while Third Space literally takes care of the trash. The main character comes from the Third Space, and the story is pretty uncomfortable. It's sad and frustrating to see such discrimination, and it's even sadder when you think it's all around us, too. 10. "Call Girl" by Tang Fei - ★★☆☆☆ I did not understand this one. Yes, it's about a call girl, but as you're led to believe she offers sex for money, you discover that's not the truth. She offers something else, and I cannot understand if she uses some kind of paranormal power or some gadget. 11. "Grave of the Fireflies" by Cheng Jingbo - ★★☆☆☆ 2.45 stars This is fantasy with a drop of sci-fi. The stars are dying, so mankind is leaving their home-planet. During this journey, Rosamund is born, the daughter of the last Queen of men. The planet they colonize is ruled by a magician, and, in time, Rosamund meets him, while finding out more about her mother's past. This felt rushed. As a full novel, it would have been amazing. Like this, it barely begins when it ends. 12. "The Circle" by Liu Cixin - ★★★☆☆ At first, I found this a little hard to understand. I kept thinking about all those people with their flags and what was all about, but it all eluded me. Then came the twist at the end and I was left speechless. That was a great twist! P.S. Read this as my neighbors had their music on maximum volume. >.< Common sense is highly overrated. 13. "Taking Care of God" by Liu Cixin - ★☆☆☆☆ You know God? In Cixin's vision, God is an ancient civilization that made humans only in order to have someone take care of them once they're old and decrepit. That's like parents having children only so that someone takes care of them in their old age. To say that I didn't like this story is an understatement. Respect is earned, not assumed. And you cannot make somebody take care of you. P.S. My neighbors are still annoying the crap out of me with their music. >.< *I thank Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    I am a big Ken Liu fans so this collection of collated science fiction that he translated fascinated me. I enjoyed the 13 stories and their various perspectives. There is a running debate in the intro and the three concluding essays on what Chinese sci fi is or isn't which was equally fascinating. Fino's Cixin Liu and other Chinese SciFi and Fantasy Reviews The Three Body Problem The Dark Forest Death's End The Wandering Earth Supernova Era" Ball Lightning The Redemption of Time (Fan Fiction approved by I am a big Ken Liu fans so this collection of collated science fiction that he translated fascinated me. I enjoyed the 13 stories and their various perspectives. There is a running debate in the intro and the three concluding essays on what Chinese sci fi is or isn't which was equally fascinating. Fino's Cixin Liu and other Chinese SciFi and Fantasy Reviews The Three Body Problem The Dark Forest Death's End The Wandering Earth Supernova Era" Ball Lightning The Redemption of Time (Fan Fiction approved by Cixin Liu) Invisible Planets (Short Story Anthology) The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories The Grace of Kings The Wall of Storms

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC! There were quite a few interesting stories in this volume. It isn't considered a "Best-Of" collection by a long shot, but it does happen to give us westerners a taste of modern Chinese SF in the form it has now become. I won't say that a few were breaking any molds or anything, but there are a few things to consider. Such as? Well, SF as a whole is generally less respected in China than it is over here with one exception. Liu Cixin is followed by the Chinese intern Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC! There were quite a few interesting stories in this volume. It isn't considered a "Best-Of" collection by a long shot, but it does happen to give us westerners a taste of modern Chinese SF in the form it has now become. I won't say that a few were breaking any molds or anything, but there are a few things to consider. Such as? Well, SF as a whole is generally less respected in China than it is over here with one exception. Liu Cixin is followed by the Chinese internet like a wildfire, sparking conversations and discussions across the board much to the amazement of the author. Even the engineers that had been the butt of his comments have taken up the book to rave about it. I personally loved his trilogy, the first of which won the Hugo over here. Another first, by the way. So it's not that big a surprise that curiosity set in among us westerners, right? That's the whole purpose of this book. To give us all a chance to see what kind of glories are happening in the field over there. We even get an excerpt from Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem and an awesome story called "Taking Care of God" (Which is both tongue-in-cheek and a serious read.) His are my favorites. BUT, I really shouldn't neglect mentioning the lyrical and metaphor-heavy Hard-SF tale of survival among the death of stars in Cheng Jingbo's "Grave of Fireflies" or Hao Jingfang's "Folding Beijing", a tale of social stratification meeting a crazy actual science-fictional folding of the city. I also really enjoyed MA Boyong's "The City of Silence". It's a modern retelling of 1984, but more than that, it takes the entire concept of language modification to its limits. I was told not to read it as a satire and so I didn't, and because I read it as a serious tale set in a serious way... it freaked me the hell out. Truly, what a nightmare. This one might stay with me a while. I was tempted to relegate it to the pile of similar oppressive dystopians, but no. It took several aspects and ran with it so solidly that I think it deserves plenty of accolades. :) I totally recommend this for curious people. I even recommend it for fans of clever SF. :)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Taryn

    Expertly curated anthology of short speculative fiction by Chinese writers. I've really enjoyed reading short science fiction lately and Invisible Planets is a fantastic addition to my collection! It features thirteen short stories from seven Chinese writers, collected and translated by writer Ken Liu. Liu is upfront about the book's limitations and he cautions the reader to not draw any broad conclusions from the selections. He selected works that were most accessible to a wide audience. Liu urg Expertly curated anthology of short speculative fiction by Chinese writers. I've really enjoyed reading short science fiction lately and Invisible Planets is a fantastic addition to my collection! It features thirteen short stories from seven Chinese writers, collected and translated by writer Ken Liu. Liu is upfront about the book's limitations and he cautions the reader to not draw any broad conclusions from the selections. He selected works that were most accessible to a wide audience. Liu urges Western readers to abandon their preconceived notions of China and remember these writers are "saying something about the globe, about all of humanity, not just China.” I assume a greater knowledge of Chinese history, culture, and anxieties would add an extra layer of nuance to many of the stories, but the themes are resoundingly universal. One thing I love about science fiction is that it takes modern-day anxieties and pushes them to the next level. Sometimes it's easier to see clearly when you're looking at another world. [We are] only pawns, stones, worthless counters in the Great Game. All we can see is just the few grids of the board before us. All we can do is just follow the gridlines in accordance with the rules of the game: Cannon on eighth file to fifth file; Horse on second file to third file. As for the meaning behind these moves, and when the great hand that hangs over us will plunge down to pluck one of us off, nobody knows. But when the two players in the game, the two sides, have concluded their business, all sacrifices become justified. (The Year of the Rat) The short stories featured are diverse, ranging from surreal fantasies to hard sci-fi. One is even written like a fairy tale (Grave of the Fireflies). In a collection with such a variety of styles, it's going to be difficult for each story to appeal to every reader. I didn't enjoy the surreal stories (A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight or Call Girl) as much as the more traditional selections, but I could still appreciate the skill of the writer. While the stories are all very different, a few themes popped up more than once: government manipulations, corporate exploitation of workers, social class divisions, aging populations, and the impact of storytelling. Most of the stories take place Earth. The last section includes three essays about Chinese science fiction that serve as historical context and a starting point for analysis. My favorites: • The Year of the Rat by Chen Quifan - Programmed rats have become an important export, but everything goes horribly awry when the rats escape their farms. College students who can't find jobs are enlisted in a war against these genetically modified creatures. Some begin to question their duties when they see that the rats have developed signs of intelligence. Not everything is as it seems: "The truth is ever elusive." If you like this one, you might also enjoy The Green and Unaccounted by Lauren Beukes or the Men Against Fire episode of Black Mirror. • Tongtong's Summer by Xia Jia - This was the most emotionally affecting one for me! Tongtong's grandfather moves in with her family after an injury, but he is not the grandfather Tongtong remembers. He's depressed about losing his independence and lonely from isolation. Tongtong's family buys a robot caretaker and eventually the technology is harnessed so that those that are homebound can actively participate in society. My favorite part of this story was Tongtongs's sweet relationship with her grandfather and her evolving understanding of the aging process. Xia Jia dedicates this short story to her own grandfather in a touching author's note. If you like this story about the positive aspects of technology, you might also enjoy the short story Saying Goodbye to Wang by Alexander Weinstein. • The City Of Silence by Ma Boyong - This one takes Orwell's 1984 to a modern level: "The author of 1984 predicted the progress of totalitarianism, but could not predict the progress of technology.” In this oppressive society, the citizens are constantly pushing the boundaries of language and the government's surveillance technology is always improving. The constant battle between the opposing groups is causing the list of "healthy words" to shrink to the point where communication is becoming impossible. Arvardan is exhausted with his monotonous life. He requests access to the BBS forums in hopes of freer communication, but the online situation is even worse. He begins searching for clues of other's discontent and the journey leads him in unexpected directions. The real key isn’t about whether what I say is true, but whether you believe it. From start to end, the direction of narrative is not guided by the tongue, but by the ear. (Invisible Planets) • Invisible Planets by Hao Jingfang - The narrator describe their travels to far-flung planets across the vast universe and the diverse alien cultures they encountered. Are the narrator's stories true? Does it matter if they are? Even though these alien civilizations seemed strange on the surface, I was reminded of the many different people who make up human civilization. My favorite society was Amiyachi and the Aihuowu, who "live on the same planet but belong to entirely separate worlds." Both cultures are unable to see the other one as intelligent beings because they're only able to contextualize the other within the framework of their own experiences. When I am done telling you these stories, when you’re done listening to these stories, I am no longer I, and you are no longer you. In this afternoon we briefly merged into one. After this, you will always carry a bit of me, and I will always carry a bit of you, even if we both forget this conversation. (Invisible Planets) • Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang (Winner at the 2016 Hugo Awards for Best Novelette) - A fascinating story about a father's love and economic inequality. Beijing is a complex folding city, with a portion of the city always hidden underground. There are three separate spaces divided by social class. The space a citizen lives in determines the amount of time they have to live their lives; First Space gets 24 hours, while the more densely populated Second Space and Third Space get twelve hours each. A Third Space waste worker decides to go on a dangerous and illegal journey across the other two areas, in order to earn money for his daughter to attend a decent school. Will he be able to complete his task while escaping detection? Pretending that the fake is real only makes the real seem fake. (A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight) • Taking Care of God by Liu Cixin- Three years ago, 21,530 spaceships descended to Earth. Millions of elderly people appeared in cities around the world, all repeating the same phrase: "We are God. Please, considering that we created the world, would you give us a bit of food?" Earth's citizens were initially happy to help their creators, but the resentment builds as the Gods become seen as burdens on their new families. Why have the Gods come back to Earth? Time flows like a river, halting for no one. There’s nothing in this world that can outlast time itself. (Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse)* Invisible Planets is a great introduction to contemporary Chinese science fiction and I'm grateful to Ken Liu for translating these fantastic stories. This book exposed me to many writers that I wouldn't have been able to read otherwise. So what's next on my reading list for when I'm in a science fiction mood? I've added translator Ken Liu's collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories to my list. I recently saw the movie Arrival, which is based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. I couldn't help but think of this collection as I watched it, especially Taking Care of God. Chiang's short story collection Stories of Your Life is on my priority to-read list now. For more collections of short science fiction, you might also like Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein, Slipping by Lauren Beukes, and Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips. *Check out this video of dragon-horse in action! Such a magnificent machine! ___________________ I received this book for free from Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. This book is available for purchase now!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Althea Ann

    Introduction: Chinese Science Fiction in Translation - Ken Liu **** Chen Qiufan - The Year of the Rat In an economically depressed near-future, college graduates are recruited to military platoons in order to fight genetically-modified rats. Intended as pets for export, the creatures are invasive - but show disturbing signs of intelligence. Although rat-catching is less than glamorous, the military trappings of the outfit go to the heads of some members of the platoon - and fellow humans may end u Introduction: Chinese Science Fiction in Translation - Ken Liu **** Chen Qiufan - The Year of the Rat In an economically depressed near-future, college graduates are recruited to military platoons in order to fight genetically-modified rats. Intended as pets for export, the creatures are invasive - but show disturbing signs of intelligence. Although rat-catching is less than glamorous, the military trappings of the outfit go to the heads of some members of the platoon - and fellow humans may end up being the real danger. Nicely done. "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" goes MilSF? **** Chen Qiufan - The Fish of Lijiang Melancholy and dystopic. New labor laws require that an overworked and exhausted employee take a mandatory rehabilitation break in the famous, historic city of Lijiang. At first, a bit of R&R doesn't seem like a bad thing - especially when he meets an attractive, friendly woman in town. But Lijiang's been retooled into a paradise of artifice, and its saccharin flavor has a bitter undertone. There are unpleasant revelation about why so many workers are in need of rehab, and nothing is quite what it seems. **** Chen Qiufan - The Flower of Shazui Set in a near-future Shenzhen, the story follows a man who's tormented by the secrets of his past. He suspects that his 'clever' plan to get ahead may not have worked out, in more ways than one. Seeking to atone, he comes up with yet another well-intentioned but perhaps overly-complex scheme. After reading these three stories by Chen Qiufan, I'm definitely interested in reading the author's novel, which Ken Liu is currently translating. **** Xia Jia - A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight Weird and elegiac. A child is cared for in an abandoned tourist attraction peopled by robotic 'ghosts,' containing the consciousnesses of people who had to sell themselves into this strange commercial servitude. ** Xia Jia - Tongtong’s Summer Previously read in 'Upgraded.' Then I gave it three stars and wrote: "A young girl's grandfather comes home from the hospital, accompanied by a new & experimental home health care "robot." The device is not actually a true robot, but a remote-operated device that allows a distant care worker to be 'on-call' as needed. The device ends up revolutionizing society, but not exactly in the way that was expected. The main idea here is a sweet but idealistic call to respect the elderly and to develop technology that will make them more able to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, the 'call to arms' overwhelms the actual story, and at times it crosses a line into feeling like a piece of government propaganda." Upon re-reading I'm downgrading to two stars, not because of the 'propaganda' aspect but just because the sentimental story is a thin veneer over the "ideas about the future of elder care." It's not that the ideas are bad, it's just not very successful as a good work of fiction. ** Xia Jia - Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse A decaying cybernetic beast walks slowly and aimlessly through a post-apocalyptic landscape devoid of humans. On its journey, it meets a talking bat that's fond of poetry. More of a mood piece than a story; it didn't really do it for me. *** Ma Boyong - The City of Silence An homage to 1984, which attempts to show how the technology that's been developed since Orwell's day might change (and exacerbate) the repressive techniques of an oppressive state. "Technology is neutral. But the process of technology will cause a free world to become ever freer, and a totalitarian world to become ever more repressive." It has some interesting thoughts on how individuals, while despising the system, can simultaneously be agents of that system. But overall, I'm not sure how much it really has to add to Orwell (who did it well.) Still, this is a genre that I love. *** Hao Jingfang - Invisible Planets An homage to Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities." Much like the original, the text describes different cultures and interactions to illuminate the vagaries of human nature, each supposedly illustrative of a different planet. The anecdotes are intercut with dialogue between the storyteller and the listener, commenting on the nature and meaning of narrative. It's well-done: both imaginative and thoughtful - but it's not the first time I've seen it done. ***** Hao Jingfang - Folding Beijing Previously read in Rich Horton's "Year's Best..." Visually, the shifting skyscrapers of 'Folding Beijing' brought to mind the film 'Dark City,' but the mechanics of this scenario are all-too-human, and underlaid with a cynical observation that "they would do this if they could." Europe has taken one approach to the 'problem' of automation advances making menial jobs practically obsolescent. Here, Hao Jingfang theorizes what China might do. This future city, a technological marvel, has a strict caste system, which the reader sees through the eyes of one waste worker, who's willing to flout the law in order to try to earn some money to better his adopted daughter's future. As we gain insight into the perspectives of people in each of three very different Beijings, the parallels with our real-life society become clear. And oh, it's also a heart-wrenching tale, vividly illustrating how the scale of people's dreams can differ exponentially, and how the few at the top sit comfortably on a throne crafted from the misery of the many. The one thing, though, that made me feel positive about this story is that I couldn't help seeing it as a sequel to Kelly Robson's "Two-Year Man" (http://kellyrobson.com/two-year-man/). I know, none of the details match, but it does have the lowly worker adopting a foundling, and well, the outcome here is undoubtedly better that it is bound to have been in Robson's story! I also think that any fans of Paolo Bacigalupi's short fiction, especially, perhaps, "Yellow Card Man" will particularly enjoy Hao Jingfang's offering. *** Tang Fei - Call Girl Previously read in Rich Horton's "Year's Best..." A schoolgirl moonlights as... is it as a prostitute? Or as something much rarer and more strange? I hope to be able to read more by this author. **** Cheng Jingbo - Grave of the Fireflies Beautiful writing! Far-future sci-fi meets fairytale, in this story of a refugee girl, who, along with her mother the Queen, and all of her people, flees a region of dying stars through an 'asteroid gate' known as the 'Door Into Summer.' I would love to see more from this author. *** Liu Cixin - The Circle Previously read in "Carbide-Tipped Pens." Re-read, as this was my favorite part of 'Three-Body Problem." "Credited as an 'adaptation' of an excerpt from Liu Cixin's recently-translated 'The Three-Body Problem.' I recently read the novel, so I was slightly taken aback when, after a different set-up, I suddenly found myself re-reading some very, very familiar passages. The author is enamored of the idea of creating a non-electronic 'computer' using binary rules. After all, it's just math, and not technically dependent on technology. The iteration of the idea found here may actually be stronger than the one in the novel." *** Liu Cixin - Taking Care of God Original! Science fiction retreads a lot of ideas repeatedly, but this is a variation I haven't encountered before. Earth is re-visited by our creators - an alien race who seeded our planet with life. Now, their civilization is in decline; their long-lived individuals senescent. Their mighty deeds are in the past; most of their knowledge forgotten. And they expect humanity, their children, to take care of them in their old age. The story is by turns, funny, poignant and prescriptive, as the analogy of duty to ones elders plays out. More than any other selection in this book, I found this one to be distinctly culturally Chinese. Essays The brief essays included at the end of the volume give three of the authors the opportunity to air their thoughts on Chinese Science Fiction, its characteristics, and its place in the world and world literature. Interesting perspectives. The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three-Body and Chinese Science Fiction - Liu Cixin The Torn Generation: Chinese Science Fiction in a Culture in Transition - Chen Qiufan What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese? - Xia Jia Many thanks to Tor and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are independent and unaffected by the source of the book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Dystopian Roads to Utopia: "Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation" by Ken Liu Ok, Star Trek has world peace, one world government, and a religious, monetary and hunger free world to boot... woo hoo!! But (and it's a bit of a big but) it doesn't happen without a third world war, massive depopulation, some very handy gadgets and a lot of help from some friendly Vulcans, who are due to pop in to oversee the If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Dystopian Roads to Utopia: "Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation" by Ken Liu Ok, Star Trek has world peace, one world government, and a religious, monetary and hunger free world to boot... woo hoo!! But (and it's a bit of a big but) it doesn't happen without a third world war, massive depopulation, some very handy gadgets and a lot of help from some friendly Vulcans, who are due to pop in to oversee the transformation of human society in 2063. So, that's something to look forward to, at least. Yay!! (The Vulcany bit, not the Armageddony bit, which, tbh, is likely to be a bit of a downer.) Hao Jingfang's "Folding Beijing", a tale of social stratification, is the best of the lot.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carly

    I haven't read all that much Chinese speculative fiction, so when I saw Invisible Planets on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. I'm always incredulous by any statements attempting to summarize the imaginations of an entire country, so I was relieved when Ken Liu explicitly stated in the forward that he had no illusions that the collection is somehow a full representation of all of Chinese scifi. As he says, this is a collection of stories from seven contemporary authors, and while the I haven't read all that much Chinese speculative fiction, so when I saw Invisible Planets on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. I'm always incredulous by any statements attempting to summarize the imaginations of an entire country, so I was relieved when Ken Liu explicitly stated in the forward that he had no illusions that the collection is somehow a full representation of all of Chinese scifi. As he says, this is a collection of stories from seven contemporary authors, and while the stories speak to the mood of the societies they write about, "Science fiction is the literature of dreams, and texts concerning dreams always say something about the dreamer, the dream interpreter, and the audience." Chen Qiufan, the first author of the collection, is also probably my favourite. His stories are an effortless mixture of humor and horror, absurdity and realism. "The Year of the Rat", which involves a dystopian society overrun by genetically-engineered Neorats™, is full of vivid characters and dramatic twists. "The Fish of Lijiang" is packed with dramatic metaphor, a cynical tale about time, ambition, and lost opportunities. My favourite quote: "I have a car, a house--everything a man should have, including erectile dysfunction and insomnia. If happiness and time are the two axes of a graph, then I'm afraid the curve of my life has already passed the apex and is on its inexorable way down to the bottom." "The Flower of Shazui" is equally forceful and gorgeous, and even more lyrical. My favourite quote: "Sin is like wine. The more it is hidden from sunlight, the more it ferments, growing more potent." Incisive and brilliant, I also loved his characterization of the literary role of scifi: "In my view, 'what if' is at the heart of science fiction. Starting with reality itself, the writer applies plausible and logically consistent conditions to play out a thought experiment, pushing the characters and plot toward an imagined hyperreality that evokes a sense of wonder and estrangement." As a contrast to Chen Qiufan's cynical eloquence, Xia Jia's stories feel more mythopoeic to me, rather in the style of Charles de Lint or Emma Bull. "A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight" felt particularly imbued with myth and folklore, to the point where I was quite sure I was missing most of the references. "Tongtong's Summer" was something of a contrast to the dreamlike "Ghosts," a sweet, optimistic (to the point of impracticality) story of home robots and the way technology could improve the lives of the elderly and infirm. "Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse" was probably my favourite story by Xia Jia, a gorgeous and haunting vision of a post-human world. Only one story from Ma Boyong is included in the collection, but it's also one of the most unique. I found "The City of Silence" to be a pretty straightforward satire about oppression, but it's also eminently quotable. Some of my favourites:"Only the bookmarks menu, which could not be edited, contained the addresses for a few Web sites. The reason for this was simple: all these Web sites were healthy and positive. If other Web sites had the same contents as these, then logically, having access to these Web sites alone was sufficient. On the other hand, if other sites had different content, then, logically, those other sites must be unhealthy and vulgar and should not be accessed.""Shielded was a technical term. A shielded word was forbidden in writing or in speech. Ironically, shielded itself was a shielded word.""Better and worse were variables, but his life was a constant, the value of which was repression."All in all, "The City of Silence" is a worthy successor to 1984 with all the infuriatingly circular black comedy of Catch 22. After "The City of Silence," the tone of the collection drifted more from incisive satire to lyrical metaphor and creative flights of fancy. Hao Jingfang's stories are wildly imaginative, from "Invisible Planets"' vivid vignettes of life on a series of bizarre planets to "Folding Beijing"'s portrait of a city that can fold and reform like origami. Hao Jingfang uses these gorgeously imaginative backdrops to explore themes such as prejudice, time, and identity, and truth: "He didn't know what was the point of knowing the truth. If he could see some things clearly but was still powerless to change them, what good did that do?" Tang Fei's "Call Girl" is a short tale, but memorable for its gorgeously poetic language, for example: "Sunlight slices across her shoulders like a knife blade." Unfortunately, I think I was missing the cultural background to truly understand Cheng Jingbo's "Grave of the Fireflies". The story is packed with symbolism and allusion, melding together imagery of magical castles, frontier pioneers, magical castles, deep space, red giants, and extinguished stars. The collection ends with two stories by the renowned Liu Cixin, but I found his stories a bit wanting. Almost the entire plot of "The Circle,", including the primary conceit of a CPU made out of humans, also appears in The Three Body Problem. I quite enjoyed the conceit of "Taking Care of God", where humans finally meet their makers, not as divine beings, but as elderly beings who need assistance. His nonfiction essay certainly contains no false modesty, as he pretty much claims that his book was singlehandedly responsible for the renaissance of Chinese scifi. The collection finishes up with several of the authors' nonfiction essays. While I appreciate how Ken Liu refuses to try to characterize all of Chinese science fiction, there are some common themes woven throughout. As many of the essays note, the attitudes of science fiction can characterize overarching feelings about technology and society's future.One such theme, expressed by many of the authors in the nonfiction essays about scifi included at the end, is that of the "Chinese Dream," which Xia Jia defines as "the revival of the Chinese nation in the modern era." Chen Qiufan expresses its influence on society as follows: "Between the feeling of individual failure and the conspicuous display of national prosperity lies an unbridgeable chasm. The result is a division of the population into two extremes: one side rebels against the government reflexively (sometimes without knowing what its 'cause' is) and trusts nothing it says; the other side retreats into nationalism to give itself the sense of mastering its own fate." Overall, Invisible Cities is a gorgeous collection, well worth reading for anyone curious about Chinese scifi or just looking for some great new contemporary authors. ~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Tor Books, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the collection as a whole.~~ Cross-posted on BookLikes.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    I was really looking forward to reading Invisible Planets--Ken Liu's first curated Chinese SF anthology--and was not at all disappointed. Liu opens the collection with the disclaimer that Chinese SF should not be thought of as speaking to only Chinese culture, but that it is an important piece of modern SF as a whole. It's hard to argue with the man when novels like Cixin Liu's Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy have blown up in the SF world. Structured around seven Chinese SF writers, Invisibl I was really looking forward to reading Invisible Planets--Ken Liu's first curated Chinese SF anthology--and was not at all disappointed. Liu opens the collection with the disclaimer that Chinese SF should not be thought of as speaking to only Chinese culture, but that it is an important piece of modern SF as a whole. It's hard to argue with the man when novels like Cixin Liu's Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy have blown up in the SF world. Structured around seven Chinese SF writers, Invisible Planets orbits many touchstones of classic and modern SF, while simultaneously introducing exciting and novel voices. I loved the introduction to Chen Qiufan's writing through three near-future short stories that serve as a pleasant nudge in the direction of Liu's recent translation of his novel, Waste Tide. Ma Boyong's City of Silence works as a tribute to 1984, but is also an unsettling window into a dystopian future of censorship. I found myself pondering Boyong's story as both an allegory for state sponsored censorship as well as social censorship we impose on one another on the web. Had Jingfang's Folding Beijing was my personal favourite of the collection. Jingfang's story marries a high-concept with an emotionally resonant character arc and pulls it all together with a reflection on class hierarchy. The only stories that bugged me were Cheng Jingbo's Grave of Fireflies and Cixin Liu's The Circle. The former because it was painfully obtuse from the get-go and failed to justify its opacity. The later because it is more an adaptation of a passage from The Three Body Problem than it is a new Cixin Liu story. The collection closes with three essays by authors who contributed to the collection. Though two provide some basic overviews of Chinese SF throughout history, Xia Jia's What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese? turns the lens on the artistic choices made by Western SF, comparing them to Chinese SF's evolving aims. I enjoyed reading what the authors made of division lines between Western and Eastern SF, but it is also cool to hear that there's a lot of cross-pollination across the ocean. This is a very solid SF short story collection! For me, it scratched a bit of that nagging itch that's been leftover since I finished off Remembrance of Earth's Past, while also pointing me towards some other novels and collections that might pique my interest. Well worth any SF fan's time!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    Well… science fiction for me means space, future, mind-blowing technology, new ideas, interstellar travel, you get the picture… And in this collection just few have some of that; barely. Half of them are more on the magical realism side. But it is an interesting insight in other culture’s view on sci-fi. I also liked that each of the seven writers were presented very nicely by Ken Liu. Here's a few words about the ones I enjoyed; as for the others, they are definitely too surrealist for my taste. Well… science fiction for me means space, future, mind-blowing technology, new ideas, interstellar travel, you get the picture… And in this collection just few have some of that; barely. Half of them are more on the magical realism side. But it is an interesting insight in other culture’s view on sci-fi. I also liked that each of the seven writers were presented very nicely by Ken Liu. Here's a few words about the ones I enjoyed; as for the others, they are definitely too surrealist for my taste. The Year of the Rat by Chen Quifan: an unnerving allegory about war, its futility and consequences. 4/5 The Fish of Lijiang also by Chen Quifan: how stress affects us, our perceptions and life in general, in a world of workaholics and driven only by ambition. 4/5 Tongtong’s Summer by Xia Jia: a story about old age. As the author said, it is dedicated to her grandfather. Touching but I found it too depressing 3/5 The City of Silence by Ma Boyong – a dystopian universe, in which freedom of everything was completely lost. Really powerful. 5/5 Invisible Planets by Hao Jingfang – Calvino’s Invisible Cities in another interpretation. I did not like Calvino’s Cities nor Hao’s Planets, but I did liked one fragment (exactly my thoughts): ”You know something? The real key isn’t about whether what I say is true, but whether you believe it. From start to end, the direction of narrative is not guided by the tongue, but by the ear.” Folding Beijing also by Hao Jingfang - Hugo Award for Best Novelette (2016); can be found also here: http://uncannymagazine.com/article/fo...) – the love of a father knows no boundaries. 4/5 The Circle by Liu Cixin – adaptation of the human computer chapter from The Three-Body Problem . As it is taken out of the context, here seems more like a historical fiction story, but you’ll get a glimpse on how sci-fi of ideas truly is. 4/5 Taking Care of God also by Liu Cixin – I read it previously in his collection of short stories “The Wandering Earth: Classic Science Fiction Collection”. 5/5 The three essays at the end are a real addition to this collection for they bring forward a lot of interesting info on China's sci-fi literature. One thing stands out though, even for the ones I did not like: the writing is exquisite. But not knowing Chinese or any other works by those authors, I can’t say if it’s really their merit or Ken Liu’s translation. However, it may not be on everyone's taste, but surely is worth reading.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Guillermo

    Don’t let my 2 star review dissuade you from reading this. This was a magnificent collection of Chinese science fiction short stories that mostly just didn’t do it for me. It may just have been because I found too many of them were more fantasy than science fiction. No offense to fantasy. There were three stories of the thirteen however that I loved. Tongtong’s Summer by Xia Jia was a heartwarming tale of how technology could bring us together. I could see this as an episode of that great sci fi Don’t let my 2 star review dissuade you from reading this. This was a magnificent collection of Chinese science fiction short stories that mostly just didn’t do it for me. It may just have been because I found too many of them were more fantasy than science fiction. No offense to fantasy. There were three stories of the thirteen however that I loved. Tongtong’s Summer by Xia Jia was a heartwarming tale of how technology could bring us together. I could see this as an episode of that great sci fi anthology series Black Mirror. The other two stand out stories are both by the author of Hugo Award winner The Three Body Problem – Liu Cixin. The Circle seems more like a historical tale, but has a scientific element at its heart. Taking Care of God is a fantastical allegory that uses alien invasion as its core ingredient to create a unique tale that I still find myself thinking about. The anthology concludes with three essays about Chinese science fiction that are worth reading. This is definitely a book I’ll re read in the future and probably give a higher rating. It wasn’t you, Invisible Planets, it was me. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rhode

    I write this review as a feminist, science fiction fan and traveler. All three of my parts want to give it a completely different rating. Thus I've settled on the three stars to be fair. As a feminist I am appalled by many of the sexist themes in this book and saddened by the translator's apparent surprise when I brought the blatantly sexist ending of the second story to his attention. Although he had worked intimately with the stories and authors, it's possible he had never noticed how offensive I write this review as a feminist, science fiction fan and traveler. All three of my parts want to give it a completely different rating. Thus I've settled on the three stars to be fair. As a feminist I am appalled by many of the sexist themes in this book and saddened by the translator's apparent surprise when I brought the blatantly sexist ending of the second story to his attention. Although he had worked intimately with the stories and authors, it's possible he had never noticed how offensive this particular story was. He advised me via Twitter to avoid another couple of stories I might find offensive, but also said he wasn't really sure if additional stories might be problematic. Almost without variation, the women in most of the stories are described as mysterious, sometimes nearly untouchable, objects of beauty and desire. Their skin is nearly always praised as being pale. (!) Their lovely personal scent is often mentioned. Even in the last story, when we see a cranky middle aged woman, the men all gaze at a photograph of a incomparably lovely - and of course pale skinned - youthful beauty who is millions of miles away, loving but untouchable. In one story, a man desperately seeking a sense of personal power and freedom finds it by harassing a powerless airline stewardess -- and I strongly suspect the author did not understand this was an act of harassment as he has the stewardess blush in pleasure. Because I guess it's so much fun to have middle aged male passengers hit on you when you are in a closed cabin where you are forced to be polite in return? In another, we are led to think that a young, defenseless schoolgirl is being preyed on sexually by older, richer men. (She is being preyed on, and is lovingly described as defenseless but her male clients wind up wanting something non-sexual.) In a third story, dissidents in a city get together to have secret meetings, and the single, young, pale skinned female dissident obligingly makes herself sexually available to the men, although when she suggests a threesome that would be her idea of a good time, the men demur so she does the dishes instead. Let me repeat that - the men decide to talk rebellion because they can't have a one-on-one with her, while the woman literally does the dishes. In a story about gods of two genders coming to earth, we only ever see male gods as actors on that stage, complete with long white beards. There is no mention of the experiences of or reactions to the female gods (perhaps they were doing the dishes?) In a story about citizen soldiers, only men are soldiers. In a story about citizens of a glittering wealthy future city, women have only part-time jobs and are treated as second class citizens by alphahole husbands. Although many of the stories were written by women, they either dodge gender entirely by writing about genderless robots or beings, or they fall into similar sexist traps as the male writers. So, in short, not a single author here can imagine a world where women are truly on equal footing with men. Not a single one. None mention men as objects of beauty. I don't think we hear about the color of a single men's skin or his scent (aside from one garbage collector.) And I think only one of the females genuinely reciprocates any male's love. Frankly, I can understand why. There's not one male character I'd want to meet in real life. It goes nearly without saying that there are no LGBTQIA characters. As a science fiction fan, I found the content uneven. Some stories were such obvious ideas dressed up in story form (as opposed to fiction with a true life and reality of its own) that they reminded me of American SF of the 1950s and early 60s. These were generally written by the male contributors. Some stories were darn good though, and a few were truly great. The truly great ones happened to be by female contributors. Nearly all of the stories were dark in tone. Society, technology, work-life...are going someplace stressful and worrisome in future. That worrisome place was more Orwellian than anywhere Mad Max would recognize. (Although there were 2-3 stories without humans at all.) As a traveler, I enjoyed all of these stories because to read a culture's SF is to see under its skin. I realized if I knew more about China, I would have gotten more out of it. There are layers and layers, and I wasn't culturally or historically educated enough to read below a certain level. You don't need to be to enjoy the stories (sexism aside), but I bet it would help. I also liked the three essays at the end of the book, in particular 'The Torn Generation' by Chen Quifan which was culturally insightful well beyond the SF element. Anyone studying China should read it. (One of my favorite parts is when he talks about a 'small town' with 'only' a few hundred thousand people.) Lastly, I should say something about the translations, which were exceptional. The translator's use of language was rich and lyrical. Even when I was terribly annoyed with stories, from a literary standpoint they were a pleasure to read. At first I wondered if the translator was so skilled a writer that he might be obscuring each author's more unique voices. But then I began to see varying flavors between the stories, some transcendently poetic (Invisible Planets), others stultifyingly stiff (The Circle). So, it's clear this translator is skilled both at language and at allowing the author's own voice and intent to come through. Bravo. If only the stories weren't nearly all so unpleasantly and unthinkingly sexist.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Silvana

    When a story collection has almost 70% likability in total, I consider it already a huge success and deserve at least four stars. Even for the 30% I am happy I have read them and experience the world they portrayed. This is not my first foray to Chinese SF - thanks to Liu Cixin and Locus Magazine recommended reading list - but it still felt sooo refreshing. The stories, most of them, have heart. They were touching, evocative even; one almost made me bawled in an airplane (I managed a sniffle). T When a story collection has almost 70% likability in total, I consider it already a huge success and deserve at least four stars. Even for the 30% I am happy I have read them and experience the world they portrayed. This is not my first foray to Chinese SF - thanks to Liu Cixin and Locus Magazine recommended reading list - but it still felt sooo refreshing. The stories, most of them, have heart. They were touching, evocative even; one almost made me bawled in an airplane (I managed a sniffle). The intros before each author and essays at the end gave very useful insights and context on what Chinese SF is and its growth. Science fiction, said Liu Cixin, is a literature of possibilities. Well, I liked the possibilities presented by the writers in the collection. The translation and editing was marvelous, kudos to Ken Liu. Some of my absolute favorites include: “The Year of the Rat” by Chen Qiufan “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” by Xia Jia “Tongtong’s Summer” by Xia Jia “The City of Silence” by Ma Boyong “Invisible Planets” by Hao Jingfang “Taking Care of God” by Liu Cixin Looking forward to read Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation next.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Outstanding anthology. This is a great introduction to Chinese short SF if you haven't read any before, or a survey of the current field, showing its breadth and diversity. Highlights for me included Chen Qiufan's "Year of the Rat," Tang Fei's "Call Girl," Xia Jia's "Tongtong's Summer," and Hao Jingfang's Hugo winner, "Folding Beijing." My favorite story in the anthology would have to be the title story, "Invisible Planets," also by Hao Jingfang. It reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin's Changing Pla Outstanding anthology. This is a great introduction to Chinese short SF if you haven't read any before, or a survey of the current field, showing its breadth and diversity. Highlights for me included Chen Qiufan's "Year of the Rat," Tang Fei's "Call Girl," Xia Jia's "Tongtong's Summer," and Hao Jingfang's Hugo winner, "Folding Beijing." My favorite story in the anthology would have to be the title story, "Invisible Planets," also by Hao Jingfang. It reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin's Changing Planes. On surface, it's a collection of stories within a story, told with a framing device. In both, the frame adds layers of meaning, forcing a reevaluation of everything that came before. Chinese SF fascinates me, with its rich parallel history to western SF and unique identity. The stories in this anthology show the strength of the current work coming out of China. I look forward to reading more.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mimi

    What a well translated book, yet story after story is sadly depressing. It was not until I read Cixin Liu's essay at the end on the state of science fiction in China that I understood the cultural hopelessness that has influenced the tone of these stories. My favorites of these 13 stories: The Circle and Taking Care of God both by Cixin Liu. Folding Beijing and The City of Silence also stayed in my mind for days. If I was rating only these stories it would be 4 or maybe even 5 stars. If you're in What a well translated book, yet story after story is sadly depressing. It was not until I read Cixin Liu's essay at the end on the state of science fiction in China that I understood the cultural hopelessness that has influenced the tone of these stories. My favorites of these 13 stories: The Circle and Taking Care of God both by Cixin Liu. Folding Beijing and The City of Silence also stayed in my mind for days. If I was rating only these stories it would be 4 or maybe even 5 stars. If you're interested in sci fi that critiques and illuminates the potentially negative direction of today's society, read on. If you're looking for stories that would blow your mind with it's concepts or world building read Three Body Problem (admittedly still dystopian) or N.K. Jemisin.

  16. 5 out of 5

    yenna

    some interesting concepts (and the writing was nice too... though given they're all translations idk what the etiquette is for remarking on that lol) anyway, because i have uni and should be studying, i am going to waste my time (yes lmao) putting links to ones that are published online because there's quite a few actually, so AHEM it's basically this book without the essays and author bios/forewords ahem. the year of the rat, chen qiufang - made me feel somehow unsettled about rats for the firs some interesting concepts (and the writing was nice too... though given they're all translations idk what the etiquette is for remarking on that lol) anyway, because i have uni and should be studying, i am going to waste my time (yes lmao) putting links to ones that are published online because there's quite a few actually, so AHEM it's basically this book without the essays and author bios/forewords ahem. the year of the rat, chen qiufang - made me feel somehow unsettled about rats for the first time in my life but that's 2am me speaking so don't take my word for it the fish of lijiang, chen qiufang, funky setting and discussion of time in a capitalist society and how it's literally allocated but like... also a little dull because the main character is just like. horny and middle class and boring the flower of shazui, chen qiufang, i don't know what happened <3 some themes/backstory could have been better developed imo because otherwise just a dude kinda creepily obsessed with a girl things <3 a hundred ghosts parade tonight, xia jia - such an interesting setting, a kid living on street of ghosts designed as a tourist destination tongtong's summer, xia jia - maybe short stories can be so personal... i cried at the ending (again. 2am me) night journey of the dragon horse, xia jia - prettyyy but i'm not sure what really happened other than 'robot animal wakes up in a post-human world, goes on a trip' the city of silence, ma boyong - 1984 electric boogaloo ★★★invisible planets, hao jingfang - ah! the titular story! invisible cities...electric boogaloo..., not as good as italo calvino's in weaving the stories together imo but amiyachi got me.... Thus, the two intelligent species of Amiyachi remain unaware of each other. Neither knows that its civilization’s existence depends on the existence of the other, two sides of the same coin. Both races have composed works praising the divine wisdom of the gods, allowing them to be reborn as they awake from their slumber. But they have never realized that they’re both children called forth by the gods, as well as the gods themselves. folding beijing, hao jingfang - a super creative setting (a LITERALLY folding beijing!) and had some great parts (discussion of class disparity etc) but still... would have liked a little more... though the mundane domesticity of it may have been the Point call girl, tang fei - got interesting but then the ending arrived to spoil the party, still confused what really happened ★★★★grave of the fireflies, cheng jingbo - this one!!! this one is definitely one of the ones i'll remember the most from this collection!! fairytale-esque elements, dying stars, beautiful prose etc. He spent a thousand years to extinguish each and every star; she spent a thousand years to escape to the last star that remained lit. He knew she would come; she knew he would wait - even though when he had cut off half his head with his sword, he had no chance to tell her anything. the circle, liu cixin - this one was okay but i do not understand computing or the way it was described here so i was just cracking up a little at some of the descriptions. guess if you like maths/coding, it'll hit different? ★★★★ taking care of god, liu cixin - wish i had a link for this one because it was so cool, truly big brain concept and so... hopeful yet melancholy... (the part about "i love you" was so bittersweet... "she's talking right now. she's finishing three words: 'I love you'. each word took more than a year. it's now been three and a half years, and right now she's just finishing 'you'. (...) i'll spend the rest of my life listening to her" like.... wHEW shut up.... and the ending as well was!! love the arc of this) and the essays at the end discussing the 'definition' of chinese sci fi were surprisingly engaging? (given essays normally send me to sleep). if a little repetitive on some points. and idk if i agree with ken liu on 'don't interpret these in the context of the chinese culture/gov' like... i get his sentiment of not narrowing down/restricting the themes/experiences to specifically just that, bc some of them are universal for sure, but. there's layers to it imo, u can't ignore it entirely? though maybe his point is that we don't give that same scrutiny to other fiction... idk. hm. also v sad about how ken liu wrote author descriptions for each of the writers and for one of them, he mentioned that they had written "a wuxia novella featuring Joan of Arc, in which tropes and expectations of wuxia are mapped to medieval Europe" and THEN said it was too "impenetrable for a reader in translation without extensive footnotes".... now i know how tantalus feels... heart shattered... 3

  17. 5 out of 5

    Charlie - A Reading Machine

    This review was originally published at Fantasy Faction here - http://fantasy-faction.com/2016/invis... Invisible Planets Chen Quifan The Year of the Rat – Teenagers are lured into joining a government run fighting unit that traps and kills rats with the promise of guaranteed jobs upon completion of quotas. Kids must join due to poor grades and there is an assumption that they have thus far wasted their lives hiding away inside and playing away video games. The reluctant innocent and the madman who This review was originally published at Fantasy Faction here - http://fantasy-faction.com/2016/invis... Invisible Planets Chen Quifan The Year of the Rat – Teenagers are lured into joining a government run fighting unit that traps and kills rats with the promise of guaranteed jobs upon completion of quotas. Kids must join due to poor grades and there is an assumption that they have thus far wasted their lives hiding away inside and playing away video games. The reluctant innocent and the madman who kills with joyful abandon flank our more neutral protagonist and when the rats begin to evolve further defences we see which side he ends up on. Wseem to be living in an environment where other domesticated animals are not in use and these rodents, bred to replace them, have escaped, evolved and started breeding beyond their pre-programmed limits. The story abounds with eerie and unsettling subtext like the newsletter that publishes lists of graduating rat catchers and the jobs they have received yet no one ever seems to recognise a familiar name. Think Screamers meets Jurassic Park. The Fish of Lijang – An overworked businessman being groomed for the top is sent to a rehab facility after weeks of insomnia and stress related illness. What unfolds explores the working culture of China, the psychological need for illusions to be maintained, the shocking lengths governments might go to to squeeze an extra working hour out of a man’s day and more. The Flower of Shazui – It’s tough to describe this one but it’s very poetic and contains elements of love, obsession and betrayal. It follows a man whose guilt over his previous actions align with his need for a high class prostitute who is bearing the child of her pimp. Xia Jia A Hundred Ghost Parade Tonight – Ning is raised on Ghost Street, an old amusement attraction the mimics a long narrow street with stalls on either side. It has fallen into disrepair and no longer attracts tourists but Ning lives with lifelike robots that have had the souls of the dead fused into them so has love and company. To say more would be to reveal too much……Giant mechanical spiders! Tongtong’s Summer – This story is told through the eyes of Tongtong, a young girl whose 80 year old Grandpa is forced to move in with her and her parents so that he can be cared for. He is distant after losing wife and his job as a physician and resentful that his physical body can no longer keep up with his brain. Unable to make new connections he is offered the chance to use a new robot carer that is operated by a technician offsite. Given a chance to show his ingenuity his ideas and forced evolution of this new technology broadens the scope of it’s use into areas its makers never imagined. Without a doubt one of the most beautiful stories of the collection. Night Journey of the Dragon Horse – Another languid and wondrous tale from Jia follows an ancient metal dragon horse as it awakens from an extended slumber to find itself alone and no longer in use. Taking to the streets it finds something to share stories with and looks to make the journey to the next place. Ma Boyong The City of Silence – When discussing their society a character remarks, “The author of 1984 predicted the progress of totalitarianism, but could not predict the progress of technology”. This is a world where the Internet is restricted to a few book marked websites, where an address bar is not even part of the operating system and where a list of ‘healthy words’ that can be used on line is whittled down daily to supposedly reduce stress on the populace. The progress of technology allows the government to not only monitor every key stroke and every utterance online but also the way we speak to people in public and what we can and cannot say. When our protagonists daily grind is interrupted by a man who starts cursing in a way unheard of for over five years his world cracks open a little and he begins to look for signs there might be something more. Hao Jingfang Invisible Planets – An older figure tells a younger figure about some of the thousands of planets they have encountered as a traveller of the world. This is a chance for Jingfang to show off his imagination as he creates a string of unique planets with their own social structures, cultures, sense of time and inhabitants that are very well fleshed out despite having using little in the way of space. Are they real or are they just stories. Does it matter? Folding Beijing – This was an intense little story. Imagine a population so dense that you were allotted one of three chunks of time during the day/night to live your life. The rest of the time, you and the rest of your populace were chemically cocooned and your building folded itself up and went under ground. Think Dark City meets Inception. One man’s life is dedicated to getting enough money for his daughter to go to a reputable kindergarten where she can have singing and dancing lessons. The only way to make the money in time is to carry an illegal message between the three spaces and hope he can make it without being caught. Tang Pei Call Girl –A call girl of a different sort who offers an out of this world experience gives us a glimpse into her personal and professional life. Best I can do. Cheng Jingbo Grave of the Fireflies – This is the first real fairy tale of the anthology and very fantastical in nature. A young girl is born on a pilgrimage between worlds and upon arrival her mother enters a magician’s castle and is not seen again. Growing up the young girl encounters the magician herself, learns the secret of his eternal youth and the mystery of her mothers ancients and secret past. Liu Cixen The Circle – They have certainly saved one of the best for last and surprisingly enough it is all based on mathematics. This story takes place a Chinese civilisation during the era of the samurai when an assassin is sent to kill a king but instead offers him the secret to eternal life. With the secret laying in the never ending and never repeating digits of Pi, the mathematician devises a system of calculating based on ones and zeros and men holding flags. His idea is that using three million soldiers he can build an enormous calculating formation and it is remarkably logical and captivating. Taking Care of God – Wow wow wow. Cixen has a talent for thinking on a grand scale as shown in his previous story but this pushes things into a truly epic dimension. One day thousands of spaceships appear, completely surround the earth and start dropping old people down onto the surface. Each person says the same thing, “We are God. Please, considering that we created this world, would you give us a bit of food?” From here we start examining how a civilisation could grow, mature, stagnate and then upon realising their impending death take steps to ensure they will be looked after in their final moments. How long does a civilisation take to grow? What level of technology would it require? How much time on earth could pass for someone travelling so close to light speed? Was Wall-E based on true events? Such a huge story to finish on and quite literally awe inspiring. Invisible Planets is superb anthology of short fiction that offers Westerners in particular a series of totally unique entry points and perspectives. There is plenty of impressive science fiction and fantasy but so many other genres are also touched upon that readers are bound too be swept away and will assuredly find a new author to follow. Liu’s translation is beautiful and I believe he say’s it best. “Even within the limited selection of this anthology, you’ll encounter the science fiction realism” of Chen Quifan, the “porridge SF” of Xia Jia, the overt, wry political metaphors of Ma Boyong, the surreal imagery and metaphor-driven logic of Tang Fei, the dense rich language-pictures painted by Cheng Jingbo, the fabulism and sociological speculation of Hao Jingfang and the grand, hard science fictional imagination of Liu Cixin” It’s a feast. Enjoy it. 10/10

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gabi

    This wonderfully curated anthology gets all the stars. I had such a pleasure reading this variety of voices and styles. Two of the stories I didn't entirely get: Chen Qiufan's "The Flower of Shazui" and Tang Fei's "Call Girl". Yet all of the rest sounded the one or other string of my soul. I especially loved that the range of the stories was so broad. Liu Cixin's stories serve the more hard SF end with his intelligent, mindboggling ideas. Ma Boyong's "City of Silence" presents a typical Orwellian This wonderfully curated anthology gets all the stars. I had such a pleasure reading this variety of voices and styles. Two of the stories I didn't entirely get: Chen Qiufan's "The Flower of Shazui" and Tang Fei's "Call Girl". Yet all of the rest sounded the one or other string of my soul. I especially loved that the range of the stories was so broad. Liu Cixin's stories serve the more hard SF end with his intelligent, mindboggling ideas. Ma Boyong's "City of Silence" presents a typical Orwellian kind of dystopia, Chen Qiufan's stories sound with a melancholic hopelessness, yet brought across in a beautiful prose. Xia Jia's stories are very poetical, she bends the genre which I always appreciate. Hao Jingfang presents two delightfully weird thought experiments, which made my SF heart jump for joy, and Cheng Jingbo's Grave of the Fireflies finally reads as an SF fairytale. Most (all?) of the stories have a melancholic feel to them, that very much speaks to me. I certainly have no idea of the Chinese culture, but helped by three interesting essays included in this collection, I had the feeling that I got a little glimpse. When I started reading I didn't expect such a constant high quality in the writing. I will definitely get the second edition of these anthologies.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    A SF Short Story Collection curated & translated by Ken Liu. It contains thirteen short stories and three non-fiction essays. "The Year of the Rat" by Chen Quifan This is an odd kind of Dystopia. Once a citizen is educated and attempts to find work, if they are unsuccessful they can volunteer to be a soldier. As a soldier you have to fight giant mutant rats. Sounds really odd explaining it like that but it does make more sense and has an interesting meaning behind it. "The Fish of Lijang" by Chen Q A SF Short Story Collection curated & translated by Ken Liu. It contains thirteen short stories and three non-fiction essays. "The Year of the Rat" by Chen Quifan This is an odd kind of Dystopia. Once a citizen is educated and attempts to find work, if they are unsuccessful they can volunteer to be a soldier. As a soldier you have to fight giant mutant rats. Sounds really odd explaining it like that but it does make more sense and has an interesting meaning behind it. "The Fish of Lijang" by Chen Quifan A workaholic man is sent to rehab by his company, who do not want to be responsible for possible burn out or associated problems. He meets a woman there he gets on well with and events occur you may not expect. The direction of this is hidden well right up until the last moment. "The Flower of Shazui" by Chen Quifan A man living in a small town becomes overly enamoured, possibly obsessed, with a local woman; who happens to be one of the towns well known prostitutes. A chance event happens which changes both their lives; whether it’s for the better or worse could be debateable. "A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight" by Xia Jia A baby called Ning is left on the temple steps as a baby and is raised by the inhabitants of the street; who happen to be dead and surprisingly talkative for ghosts. Reminiscent of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; which to me is a good thing as I really liked that book. “Tongtong’s Summer” by Xia Jia The grandpa of a family starts to suffer from ill health one day and his family, whom he lives with, decide to get him a experimental helper robot. This is a significant experience for both family, grandpa and others who experience this. Thoughtfully written story with ideas on the veneration of your elders. “Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse” by Xia Jia A giant robot horse awakens to find itself alone so tries to find if there’s any life remaining in the world. Simple concept but remarkably personal and one of my favourites of the whole collection; which some may find surprising. “The City of Silence” by Ma Boyong A future city which is controlled by a totalitarian regime so severe and afraid of it’s own populace it controls the words it’s people are allowed to use. One man does not appreciate this at all but what can a single person do really? The ideas behind this are the most thoughtful and political of the whole collection. Not my first short story by Ma Bayong and hopefully not my last. “Invisible Planets” by Hao Jingfang This is more a description of fantastic planets rather than a story. Curious idea which works reasonably well. "Folding Beijing" by Hao Jingfang Beijing city in the future is even more over-populated than it is now and revolutionary designs are incorporated into a redesigned city which improves life drastically for those living on the right side of the fold. Those on the other side get to live a life unintended but necessary for everyone else. “Call Girl” by Tang Pei A rather unusual and alternative version of the “call girl”. A school girl offers an experience like nobody else can. I didn’t know what to expect considering the story name but this is a surpringly powerful little story. “Grave of the Fireflies” by Cheng Jingbo This easily has the most Fantasy elements to it out of all the collection’s stories. A girl born between worlds goes on a voyage between the stars as they die one by one. She meets the wizard of the weightless city and also discovers why the stars are fading away. "The Circle" by Liu Cixin An assassin is sent to kill the king but is unable to go through with it. The king puts him to work and the former assassin uses the kings army to calculate the numbers of Pi. Really enjoyed the plot with this one; the most in-depth of the collection. Surprising with just the right amount of detail. "Taking Care of God," by Liu Cixin God visits a normal family and asks for food to survive. This would not be a problem on it’s own, however, God is not alone. There are several million and this strains things to breaking point. An odd story which becomes rather sad and melancholy whilst being powerful in it’s own right. The three non-fiction essays by Liu Cixin, Chen Qiufan and Xia Jia offer insights that a western reader wouldn’t otherwise encounter. Overall a simply amazing and expertly curated collection of Science Fiction stories with a wide range of ideas, emotions and views on the world offered. Recommended for all Science Fiction who want something a little different and enjoy short stories.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Riju Ganguly

    When you pick up an anthology of purportedly Science Fiction stories, what do you expect? Spaceships, aliens, journey to stars, galactic conspiracies, epic quests...! This book has NONE of them. Well, the spaceships are mentioned in couple of stories, but they are barely there. And yet, it is perhaps the most profoundly scientific and fictional anthology that I have read. Why scientific? Because most of these stories are based upon human expectations and anticipations, loves and losses, hopes and f When you pick up an anthology of purportedly Science Fiction stories, what do you expect? Spaceships, aliens, journey to stars, galactic conspiracies, epic quests...! This book has NONE of them. Well, the spaceships are mentioned in couple of stories, but they are barely there. And yet, it is perhaps the most profoundly scientific and fictional anthology that I have read. Why scientific? Because most of these stories are based upon human expectations and anticipations, loves and losses, hopes and fears. Their sheer realism makes them understandable, with results that can be obtained repeatedly under different circumstances. Why fictional? Because none of these stories are 'true' in literal sense. Ken Liu firmly states that trying to club all these stories within the same bracket other than that of using the same language, would be something like 'fatal error'. I concur, and hence would express my thoughts story-by-story, or work-by-work: 1. Chen Qiufan's "The Year of the Rat": One of the best and the most haunting stories that I have read, presented as a parable of near future. 2. Chen Qiufan's "The Fish of Lijiang": A chilling, and all too probable story of near future. 3. Chen Qiufan's "The Flower of Shazui": A brilliant, poignant, and truer than true story of near future. These three stories, combined with Chen Qiufan's non-fiction piece "The Torn Generation: Chinese Science Fiction in a Culture in Transition" constitute some of the greatest pieces of scifi writing that I have read in recent times. 4. Xia Jia’s “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight”: Now THIS was a haunting read! It was poetic, poignant, confusing, at times infuriatingly oblique, and sublime. 5. Xia Jia’s “Tongtong’s Summer”: A story that sounds simple, but has lots of layers within. 6. Xia Jia’s “Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse”: God! Grant me the power to translate this story into Bengali. I can never write something like this. But like the moon, let me glow in the light of this sun. Please. These three stories, combined with the non-fiction piece “What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?” place science fiction in China against a rich, humane, volatile, at times violent and fluid landscape. Believe me, I would NEVER forget them. 7. Ma Boyong’s “The City of Silence”: 1984 revisited. 8. Hao Jingfang’s “Invisible Planets”: I’m not comparing, but this is a Sheherjade-esque story that doubles as parable of human expectations, general theory of relativity, explorations of sexuality and identity, all the while infusing a sense of loneliness and longing in the reader. Exquisite. 9. Hao Jinfang’s “Folding Beijing”: Depressing and overlong. 10. Tang Fei’s “Call Girl”: A stunner! No, I won’t say anything about it. 11. Cheng Jingbo’s “Grave of the Fireflies”: Depressing and boring. 12. Liu Cixin’s “The Circle”: THIS is an unbelievable story that combines history, ambition, ruthlessness, mathematics and computing together against a backdrop of ancient past, with projections towards our immediate future, all in a very hard, very realizable format. 13. Liu Cixin’s “Taking Care of God”: T…H…E B…E…S…T! Once again, these last two stories and Liu Cixin’s essay “The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three-Body and Chinese Science Fiction” define not just Chinese SF, but our expectations and apprehensions with respect to SF, science, technology and humanity. All these stories are literally brimming with the excitement of present and apprehensions regarding future. There are no “same old” concepts here. Life, in these stories and pieces, are unforgiving, haunting, beautiful. A separate word for Ken Liu. These translations are simply awesome, and I literally would like to fall at his feet to pay my obeisance. Or I may simply offer him a cup of tea. My submission: READ THE BOOK ASAP! If you like SF, Fantasy, surreal stories, hard-hitting dystopia, or merely thoughts regarding our future, this one is truly an essential read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Yes, this collection is an excellent presentation of contemporary Chinese SF writers and yes, the stories included come in a variety of styles and themes. Getting some context is usually a good idea when it comes to anthologies and thankfully there is a wonderful introduction, as well as a non-fiction part with a couple of compelling essays. Each author is introduced with a small bio, which is a very nice touch. Some of the stories have previously appeared online and since there are plenty of re Yes, this collection is an excellent presentation of contemporary Chinese SF writers and yes, the stories included come in a variety of styles and themes. Getting some context is usually a good idea when it comes to anthologies and thankfully there is a wonderful introduction, as well as a non-fiction part with a couple of compelling essays. Each author is introduced with a small bio, which is a very nice touch. Some of the stories have previously appeared online and since there are plenty of reviews about the contents of this book, I'd just like to use this bit of online space to fashion mine into a mini ode to translators, if I may. This is what books do to me on a regular basis: without conscious intention, I develop a sort of theme in my readings, a certain motif that takes shape involuntarily. Lately that motif has been the crossroads between East and West; my recent discovery of Jan Morris's Hav, the opening of Death's End in Constantinople -more importantly, the translation of the book itself, outstanding Chinese sci-fi brought to us Westerners through the worthy work of Ken Liu. I picked up Invisible Planets fully aware that the book was keeping up with my current theme. Actually, it is a quite literal case of West meets East in speculative fiction terms. As a collection of short stories it is by nature subjectively uneven, some stories will resonate more, others will feel merely enjoyable. Regardless, one thing all of the stories share is a nice flow of language and, even though I have no valid way of checking with the source language, a seamless flow in the target language is the one of the ultimate goals of every translation anyway. There were some personal stand-outs in these visions of the future from China. The story that lent its title to the anthology, Invisible Planets by Hao Jingfang, weaves the stories of various planets into a dialogue that contemplates distance, be it between planets or people. Tongtong's Summer by Xia Jia, an endearing and fragile story which deals with ageing, telemedicine, and robotics hit a little too close to home. On the other hand, The City of Silence by Ma Boyong had some brilliant moments of humor in the midst of its highly dystopic way of life in a society where the State has complete control over the online presence and day-to-day communication. (view spoiler)[The sentence "he tried to entertain himself, but the ENTERTAINMENT link only contained Solitaire and Minesweeper" still haunts me, hilarious and terrifying at the same time. (hide spoiler)] The real value of this anthology though cannot be measured in awards, likes or dislikes: it lies in the fact that a book such as this is published in the first place. This is a big deal but not because Chinese speculative fiction would/could/should be different from the Western canon. It is simply a matter of access to new writers conveniently gathered up in a well-curated anthology, writers who would've otherwise remained hidden behind a massive language barrier. Now there's a reason to be satisfied.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    Received to review via Netgalley; publication date was 1st November 2016 It took me a while to get through this, as I found the tone of the stories rather same-y. I don’t know if that’s because of the translator (because granted, I had the same impression of Cixin Liu’s work in the novels Ken Liu translated). But it’s a great survey of Chinese science fiction and it’s well worth the read; I don’t remember well enough what I’d pick out now from the beginning of the book, but there’s quite a breadt Received to review via Netgalley; publication date was 1st November 2016 It took me a while to get through this, as I found the tone of the stories rather same-y. I don’t know if that’s because of the translator (because granted, I had the same impression of Cixin Liu’s work in the novels Ken Liu translated). But it’s a great survey of Chinese science fiction and it’s well worth the read; I don’t remember well enough what I’d pick out now from the beginning of the book, but there’s quite a breadth of choice here. There’s usually several stories by each author, to give you a good taste of what’s out there. The thing I find really often with novels in translation that the translation somehow deadens the feeling, and I found that quite a lot here. Maybe having different translators would’ve helped, I don’t know. I think that’s really where it didn’t work for me — which is a shame, because it’s a pretty awesome collection in other ways, but this was my main impression. Originally posted here.

  23. 5 out of 5

    that_scarlet_girl

    3,5* All the stories are interesting and some of them are quite different from what we use to call sci-fi and fantasy. It's a good read nevertheless and a nice introduction to modern Chinese speculative fiction.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Emilija

    a really good collection of stories. enjoyed them all, actually, which usually never happens for me

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nefeli

    Not every story in this collection was a 5-star read for me, but the experience of reading the entire book definitely was.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Danya

    INVISIBLE PLANETS will challenge you to think deeply about the world we live in, the worlds that could possibly exist, and how people - both real and imagine - have unique perspectives. This short fiction anthology collects some of the newest voices in Chinese science fiction, many of whom have never before been translated into English. I’ve been really curious about Chinese science fiction ever since Cixin Liu’s THE THREE BODY PROBLEM burst onto the English-language scene a few years ago, and I INVISIBLE PLANETS will challenge you to think deeply about the world we live in, the worlds that could possibly exist, and how people - both real and imagine - have unique perspectives. This short fiction anthology collects some of the newest voices in Chinese science fiction, many of whom have never before been translated into English. I’ve been really curious about Chinese science fiction ever since Cixin Liu’s THE THREE BODY PROBLEM burst onto the English-language scene a few years ago, and I now feel like I have a much better grasp on it. “China Dreams,” Ken Liu’s introduction to the anthology, warns readers away from a simplistic understanding of what exactly makes sci-fi Chinese. Just like China itself, the country’s sci-fi has a multiplicity of styles, themes, underlying concerns, and politics embedded within it. That said, reading the stories contained within this anthology has given me a greater understanding of the hopes and concerns that preoccupy young(er) sci-fi writers in China — and it’s also whet my appetite for further exploration of Chinese science fiction! I enjoyed all of the stories in this anthology, but my favourites were unquestionably those written by Xia Jia. Beautifully written, with a touch of the fantastical, Jia’s stories transported me to worlds not quite our own. Spiritualism and religion play a large part in the three stories of hers included in the anthology, and I found myself captured by her portrayal of gods and monsters alike. Jia’s skill is hardly surprising — she’s the first person to hold a PhD in comparative literature focusing on Chinese science fiction. How cool is that?! Very different in tone from Xia Jia’s work, Hao Jingfang’s stories “Invisible Planets” and “Folding Planets” were also among my favourites in the anthology. “Invisible Planets” is an ingenious story about the art of storytelling itself: the entire piece is narrated by someone telling their listener the story of many planets and the people who live on them. Do these planets really exist, and has the storyteller really visited them? Maybe that doesn’t matter as much as the telling. This story gave me chills with its incisive commentary on our tendency to pass judgement on cultures that we don’t understand. One line in particular stood out to me: "Their histories play out on two time scales, each echoing the other. But they remain opaque to each other, unaware that when it comes to time, everyone is only measuring the universe using the ruler of their own lifespan." Short story anthologies can be tricky to pull off, and often there are at least one or two short stories that aren’t up to par — but that’s not the case with INVISIBLE PLANETS. Although I’ve only specifically addressed two authors (with five stories between them), that’s not because I don’t have anything to say about the others; in fact, it’s the opposite. I want you to have the opportunity to discover these stories for yourself. From hard sci-fi to a kind technological magical realism and everything in between, this anthology has something for every reader. Complex and challenging, INVISIBLE PLANETS is a must-read for fans of the genre and anyone who wants to expand their reading horizons into territories previously unexplored. I know that I, for one, will be reflecting on this thought provoking read for a long time to come.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Angela Rodriguez

    A great collection of Chinese contemporary science fiction stories that express the anxieties of traditional Chinese culture clashing with modern day China. Highly recommend! My favorite: -The Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan -The Fish of Lijiang by Chen Qiufan -Tongtong's Summer by Xia Jia -The City of Silence by Ma Boyong -Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang -The Circle by Liu Cixin -Taking Care of God by Liu Cixin

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mia

    Like any anthology, this one has its weak spots, but overall it’s a very engaging and interesting look at modern Chinese science fiction and its many voices. Mini-reviews of every story can be found in my reading updates.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Introduction by the editor/ translator concise but enlightening, interesting, and worth reading. So are the biographies. The translations of each story are clearly done with both care and talent. I'd like to read Ken Liu's own work, too. --- Chen Qiufan --- Chen Quifan The Year of the Rat .4*. Confusing at first, brilliantly ambiguous unexpected ending. I love all the characters, even the 'bad guy' and even the 'romantic interest.' The SF element is all too likely within my lifetime. The Fish of Li Introduction by the editor/ translator concise but enlightening, interesting, and worth reading. So are the biographies. The translations of each story are clearly done with both care and talent. I'd like to read Ken Liu's own work, too. --- Chen Qiufan --- Chen Quifan The Year of the Rat .4*. Confusing at first, brilliantly ambiguous unexpected ending. I love all the characters, even the 'bad guy' and even the 'romantic interest.' The SF element is all too likely within my lifetime. The Fish of Lijiang .4*. Very short, but still powerful, with an abundance of What If *and* Sense of Wonder. What If the way we sense the passage of time is a clue that something is actually going on behind the scenes...? The Flower of Shazui .2*. Imo, same old awful urban dystopia, doomed prostitute corrupts gentle wannabe hero. --- Xia Jia --- A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight .3*. I'm not sure I understood everything, but I am reminded I need to reread The Graveyard Book. Tongtong's Summer .4*. I do believe that some aspect of this prediction will come true, either in the shape of a 'Robbie' or a 'Bicentennial Man' or an 'Ah Fu.' Too many people are locked in, whether do to age or disability, and the world will be better with caretakers, esp. if those are actually avatars. Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse .4*. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQxkV.... I wonder if there's a conscious reference to The Bat-Poet or just a coincidence. --- Ma Boyong --- The City of Silence .3*. The editor/biographer says this is not typical of Ma's works, which are generally too Literary and too full of Chinese history and culture to be effectively translated and appreciated outside. Good. I hope they're also less boring and depressing. This is about a situation even worse than 1984 and has very little dialogue or action, just plodding narrative. Apt, I suppose, but not satisfying to read. --- Hao Jingfang --- Invisible Planets .3*. Reads a bit like Kipling's "Just So Stories" and so I can only interpret it as a collection of fables. Whether or not each of these planets and their inhabitants could exist is, imo, beside the point. Folding Beijing .4*. In the end, when the quest is accomplished, what really is changed, or Changed? --- Tang Fei--- Call Girl .4*. I don't get it much, but I do find it enchanting. --- Cheng Jingbo --- Grave of the Fireflies .?. I don't understand it at all. --- Liu Cixin --- The Circle .4*. I did get a kick out of this chapter of "Three Body Problem" but the story is fun and interesting on it's own, too. Taking Care of God .4*. Poignant, in fact, manipulatively so like a Hallmark movie. Still, worth a read. I think I like the Joan Osborne song better though. Essays: The Worst of All Possible Universes... .4*. A concise history of SF in China, a rebuttal to Robert Sawyer's response to Three-Body in which Sawyer revealed that at least some Canadians are dismissive of their crimes against the indigenous people, and the statement, "I wrote about the worst of all possible universes... in the hope that we can strive for the best of all possible Earths." The Torn Generation... .4*. A provocative insight into modern China, in which a city of a million ppl is small, technology is booming, traditions of the older generations still hold sway, and income inequality is worse than in non-Communist countries... and how the writing & reading of SF might help. What Makes Chinese SF Chinese?... .5* A sort of precis of the former two essays, an outline of some specific examples of earlier SF from China, and a succinct comparison to Western SF. Also, the best answer to the title question is that it's new; very little of what was written before Y2K in China is worth digging for. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. I do recommend this collection to every reader of any sort of Speculative Fiction, even though I, personally, did not enjoy every selection.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Yogarshi

    Fantastic collection of 13 short stories that blend diverse genres of speculative and science fiction with Chinese history, traditions, and society. While it's hard to play favorites with this collection, here are a few scattered thoughts about some of the stories ( I leave out Liu Cixin's stories as he is arguably the most well known author in this collection, and one of the stories here is drawn from "The Three Body Problem"). * Chen Qifuan stories speak of technology as both a healing force an Fantastic collection of 13 short stories that blend diverse genres of speculative and science fiction with Chinese history, traditions, and society. While it's hard to play favorites with this collection, here are a few scattered thoughts about some of the stories ( I leave out Liu Cixin's stories as he is arguably the most well known author in this collection, and one of the stories here is drawn from "The Three Body Problem"). * Chen Qifuan stories speak of technology as both a healing force and a disruptive energy. I felt these were the weakest stories in the collection, and placed in the beginning, might turn off potential readers to read on, for the other gems. * Xia Jia's stories are highly creative stories that are reminiscent of Miyazaki movies. "Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse" is peppered with imaginary vignettes told by a metallic dragon in a post-human future written in the most exquisite prose. "A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight" is literally a ghost-story, but one full of warmth. * Ma Boyong's "The City of Silence" is both a tribute to as well as an alternate take on the classic 1984 dystopia. While it's easy to draw parallels between Arvardan and Winston Smith, Ma makes this genre his own, and plays with language and society in unique ways. * The titular story, by Hao Jingfang, is a classic fabulist tale of unexplored and unseen worlds in the spirit of (and inspired by) Calvino's Invisible Cities. Hao's other story, "Folding Beijing", is equally brilliant --- set in a world where cities collapse and unfold like origami figures (a mix between Inception and China Mieville's "The City and the City", if you will), it is simultaneously an exercise in imaginative world-building as well as an incisive class commentary. * Tang Fei's "Call Girl" and Cheng Jingbo's "Grave of the Fireflies" are perhaps the oddest stories in the collection, in that they are painted in highly surrealistic strokes that stand out from the rest of the stories. I need to re-visit them at some point, as it is likely that I will have different interpretation of them every time.

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