ARC received from publisher, Tor, in exchange for an honest review.
To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science fiction, short stories
Published: 1st October 2020 by Head of Zeus (UK) and 20 Oct 2020 by Tor Books (US)
True to his form as seen in his most renowned science fiction series, The Remembrance of Earth’s Past, Cixin Liu’s imagination in this short story collection, To Hold Up the Sky, was truly remarkable.
The Three-Body Problem is probably the most well-known translated Asian science fiction novel in the world right now. In fact, I hardly hear or read about the series being mentioned in its actual name, but always in reference to the title of the first book. The Remembrance of Earth’s Past is probably my favourite science fiction series right now, and having been treated to the wildly imaginative mind of Cixin Liu in the application of theoretical and astrophysics, I know I’ll read anything that he writes.
To Hold Up The Sky is Liu’s second collection of short stories, the first being The Wandering Earth, which I owned and have yet to read. As with pretty much most collections, the short stories here could either be a hit or a miss. I would say that the majority of the stories hovered around 3-stars for me. Some of the stories were almost too profound or high concept. The few that I really liked and hence rated 4-stars are the ones which resonated with me more on an emotional level or have a powerful message to humanity.
“When you read or make science fiction, your sympathy automatically moves away from ideas of ethnicity or nation and toward a higher idea of humanity as a whole.”
I’ve summarised my thoughts along with my rating as I finished each story.
The Village Teacher
4 stars – How does a touching story of a dying village teacher relate to an interstellar war fought over 20 millenia 50k lightyears away in the center of the Milky Way? An oddly contrasting narrative that worked as tribute to some of most underrated heroes of our world – teachers. The story about the teacher moved me to tears!!
The Time Migration
3 stars – Philosophical and impactful. The scary proposition of what the future might be when humanity’s collective memories and consciousness are just programmes in a supercomputer, and people giving up reality for imagined lives in quantum memory.
3 stars – The grasp for eternal life. The growing schism between rich and poor. The scary possibility of what could happen when wealth is purely denominated in computer bytes.
Fire in the Earth
3 stars – Story about a young man whose father passed away from the health perils of working in a coal mine. Determined that the future of coal mining should not subject people to such dangers, he studied and proposed a new tech/way of extracting energy from coal. Let’s just say attempts to tamper with energy are never without its perils.
4 stars – In reference to the contraction of the (currently expanding) universe, this one has brilliant conceptual thinking that I’ve come to expect from Liu with powerful and mind-bending implications.
4 stars – A fairly long but powerful story. The imagination is astounding. Superstring computers being able to create models at an atomic level of entire universes based on the parameters of the singularity. What happens if one discovers the exact model of our universe and could peel through its entire history, including that of Earth and its people – down to every single individual.
Ode to Joy
3 stars – This is almost way too high concept to fathom. Strange story about a ultra-super-advanced entity that travels through the universe and plays the music of the cosmos that it collects on its way.
Full Spectrum Barrage Jamming
2 stars – I got the message but the story felt too long and too full of war technicalities and jargon that it left me feeling a bit cold and bored.
Sea of Dreams
3 stars – Climate science featured heavily in this wildly imaginative story of the most bizarre combo of hyper-advanced aliens, art and losing all our oceans.
Cloud of Poems
3 stars – Profound and bizarre at the same time. There’s subtle beauty in the idea that technology may never replace the soul and essence of human intelligence, which in this case is represented in Classical Chinese poetry.
3.5 stars – A story of fate and love bonded by the twinkling of stars.
As I reached the end of the book, I recalled a passage in Liu’s Foreword which made me appreciate how this collection of stories fit his ideas about the relationship between humanity and the universe. It’s just that on an individual level, we are too small and short-lived to see the vast tapestry woven over billions of years.
“Stories about such relationships between people and the universe are not science fiction; they are realism. In my scif-fi, I work to imagine the direct, tangible relationship between people and the universe. In this relationship, the evolution and metamorphoses of the universe are inseparable from human life and human fate.”