I just read Supernova Era, written by the guy who wrote the Three-Body Problem in 2003, but only recently translated into English. Honestly, it was not that good. But I find why it’s not good absolutely intriguing – I can’t stop thinking about it.

Without giving anything away, the main problem is that the plot involves characters from different countries, and the way he characterizes people from those countries is so ridiculous that it sends the plot into a wildly preposterous direction. In my opinion, the Three-Body Problem suffered from the same issue, though less pronounced – the Chinese characters seem real, the foreign (American) characters not so much.

And why I find it fascinating is I wonder – is that how the Chinese view Americans? And foreigners in general (the British come across as vain and devious, the Japanese bloodthirsty). One main character notes that it’s a fallacy to assume that other people are good – it’s somewhat a key point in the book. And yet the book violates that principle when it comes to its own characters – while the Chinese characters are not perfect, the leaders are noble and good, and the faults of the Chinese come across as immaturity, ignorance, or laziness – almost indirect faults. In contrast, the leaders of all the other countries are straight up bad – incompetent, immoral, or both. The book assumes that in the future, the Chinese will nominate good leaders while no other country will. It’s fascinating. More plot elements emphasize this point. The Chinese make good and wise decisions (presumably because they are good and wise) while other countries make selfish or evil decision (because… that’s what they are?).

I find reading Liu Cixin fascinating because I rarely read books, much less sci-fi books, that take a Chinese point of view. And even more rare is reading books where the culture I identify with is seen so strongly (and cartoonishly) as the bad guys. In a sense it’s refreshing, just to see another viewpoint. But it’s also concerning. Again, I wonder if the book represents how the Chinese view others. That they’re the only good people, everyone else is out for themselves.

It concerns me. Both in this book and the Three-Body Problem, Liu makes conclusions about logical behavior that’s based on a dim view of human behavior, in particular of non-Chinese behavior. And those conclusions are gruesome. Is that the Chinese viewpoint? It would make sense to me. China is powerful now, and in my view, fairly belligerent. Perhaps it’s because the Chinese, as Liu’s books reflect, assume bad motivations in all other countries. If that’s the assumption, it makes total sense as a country to look out for itself only. I just wonder how it is they reach that conclusion.

Suffice to say, I don’t think that’s how Americans would view themselves, nor do I think it’s accurate. I think that Americans generally view citizens of other countries more favorably than Liu views non-Chinese. Although ironically, I do think many Americans would see China as a country as being more self-oriented and less noble than most other countries – the exact opposite viewpoint from the book. Anyways, it’s a weak book but thought-provoking, if for no other reason that it reveals how much cultural misinterpretation there is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *