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Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation, edited by Ken Liu

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

I was in a book doldrums when I got this review copy, and oh, was it a relief. An anthology where I didn’t skim half the stories! What a treat. I was a little surprised to see that Ken Liu made the choice to include multiple stories by most of the authors, but I really liked that once I got used to the idea: it gives at least a little bit of triangulation on an author’s career, rather than letting a single story stand for an entire body of work.

I’m particularly pleased that Ken Liu focused so much on newer Chinese authors–I feel like the temptation and the expectation, when you know that you’re doing an anthology from a region that hasn’t appeared in that language before, is to try to rehash the entire history of a field/region, and that’s not necessarily the most readable or interesting anthology from anything but a scholarly viewpoint. Further, an anthology of this length could not possibly cover the entirety of China’s SF history. Ken Liu makes the point that it isn’t doing that, it isn’t trying, in multiple places–people will certainly try to take this anthology as representative and/or interpret it through the lens of their own politics. Immunity to the latter tendency is hard to come by. But the reader is given no excuse to do so, no encouragement–and in fact active discouragement–from the text.

Some of these stories were familiar to me and may well be familiar to you also–“A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” and “Folding Beijing” were the ones I remembered seeing before. And yet the other stories by those two authors, Xia Jia and Hao Jingfang, were at least as good in my estimation, possibly better. I also really enjoyed the Chen Qiufan stories, all of them–and I came away with a very different opinion of Chen Qiufan than any one story would have given me.

I’m not surprised that there were Liu Cixin stories in the anthology–he’s the Hugo winner, the big name in China, the person whose novels Ken Liu has translated. (The reason why I’m saying Ken Liu every time instead of just defaulting to Liu!) And yet for me these were the weak point in the anthology. Upon reflection, I don’t think they’re a weakness per se–I think including them was a good idea–but they’re not the stories that spoke most to me. And this is no surprise: when I reviewed Liu Cixin’s novels, I said that the thing that excited me most was the prospect that they were the tip of the iceberg, that there would be more new Chinese SF in translation coming our way. I’m glad to see Tor carrying through on that. Long may it last.

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