Nice piece by Amanda DeMarco in The Paris Review earlier this month about the experience of reading the work of prominent sci-fi writer Cixin Liu while in China.
I’m so tired of the future.” It was late in the day at the Tsinghua University Art Museum, and I was getting whiny. My boyfriend and an acquaintance thumbed through some catalogues near the exit and managed to ignore me. We had reached the end of an exhibition of architectural models from the firm Foster + Partners: London’s Gherkin, a cruise-ship terminal, sundry airports. I’m a Berliner, and the most dizzying display was a table of alternate models for the Reichstag dome, a dozen potential realities in balsa and cardboard. In the final room, an animated video envisioned some sort of building project in space—on Mars, maybe?—but I couldn’t really muster the energy to watch it.
It’s been said that the past is a foreign country, and I’ve come to believe that the future is too. I’d just never been so immersed in it before. In Beijing this summer, I read about two thousand pages of work by Cixin Liu, possibly the world’s most important living science-fiction author and certainly among humanity’s most imaginative prognosticators. (A recent London Review of Books piece called his Three-Body trilogy, published in English in 2016, “one of the most ambitious works of science fiction ever written.”) Like life in Beijing, the experience was magnificent and exhausting and thrilling and flawed. Science fiction might be the genre best suited to Chinese society today; the breakneck pace of change becomes a constant, and to live in the present is to anticipate what is to come. When we told our acquaintance that we’d like to return next summer, she responded as many of our Chinese friends did: “You might not recognize it here.”