The fiction of Nebula nominee Liu Cixin is explored by Joshua Rothman in a New Yorker article, “China’s Arthur C. Clarke”.
Last week, a team of astronomers at Peking University announced the discovery of a gigantic black hole with a mass equivalent to twelve billion suns. The black hole formed near the beginning of time, just nine hundred million years after the Big Bang. It’s twelve billion light years away, but, because the quasar surrounding it glows four hundred and twenty trillion times brighter than the sun, it’s still visible to telescopes on Earth. “How could we have this massive black hole when the universe was so young?” Xue-Bing Wu, the lead astronomer, asked, in a paper published in Nature. “We don’t currently have a satisfactory theory to explain it.”
Reading about these developments, I thought of Liu Cixin, China’s most popular science-fiction writer. Liu is fifty-one years old and has written thirteen books. Until very recently, he worked as a software engineer at a power plant in Shanxi. In China, he is about as famous as William Gibson in the United States; he’s often compared to Arthur C. Clarke, whom he cites as an influence. His most popular book, “The Three-Body Problem,” has just been translated into English by the American sci-fi writer Ken Liu, and in China it’s being made into a movie, along with its sequels. (If you Google it, beware: there are some big plot twists that you don’t want spoiled.) Liu Cixin’s writing evokes the thrill of exploration and the beauty of scale. “In my imagination,” he told me, in an e-mail translated by Ken Liu, “abstract concepts like the distance marked by a light-year or the diameter of the universe become concrete images that inspire awe.” In his novels, a black hole with the mass of twelve billion suns is the sort of thing that Chinese engineers might build. They’d do it a billion years from now, after China’s spaceships have spread throughout the universe
[Thanks to Gregory Benford for the link.]