Chinese Dystopian Sci-Fi, anyone?

invisible planets

I’ve been working my way through an anthology this week – “Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation”  (edited and translated by Ken Liu -pictured below holding his most renowned translating effort). I don’t recall now where I first heard of this book – maybe via – but I first encountered Liu in his short story, “What I Assume You Shall Assume” from – of all places – an anthology of ‘Weird Western’ tales called “Dead Man’s Hand.”


Later, we crossed paths again when he made an appearance in 2014’s “Deal Me In” challenge, as the story “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” was read by James of the blog,“James Reads Books.” Then his crowning achievement to me thus far was his “epic” translation of the first book of Cixin Liu’s acclaimed “The Three-Body Problem” – the first book read by my reincarnated book club a.k.a. “Book Club II: Son of Book Club.” (“Re-hydrate!” sorry, inside joke for The Three-Body Problem readers…)


Soooo… when I heard of this anthology, I promptly purchased it and have been anxious to get started in on it. So far it has not disappointed. I’m now halfway through, having read 7 of its 14 stories. A couple of the stories were really outstanding, Chen Quifan’s “The Fish of Lijiang” and Xia Jia’s “Tongtong’s Summer” and “Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse”. These and other stories in the book have frequently called to mind other favorite stories of mine, of such varying pedigree as Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince,” and Premendra Mitra’s “The Discovery of Telenapota”

But the one I’m going to talk about briefly in this post is..

“The City of Silence” by Ma Boyong

“It’s understandable that the appropriate authorities prefer electronic books. With electronic books, all you need is FIND and REPLACE to eliminate all the unhealthy words in a book and decontaminate it. But to correct and edit physical books would take forever.”

The story paints one of the bleakest dystopias I’ve encountered, and it is clear that the author is well versed in Dystopian Classics of the West as well, with nods to both Orwell’s 1984 and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 appearing in this near-novella length story. In the society described in The City of Silence, most “living” (if you can call it that) is done via “The Web”  – “The Capital’s streets had few pedestrians. Now that the Web was everywhere, most chores could be done there. Unlike in the primitive past, people no longer needed to go outside the home for the necessities of daily life.” Communication is slowly being constricted as well. Citizens are constantly monitored by The State and must adhere to and use only words from a continually updated list of “healthy words.” The insidiousness of gradualism is on display in how the communication and language are inexorably taken away from the citizens. I found the descriptions of the stages by which language was slowly becoming a lost art, and how the citizenry would retreat to a new strategy, only to see it also eradicated, fascinating.

As you can see by the quotation above, physical books have become extinct and most haven’t heard of even the famous Orwell Classic: “Do you know 1984?” asks one, “I only know that ‘1984’ is part of my Web Access Serial “(i.e. his name) The story’s protagonist, “ARVARDAN19842015BNKF,” eventually discovers a secretive group of non-conformists, who clandestinely run a speakeasy-like support group called “The Talking Club”- No forbidden words there! They even have ‘shielding’ which prevents the government’s (or I should say “The Appropriate Authorities” which is the “Big Brother” of this story) surveillance of their activity, but for how long..?

The story’s nod to Fahrenheit 451 lies in the fact that one of the members of “The Talking Club” read 1984 once, when copies were still available, and entertains the group by retelling the story – from memory – in “installments” to her fellow members, one of whom notes that “The author of 1984 predicted the progress of totalitarianism, but could not predict the progress of technology.” She’s like one of the “living books” of Fahrenheit 451!

If you’re a fan of dystopian fiction, you will definitely want to give this story a try. I don’t know if it’s available individually (I didn’t see it during a quick off-the-cuff search) but the anthology is available on  I am looking forward to finishing off the other stories in this book over the upcoming long Thanksgiving Weekend.

Below: Ma Boyong


Have you read any Chinese Science Fiction? Maybe The Three-Body Problem? Are you familiar with Ken Liu’s work?

Top Ten Tuesday – 10 Favorite “New to Me” Authors of 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish blog. Pay them a visit, or check out everybody’s lists at the home post for this week.


Top Ten New to me Authors in 2014:

This is one of my favorite topics of the year. One of the best benefits of participating in the book blogging community is learning of new authors from your fellow bloggers. I’m happy to say that my reading the past five years has been greatly enriched by the addition of many authors who I only learned of through my fellow book bloggers. I heartily thank you all, and today I’ll share some of my favorite new-to-me authors of the year. The following are in a rough ascending order with my favorite being number 1…



  1. Katherine Vaz – I’ve been reading through her collection of short stories, “Fado and Other Stories” this year and have just been blown away. I’ve posted about a couple of her stories, “Undressing the Vanity Dolls” and “Fado” if you’d like to hear more about her.
  2. Ernesto Sabato – His book, “The Tunnel,” was recommended to me by a co-worker. It was great! I even recommended it for the book club at Indy Reads Books when they were looking for a ‘short’ book before reading a longer one (I think the longer one was Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” – HE didn’t make this list) and they liked it too.
  3. Ralph Ellison – One of those “I’m embarrassed that I’ve never read” books for me has always been Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” Fortunately, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library book club read it for Banned Books Month in September. Very deep and often brilliant.
  4. Jess Walter – Wow. His collection of short stories “We Live in Water” blew me away a couple months ago. It looks like another local book discussion group will also be reading his novel Beautiful Ruins next year, which I’m looking forward to. Top that off with an Indy visit by this author for “Vonnegut Fest” in November, and he’s certainly become one of my favorite new-to-me authors.
  5. Ben Winters – I read a couple short stories of his, then his Edgar Award-winning novel “The Last Policeman” as preparation for a launch party for the final book in that same trilogy. Met him in person at that event and have subsequently read another great short story of his (“Between the Lines”) in the hot-off-the-presses anthology of local writers, “Indy Writes Books”
  6. Roxane Gay – Her story “North Country” has been one of my favorites from my 2014 Deal Me In short story project. I read a couple others by her since – and have one on my radar for next year – and was looking forward to a scheduled visit of hers to the local Vonnegut Library, but it was unfortunately cancelled due to health reasons.
  7. Leonid AndreevHis story “Lazarus” may be my favorite short story read of the year. I had never even heard of this author before I made “stories by Russian writers” a suit in my annual Deal Me In challenge
  8. Ken Liu – I enjoyed his sci-fi flavored story “What I Assume You Shall Assume” in the “Weird Western” anthology “Dead Man’s Hand” which I completed recently. He’s an author I definitely want to explore further. I need to write a blog post about that anthology too. It was a lot of fun. 🙂
  9. Martin Amis – I just finished reading his book, “Time’s Arrow” and hope to write a blog post about it soon. Very enjoyable fresh narrative perspective – a novel written in reverse time. Now that’s ambitious.
  10. Salman Rushdie – I’d never read him until I read the exceptional short story “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella Consummate their Relationship” earlier this year. Of course I knew of him because of the infamous “fatwah” from back in the day, but this is the first I’ve read of him. I received some recommendations from others for subsequent reading which I hope to follow up on..

Okay, so those are ten of my favorite “New to Me” authors in 2014. Now I want to know who YOURS are… 🙂


Deal Me In – Week 47 Wrap Up


Greetings to all. Here are some new Deal Me In posts to tide you over through the Thanksgiving Holiday Week:

Randall read one of the short story masters this week, O. Henry. His post on “A Double-Dyed Deceiver” may be found here:

James is now on to his second deck of Deal Me In, but I’ll continue to include links to any new Deal Me In posts of his here. This week it was Ken Liu’s story “The Gods Will not be Chained” and William Roughead’s essay, “The Ardlamont Mystery

Dale paid another visit to Father Brown, reading G.K. Cheaterton’s story “The Ghost of Gideon Wise

Returning Reader posted about a couple stories, Tunisian writer Rachida el-Charni’s “Street of the House of Wonders and Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby

I read French writer Prosper Merimee’s story “Mateo Falcone

Katherine continues to browse the exhibits in Steven Millhauser’s Barnum Museum, this time taking a look at “The Invention of Robert Herendeen

Five weeks to go in Deal Me In 2014! I think I can see the finish line from here! I hope everyone has a pleasant Thanksgiving. Safe travels to all who are on the road for the holiday.