Well, where to start? Firstly, stop reading this page and try to read the story, to get full impact from the story.
Every so often (not as often as I would like) I read a story that I really, really like, and which, when I finish reading it, am really, really pleased to have read it, and know that it will stick in the mind for quite some time. This is one such.
The story is translated by Ken Liu so props to him for that.
OK so the story isn’t science fiction. It’s speculative fiction. It could be classified as Alternate History, but that would be doing a dis-service. Firstly, it’s a story about a man who is introduced to us as a child and who we follow through to old age (but wonderfully, circle of life wise, we are returned to the beginning when we reach the end).
It’s a love story, and that is handled skilfully and as a complex thing.
The premise of the story draws on philosophy, and Jean-Paul Sartre, who actually appears in the story. And the really, really clever thing is that the story has a delightful premise – it runs real historical events and personalities in reverse order, to ask some fundamental questions. So the starting point is a China where it is now – lots of technology, industry, a successful host of the Olympics (birds nest stadium). We follow Xie Baosheng from this point over decades as events happen in the reverse order, with world leaders and nations carrying out actions that see the USSR created, then Germany split in two, then the Cultural Revolution, then the Korean War, then the Second World War (only it’s the first world war due to the direction they’re heading).
There’s some clever stuff you will definitely miss (some in-jokes for the Chinese SFF community) and some other great ones – Star Wars I-III are made first, when the CGI technology is available, but over the decades as China loses the technology, episodes IV-VI come out, but the lack of CGI makes them a poor trio of films.
More from this issue here