Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Is There A Place For Great Art in Science Fiction?

Author Cixin Liu
I recently finished Cixin Liu's trilogy of THE THREE BODY PROBLEM.  A sci-fi fan since I was in grade school (my mother had to intervene and write a note to the local librarian stating that I could read any book I wanted figuring I wouldn't get the racy parts anyway) beginning with first Ray Bradbury and on to Issac Asimov's FOUNDATION trilogy. Ray's MARTIAN CHRONICLES was scary to me in the 6th grade and it took several tries to get past the Martian's killing the astronauts.
     I've read many many sic-fi books and seen just about every sic-fi movie since about the age of 6! One of my favorites, seen over 50 times is Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with a close second being Ridley Scott's BLADERUNNER. Both these movies and many others talk about man and space and what may lay ahead.
Cixin Liu's Trilogy of THE THREE BODY PROBLEM.
     After reading a review of THE THREE BODY PROBLEM, I found it interesting that an unknown Chinese author, to Americans at least, could win every Sci-Fi award both in China and the west. It piqued my interest. While the books are long and Westerners have no familiarity with the names, the trilogy is stunning in its reach and scope. His unease with Communist China is there for all to see. I was amazed that he was allowed to publish.
     What is especially interesting to me is to see the science fiction world, actually the race to space that I stayed up for while growing up only to watch yet another Vanguard Rocket launch go up in flames. I wondered how China, an arch enemy to Americans growing up, would look at this same search. Can you really tell a tale that has any real validity? The answer is a resounding yes.
     We start with the THREE BODY PROBLEM set right during the Cultural Revolution at its very worst. For me, reading or watching any kind of violence is nauseating but I stuck to it as young teenage Red Guards humiliate a famous Chinese physicist for his "wrong thinking" and bourgeoisie attitudes. He is roundly denounced in front of his recently closed university and finally killed in front of his family. 
ISIS and Al Queda were not the only ones
favoring beheading. This was for sale at a
antique store in Hong Kong
I don't think Americans can begin, in anyway, to understand today, the cost this inflicted on China as it tore itself apart. Our Civil War would be an the closest comparison. 
   However, while we lost 700,000 in our conflict, 15% of our population, China lost an estimated 25-30,000,000 souls. This on top of the recent end of The Great Leap Forward where millions more died.
   Finally our heroine grows up. Unbeknownst to the Red Guards, the military had built a secret "Red Coast" base to explore the heavens in a search for extraterrestrial life. The daughter of the murdered scientist becomes a physicist herself and is approached to carry on the work of her murdered father. She can never leave but faced with a bleak China she agrees and in that agreement sets off a chain of events that will doom the world.
     THE DARK FOREST sets the stage of how the earth will defend itself from an invading alien force that will take 400 years to reach our solar system. Liu explores the human psyche and manages to cover just about all the possibilities of how we, as a world, might react. He leads us through a variety of stratagems that finally at the end makes the aliens, who have crippled all scientific development, agree to a kind of draw. A human, the one they feared most, came up with a deterrent, "the black forest defense" that wouldn't save the earth but would destroy both species revealing their locations to others in the universe.
     For me, what is revealed about not only world thought, and conclusions but especially Chinese thought is how different we might see the world. While Americans, especially, sacrifice to save one person, Chinese thought is more for the entire society. The aliens who wrestle with three suns and its devastating effects on their civilization provide an even deeper search for preservation and seize on the thought of colonizing a stable planet in a stable solar system.
   However, in preparation for their arrival, the draconian way they will treat the human population brings to mind the movie SOYLENT GREEN. What can he learn here? The Trisolaris solution is terrifyingly similar. Not only similar but even probable given our history.
   DEATH'S END literally talks about the end of the earth. When a handover of power that controls the "dark forest deterrent" fails, it becomes a rogue starship that takes the initiative to use it and Trisolaris is destroyed. The invading force flees into the universe but the location of earth is revealed. An unknown force launches an attack on us and as the solar system begins to change killing all that live in it. Our heroine and her best friend find that they will be able to flee, one of the few, of billions, that will. 
     Visiting a museum created on Neptune, before it too will be destroyed, they begin to take what treasures of human civilization with them that they can. One scene, their removing canvases from frames to save space and enabling them to take more in a light speed ship, is one man's asking to keep the Mona Lisa. The women opt to take Van Gogh's "Starry Night" because it so well captures the wonders of space in ways man would never have known until he went to space.
     I was especially moved at this part as I had seen Van Gogh's masterpiece at MOMA in New York city and was stunned by the majesty and force of his painting. Oddly, it is ranked as the second most popular and known work of art in the world ... behind the "Mona Lisa." Western culture is clearly known in China as well.
     What I especially liked about Liu's writing was how he used art and culture even in the depth of chaos. Traditions and culture both from the west and east are honored. And his speculations may not be that far off. How can we be the only race of people in the universe? As we are discovering on Mars, it had a viable atmosphere with water and possibly early life. How far it got we have yet to discover. Was there life? Just last night a scientist noted that we could have drank the water. They also have discovered Martian rocks on earth. Did they bring the seeds of life here? 
     Liu writes a thoughtful, artful tale. one that should give humans pause.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... KrugsStudio.etsy.com

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