Jan 6th, 2018, Sea of Dreams by Cixin Liu Translated by John Chu, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018

Sea of Dreams by Cixin Liu and translated by John Chu, is the first story I’ve read by this author, despite his prestige in his native China, as well as the author of the Hugo Award-winning novel The Three-Body Problem. Cixin Liu has long been on my authors-to-watch-for list, and finally, I can say I have read a piece of his, which is nice.
Sea of Dreams is about a lot of different things. On the surface it’s the story of an alien who visits earth, is inspired to create art and uses all the water on the planet to create a ring of ice around Earth, depriving humanity of it’s most precious resource. The protagonists Yan Dong tries to reason with the alien only to be reprimanded for being trivial.

This gets us to another issue this story is about. Art. This story begs the question: can anyone who must strive to survive be dedicated enough to create any type of lasting art? In the eyes of the alien in this story, absolutely not. If you must take even a moment to feed or water yourself, then you have forsaken the artist’s path and thus cannot be a true artist. However, the short falling of this leads to the near destruction of the human race, because the alien cannot look past its own desires.

Lastly, this is a work of environmentalist literature, which is, perhaps surprising from the most popular SF writer in China, as self-censorship is strongly encouraged, and state censorship is vast. Those who write or disseminate writing that does not reflect the “official” view on political or social issues can face years in prison. That freaks me out. Cixin Liu, by design or not, has, I think, masked a piece of environmentalist literature–though I do not know the official stance of the Chinese Government on climate change–so perhaps it was not a risk at all. I do know that China is a leading partner in the Paris Agreement, so they at least recognize the dangers of climate change more than the US Gov currently does.

Anyway–this story shows how integral the oceans are to humanity. It’s a thought experiment: if the oceans were unavailable to us, or removed altogether, what would become of humanity?

While it seemed as though some of the eloquence of this piece was lost in translation, the story (not the writing, perhaps) reminds me of a Ray Bradbury story. One that gets at much more than a science fiction story should. One that touches the heart of what it means to be human and exists in humanity. A solid read for anyone who likes SF that goes beyond science and gets closer to the human experience of art.

2 thoughts on “Jan 6th, 2018, Sea of Dreams by Cixin Liu Translated by John Chu, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018

  1. I got a bit lost in Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem series, so trying some of his short fiction sounds like it be better for me. Thank you for posting about this story!


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