Science Fiction in Translation

I wasn’t sure at first what to make of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated from Chinese by Ken Liu. I still struggle with how I feel about it. There is much that I enjoyed and appreciated. It is based on hard science and isn’t a space opera. But about a third of the way through it just sort of bogged down for me. Fortunately it picked up again and I ended up liking the book overall. I can certainly see why it won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2015.

Part of what I struggled with was that the translation felt like a translation. The occasional foreignness of the prose was challenging for me. Upon reading the translator’s postscript, I learned that this was on purpose. He wanted the text to reflect as much as possible the original. That means it won’t feel like native English. Perhaps that is what led to the feeling of being immersed in the “Chineseness” of the story, which I liked very much.

The story starts during the Cultural Revolution in China and ends in modern times. It deals with difficult people and difficult times, politics and science, as well as relationships of all sorts. I am grateful that such a unique novel was translated into English so that I could experience something outside of my culture in my favorite genre.

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