, , , , , ,

Lyu Guangzhao (Centre for Multidisciplinary and Intercultural Inquiry, UCL) “The Acceptance of Arthur Clarke in the Trilogy of Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Liu Cixin”

This project will discuss the influence of Arthur Clarke on Liu Cixin, a well-known New Generation science fiction writer in China, based on a close comparative reading of Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rendezvous with Rama, and Liu”s trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past. It would be argued that, by absorbing the elements in Clarke’s stories and developing his own idea on science fiction writing at the same time, Liu Cixin successfully breaks the paradigms of traditional Chinese science fictions that has limited its development, and introduces the New Generation Chinese science fiction to a larger audience across the world.

Chinese science fiction, as an independent literary genre, has witnessed a history of over a hundred years. Unfortunately, however, subject to certain historical discourses, it has suffered from a number of interruptions and served as a medium of enlightenment and science popularisation for Chinese people, developing a set of utilitarian yet rigid paradigms, but also the lack of literariness. Therefore, Chinese sf, even nowadays, is still neglected and marginalised in a large sense by the mainstream literature.

Under such a background, the New Generation Chinese science fiction writers emerging in 1990s began to challenge the conventional paradigms and write on themes and topics seldom engaged before – one of the New Generation writers, and perhaps the most famous and influential one in China, is Liu Cixin. His The Three Body Problem, i.e. the first volume of the trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past, won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015, which makes him the first Hugo-winning writer in China, and the third volume Death’s End has also been nominated for the same title in 2017. However, his remarkable success cannot be credited only to Liu Cixin himself, but also to the profound influence from Arthur Clarke.

Therefore, similarities must exist between Liu and Clarke, which would be discussed in respect of, as termed by Darko Suvin, both “cognition” (illustrated by the clear indication of scientific optimism in their works) and “estrangement” (shown through a dramatic contradiction between “development” and “crisis” termed by Mieke Bal). However, their depiction of the moral system in the universe is diametrically opposed to each other – i.e. the benevolent and enlightening cosmic environment of Clarke versus the dark forest of Liu. In this case, this project would closely look into the similarities and differences between the two great writers through a comparative reading of the three novels, namely 2001, Rendezvous, and Remembrance, and also the contribution of Liu Cixin to the development of the contemporary New Generation Chinese science fiction.



Bal, Mieke (1988). Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, trans. by Christine van Boheemen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press).

Clarke, Arthur (1985). 2001, A Space Odyssey; The City and the Stars; The Deep Range; A Fall of Moondust; Rendezvous with Rama (London: Heinemann/Octopus).

Forster, Edward Morgan (1974). Aspects of the Novel and Related Writings (London: Edward Arnold).

Liu Cixin (2014). The Three Problem, trans. by Ken Liu (London: Head of Zeus)

(2015a). The Dark Forest, trans. by Joel Martinsen (London: Head of Zeus).

(2015b). Death’s End, trans. by Ken Liu (London: Head of Zeus)

Luckhurst, Roger. (2005). Science Fiction (Cambridge: Polity Press).

Suvin, Darko (2016). Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: on the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (Bern: Peter Lang).

Wu Dingbo (1989). “Looking Backward: An Introduction to Chinese Science Fiction”, in Science Fiction from China, ed. by Dingbo Wu and Patrick D. Murphy (London: Praeger), xi-xli.


Professor Stephen Dougherty (Agder University) “Liu Cixin, Arthur C. Clarke and ‘Repositioning’”

The Chinese sf writer Liu Cixin writes of his first, transformative encounter with Arthur C. Clarke,

“[o]ne winter night in 1980”: I had just read his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Before reading that book, I had on countless occasions imagined a type of literature that would reveal the vastness and profundity of the universe to me . . . When I first opened that book, however, I discovered that what I had dreamed of had already been written” (“Beyond Narcissism” 23-24).

Liu gestures towards a concept of imitation of that which one already dreams. Imitation in this sense is akin to a self-confirmation. It is an act of self-awareness from the outside, of finding oneself in relation to “foreign messages” that lodge themselves deep inside the psyche. The love of Clarke likewise turns out to be a self-love, a “shocking” and “moving” recognition of Liu’s own deep-seated creative urges (24).

The kind of inter-cultural and inter-subjective exchange that Liu powerfully describes calls to mind the paradigm for influence-in-translation that the cultural theorist Emily Apter explores in her book The Translation Zone (2006). Below, Apter explains the difference that the notion of the translation zone might make for our understanding of literary influence, especially as conceived within the compass of comparative literary studies:

Cast as an act of love, and as an act of disruption, translation becomes a means of repositioning the subject in the world and in history; a means of rendering self-knowledge foreign to itself; a way of denaturalizing citizens, taking them out of the comfort zone of national space, daily ritual, and pre-given domestic arrangements. (6, emphasis added)

Liu finds himself jolted out of his “comfort zone” by Clarke, reoriented in the world and in history through this engagement. Liu thus finds himself as a young reader with a bent for speculative fiction subjected to an opening up, a reorientation, a repositioning. I find this word very productive in terms of thinking about Liu’s concerns and preoccupations years later in the short stories that make up his The Wandering Earth collection, which treats in myriad and evocative ways themes of departure, deviation, digression, crisis, drift, belonging, and exile.

I want to offer in my presentation a reading of Liu that draws attention to what I shall call, following Apter’s cue, a thematic of global repositioning. Primarily, I want to suggest through the use of this term the manner in which Liu’s sf, born of his own highly cathected, simultaneously disorienting and self-affirming experiences in reading Clarke, registers on another level as a sensitive representation and recalibration of China’s position in the world via the translated/imitated, and ironized, style of Clarke which becomes a hallmark of Liu’s fiction. One can make similar claims about Clarke’s fiction, vis-à-vis his relation to the American pulp sf magazine writers of the 1930s . . . Thus we may speak of one testament of repositioning that calls forth and inspires another.

Stephen Dougherty is Professor of American Literature at Agder University in Kristiansand, Norway. He earned his Ph.D. in English at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. He has published articles and essays on diverse topics: nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. and British literature, psychoanalytic theory, cognitive science, poststructuralism and contemporary French philosophy, science studies, media studies, and science fiction. His work has appeared in Configurations, Diacritics, Science Fiction Studies, and elsewhere.