Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Liu Cixin

Entry updated 21 August 2023. Tagged: Author.

Icon made by Freepik from


(1963-    ) Multiple award-winning Chinese author who swiftly shot to prominence in the People's Republic after the publication of his debut short story "Jing Ge" ["Whale Song"] (June 1999 Kehuan Shijie). A graduate of the North China Institute of Water Power and Hydroelectric Engineering, he inadvertently presents a rather traditional career path for Chinese science fiction writers, continuing to work as a senior engineer for the China Power Investment Corporation, at the Niangziguan power plant. Liu is a compelling writer of Hard SF, with a technician's love of Macrostructures both material and political. Seemingly inspired by a childhood that spanned the late Mao era, his work is also littered with Paranoia and large-scale social engineering (see Cultural Engineering), such as the Hollow Earth created in "Shi Yun" (March 2003 Kehuan Shijie; trans Chi-yin Ip and Cheuk Wong as "The Poetry Cloud", November 2012 Renditions) as a defence against Alien Invasion.

The novelette Liulang Diqiu (July 2000 Kehuan Shijie; trans as The Wandering Earth 2012 ebook), a melodramatic Space Opera in which Earth has been converted to a World Ship escaping our ailing Sun and has a dangerous close encounter with Jupiter, became the title story of a collection and was filmed as The Wandering Earth (2019) directed by Frant Gwo. Chaoxinxing Jiyuan ["The Supernova Era"] (2003; trans Joel Martinsen as The Supernova Era 2019) is a Disaster novel in which humanity must face the realization that everyone over thirteen years old is fated to die within the year, as the result of radiation from a powerful supernova. The result is a determined, mournful Great Leap Forward, as the dying old order desperately throws its time and resources into educating the children of tomorrow. With the adults gone, some children forge an imitation of previous society, aided in part by the discovery of a new Power Source utilizing the supernova's energy. Others devolve into savagery and violence, pointedly framed as the result of over-exposure to Videogames that failed to instil the sanctity of human life (see Children in SF).

The Santi ["Three-Body Problem"] series, beginning with Santi (May-December 2006 Kehuan Shijie; 2007; trans Ken Liu as The Three-Body Problem 2014), is a deeply inventive exercise in world-building, in which a secret Mao-era project to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (see SETI) makes disastrous First Contact with a totalitarian government orbiting Alpha Centauri. Hailing from a world that fluctuates wildly between periods of idyllic calm or furious Climate Change, and the ever-present prospect of total gravitational collapse, the Aliens immediately send an Invasion fleet on the 450-year journey to seize the Earth, preceded by speedier espionage AIs called zhizi which are sentient protons (see Dimensions); the name zhizi puns on the Chinese words for proton and for wisdom or aptitude, and is translated by Ken Liu as "sophon". With a tripartite structure to match the triple suns of its antagonists, the first volume exploits Cold-War paranoia, as the zhizi and human fifth columnists attempt to sabotage Terran scientific progress. In 2015 this opening segment became the first translated novel to win the Hugo. Its successor Hei'an Senlin ["The Dark Forest"] (2007; trans Joel Martinsen as The Dark Forest 2015) continues the espionage theme, leavened with intricate deduction and abduction, as the defenders of the Earth systematically divine the size, composition and strategy of the approaching fleet. Particularly notable in this is an exercise in "astro-Sociology" (wenwu-shehuixue) that applies Marxist historical materialism to the likelihood of the development of life on other planets (see Fermi Paradox), and the inevitability of interstellar conflict in a universe where Galactic Empires constantly expand but matter remains constant (see Imperialism). Liu posits a logical extrapolation of game-theory Mathematics and Darwinian selection, suggesting that advanced sentient civilizations will elect to conceal, rather than reveal themselves (again see Fermi Paradox). The protagonist awakens centuries later in Sishen Yongsheng (2010; trans Ken Liu as Death's End 2016), having used Cryonics as a form of very slow Time Travel, and participates or rather fails to participate in the battle with the aliens' advance guard. The conflict escalates into an apocalypse across a vast Time Abyss, with desperate efforts to preserve civilization, leading to solutions at the extreme ends of both Great and Small. This concluding volume won a Locus Award as best novel.

Chinese critics have identified Liu as a "neo-Classicist", returning to concerns similar to the Anglophone Golden Age of SF, but also to the didactic processes of mid- to late-twentieth-century Chinese sf, which valorized both the pursuit of science itself and the Scientists who pursued it. Most notably in his Qiuzhuang Shandian ["Ball Lightning"] (2005), the science community must demonstrate heroism at escalating levels of conflict: struggling first for academic recognition, then adequate levels of funding and resources, and only then in a segue into Technothriller mode, in Weapons research espionage, and the climactic unleashing of their work in the service of a Future War. Liu has won several of China's Yinhe Awards (which see). [JonC]

see also: Monomolecular Wire; Worldcon.

Liu Cixin

born Yangquan, Henan, People's Republic of China: 23 June 1963




  • Santi ["Three-Body Problem"] (Chengdu: Sichuan Kexue Jixu Chubanshe, 2007) [first appeared May-December 2006 Kehuan Shijie: Santi: binding unknown/]
  • Hei'an Senlin ["The Dark Forest"] (Chengdu: Sichuan Kexue Jixu Chubanshe, 2008) [Santi: binding unknown/]
  • Sishen Yongsheng [literally "Death Immortal"; Chinese cover has the English title "Dead End"] (Chengdu: Sichuan Kexue Jixu Chubanshe, 2010) [Santi: binding unknown/]

individual titles

collections and stories

  • Aiyinsitan Chidao ["Einstein Equator"] (Taipei: Tianhai Wenhua, 2003) [coll: binding unknown/]
  • Liulang Diqiu ["The Wandering Earth"] (Beijing: Beijing Wenyi Chubanshe, 2008) [coll: binding unknown/]
  • Mountain (Beijing: Guomi Digital Technology, 2012) [story: ebook: trans by Holger Nahm: first appeared January 2006 Kehuan Shijie: na/]
  • The Wandering Earth (Beijing: Guomi Digital Technology, 2012) [story: ebook: trans by Holger Nahm: first appeared July 2000 Kehuan Shijie: na/]
  • Devourer (Beijing: Guomi Digital Technology, 2012) [story: ebook: trans by Holger Nahm: first appeared November 2002 Kehuan Shijie: na/]
  • Sun of China (Beijing: Guomi Digital Technology, 2012) [story: ebook: trans by Holger Nahm: first appeared January 2002 Kehuan Shijie: na/]
  • The Micro-Age (Beijing: Guomi Digital Technology, 2012) [story: ebook: trans by Holger Nahm: first appeared April 2001 Kehuan Shijie: na/]
  • Hold Up the Sky (London: Head of Zeus/Ad Astra, 2020) [coll: trans by various hands of stories from 1999 to 2010: hb/Chris Shamwana]


  • Mogui Jimu ["Monster Blocks"] (Fuzhou, China: Fujian Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 2002) [binding unknown/]
  • Dang Konglong yu shang Mayi ["Dinosaurs versus Ants"] (Beijing: Beijing Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 2004) [binding unknown/]
    • Of Ants and Dinosaurs (London: Head of Zeus, 2020) [novella: chap: trans by Elizabeth Hanlon of the above: hb/David Wardle]

graphic novels

about the author

  • Yan Wu and Xiao Qing-fan "Liu Cixin and Neo-Classical Science Fiction" in Journal of Hunan University of Science and Engineering, February 2006.
  • Echo Zhao. "The 3 Generals: today's top Chinese sci-fi writers reveal how they 'talk to the future'" (May 2011 The World of Chinese) [mag/]


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies