Thanks to The Wandering Earth, I just read my first Cixin Liu text: his short story collection To Hold Up The Sky. I had tried reading The Three-Body Problem before but quit in the prologue.
It’s because like many other sci-fi writers, Liu is not good at social realism, and the prologue of Three-Body Problem really just could not grab me with its depiction of the Cultural Revolution. But thankfully I could skip the stories in this collection that showcased too much of the weaknesses of Liu’s writing and go with his real strength – the sci-fi crap. He’s very old school in that way.
For instance, the first story in the book is about a teacher in a dirt-poor mountain village and it was a struggle for me to keep reading until aliens finally showed up. I also completely skimmed the story about coal miners which had nothing science fictional until the really short epilogue with schoolkids in the future learning about why coalmining was dumb.
But the neat speculative stuff worked for me. A finance guy embezzling money to pay for life extension treatments? A quantum computer that allows perfect simulation of the universe and therefore perfect vision of all events past and present? Cryogenically-frozen refugees going further and further into the future to find a time that will take them in? All of that was my jam. Although the story about a near-future war between an invading NATO and the heroes of a Russia newly-returned to communism is kind of odd to read today until you realize it was published in 2001, when Russia had spent over a decade being carved up like a Christmas turkey by American consultants.
So yeah, Cixin Liu is a decent read if you’re aware that he’s very much into sci-fi being the genre of ideas and not the genre of well-written characters or compelling human drama.