I usually try to link the books I review thematically, but what could possibly connect a collection of modern Chinese science-fiction short stories and a group of Scottish essays on art and literature going back over half a century?
Very little, to be honest, except for the breadth of creativity and imagination on show in both books, and that’s no bad thing.
First up we have the wonderful Broken Stars edited by Ken Liu. Chinese sci-fi has garnered a good amount of attention in the West over the last few years. The editor of this collection has won just about every science-fiction prize going, while Barack Obama famously recommended Liu Cixin’s award-winning novel The Three-Body Problem, with Amazon currently planning to turn it into a colossally budgeted series.
Broken Stars follows a similar 2016 collection called Invisible Planets, Liu expanding the diversity of styles and topics on offer, with 16 stories here from 14 authors, many of them translated into English for the first time.
There is a good mix of well-established authors and new voices. The former comes in the form of Cixin, whose Moonlight is wry and sardonic. In it, the central character is visited by future versions of himself, asking him to intervene and change Earth’s catastrophic energy policies. Each intervention makes things worse, however, in a tightly plotted and darkly humorous tale.
Another experienced writer is Han Song, whose two stories demonstrate his range wonderfully. Submarines is an eerie and melancholic story in which peasants living in submarines due to lack of housing almost become a separate species, while Salinger and the Koreans depicts an alternative universe in which North Korea successfully colonises America, with dramatic results.