'Three-Body' Trilogy broadens worldwide appeal for Chinese sci-fi

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English versions of "The Three-Body Problem" book series, officially known as the Remembrance of Earth's Past' Trilogy. [Image courtesy of Netflix]

The "Three-Body" Trilogy series of science fiction bestsellers by Chinese author Liu Cixin has become an international phenomenon in publishing. The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest and Death's End have taken the world by storm, and marked a new step forward for the global appeal of Chinese literature.

As of 2020, one out of every 393 people in Poland has bought Liu's works; while in the Czech Republic, it's one in every 330.

Recently it was announced Tor Books, the trilogy's English-language publisher, decided to continue the copyright contract with a $1.25 million advance payment.

The decision brought excitement to Liu's agent for the trilogy in overseas markets, China Educational Publications Import and Export Corporation Ltd. The corporation believes, based on incomplete statistics, the deal might set a record for Chinese original fiction titles translated and sold in the foreign market.

Headquartered in New York, Tor Books is a leading imprint known for its sci-fi and fantasy titles.

Liu is among the top five authors globally Tor ever granted a $1 million advance, proving Chinese original fiction's value and reception in the international market according to a CEPIEC news release.

Translated versions of the trilogy have already sold 3.3 million copies in more than 30 languages so far, according to the corporation.

In 2015, Liu became the first Asian writer to win Best Novel at the Hugo Awards for the trilogy, followed by a series of international literary awards. The book won the hearts of many, including many leaders and celebrities; notably Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and George R.R. Martin. The news of a Netflix TV adaptation added to global interest in 2020.

As American sci-fi writer and editor Crystal Huff told China Central Television: "(the trilogy) is an international phenomenon, yes but it also touches me personally. There's almost always a version of The Three-Body Problem available in all of the airports. It's almost everywhere, it's such an important work."

Many believe translations of the trilogy, especially the English version edited by Ken Liu and Joel Martinsen, helped with its global reception.

But Liu's grand narration and unlimited imagination serves as the fundamental attraction.

Alexis Ong from Tor.com says: "Cixin Liu is an ideas guy—a Big Ideas guy. Much of his writing, notably the epic Three-Body Problem saga, spans thousands and even millions of years…as he marries the mundane human world with far-reaching cosmic changes that take place over millennia."

Liu told CCTV in 2019 his work is about reflections on a shared civilization, shared pursuits and yearnings and the shared emotions of all human beings, in which humanity is a whole entity.

He stressed the idea with China Arts News in December 2021, saying "Sci-fi writers should focus on the higher and wider perspectives, to care about 'building a human community with a shared future', and to explore the future and human beings' ultimate fate."

"Chinese sci-fi works are shedding deeper global influences on world sci-fi creations and trends," Liu added. "I hope there will be more heavyweights, for us to go further."

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