From the New York Times-bestselling and Hugo Award-winning author of The Three Body Problem comes a new science fiction masterpiece. Eight light years away, a star has died, creating a supernova event that showers Earth in deadly levels of radiation. Within a year, everyone over the age of 13 will die. And so the countdown begins.
Liu began writing Supernova Era soon after the political uprising in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the book is suffused with a sense of calamity, tragedy, and swift social change. But rather than seeming preachy or parable-like, his story shines with an absorbing timelessness — thanks in large part to Joel Martinsen's smooth and spirited translation. The book's main flaw is its overreliance on omniscient narration, which too often leads to summarization and a kind of cold distance, although these things are easy to become acclimated to. In a way, Supernova Era is both more satisfying and more frustrating than Remembrance of Earth's Past. What it lacks in sheer intergalactic scope it more than makes up for in winning characterization, stunning concepts, and a contemplative tone that provides vital insight into the formative years of one of the genre's masters. In Liu's hands, 'the children are our future' becomes far more than a cozy cliché; it's a springboard for the kind of agile and relevant thought experiment that science fiction, at its best, manifests.
Admirers of [The Three-Body Problem] will find something rather different in The Supernova Era, which Liu actually wrote in 2003, before the first Chinese edition of The Three-Body Problem in 2007. Though it is adorned with the colourful nebulae of space-opera art, it is primarily a work of speculative sociology ... It’s no accident that one character mentions William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, but Liu’s patient working out of the thought experiment is weirder and wilder. His children are mostly immature and silly, but also imaginative and utterly brutal ... The author, in an afterword, invites us to read it allegorically: first, as a fable about how the younger generation now are growing up in a world frankly incomprehensible to their elders; and secondly, as a description of the state of humanity itself, alone and infantile in the universe, with no user manual to guide us. It’s a credit to the power of his imagination that such interpretations do not overpower the vivid and sometimes horrifying imagery of the story.
For Western readers encountering Supernova Era after The Three-Body Problem trilogy and The Wandering Earth novella or film, the novel will definitely have the feel of an 'early novel' from someone who later became a leading figure in the genre. Despite its cleverness, and its perceptive insights on the psychology of childhood, trauma, and grief, the book is somewhat uneven, with plot threads both less believable and less fleshed out than his later masterworks ... the entire book never quite comes together with the feeling of perfectly achieved accomplishment the way The Three-Body Problem and The Wandering Earth do; the characters are too stereotypical, and the solutions they engender too implausibly grand, in ways the later Liu is much more careful about ... Despite this unbalanced and unfinished quality, however, the key themes of Liu’s larger oeuvre are all here ... In a moment of intergenerational struggle defined by environmental protest groups like Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion, and by the school climate strikes sparked by Thunberg and other young people around the globe, Supernova Era offers a tantalizing glimpse into another universe with an entirely different field of ecological politics, one where parents and grandparents won’t simply let their children and grandchildren suffer and die without a fight.