Monday, January 07, 2019



This extraordinary science fiction trilogy by CIXIN LIU, China's leading sf writer, is a mind-enlarging experience. For night after night over a period of a month I was in the grip of this gargantuan tale, swept along by Cixin's powerful imaginings. It is clear why people have drawn comparisons to the work of H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapleton and Arthur C. Clarke. Chinese sci-fi dates from 1898 but it wasn't until the 1990s that an SF renaissance, led by Cixin, emerged. The three volumes get chunkier as the scale of the story expands exponentially through space and time.

In a great piece in the London Review of Books by Nick Richardson entitled 'Even what doesn’t happen is epic' he perfectly sums up this masterwork as follows:
'The trilogy concerns the catastrophic consequences of humanity’s attempt to make contact with extraterrestrials (it turns out that the reason we haven’t heard from aliens yet is that we’re the only species thick enough to reveal our own location in the universe). It is one of the most ambitious works of science fiction ever written. The story begins during the Cultural Revolution and ends 18,906,416 years into the future. There is a scene in ancient Byzantium, and a scene told from the perspective of an ant. The first book is set on Earth, though several of its scenes take place in virtual reality representations of Qin dynasty China and ancient Egypt; by the end of the third book, the stage has expanded to encompass an intercivilisational war that spans not only the three-dimensional universe but other dimensions too.'
 According to a story published by The Verge website:

'An adaptation of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body trilogy was filmed in 2015, only to sit on a shelf because of post-production structure and budgeting problems. And while there have been persistent reports that Amazon wants to adapt the series (for a mind-boggling $1 billion), Chinese studio YooZoo says it’s the only rights holder for any potential TV or film production.' 

The full story 'The Three-Book Problem: Why Chinese Sci Fi still Struggles' by Yin Yijun
[Jul 09, 2018] can be found on the Sixth Tone web site

The title story of Cixin's short story collection 'The Wandering Earth' has been turned into China's first big budget-science film directed by Guo Fan.


STANISLAW LEM intrigued me initially as the author of Solaris. Tarkovsky's movie of the book came out if I remember correctly just before or after 2001. The hardback of the book was published by Faber & Faber in 1971 but I read it first in this 1981 King Penguin edition along with two other titles. In 1982 came another one volume book of three tales.

In 2018, in the bookshop in St Pancras station, I needed to buy a fresh novel. Out of the overwhelming selection I chose Lem's last great novel Fiasco. An expedition has been sent to a distant planet to make contact with a new civilisation. Things are not as they imagined. Brilliant.

According to Simon Ings, in a tribute piece entitled 'The Man With The Future Inside Him' in the 60th Anniversary issue of New Scientist (19th Nov 2016), Lem had a 'pessimistic attitude to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. It's not that alien intelligences aren't out there, Lem says, because they almost certainly are. But they won't be our sort of intelligences... extraterrestrial versions of reason and reasonableness may look very different to our own.'

His first novel 'Hospital of the Transfiguration' was followed by 17 others, among them Solaris, in his most prolific period from 1956 to 1968. By the time he died in 2006, he had sold close to 40 million books in more than 40 languages and was celebrated by the likes of Alvin Toffler, Carl Sagan and Daniel Dennett.

He had no time for most sf visions of the future. 'Meaningful prediction' he wrote, 'does not lie in serving up the present larded with startling improvements or revelations in lieu of the future'

Ings writes 'He wanted more: to grasp the human adventure in all its promise, tragedy and grandeur. He devised whole new chapters to the human story, not happy endings...'Twenty years before the term "virtual reality" appeared, Lem was already writing about its likely educational and cultural effects.'

He concludes: 'As far as I can tell, Lem got everything - everything - right'


ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, Chilean filmmaker and Tarot expert, set out to create the greatest mind and soul blower of a movie based on Frank Herbert's blockbuster sf book Dune. 

Working with two French producers who were raising the £15m to realise Jodorowsky's visions, he set out to recruit a stellar group of spiritual warriors.

Jodorowsky had a reputation for crazy films - El Topo and The Holy Mountain - so the producers suggested that, to build confidence with the studios. Jodorowsky should storyboard the whole film, with all the camera angles.

The project took him 2 1/2 years. His first recruit was Jean Giraud known most widely as Moebius, the great French comic artist who could draw as fast as Jodorowsky could speak.

He tried to tie up with sfx maestro Douglas Trumbull but they fell out. But he did get Dan O'Bannon sfx producer  who masterminded 'Dark Star.', directed by John Carpenter and Chris Fosse, leading sf spaceship designer and painter.

He hired David Carradine, persuaded Pink Floyd to do some music, tried to enlist Dali and his current muse Amanda Lear, got Giger to produce a set of drawings, found other actors at Warhol's Factory, and even sweet-talked Orson Welles into playing a part.

In the end, they were £5 million short and the project was cancelled in 1975. Some ten copies of the giant storyboarded film book were produced and it's clear that it had a big influence on a generation of projects - including of course the David Lynch film version which heavily borrowed or stole from it. Star Wars may have borrowed the light sabre idea the documentary suggests.  Scenes of the Holy Grail ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark' are compared with drawings from the big book.

Damn O' Bannon of course went on to concieve Alien and worked with Giger to create a major sf  classic. Giger's paintings for Jodorowsky are compared with scenes from Prometheus.

Jodorowsky and Moebius repurposed many of the ideas from their storyboard of Dune and built it into the three-volume Incal comic classic.

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