If you’re in the mood for a hard sci-fi short story collection, To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu (translated by Joel Martinsen, Adam Lanphier, John Chu, and Carmen Yiling Yan) certainly delivers. Liu’s writing style often makes these stories feel very present-day even when they’re obviously not, and his prose is beautiful. Many of these stories read like fables reminding us not to underestimate humanity, showing us the larger-scale impact of seemingly small gestures and our (compared to the universe) fleeting lives.
“The Time Migration” reminded me of all the philosophical stuff I love about Star Trek: The Next Generation, Doctor Who, and The Little Prince, but 10x more in depth. “Ode to Joy” is where sci-fi meets music in the most imaginative way, and “Sea of Dreams” was thought-provoking cli-fi. Liu incorporates physics, astronomy, geometry, the environment, the arts—basically any discipline we humans have explored—into some impressively creative stories.
But there were three stories, unfortunately also the longest in the collection, that I really, really slogged through, all translated by the same person. I was so bored I had to fight the urge to DNF, and to be honest it speaks a lot for the other stories that I didn’t. So overall, this collection was kind of frustrating for me. Is it just the nature of short story collections, that there will always be a few you don’t like? Is it due to there being eleven stories with four different translators, instead of just one, maybe two? Is it just that sci-fi can cover such a huge breadth of topics, and this collection shows off Cixin Liu’s versatility in that regard, that I was bound to come across subjects I simply don’t like reading? I’m not sure.
Regardless, the eight stories in To Hold Up the Sky that I did enjoy were completely and utterly dazzling. They blew me away, and convinced me to pick up a copy of Liu’s The Three-Body Problem soon, which has been on my to-read list for a while. I would say, if you are a fan of hard sci-fi, go ahead and give this collection a try.