AUTHOR’S POSTSCRIPT FOR THE AMERICAN EDITION
A night from my childhood remains crisply etched in my memory: I was standing by a pond before a village somewhere in Luoshan County, Henan Province, where generations of my ancestors had lived. Next to me stood many other people, both adults and children. Together, we gazed up at the clear night sky, where a tiny star slowly glided across the darkfirmament.
It was the first artificial satellite China had ever launched: Dongfanghong I (“The East is Red I”). The date was April 25, 1970, and I was seven.
It had been thirteen years since Sputnik had been launched into space, and nine years since the first cosmonaut had left the Earth. Just a week earlier, Apollo 13 had safely returned from a perilous journey to the moon.
But I didn’t know any of that. As I gazed at that tiny, gliding star, my heart was filled with indescribable curiosity and yearning. And etched in my memory just as deeply as these feelings was the sensation of hunger. At that time, the region around my village was extremely poor. Hunger was the constant companion of every child. I was relatively fortunate because I had shoes on my feet. Most of the friends standing by my side were barefoot, and some of the tiny feet still had unhealed frostbite from the previous winter. Behind me, faint light from kerosene lamps shone out of cracks in the walls of dilapidated thatched huts—the village wasn’t wired for electricityuntil the eighties.
The adults standing nearby said that the satellite wasn’t like an airplane because it flew outside of the Earth. Back then the dust and smoke of industry hadn’t yet polluted the air, and the starry sky was especially clear, with the Milky Way clearly visible. In my mind, the stars that filled the heavens weren’t much farther away than the tiny, gliding satellite, and so I thought it was flying among them. I even worried that it might collide with one as it passed through the dense stellar clusters.
My parents weren’t with mebecause they were working at a coal mine more than a thousand kilometers away, in Shanxi Province. A few years earlier, when I had been even younger, the mine had been a combat zone for the factional civil wars of the Cultural Revolution. I remembered gunshots in the middle of the night, trucks passing in the street, filled with men clutching guns and wearing red armbands.… But I had been too young back then, and I can’t be sure whether these images are real memories, or mirages constructed later. However, I know one thing for certain: Because the mine was too unsafe and my parents had been impacted by the Cultural Revolution, they had had no choice but to send me to my ancestral home village in Henan. By the time I saw Dongfanghong I, I had already lived there for more than three years.
我的父母不和我在一起，因为他们在一千多公里外的山西省一个煤矿工作。几年前，当我还年轻的时候，矿井一直是文革派系内部的作战区。我记得半夜的枪声， 卡车在街上经过， 满是拿着枪， 戴着红色臂章的男人。但当时我太年轻了，我不能确定这些图像是真实的记忆，还是后来的幻想。然而，我知道一件事：因为矿井太不安全，我的父母也受到了文革的影响，他们别无选择，只能把我送到祖籍地河南。看到东方红的时候，我已经在那里住了三年多了。
A few more years passed before I understood the distance between that satellite and the stars. Back then I was reading a popular set of basic science books called A Hundred Thousand Whys. From the astronomy volume, I learned the concept of a light-year. Before then, I had already known that light could traverse a distance equal to seven and a half trips around the Earth in a single second, but I had not contemplated what kind of terrifying distance could be crossed by flying at such a speed for a whole year. I imagined a ray of light passing through the cold silence of space at the speed of 300,000 kilometers per second. I struggled to grasp the bone-chilling vastness and profundity with my imagination, felt the weight of an immense terror and awe, and simultaneously enjoyed a druglike euphoria.
From that moment, I realized that I had a special talent: Scales and existences that far exceeded the bounds of human sensory perception—both macro and micro—and that seemed to be only abstract numbers to others, could take on concrete forms in my mind. I could touch them and feel them, much like others could touch and feel trees and rocks. Even today, when references to the 15-billion-light-year radius of the universe and “strings” many orders of magnitude smaller than quarks have numbed most people, theconcepts of a light-year or a nanometer can still produce lively, grand pictures in my mind and arouse in me an ineffable, religious feeling of awe and shock. Compared to most of the population who do not experience such sensations, I don’t know if I’m lucky or unlucky. But it is certain that such feelings made me first into a science fiction fan, and later a science fiction author.
In that same year when I was first awed by the concept of a light-year, a flood (known as the Great Flood of August ’75) occurred near my home village. In a single day, arecord-breaking 100.5 centimeters of rain fell in the Zhumadian region of Henan. Fifty-eight dams of various sizes collapsed, one after another, and 240,000 people died in the resulting deluge. Shortly after the floodwaters had receded, I returned to the village and saw a landscape filled with refugees. I thought I was looking at the end of the world.
And so, satellite, hunger, stars, kerosene lamps, the Milky Way, the Cultural Revolution’s factional civil wars, a light-year, the flood … these seemingly unconnected things melded together and formed the early part of my life, and also molded the science fiction I write today.
As a science fiction writer who began as a fan, I do not use my fiction as a disguised way to criticize the reality of the present. I feel that the greatest appeal of science fiction is the creation of numerous imaginary worlds outside of reality. I’ve always felt that the greatest and most beautiful stories in the history of humanity were not sung by wandering bards or written by playwrights and novelists, but told by science. The stories of scienceare far more magnificent, grand, involved, profound, thrilling, strange, terrifying, mysterious, and even emotional, compared to the stories told by literature. Only, these wonderful stories are locked in cold equations that most do not know how to read.
The creation myths of the various peoples and religions of the world pale when compared to the glory of the big bang. The three-billion-year history of life’s evolution from self-reproducing molecules to civilization contains twists and romances that cannot be matched by any myth or epic.
There is also the poetic vision of space and time in relativity, the weird subatomic world of quantum mechanics … these wondrous stories of science all possess an irresistible attraction. Through the medium of science fiction, I seek only to create my own worlds using the power of imagination, and to make known the poetry of Nature in those worlds, to tell the romantic legends that have unfolded between Man and Universe.
But I cannot escape and leave behind reality, just like I cannot leave behind my shadow. Realitybrands each of us with its indelible mark. Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains. In science fiction, humanity is often described as a collective. In this book, a man named “humanity” confronts a disaster, and everything he demonstrates in the face of existence and annihilation undoubtedly has sources in the reality that I experienced. The wonder of science fiction is that it can, when given certain hypothetical world settings, turn what in our reality is evil and dark into what is righteous and bright, and vice versa. This book and its two sequels try to do just that, but no matter how reality is twisted by imagination, it ultimately remains there.
但我不能逃避和脱离现实，就像我不能脱离我的影子。现实在每个人身上都标注了不可磨灭的烙印。每个时代都给经历过它的人戴上了无形的枷锁，我只能在这个枷锁中跳舞。在科幻小说中，人类经常被描述为一个整体。在这本书中，一个名叫”人类”的整体面临着灭顶之灾，他们在面对生存和毁灭时所展现出来的一切，无疑都来源于我所经历过的现实。科幻小说的奇迹是， 当我们给某些世界特殊的设定， 它可以把我们现实中邪恶和黑暗的东西变成光明和正义的，反之亦然。《三体》系列试图做到这一点，但无论现实如何被想象力扭曲，它仍然在那里。
I’ve always felt that extraterrestrial intelligence will be the greatest source of uncertainty for humanity’s future. Other great shifts, such as climate change and ecological disasters, have a certain progression and built-in adjustment periods, but contact between humankind and aliens can occur at any time. Perhaps in ten thousand years, the starry skythat humankind gazes upon will remain empty and silent, but perhaps tomorrow we’ll wake up and find an alien spaceship the size of the moon parked in orbit. The appearance of extraterrestrial intelligence will force humanity to confront an Other. Before then, humanity as a whole will never have had an external counterpart. The appearance of this Other, or mere knowledge of its existence, will impact our civilization in unpredictable ways.
There’s a strange contradiction revealed by the naïveté and kindness demonstrated by humanity when faced with the universe: On Earth, humankind can step onto another continent, and without a thought, destroy the kindred civilizations found there through warfare and disease. But when they gaze up at the stars, they turn sentimental and believe that if extraterrestrial intelligences exist, they must be civilizations bound by universal, noble, moral constraints, as if cherishing and loving different forms of life are parts of a self-evident universal code of conduct.
I think it should be precisely the opposite: Let’s turn the kindnesswe show toward the stars to members of the human race on Earth and build up the trust and understanding between the different peoples and civilizations that make up humanity. But for the universe outside the solar system, we should be ever vigilant, and be ready to attribute the worst of intentions to any Others that might exist in space. For a fragile civilization like ours, this is without a doubt the most responsible path.
As a fan of science fiction, it has molded my life, and aconsiderable part of the science fiction I’ve read comes from America. The fact that American readers can now enjoy my book makes me both pleased and excited. Science fiction is a literature that belongs to all humankind. It portrays events of interest to all of humanity, and thus science fiction should be the literary genre most accessible to readers of different nations. Science fiction often describes a day when humanity will form a harmonious whole, and I believe the arrival of such a day need not wait for the appearance ofextraterrestrials.