Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation, edited by Ken Liu, is published by Tor Books.
Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation, edited by Ken Liu, is published by Tor Books.

Book review: Chinese sci-fi comes of age in Ken Liu’s Invisible Planets

Something extraordinary appears to be happening in the world of Chinese science fiction. In 2015, Liu Cixin's The Three Body Problem became a global bestseller and the first translated work to win the prestigious Hugo Award, sci-fi's equivalent of the Oscars. Last year, Hao Jingfang's Folding Beijing won Best Novelette at the Hugos, beating none other than Stephen King to the prize.

One could argue, on the other hand, that Chinese science fiction has been extraordinary for roughly a century now, both as propaganda and critique, and it’s the world that is finally waking up, much as it did when it discovered Scandinavian crime writing about two decades ago.

In either case, if anyone is ringing the alarm for English-speaking audiences, it is Ken Liu. Born in Lanzhou until moving to the United States when he was 11, Ken (pictured right) is a rising star in the science fiction firmament thanks to his self-proclaimed "Silkpunk" genre, a hybrid of Chinese and western epic forms: think Homer's Odyssey spliced with Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong.

In recent years, Ken has also become a translator of note, responsible for helping to bring both Liu Cixin and Hao to international prize-winning attention.

This ad hoc role as cheerleader for contemporary Chinese science fiction has just been reinforced by Invisible Planets, an anthology of recent short stories by the new wave. In addition to the frankly mind-bending Folding Beijing, we have works by Chen Qiufang, Xia Jia, Tang Fei, Ma Boyong and Cheng Jingbo. There are also illuminating essays by both Lius (Ken and Cixin), Xia and Chen.

Perhaps the first thing that struck me on finishing Invisible Planets was the sheer diversity of voices. While Chen's opening The Year of the Rat wouldn't look out of place in a horror anthology, Liu Cixin's The Circle reads like a modern update of a classic Chinese romance: a twisting tale of competing empires, political machinations and revenge, with some strange martial mathematics thrown in. Hao's chatty, pseudo-encyclopedic almanac of intergalactic civilisations that comprise Invisible Planets owes a debt to Italo Calvino's playful interplanetary fables, Cosmicomics, not to mention Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Indeed, it proves easier to define the collection by what it doesn't do rather than what it does. Sci-fi commonplaces are either rare or quietly subverted. There are spaceships in Liu Cixin's witty Taking Care of God (21,530 to be precise), but they merely deliver the put-upon gods who wash up, cook terrible food and play chess with an irascible grandfather. The robots in Xia's Tongtong's Summer are similarly domestic, and more Mrs Doubtfire than Terminator.

With the exception of Cheng's Grave of the Fireflies and Hao's Invisible Planets, most works take place in societies not unlike our own. The hero of Ma's The City of Silence may live in 2046 (a nod, perhaps, to Wong Kar-wai's film of the same name), but his life mapped on a highly-regulated internet feels eerily similar to our own: "Now that the web was almost equivalent to daily life, it was necessary to be ever vigilant" applies as much to us as Ma's isolated, paranoid future-beings.

It is tempting, perhaps too tempting, to treat plots like this as thinly-veiled critiques of contemporary China. What else are we supposed to do with Folding Beijing, which re-imagines China's capital as a collapsible Rubik's cube that separates the rich from the poor, the connected from the untouchable, the necessary from the expendable?

It is hard to ignore the examination of China's deepening population crisis in Tongtong's Summer: eerie human robots take care of China's rapidly ageing population, who, thanks to the one-child policy, vastly outnumber their harried, over-tired children. Elsewhere, I glimpsed portraits of migrant workers, environmental collapse, unemployment and guanxi, China's system of political patronage.

Then again, just as many stories self-consciously resist such narrow interpretation. Grave of the Fireflies reads like a fantasy folk-tale re-imagined by Jorge Luis Borges or Calvino. Rosamund is an orphaned girl marooned in an unstable post-apocalyptic world filled by ghosts, wizards and a path to another world. When she isn't wondering why the stars are dying, she utters lines that feel both ancient and modern: "Mankind streamed across the river of time, aiming straight for the Door of the Summer."

What does connect many of the works are the ways in which profound human emotion inserts itself into even the most generic narrative. The Year of the Rat might read like Aliens crossed with James Herbert's Rats, but it evokes pathos in the most unexpected places: the vulnerable, misunderstood character Pea cradling a baby rodent; the screams of rat parents as their offspring are murdered; the sight of millions of man-made creatures marching to their deaths.

Tongtong's Last Summer begins as a black comedy, but ends by creating a delicately heart-warming alliance between youth and age.

Most striking of all is Tang's Call Girl, which sabotages our presumptions when we realise Tang Xiaoyi seduces only through stories: "The air feels thin; the sunlight seems harsh; a susurration fills his ears. He has trouble telling the density of things. This is another world."

Almost every work in Invisible Planets works similar magic, transporting the reader from the everyday to another world that is, by turns, frightening, unsettling, familiar and strange. If this is a snapshot of Chinese science fiction, the complete picture is very bright indeed.

James Kidd is a freelance reviewer based in London.






Name: DarDoc
Based: Abu Dhabi
Founders: Samer Masri, Keswin Suresh
Sector: HealthTech
Total funding: $800,000
Investors: Flat6Labs, angel investors + Incubated by Hub71, Abu Dhabi's Department of Health
Number of employees: 10

The National in Davos

We are bringing you the inside story from the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, a gathering of hundreds of world leaders, top executives and billionaires.

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000



Saturday (all times UAE)

England v Australia, 11.15am 
New Zealand v Ireland, 2.15pm


Wales v France, 11.15am
Japan v South Africa, 2.15pm

Jumanji: The Next Level

Director: Jake Kasdan

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Nick Jonas 

Two out of five stars 

The permutations for UAE going to the 2018 World Cup finals

To qualify automatically

UAE must beat Iraq.

Australia must lose in Japan and at home to Thailand, with their losing margins and the UAE's winning margin over Iraq being enough to overturn a goal difference gap of eight.

Saudi Arabia must lose to Japan, with their losing margin and the UAE's winning margin over Iraq being enough to overturn a goal difference gap of eight.

To finish third and go into a play-off with the other third-placed AFC side for a chance to reach the inter-confederation play-off match

UAE must beat Iraq.

Saudi Arabia must lose to Japan, with their losing margin and the UAE's winning margin over Iraq being enough to overturn a goal difference gap of eight.

Fight Night


Four title fights:

Amir Khan v Billy Dib - WBC International title
Hughie Fury v Samuel Peter - Heavyweight co-main event  
Dave Penalosa v Lerato Dlamini - WBC Silver title
Prince Patel v Michell Banquiz - IBO World title

Six undercard bouts:

Michael Hennessy Jr v Abdul Julaidan Fatah
Amandeep Singh v Shakhobidin Zoirov
Zuhayr Al Qahtani v Farhad Hazratzada
Lolito Sonsona v Isack Junior
Rodrigo Caraballo v Sajid Abid
Ali Kiydin v Hemi Ahio


Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others


October 18 – 7.30pm, UAE v Oman, Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi
October 19 – 7.30pm, UAE v Ireland, Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi
October 21 – 2.10pm, UAE v Hong Kong, Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi
October 22 – 2.10pm, UAE v Jersey, Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi
October 24 – 10am, UAE v Nigeria, Abu Dhabi Cricket Oval 1
October 27 – 7.30pm, UAE v Canada, Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi

October 29 – 2.10pm, Playoff 1 – A2 v B3; 7.30pm, Playoff 2 – A3 v B2, at Dubai International Stadium.
October 30 – 2.10pm, Playoff 3 – A4 v Loser of Play-off 1; 7.30pm, Playoff 4 – B4 v Loser of Play-off 2 at Dubai International Stadium

November 1 – 2.10pm, Semifinal 1 – B1 v Winner of Play-off 1; 7.30pm, Semifinal 2 – A1 v Winner of Play-off 2 at Dubai International Stadium
November 2 – 2.10pm, Third place Playoff – B1 v Winner of Play-off 1; 7.30pm, Final, at Dubai International Stadium

The specs

Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 620hp from 5,750-7,500rpm
Torque: 760Nm from 3,000-5,750rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh1.05 million ($286,000)

Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed

Ultra processed foods

- Carbonated drinks, sweet or savoury packaged snacks, confectionery, mass-produced packaged breads and buns 

- margarines and spreads; cookies, biscuits, pastries, cakes, and cake mixes, breakfast cereals, cereal and energy bars;

- energy drinks, milk drinks, fruit yoghurts and fruit drinks, cocoa drinks, meat and chicken extracts and instant sauces

- infant formulas and follow-on milks, health and slimming products such as powdered or fortified meal and dish substitutes,

- many ready-to-heat products including pre-prepared pies and pasta and pizza dishes, poultry and fish nuggets and sticks, sausages, burgers, hot dogs, and other reconstituted meat products, powdered and packaged instant soups, noodles and desserts.


Processor: Apple M3, 8-core CPU, up to 10-core CPU, 16-core Neural Engine

Display: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina, 2560 x 1664, 224ppi, 500 nits, True Tone, wide colour

Memory: 8/16/24GB

Storage: 256/512GB / 1/2TB

I/O: Thunderbolt 3/USB-4 (2), 3.5mm audio, Touch ID

Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3

Battery: 52.6Wh lithium-polymer, up to 18 hours, MagSafe charging

Camera: 1080p FaceTime HD

Video: Support for Apple ProRes, HDR with Dolby Vision, HDR10

Audio: 4-speaker system, wide stereo, support for Dolby Atmos, Spatial Audio and dynamic head tracking (with AirPods)

Colours: Midnight, silver, space grey, starlight

In the box: MacBook Air, 30W/35W dual-port/70w power adapter, USB-C-to-MagSafe cable, 2 Apple stickers

Price: From Dh4,599


5pm: Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 1,600m
Winner: Raghida, Szczepan Mazur (jockey), Ibrahim Al Hadhrami (trainer)
5.30pm: Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 1,600m
Winner: AF Alareeq, Connor Beasley, Ahmed Al Mehairbi
6pm: Arabian Triple Crown Round-2 Group 3 (PA) Dh300,000 2,200m 
Winner: Basmah, Fabrice Veron, Eric Lemartinel
6.30pm: Liwa Oasis Group 2 (PA) Dh300,000 1,400m
Winner: AF Alwajel, Tadhg O’Shea, Ernst Oertel
7pm: Wathba Stallions Cup Handicap (PA) Dh70,000 1,600m
Winner: SS Jalmod, Richard Mullen, Satish Seemar
7.30pm: Handicap (TB) Dh100,000 1,600m
Winner: Trolius, Ryan Powell, Simon Crisford

Wednesday's results

Finland 3-0 Armenia
Faroes Islands 1-0 Malta
Sweden 1-1 Spain
Gibraltar 2-3 Georgia
Romania 1-1 Norway
Greece 2-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Liechtenstein 0-5 Italy
Switzerland 2-0 Rep of Ireland
Israel 3-1 Latvia

Company profile:


Started: January 2018

Founder(s): Pishu Ganglani and Ricky Husaini

Based: Dubai

Sector: FinTech, micro finance

Initial investment: $1 million