Monday, May 30, 2016

Folding Beijing, by Hao Jingfang, trans. by Ken Liu

This is the second translation I've seen by Ken Liu that is getting an award nomination, the first being The Three Body ProblemFolding Beijing has a lot of the same flavor as that one.  The latter has a novella nomination for Hugo this year.

China has many more potential fans of SF than the US, or probably all english-speaking countries put together, so I'm interested in their SF.  The story is an interesting setup for social commentary on inequality--which unfolds (ha) differently than it would with an American author, I think.  The technology speculation here is that China has solved Beijing's space problem by constructing the city so that it will literally fold up, exposing three different parts of the city.  The high-class folks (10%) get half the time, and the two lower levels split the other half.  When one's part of the city is folded, one is in hibernation until it's time to come back.

But there are ways to travel between the spaces, since it's mechanical.  Our protagonist, a middle-aged, single man working as a recycler, is prepared to make that journey for money.  As these stories go it's a well-worn path, but pretty radical for China.  The fact that the protagonist is older and never married stood out for me, even though that's not that unusual in classic SF.   Made me think about their one child policy and preference for males. 

The premise seems a stretch (at one point the author describes the construction, seems like bricks and wood), until I remembered James Blish's popular Cities in Flight series and figure maybe it's no worse than that.  It's worth checking out for cross cultural interest.  3 stars from me

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