Science fiction novels rule a China where development leaves people feeling "surreal and confused"S

There's a great rundown of the current state of Chinese science fiction books over at Global Times. Among other things, this is the third boom in SF book publishing in China — the first two being the late 19th century, with translations of Jules Verne, and the second being the years right after the death of Mao and the first moves to open the country up.

Current science fiction authors say the newest boom in SF publishing is partly aimed at addressing people's sense that everything has gotten "surreal" in the wake of the country's development boom. As writer Han Song says, "There is one aspect of China that has not been written enough, and that's this kafkaesque absurdity of reality." And that, in turn, explains why Han chose to write a novel about a subway train that disappears into a seemingly endless tunnel. On board the train, passengers "eat and mate with each other, eventually evolving into new life forms." And this turns out to be a government project, aimed at communicating with the rest of the universe.

China's Science Fiction World magazine, which was having some trouble a couple years ago, is booming again, with sales reaching 400,000 copies per issue.

The book publishing boom is also fueled, in part, by the popularity of Liu Cixin's novel The Three Body Problem, which has been a runaway bestseller in China and is being translated into English by award-winning author Ken Liu. Here's how Global Times describes Liu's novel:

Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans its invasion of Earth, while on Earth, people form into different camps to either welcome the superior beings to take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion.

Heavily influenced by science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke, Liu's novels place more on technical and scientific explanations than on characters or plot. The basis of Three Body, which took him over five years to finish, is the "three-body problem" where a system with three interacting objects is highly unpredictable. Its technical depictions can make the books seem cold and detached, but they still depict a grand imagination and draw readers into a different world.

Can't wait to read the English version of that novel. [Global Times]