集智翻译－The Three-Body Problem and beyond — a Q&A with Liu Cixin
Liu Cixin is the award-winning Chinese author behind the Three-Body trilogy. In China, he has won the prestigious Galaxy Award multiple times, and when the first volume of the series, The Three-Body Problem, was translated into English by Ken Liu and published by Tor, it was met with overwhelming critical acclaim and won the 2015 Hugo for best novel. The third volume in the trilogy, Death’s End, (also translated by Ken Liu) came out this year, and a film of The Three-Body Problem is forthcoming.
Preston Grassmann spoke to Liu Cixin for Futures to discuss his writing, his inspirations and Chinese science fiction. (Interview: Preston Grassmann, Chinese translation: Ken Liu).
《自然》杂志《未来》专栏（Futures）的Preston Grassmann对话刘慈欣，讨论了关于写作，灵感以及中国科幻等问题。（采访：Preston Grassmann，中文翻译：刘宇昆）
Throughout The Three-Body Problem there is a compelling interplay between the historical setting and the high-concept ideas (unique forms of energy transmission, a fascinating alien race, the physics problem referred to in the title, to name only a few). What inspired you to set this story in the context of the Cultural Revolution? 在《三体》这本书中，历史背景和各种富有挑战性的设定（如独一无二的能量传输形式，让人着迷的外星人设定，三体问题等）之间的交互让人叹服。您是受了什么启发而将这个故事设定在文革的背景之下呢？
The Cultural Revolution provides the necessary background for the story. The tale I wanted to tell demanded a protagonist who gave up all hope in humanity and human nature. I think the only episode in modern Chinese history capable of generating such a response is the Cultural Revolution. It was such a dark and absurd time that even dystopias like 1984 seem lacking in imagination in comparison.
In a previous discussion, you mentioned that Chinese science fiction is currently going through a Golden Age, similar to that of the United States in the early half of the twentieth century. During that era, writers such as Clarke and Asimov were envisioning galactic-scale futures and optimistic views of human endeavour. The Three-Body Problem could certainly be seen as a worthy successor of that tradition. Do you see a similar grand-scale view of the future in other fiction being produced now in China?在先前的讨论中，你提到中国科幻小说正处于黄金时代，和二十世纪前半世纪的美国类同。在那个时代，克拉克和阿西莫夫等作家展望探索宇宙的未来，对人类的力量予以乐观的态度。《三体》这部小说可以被看作是这种传统的有力接班人。你是否在中国当代其他小说中也看到了这样宏大的未来格局呢？
Few works of contemporary Chinese science fiction hold a positive view of scientific development and an optimistic attitude towards the future. Like most current American science fiction, most Chinese science fiction concerns itself with the negative effects of scientific advancement and the dark future that will result. In this respect, I’m somewhat of an oddball among Chinese writers. Earlier in my career, others criticized me and mocked me for my optimism. Among Chinese intellectuals, it’s fashionable to emphasize the problems created by new technology and science. But it’s worth reflecting on the fact that my science-positive works have been more influential. I think it shows that intellectual elites in China are out of touch with the majority of Chinese people, who make up the bulk of science-fiction readers. 很少有当代中国科幻小说是对科技发展和未来持有乐观赞赏态度的。大多数中国科幻小说将披露科学的阴暗面和它会带来的灾难作为宗旨，这一点同美国当代科幻小说一样。从这角度看，我是中国作家中的奇葩。在我早些的职业生涯中，别人因为我的乐观而批判嘲笑我。中国智群们很喜欢强调科技和科学带来的问题。但值得反思的是我支持科学的主张更有影响力。我认为这反映了中国的精英智群与组成大部分科幻小说读者的大众们脱离开来了。
There is a high level of scientific detail throughout The Three-Body Problem. In particular, I’m thinking of the human-formation computer, the complex puzzles of the game, and the technology of signal/energy transmissions. How much research goes into your work before you begin writing? What were some of the most difficult challenges you faced in working out the technical details?《三体》中贯穿着非常高水平的科学细节，在我看来，尤其体现在人脑计算机、对抗三体文明中的许多复杂难题，以及信号/能量传输技术等。在你开始写作之前需要做多少详细研究？在你完成这些技术细节的过程中遇到了哪些最困难的挑战？
I write science fiction because I love science, and I want to give the beauty of science literary expression. Ideas about science and technology thus form the core of my stories. But I do think there’s a difference between science-fictional thinking and scientific thinking. The ‘science’ portrayed in science fiction is mixed with a large dose of imaginative speculation, and is no longer, strictly speaking, science at all, but a fictional projection of science. Thus, what you call ‘scientific details’ are really ‘science-fictional details’.
For example, the initial inspiration for writing The Three-Body Problem came from a paper about the three-body problem in classical mechanics, which involves the motion of three bodies under mutual gravitational attraction and is unpredictable under current mathematics and physics. I read the paper and suddenly thought: what if the three bodies were three suns? How would intelligent life on one of the planets in such a system develop? This was a good science-fictional idea — based on solid science but also evocative of interesting stories. But to go back to real science, we have not, to date, discovered any trinary star systems in which the stars move in this chaotic manner.
My biggest challenge is creating interesting stories from the latest results of fundamental scientific research. Take physics as an example. Compared with classical physics, contemporary physics is extremely abstruse. Not only is the maths complicated, but its theories are far from the daily experience of the average person. When given a proper explanation, even an illiterate person can understand Newton’s three laws of motion, and special relativity only requires middle-school mathematics. But it’s almost impossible for a person in the street to truly grasp advanced theories in contemporary physics. The Universe revealed by contemporary science is even more marvellous and rich than the Universe of classical science, and far grander. This is a vast field for science fiction to explore, and perhaps will revive the genre from its recent signs of exhaustion.
以下由苏格兰翻译 ==You worked with Ken Liu on the first and last book in this series. Can you tell us how this translation project began and how you first met?==您和刘宇坤合作，完成了《三部曲》第一部和第三部的翻译，请您谈一谈这次翻译工作是如何开始的，最初您二位又是怎么认识的？
China Educational Publications Import and Export Corporation (CEPIEC) first approached me about translating the Three-Body trilogy and publishing the books in the United States. They acquired the English rights and selected Tor Books as the American publisher. For more than a century, China has imported a large amount of science fiction from Europe and America, but The Three-Body Problem is the first Chinese science-fiction novel to be published in the United States. None of us had high expectations for the project, and it was enough for us if some American readers saw the book and realized that China had science fiction as well.中国教育出版进出口公司（CEPIEC）最先接触我，谈了《三体》三部曲的翻译以及在美国出版的想法。他们获得了英文版权，选择了TOR BOOKS作为在美国的出版方。一个多世纪以来，中国从欧美引进了大量科幻小说，但是《三体》是第一部将要在美国出版的中文科幻小说。当时我们谁都没有对这个项目期望太高，对于我们来说，如果有美国读者看到了这本书并意识到原来中国也有科幻小说，这就足够了。
The first time I met Ken was at the Chinese Nebula Awards in November 2014, but before then, I had already read many of his stories, which I enjoyed and admired. I feel fortunate that he became the translator for two of the books in my trilogy. 我第一次见到刘宇坤是在2014年11月的中国星云奖颁奖礼上，但在那之前，我已经阅读了很多关于他的故事，我很喜欢，也很敬佩。由他来翻译《三部曲》中的两本书，我感到非常幸运。
In previous interviews, you mentioned Arthur C. Clarke as an influence on your work. Who are some of the writers in the field that you currently enjoy reading?在之前的采访中，你提到Arthur C. Clarke 对你作品有影响。现在这个领域中你比较喜欢的一些作家有哪些？
As I mentioned, I like Ken Liu’s work. He has created a new science-fictional aesthetic that combines the restraint, depth and refinement of Eastern culture with the expansive imagination of modern science fiction. I’m also a big fan of Ted Chiang, whose Tower of Babylon is among the most powerful pieces of science fiction I’ve ever read. I also enjoy works by Robert Sawyer, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman and Paolo Bacigalupi.
To be sure, American science fiction has always evolved and changed, and contemporary American science fiction is very different from fiction from the ‘Golden Age’. As a traditional science-fiction fan, most contemporary works cannot give me the same kind of awe I experienced when I first read 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rendezvous with Rama.
I hold fast to Asimov’s sentiment: “I hope that when the New Wave has deposited its froth and receded, the vast and solid shore of science fiction will appear once more.” But based on current trends in the evolution of the field, I very much doubt that his words will come true; they serve only as comfort.
就如我之前提到的，我喜欢刘昆宇的作品。他创造了一种新的科幻小说美学，将西方文学克制、深度和精炼的特点与现代科幻小说的膨胀的想象力结合起来。我也是姜峯楠的忠实粉丝，他的《巴比伦塔》是我曾读过所有科幻小说中最有力的一部。我也很享受阅读Robert Sawyer, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman and Paolo Bacigalupi这些作家的作品。
==Aside from writing, you also work as an engineer. How do you manage to balance the two careers? Do you keep a rigorous writing schedule?==除了写作，您也是一位工程师。您如何平衡这两种职业？您保持一个严格的写作进度吗？
Most science-fiction writers in China do not write full time because the market for the genre is too small. I work at a state-owned power plant, and although parts of the year are very busy, I can find time the rest of the year to write. Many other writers are not nearly as lucky. The demands of their day jobs leave no time for the kind of sustained effort required for novels, and they are forced to write only novellas and short stories. 因为这种题材的市场太小，所以中国的大多数科幻作家都不是全职写作。我在国有电厂工作，虽然今年部分时间很忙，但是我还是能利用业余时间写作。许多其他作家并没有这么幸运。除了日常工作之外，没有其他可以持续写作的时间，他们被迫只能写小说和短篇小说。 I don’t hold to a rigorous writing schedule. I’ve always followed this principle: write only when I have a creative idea that makes me excited and demands to be written. If I can’t even be excited by an idea, readers will surely be bored as well. But it’s very hard to get an idea like that, and so I often go through long periods without writing anything — I’m in the middle of just such a bottleneck right now 我没有坚持一个严格的写作进度。我一直坚持一个原则：只有当一个创意让我兴奋并且需要写下来的时候我才写作。如果我对一个想法不能感到兴奋，那么读者也一定会感到厌烦。但是得到一个这样的创意是很难的，所以我经常长时间没有写任何东西。我现在就处于这样一个瓶颈期。
Can you tell us about your writing process?Q：能告诉我们您的写作过程吗？
First, I have to come up with a new speculative idea that moves me profoundly. For example, the unpredictable motion of three suns and the civilization that would arise in such a planetary system. Then I plan out a story around this seed. Finally, I create the characters to serve the story. My method of composition inevitably leads to stories in which the speculative idea is the core, the kind of stories seen as appealing to hardcore fans.
Are there any forthcoming projects or publications that we can look forward to seeing in the near future?Q：近期有没有什么即将展开的活动或者出版物值得我们期待呢？
I plan to tell stories that are very different from the Three-Body trilogy. For example, I’ve spent a lot of time planning a novel about the future of energy. As a power-plant engineer, I’m familiar with the field.
I also want to write a novel about near future life in China, one that offers a panoramic view of Chinese society in the coming decades. The protagonist is a labourer at the bottom of the social pyramid in urban China, and I want to show this person gradually progressing into a new life as Chinese society develops, ultimately taking the journey into space. I even have a title for the novel, Extraordinary World, which is a reference to Lu Yao’s influential realist work, Ordinary World.
I’ve always been deeply interested in stories about the struggle between humanity and powerful cosmic forces. The Three-Body trilogy is about a war between humans and aliens, but I want to tell a story of humans fighting against forces far more powerful than alien civilizations. There are many choices within this framework, and I haven’t decided exactly which way to go yet.