Written by: Cixin Liu
Reviewed by: Rob Leicht
I am a huge fan of Cixin Liu. The Rememberance of Earth’s Past trilogy is a masterpiece, and I anxiously await any new release from one of China’s science fiction masters. But Supernova Era is unlike any of Cixin’s other stories. This is not a sprawling sci-fi epic with a grand scope and tough ideas. Instead it focuses on the characters and the sociological and political ramifications of a singular event. This novel was actually written years before Rememberance, only now getting an English translation, and it shows. Supernova Era feels raw comparatively and is much less ambitious.
The premise of the book, a previously hidden star goes supernova with the resulting radiation killing off anybody over the age of 13, had me hooked from the start. I absolutely loved the first half of the book which shows the adults preparing the children for the next stage as the world comes to grips with the staggering nature of the situation. It was very reminiscent of the beginning of The Three Body Problem when the Earth civilizations, after discovering the alien invasion, progress through panic and acceptance before working towards a solution.
The second half of Supernova goes off the rails as the surviving children hold Olympic style war games using assault rifles, tanks, and jet fighters. There are not gratuitous descriptions of death and gore, but the violence is still omnipresent and overwhelming. One of the main characters and leaders of China’s child country through the first half of the book completely disappears in the latter half. It doesn’t help that it is implied that this character would have been a voice of reason against all this carnage. Nor does it help that she is one of the only female characters with more than a handful of lines of dialogue.
The characterization of many of the children feels wooden and stereotypical. But it is not the focus on characters or the lack of hard sci-fi that bothers me about Supernova Era, it is where Cixin took the plot. It is obvious there is a message here, but I am left unsure as to what it was.