Book review: Supernova Era

Supernova EraSupernova Era
by Liu Cixin,
translated by Joel Martinsen
超新星纪元 was published in 2003
Macmillan/Tor/Forge Books
Science-fiction/Chinese literature
336 pages


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Wow, after three meh books, I hit the jackpot with this stunning work of science-fiction/sociology/foreign affairs. Yes, Supernova Era is all that, and so well orchestrated. Plus, it’s written by THE Chinese master of science-fiction, Liu Cixin, a nine-time winner of the Galaxy Award (China’s most prestigious literary science fiction award), among many other Chinese and international awards.

A supernova has just exploded near planet Earth, and because of the heat and radiation, human chromosomes are damaged. As a consequence, everyone older than 13 is going to die. I hear you, yes, wow! Scary thought. 13 year olds and younger kids will survive, because their chromosomes will heal.
So adults have at most twelve months to train and prepare their children to run the world and learn everything, from performing surgeries, to flying planes, operating a nuclear plant to produce electricity, etc. Talk about a coming of age novel!

The beginning of the book focuses on this preparation, mostly in China, and especially on a class with a few brilliant children that we’ll follow throughout the book. Then we have the transition, when all the adults end up disappearing, and then how the children manage the world.

If you remember Lord of the Flies (actually referenced on page 229), by William Golding, and the movie Wild in the Streets, you know you can’t expect everything to be rosy.

What really fascinated me in this work, is how the author takes some elements that are essential in our current society (sorry, telling you which would be a spoiler), and how he uses them to illustrate the evolution of this children world. It seems the social or sociological dimension is something you can find in several books by Cixin Liu, and this works perfectly with science-fiction.
So for me, this novel is a wonderful analysis on our current world, and what can happen if we don’t address certain issues.
Among the characters is Specs, the rather typical awkward kid with thick glasses. He is however the thinker and the philosopher, and the others do respect him for his wisdom and for trying to find solutions. This adds another level of depth.

Incidentally, there are funny (dark humor) passages on the US, with its young president being a total and obnoxious jerk (though he does ultimately have a redeeming behavior). And oh, that president gets impeached…

The book comprises some real scientific and astronomical data. I was intrigued by some information, so I checked, and it is apparently all correct.

The writing is superb, with a great flow to it, and I can only congratulate the translator! I enjoyed a lot the opening of the book with its theatrical zoom: 

supernova era prologue

I just found chapter 9 too long, though its details do make sense for the entire plot.

And the ending in Chapter 10 and in the Epilogue is both very clever and shocking.

In the fascinating Afterword, the author talks (not enthusiastically) about the very fast technological evolution in China, with for instance the  40 square mile
Xiong’an New Area, totally led by AI. And today, I actually watched a short documentary about the advanced use of face recognition in China, to pay in grocery stores, etc.

supernova era p346

In the same afterward, the author says he wrote this book in 1989. But it was officially published in 2003, so I guess the book evolved, because its technology details are up to date. I even wonder if some elements were revised again in view of the English translation – otherwise, the details I gave about the US would seem too coincidental.

I’d like to quote another passage from the Afterword:

supernova era p347

I have perused other reviews on Goodreads, and the reception doesn’t seem to be that positive. I personally think the author did a brilliant job at tackling some of our broad social issues, and at using them in a science-fiction novel to warn us.

VERDICT: Brilliant mix of science-fiction and sociology. What are our and our children’s main interests in life? What picture does it give us of our world tomorrow?

Rating systemRating systemRating systemRating systemRating system

Any other great recent scifi?

I received this book free of charge from the publisher through BOOKishFIRST. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.


22 thoughts on “Book review: Supernova Era

  1. Thanks for this review. I am adding the book to my lists, to be read after I finish his trilogy. I too have noticed that readers either really like this author or really don’t. My husband could not get through The Mind Body Problem but I loved it.


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  8. Wow, this book does sound really good! This is definitely one of the next sci-fi books I have to read. I can’t help but wonder how this particular situation carries out, especially considering how young the population would be!


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