Liu Cixin’s space-opera trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past revolutionized Chinese science-fiction, and creates a vision of the future as relevant and communicative as any in the history of the genre.
Liu’s avowed poetics for the work, at least as represented for English-speaking audiences, are given in an essay published in 2014, around when the first part of the the trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, was first translated. The essay concludes with his claim, “I wrote about the worst of all possible universes in Three Body out of hope that we can strive for the best of all possible Earths.”
The trilogy certainly takes a dark view of some of the ways humans relate to one another and to their world, but human nature is what Liu takes for granted: humans would act this way even in a Liebnitzian “best of all possible universes.” The “worst” universe Liu creates isn’t the human characters, it is the plot he embeds them in, which is so full of misfortunes that it borders on sadistic. Humans’ difficulties with one another and with their world are the subject that he wants to examine, and hopefully improve, if our actual universe turns out to be less awful than the fictional one he has drawn.
The center of the awfulness is the game-theoretic principle (invented by Liu) that gives the second book in the trilogy its title: Dark Forest Theory. Spoilers follow.