To Hold Up the Sky by science fiction writer Cixin Liu (Supernova Era) is a stunning collection of short stories that represents Liu's writings from the early 2000s. In "The Village Teacher," a dying schoolteacher in rural China struggles to complete his final lesson as an alien race considers Earth's destruction from above. "2018-04-01" follows a man as he makes the life-altering decision to spend his life savings on an immortality procedure. Meanwhile, stand-out stories like "Contraction" and "The Thinker" link unimaginable conceptions of time with the emotional lives of both the most powerful and the most unnoticeable of people.
These stories excel at linking hard science fiction with global humanism and quiet moments of emotion. Liu's writing maintains a calm, matter-of-fact demeanor, even as it conveys inventive cruelty and beautiful imagery. While the science described in many of the stories is often dense, Liu crafts its explanation in such a way as to reimagine it through an artistic, emotionally sensitive gaze. When he describes "an intricate network of paths snak[ing] across the land like circuits etched into an infinitely wide, silver circuit board," readers are left not just envisioning the surface of the Earth seen from space, but the vulnerable, breath-taking connections that bind people together. Liu's expertise at crafting juxtapositions of science and emotion, brutality and beauty, the unimaginable and the human teaches readers, as the protagonist in "The Village Teacher" taught his students, that advanced knowledge can save us, but not in the ways we might expect. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor