A Review of: Hold Up the Sky, by Cixin Liu

Turns out, Hold Up The Sky is a collection of short stories. I’m not really a fan of short story collections. I don’t retain any of the content. Too short! I read it, like it, or don’t. And by the next day I’ve forgotten what I read before because there’s nothing pulling me back to the story. No, that’s not to say that the stories aren’t enjoyable. But. I like big, long, books. The longer, the more enjoyable. 

In any case, I was blown away by Cixin Liu, when I read the ‘Three Body Problem’ series of books. So I chose to read the collection here. For the most part, I wasn’t thrilled. But four of the stories stood out to me. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mirror

This one is interesting – A person ends up programming a quantum computer to simulate the big bang, and how it unfurls into creation. The process is run hundreds, thousands of times. Sometimes life occurs, sometimes it does not. Some times similar, to ‘ours’ sometimes not. Then the exact conditions are met that ‘created’ OUR reality…. And the simulation becomes a history, in every detail. The person discovers they can track earth’s creation… the dinosaurs… every bit of thing that every happened… and to now – it has every minute detail. So it can be used to verify historical facts (they discover much of recorded history is incorrect, even outright wrong.) And moving to now – uses it to blackmail people because it can see all their secrets. This whole tangles story unwinds. They see it can not see the future. But it can predict the far future. To the point this person concluded that the discovery and use of this device is the demise of human civilization. And they prepare to destroy it. But in a twist, it’s created soon after by someone else, and probably the same end is coming….

This story is interesting in that is supposed what our civilization would morph into if there were no secrets, and how that would effect societies in the beginning, and over time. Thoughtful and creative. An intriguing read. 

Ode To Joy

A story about an advanced being from another universe, unlike anything we typically see as ‘alien’ in movies. Etc. It arrives in the atmosphere of earth, as what appears as a giant mirror, hovering above part of the earth surface. Reflecting back the planet. Creatively, some Astronauts explore it, to discover its size, location, and that it Is not solid, but they they can slide right trough it, and it’s thickness is mere atoms in width. Impossible to understand. It claims it is a musician. And proceeds to use the sun to create music. 

This story is a very intriguing read. There is much more to it, the feelings in the humans, when faced with this exceptionally unusual , and impossible to understand being. And the fear they feel is palatable – when it talks about ‘destroying’ stars, universes, galaxies even – to create its music. With no regard for the inhabitants of these places – because it is so much more advanced. Definitely makes you wonder about the beings that might be out there, and exactly how much more advanced they might be, and what that even means. 

Sea Of Dreams 

This one is also about an advanced being form another place, coming to Earth. This one is an Artist. This Being decides to create art , by using all the water of the planet. Diving its form into the oceans, freezing it into giant cube shapes, and moving them into space, in a halo like ring around the Earth. Indeed is is spectacular. But the humans and creatures of Earth will obviously die with no water. The being doesn’t care, and will not return the ice to the planet. Somehow, the humans generally don’t die over a period of many years with no water, and they figure out how to return the ice cubes to the planet. Mostly. It also gives them the technology to go to other planets and gather ice astroids, to help replenish the water.

Though the story leaves that part kind of lingering as something that is going to happen. This story is a very intriguing read – again – the imagining of an exceptionally advanced being, and how it might be – and how it has moved beyond compassion for less advanced beings. Its focus is simply travelling around, and creating art. The interactions between the being, and the humans, is complicated. The feeling of fear, and helplessness of what it is doing – is easy to feel through the writing. Another strong example of imagining what our human interaction might be like, when more advanced beings arrive here. They obviously will be far more advanced than us then; if they are visiting us. It puts us in a hard place – as we are advanced enough to think and feel and understand compassion, consequences, etc. But to be in a position where we have no power over what happens next, because we are so small in comparison. These kinds of things make my skin crawl. We think we’re all that. But at some point – it will be clear we are far from it. 

The Thinker 

 A story about the sun, and the stars. Main characters are a Scientist who studies the ‘twinkling’ of our sun, and then neighbouring starts. And a Surgeon. Who meet by chance, at the astronomy observation telescope. The scientist maps the pattern of the energy waves emitted by the sun/stars (twinkling) to attempt to learn more about these stars. She also prints the wave form and creates a wall art. She gifts one to the doctor, after. Along conversation. They part. Many years pass. The Surgeon travels back to the Observatory, and ‘fatefully’ meets the Scientist again. He sees she has now observed many stars, and mapped them. They’re all unique. Except one, which he thinks is ‘his’ star (the sun) as he recognizes the pattern. She is baffled, and they pull up all the waves, and compare them back the one he has. Turns out – it is identical. And they discover it is the nearest star, and the time frame between the matching twinkles, matched the ‘time’ it took from the wave to travel at the speed of light from our sun, to the star, and reflect back. Shocking. More ideas. They think it must be coincidence, but it also must not be. The only way to know, is to check the next nearest star that’s visible, when it reflects back…. In 17 years. They return 17 years later.. And it does. At this time, the Surgeon has matched the pattern to that of how neurons fire in the human brain: consciousness. The pattern appears to be the same. The story implies the stars of the Universe as are neurons of the brain, and therefor the Universe is a consciousness. 

I found this story to be pretty mind blowing, lol. Very intriguing, creative, and thoughtful. My favourite of the book. There is more to it, of course – that’s the high points of the plot. 

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