The wandering Earth

China Galaxy Science Fiction Award of Year 2000

The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth: Classic Science Fiction Collection by Liu Cixin

Translator: Holger Nahm
Available on Amazon: Kindle US  Kindle UK    Kindle DE   Kindle FR   Kindle IT   Kindle ES

DESCRIPTION

I've never seen the night, nor seen a star; I've seen neither spring, nor fall, nor winter. I was born at the end of the Reining Age, just as the Earth's rotation was coming to a final halt. The Sun is about to unleash a helium flash, threatening to swallow all terrestrial planets in the solar system. On Earth, the Unity Government has erected Earth Engines. With them it plans to propel our planet out of the solar system, setting it on a journey into outer space in search of a new sun. The Earth begins its centuries-long, wandering travels through outer space. Just as we began our journey, my grandfather passed away, his burnt body ravaged by infection. In his final moments, he repeated over and over, "Oh, Earth, my wandering Earth ..."

REVIEWS

"I was quite impressed by this book. The storyline is intriguing to say the least-main character grows up in the future where our Sun is about to enter a red giant phase and the prospect of human race surviving looks grim. The governments comes up with a solution to save the Earth by moving it away to a nearest star system. The whole, fairly short novel, speaks from a young boy point of view who grows up in subterranian Earth to witness horrible earthquakes, tidal waves and rogue asteroids that eventually make an Earth a barren landscape. Writer's descriptions of people are lacking while he does absolutely superb job of describing future technology and landscapes. All in all, I read this book in one afternoon, it was that good. If you like Sci-fi, you need to read this."

—Victoria (Honolulu, Hawaii)

"The sun is entering a period of instability.The entire population must be saved.The earth itself is transformed into an ark.A documentation of the sacrifices made to save the earth and its people from the coming Nova.Geo and social engineering epic.A what if story."

— D. J. Ketchin "living in books" (Edinburgh Uk)

SAMPLE READING

The Wandering Earth:Chapter1-The Reining Age

I've never seen the night, nor seen a star; I've seen neither spring, nor fall, nor winter. I was born at the end of the Reining Age, just as the Earth's rotation was coming to a final halt.

The Reining lasted for 42 years, three years longer than the Unity Government had projected. My mother once told me about the time our family witnessed the last sunset. The Sun had ever so slowly crept toward the horizon, almost as if it had stopped moving altogether. In the end, it took three days and three nights to finally set. Naturally, that was the end of all "days" and all "nights". The Eastern Hemisphere was shrouded in perpetual twilight for a long time then, perhaps for a dozen years or so –with the Sun hiding just beyond the horizon – its rays reflected by half of the sky. It was during that long sunset that I was born.

Dusk did not mean darkness. The Northern Hemisphere was brightly illuminated by the Earth Engines. These giant generators had been raised all across Asia and North America; only the solid and stout tectonic plates beneath those two continents could withstand the enormous thrust forces they exerted. There were about 12,000 Earth Engines built and distributed across the Asian and American plains.

From my home I could see the bright plasma plumes of several hundred Earth Engines. Just imagine a gigantic palace, one as large as the Parthenon on the Acropolis. Now imagine countless colossal pillars raising from that palace, reaching to the heavens, each emitting brilliant, bluish-white light like a titanic fluorescent tube. And then there is you; you are a microbe on the palace's floor. This only begins to paint the picture of the world we lived in.

This picture, however, is not yet complete. Only the forces acting tangentially to the Earth's rotation could slow it, so the Earth Engines' jets had to be aligned to a specific angle. Those gigantic pillars of light were slanted to that angle. Now imagine what that meant for our palace, with its pillars all leaning on the very verge of toppling down! Many who came from the Southern Hemisphere went mad when suddenly confronted with this awesome vista.

Worse than the view was the scorching heat emitted by the Earth Engines. Outdoors the temperature was stuck at around 160 to 180 degrees, forcing us to wear thermal suits just to leave the house. The extreme, nearly suffocating temperatures often brought torrential rains. It was always a nightmarish scene when the beam of an Earth Engine cut through dark clouds. The clouds scattered the brilliant, bluish-white light of the beam, erupting it into countless frenzied, surging halos of rainbow light that covered the entire sky like white-hot magma. One time my senile grandfather – tormented by the unrelenting heat – couldn't take it anymore; when a heavy downpour arrived, he was so elated that he ran outside, bare to the waist. We couldn't stop him in time and the top of his skin was scalded off by the raindrops which were heated to a boil by the Earth Engines' plasma beams.

To my generation, born in the Northern Hemisphere, all of this was perfectly normal and natural, just like the Sun, stars and Moon had been to generations before the Reining Age. We called the entire history of the human race that had come before us the Pre-Solar Age; what an enthralling and golden era that had truly been!

When I started primary school, my curriculum included a journey around the world. I went on this journey with my teachers and a class of thirty. At the time, the Earth's rotation had already come to a complete halt. The Earth Engines were only being used to maintain the planet's equilibrium and to make a few minor adjustments. Because of this, the beams were significantly throttled during the three years from when I was three until I turned six. It was due to this throttling that we were able to take our trip, giving us a chance to get to know our world better.

First, we visited an Earth Engine up close. The engine was in Shijiazhuang, near the foot of the Taihang Mountains. The engine was a towering metallic mountain, looming over us, filling half the sky. To the west of it the Taihang Mountains seemed to be no more than a ridge of small hills. Some of us children exclaimed in wonder that it must be as tall as Mount Everest. Our beautiful teacher, Ms. Xing, smiled as she told us that it was in fact 36,000 feet tall, a good 6,000 feet taller than Mount Everest.

"People call it 'God's Blowtorch',"" she said.

We stood in its enormous shadow, feeling its tremors shake the very Earth.

There were two major types of Earth Engines. The larger ones were dubbed "Mountains", while the smaller ones were called "Summits". We ascended North China Mountain 794. Let me tell you, it took a lot longer to scale a "Mountain" than to ascend a "Summit". The top of a Summit could be reached via a giant elevator, while you could only go up a Mountain in a car, snaking your way up a coiled road. Our bus weaved into the endless procession of other vehicles, following the smooth steel road up the outer side of the Mountain. To our left, there was only a blank face of azure metal; to our right, a yawning abyss.

The traffic mostly consisted of 50-ton dump trucks, fully loaded with rocks from the Taihang Mountains. Our bus quickly ascended to 16,000 feet as the Earth below almost completely disappeared, obscured by the reflection of the Earth Engine's greenish blue light. Ms. Xing then told us to put on our oxygen masks. As we approached the plasma plume, the light and heat increased immensely, causing the visors we wore to gradually dim and the mini-compressors in our thermal suits to whir along with all their might. At 20,000 feet we came upon the material intake. Truckload after truckload of large rocks was dumped into the faint, red sparkling light of its giant maw. It devoured the rocks without sound.

Fascinated, I asked my teacher about it. "How is the Earth Engine able to turn those rocks into fuel?"

"Heavy element fusion is a very arcane field of study," she told me, "too difficult to understand at your age. You can content yourself to understand that the Earth Engines are the most powerful machines mankind has ever built. The one we are standing on, North China 794, operating at full power has the capability of exerting 15 billion tons of thrust on the Earth."

Finally, our bus reached the very top of the engine. Here the mouth of the plasma jet was directly above us. The beam emanating from it was so enormous that, when we tilted our heads up, all we could see was a gargantuan wall of blue plasma reaching into infinity above us. Looking far up at that blue, I then recalled a riddle posed to us in philosophy class:

"You are walking along on a plain when you suddenly come across a wall," I told my teacher. "It stretches endlessly upward, endlessly downward, endlessly to your left and endlessly to your right. What is this wall?” Our haggard teacher had asked our class that riddle. I now asked Ms. Xing, curious at her answer. Even the memory of that question made me shudder as we stood atop the engine.

Ms. Xing stood next to me, thinking of the answer. After a perplexed moment, she shook her head as she contemplated my query.

Leaning close, I whispered the riddle's terrible answer into her ear. "Death."

For a few seconds she stared at me in silence, and then she suddenly embraced me. As she held me tight, I gazed over her shoulder into the distance. Rising from the hazy Earth below, I could see a range of gigantic metal peaks. The range stretched in all directions as far as the eyes could see, each peak shooting forth a beam of bright plasma. It looked just like a gigantic, slanting cosmic forest, puncturing our teetering sky.

After a while, we made our way to the ocean. Standing on the seashore we could see the pinnacles of submerged skyscrapers reaching up out of the waves with the ebb of the tide. We beheld the gleaming whitewash of water rush out of their windows, forming cascades of waterfalls.

Back then the Reining Age had only just come to an end, leaving the Earth with the horrifying aftermath of its passing. The tides, quickened by the Earth Engines, had swallowed two out of every three cities in the Northern Hemisphere; then the global increase in temperatures melted the polar icecap, turning the ensuing floods into a deluge that spread to the Southern Hemisphere. Thirty years earlier my grandfather had witnessed giant 300-foot waves that had engulfed Shanghai. Even now, he could never tell us about it without his gaze slipping into a thousand-mile stare.

Our planet had already changed beyond recognition before it even set out on its journey. Who knew what hardships awaited us on our long travels through outer space?

At the seashore we boarded an archaic vessel called "ship." As we departed the coast, the Earth Engines grew ever more distant. Within a day's travel, they had disappeared altogether behind us. Before us the ocean was bifurcated by light; in the west, the azure glow of the Earth Engines' jets; in the east, the shimmering pink water, illuminated by the Sun's rays. We sailed straight down the glittering seam where the two glows met on the ocean's surface. It was a truly marvelous sight to witness. As our voyage continued, the azure glow slowly waned, while the pink light gradually waxed. With its waxing, unease began to spread across the ship. We children could no longer be seen on deck. Seeking shelter in the belly of the ship, we even drew the porthole blinds tight.

One day later, the moment we dreaded most finally arrived. We all gathered in the large cabin that we used as our classroom to hear Ms. Xing's announcement.

"Children," she said, "we will now go and watch the Sun rise."

None of us moved a muscle; we all stared at her in blank disbelief. She attempted several times to get us going, but we refused to move.

Seeing our fear, another teacher pointed out the problem to Ms. Xing. "It’s just as I said," the teacher told her. "The world-trip should be scheduled before we teach them modern history. It would make it easier for the students to adapt."

"It's not that simple," Ms. Xing retorted. "They learn it all from their surroundings, long before we teach them any modern history." She then turned to some of the class monitors. "You children go first and don't be afraid. When I was a little girl, I was very nervous before seeing my first sunrise, just like you are now. But it was all good."

Finally, we got up and one by one made our way to the cabin door. As we shuffled along, I felt a small, clammy hand grip my own. I looked down and saw it was Ling.

"I'm scared," she whispered, her voice trembling.

"We've seen the Sun on TV. It will be just like that," I told her consolingly.

"Just like what?" she countered. "Is a snake on TV like seeing a real snake?"

For a second I searched for the right words, but then decided not to give an answer. " ... Anyway, we should get a move on or we'll get marked down for the course!"

Ling and I grasped each other's hands tightly as we made our way onto the deck with the other children.. Shaken by fear and full of trepidation, we faced our first sunrise.

"Consider this," Ms. Xing told us. "We only began fearing the Sun three or four centuries ago. Before that, humanity was not afraid of the Sun. In fact, on the contrary; in their eyes the Sun was both dignified and magnificent. Back then, the Earth still turned and people saw the Sun rise and set every single day, cheering the dawn and praising the beauty of sundown."

Ms. Xing stood with us as we watched at the ship's bow. Her long hair was caught by a gust as the first rays of light shot over the horizon, and for a moment I could not shake the thought of some monstrous sea creature breathing up the front of the ship.

Then, finally we beheld that soul-chilling blaze. At first it was only a point of light on the horizon, but it quickly grew into an expanding arc. My breath caught in my throat as I felt myself falling into the clutches of terror. It felt as if the deck below my feet had disappeared. I imagined myself plummeting into the watery abyss below; and I fell...Ling fell with me, her wispy frame clinging to my shaking body. The other children, everyone else — the entire world — all fell.

And then I remembered the riddle.

When I first heard it, I had asked my philosophy teacher what color that wall was.

He had told me: "It must be black."

The answer had seemed off to me. I always thought that a wall of death ought to shine. That was why I had remembered it when I saw the wall of plasma. In that era, death was no longer black; it was the glare of a flash, for it would be a final flash that would vaporize the world.

Three centuries ago, astrophysicists discovered that the fusion of hydrogen to helium inside the Sun had abruptly accelerated. In response, they launched more than 10,000 probes straight into the Sun. Ultimately they managed to establish a precise mathematical model describing the celestial body. Using this model, supercomputers calculated that the Sun was already on the verge of evolving away from the main sequence, ending its hydrostatic equilibrium and with it, its life-giving heat and light. It was projected that there was only a short time before the fusion of helium would spread through the entire Sun, causing a runaway explosion, the so-called helium flash. After the flash, the Sun would transform into a huge but dim red giant. It would grow so large that the Earth would be inside the Sun, as if swallowed into the Sun!

In fact, that could never happen; never happen because the preceding helium flash would have already vaporized the Earth.

It was all to occur in 400 years; since then, 380 years had passed.

This stellar disaster would not only annihilate and consume every inhabitable telluric planet in the solar system, but it would also forever change the nature and orbits of the Jovian planets. After the primary helium flash, the heavy elements would re-accumulate in the core of the Sun and further helium flashes would repeatedly occur for a period of time. This was a "period" in the stellar sense, lasting many, many thousands of human lifetimes.

All of this made it impossible for humanity to continue living in the solar system, leaving only one last resort: The migration to another star. The technology of the time allowed for only one destination for this migration. That destination was Proxima Centauri, the star closest to ours, a mere 4.3 light-years away. But while it was easy to reach a consensus on the goal of the migration, the means were far more controversial.

To enrich the learning experience, our ship was turned back twice on the Pacific, giving us two sunrises. By then we had become accustomed to the sight and we started to believe that the children of the Southern Hemisphere, who were constantly exposed to the Sun, could actually exist and live. We continued our journey into the dawn, watching the Sun rise higher and higher in the sky. With it the temperatures too began to rise.

One day, as I was drowsily resting in my cabin, I was suddenly disturbed by the sound of a quarrel coming from outside. Moments later the door opened and Ling popped her head in.

"Hey, the Spaceship Faction and the Earth Faction are at it again!" she shouted excitedly.

I could not have cared less; after all, they had been fighting for almost 400 hundred years now. Nonetheless, I went outside with her for a quick look and saw a group of boys fighting. It was immediately obvious that Tung was up to his usual games again. His father was an incorrigible member of the Spaceship Faction, and was in fact still in prison for joining an insurgency against the Unity Government. Seeing Tung, I guessed that the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree.

Ms. Xing and some of the burly sailors had managed to separate the fighting children, but it was no easy feat.

Even as he was being dragged away with a bloodied nose, Tung shouted, "Throw the Earth Faction overboard!" He pumped his fist in to emphasize his point.

"I am Earth Faction, too," Ms. Xing said with exasperation. "Do you want to throw me overboard, too?"

"We'll throw every last one of the Earth Faction overboard!" Tung shouted, utterly unwilling to back down.

In those days, the Spaceship Faction was losing in public popularity and they had grown even more unruly as a result.

"Why do you hate us so much?" Ms. Xing asked.

"We will build the spaceships! All hail the spaceships!" they chanted.

Ms. Xing pressed the holographic emitter on her wrist. Immediately, a holographic image appeared in the air in front of us. We children stared at it in rapt attention and, at least for a moment, peace returned. Floating in front us was the image of a glittering and translucent glass sphere. The hermetically sealed sphere was about four inches in diameter. Two-thirds of it was filled with water. A small shrimp, a small sprig of coral and a bit of green algae swam in the water. The shrimp languidly moved about inside the sphere.

Ms. Xing said, "This is something Tung came up with for natural science class. There is more inside this small ball than meets the eye; it is also full of microscopic bacteria. All things inside it interact with and support one another. The shrimp eats the algae and draws oxygen from the water. It then discharges organic matter in its feces and it breathes out gaseous carbon dioxide. The bacteria further breakdown the discharge into inorganic matter and carbon dioxide. With the inorganic matter, the algae then use artificial sunlight to perform photosynthesis."

We all gazed in awe as she explained to us the process.

"They thereby can manufacture nutrients, grow and reproduce, all while exuding oxygen for the shrimp to breathe," she told us. "With nothing but sunlight, this ecological cycle should be infinitely self-perpetuating. It was the best class work I had ever seen and I was well aware that it encapsulated Tung's dreams, as well as the dreams of every other child of the Spaceship Faction," she said fairly. "In essence, it is a miniature of the spaceship they so desire! Tung told me that he had designed it according to computations based on rigorous mathematical models and that he modified the genes of every life form in the sphere, ensuring that their metabolisms would achieve a perfect balance. He firmly believed that life within the sphere would endure, right down to the natural end of the shrimp's life. All of us teachers loved the project and we provided it with artificial sunlight at the required intensity. Convinced by Tung's calculations, we quietly wished that his little world would succeed. But today, just about a dozen days later ..."

With great care, Ms Xing produced the real glass sphere from a small box. The shrimp floated on the water's surface, dead. The water itself had gone a dismal shade of cloudy and the rotting algae inside had lost their green, and had now turned into a dead, woolly substance covering the coral.

"This small world is dead. Children, who can tell me why?" Ms. Xing asked, showing us the lifeless sphere.

Someone quickly called out an answer. "It is too small!"

Ms. Xing smiled and nodded. “You are right; it is too small. A small biosphere, no matter how precisely designed, can never withstand the test of time. It is no different with the vessel that the Spaceship Faction imagines."

"We could build a spaceship the size of Shanghai or New York," Tung retorted, his voice subdued, his eyes on the sphere.

"That is true, but that would be the limit of our current technology and compared to the Earth, such a biosphere would still be very small," Ms. Xing replied gently. "Too small, in fact."

"We can find a new planet," Tung countered.

"Even your faction does not really believe that," Ms. Xing said. "There are no available planets in Centaurus. The nearest fixed star with an available planet is eight-hundred-fifty light-years away. Even the fastest ship we can build can travel no more than zero-point-five percent of the speed of light. At that speed it would take us one-hundred seventy-thousand years just to get there. The spaceship's biosphere would not even be able to last a tenth of that. Children, only an ecological system the size of Earth, with its vigorous and all-encompassing biosphere, can exist in perpetuity. Should humanity leave Earth to travel across the universe," she said, concluding her impassioned explanation, "it would be no different from an infant leaving its mother in the middle of a desert!"

"But," Tung said, pausing before he continued in an almost pleading tone, "teacher, it's too late for us and too late for Earth. It is too late for it to reach sufficient speed and to make it far enough away. The Sun is about to explode!"

Ms. Xing would have none of that sort of talk. "It is not too late," she told him, and us as we all listened in. "We must trust the Unity Government! How many times have I told you? Even if you don't believe, even if worst comes to worst, 'At least humanity died with pride, fighting to the end!' "

Humanity's exodus would proceed in five steps: First, the Earth Engines' jets would be used to counteract the Earth's movement, stopping its rotation. Second, the engines' entire power would be used to set the Earth on a new path, accelerating the Earth into escape velocity, taking it away from the Sun. Third, in outer space, the Earth would continue to accelerate as it traveled to Proxima Centauri. Fourth, in transit, the Earth Engines would be re-aligned, the Earth's rotation would be restarted and the deceleration process initiated. And then fifth, the Earth would be moored in an orbit around Proxima Centauri, becoming its planet. People also called these five steps the "Reining Age," the "Exodial Age," the "First Wandering Age" (during acceleration), the "Second Wandering Age" (during deceleration), and the "New Sun Age."

The entire exodus would last 2,500 years, about 100 generations.

Our ship continued its voyage, making its way into the Earth’s night. Neither the light of the Sun nor the glow of the Earth Engines could be seen here. As we stood in the cool Atlantic breeze, we children saw our first starry sky.

God, the beauty of it was heartbreaking!

Ms. Xing arched her arm around the nearest few of us, as if to embrace us all with one hand. "Look, children," she said as she pointed to the heavens with her other hand. "There is Centaurus and that is Proxima Centauri, our new home!" Tears began trickling down her face as she spoke those words, leading her to weep.

It was an emotionally infectious moment, seeing her tears. By the time she finished, we were all sobbing. All around us – even the sailors and the captain, hardened seafarers one and all – no one could stop the tears from welling up in their eyes. Through our tears we all looked in the direction that Ms. Xing was pointing, the stars in the sky twinkling as we cried. Only one point of light did not waver; a heavenly lighthouse on the distant shores of the wild sea of the night, a faint beacon for lonely travelers freezing in the cold desolation: The star of our hearts, Proxima Centauri. It was the only hope and support for a hundred future generations, set on a course through a sea of woes.

On our return voyage, we saw the first sign that Earth had begun its journey. A gigantic comet had appeared in the night sky. It was the Moon, abandoned by humanity. The comet's tail was, in fact, the jet of Lunar Engines, pushing the Moon out of its orbit to ensure that there would be no catastrophic collision as the Earth began its acceleration. The Lunar Engines' trail covered the ocean in a blue glow and drowned out the stars. As it moved, the gravitational tide of the Moon riled up the ocean, raising towering waves. We quickly transferred to a plane to continue our journey to our destination in the Southern Hemisphere.

The day of departure had finally arrived!

When we deplaned, we were immediately blinded by the brilliant jets of the Earth Engines. Their plasma plumes were several magnitudes stronger than when we had last seen them. Even through closed eyes we could see that the beams had been righted and were now shooting straight toward the sky. The Earth Engines were running at full power.

The acceleration gave rise to 300-foot rolling, thunderous waves that assaulted every continent. Scorching hurricanes howled through the boiling froth, screaming through the countless towering beams of plasma with unbridled fury, uprooting almost every tree on Earth. Our planet had also become a gigantic comet, its blue tail piercing the dark of space.

Earth was on its way, and with it, all of humanity.

Just as we began our journey, my grandfather passed away, his burnt body ravaged by infection.

In his final moments, he repeated over and over, "Oh, Earth, my wandering Earth ... "

AUTHOR

Liu Cixin

Liu Cixin, born in June 1965, is a representative of the new generation of Chinese science fiction authors and recognized as a leading voice in Chinese science fiction. His works have received wide acclaim on account of their powerful atmosphere and brilliant imagination. Liu Cixin's stories successfully combine the exceedingly ephemeral with hard reality, all the while focussing on revealing the essence and aesthetics of science. He has endeavoured to create a distinctly Chinese style of science fiction. Liu Cixin is a member of the China Writers' Association and the Shanxi Writers' Association. He was awarded the China Galaxy Science Fiction Award for eight consecutive years, from 1999 to 2006 and again in 2010. He received the Nebula (Xingyun) Award in both 2010 and 2011.