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Putting science into fiction

Updated: 2023-02-20 06:03 ( China Daily )
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Audience members walk past a poster for the movie The Wandering Earth II at a cinema in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in January. [Photo/Agencies]

Zhou Binghong, a researcher at the China Academy of Space Technology, holds a similar view. "The more scientific knowledge one gains, the more questions he or she will have about how the world runs. This plants the seeds of curiosity in people's minds, especially those of youngsters."

Compared to past works, both episodes of The Wandering Earth include quite a few imagined technologies that need basic scientific knowledge to understand. In the latest one, for example, what aroused most fierce discussions among the public is a "space elevator" that enables astronauts to complete their trips to space by taking an elevator instead of a rocket. On various platforms, there are discussions about whether such an elevator is possible. If it is, what materials would be used?

For Zhou, such discussions themselves mean the public has a taste for science. "At least that means people are interested in traveling to space and building an elevator to realize that goal," he says. "Interest marks the first step toward creativity. Who knows who will emerge as an engineer for such an elevator in 50 years' time?"

La Zi, as an IP participant in The Wandering Earth series, welcomes such discussions, too, stressing that they reflect the fact people are interested in the issue, saying: "At least people are watching the films."

He points out, too, that while pop science is mainly about existing technologies, science fiction is about ones that cannot be realized in the near future because they require a wild imagination. "The further away it is from today, the wilder the writer's imagination can be," he says.

For Gribbin, a scientifically literate population is essential today, and "popular science has an important role to play in making people aware of both problems and possibilities". Actually, pop science is often included in science fiction. For example, the imagined technologies in The Wandering Earth II involve scientific principles, although they might not be able to be realized in reality.

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, famous for his Galactic Empire series and his rules on robots, included detailed knowledge about the galaxy in his works, too, which inspired many young people, including Gribbin. As early as the 1980s, Gribbin impressed the world with his work, In Search of Schrodinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality, and kept the habit of writing ever since.

Both Gribbin and Zhou cherish the opportunities for pop science and science fiction works to be enjoyed by people of different cultural backgrounds. Gribbin is glad that his latest book, Eight Improbable Possibilities, has been translated into Chinese, while Zhou speaks highly of The Three-Body Problem, another science fiction work by Liu Cixin, author of The Wandering Earth, and the popularity of its English version in the United States and other Western countries.

The two episodes of The Wandering Earth have both appeared on global film rating website Imdb.com, with reviews from English-language audiences. "A new benchmark for hardcore sci-fi films" is the rating for The Wandering Earth II, with 107 likes on the website.

Impressed by the progress of science-related industries in China, Gribbin says that, "it is going from strength to strength", and that, "China is one of the leading countries for scientific research and technological development, and the Chinese people are naturally interested in these developments".

Gribbin, also a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex, says he notices there are many students from China at the university.

"This globalization can only be a good thing," he says.

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