Timothy Krall Reviews Cinxin Liu's "Sea of Dreams"
The graphic novel Sea of Dreams by Cixin Liu, one of China’s most celebrated science-fiction writers, is a remarkably quick read for a story that is looking to answer thought-provoking questions. Mainly, Sea of Dreams asks the reader to consider the meaning of art by providing a tale that boils down to an extreme cost-benefit analysis.
Set in China (and originally published in Chinese and translated here by Magnus), the story opens at a local ice sculpture festival and focuses on the abstract work of sculptor Yan Dong, the story’s protagonist. The festival is then visited by an alien who identifies themselves as a “Low-Temperature Artist.” This serves as the only identification the reader gets of the alien throughout the narrative. The Low-Temperature Artist came to participate in the ice sculpture festival and identifies Yan Dong as their only colleague among the many sculptors who have created something for the event. They decide to create a sculpture that will require all of the water in Earth’s oceans to make.
The story presents a compelling debate on the value of art by framing it as a fight for survival. The humans on Earth are forced to choose whether to destroy the alien’s art and live, or keep it and go extinct. The conversations between Yan Dong and the Low-Temperature Artist provide the most tension and dynamic motion in the story. However, there is a lack of character and relationship development that may frustrate some readers, as well as some quick shifts in time that aren’t necessarily obvious. The ability to read this story in one sitting is able to mask some of these flaws, because by the time readers might notice them, they’ve already finished the graphic novel.
Everything in this story is enhanced through the marvelous illustrations by Jok. His ability to bring the Low-Temperature Artist to life makes the story feel very realistic despite the extra-terrestrial element. Combine the illustrations with Liu’s dynamic narrative, and Sea of Dreams becomes the perfect quick read for graphic novel fans and avid readers alike.
Sea of Dreams
By Cinxin Liu, translated by Magnus