Xia Jia’s 2020 A Summer Beyond Your Reach is her first English language story collection. Translations are by Ken Liu, Carmen Yiling Yan, Emily Jin, and Rebecca Kuang.
Xia Jia was one of the authors whose work I liked best in Ken Liu’s Broken Stars. Hence I backed the Kickstarter for this collection; hence I have had the book in hand (or on e‑reader) since late April, 2020. At which point, despite months of anticipation, I did not read it immediately. Once I read it, I no longer had it to look forward to.
Not that I loved everything in this collection. There are hints of off-putting ableism in “A Time Before Your Reach,” “On Miluo River,” and “Duet of Love.” Still, I’m willing to overlook such problems thanks to Xia Jia’s delightful prose (as rendered by the small army of translators) and her talent at creating believable, compelling worlds in a few telling words.
Stories that deserve particular note:
Six Views of a Spring Festival, which is a look at commonplace activities as re-shaped by new software. I was reminded of Ted Chiang’s talent for framing different views of the mundane world.
“Eternal Summer Dream,” which considers two ways to overcome time. Traveler-Immortal interactions are explored to great effect.
“Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse” is at first glance a melancholy tale of a being living past its time. Yet the ending hints at optimism:
“Then what should we do?” he asks, after being silent for a while.
“We can do whatever we want,” says the bat. “Humans may be gone, but the world goes on.”
“Tongtong’s Summer” tackles an issue Western SF has yet to acknowledge to a significant degree: the aging of the human population. In the future, retirees will be a much larger fraction of the population than they are today. Demographics may sound like a boring premise for a short story, but Xia Jia tells a compelling tale of a grandchild and his grandfather.
Short take: this is book worth buying. Xia Jia is one of my favourite SF authors and I wish that more of her works were available in English.
Longer take: here’s what you’ll find when you open the book.
Introduction (A Summer Beyond Your Reach) • essay by Ken Liu
Six Views of a Spring Festival • novelette (2013)
Commonplace activities are utterly transformed by new technology.
“The Psychology Game” • (2015) • short story
Artificial intelligence is applied to psychotherapy. If the process helps the patient, does it matter that the therapist is a shadow on which the patient projects personhood?
“Up in the Air” • short fiction (2012)
A woman lives an austere but rewarding life in a boat floating over the drowned city of her youth. She is enlisted in a bold foray to reclaim the lost past.
“Meeting Anna” • short fiction (2007)
A man is forced by poor health to live a limited life. He relates his meeting with a successful influencer, a paragon of beauty adept at adapting to changing circumstances. But not to all circumstances.
“On Miluo River” • short fiction (2008)
A would-be psychohistorian tries over and over to convince Qu Yuan not to commit suicide.
The story is framed as letters from one writer to another, for a purpose concealed until the end of the story.
“A Time Beyond Your Reach” • short fiction (2012)
Her biological clock was set too slow to fit into society; his was far too fast. Could technology help bridge the gap?
“Tick-Tock” • (2019) • short story (2015)
Managed dreams provide welcome relief from the travails of everyday life. Managed dreams enable malicious interference previously impossible.
“Eternal Summer Dream” • short fiction (2008)
Xia Di was a Traveler, able to jump through time. Jiang Lieshan was merely Immortal, forced to explore linear time one moment after another. But Immortals are legendarily patient and it is a foolish Traveler who attracts the focused attention of an Immortal. As Xia Di does.
(The author writes that in “468 CE, plague was spreading along the rivers and roads in every direction.” What plague was this? Does my ignorance of Chinese history show?)
“Heat Island” • short fiction (2011)
A covert research project enables both disquieting revelation and awkward romance.
“Duet of Love” • short fiction (2019)
Technology allows one to shut down romantic urges indefinitely. Should one ever expose oneself to the madness of love?
“Light of Their Days” • short fiction (2015)
Unravelling the mystery of an old woman’s photo gallery.
All You Need is Love • short fiction (2014)
If we can instill people with productivity-enhancing fixations, why not apply the technology to romance?
“Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse” • (2015) • short story
A relic of a golden age wakes long after its creators have vanished, leaving the crumbling mechanism with the challenge of finding purpose for the rest of its existence.
“Tongtong’s Summer” • (2014) • short story
Remotely controlled robot nurses offer a way to manage China’s rapidly expanding population of retirees. Tongtong’s grandfather realizes that China’s rapidly expanding population of retirees can in their turn manage the remotely controlled nurse-bots.