The sun is about to die, but before that, a helium flash will destroy the nearest planets, including Earth. These events were predicted to occur in 400 years. Fast-forward to the future, and 380 years have passed. The governments of the world have since joined forces to try to escape this tragic fate and to save the planet and humanity. Rather than fleeing the planet en masse on spaceships, countries have built and placed huge Earth Engines in strategic locations to implement an ambitious project: to move the Earth out of the Milky Way and into the nearest solar system.
This is the outrageous but intriguing plot of the short story The Wandering Earth by Chinese sci-fi writer Cixin Liu. The story goes on to describe the united efforts of different countries to carry out this incredible project. Thousands of Earth Engines the size of mountains have been built and placed mostly on the Eurasian continent carry out a series of well-calculate steps. First, the Earth Engines would fire their powerful plasma beams in the reverse direction of the rotation of the Earth to stop it from spinning on its axis. Once the Earth has stopped spinning, the Earth Engines would manipulate the path of the orbit of the Earth around the sun and extend it to well beyond the other planets and near Jupiter. Once within the vicinity of Jupiter, the Earth would use Jupiter’s gravitational pull to propel itself forward, with the help of the Earth Engines, away from the Milky Way and on a course to its new home, the Alpha Centauri system. The journey is predicted to last 2,500 years.
It goes without saying that these incredible scientific and technological endeavors have environmental and sociocultural consequences. Because Earth had stopped spinning on its axis, days and nights as well a seasons had ceased to exist. Half of the planet was in perpetual darkness, while the other half experienced a neverending day. Oceans had either frozen over or flooded low-lying areas, thereby destroying more than half of the cities of the world. Scorching or freezing temperatures and other meteorological phenomena have forced most populations to live in underground cities. The scarce resources and harsh conditions have also affected cultures worldwide. Religion almost instantly disappeared as well as the belief in romantic love and monogamy. In some countries, such as China, only one in three newly married couples were allowed by the government to procreate. The arts and the humanities were no longer taught in schools to focus on important subjects such as science, technology, physics, and mathematics. The peoples of the world had only one thing on their minds: survival.
Early this year, The Wandering Earth was adopted for the big screen and became China’s first sci-fi blockbuster, grossing around $700 million worldwide. The movie, which can now be seen on Netflix, is nothing like the short story except for the premise about the world being destroyed by a helium flash and the efforts to move it to another solar system by using gigantic Earth Engines. The movie follows the adventures of a young self-proclaimed genius and his sister who venture aboveground on Chinese New Year, steal their grandfather’s government-issued transport, and go off to meet their father upon his return from the international space station, which has been monitoring the progress of the Wandering Earth Project. Unfortunately, rather than a joyous reunion, the brother-sister duo meet unforeseen catastrophes, scary government officials, and sketchy characters and end up going on a suicide mission to save the world from certain doom (different from the impending explosion of the sun, because when your planet’s orbit is near a giant planet such as Jupiter, apparently, all sorts of bad things can happen).
The movie is fast paced and action packed from start to finish, brimming with special FX, sweeping music, and beautiful cinematography. If there’s one thing I can say about Chinese moviemakers, it’s that they spare no expense in terms of cinematic aesthetics and imagery. In contrast to the movie, the short story is told from the point of view of a nameless narrator, starting from his primary school days to his late 30s or 40s. Being a story of around 50 pages, the book tells more than shows the plot, which, the movie does an excellent job of doing (albeit the story being vastly different).
If you can suspend your disbelief for a few minutes to just enjoy a highly imaginative story or a fun, sci-fi blockbuster, then I guarantee that you will enjoy both versions of this crazy work of science fiction (emphasis on fiction).
The Wandering Earth (2000) – Cixin Liu
Head of Zeus Ltd.; 47 pages
Personal rating: 3.5/5