This is a beautiful, strange story.
An alien being interrupts an ice and snow art exhibition and wants to create its own work on earth, using the earth’s seas as its medium. Yan Dong, the artist whose work the alien liked most out of the exhibition, strikes up a connection with the alien which changes as the alien’s artistic vision is realised and the earth has to live with the aftermath of its creation.
This is really a story about art and the place art has in a society. Through conversations between the alien and Yan Dong, Cixin Liu considers whether art is the most important thing for a society to be doing, whether society exists solely for the purposes of allowing art to be created, and whether sometimes there are more important things than art.
The alien’s artwork and the challenges it poses for the earth are original and compelling. This novelette covers a lot of ground in the short amount of words it’s working with – space travel, planet-wide experiences, and events that take place over decades. I liked Yan Dong as an emotional voice for humanity, too – his reactions and decisions felt satisfying and correct and happened in the right way at the right times. The science elements of the story are smart, too, and support the fictional story rather than driving it.
There’s a lot to think about here and it’s wonderfully told with images I’m certain will stick with me.