Review: Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu)

RATING: 6/10

SYNOPSIS

In 2096, after Earth has successfully colonised Mars, a war of independence erupts and Mars breaks away from Earth’s rule. Over the next century, two radically different societies develop, each regarding the other with mutual suspicion. Eventually, Mars sends a group of young delegates to spend five years on Earth in an attempt at reconciliation.

In 2196, the delegates are brought home to Mars, along with a group of representatives from Earth. Among them is Luoying, an eighteen-year-old dance student and the granddaughter of the governor of Mars.

As Luoying and her friends struggle to reacclimatise to Martian society, she tries to uncover the secrets of the past: what caused the mysterious deaths of her parents, and why was she really sent to Earth? Under the growing threat of interplanetary war, Luoying is left questioning the future of Mars – and man’s place on it.

REVIEW

“Even in the most perfect society, there will be children who die unjustly. All human effort can achieve is to reduce, like an arithmetic series, the infinite sufferings of the world”

Thank you Definitely Books and Pansing Distribution for sending me a review copy of Vagabonds. This is indeed an interesting and thought provoking read. I would categorize Vagabonds as a dystopian science fiction with elements of sociology and philosophy. It is about Earth and Mars, whereby Mars was once the colony of Earth. War broke out between these 2 planets and Mars claimed independence. Years later, both planets decided to negotiate and to trade between each other as the planets depend on each other for certain resources and technology. Delegates from both planets will be sent to each other via Maearth (a “bridge” between Earth and Mars) to learn and experience the lifestyle of each planets. In addition, a small group of Mars teenagers will be chosen and sent to Earth for a “study visit” every year. The purpose of doing so is to provide Earth with hostages so that Earth is willing to negotiate and trade with Mars. However, when these students returned to Mars, they are mentally torn and conflicted as the culture and civilization as adopted in Mars and Earth are very distinct. This eventually led to a revolution being planned among these students against the rigid system adopted by Mars.

Vagabonds explored A LOT of ides: the conflict between capitalism and socialism, democracy and communism, individualism and collectivism. It also discussed on what is the true meaning of freedom and how to create a perfect Utopian society without injustice. However, such ideas were delivered in a very dull manner. For example, certain ideas were delivered via a “Q&A session” between Luoying and Dr. Reini. This is really flat and the author falls into the trap of info-dumping. If these ideas could be enlightened in a very subtle manner throughout the book, that would be great. The world building is also very well done but as the book goes on, it fell flat as well due to info-dumping. At times, I am wondering whether this book is too long (its 600 pages btw) as certain parts may be shortened since the point has been made earlier on.

Vagabonds is a 6/10 star read to me. But for the ending of the book (i.e. the politicking and the great debate), I might rate this a little lower. For those who enjoy a philosophical discussion on certain ideas with a sci-fi setting, do pick up Vagabonds as it will certainly give you some food for thought.

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