By Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu)
At the beginning of the twenty-third century humanity finds itself in the middle of a new Cold War. Only this time the conflict has gone off-planet, pitting Earth against its colony on Mars. Standing somewhere in-between the two great rivals is Luoying, who is returning to Mars after spending five years as part of a mission abroad (that is, on Earth).
Though Martian by birth, Luoying is actually a bit of a nomad, not feeling at home anywhere. Which makes her a perfect proxy for the reader as Hao Jingfang explores a number of big philosophical questions about the well-ordered society.
It’s an easy game to translate the novel into contemporary political terms and see Vagabonds as an allegory of competing economic and cultural systems – broadly Earth as the West and the Red Planet as a socialist experiment. And to be sure there’s a lot of that going on. But what Vagabonds really feels like is a return to the grand SF of an earlier era, along the lines of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. Good company to keep!