Cixin Liu's science fiction trilogy Remembrance of Earth's Past has sold more than 8 million copies and earned him the first Hugo Award to an Asian writer; it represents Chinese SF's breakout success in the anglophone fiction market. While his novels have received considerable popular acclaim, critics have yet to interrogate the troubling political vision they develop. The pivotal novum in the series—the new concept or creation, which Darko Suvin influentially identified as SF's chief mechanism for triggering “cognitive estrangement” in readers—is its “dark forest theory,” a set of governing axioms about life in outer space that make a necessary, inescapable hostility between different forms of organized life the fundamental political fact of the cosmos. This article argues that Carl Schmitt's political theory—his critique of liberalism, his investment in decisions made in a state of exception, and his core vision of politics as defined by the friend/enemy distinction—helps clarify the authoritarian currents in Liu's novels, as well as their break with several standards of characterization and narrative form conventional for realist fiction. By attempting to justify authoritarian order as the only adequate response to the existential cruelty of the cosmos, Liu's novels dramatize how Schmitt's notions about political enemies and heroic decisions in a state of emergency can serve to legitimate individual cruelty and collectively destructive warfare.

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