Cixin Liu’s The Circle: A Graphic Novel (The Worlds of Cixin Liu) by Xavier Besse.

Adapted into graphic novel format by Xavier Besse, Cixin Liu’s ‘The Circle’ is unusual among this series of adaptations and, from what I’ve read of his other short stories, in that it is set wholly back in history and does not give the impression of being a Science Fiction story. Of course, I’ve only read his works that have been translated into English, so there could be other similar stories not yet available in English. Being that this is a story by Cixin Liu, it does not play out as a straight historical tale, but veers off into an alternative kind of history in the way that steampunk does, without being anything like a steampunk story.

Jing Ke, emissary of the kingdom of Yan, is implicated in the attempted assassination of Yong Zheng, ruler of the state of Qin, who has ambitions to unite all of China under his own rule. Jing Ke escapes execution by convincing the King that his skills as a mathematician and astronomer can be of lasting benefit and, so instead, he is hired as a counsellor with a very specific purpose.

The artwork lovingly portrays this historical era with elaborate costumes, armoured soldiers and fabulous architecture. There are some fabulous panels portraying the vas Qin army of three million soldiers arrayed in formation and these not only portray the vast scale of the army but also cleverly tie in with Jing Ke’s mathematical aims as he attempts to calculate Pi. It was at this point that the story suddenly sounded familiar, there is a similar scene in Cixin Liu’s ‘The Three Body Problem’ where calculations are performed on a grand scale.

I don’t think this is that section, but the same concept is used. If you haven’t read ‘The Three Body Problem’ and are wondering why I can’t remember, it’s because there are several interludes in the book where stories seemingly unrelated to the overall plot are told and this story, ‘The Circle’, resembles one of them.

One of the artistic devices that I thought was used very well in this graphic novel was the inset panels that home in on individual faces. Sometimes there would be a while series showing close-ups of five different faces out of the various characters appearing in a particular scene. The emotions portrayed serve to give an insightful expansion into an in individual scene.

‘The Circle’ is a story full of action, intrigue, grand schemes and mathematics, a kind of historic ‘hard SF’ that demonstrates Cixin Liu’s usual scientific and mathematical keenness in an unexpected setting. It’s a great example of an undefinable story that thoroughly deserves this second life as a graphic novel.

Gareth D Jones

October 2022

(pub: Head of Zeus, 2022. 98 page graphic novel softcover. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-80328-280-0)

check out website: www.headofzeus.com

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