Taking Care of God: Grandparents From Space



There’s a lot about Taking Care of God that remains incredibly interesting, and from multiple perspectives. I think the most dominantly interesting notion is that the plot of this story comes from a short story from the infamous science fiction novelist Cixin Liu. The most valuable point of that relation being that Liu’s science fiction works have been widely revered among English readers, largely for their proximity to English language science fiction rather than more traditionally Chinese works. It’s such an interesting topic that you can actually find studies and analyses published as books, like this one. Similarly, or rather conversely, against a style of writing that better presents to English readers, the essence of Eastern culture and society remains a rock solid background for this short story to play off of. Let’s talk about it.

Every good science fiction novel comes from the exploration of the absurd, and there’s not many ideas out there that can be as novel as grandparents coming from space. But of course, if a good concept was all that was required of a good sci-fi novel, the market would be flooded with them. With that in mind, it’s pretty clear that I’m making the claim that Taking Care of God has the story to back up its concept.

Though I will resolutely refuse to discuss the story itself in this review, lest it lose its value to readers. The point is that, especially from a Western perspective, Taking Care of God has an incredibly strong message- in more than just one way. Arguably the most dominant idea presented is how populations and societies treat the elderly. A lot of people in the Western world might have an idea as to how aging populations are treated in different areas in the world, and as a general rule of thumb you’re more likely to be right than wrong. However, Cixin Liu’s work attempts to illustrate a point further than a surface level notion of how we choose to engage with aging populations.

The broad idea expressed is that families the world over were being paid to take in these space grandparents by governments. Of course, with cash flowing, plenty of people took advantage of the opportunity and got themselves a few new grandparents to take care of. However, the funding soon dried up and the grandparents were removed and placed elsewhere. In simplest terms, the short story sees these elderly people solely as objects. Something that can unravel the ideas of space and time and bring untold wealth and value to certain people. In contrast, the children surrounding these grandparents only ever saw them as family. If I were forced to explain the apparent dichotomy between adult and child, it’s that the children are free of the ideas of capitalism and money, and see things in a far more communal and personal manner. The story really drives home the relationships of the children and how they behave and interact with one another in that sense. Helping, sharing, loving- these are all things that exist solely within the young and the elderly in Taking Care of God.

Even further is the idea of a rift created between parent and child because of these grandparents. Perhaps not as much jealousy as it is self-hatred and frustration, the mother of the lead character struggles over her own presence in her daughter’s life. It feels like Liu is trying to express the sorrow associated with distance and the arising guilt in some parents to that end. It feels particularly strong against the comparison of the lead character’s (Zhihan) father, who has even more distance between them, but is still able to express that love strongly. Personally, it might be one of my favorite pieces of the story. Zhihan never utters a word, but even over the phone her father is able to understand what she’s attempting to say.

And I could go on and on about the beautiful approaches to human interaction, but I think the point’s been made already. Cixin Liu created a truly wonderful story of human interaction and love with Taking Care of God, but it doesn’t stop there. Liu goes on further to extract the hubris of capitalism to extremes by creating an intentionally wide disparity between the (temporary) prosperity from the grandparents versus the economic decline that appears after their removal. You might argue that it comes from the nature of capitalism in and of itself, but the grandparents are able to understand their role in the matter, and the collective consciousness of their society expresses the grief for what they’ve created, all the while hoping for a better future.

It’s a helplessly hypocritical statement to make when placed against cries of war and other various challenges that plague the earth after the grandparent’s removal. But it rings true, regardless. The saying, “The sins of the father will be visited upon the children” is a something that often gets a lot of mileage, and is one that I think very much fits what Liu has abstracted into a science fiction short story in the form of Taking Care of God. Separate from intent or knowledge, the failures and problems created by our forefathers will be atoned for by those that follow them. I’m sure many people in this day and age can feel that effect. Despite that weight being carried though, it doesn’t mean that the progenitor of that sin did so with ill intent, and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t hoping for a brighter future. Failure will always remain such, and is not something that can be changed in the same manner the future can. You can dwell on it as much as you want, but a brighter tomorrow will not come if you focus on the clouds at the horizon.

I’m sure I don’t need to say it, but I will anyways. Taking Care of God was a wonderful read, and I think everyone should give it a chance, if possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.