Liu Cixin came up with a winning sci-fi formula with his novel set in the Cultural Revolution. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Out of this world: Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin is Asia's first writer to win Hugo award for best novel

Liu Cixin takes out top prize with story of an alien invasion during the Cultural Revolution

Andrea Chen

A Chinese novelist has gone where no Asian writer has gone before.

Liu Cixin - author of , a science fiction novel depicting an alien civilisation's invasion of earth during the Cultural Revolution - has taken the prize for best novel at the Hugo Awards, a prestigious series of international literary prizes for sci-fi and fantasy.

The announcement on Sunday by the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention in Washington made the 52-year-old power plant engineer the first writer in Asia to win the award.

, the first of Liu's sci-fi trilogy, won 2,649 votes in the final round of balloting - 200 more than the first runner-up, American novelist Katherine Addison's .

Ken Liu, the American sci-fi writer who translated Liu Cixin's book into English, attended Sunday's awards ceremony and read the author's speech on his behalf.

Winning the Hugo best novel award was like a science fiction story, mainland media cited Liu Cixin as saying. As a fan of Hugo Award-winning novels, Liu had never thought his name would one day also be associated with the prize until he was inspired by a spaceship, he said, referring to the one depicted in his novel.

In Liu's trilogy, set during the Cultural Revolution, a secret military project enables humans to establish contact with an alien civilisation teetering on the edge of extinction.

The aliens invade earth, with the humans falling into two camps - one in favour of the domination of the superior alien civilisation, and the other determined to resist conquest.

Since the first book was published in 2006, the trilogy has sold more than a million copies on the mainland, where realist literature is still the mainstream. In 2013, Liu was named one of the mainland's best-selling authors, making more than 3.7 million yuan (HK$4.5 million) in royalties.

The first book was translated into English and published in the United States in November, and a film based on the book is expected to be released on the mainland next year.

American scientist and author David Brin, whose novels have won several Hugo awards and nominations over the years, described Liu's writing as "vivid, imaginative and rooted in cutting-edge science".

"Liu stands at the top tier of speculative-fiction authors in any language," Brin said in a review of Liu's book.

But Liu cautioned Chinese sci-fi enthusiasts against complacency about the state of Chinese science fiction.

"It is not fair to say that China has world-class science fiction after just one or two novels became successful abroad," Liu told Phoenix TV after his nomination for the award. "The significance of the nomination is that it lets the world know Chinese people can also write science fiction."

The annual Hugo Awards are among the highest honours for science fiction and fantasy works.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Chinese author's sci-fi win out of this world