Apocalyptic yarn from the celebrated author of the Three-Body Problem trilogy (Death's End, 2016, etc.).
A nearby star explodes, hammering Earth with radiation that within a year will kill every person older than 13. Governments worldwide immediately grasp the facts, draw accurate conclusions, and make plans for parents and caregivers to rapidly teach their children the skills they'll need in order to keep civilization going. These developments may seem weirdly unreal when viewed from a non-Chinese perspective, as might the prospect of 13-year-old airline pilots, nuclear engineers, or doctors achieving competency after a year's training. The adults duly die off. Fortunately, China has just invented a supercomputer named China Quantum which helps out when the child executives—dreamer Huahua, intellectual Specs, and mature, practical Xiaomeng—become overwhelmed with the enormity of their task. The Chinese child nation creates a digital forum and decides that what it really wants to do is play, not slavishly attempt to keep the adult model functioning. Other nations come to similar conclusions. Tellingly, young America, which loves its guns, proposes live-ammo war games on Antarctica, which has rapidly melted. Liu wrote this tale in 1989, the year of Tiananmen Square, he says in an afterword. If it seems dark—indeed, the premise immediately demands comparison with William Golding's Lord of the Flies, right down to the singular lack of female perspective—Liu reportedly revised it several times before it was finally published in 2003, to avoid possible issues with officialdom. Imagine how much darker it must have been. The book as published stresses the competency and forethought of the older generation and downplays the inability of children to understand and anticipate consequences. Readers may draw their own conclusions about the politics behind all this.
A hardworking but uninspired early novel, wholly overshadowed by Liu's later masterpiece.