Liu Cixin’s novel of Ants and Dinosaurs – Didem Uslu

The dystopia of civilization created and dissolved by ants and dinosaurs.

Born in 1963, Cixin Liu is a Chinese computer engineer and science fiction writer. His novella of Ants and Dinosaurs can be regarded as a children’s book because it gives the funny explanation of the extinction of dinosaurs and the survival of the ants. The novella is in fact a satirical fable, an ecological warning and a horrifying dystopia of civilization. The novel covers a massive expanse of time with violent wars but Cixin Liu is quite objective in his treatment of the subject matter. He does not take sides but puts the blame of destruction on all humanity.

In the Cretaceous Era (60 million years ago) an evolutionary relationship develops between ants and dinosaurs. The novella is about the creation of a civilization by ants and dinosaurs that are the only beings on earth at the time. The two species achieve great things together, how big the differences between them are. The binary opposition of ants and dinosaurs around a gigantic table is so funny. Ants and dinosaurs have different weaknesses and strengths. They see the world in different ways. However they are creating science and technology together. The creative idea is very wisely set although the characters are not so important and deep. The novella reminded me of the allegories in 1984, Animal Farm and Gullivers’s Travels. The nuclear war conditions reminded me of J.F. Kennedy and Nikita Kruchev’s Gulf of Pigs Crisis. The two wars between the ants and dinosaurs reminded me of the two big world wars and wars in the Balkans. (I don’t know if it has a true meaning but Bal is honey and kan is blood in Turkish. Very ironic and allegorical for me as a writer. Would the long lost lands of the Ottoman Empire never attain peace? Will the Ottoman Balkans, the Ottoman Middle-East, The Ottoman Caucasus and the Ottoman North Africa ever find ease?)

The whole situation in the novella starts with a funny and simple meeting of ants and dinosaurs. The incidents continue quickly like in fairy tales and the use of repetitions give the sense of unpredictability and suspense. The easy and simple narrative progresses with the speedy flow of time and the scientific explorations and civilization complexities.

The civilization of the ants and dinosaurs progress quickly but everything remains with using one another and attaining symbiosis. Towards the end of the novella, the problem that arises between the two dinosaur civilizations becomes very hectic and thrilling. Competition and arrogance lead to wars and war is one of the main reasons of corrupting the civilization and the habitat.

The alliance between ants and dinosaurs starts by a funny coincidence, when the ants help and function as a dental floss or a tooth pick for the dinosaurs. Yet, there are two wars between the ants and the dinosaurs. The reason for the first war arises from religion. The problem about religion is very ironic for me because antagonisms about religion are still popular. It reminded me of the recent Kuran burning events. I cannot understand the reason, the aim, the hatred behind burning a sacredly accepted concept. Can someone explain to me this mentality of democracy and freedom of speech of the Westerns Civilizations?

In the novella, the dinosaurs after awhile belittle the ants in their creativity. This feeling of pride and greatness starts the absurd conflict: The dinosaurs promise to show the ants on whose side the real god is. At last the ants weaken the dinosaurs through medicine, using science for destruction and protection. The first war of ants and dinosaurs last for five years but at the end of the war nobody can remember the reason of the war. This reminded me of the 100 and 30 year wars of the Christians. The second war is because of the ant strikes.

There are two kinds of wars between the ants and the dinosaurs:

War for religion: Like Crusades.

War for profit: Colonization and exploitation of various lands by westerners.

Postmodern wars: Huntington’s idea of war and clash between the civilizations.

In the Cretaceous Era, the ants and the two dinosaur republics forge an advanced civilization. However the symbiosis created leads towards competition, threat and humiliation. The negative energy leads to harming each other and brings an end to the dinosaur existence, leaving ants as primitive animals. Then the earth freezes and with the new range of temperatures the planet welcomes a boom of new species. The final chapters are purer science fiction with antimatter weaponry. Besides the nuclear arm race, the worse is to come. The ending is very exciting and the didactic message for the civilization is that there should be a big brain and dexterous hands.

My worry is about our urge and dream of peace and progress for the whole world in future. I hope the western civilization would calm down and try to share peace. As Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s founder announced “Peace in the nation, peace around the whole world.”

The book is very simply written. However, the building up of the culture and the mass psychology is written very successfully. I did not like the English translation. The Turkish one directly from Chinese is better. The names of the dinosaurs and ants are Chinese as from the original text, but in the English translation the Chinese names are made quite universal which causes the novel’s allegorical taste to be lost. Also I liked the cover of the Turkish translation more.

Prof. Dr. A. Didem Uslu
***(This paper was presented at the 2023 İnternational Society for Contemporary Literature and Theatre, ISCLT Conference organized in Dolenska, Croatia)

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