In the Star Trek episode “Miri,” the Enterprise orbits a planet that’s an exact replica of Earth—except its inhabitants are creepy, violent kids. In Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, and Red Rising, creepy, violent kids—who, to be fair, didn’t start out that way—must slaughter each other to survive. From The Girl Who Owned a City to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, science fiction has no shortage of stories where kids inherit the world. Usually, an apocalypse is to blame; almost always, there’s blood.
In Cixin Liu’s Supernova Era, that apocalypse is, believe it or not, a supernova: A distant, ancient star whose violent demise provides a both light show for everyone on Earth and a crackling bath of what seems to be benign radiation. “The aurora soon covered the whole sky,” Liu writes of the catastrophe’s aftermath, “and for the next week, night skies across the whole world danced with red bands of light.”
Naturally, everything promptly becomes terrible, starting when scientists discover that all that radiation means everyone over the age of 13 only has months to live. That’s just enough time, world leaders figure, to transfer as much knowledge as they can to the planet’s most promising tweens—hoping, however desperately, that doing so will keep civilization running.