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Reading for Hugos

In my copious spare time (hoo-hah), I am continuing to work my way through the ballot for this years's Hugo Awards.

Just finished THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM, by Cixin Liu, originally written in Chinese and translated by Ken Liu. This was the novel that just missed in the original round of nominations, only to secure a place on the ballot when Marko Kloos withdrew. In a half-century of Hugo Awards, there have been very few non-English originals ever nominated, and certainly never one from China, so THREE-BODY is a breakthrough book in that respect, and a sign that "worldcon" is (very slowly) becoming more global.

This is a very unusual book, a unique blend of scientific and philosophical speculation, politics and history, conspiracy theory and cosmology, where kings and emperors from both western and Chinese history mingle in a dreamlike game world, while cops and physicists deal with global conspiracies, murders, and alien invasions in the real world.

It's a worthy nominee.

If you like lots of science in your SF, this is a book for you, especially if you love theoretical physics, astrophysics, and mathemathics. The Chinese background is fascinating, especially the look at the Cultural Revolution and its aftereffects. And the prose is very clean and tight, which is not always the case with translations, which sometimes come across as a bit clunky. Ken Liu did a fine job, in that respect; the writing flows.

The central character at the heart of the novel is a fascinating and complex creation, but she is not the protagonist for most of the book, and the character who does fill that role comes across as very flat, more a viewpoint than a person. One of the secondary players, an abrasive cop, is much more successful; he's a bit of an asshole, but the story really comes to life whenever he's on stage.

All in all, I liked THREE-BODY PROBLEM, but I can't say I loved it. I thought the book started off very strong, but sagged in the middle before picking up speed again toward the end. And the ultimate ending was unsatisfying... mainly because, as I now see, this is just the first of three. I DO want to know what happens next, though. So I will be reading the next.

Now that THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM is on the ballot, I'd say that it is the likely favorite to win (and I am pretty sure it is about to pick up the Nebula as well). It seems to have admirers on both sides of Puppygate, which will stand it in good stead, and it should do very well with hard science fans and the ANALOG readers.

I am not going to reveal which book is going to get my own Hugo vote... only which ones I think are Hugo-worthy, and deserving of a spot above NO AWARD. So far, both THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM and THE GOBLIN EMPEROR rank above the line for me.

The other nominees still await my attention.

Anyone else read the Cixin Liu yet? What did you think of it?

Talking about books, after all, is what these awards are supposed to be about.

Comments

( 107 comments )
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Bob Jenson
May. 3rd, 2015 11:58 pm (UTC)
I'm about halfway through it, and it's a mix right now for me. I find it intriguing and it has kept my interest, but I get the feeling I'm missing a lot. I thought it might be a cultural/language difference but I *think* some characters have shown up in previous stories and I wonder if I might have more of an attachment to them if I had read these? There are some some glorious images for the mind-scape, and also some poignant images too. I feel like I'm learning a bit more about the culture of China and it's politics, and haven't decided how much of it is pertinent to the story. Bottom line: I'm enjoying it, just hope it pays off in the end.
Zora Deng
May. 6th, 2015 05:40 pm (UTC)
U r right!
There are several characters, i.e. LUO Ji, appeared in previous stories by Cixin Liu. But the stories are discontinued so it should not affect the reading. The book came to my mind was Ball Lightning. But I don't think this book will be translated because it is in the background of China-U.S. world war..
Pawel Martin
May. 4th, 2015 12:00 am (UTC)
Three Body Problem
I must say I loved both "The Goblin Emperor" and "The Three Body Problem", different as they are. I think Liu's novel may be more accessible for somebody from a post-communist country. I noticed certain cultural/linguistic aspects that seem to irritate native English readers but seemed quite natural to me (born and bred in Poland in the 70s/80s).
mecurtin
May. 4th, 2015 12:21 am (UTC)
I, too, felt that it sagged in the middle. And toward the end my suspension of disbelief started to run into trouble, though that may be cleared up in subsequent volumes.

Overall, it's a really interesting reading experience, because the historical, real life chapters are about a culture so different from my experience that it's almost like reading C.J. Cherryh. Even with the footnotes, I was aware that what I was reading about is (nearly) *alien*.

I've read "The Goblin Emperor" twice so far, and I love it to a possibly uncritical degree. The combination of a hero who's what I call heroic, with wonderful and interesting use of language, with thinking about culture and change, just makes me so happy. And they have ears that move with their emotions!
iwinulose2
May. 4th, 2015 12:28 am (UTC)
I hope people give Marco Kloos a chance despite being on the puppies slate
I read Terms of Enlistment, and it was a quick and fun read. I wouldn't call it an award worthy book, but it doesn't need to be to be entertaining.
grrm
May. 4th, 2015 12:51 am (UTC)
Re: I hope people give Marco Kloos a chance despite being on the puppies slate
Kloos is no longer on the ballot, so people can't "give him a chance" in that sense, but his principled stand did earn him a lot of admirers. I have his book here, and will get to it soon.
Frank Probst
May. 4th, 2015 12:41 am (UTC)
Who would get the Hugo?
I can't figure out how the rules work with translated works. Do the original author AND the translator both get Hugos if The Three-Body Problem wins? They're both listed on the nomination at the Hugo Awards website, so I'm assuming Ken Liu would share the award with Cixin Liu, but I don't see anything in the rules about translated works.
grrm
May. 4th, 2015 12:52 am (UTC)
Re: Who would get the Hugo?
Interesting question.

I don't know the answer. Not sure a translation has ever won a Hugo.
Re: Who would get the Hugo? - eeanm - May. 4th, 2015 05:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Who would get the Hugo? - brgibbons - May. 5th, 2015 12:46 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Who would get the Hugo? - eeanm - May. 5th, 2015 02:40 am (UTC) - Expand
lordevaco
May. 4th, 2015 12:42 am (UTC)
You wrote thousands of words about how terrible the whole Puppy thing was and how it ruined the Hugo, and then you proceed to read everything that's been nominated?

Not complaining, it's just that, as a fan, it's a bit heartbreaking to see that you seem to be enthusiastic about everything except The Winds of Winter.
grrm
May. 4th, 2015 12:54 am (UTC)
That's such an idiotic thing to say.

I would think, after having devoted something like TWENTY FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE to A Song of Ice & Fire, that my enthusiasm for it could be safely assumed without me having to reiterate every day.

(no subject) - lordevaco - May. 4th, 2015 02:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - evangeler - May. 4th, 2015 05:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - grrm - May. 4th, 2015 05:45 am (UTC) - Expand
RE: Enthusiasm - Matt Petolicchio - May. 6th, 2015 08:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Enthusiasm - grrm - May. 6th, 2015 10:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Enthusiasm - tehjalis - May. 15th, 2015 07:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Enthusiasm - Vincent Marquez - May. 15th, 2015 08:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - zmweiss89 - May. 16th, 2015 07:18 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - James Young - May. 4th, 2015 01:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - iroberts007 - May. 4th, 2015 02:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Bernie Margolis - May. 4th, 2015 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Reading and voting cannot ruin the Hugos - laurablues - May. 5th, 2015 11:33 am (UTC) - Expand
James Young
May. 4th, 2015 01:13 am (UTC)
Going completely off-topic here but was just wondering what you thought of the new Tesla Powerwall?
Has owning a Tesla car given you enough confidence that you would buy one, especially living in New Mexico where I assume it's quite sunny most of the time..
grrm
May. 4th, 2015 05:45 am (UTC)
I love my Tesla, but this is off topic too.

THREE BODY, please.
Kells O'Connor
May. 4th, 2015 01:27 am (UTC)
I always like when american awards have a category for foreign works, it helps people see the best from around the world. You can always guarantee some quality in that category, since there are so few slots for so many possibilities. If the Hugo's expanded to include literature from different countries and languages, that would be really interesting. In fantasy and SF more than any other genre, the different cultures can lead to really amazing innovative stuff.

Glad to see you still read a lot despite working on writing so much. Good writers are always good readers I think. :)
bruceb
May. 4th, 2015 03:33 am (UTC)
I liked The Three-Body Problem a lot. I thought that the book left Wang's family hanging via authorial neglect...but then there's room for consequences of that in sequels. I didn't think the middle sagged so much, but then I had classes in Chinese history and literature in college and have read my share of the classics, and was just kind of enjoying the vibe. And I was fascinated by the overall philosophical stance; I'm not sure when I last saw the idea that, really, maybe humanity just sucks that much taken seriously (without it being the excuse for random nihilistic violence). Judy Moffett's Hefn books, maybe?
Stephenspower
May. 4th, 2015 03:43 am (UTC)
3 Body
I just read "The Art of Alchemy" by Ted Kosmatka, and it confirmed what "Three-Body" made me suspect: strands of carbon nanotube would be the most dangerous weapon ever.

I actually didn't like the cop that much, but I can't disagree with your opinion of the "viewpoint" character.

The science, especially at the end, was mindblowing.
malkaesther
May. 4th, 2015 04:13 am (UTC)
I had a really hard time making it through the 1st 100-150 pages. After that it got easier. I'm not a fan of this kind of SciFi so it's almost always hard reading it. The only character I liked was the jerk cop. I found the jumps back & forth between past and present as well as POV changes painful. I know some of my problems with the book is I rarely read Chinese fiction and don't know much about the cultural revolution the books based on. I had to stop reading footnotes as they were pulling me out of the story. I really liked the ending but will only read the next novel if it ends up on the ballot again. I suspect your right on its chance of winning.

My husband picked up the The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Sword from the library for us today.
whipt1
May. 4th, 2015 04:16 am (UTC)
I loved the book for many of the reasons you stated. I get what you mean by one of the characters coming off as flat, he seems more of a person that the story revolves around instead of a unique identity in his own right. Like his wife and kid show up just in the scene where they're important than just sort of disappear for the rest of the book. But I was more drawn in by the game, the clever references and history, and the ideas he was shooting out from moment to moment.

Like the idea that even just the mere contact with another civilization could completely derail society in general. He was coming at the concepts he brought up from so many angles that I was fascinated the whole way through, even when the story sagged a bit I was still hooked on the ideas being tossed around. Even when I was done my mind kept coming back to it, I don't want to spoil stuff in the comments but I'm eagerly looking forward to the next books. I'd like to see the 450 year payoff at the end of it.

A fascinating book all around and I'm glad it will get the chance to be voted on. It's weird because the mathematics, philosophy, etc, all seem to fall into that Sci Fi literature category Puppies rail against, but I'm glad so many others are enjoying the book as well no matter what they're views are. I can see why Mr. Liu is such a respected author in his home country. Ken Liu as well deserves a lot of credit too as you mentioned, I have to imagine it's a daunting task to undertake.

Reading the Goblin Emperor right now and still early in it and I'm really enjoying it so far.
lornkanaga
May. 4th, 2015 11:05 pm (UTC)
I have read that Vox Day, after reading it, said he would have included it on the Rabid Puppies slate but it was after nominations had already closed.

Granted, this is what I've read from other sources -- I don't exactly hang out at the man's site because I find him too off-putting.
Ignore Vox Day - Frank Probst - May. 5th, 2015 12:47 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - whipt1 - May. 5th, 2015 05:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Feh - rongibson - May. 5th, 2015 09:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
rehdhead
May. 4th, 2015 05:00 am (UTC)
I know it's not on the list, but I did give Station Eleven a read based on your recommendation. It is an entertaining book and I was intrigued to find the author is from this area; Vancouver Island.
grrm
May. 4th, 2015 05:49 am (UTC)
STATION ELEVEN remains my favorite SF novel of the year (of all those I have read to date).
Favorite SF of the year - peerchen - May. 4th, 2015 08:23 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Daniel De Simone - May. 4th, 2015 04:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - grrm - May. 4th, 2015 06:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Daniel De Simone - May. 4th, 2015 07:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Station Eleven - missmatchedeyes - May. 4th, 2015 08:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ratatoskr72 - May. 4th, 2015 10:39 am (UTC) - Expand
simonweinert
May. 4th, 2015 05:47 am (UTC)
Three Body Problem
Just finished reading Liu's book. And I am very excited about this book. A lot of it reminded me of older sf classics that create lasting pictures in your mind but don't follow the rules of modern storytelling conventions so much. I am thinking about Vance, Bester or Cordwainer Smith. Lius style of writing changes from scene to scene. One moment it is character focused, then it's not. One moment it is "showing", then it's just good old "telling" (I appreciate "show don't tell" in television very much, but I think literature lost a lot since "show don't tell" came around as a rule). One instant the prose is matter of fact, the next it is truly poetic. I really loved it, because a lot of what the story is about is also reflected in the structure of the storytelling and the prose. And all together it creates a mighty sense of wonder.

I am now reading The Goblin Emperor. And so far I like it. But in comparison to Three Body Problem the style is not very surprising (albeit beautiful). For example when the main character in Goblin Emperor attends a funeral the story spends three pages on how that funeral reminds the character of his late mother. There is rarely a thing happening without some information about how the character relates to it. I get that after ten pages, and I know that this won't change through the whole novel. And that's how most of the fantasy and SF authors work these days (it was different when Vance wrote his novels). I really, really find it refreshing to read something in between that's done differently. That's (one of the reasons) why I am so enthusiastic about Three Body Problem.

So far Three Body Problem is my number one Hugo vote.
whipt1
May. 4th, 2015 02:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Three Body Problem
I got the same sense of wonder from reading it as well. I'm not sure if it was my favorite of all that was released last year, but it's certainly the most unique and the one that has stuck in my brain longer than the rest.
int19h
May. 4th, 2015 06:23 am (UTC)
"Three Body Problem" has been an extreme disappointment to me personally, possibly because of how hyped I think it is. I have to say that I cannot for the love of anything see the writing flow anywhere in that book; it reads like some of the more awkward fanfics, clumsy and hard to wade through. The only character that felt non-flat initially was the female scientist, and even that only for the first half of the book. So I keep reading those glowing reviews, many from the people whose opinion I respect, and who should if anything be adept at spotting bad writing, and I just don't understand ... it's like most everyone is reading a different book altogether.

And I know it's not just me being confused because I've seen a few other reviews that were very negative, along the same lines as mine - and those people are similarly wondering about why everyone is so excited over it. Something weird is going on. It kinda feels like being invited to an art gallery and discovering that you're blind (and that everything smells awful).

Writing aside, I've also found the science extremely unconvincing once it gets beyond the boundaries of realism, and I'm not sure why some people call it hard sci-fi.

All in all, for me, the only part of the book that was somewhat enjoyable was the one set during the Cultural Revolution period and the aftermath, and that mostly for the exposition of these events from a Chinese author. But that is also the least sci-fi part ...
吴慧珺
May. 8th, 2015 12:17 pm (UTC)
Reply
I understand your feeling. As a matter of fact,though the book enjoys great popularity in China, there also lies a phenomenon that some people just can not read into the story,and they feel confused like you in China. That is a common phenomenon.

This can mainly be ascribed to the lack of realism you get when you read the novel. The realism decreases when you feel that the character is flat(indeed flat) and when some science and technology described in the novel seems so magical and is hard to believe if it has any possibility to achieve in real life(but it is not that impossible).

From my observation, the science and technology part of the novel is a key element that divide its readers into different groups.To tell the truth,this novel IS a heavy HARD-SCIENCE fiction novel. Though it misused the concept of quantum entanglement which really exists in quantum physics, much of the author's ideas is directly deprived from real world science conclusion.

That is why people usually geeks who have studied deep into physics or those who are interested in cutting-edge science or those who have read Hawking's book will feel some kind of emotion of shock and mind-blows and even fear. Because what are depicted in the book have the possibility to be real. It is the real science itself seems to be crazy and magical in our modern days to common readers who lack the background, not the idea which derives from it.

For instance,in the novel the alien use the proton entanglement to make remote communication,this is a classical problem which has been discussed by Einstein and Bohr in 1951 called EPR paradox.

This novel's character is really flat indeed. But most of the science and technology part are plausible,it is the real science that behind these ideas seems unconvincing and magical but they are true.
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