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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.


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May. 4th, 2015 07:20 am (UTC)
Other books from Cixin Liu
Cixin has got some of the wildest and most brilliant ideas in his short stories. There is a collection of his short stories translated in English: The Wandering Earth: Classic Science Fiction Collection.
May. 4th, 2015 09:37 am (UTC)
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May. 4th, 2015 10:56 am (UTC)
Hey I just want to thank you George and everyone reviewing & contributing personal opinions on THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM, and some other scifi books! personally, this has been a great morning because now I know for sure I want to read that and some others reviewed in this thread. I might be completely wrong, but I get a James SA Corey sense here? In any case, "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." Does sound right up my alley! It's my next book club purchase. :)
May. 4th, 2015 02:46 pm (UTC)
Walter M. MIller, JR.
Do any SciFi readers out there know if Walter M. Miller was nominated for a Hugo for A Canticle for Leibowitz? It's one book that seems to underpin a lot of my thinking since I read it all those years ago...
May. 4th, 2015 05:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Walter M. MIller, JR.
It won the 1961 Hugo. And yes, I definitely thought of the first act of that book while reading Station Eleven.
May. 4th, 2015 05:19 pm (UTC)
I'm halfway through TBP and it's pretty great. I get what all the buzz is about. The language and especially the dialogue sound stiff to my ear. I expect this effect is stronger because I picked it up right after The Goblin Emperor. The warm and subtle characterization there is going to make anything seem a bit chillier right after, and TBP is cold and firm anyway.

I like it. Unless there's some kind of crazy Olympos-style meltdown in the second half, it'll certainly come in above No Award on my ballot. It suffers a bit from what I call "The Ringworld Problem": A fascinating world full of uninteresting people. But it doesn't feel very tropey and it's showing me things I haven't seen before, so I can forgive the stiffness and the bland characterization.

May. 4th, 2015 06:20 pm (UTC)
I listened to it on Audiobook. It took a bit to get used to the names - I had to go and look at the names in writing for a bit (I'm very visually-oriented) before I could remember who was who. But the plot picked up very fast and I was carried along. I couldn't listen to it fast enough. TBP is the perfect mix of the personal - the cultural revolution background and Ye Wenjie's story - and the cosmic - with a dash of cyberpunkish virtual reality. Is it a literary masterpiece? not by any means. But it's great science fiction, brimfull of crazy ideas.
If I had to choose between this and The Goblin Emperor (which I also liked) based only on merit I'd simply decline. They're just too dissimilar to compare. But I do hope TBP wins if only for the fact it's a translated work and recognition might open the door to more voices from non-anglophone countries.
May. 4th, 2015 09:06 pm (UTC)
Ooooh, this book sounds rather intriguing. It sounds like it has cyberpunk-ish elements, which is a genre I love. Anyway, adding it to my (increasingly long) list!

There are few things more frustrating than reading a great story and having it end in a completely unsatisfying manner. Hopefully the other books planned for the series will result in a more satisfying ending.

And apparently there's a film adaptation in the works as well.

Edited at 2015-05-04 09:14 pm (UTC)
May. 4th, 2015 10:36 pm (UTC)
Rabid Puppy here...
and as it stands I will be putting Three Body at the top of the list. I vote by asking myself what the works will do for the Hugo... not what the hugo will do for the author or the works. Great works enhance the award. Bad and mediocre works diminish it. I try to look at a work that 15 or 20 years from now will still be relevant and read... and vote for that.

15 years from now.. I believe if the Three Body Problem were to win... no one would be embarrassed to look back on it.
May. 5th, 2015 12:43 am (UTC)
Re: Rabid Puppy here...
I agree: the worth of an award is determined by its winners.


Sometimes, of course, one gets a weak year, but that is true of any award.
Re: Rabid Puppy here... - michaeltho - May. 5th, 2015 11:17 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 5th, 2015 12:39 am (UTC)
Why is it that some talented fantasy writers such as R.A. Salvatore and Ed Greenwood never get nominated for HUGO awards? Is it because they write for the Forgotton Realms (dungeons & Dragons)? Does this somehow disqualify them?
May. 5th, 2015 12:46 am (UTC)
It does not "disqualify" them... but the majority of voters obviously feel that not even the best work-made-for-hire (and I have no idea if they qualify) can equal original work.
(no subject) - mrjoshuaspeaks - May. 5th, 2015 12:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nice29 - May. 5th, 2015 01:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - naath - May. 5th, 2015 09:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Bernie Margolis - May. 6th, 2015 07:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clonedllama - May. 6th, 2015 08:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - michaeltho - May. 7th, 2015 09:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - werthead - May. 10th, 2015 04:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 5th, 2015 12:45 am (UTC)
Enjoying your reviews
I missed the days when you would share a review on books and movies on occasion. It is one good thing to come of this fiasco. Good to see a bit of the man behind the mask, and the mug on the tights.
Jennifer Wolfersberger
May. 5th, 2015 01:20 am (UTC)
Three Body
I'm nearly done with Three Body and am enjoying it though you're definitely right about it being pretty slow in the middle. I completely agree with your view on the detective. I'd like to see much more of him because he's entertaining.

I am disappointed to hear it's the first of three novels though. I hadn't realied that and now I'll have to buy two more books and I hardly have room in my bookshelf! Hopefully they'll be published soon.
May. 5th, 2015 02:52 am (UTC)
Love The Three-Body Problem, Goblin Emperor, not so much
Someone upstream said that they loved the ending of Liu's The Three-Body Problem and I have to agree; the ending is what sealed it for me as one of my favorites of the year. (My ultimate favorite SF book of 2015 was James SA Corey's Cibola Burn, which sadly was not nominated.) I really enjoyed lots of different aspects of the book. I'm not a gamer so that did not hold my attention very well, but I liked how Liu used the progress in the game to make progress in the plot.

I was fascinated by the time-shifts to describe what happened in the cultural revolution days and I really enjoyed every single scene we had on the alien planet.

I am going to try and read all the Hugo-nominated novels. I tried The Goblin Emperor and gave up about three chapters in. I just did not care what happened to Maia, was uninterested in his internal monologue and memories of his relatives and did not think much of anything was going to happen.
It is clearly in the running for the most celebrated speculative fiction of the year (Nebula and Locus nominated as well) so I may give it another chance later on. I have already read Leckie's Ancillary Sword and although it wasn't as transcendent an experience as Ancillary Justice, I had no problems finishing it and was sad when it was over (and hungry to see what will happen in Ancillary Mercy.
May. 5th, 2015 03:05 am (UTC)
Listening to the audio version
I'm in the middle of listening to the audio version. It's been good so far, but I'm having some trouble with the names. Might have been better to read this one the old fashion way.

After reading all about the puppies here on this blog, I've decided to take your advice and vote for whatever I think deserve a rocket. Despite being a fan, I never liked prioritizing what I read based on award nominations. So, not having read everything in time, I never felt qualified to vote. This year, I'll read as much as I can and vote accordingly. My guess is there are a lot of others doing the same. You and everyone else who spoke up has probably had some effect on the outcome of this mess.

Also, Helsinki would be great! I might actually attend if the con came that close. Another reason to sign up.
E.j. Boulton
May. 5th, 2015 03:08 am (UTC)
Thanks for the recommendation, the 'Three Body Problem' sounds like just the kind of book I like reading, immediately bought it on Kindle. Good on you for plugging these lesser known works (at least in the West) to your readers.
May. 5th, 2015 05:16 am (UTC)
A view from a Chinese reader
Even being a crazy fan of "The Three Body Problem", I have to say the author doesn't know how to develop characters. And on the literature aspect, at least the original version sucks. I would rather re-write it with his wild and intriguing great ideas.
And, I love the next two books much more than this one.
I am 70 percent sure you will agree with me.

Because you are both good at killing characters we readers may love! When we don't have any preparation for that!

Edited at 2015-05-05 02:35 pm (UTC)
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