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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

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.

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