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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.


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 ...
May. 8th, 2015 12:17 pm (UTC)
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.


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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