Postcards From a Dying World
News, views, book reviews and commentary from the Science Fiction and Horror fiction underground. Home of the Wonderland award nominated author of Vegan Revolution...With Zombies and Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich.
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Book Review: Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin, Joel Martinsen (Translation)
Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin, Joel Martinsen (Translation)
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published August 2018 by Tor Books (first published 2005)
A few years ago Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem became a surprise bestseller. At this point very little Asian science fiction had been translated into English. Not only was it a commercial success but the first novel won the Hugo. It is not Hyperbole to say that the Three body trilogy is a series filled with Astonishing ideas. Liu Cixin is an author of fantastic ideas that is what makes his work special.
I enjoyed the first Three body Problem novel, and really liked his novella in Invisible Planets. When I saw that his pre-Three body novel was getting a translation I was excited to check it out and went in totally cold. Ball Lightning is a more grounded story in the sense that it doesn't leave earth but the imagination involved is still epic in scope.
The best moments of the novel come when the author explores the quantum universe. What if we discovered electrons the size of our heads? What if we found atoms that operate the same way but fill but exist in a macro style beyond our comprehension. What kind of weapons could be made? What impact would it have on science?
If you notice I talking about the ideas off the bat and not the character and plot which are thin. Not non-existent but very thin indeed. The main characters whose name I don't even remember witness a natural phenomena that reduces his parents to ash in front of him. This act of ball lightning is rare but he makes it his mission to learn the science.Over four hundred pages the novel follows his research and the various forces that want to harness his discoveries.
I gotta be honest I found this story just interesting enough with it's weird science concepts to keep reading but I really didn't enjoy this book. One other interesting note in the translation happens after China ends up in a war towards the end of this near future novel. The translator/editor went to great lengths not name the enemy in this war. At one point when they are setting up to attack enemy and the aircraft carriers are named. They are three U.S. aircraft carriers named including the Carl Vinson which is often docked here in San Diego. I understand why they were afraid to just say it. We are the enemy in the novel and I was OK with that.
Overall I think readers should stick to the story in Invisible Planets and The Three Body Problem. There are a few interesting and thought provoking ideas but not enough. This could've been and should've been a short story or novella in my opinion. Just not enough story or characters to justify the number of pages involved.