Thursday, June 04, 2015

Hugo 2015 Reads - The Three Body Problem

This is the first in my series of reviews of the 2015 Hugo Awards Best Novels Nominees. For background on this, read my post about it

 
Reading "The Three-Body Problem" was... an interesting experience.I read the translation, so I honestly have no idea if the stylistics concerns I had are the author's or the translator's. But as an English reader, it's irrelevant :)

When I thought about the good and the bad of the novel, the bad outweighed the good in my list -- but I was still driven to finish (and only partially due to hoping for a character to get her VERY well-earned comeuppance). Most of my negatives bothered me because I enjoyed it -- it could've been a classic, but there were some pretty glaring flaws. Still, a good read, and I'll definitely read the 2nd installment!

The Good:
- Great pace, some intriguing science in the last 1/4 of the book
- The effects and impacts of the Cultural Revolution on scientists, especially physicists, was fascinating. I'd read before, but forgotten, that relativity was considered counter-revolutionary. Which was doubly impressive, as it predated any major communist revolution by 10 years!

The Bad:
- It read like a fairy tale. Not the content, but the style -- lots of passive voice, just an odd read. Of course, this may be normal in Chinese sci-fi (actually, based on my almost-twenty-year-old knowledge of Chinese, I think this was a translator choice), but it was very off-putting
- Very few characters were well-developed, most were more archetypes -- concerned scientist, hardboiled cop (I loved Da Shi!), etc. Some work, some don't.
- The level of science performed during the Cultural Revolution is suspect -- the development of a microwave weapon in the 60s that could take down satellites?
- At one point Mao (or a direct subordinate) rejects a SETI-ish message as "too political". There's just no way this would have happened during the CR. "Too political" didn't exist as a concept. Any subordinate that did that would be immediately served up for reeducation, or worse.


Where I rank it in my Read of the Hugos:
The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman (Not a nominee, but amazing)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Not a nominee, but very good)
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
No Award (this is an option in the rather complicated, but logical, voting process)

2 comments:

Steve Cook said...

Sorry for the lack of snark. Just wanted to encourage you on this endeavour.

Dale Wang said...


- At one point Mao (or a direct subordinate) rejects a SETI-ish message as "too political". There's just no way this would have happened during the CR. "Too political" didn't exist as a concept. Any subordinate that did that would be immediately served up for reeducation, or worse.


That reply from "Mao" is OK for Chinese readers. It is the kind of reply that could sent from Mao at that time. Actually it is a little funny to see authors trying reply in Mao's style. Though Culture Revolution is very political, but it is not totally crazy. Sometimes Mao was clear about the situation and some people (like President Zhou Enlai) were trying to protect scientists and the innocent from the revolution.