Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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Reading Wednesday

Recently read The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (c) 2006 Liu Cixin, translated Ken Liu, translation (c) China Education Publications Import & Export Corp Ltd 2014, Pub Head of Zeus 2014, ISBN 978-1-784-97154-0.

I liked The Three-Body Problem really a lot. There are a lot of things it isn't, it's not an outstanding character piece, it's not hard SF in the sense of plausible extrapolation from the cutting edge of real-world science, it's not really a good SF mystery as finding out who's responsible for the strange events is either obvious or unguessable from information provided. But it's a really great story about an encounter between earth humans and hostile, technologically advanced aliens; I found it consistently pacey and dramatic and wanted to read more.

And ok, the alien tech is basically plot-driven magic; I skimmed over the bits with the technobabble explanations, and I can understand why many readers were annoyed by the nonsense about "sophons". But by the time I got to that bit I wasn't really expecting sensible particle physics, I was expecting the aliens to have an essentially magical weapon. I like the exploration of a context where the aliens don't have FTL or even near-lightspeed travel, but do invent a kind of ansible as a key plot point. I suspect the orbital mechanics of the title doesn't really make sense either; I don't know enough about it, but the extrapolation from the mathematically unsolvable Three Body Problem to the cosmology of the alien planet didn't smell plausible to me. But I love the way the pretend-physics is used to serve the story, I enjoyed the metaphorical connections between the 3BP and the nature of Trisolarian society as revealed through the video game and eventually the alien documents, and the location of Trisolaris in the galaxy. And it's quite right to point out that if the aliens have the ability to make super-powerful computer out of protons (!) they have better solutions to their problems than trying to invade Earth. But for me that was the point: the aliens, like the humans, are stuck in their militaristic and paranoid mindset and all they can think of is using their amazing technological breakthrough to attack their supposed enemy, they have no way of understanding that this tech makes the whole interplanetary war unnecessary.

There's some lovely imagery, landscapes and scenes and imaginative concepts, even if the descriptions and portrayals of people aren't particularly great. I adored the terracotta army-like human computer, it cracked me up. But I think a lot of people went into this book expecting hard SF with real physics and plausible technological projections, perhaps because of the somewhat prosy style of the translation, perhaps because of the way tT-BP was marketed, and were disappointed.

The other aspect I really liked about the book was the way that it's an encounter between societies. The aliens don't have one unified attitude and culture any more than the humans do, but equally, individuals, even brilliant scientists with unique access to alien communications, only have so much influence, they are constrained by the state power. And of course the book is entirely sited in its Chinese context, and the aliens may be made up but the concept of powerful organizations trying to destroy science because it's a threat to repressive regimes is very real. Liu makes it very clear that he's not writing direct political allegory, but the opening section is set in the Cultural Revolution, and he's clearly making a political point, albeit a general one.

Currently reading I'm not actually in the middle of any novels right now, which is very unusual for me. I'm mostly reading the Machzor, the High Holy Days prayer book, and the Torah readings for the festivals, and a bunch of online sermons and other material to help me prepare.

Up next I'm aiming for a book by an author you've never read before, so I may well choose something else from [community profile] bookatorium's list of award nominees. Perhaps The first fifteen lives of Harry August by Claire North

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Tags: book, reading wednesday

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