Dec. 15th, 2014

starlady: (serious business)
Liu Cixin. The Three-Body Problem. Trans. Ken Liu. New York: Tor Books, 2014.

I was quite excited to read this book, which was a bestseller in China and which is one of the few examples of Chinese-language SF available in English. After giving it the old college try, however (I got to position 173 of 593 in my ebook, or to chapter 9), I had to either give up or face death by boredom. I just don't get the hype, and even beyond that, there are a few things about the book that I actively object to. Here's a problem with ebooks that I discovered reading this one: how to throw across the room in disgust?

Stuff from the part I did read. Contains discussion of suicide )

Stuff gleaned from reading reviews )

The AV Club's review called the book more anthropological than exciting on account of translator Ken Liu's attributing the book's flaws to the Chinese literary tradition, but for a whole bunch of reasons I think this is a cop-out on Ken Liu's part. (The review is partly boneheaded [the rise of the Party was 40 years before the Cultural Revolution, WTF] but it makes good points overall.) First of all, I don't think the idea that "the Chinese literary tradition" is necessarily didactic, boring, and bereft of characters with emotions really holds water. I am not any kind of expert on every era of Chinese literature, but at the least Lu Xun and the May Fourth Movement were not for characters without emotions, to say nothing of writers I've loved such as Zhang Ailing (Eileen Chang) and Han Bangqing. Ken Liu's decision to render Liu Cixin's prose in this sort of flat manner--and even more, to lard an already overly expository text with even more in-text explanation rather than more footnotes--is the kind of mistake I would expect from a very inexperienced translator. Of course translation is a betrayal; if you're going to translate something, you have to decide what purpose your betrayal will serve, and Ken Liu has done the book and English-language readers no favors in his translation choices.

In conclusion: ARGH.

ETA: [personal profile] seekingferret finished the book and has some very interesting remarks on it (including corrections to some of my assumptions).

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