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).
starlady: (but it does move)
Garrfinkle, Richard. Celestial Matters. New York: Tor Books, 1996.

Marie Brennan recommended this book to me, and she was right that I liked it (I borrowed her copy, in point of fact). Celestial Matters is an alternate history novel of science fiction in which Aristotelian physics are true (so the sun orbits the Earth), and the Delian League, which controls half the world, has been locked in unending war with the Middle Kingdom for approximately all of the nine centuries since the death of Alexander the Great.

The plot follows Aias, the scientific commander of the lunar ship Chandra's Tear, who is tasked by the league with a task of Promethean scale: i.e. to steal fire from the sun and bring it back to Earth, where it can serve as the engine of the ultimate weapon to end the war by devastating the capital of the Middle Kingdom, Hangzhou. Aias is accompanied by his friend and co-commander, Aeson (representing the Athenian and Spartan traditions, respectively), and his bodyguard Captain Yellow Hare, who is Cherokee by birth but Spartan by avocation. The ship's Chief Dynamicist, Ramonojon, is Indian, and the rest of the crew are of similarly varied origin--and also even gender.

This book was really interesting in a lot of ways. Garfinkle has clearly put a lot of thought into his alternate physics, and the worldbuilding of the science aspects is really great and thorough. I also thought the way he handled Aias' fundamentally Hellenic worldview, and particularly his interactions with the gods, was a really well done update of the mindset of ancient Greek literature, and I thought the characters in general were well-drawn. That said, a little more attention to social and cultural development might have been good, though I did like the much greater gender equity of this version of the Delian League.

The pacing of the book is somewhat uneven, however--despite spies and assassination attempts, the story lags until a skirmish just off Selene a little more than halfway through the book, at which point it races to the finish. I would have liked more Middler science earlier, and even more banned Buddhism, though I thought the depiction of Daoist science, when that does come, was also really well-done. (Reading any Daoist text for me is basically like reading elementary quantum mechanics, so on the one hand, Garfinkle has it somewhat easier.) I also thought the way that Garfinkle depicted the hardening of science into ideology on both sides was pretty great. All in all, this was a very interesting and unusual read.

A brief disquisition on transcription, and why you shouldn't mess with established systems to show off )


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