cahn: (Default)
[personal profile] cahn
I read Three-Body Problem over maybe a week or two, and every evening I would have a different opinion. First I wasn't sure what to think, then I loved it, then I got suspicious of it, then I almost metaphorically threw it across the room, then I decided I liked it after all, and now... I'm not sure what to think.

Part of the issue is that as I was reading it, I had a really hard time slotting this into subgenre, which apparently my brain has a need to do. I don't know how much of that is because of cultural clashes. At the beginning, I thought it was retro Golden-Age science-heavy SF, with a big dash of historical grounding (yay!). I still think the beginning was the most powerful, with scientific thinking and the Cultural Revolution yoked together. (Not-really-a-spoiler: they don't mix very well, and indeed set up the tragedy of the rest of the book's primary character arc.)

Somewhere in the middle, I started thinking, oh, no, it's more like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- I mean, with a lot more physics and a lot less rape and women throwing themselves at middle-aged men (really no romance at all, in fact), but the feel of that kind of plot-twist-heavy thriller with interesting ideas (sometimes strangely executed) and a veneer of philosophy but not much in the way of characterization or Earth-worldbuilding. Or Michael Crichton, perhaps that's a better analogy. Science Thriller in feel, though with thrilling physics replacing thrilling adventure scenes, if that makes any sense.

Then we got to the proton computers, and I flipped to thinking of it as science fantasy (along the lines of Fringe's view of "science," say, but without Fringe's stellar characterization acting or terrible Entanglement of Love), because, what. I liked this quote by Chaos Horizon:

Lastly, Liu freely moves from realism to allegory in ways that likely challenge his reading audience. While some of the scientific sections are sound, others are deliberately exaggerated. Near the end, there’s a bravura sequence where an alien civilization “unravels” a proton from 11 dimensions to 1, 2, and 3 dimensions, and then inscribes some sort of computer on that seemingly miniscule space. It’s one of the most fascinating pieces of bullshit I’ve read in years, but it is bullshit nonetheless. This is SF that isn’t afraid to break from realism, and I think Liu uses that break from reality to profound effect.


It's a science romance, not in the sense of a personal intimate relationship but rather in the older sense of a fantastic adventure, and even in the sense of seeing science itself as romantic. (Cixin Liu confirms, in the Afterword, that he has something of a romance with science going on, although here I am kind of using it in the courtly love sort of sense.)

Now that I've read the whole thing, I feel it's sort of a combination of Science Fantasy and Science Thriller, with the latter the dominant paradigm. (Again, where the science part is much more prominent than the thriller part -- there's actually very little in the way of action, unless you count the online game.) (The online game! It was so cute! It... made no sense whatsoever. I don't even play multiplayer online games and I could tell it was completely nonsensical as a multiplayer online game. In my head I had actually decided it was single-player and kept getting weirded out when characters referred to it as multiplayer.)

And I thought we had escaped this! I was waiting for it, waiting for it, and it didn't happen, and then right at the end when I thought I was home free it did happen: the book tried to use quantum entanglement to posit faster-than-light communication. This is what my actual degree is in and NOOOOO. (I have some sympathy for it being such a prevalent interpretation by non-physicists that it's hard to avoid -- but still, would it be so hard to get an actual physics beta?)

And the ending was just... umm... So there's this claim that science has been hobbled by the proton computer, and then they explain why: because the proton computer is so all-powerful that it can Do Miracles. So it's not really clear why the Trisolarians can't use the computer to, y'know, do miracles for themselves rather than use them in their plan to conquer Earth, but whatever. The part I had more problems with is where messing with particle accelerator experiments would halt scientific development, or even high-energy physics. Science and scientists... don't... work like that. (I should note that [personal profile] seekingferret argues here that perhaps severely restricted science/scientists do work like that, which is a nuanced and interesting reading of the text but which is not the way I can engage with it, unless it had been a far more explicit connection, because global science is supposed to be halted, not just Chinese science.)

I really, really liked Ye Wenjie's arc -- the way that her history informed her choices and her point of view and the ways in which she deceived herself was heartbreaking.

There's been a lot of criticism of Wang Miao having zero characterization. I don't think he's supposed to have character, really? I mean, it would obviously be a better book if he did, but he's really just the eyes through which we see the events of the novel and Ye Wenjie's arc, and as such is supposed to be Everyman, or at least Everyscientist.

I think I'm going to rank this below No Award, but I'm not sure. I think what it's trying to do is more Hugo-worthy than Goblin Emperor (which I did think was the better book) or Ancillary Sword, but I'm not sure. (AS, of course, is a big wild card (in terms of my response to it) until the third book comes out.) In conclusion: I have no idea what I'm going to do about the novel section of the Hugos this year, except presumably leaving the Kevin J. Anderson off entirely. (I can't even say that for sure, having read all of three sentences of it, but signs point to yes.)

Date: 2015-06-26 03:05 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
[personal profile] calledtovienna told me that according to a friend who read it in the Chinese original, the translation process included rearranging chapters. I'm really curious about that, because I think it could quite possibly address my complaints about pacing and disjointedness of the narrative.

because global science is supposed to be halted, not just Chinese science

I don't find this a persuasive objection because of the sheer Golden Agedness of the storytelling... Just as in Asimov and Clarke the world's scientists tend to be written as purely Western in outlook (even in The Fountains of Paradise, for pete's sake!), all of the non-Chinese scientists in 3BP seem to be written in a very Chinese way.

And in any case, a more formal counterargument might be made that the point Liu is suggesting is that Western scientists are just as constrained by politics, albeit in a different fashion. I know that I've certainly been thinking about American science through that lens since I finished 3BP, which is the main thing that recently has had me rethinking my sense that 3BP wasn't Hugo-worthy: A month after I finished it, I'm still thinking about it!

Re: the emptiness of Wang Miao, my problem is that he's given the beginnings of emotional beats, which don't go anywhere. He angsts briefly over Yang Dong, and I wasn't looking forward to him having manpain over a fridged women he didn't even know, but starting that character note and then dissipating it without resolution was a whole other character problem. Don't get me wrong, it's much more appropriate for Yang Dong's death to be part of Ye Wenjie's story, as it is in the end of the novel, but it's strange that Liu gestures toward giving Wang Miao an emotional arc and then abandons those efforts, and it was unsatisfying.

As to the physics, they kind of reminded me of Stanislaw Lem in the in-depth, jargonish way it sold completely nonsensical physics. Does that make sense as a comparison? I was reluctant to mention the comparison out loud because I'm unsure if it's because I'm comparing two famous SF authors known in America only in translation purely because of that commonality and not because of any real commonality in style. If 3BP and Solaris were both English language works, I would immediately draw a parallel between the Solarians and the Trisolarians, but since 3BP was originally in Chinese I'm unsure if Cixin Liu was trying to make that comparison.

Profile

cahn: (Default)
cahn

August 2017

S M T W T F S
  12 345
678 9101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Most Popular Tags

Page Summary

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Aug. 21st, 2017 06:33 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios