Review: Three Body Problem

three-body-problemIn the past my exposure to Chinese culture has come mainly from sauce jars and movies, so it was with some interest that I approached Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem. It’s the first in his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy and was originally published in 2008, with this English translation published in 2014 by Tor Books.

The story is that of a researcher approached by a secret military group to discover why scientists have recently started committing suicide. His investigation has him playing a computer game that opens the way to other events.  I felt the book was saying that while Chinese society has solved many social problems, it still seems to have some issues with The Cultural Revolution. The novel deftly moves between the near future and the Revolution as the truth is slowly revealed.

Characters do seem to be a little shallow, but this may have been the result of the audio presentation by Luke Daniels. The hapless scientist is presented with a light voice, while the world weary police officer sounds almost New York tired – imagine Sargent Bullock from the 1990s Batman animated series.

This is not to say that the story is not engaging. It moves along at a nice pace, with a story of science fiction that does grab the attention. The translation is well done, and doesn’t feel clunky – you can feel the spirit of the words, not just the translations of the phrases. More importantly, the science in the book is explained.  I was not thrown immediately into the world of Quantum Theory, I was bought in through a three body collision, nanotechnology, and  microwave astronomy. So the ideas behind quantum theories and some of the other esoteric science did not come as a surprise that had to be understood beforehand. In this style of novel, it  can be easy for the science to be overwhelming, but it isn’t in this case here.

Given that this is an audio book of a translation, there are many places where this could be a dry, introductry novel with a lecturing tone. Instead, I found it to to be enjoyable, interesting and thought provoking. Hell, I wish that the next volume would get here already. For fans of aliens and laser guns science fiction, this is one to probably avoid. However, readers of Asimov, Reynolds or Baxter will find their reading time won’t be wasted.

Review: The Dark Between The Stars

The_Dark_Between_the_Stars__Saga_of_Shadows___Kevin_J__Anderson__9780765332998__Amazon_com__BooksAny fan of the modern space opera would have come across the name of Kevin J. Anderson. Having written novels for the expanded universe of Star Wars, and helping Brian Herbert flesh out the Dune saga, Anderson has developed his chops in the field. The novel The Dark Between the Stars shows that he has paid clear attention as to how to operate in this genre.

This novel is the first of the Shadows of the Seven Suns trilogy,which in turn is a sequel to the seven book cycle The Saga of the Seven suns, which I have not read. This first novel introduces characters, old and new, and handles back story without large info dumps. Showing us the humans, the gypsy clans called Roamers, the alien Ildrians and the tree worshipers on Thorac,  there are a lot of characters to get through. To make this easier, Anderson has each chapter dedicated to an individual character. When reading a chapter with the Ildrians, I did tend to wonder if his apostrophe key was faded from the constant use.

With this chapter structure, Anderson is able to move around the narrative without it getting bogged down. In fact, for an opening salvo in a trilogy it does start off at a fair pace. Although with an ancient enemy returning to the galaxy, shooting to an infidelity did tend to make me briefly wonder what it was all about. .

Once the foe is revealed, the remaining pieces are bought together very well. Characters are well developed, and Anderson is able to show us how much more important narrative is to character survival. Be warned, having a number of chapters named after you is not a sign that you will see the end of the book.

Overall, a well paced book, for fans of grand space opera, from a writer who has worked with some of the most respected franchises in the field.

Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

ancillary-sword-anne-leckie

When the first novel of a trilogy wins the Hugo and Nebula awards, one tends to expect big things in the follow up. It was with this assumption that I made my way to Ancillary Sword, the second of the Imperial Radch Trilogy from Ann Leckie. The first of the books, Ancillary Justice was a space opera that I found exciting, with the story unfolding from the point of view of an AI on a craft getting input from reanimated bodies, called Ancilliaries. It ended with a high point that promised so much more.

The version of Ancillary Sword that I “read” was actually the audio version, read by Adjoa Andoh. The presentation was capable enough without being obtrusive, but with enough emotion to be Breq, the main character in the novel. Breq is all that remains of the ship from the first novel, and the AI now has to find its way through the universe without all the accoutrements that a ship size AI can expect.

Knowing that a civil war will soon be occurring, Breq does not do what you would expect. Instead there is moral umbrage on local issues and side tracking from the major concerns of the trilogy.

Leckie has continued with the AI’s misunderstanding of gender, a device that is both enduring and a little limiting. With everyone a she, it can make it difficult to really get a handle on what is going on. Breq still maintains her ship ability to evesdrop on Ancilliaries, which allows for the single person narative to switch to scenes where the charater is not actually present. In the audio version this requires particularly close listening, as it is easy to forget where you are. My biggest problem is that I found it distracting, in that we would go from a single person’s experience of a scene, to a scene where our main character was not even available. It made me wonder why not being a ship was a tragedy when you still possess all the abilities you had before the ship was destroyed.

The action in this novel is a little slower, but this is not an action space opera. It is a ‘clean up the local issues, play local politics, throw military muscle around’ space opera, so don’t expect something that moves at a fast pace. When it does move, Leckie is able to move it along with a touch of the old Deus Ex Machina.

Overall Ancillary Sword isn’t a complete waste of reading time. The original premise of the first book is carried through, although the revelations at the end of the first are quickly ignored. Outside of those who have read the first in the series, I would recommend this to those who are looking for a new voice in science fiction. In this sophomore effort, Anne Leckie shows us that although she still has some things to learn, she will be an imagination to keep an eye out in the future.

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