The Three Body Problem took me forever to finish but I always enjoyed my time reading it. Because it’s hard science fiction, long and translated from Chinese, the book itself is dense. Every page takes time to get through and skimming will only hinder any understanding or enjoyment the book provides.
The first chapter starts in China during the sixties and I realized how little of China’s history I know. We follow cultural revolutions, scientific movements and political restrictions, most of which were new to me. I think I might have to pick up a history book next. The rest of the story is told in the modern day, as we follow scientist Wang Miao as he tries to understand visions that keep appearing as a countdown in his photographs.
The Three Body Problem takes its time getting to the main plot of the story. By that, I mean, it takes until the last fourth of the book to reveal what’s really happening. If the back of the cover didn’t tell me what this series was, I would have been fairly surprised by the change in direction.
For a long time, the book seems focused on these visions Wang Miao keeps seeing. Then, it’s more focused on this weird video game that shares its title with the book. The game, which doesn’t seem like something I would ever want to play, deals with players trying to solve an alien planet’s predicament of having three suns. See, you can’t really predict seasons, and most seasons are either freezing or scorching, so civilization can’t really grow. It’s a game that only a few brilliant players invest time into and there might be a bit of The Last Starfighter going on behind the scenes.
And that’s the book. Reading about Wang Miao’s gaming sessions, his visions and the scientific history of 1960s China. The mystery isn’t really handled like a mystery, the plot doesn’t really move along at a quick pace. By the time the reader and the characters know what’s really going on, there’s more behind us than ahead.
But, as I said at the beginning, I always enjoyed myself while reading the book. It’s dense, yes, but it’s never dry. I didn’t understand everything, especially near the end when the books got into particle physics. Michael Crichton always wrote in a way that made me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much helium in a balloon!” Liu Cixin writes in a way that makes me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much…wait, no. How many protons are in that much helium? What’s the quantum integrity of a common balloon? Wait, what exactly is particle physics? I dont…I don’t get it!”
And it’s still enjoyable! I don’t understand it all, but it’s not necessary to have a physicis degree to follow the plot. It’s also interesting to be reading this type of book written from a completely different perspective than I’m used to finding. Views on culture, science and extraterrestrial life never totally line up with what I’m used to, even if it’s just a different way of experience the same facts. It really is fascinating to see how different American science fiction can be from other countries, but also how strong the similarities can end up. Science is science in any language but it’s how we interact with it that create such different cultures. The Three Body Problem, which won Best Novel in the 2015 Hugo Awards, is a heavy read, but a fascinating one.
I did not like this book. I know I’m in the minority here. That’s fine. I hope, if you read it, you loved The Fifth Season. But, I did not love the book. I just wanted it to end.
I wanted to like this book, though! I was excited to read it. I finally finished the last book I had to read for work and book clubs and ect, and The Fifth Season was the first “just for me” book I’ve read in a while. Unfortunately, very early on, I knew I wasn’t enjoying it. But, since it’s a Hugo winner, I wanted to finish the whole thing and nothing is worse than not wanting to read the next eighty percent of a book.
I didn’t care about the three protagonists or about their connection to each other. I figured out how they were related very early on and I don’t mean that as a brag. I have to believe author N.K. Jemisin meant for the reader to know. I suppose, I most liked the child Damaya but her story ends before the others. Actually, I think the stories are told the way they are because doing so the normal way would have proven to be too dull and unfocused for even those that enjoyed this novel.
I didn’t like the world, either. I found it boring, despite how well it was thought out. Again, I’m in the minority here. Going to Goodreads, there’s nothing but five star reviews of this book, with people singing Jemisin’s praises. People did like the world here. They did like the characters. It makes me think I’m doing something wrong, actually. Like, maybe, I don’t know how to read words anymore?
A big issue, for me, was the lack of plot. I never felt like there was momentum to the story or any goal trying to be achieved. Too be fair, I don’t think Jemisin meant for this to be a plot heavy book. I think this book is character study and world tour. But, again, I didn’t care for either. Maybe, if there was a villain for me to invest in or plot to follow, I would have become more interested. It was not be.
While reading The Fifth Season, I kept thinking of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. Both Mistborn and The Fifth Season take pride in their world building, elemental magic and no nonsense characters. But, Mistborn had a plot and it’s characters were likable. There was a sense of purpose. The Fifth Season‘s purpose seems to be about being the most poetic fantasy book of it’s time. Unfortunately, I hate poetry.
I must sound like the worst type of reader in the world. But, I can’t lie. This book felt like a waste of my time and I don’t want to read the sequel. I was distressed to learn that I’m going to have to if I want to keep up with Hugo winners. There was a mercy back when Ancillary Justice‘s sequel didn’t win but now my hands are tied. I did like the second Mistborn book more than the first, so maybe there’s hope for me now. But, I won’t hold my breath. Jemisin’s style is too repetitive, too meandering for my taste. I just hope my next “just for me” book is a good time because between this and work, reading is starting to feel like a slog.
What could we possibly be talking about this episode? And how blatant is our need to kill two birds with one very big, craggy rock?
But in all seriousness, we talk about the Hugo Award nominations and the Pulitzer Prize winners. History hasn’t proven the Pulitzer Prize very good at picking books that stick. Looking back, it’s not just that I haven’t read those winners, I’ve never heard of them. And sure, I’m not a great yardstick for success, but how many have you heard of? Come on. How MANY?!
However, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead has been everywhere this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if if continues to stay in the public consciousness for a long time. Plus, whenever HBO turns it into miniseries.
The Hugos, on the other hand, has plenty of books I’ve heard of and read, but I’m also into science fiction. But I have to image some of you have heard the phrase Starship Troopers before, even if you haven’t read it. You should. It’s excellent.
Though, I never recognize the nominations for the Hugo Awards of that year. And is all that controversy over yet?
See you next week, podcats!
The latest episode of the podcast is up. It’s fan-frickin’-tastic. We talk about the most popular and award winning books of the 1980s. It’s a fun romp through time.
What I learned is that Stephen King could do no wrong in the public’s eye back then, that I’ve read a decent amount of Hugo Winners and that, once again, the Newbery award picked a lot of kids books no one reads today.
Also, if you’ve read Lincoln in the Bardo, let us know what you think!
See you next week, podcats!
Sometimes I forget that this is my blog and I can do more than write about other things like comics and movies. Even though, when writing about my own life, comics and movies come in to play.
First off, the wife and I adopted a dog. His name is Scooter, he’s a Corgi/Terrier mix and five years old. We’ve had him for about a month and he’s great. Or at least, I think so. He doesn’t like when strangers charge at him, even if they want to share affection, but you know what? I don’t like when strangers do that to me, so I understand the pup. I’ve got him leash trained, thanks to the Dog Whisperer and he’s the reason I walk two hours a day. On an unrelated note, my foot feels broken.
We also bought a second guinea pig. Her name is Mango and she’s just a tiny ball of fluff compared to our first pig, Penelope. At first, it didn’t sound like the two were getting along, with Penelope hogging the pigloo and evil-cavy purring whenever Mango came near. But now, they’re fine and Mango seems to be coming out of her shell. I think I’ve learned a lot from these guinea pigs and its that owning guinea pigs is a lot of give and not a lot of take. Go figure.
We’re making our way through the best picture nominations three months too late. So far, I haven’t seen anything to beat 12 Years a Slave and I can’t figure out how American Hustle made the billing but not All is Lost. Good job, Oscars. actually, maybe I shouldn’t say that even in sarcasm because you might think I’m being serious. Because you’re dumb. Like, ‘don’t know the order of the planets’ dumb.
Speaking of awards, I signed up to vote for this year’s Hugo Awards. I’ll talk more about this in a separate post, but the short point is that I get the packet with all the nominated works (ALL THE WHEEL OF TIME) and get to play an active part in Science Fiction’s future. I’m excited.
Now, transitioning to books, I finished writing mine. This is also something that needs its own post. After MY ENTIRE LIFE of wanting to write a full book, I finished my first novel. The last story I ever wrote to completion was fifty-two notebook pages back in eighth grade. Today, the last thing I wrote is a seventy-plus thousand word novel. It may have taken me way too long, but I’ve done it and it feels pretty good.
Speaking of…well, I just want to talk about my new laptop. My old one, the machine I was given my first year of Houghton College, finally said, “No more”. Luckily, like a wild animal, I had feelings of it’s coming death and backed it all up. From there, I went out and got myself a new laptop. It’s an HP, touch screen and more powerful than the custom job I build in ’05. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was why the lesser machines were more expensive at the store. It turns out people will pay more for a thinner computer with less power and space than they will for a slightly bigger one. I got the bigger one and save big bucks on a laptop that can actually do things well.
I think that’s it, for now. I need to write up a summer movie preview and talk about the X-Men soon. I’ll try to do that tomorrow.