Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem has gotten a lot of hype for being the best-selling Chinese SF novel of all time. Moreover, the translation recentlLiu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem has gotten a lot of hype for being the best-selling Chinese SF novel of all time. Moreover, the translation recently released by Tor is by Ken Liu, an author whose work as both a writer and translator I have much admired. Those two facts put this title at the top of my "To Read" list.
The Three-Body Problem qualifies as hard SF, seamlessly blending actual science with imaginary elements. Readers who like "soft sci-fi" that borders on fantasy might find some details in the book a bit confusing if they don't read current popular science books or lack a basic understanding of physics and astronomy. If you like hard SF, on the other hand, you will eat this book up.
Liu builds on recent technological and theoretical advancements to describe a near future which comes into contact for the first time with an extraterrestrial society.
He weaves a very clever and creative picture of this distant planet, and the earth he show very much reflects or current culture.
I saw a couple reviewers compare this book to Dune, but I think it's more like a combination of Asimov's Nightfall and Sagan's Contact, with a bit of the paranoia from 1984 or The Crying of Lot 49 mixed in, particularly at the beginning. (I wished the very freaky sensation of reading those early scenes had continued to the end of the book. More on that later.)
Liu Cixin writes in the Author's Postscript that he's interested mostly in telling an entertaining story, but does not shirk from engaging with "big ideas."
The big ideas in this novel don't take it over, but do really add to the weight of it. The Three-Body Problem addresses: the ongoing effects of the Cultural Revolution on Chinese society, tyrannical governments in general, human responsibility for environmental disaster and warfare, and what it takes to make a moral decision when both sides of the equation equal grievous harm to at least some players. All these questions are dealt with in a sensitive way that I really had to admire.
This book, however, contains a lot of problems for American readers, particularly in the second half. Ken Liu, in his Translator's Postscript, points out that Chinese is structurally very different from the English language, and that Chinese literary conventions often diverge strongly from those in English-language books. Most of the issues I had with The Three-Body Problem stem from those dual challenges he faced, I think. Thus, they are not reflective of the quality of the book itself, but the way English-speaking readers will process it.
For example, the book contains a few disorienting shifts between the third-person limited and the third-person omniscient, and a lot of passages that seem very "talky" because in those places Liu Cixin tells the story instead of showing it.
Also, we end up seeing a lot at the end from the perspective of the aliens and also of the human antagonists...I kinda wish we hadn't. I felt the material was jarring and could have been woven into the story by showing us the moment when the main character learns of this information and only showing us precisely what he learns. Also, it ruined some of the suspense to see what's "actually" going on.
That main character - Wang Miao - also lacked character development. I wanted to see more of his interactions with his wife and child. I found his immediate gravitation towards a video game - when he professes a lack of interest in such games - a bit unconvincing, as was his quick choice to side with the government. More characterization would have better developed the motive behind Wang's decision, I think.
Liu Cixin managed some of the supporting characters more deftly, expecially Da Shi, the rogue cop whose outside-the-box approach rubs people the wrong way until it proves effective.
A couple of points for sensitive readers: Most SF books don't talk about G-d at all, unless to mock Him or say He doesn't exist. This book shows characters talking about G-d in many different, intelligent and realistic ways. His existence is left open-ended. (I don't know if this is true of the two sequels.) This book also contains a few bits of bad language, including about 3 F bombs, but it's not over-the-top. We're not talking every page, or even every character, using foul language.
Overall, I found The Three-Body Problem a really fun and refreshing read, with a lot of provocative ideas to stimulate the brains of readers. Unlike many books with impressive reviews, it lived up to the hype. I'm looking forward to reading the other books in the trilogy....more
This book combines a plethora of eye-opening information about mental health with many affecting (both hilarious and profoundly saddening) anecdotes..This book combines a plethora of eye-opening information about mental health with many affecting (both hilarious and profoundly saddening) anecdotes...But it was badly in need of more structured editing. The very stream-of-consciousness style did not work for me, because of the combination of factual reporting with autobiographical narrative. However, what was good was SO good, it merited four stars for me....more
While it's not fine literature, this book really gets into the experience of both being adopted and being an identical twin. It contained some of theWhile it's not fine literature, this book really gets into the experience of both being adopted and being an identical twin. It contained some of the most realistic explanation of the latter that I've read (and I'm an identical twin, so this is an insider's opinion). Highly recommended for anyone interested in either state. Makes a quick, easy read....more
Picked this up on impulse after hearing raves of Rothfuss's work. Despite the cautions on the first couple pages that the book won't make sense to reaPicked this up on impulse after hearing raves of Rothfuss's work. Despite the cautions on the first couple pages that the book won't make sense to readers who have not read The Name of the Wind, I fell in love with Rothfuss's ability to capture Auri's idiosyncratic voice and her very different way of viewing common objects. The lyrical writing does indeed (as other commenters mention) contain little plot, but yet the sense of growing expectation, longing, and emotion drew me on. A lovely little gem....more
Really a 4.5 star review. If the characterization were a mite deeper, and the book had a bit more substance to it, it would have made it to 5.
In TheReally a 4.5 star review. If the characterization were a mite deeper, and the book had a bit more substance to it, it would have made it to 5.
In The Screaming Staircase, a team of tweens fight off ghosts and ghouls -- and solve a mystery -- in an alternate universe in which most of the British Isles have become haunted and only children and teens can spot and eliminate the threat.
I had previously enjoyed the first two volumes of Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy, but the writing here is much, much better. I was captivated from the first page. The book features a strong female narrator, Lucy Carlyle. who won me over right away, and some great supporting characters, as well (I grew quite fond of George). World creation is persuasive and never strained. The story moves quickly and is action-packed, although I solved the mystery element at least fifty pages before the end. (That could be because I'm a writer, or because I'm an adult.) Nonetheless, I found this book quite enjoyable.
The books contain no foul language. The lead characters -- Lucy and two slightly older boys -- have only a platonic relationship. Parts of the book are quite scary, however, and there's a lot of supernatural violence, so I can't recommend the book for readers below age 12 or maybe 13. The book contains one allusion to attacks on women that is delicately phrased and will probably go over the heads of the youngest readers in this age range. And if your teen is the type who gets nightmares, I'd tell them to read it during the day!...more
I'd read a lovely interview with the author a while back, and after hearing many people rave about this book, I thought I'd check it out.
Shapiro's wriI'd read a lovely interview with the author a while back, and after hearing many people rave about this book, I thought I'd check it out.
Shapiro's writing style is lovely: lyrical, yet clear. However, as the book progressed, I found myself disagreeing with her more and more. I found much of her advice based on individual tastes and preferences, yet presented as global. There were many things I could agree with, and even bits I jotted down in my notebook because I hadn't read them before and think they might be useful.
I didn't feel like the book was a waste of time. However, I found myself hoping that her readers balanced out Shapiro's perspectives with those of other writers, like Orson Scott Card, Robert McKee, and Natalie Goldberg.
I also did not care for so many negative comments about her childhood and judgments of her parents's behavior. I'm not into confessional books of that nature -- that's why I haven't read Shapiro's work despite the accolades.
Writer-readers who will enjoy this book: "Pantsers" who like to write w/o too much advance planning/outlines/graphic organizers/etc. Writers who favor confessional memoir and literary fiction that is strong on feelings and weak on plot. Fans of Dani Shapiro.
The first half is a 5, the second half is a 3. The beautiful, lyrical language of the beginning won me over instantly, but as the book developed, theThe first half is a 5, the second half is a 3. The beautiful, lyrical language of the beginning won me over instantly, but as the book developed, the story became more meandering, and the "lessons" of the fable became a bit much. I'd have appreciated a bit more attention to the plot and more subtlety both in the lessons and the characterizations....more
I'm not going to attach any particular number of stars to this book, because I'm totally aware that my feelings about this book have everything to doI'm not going to attach any particular number of stars to this book, because I'm totally aware that my feelings about this book have everything to do with taste and little to do with any intrinsic quality/lack thereof in this book.
I decided to check out The Magician's Assistant because I adored State of Wonder and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.
To understand why I didn't like this book, you have to understand a littel about my preferences in books: 1) I prefer books with a strong, problem-oriented plot, 2) I like characters who have strong personalities, with consistent and believable psychology, 3) I like main characters to learn something that makes them better people by the end of the book, 4) I don't mind depressing books if they lean towards dark humor rather than simple morose-ness, 5) I like romance that is about real love, not infatuation (meaning it is not based on superficial appearances or what the person wants their beloved to be, but instead is based on deep, mutual appreciation, respect, acceptance, and shared goals).
This book is pretty much the opposite of my tastes. While I do enjoy some literary fiction, I am not won over solely by perfect diction, amazing description (there is some fabulous insider description of L.A.), or introspection just for introspection's sake. I had a real problem with the meandering nature of the narrative, especially when it follows primarily a wishy-washy main character, who would rather be some kind of tragic heroine who lusts after unattainable, beautiful people than a woman with a real life and real love in it. Also, there were a lot of moments what I think were supposed to be "revelations," but not one of them were actually surprising, at least not to me.
I did, however, like the little magically-real flashbacks with Phan, the aforementioned details about L.A., and the precise and artistic use of language that Patchett excels at.
I didn't enjoy Wurthering Heights, On the Road, Jude the Obscure, and many other books that people describe as classics, and felt lukewarm after reading Anna Karenina. Like I said, my lack of appreciation for this book is entirely about taste. So, I'd recommend you decide what kind of tastes you have, and then you can decide if this book is for you or not....more
Definitely one of the best writing books out there. Stein gives thorough explanations of concrete strategies throughout the book, starting with fictioDefinitely one of the best writing books out there. Stein gives thorough explanations of concrete strategies throughout the book, starting with fiction, and then demonstrating fiction techniques that can liven up literary non-fiction. I also liked that while accessible to new writers, there was enough meat here to keep my interest as a more intermediate level writer....more
Climbing Jacob's Ladder combines memoir and how-to guide in an unusual way. This outstanding book details Morinis's pursuit of self-awareness and -impClimbing Jacob's Ladder combines memoir and how-to guide in an unusual way. This outstanding book details Morinis's pursuit of self-awareness and -improvement through the tools of Mussar, an ancient Jewish strategy for character refinement. Unique among Mussar books, this relatively slim volume assumes little prior knowledge of Judaism, and is usable for non-Jews, secular Jews, and even those Orthodox Jews who are not already thoroughly immersed in the world of Mussar. Among self-awareness literature, Climbing Jacob's Ladder stands out because it is practical, not touchy-feely or new-agey. I also very much appreciated that Jews and non-Jews of all stripes are portrayed with insight, a lack of judgement, and great sensitivity. For those new to Jewish thought and philosophy, this is a must-read....more
When I finished this book, I howled in horror that the sequel is not out yet. (I don't even think it's written yet!) It has been a LONG time since I hWhen I finished this book, I howled in horror that the sequel is not out yet. (I don't even think it's written yet!) It has been a LONG time since I have felt that way about a book.
After the excellence of The Way of Kings, I fully expected disappointment. The second novel of a series has a horrible habit of being the worst one of the batch.
If anything, Words of Radiance is even better than The Way of Kings. Characters are really fleshed out, and the plot has very high stakes. I found myself surprised over and over again (which rarely happens to me as a reader). On the other hand, I figured other things out before the characters did, so I found myself on the edge of my seat due to the suspense relating to how/when they'd figure things out. When would the characters finally intersect? When would they stop working at cross purposes? When would the characters' true natures be revealed? And would the Voidbringers destroy Alethkar before the Knights Radiant were revealed? So many mysteries on both small and epic scales kept my interest.
Just as I mentioned in my review of The Way of Kings, this book may weigh in at 1000 pages, but the writing is unbelievably tight, with sophisticated interweaving of plots and characters. The characters really come alive, and I cheered on my favorites and booed the baddies. Truthfully, I found it hard to do anything other than read this book for a week, which is how long it took to complete it. I put aside anything that was not of immediate necessity. While I read a lot, I'm not usually that intense about it.
And now, I have to wait for the next volume in the Stormlight Archive.