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Ball Lightning

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A new standalone military SF adventure from the bestselling and award-winning author of The Three-Body Problem.

When Chen’s parents are incinerated before his eyes by a blast of ball lightning, he devotes his life to cracking the secret of mysterious natural phenomena. His search takes him to stormy mountaintops, an experimental military weapons lab, and an old Soviet science station. The more he learns, the more he comes to realize that ball lightning is just the tip of an entirely new frontier in particle physics. Although Chen’s quest provides a purpose for his lonely life, his reasons for chasing his elusive quarry come into conflict with soldiers and scientists who have motives of their own: a beautiful army major with an obsession with dangerous weaponry, and a physicist who has no place for ethical considerations in his single-minded pursuit of knowledge.

Ball Lightning, by award-winning Chinese science fiction author Cixin Liu, is a fast-paced story of what happens when the beauty of scientific inquiry runs up against a push to harness new discoveries with no consideration of their possible consequences.

The original Chinese version was published in 2004. In 2018 the English version, translated by Joel Martinsen, was published in the US by Tor Books.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2004

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About the author

Liu Cixin

196 books11k followers
Science Fiction fan and writer.

Liu Cixin also appears as Cixin Liu

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5 stars
2,535 (23%)
4 stars
4,171 (39%)
3 stars
3,053 (28%)
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731 (6%)
1 star
143 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,190 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
675 reviews43k followers
February 18, 2022
3.5/5 stars

Cixin Liu greatly examined the effects of obsession, science, and weaponry in Ball Lightning.

I’m a fan of Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth Past trilogy. The second book in that series, The Dark Forest remains in my personal top three sci-fi novels of all time and will most likely stay there for a very long time. Plus, the fact that Ball Lightning is translated by Joel Martinsen, the same translator of The Dark Forest, made me eager to read this one.

Picture: Ball Lightning Chinese cover

“The key to a wonderful life is a fascination with something.”

But then what happened when that fascination turns into an obsession? The story of the book starts when Chen’s parents are incinerated by a blast of ball lightning right before his eyes. After this event, Chen immediately decided to devote his entire life to unravel the secret behind the occurrence of the ball lightning. Science, physics, and the theme of obsession with something is the core of the story in the novel. Cixin Liu did a great job on the story, themes exploration, and science aspect of the book. Reading Liu’s books, even though it’s hard sci-fi and I didn’t understand some parts, always felt thought-provoking and quite easy to follow. Cixin Liu isn’t merciless like Hannu Rajaniemi. In my opinion, the lack of exposition in Rajaniemi’s Jean le Flambeur series was brutal, ten times worse than Malazan Book of the Fallen; this could totally be because I’m better versed in reading fantasy than sci-fi though. However, Liu prepared some time to explain the scientific parts he’s talking about in detail so I didn’t feel completely lost. In order words, Cixin Liu backed all his theories with exposure and that’s something I highly appreciate in the hard sci-fi genre.

“That’s what scientific research is. Every step you’ve taken, no matter how absurd, is a necessary one.”

The downsides to this book to me are the same as the flaws I found in The Three-Body Problem: the characterizations were completely neglected. Even though the story was mostly told in first person narration, the characterizations were still flat. This isn’t like Dark Forest or Death’s End where Cixin Liu utilized a more evident character-driven narration; science and physics are top priorities here. There was only one memorable character inside this book and that was only because I’ve read the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. Not only the characterizations were lacking, the storytelling direction was also quite damaging to the pacing of the book. There were two occasions in the book where the character was telling his/her story; this was done in a lecture form of narrative. I’m talking about ONE dialogue that goes on for almost an entire chapter without a single break or attention to the environment/characters surrounding the storyteller. It was extremely boring and tedious; to me, it totally felt like being forced to attend a lesson where the teacher talked about his/her life in full detail but we, as the student had to remain in absolute silence both verbally and physically.

Remember, this book serves as a prequel and was written before The Three-Body Problem got published. Cixin Liu has come a long way as an author since this piece of work and I’m still looking forward to reading his newest book. If you have a great understanding of physics and you’re okay with reading a sci-fi novel that put science discussions as the main driving force of the story—at the same time neglecting its characterizations—Ball Lightning will most likely be a hit for you.

You can order the book HERE!

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,976 followers
August 30, 2018
When I got this book, I freaked out. I mean, let me put it this way: Cixin's imagination is heads and shoulders above most of the crap out there. Maybe even a large portion of a torso. :) So the moment I got it, I started dancing around and played the fool because anyone who puts so many AWESOME ideas on the page is going to make me do the happy-jig.

Fast-forward half a second.

I'm reading this. I dropped all my other projects like hot potatoes and felt very little guilt about it.

The establishing text is very down-to-earth despite the fantastic beginning of this kid's parents being turned to ash a-la a certain Avengers movie. Cue Deep Fascination Time. More establishing character moments in school, studies, post-work, and still he's devoted his life to the one phenomenon we STILL don't understand well... Ball Lightning.

Since this is near-future and everything is very recognizable as our reality, it really comes as a shock when, after certain military projects finally take off and other discoveries come to light, the world we knew and understood took a HUGE turn to the strange.

Not magical strange. Our understanding of reality strange.

And once we get to that slow boiling point, we're fully ready to eat. The novel TAKES OFF.

I don't want to spoil things, but OMG I'm still reeling from all the freaky AWESOME stuff that goes on here. Remember Three-Body Problem's AI housed in a multidimensional TINY matrix? Remember Death's End crazy bubble universes created to spec? Well, how about electrons in the macro universe hitting an excited state every once in a while? Or how about Schrodinger's observer effect played LARGE?

OMG all the possibilities and explorations, not least in the military-apps. A small boat versus a flotilla of Cruisers? Check. A macro-nuclear explosion precise enough to burn the hair from every living thing on the Earth? Check.

For the pure idea realm, I give this book ten stars and a Hugo nomination for next year. Easy.

I should mention this is a new translation of a book published in the mid-oughts. In point of fact, it came out before Three-Body Problem. So putting that all together with all those ideas running around in his head, I think this MIGHT be a more standard and accessible novel than TBP while running with one aspect of the coolness that made the other book so wild.

Who knows?

All I really know is that I'm going to EAGERLY await every single novel finally translated into English for my devouring pleasure. :)
Profile Image for Lena.
184 reviews75 followers
July 9, 2022
Typical Liu Cixin novel: a bold fantasy based on the unconventional scientific theories with a bunch of mentally unstable characters.
Profile Image for kartik narayanan.
735 reviews205 followers
October 3, 2018
Ball Lightning is great hard sci-fi but is boring AF.

I have been a huge fan of Cixin Liu's writing. His 'Remembrance of Earth's Past' series is one of the best science fiction series ever. It combines science with an engrossing storyline; the likes of which I have not read in a long time. So, I had high expectations for Ball Lightning .

Unfortunately, Ball Lightning reads like a science text book for the most part and is not even an interesting one (my school texts were far more interesting). It is dull and dreary. Cixin Liu's commits the cardinal sin of making the story take second precedence to the science; whatever plot there is meanders all over the place.

In retrospect, one of the reasons why the book fails in being interesting is the lack of a proper antagonist. This is more a book about discovery and philosophy than anything else. Some authors can make this work (duh, most non-fiction) but Cixin Liu is not able to do so here. And sadly, the one thing that I really liked about Ball Lightning, which is Cixin Liu's unbelievable imagination, is not enough to carry it. This style of writing might be enough for some readers but not for me.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,186 followers
October 30, 2019
I absolutely loved this author's The Three-Body Problem trilogy and was hoping for more of the same with this, one of his earlier books.  As in The Three Body Problem, Liu Cixin explores mind-blowing physics ideas.  The imagination of this man is stunning!  And yet.....

I had a difficult time getting involved in this story.  The characters felt flat and I had a hard time caring about any of them.  There were times I was simply blown away and enthralled, utterly captivated, but those were few and far between.  The theories Liu Cixin explores and builds on are awesome, but the story just wasn't told in a way that kept my interest.  I couldn't wait for the book to be over and would have DNF'ed it had I not loved his other books so much.  I give it 3 stars solely for the imaginative ideas, not the story-telling.  It's possible the fault lies with the translation, or with myself.  Or it could be that this book just wasn't very good.

我還能堅持一會 Tired GIF - 我還能堅持一會 Tired Sleepy GIFs

As one of the characters says, “The key to a wonderful life is a fascination with something.” The same could be said for books, but unfortunately I didn't find this book sufficiently fascinating.
Profile Image for Claudia.
954 reviews535 followers
August 18, 2018
Three Body is my favorite SF series of all times. It surpasses everything I ever read. The protons theory, the two and four dimensions universes, the scope, the droplet, the Singer, in a word The Imagination blew my mind. I expected nothing less from this one, but it did not quite raise to the expectations.

Chen, as a fourteen-year-old boy, watched his parents turn to ashes from a ball lightning. From that moment on, he dedicated his life in understanding it. Later on, in order to pursue his lifetime obsession, he gets coopted in some military experiments, each striving for something else out of them. The story is just the base on which Liu Cixin builds his amazing ideas.

Ball-lightning is a natural phenomenon, not quite understood to this very day. What the author does here is to provide the most unlikely and mind-boggling explanation for its nature. Extrapolating on this, he reaches into macro quantum physics and beyond, providing some awestruck moments. The current take on Schrodinger’s paradox gave me the creeps.

Most readers complain about the flat characters. If you really pay attention to the story, you realize that characters are just secondary, a mean to advance the story and give it a plot of some sort. The main character is science fiction, not necessarily in genre, but in setup construction.

If Three Body series did not appeal to everyone, this one most likely will not even more. Almost half of it consists in discussions regarding (speculations on) theoretical physics but all these extrapolations are what makes the story astonishing. . I guess that’s the first reason for my disenchantment: I missed the immensity of the universe present in Three Body. The second is that the quantum universe was not developed more. I remained with a lot of questions I ruminate upon now, a thing which I like to do, but I still have that feeling of unfulfillment.

It could be regarded as a prequel to above mentioned series, mostly due to the hint in the end and a common character but nothing else.

Be warned that it starts very slowly; things get interesting after 50% but from there on there are a lot of awe moments. Unfortunately, the wrap up was not quite I expected. Nevertheless, Liu Cixin remains one of my favorite authors and among the very few today to bring something new to SF.
Profile Image for Lashaan Balasingam.
1,361 reviews4,621 followers
August 15, 2018
You can find my review on my blog by clicking here.

Have you ever been so deeply fascinated by something that it hence led you to dedicate all your life into understanding the very core of that object of interest? While finding your purpose in life can lead a person to fully actualize themselves in the long run, this inevitable tunnel vision can also turn toxic one’s self and their immediate social circle. It’s being able to distance yourself from it whenever possible that you put yourself in a position to remain sane, and sanity is sometimes the most important thing a person needs in order to see life clearly. But when your goals have a personal edge to them, they might turn into something far more dangerous and impossible to contain as frustrations accumulate over the years. That’s when you start looking for answers no matter the costs and find yourself in sticky situations.

Ball Lightning is the story of Chen and his mad desire to discover the secret behind the thunderous phenomenon known as ball lightning. Following a tragic experience at a very young age revolving around this mysterious force, he dedicates his entire life into understanding it and putting a logic behind its occurrences. His researches slowly lead him to understand that ball lightning is only the beginning of a new breakthrough in particle physics. Its when he crosses paths with several intriguing figures, a female soldier and a physicist, that he encounters the one thing he has always been looking for: progress. However, its the motives behind the hunt for answers of these fellow comrades that sparks thorough discussions that not only complicates Chen’s desire to solve this mystery, but also questions the very existence of this ball lightning and their ability to ever understand it.

You’ll have to be very careful if you decide to pick up this book. Cixin Liu’s fame often arises from his classic Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, especially his The Three-Body Problem. While Ball Lightning is his latest book, it was originally published in 2004 and was only now translated by Joel Martinsen. What Cixin Liu does wonderfully is take a real scientific phenomenon and bring us on a journey filled with discoveries. If you’ve ever had a fascination for these ball lightning phenomenons, I am absolutely certain this latest stand-alone novel will give you everything you ever wanted in regards to knowledge. Ball Lightning is in fact a pure hard science story that basically simulates a thesis; trust me when I say that you’ll feel like you were doing your thesis on this phenomenon. And that’s not even a joke. Cixin Liu doesn’t hesitate in incorporating dilemmas that researchers are far too conscious about, from lack of funding to lack of answers. I’m telling you, I felt like I was re-doing my own thesis while I was reading this.

While Cixin Liu has a refined skill at making science much more digestible for anyone to pick up and enjoy, this novel heavily lacked in character development and expressive prose. For the former, if I were asked about all the characters in this books, I’d say that there’s very little distinguishing one from the other besides their own character’s mold (i.e. their jobs and motives). For the latter, I have a hard time pointing fingers at the causes for this, but I can’t ignore the fact that the writing style might have lost its touch through translation, and that’s something I’ll probably never know and confirm. There are moments where the style would venture in metaphors and similes, and actually leave a nice impression on you, but there are other moments where it simply came out awkward and abusive. I do however believe that Cixin Liu is a man of ideas, rather than a man of characters. What he brings to the table in Ball Lightning really blows open a whole universe to explore and engage in, unbeknownst to the reader.

Ball Lightning is a fascinating adventure that brings Cixin Liu to explore in depth the highs and lows of research, but also the ever-expanding and never-transparent world of science.

Thank you to Raincoast Books and Tor Books for sending me a copy for review!

Yours truly,

Lashaan | Blogger and Book Reviewer
Official blog: https://bookidote.com/
Profile Image for Howard.
1,182 reviews73 followers
December 2, 2021
4.5 Stars for Ball Lighting (audiobook) by Cixin Liu translated by Joel Martinsen read by Feodor Chin.

This is a interesting story set in modern day China. The main character is obsessed with ball lightning and gets the opportunity to study it and develop technology around it. I think the best part of the book is at the end where the author tells about his inspiration for the story and explains how this story is actually a prequel to the Three Body Problem. This story really adds a lot to the novel. I kind of wish I’d listened to that part first.
Profile Image for Efka.
454 reviews253 followers
August 7, 2019
Ball lightning is a very, very hard sci-fi book. I guess you know that already though, if you read anything by Liu Cixin, but for those, who haven't - it's a fair warning. Ball lightning is a sci-fi so hard, that even a front runner, a flagman of recent times of this genre - A. Weir's "The Martian" - seems quite a simple science fiction and not a particularly hard one.

That said, as "Ball lightning" also explores lots and lots of quantum physics and quantum effects, (and we all sci-fi fans know, that all those thingies and stuff that have word "quantum" in front of them are never easy, simple, ordinary or regular) expect quite a dash of mysticism in this book, too.

Liu Cixin writes in a very light and smooth style, though, so you shouldn't be afraid of that "hard" sci-fi. The only major minus I can think is that this book is very, sort of, plain. There's not much drama, conflict, action sequences in it. IT goes like a flatline from the first page till the last, with just minor, occasional blips that are more setting-based, than plot or character-based.

Nevertheless, I really liked this book. And though it got a bit boring at times (flatline, as I've said), after carefully considering this book, I believe that 3* wouldn't be fair. hence, 4* rating and I'm quite sure that it's not the last book of Liu Cixin that I've read. You can say what you want, but this guy has both the fantasy and the smarts that are almost unparalleled in science fiction.

Finally, though I'm not that kind of a reviewer who indulges in posting lots of quotes, the afterword of this book caught my eye. I think that it is proper to quote it, especially as it will shed some light on what kind of book "Ball Lightning" is:

In fact, ball lightning is not an especially rare phenomenon, and the progress of research in recent years suggests that its mystery is close to being solved. When that day comes, one thing is certain: the scientific explanation for ball lightning will be nothing like what’s described in this book. Science fiction writers may consider many angles on a subject, but they always choose to write about the least likely. Of the myriad possible predictions of the behavior of cosmic civilization, the Three-Body series selected the darkest, most disastrous one. So too with this novel, which describes what may be the most outlandish of possibilities, but also the most interesting and romantic. It is purely a creation of the imagination: curved space filled with lightning energy, an incorporeal bubble, an electron the size of a soccer ball. The world of the novel is the gray world of reality—the familiar gray sky and clouds, gray landscape and sea, gray people and life—but within that gray, mundane world something small and surreal drifts by unnoticed, like a speck of dust tumbling out of a dream, suggesting the vast mysteries of the cosmos, the possibility of a world entirely unlike our own.

Now, go read it. I mean it.
Profile Image for Javir11.
529 reviews162 followers
August 26, 2019

Si has leído la Trilogía de los tres cuerpos, debes de saber que está historia cumple los mismos estándares, con la diferencia de que los defectos son los mismos que en la trilogía, pero las virtudes no alcanzan las cotas de excelencia que vimos en la trilogía.

Al final es una versión recortada de lo que Cixin Liu puede ofrecernos, y aunque en ciertos momentos es resultona e interesante, las comparaciones son odiosas y se queda corta en casi todo. Aún así, es una lectura ligera y si te gusta el estilo de Liu, deberías de darle una oportunidad, ya que estoy convencido de que tendrá momentos de los que disfrutarás.

Profile Image for Iloveplacebo.
384 reviews176 followers
January 25, 2022
No me ha terminado de convencer.
Y es que la novela, aún estando bien escrita, teniendo una trama interesante, y presentándonos unos personajes grises (en su mayoría), no termina de enganchar. Y no sabría decir porqué.
Empieza bien, pero poco a poco va decayendo, y al final no tenía la intriga del principio por saber como terminaría todo.

Creo que he tenido la sensación de que la novela no estaba completa, como que le faltaba un poco de desarrollo.

Tampoco me ha gustado que la parte científica fuese tan técnica.

No es una mala novela, pero no ha sido muy de mi gusto. Aún así se lleva 3 estrellas, que no está nada mal.
Profile Image for Aletheia.
276 reviews110 followers
February 27, 2022
Este no es el Cixin Liu que conocemos y queremos. Tiene muy buenas ideas pero para llegar a ellas hay que tragarse un planteamiento muy largo, pencar con unos compañeros de viaje monocromáticos y leer capítulos de pura paja para llegar a un final más bien soso.

2.5 y gracias.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,308 reviews20 followers
April 30, 2020
Man, it's hard to rate this one. The trouble with reading works in translation is that you have no way of knowing how many of the book's faults are inherent in the work and how many of them are due to something getting lost in translation.

Using this book as a specific example, the dialogue is painfully stilted, the pacing is mind-numbingly slow and the characters are (mostly) flat and uninteresting. If this book had been written in English, I'd be docking stars left, right and centre for this sort of thing... BUT, in this case, I suspect (and it is only a suspicion I can't confirm) it might be the fault of the translation.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not blaming the translator. Some things just don't translate well across different cultures. Some words and phrases either have no exact equivalent or the closest equivalent sounds ridiculous when the original phrase, in its original language, sounds perfectly poetic.

Hence my difficulty in rating/reviewing this book. All I can do is give the author the benefit of the doubt in the knowledge that I may be giving them more credit than they actually deserve.

As to what I liked about the book, that's far more clear cut. I really liked the ideas, I loved the often wryly amusing liberties the author took with quantum theory (it would be tempting to think the author doesn't actually fully understand the science but the afterword makes it clear he was deliberately taking the piss slightly for dramatic effect) and I really, really liked the ending.

Because of this, I'm going to give this one a tentative 3 stars and dive straight into The Three-Body Problem, which, by all accounts, including the author's, is much better than this one.
Profile Image for Scott  Hitchcock.
779 reviews223 followers
September 10, 2018

Interesting premise and as always the author opens up new worlds to those of us without a working understanding of advance theoretical physics. I didn't love this like I did the Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy but it was still very thought provoking. This also serves as a prequel of sorts with some character overlap and the first signs that somebody is watching us.
Profile Image for Francisco M. Juárez.
232 reviews47 followers
February 1, 2022
4.5 estrellas, pero de las buenas... que no todas las estrellas son iguales. ; )

Que gozada leer auténtica ciencia ficción!!! (De esa que cada vez más escasea).

Cixin Liu tiene una imaginación portentosa. Es un digno heredero de grandes maestros de la ciencia ficción como Arthur C. Clarke e Isaac Asimov.

Aquí seguimos el camino de una vida y de una obsesión, la del Dr. Chen, desde que una esfera luminosa (Fenómeno asombroso del cual realmente no sabía nada) entró en su casa una noche de tormenta y convirtió a sus padres en dos montones de ceniza blanca.

Como acostumbra en sus historias, aquí Cixin Liu elabora una especulación científica de grandes proporciones y que cada vez alcanza cotas más apoteósicas, con un final de intenso sentido de la maravilla. Metiéndose de lleno y sin ningún temor en el corazón de la física de partículas y de las teorías de frontera más etéreas.

<< Posible mini SPOILER: Mención honorífica para esa especulación de fenómenos cuánticos macroscópicos y del estado cuántico de objetos y seres conscientes. >>

A la brevedad espero comenzar a leer la antología La Tierra errante.

Profile Image for Karmologyclinic.
248 reviews32 followers
September 14, 2018
I can't even imagine the situation inside Liu Cixin's head. He has a "what if" idea and then explosion after explosion happens. He also has an uncanny ability to create tension not from characters or plot, but from the realm of ideas. Speaking of characters, if you read scifi for character development, then he might not be the best writer for you. You should be able to accept that he comes from a literary tradition that is not western, somewhere where character development is not as important, heroes are usually a collection of symbols. The way he unravels his stories reminds me of how old eastern (and western) sagas were narrated. Finally you should be open minded enough to accept that stereotype characters and stereotype morals may be different from what you're used to. I don't find that off putting, I find it interesting.
I enjoyed this book a lot, more than the 3 star rating. Just two things made it a bit difficult for me to add a 4th star. One is my shortcoming of being ignorant on physics and not being able to follow all the theoretical and technical stuff. I'm sure if I understood them, I would get more satisfaction from the book. This is heavy science fiction subcategory, all the more kudos to the writer, because even though I did not understand how many things worked, I was able to follow through his explanations. This is not an easy writing task.
My main problem is the same as it was in the Three Body Problem, the writing can get pretty wonky. And mainly at the last part of the book which should be the more energetic one, he gets stuck in his first person narrative and creates a huge Matryoshka narrative incident, where a person tells a story, and then a person in the story tells the story of another person and then one person in that story tells its own story, you get the point. The whole thing seems unnatural and takes away from the effect the events have. He needed something more creative in organizing narrative and I think he found it by the time he started writing The Dark Forest.
In conclusion, though he may not be the best in the writing department (many scifi authors share this characteristic though), he is one of the most original and imaginative minds in science fiction today.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,547 followers
November 22, 2019
I was disappointed in this book because the translation was wooden and uninteresting and even repetitive, the characters had zero depth (particularly the protagonist), the plot was rather boring and took forever to move forward. Don't let this discourage you from reading The Three-Body Problem trilogy but this one was a dud. Indeed, it might be a poor translation, but the lack of character depth doesn't do it any favors.

Fino's Cixin Liu and other Chinese SciFi and Fantasy Reviews
The Three Body Problem
The Dark Forest
Death's End
The Wandering Earth
Supernova Era"
Ball Lightning
The Redemption of Time (Fan Fiction approved by Cixin Liu)
Invisible Planets (Short Story Anthology)
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
The Grace of Kings
The Wall of Storms
Profile Image for Jerry Jose.
360 reviews61 followers
September 4, 2018
While this book leaves readers vacillating between the possibility of story being a loose prequel to The Three Body Problem and a solid standalone on its own, Liu collapses that state function in the afterword. Maybe this is a good time to publish an updated version of 'The Dark Forest', with Tyler's actual plan from the chinese version.

According to Liu, The Ball Lightning belongs to the earlier strand of chinese science fiction than the expansive category he puts his Trilogy into. Yet, he keeps the ridiculousness and scope loosely chained, allowing considerable leeway to swing between the borders. I loved how he articulated this, and will leave that here.

while the book is set in a China that is altogether real, those little balls of lightning seem like they’re trying to transcend that reality, like how a man’s tie, within the confines of its narrow dimensions, has the freedom to indulge in a riot of colors and patterns unbounded by the rigid formula of a business suit.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,626 reviews322 followers
August 14, 2018
I can't get enough of Cixin Liu's incredible imagination and vision. I love everything he's written and Ball Lightning is a brilliant book. It's not the easiest read in the world - its ideas and science are challenging at times- but the effort is so worth while. Love these characters, their stories and this vision of co-existing dimensions. I also saw Ball Lightning myself many years ago and so I read this with extra fascination. Review to follow shortly on For Winter Nights.
Profile Image for Dawn F.
496 reviews64 followers
September 4, 2021
When I was a child I was rather obsessed with unexplained phenomena - not supernatural events, but scientific oddities. Ball nightning was one. I haven't thought of it for 25 years, but this brought it all back. All the theories, which apparently still are going strong, were deeply fascinating. I adore Liu's scientific focus, and all the lengthy explanations. However I must say I had a hard time actually picturing the practical use of it, especially weaponized, so I lost track a bit of what was going on a couple of times. Still, he's one of the most interesting scifi writers in newer times, I'll keep returning to him for nerdy quantum physics!
Profile Image for Cami L. González.
1,116 reviews350 followers
August 22, 2019
Ningún autor de cifi me deja tan emocional como lo hace Liu Cixin, y eso que el libro me parecía bien, pero nada asombroso y ahora estoy llorando desconsolada.

La historia se centra en el fenómeno de las esferas luminosas y un niño que al ver morir a sus padres gracias a una se obsesiona y dedica su vida a ellas. Es así como empieza un camino que lo lleva a bases militares secretas y la creación de armas.

El problema de los tres cuerpos es una de mis trilogías favoritas por lejos, me parecen libros hermosos. Así que leer otro libro del autor no podía llamarme más. Es cierto que la historia va algo más lento porque pasamos la mitad del libro sin ver otra esfera luminosa, el protagonista pasa por la universidad, el master y el doctorado. Todo el camino hasta entender realmente el proceso detrás es bastante largo, no aburrido, aunque sí algo lento. Sin embargo, como suele hacer sus libros contienen un aspecto científico muy acertado que no resulta difícil de seguir.

Gran parte del libro, a pesar de que me divertí, sentí que le faltaba algo más. Algún propósito. Y es para el final que comenzamos a entender el tema moral que toca, ¿la ciencia puede permitirse cerrar los ojos frente a los avances que hace aunque eso tome vidas humanas? Me pareció muy potente la discusión que plantea, porque jamás nos dice su opinión, sino que vemos los distintos bandos y las consecuencias.

El personaje de Lin me pareció brillante, sí que me genera conflicto porque la detesté, me parece el tipo de ser humano más peligroso que puede haber. Sin embargo, el mismo éxito que tiene prueba que algo de razón hay en ella. Me gusta que no la romantizara, que no la volviera una mujer a la que amar a pesar de todo, porque en este caso ese todo eran vidas humanas.

El final me sacó lágrimas y cuando se conectó con el problema de los tres cuerpos quedé destrozada por las dimensiones que tomó en mi mente, como cada vez que pienso en esa trilogía.

No es épico como esos libros, pero sí plantea cuestiones morales interesantes e importantes, además de ser bastante divertido (aunque por momentos algo lento, eso es cierto).
Profile Image for Андрій Новік.
Author 5 books51 followers
April 20, 2022
Сказати, що Лю Цисінь геній - не сказати нічого. Багато кому він дається важко через свої наукові складові в текстах, але мене він, мабуть, цим і захопив..а особливо продуманим реалістичним альтернативним світом, де глобальні винаходи змінюють майбутнє. "Кульова блискавка" - один з ранніх творів автора, але не менш прискіпливий до дрібниць, ніж та сама "Проблема трьох тіл". У центрі подій молодий студент, на очах якого у 14-річному віці гинуть батьки від вивільнення енергії кульової блискавки. Два тіла, дві колись людини перетворилися на дві купки пилу, а сам хлопець не постраждав. І це найдивніше, адже на його тілі від удару блискавки згоріла сорочка, не нанісши жодних пошкоджень шкірі. Після цього він вирішує присвятити усе своє життя вивченню аномалії, під назвою кульова блискавка - в студентських аудиторіях, наукових лабораторіях і, звісно, військових базах, де кульові блискавки хочуть вивчити та перетворити на зброю. Тут вам і закручений містичний сюжет, і теорії квантової фізики та зокрема "струн". Сприймається роман доволі важко через надміру наукової складової (іноді навіть кілька розділів підряд складаються з визначень, теорій та обговорень в області фізики), але з часом звикається. І воно того варте, адже фінал ой як здивує 🙂
Profile Image for Jason Furman.
1,175 reviews772 followers
April 28, 2020
Ball Lightning, by the author of The Three Body Problem, is the story of a man who watches his parents get incinerated by ball lightning and ends up devoting his life to the study and control of ball lightning. Evidently a real phenomenon that is rarely observed and not well understood, the book starts by having him go through the current scientific theories but then the science gets into increasingly exotic macroscale quantum mechanics as his search takes him increasingly through Chinese and even Russian military circles. I do not want to give away anything, but while the book maintains its hard science focus it gets increasingly in a mind-blowing territory far removed from our own world. But each step seems to realistically follow from the previous. At the same time, there is some exploration of the role of science in war and peace, and the arguments for/against progress and technological advancement. But mostly it is an exercise in hard science exploration—without a whole lot in the way of vividly drawn characters but more than enough interest otherwise that we do not mind their absence.
Profile Image for reherrma.
1,685 reviews29 followers
June 12, 2020
Bei diesem, 2004 letztendlich überarbeitetem, Buch handelt es sich um einen Roman aus Cixin Liu's Früh-Phase, das nun auf deutsch veröffentlicht wurde. In seinem Nachwort kann man erfahren, dass Liu im Sommer 1981 mit eigenen Augen einen Kugelblitz beobachtet hat, ein meterologischen Phänomen, über das man auch in der heutigen Zeit immer noch nicht viel weiß und um das sich auch noch viele Mythen ranken.
Einer der drei Hauptpersonen des Romans ist der junge Chen, der dabei war, als seine Eltern durch einen Kugelblitz getötet werden, dieser drang durch die Mauern des Hauses und hinterlies nur noch die Asche seiner Eltern, ohne dass andere Gegenstände davon betroffen waren. Daraufhin beschließt er, sein Leben diesem Phänoment zu widmen. Er durchläuft die Schulen, die Universität und wird in der Folge ein anerkannter Wissenschaftler, der sich danach einer Blitzforschungs-Institution anschließt und sich im speziellen um die Kugelblitze kümmert. Auf einem mythischen Berg, auf dem sich eine Meterologische Station befindet, begegnet er der Waffensystem-Ingenieurin Lin Yun, die sich auch sehr für Kugelblitze interessiert und sie als Waffen weiterentwickeln will. Sie lockt ihn in ein Labor des Verteidigungsministeriums damit sie sich voll der Erforschung der Kugelblitze widmen können, da dort Geld und Resourcen keine Rolle spielen. Das alles spielt vor dem Hintergrund einer, nie näher bezeichneten, politischen Krise, die zu einem Krieg führen könnte. Die Forschung an den Kugelblitzen führt die beiden in physikalische Regionen der Quantenphysik, die sie alleine nicht mehr gehen können, deshalb nehmen sie den genialen Physiker Ding Yi hinzu, der den Durchbruch schaffte, es erwies sich, dass die Kugelblitze nichts anderes sind als angeregte Makro-Elektronen (Durchmesser von mehreren Metern), die auf irgendeine (verschwurbelte) Weise Materie in unseren Universum beeinflussen können. Als der Krieg einsetzte, kommen die Kugelblitze zum Einsatz, allerdings hatte der Feind einen magnetischen Abwehrmechanismus, so dass die Kugelblitze wirkungslos wurden. Doch Lin Yu, die auf krankhafte Weise in Waffen vernarrt ist, möchte weitermachen und die Idee von Makro-Strings, die Ding Yi postuliert hat, als zerstörerisches Waffensystem weiterentwickeln. Als dies gelingt, setzt Lin Yu einen Test gegen den Willen des Verteidigungsministeriums, durch, der sämtliche Silizium-Chips im Umkreis von mehreren 100km zu Staub zerbröselt...
Der Roman beginnt als (nahezu) glaubhafter Wissenschafts-Thriller, gleitet aber ab dem ersten Drittel immer mehr in eine unlogische Richtung ab, was den Wissenschaftsgehalt betrifft, man denke nur an die Makro-Welt von riesigen Nuklearteilchen und Superstrings, die auch noch den Quantenzuständen unterliegen. Das kommt also heraus, wenn ein Kraftwerks-Ingenieur über Quantenphysik schreibt, das wurde mir schon in seiner Trisolaris-Trilogie vor Augen geführt, als er Protonen beschreibt, die die Länge von Lichtjahren haben sollen.
Allerdings stören mich auch die etwas hölzernen Charakteren (der Protagonist entbehrt sogar eines Vornamens, heißt immer nur Doktor Chen und wird sogar von nahestehenden Kollegen immer nur so angesprochen, was gegen eine glaubhafte Charakterisierung spricht)
Vor allem aber ist die immer mehr zerfasernde Handlung gegen Ende und die immer nur angedeuteten moralischen Reflexionen verantwortlich, dass der Roman mich immer wieder verstört hat und im gleichen Moment doch wieder gut unterhalten hat, wenn man das verstörende Element wieder in den Hintergrund gedrängt hat.
So wird China von einem Feind angegriffen, keiner weiß aber so recht, wer warum angreift. Nur am Namen der feindlichen Flugzeugträger (einer heißt Ronald Reagan!) wird dann dem Leser klar, wer der Aggressor zu sein scheint. Noch viel skurriler wirkt der terroristische Überfall einer hochintelligenten, superwissenschaftlich fortschrittlichen Terrorgruppe von Wissenschaftshassern (auch dies spricht leider für sich). Diese Aluhut-Träger sind die absolut unglaubwürdige Krönung einer Handlung, die immer mehr jeder Logik entbehrt gegen Ende des Romans.
Dazwischen gibt es aber immer wieder wunderbare Schilderungen von chinesischen und russischen Lebenswirklichkeiten (z.B. der Besuch einer heruntergekommenen Wissenschaftlerstadt in Sibirien mit ihren Mega-Plattenbauten und Wodka-Säufern), dramatischen Kugelblitz-Tests und waghalsigen Helikopterflügen, die manchmal in ihrer Intensität tatsächlich an den vom Autor in seinem Nachwort erwähnten Hollywood-Blockbuster Twister erinnern, sind eindeutig die starken Seiten des Romans.
Nachdem sich Chen an die Spitze der Forschung gearbeitet hat, wird er dann jedoch Zeuge, wie seine Erfindung als Waffe verwendet wird, und bekommt nachvollziehbare Skrupel. Er steigt aus der Forschung aus, bekommt weiteres dann nur noch (rückblickend) vom genialen Wissenschaftlerkollegen Ding Yi erzählt (ab hier flaut dann auch die Spannung merklich ab). Es spricht für Liu, dass er seinen Protagonisten diesen Weg gehen lässt, denn dem Willen des chinesischen Militärs zuwider zu handeln, ist sicherlich schon in der Schilderung als Autor sehr mutig (ob man einen wichtigen Forscher überhaupt abwandern lassen würde, erscheint mir fraglich).
Man darf an diesen Roman keine zu hohe Maßstäbe als Hard-SF Roman anlegen, dazu ist der wissenschaftliche Background des Autors nicht geeignet, außerdem ist der Roman auch schon 20 Jahre alt und nichts ist älter als der wissenschaftliche Horizont von Gestern. Immerhin ist das Buch gut lesbar, einigermaßen spannend und voller Ideen, wenn auch nicht unbedingt (aus heutiger Sicht) logisch.
Sein Nachwort in diesem Roman ist auch eine Hommage an Arthur C. Clarke, den er offenbar sehr verehrte, dies ehrt auch den Verfasser des Nachwortes...
Profile Image for Aletheia.
276 reviews110 followers
March 1, 2022
¡Terminado por fin! Que os quede claro a los que no hayáis leído nada más del autor: este no es el Cixin Liu que conocemos y queremos.

Tiene muy buenas ideas pero para llegar a ellas hay que tragarse un planteamiento muy largo, pencar con unos compañeros de viaje monocromáticos y leer capítulos de pura paja para llegar a un final más bien soso.

2.5 y gracias. Qué chasco me he llevado.
Profile Image for Robert.
1,493 reviews102 followers
May 12, 2023
The author's afterword does a lot to contextualize this novel and explain, if not excuse, some of its clunkiness when compared to the Three-Body Problem series.


I always find it frustrating when a first person narrator is a bit of a cypher, but Dr. Chen narrowly escapes this fate via his agency a loopy subplot involving tornado prediction and a sudden war involving the People's Republic of China and unspecified Other Nations.

Events depicted may be somewhat more plausible than those shown above.

Given its (relatively) more limited scope I can actually imagine this book being adapted to film or a limited series more easily than the better known trilogy, and I would be into it if only for the chance to see Ding Yi in action.

"It's all just physics, man."
Profile Image for RJ Gibson.
4 reviews22 followers
April 24, 2023
Out of the five books i've read by Cixin Liu, this is my least favorite. That being said, it was still a pleasant experience. This does feel like Liu was more interested in exploring the concept of ball lightning and theories behind it, then built a story around it.

The writing was well done, this was translated by joel Martinsen, who also did the Dark Forest. This book is also written in 1st person, a departure from other Liu books that i've read, but it fit the story perfectly, as it allows the exploration of obsession and what can happen to a person who devotes everything in their life to a singular goal.

I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point for Liu, but if you're a huge fan of remembrance, give this a go!
Profile Image for Laura.
257 reviews82 followers
March 30, 2022
Teniendo en cuenta que he empezado a leer a Liu por la que es considerada su obra maestra, «La trilogía de los Tres Cuerpos», tenía miedo de adentrarme en este libro y salir decepcionada. Quizá han sido las bajas expectativas, pero la verdad es que he disfrutado mucho «La esfera luminosa». No está al nivel de la trilogía ni mucho menos, pero me ha parecido un buen libro de ciencia ficción.

En este caso Liu nos cuenta la historia de Chen, quien se obsesiona con las esferas luminosas a raíz de que estas matasen a sus padres. Dedicará su vida a desentrañar sus secretos, encontrándose por el camino con personas que comparten su misma obsesión u otra que hará que sus objetivos sean comunes.

En esta novela encontraremos algunos de los ingredientes que más me gustan del autor: misterios que en apariencia no tienen una respuesta lógica, mucha ciencia y tecnología y mucha especulación en torno a estas.

También deja espacio para otro tipo de cuestiones que invitan a reflexionar:
➜ La importancia de la ética dentro del progreso tecnológico: ¿todo vale a la hora de conseguir avances científico-técnicos?
➜ Aquellos nuevos descubrimientos que suponen o bien un arma letal o bien una forma de mejorar la vida de la humanidad: ¿para qué los vamos a usar realmente? ¿Qué es lo que interesa?
➜ ¿Hasta dónde puede llegar un ser humano por desentrañar aquello que se ha convertido en su obsesión y su único objetivo en la vida?

La novela se desarrolla a un ritmo ágil y te mantiene expectante hasta el final, pero tiene algunas partes que se pueden hacer un poco más densas dado el nivel de conocimientos que precisa o el grado de abstracción que requiere por parte del lector (no os preocupéis, siempre vais a saber dónde quiere llegar). La resolución me ha parecido bastante loca aunque, como siempre, muy bien fundamentada. Lo recomiendo.

Si vais a leer este libro antes de «La trilogía de los Tres Cuerpos», no leáis el posfacio del autor ya que contiene spoilers. Liu dice que esta novela es como una especie de precuela, aunque más bien nos deja una pista muy sutil de lo que nos encontraremos en la trilogía.
Profile Image for Tim Hicks.
1,497 reviews116 followers
October 27, 2018
First off, this was written in 2003. Let's not forget that.

Sometimes I give a not-very-good book four stars because I enjoyed it. This is one of those.

There are some lyrical paragraphs, but they are spices to a main ingredient of "You see, Billy, ..."
It is of course difficult for an author to bring the reader up to speed on hard SF, and I won't guess whether it's easier when you're making up quite a bit of the science.

The characters are wooden, and I guess I have to like how the author sets up each woman in the plot to fall for our hero and each time shows us why it can't work.

Chen and Lin Yun are both driven by an intense focus, with reasons given, and pretty soon we work out that this is going to be a problem. Fair enough. And I was surprised at the varying levels of reasonableness among the military characters; too many recent books have all the nice guys being the competent sergeants and 100% of the officers being idiots. It was especially good when officers disagreed, each from a reasonable position.

But there so much wooden explanation, and after a while the handwaving science becomes a little less fun. When we get into quantum stuff, it's applied in ways that feel a bit laughable. But You Never Know ....

Still, a good romp through a sequence of What If ... scenes where each one leads to the next even if it does require some invention.

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