Review – The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem20518872

By Cixin Liu (Translated by Ken Liu)

Published 11/11/2014

(First English translation, originally published 2007)

Score: 9/10

I’m a bit late to the party here. This book has already sold over a million copies in China, and the hype for the English translation was massive back in 2014. It then went on to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015, and everyone was talking about it at the time. Now the conclusion of this series, Death’s End is out, but I’m still just starting the series.

Let me first say, that I can see where all the hype comes from. This story is amazing. I really should have read it sooner. If you like hard science fiction and have heard of this book, I recommend you get it. If you are interested in an alien contact story told from a Chinese perspective, then get it. If you don’t like your science fiction hard and don’t want to explore complex ideas in physics and computers… then maybe give this one a miss. I wouldn’t say it’s as hard as some of Hal Clement’s stuff, and the focus is more on humanity than technology, but there is a lot of complex information in there, and the characterisation could be better.

I suppose there are a lot of info-dumps at times, but they were important enough, and spread out enough that I rarely felt like I was reading info-dumps. There are also some violations of the ‘show don’t tell’ rule that I think are justified due to the fact that this is a translation. There are a lot of translator’s footnotes, but to keep them to a minimum translator Ken Liu did add a few sentences to explain things that are such an obvious part of Chinese culture that the author had no need to explain them in the original text. Like how ‘Da Shi’ is a nickname that means Big Shi, or certain information about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Sometimes this info-dumping stands out in a bad way, but I think leaving them out would have hurt the translation.

Reviewing this book is hard, because it’s very easy to spoil the plot. Not because there are any huge twists in the story, but because it’s the kind of story that works best when you go in completely ignorant of what’s happening and make those discoveries along with the characters. If this is your first time hearing about Three-Body Problem and you think it’s something you’ll want to read, my advice is DO NOT READ THE SYNOPSIS. You aren’t going to get any Snape kills Dumbledore level spoilers, but I think you’ll have more fun not knowing much.

That being said, I better say something about the plot. Basically, we start with Ye Wenjie, who sees her father publicly beaten to death during the Cultural Revolution. She then gets really screwed-over during the 70s, and does something that will change Human history. We then cut to the present, where nanotech engineer Wang Miao is asked to help investigate a bunch of strange suicides amongst elite scientists. Somehow, everything is connected by a virtual reality game called Three-Body, which is like Civilization but with frequent apocalypses. Also, there are aliens in there somewhere, and how Humans react to them is very important. I wish I could say more about the aliens; I think I drove my partner crazy talking about them.

Before I go, I should mention that this book is being made into a movie in China. It was meant to be released last year, but got pushed back to this year. As of now, I can’t find a trailer for it, but I am still pumped to see some of the scenes from this book brought to life.

Happy reading everyone,

~Lauren

Worldcon75 and the Hugo Awards

Nominations for the 2017 Hugo Award are open now. The Hugos are the biggest awards in the Science Fiction and Fantasy world, and are given out each year at the World Science Fiction Convention. Awards are given in dozens of categories, and honour everything from novels to short stories to comics to movies. The awards have been awarded every year since 1955, and guess who decides the winners of these prestigious awards?

We do. Anyone can nominate works for the Hugo Awards. From these nominations five finalists are chosen, and then anyone can vote for the winners.

Well, okay, ‘anyone’ is probably a bit of a stretch. To nominate and vote on the Hugo Awards, you have to be a member of the current Worldcon. Membership is open to anyone; you don’t have to actually attend the convention. It’s easy, but it isn’t free.

This year, the Hugos will be presented at Worldcon75, at the Messukeskus convention centre in Helsinki Finland. (Website here). If you wish to attend the convention, a full membership will get you in all week. But if a trip to Finland isn’t quite practical right now, a Supporting Membership costs 35€/$40. A Supporting Membership gives you the ability to nominate works for the awards, and the ability to vote on the winners. To make the voting easier, Supporting Membership also gives you access to a downloadable Hugo Packet, which contains samples of all the works. Last year these samples included the complete Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories that get nominated. If you are interested in participating, you can join Worldcon75 here.

Last year, I voted for winners, but I didn’t make any nominations. I just hadn’t read enough from the previous year to really make nominating worthwhile. Despite that, I don’t regret buying the Supporting Membership. When the nominations were announced, I read all the novels, novellas, novelettes and short stories on the ballot. Due to the influence of a group of angry right-wing trolls, I read a few sub-par or just plain bad stories. But I also read some pretty amazing stories. I would never have read The Fifth Season if I hadn’t felt compelled to for the awards. I wouldn’t have been introduced to the world of Penric and Desdemona, or met Binti. Seveneves would still be on the ‘to read one day’ list, I would still have no idea who Chuck Tingle is. Hmm… maybe I would be better off without that last one.

Voting for the Hugo Awards gave me a reason to venture out of my comfort zone with my reading. It also inspired me to read more new releases last year, so I could nominate this year. Normally I read a lot of older science fiction, so reading more modern stories was a nice change. Especially now that I’m reading more fantasy. In 2016, I read seven novels that were published in that year. I have my five nominees mostly decided, but I still have time to read a few more novels before nominations close. Maybe I can read Too Like the Lightning? Or finish the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series. Death’s End is eligible this year, and I am halfway through The Three-Body Problem and loving it. I’d be interested in hearing any other suggestions.

Of course, novels aren’t going to be my main focus for now. Whilst I read a lot of new novels, I haven’t really read much more shorter fiction than normal. I’ve found some good stories in Analog Science Fiction and Fact that I’ll be nominating, and have read some of Tor’s novellas, but I feel I’m missing out on the best short fiction to come out this year. To remedy this situation, I have found this amazing site called Rocket Stack Rank which aims to help casual SF fans find and discuss short fiction. They have a page full of recommendations for this year’s nominations, as well as instructions on how to find the stories. I plan to go through that and read anything I find interesting. If you’re looking to nominate for the Hugos this year, or if you just want to read more short fiction, I highly recommend this site.

If you are interested in joining Worldcon and voting for the Hugo Awards, then hurry up! You need to register before January 31 to be eligible to vote. Hmmm… maybe I shouldn’t have procrastinated so much on this post. Nominations close 8/3/17, at 06:59 UTC. The final ballot will be announced in April, and voting for the winners will be open until July. The winners will be announced in August. Worldcon members can nominate and vote for the following categories;

  • Best Novel
  • Best Novella
  • Best Novelette
  • Best Short Story
  • Best Graphic Story
  • Best Related Work
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
  • Best Editor – Long Form
  • Best Editor – Short Form
  • Best Professional Artist
  • Best Semiprozine
  • Best Fanzine
  • Best Fancast
  • Best Fan Writer
  • Best Fan Artist

 

In addition to these categories, Worldcon75 will also include a special Hugo for “Best Series”. And as usual, The John W. Campbell Award for best new writer will also be given out with the Hugos. If you want to learn more about these awards, then visit the official website of the Hugo Awards, or check out the Wikipedia entry for more background information.

In the meantime, I have a lot of reading to do. And a lot of reflection on what I read last year to undergo. There may be a lull in reviews for a while as I focus on shorter fiction, but don’t worry; I’m not going anywhere. Happy reading everyone.

 

~ Lauren

Review – Fate of Perfection

Fate of Perfection31575958

By K. F. Breene

Published January 1st 2017 (47North)

Score: 2.5/10 (Did Not Finish)

 

Normally if I don’t finish a book, I don’t give it a rating or a review. It seems unfair to voice such a negative opinion on a story I didn’t finish. It’s like I’m not giving it a chance. Besides, there are so many good books out there; Why dwell on the bad ones? Move on and go share something amazing. There have been a few books in the recent past I haven’t finished, and some of them I’ve given up on much quicker than Fate of Perfection. So why am I now taking the time to write a review of a bad book that I only got 40% of the way through?

To be honest, I’m not sure. Seems like a huge waste of time, but I suppose if I can prevent another person from being suckered into this book it would be worth it

I bought this book thinking it was a science fiction action story. The blurb describes a woman named Millicent Foster, who lives in a dystopian future where massive corporations control everything; even human breeding. These conglomerates genetically engineer the human race – now known as ‘staffers’ or ‘assets’ – to perform set tasks in this society. Millicent has been bred to be exceptionally intelligent and physically perfect. Because she is so exceptional, she is given the rare privilege of breeding (or being a ‘female creator’) in order to create a super intelligent baby. This works, but then Millicent gets attached to her daughter, and when it comes time to say goodbye, she instead takes her daughter and uses her skills as a weapon designer/expert hacker to escape.

It sounds really fun, doesn’t it? Corporation-controlled dystopia, badarse heroine, mother trying to protect her daughter? What’s not to like?

Well, the problem is, Fate of Perfection isn’t a science-fiction action story. This is a ‘romance’ story. I use quotation marks because it isn’t romantic in the slightest. Remember how I criticised Uprooted by Naom Novik for featuring an unhealthy relationship? Well, there was a lot of other stuff in that book I liked, but here the cool future dystopia is just a flimsy backdrop to the trainwreck that is Millicent’s relationship with Mr. Gunner.

Red flags went off as soon as Mr. Gunner was introduced. An oversexed, big strong man with long hair, who calls the heroine ‘cupcake’ or ‘princess’ all the time and makes immature sexual innuendos, all of this after being repeatedly told not to by Millicent. At first Millicent seemed to be responding to his advances the way any sane woman would; by saying she wasn’t interested and telling him to stop sexually harassing her. At one point in the story, it even looked like Mr. Gunner was going to be the villain; or at the very least, that his sleazy demeanour was just a show for the higher ups that keep tabs on him. That would have been interesting.

But there came a point where it was obvious that no, Millicent and Mr. Gunner were the designated couple, and yes, he really is an arsehole. But it’s okay; Millicent is off her libido suppressing pills now, so she’s starting to get warm fuzzy feelings when he talks about his dick. I turned off my kindle and looked up the book to see if it was heading in the direction I thought it was, and saw that yes, it was going there. Maybe if the actual plot was going somewhere I may have kept going, but it was already obvious that Millicent and Mr. Gunner were pretty much unstoppable with their combined skills. There just seemed no point in putting myself through more of this sexual harassment, oops, I mean, ‘banter’.

I think the reason this particular book is upsetting me so much, is that it lacks the naivety of a lot of other books that depict these types of relationships. Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey glorify controlling men who act like stalkers, but those books seem to legitimately view this sort of behaviour as romantic and protective. In Fate of Perfection, Mr. Gunner is described as protective, but his inappropriate behaviour is correctly branded as sexual harassment. And Millicent is shown to be very smart, but her lack of interest in his passes at her is implied to be due to her libido being suppressed, not due to her being uninterested in a man that makes sexual advances towards her after being told ‘no’ repeatedly. I hate reading about these kinds of relationships. No-one is playing ‘hard to get’; no means no people.

There is the possibility that I gave up too soon, and that Millicent and Mr. Gunner grow and learn and begin developing a healthier relationship. But who am I kidding, that never happens in these types of ‘romances’.

It’s a real shame this story turned out the way it did, because I was really interested in reading about a corporation-controlled dystopia and genetic modifications to humanity. I may have even become invested in the romance part if it wasn’t so badly done. Or if our perfect super-smart dangerous heroine wasn’t totally useless without Mr. Gunner. I originally gave this a rating of 1/10 in order not to be too mean, but then I thought about it a bit more, and I really did like the way terminology was used to further worldbuilding. And ‘curve-hugger’ was a fun insult once I figured out the context. Plus the idea was good, even though it wasn’t well executed, so I bumped it up a point and a half. But still, stay away people.

~Lauren

Review – Neuromancer

Neuromancerneuromancer3

By William Gibson

Published July 1st 1984

Score: 8 

 

There have been a few books recently that I’ve described as requiring a lot of work on the reader’s part. Ninefox Gambit and the Imperial Radch series come to mind right away. These books have complex ideas and really strange worlds that aren’t explicitly explained, but if you’re paying attention you can figure out what is happening. Neuromancer proves that this approach is nothing new. We are thrown into a futuristic world where cyber-space, A.Is, and cybernetic enhancements play a huge role, but the way a lot of the technology works – especially the matrix – is not always clear. I was confused at times by what was happening, but once I had the A.Is figured out I became super excited about what had happened in the story.

I think I would have liked Neuromancer more if I read it back in 1984. It would have been more confusing, but in 2017, it can be hard to appreciate just how revolutionary this book was. This is the book that introduced the term ‘cyberspace’ to the public. There was no World Wide Web when Gibson wrote about a matrix that represented all computer data. This story didn’t just make cyber-punk into a respectable sub-genre, it changed the way we viewed computers. In fact, according to SF author Jack Womack, Neuromancer may have ever inspired the way the internet was developed. When reading this book, you have to keep in mind this context.

The story itself is a heist/crime plot. The main character, Case, is a washed-up computer-hacker. I never really connected with Case that much. He has a lot of complex issues, but it’s hard to describe him. The book seems to be aware of this; at one point Case comes across holographic caricatures of the team, and Case remarks that the artist couldn’t really find anything about him to parody.

A much more interesting character was Molly; the muscle of the team. A mercenary with surgically inserted lenses over her eyes and steel blades at her fingertips. Reading about her infiltrating their targets was fun, and when she wasn’t caught up in the action she’d relieve the boredom by telling Case – who could sense what she was sensing on these runs – about herself.

Another interesting character is the A.I Wintermute. Wintermute doesn’t have much in the way of personality, but he is mysterious and different enough to make it clear he is not a Human intelligence.

Where this book really shines though is with the atmosphere it creates. We open in Chiba City, an underbelly of Tokyo, in a bar owned by a bartender with a mechanical arm. The locales visited are described perfectly. Ditto the wardrobe and appearance of various characters. It all comes together for a quintessential cyberpunk world. I was hooked at those first few pages by the depiction of Case’s world; even though Case himself wasn’t that interesting to me.

Neuromancer won the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards in 1985. Whilst I originally figured I’d vote this a 7 or 7.5 when I finished, I bumped it up to 8 just because of how influential this book has been, and for how ground-breaking it was when it first came out. I enjoyed this book, but even if I hadn’t, I’d still recommend it due to its influence on science fiction.

 

~Lauren

Lauren’s Super Speculative Fiction Book Bingo Card

This year I have made my own book bingo card, with some challenges I want to complete. I’m going to put more effort into finishing these challenges than I did for last year’s one; not that there was anything wrong with the challenges last time, I’m just more motivated to set reading goals this year.

I’m hoping to read more previous winners of the Hugo Award for Best Novel this year. I have my own checklist of Hugo and Nebula award winners that I’ve been working through for a few years, and so far I have read 12 out of 69 Hugo winners, and 8 out of 51 Nebula winners. I put a few Hugo winners on my Christmas and Birthday wishlist this year, and for Christmas I received American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and Neuromancer by William Gibson. I’m aiming to tick off a few more Hugo winners this year, which is why this Book Bingo card has five ‘Hugo Winner’ challenges, arranged in such a way that no bingo can be made without one.

2017book-bingo

The rules for this challenge are simple: each book can only count for one challenge, and I have until the end of the year to complete it. If anyone else is interested in giving themselves a reading challenge or making themselves read more Hugo winners, then feel free to copy the card and play along with me. A list of all the winners of the Hugo Award for Best Novel can be found here. Happy reading everyone.

~ Lauren

2016 Reading and Writing Wrap-Up

My 2016 Reading and Writing Wrap-Up

Well 2016 is finished, but I’m going to buck the trend and not bag it out. Yes, some crappy things happened; Trump and Brexit the first two big things that come to mind, and a whole lot of celebrity deaths. But I think the cries of ‘worst year ever’ are un-called for. Lots of good things have happened, like just the other week we got an Ebola vaccine. Besides, it would be hard for 2016 to be any worse than say, 1942.

And for me personally, 2016 has been a great year. My partner and I bought our first home, I’ve enjoyed my first ever continuous year of regular work, I started this blog, and have read a lot of good books. In this post, I’m going to do a recap on some of the things I’ve read.

First things first, remember how earlier this year I said I’d do a book bingo? Well, here are the results of that:

Noun in the Title: The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin

 

Features My Dream Career: A Bestseller: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J. K Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany Book I have previously not finished:

 

Author Under 25:
Retelling of a Folk or Fairy Tale: Set Within the Entertainment Industry: Redshirts – John Scalzi Debut Novel: All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders Features a Conspiracy: A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin Being Adapted into a Movie: The Brave Little Toaster – Thomas M. Disch
Features Strong Familial Relations: The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin Has Sleuthing and Crime-Solving: Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal Features Royalty: Uprooted – Naomi Novik Stars on the Cover: Transpecial – Jennifer R. Povey Comic Book, or Graphic Novel:
FREE SQUARE Features Unlikely Friendship: Transpecial – Jennifer R. Povey FREE SQUARE Has Asian or African Protagonist: Binti – Nnedi Okarafor Third Book in a Series: Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie
Published in the Month of my Birth: All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders Has Alternating Perspectives: Seveneves: A Novel – Neal Stephenson Over 500 Pages Long: Seveneves: A Novel – Neal Stephenson Set Outside Earth: C. Chase Harwood – Bastion Station Book Translated from Another Language:
ebook or Audio book: The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin

 

Number in the Title: Beacon 23 – Hugh Howey Features Political Espionage: Hunt for FOXP5 – Wallace Kaufman & David Deamer A Book That a Friend Loved: A Book Owned for More Than a Year: Lord Prestimion – Robert Silverburg
Features Mental Illness or Disability: Beacon 23 – Hugh Howey FREE SQUARE Features Murder or Assassination: A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin Short Story or Novella: Binti – Nnedi Okarafor Had Angels or Fairies:

 

As you can see, I didn’t complete the card. But I got two Bingos. I only did so well because the challenge creator didn’t unveil two mystery challenges, so they became free squares. For this year, I’m going to make my own card.

I also did the Goodreads Book Challenge. I joined Goodreads in May and selected 30 as my target when I was prompted to do so. I never gave it much thought until recently, so most of the books on the list were entered at the end of the year based on memory. The dates given for them were pretty much made up, because I just could not remember. I just made my target, reading 32 books. By books I mean Novels and Novellas, but not magazine issues, so the ten issues of Analog didn’t count. This year I’m going to change that and include fiction magazines, because they do take a while to read and often include some really great stories. For this year, I have pledged to read 50 books. If you’re on Goodreads, feel free to follow my progress here

To see what I read this year, click here

I’m not going to list all the books here, since most of them I’ve reviewed, but I will list all the novels I read that were published in 2016:

All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders

The Many Selves of Katherine North – Emma Geen

The Obelisk Gate – N. K. Jemisin

Bastion Station – C. Chase Harwood

Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal

Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee

The Hunt for FOXP5 – Wallace Kaufman and David Deamer

 

Seven new novels. Plus a new script; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany and J.K. Rowling. As stated, I also read most of this year’s issues of Analog Science Fiction and Fact (nearly done with November now) and have also read an issue of Asimov’s and Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I have also read two other novellas published this year: Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold, and The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson. Now that the year is done, I’ll probably find myself rushing to read more Novellas and short fiction before my Hugo nominations for this year are due. If anyone has read any really amazing works of science fiction or fantasy published this year, then don’t hesitate to give me some recommendations.

I’m a bit better prepared for reading new books this year. So far, I have eight 2017 novels and two novellas on my to-read list. Their release dates are in my journal and this time, I’m going to try to get them read as soon as I can. Last year there were so many books I wanted to read but then missed or forgot about. I’ll make a post in a few days about the books I’m looking forward to this year in a few days.

So enough about my reading for now. Let’s talk about my writing. I haven’t really been saying much about what I’m working on lately. Part of the reason is because I’ve been working on this novel for about three years and this year, I hit the reset button on it for the second time. This second reset changed everything about the story, and it’s always felt weird talking about a story that might change again at any time. But now I’ve got over 70,000 words of this new version of the novel done, and I am certain this is how the story is going to go. The novel I’m working on is called Beyond the Fence and I am so near the end. Well, the end of the first draft. Of the first book. I now know enough about what I’m doing with this story, that I’ll make a post about it within the next few days.

Beyond the Fence isn’t the only project I’ve been working on. I have a novella that is almost ready to be shared with the world, but I’m trying to get an extra pair of eyes to go over it before I unleash it on the public. I also have dozens of ideas for short stories, but with the way Beyond the Fence is taking up my time, it’ll be a while before they get written.

I also wrote a novel in 2015, which is finished, but not quite ready to share yet. I’m currently combing through it and fixing some grammar issues. The title has changed from Jerry’s Story, to Unresolved, and now back to Jerry’s Story. At the moment though, I’m thinking of making the title Memoir of a Man out of Time and credit Jeremiah James Vaughn (the story’s protagonist and narrator) as the author. I’ll make a more detailed post about this book later.

My partner has also been working on a science fiction themed table-top RPG called Orion’s End, and I’ve been helping with the world-building. This is an extremely fun project that’ll continue to keep me busy this year.

So, that’s what I did last year. I read a lot of books, did a lot of writing, and have really enjoyed my first year of blogging. This year, I’m going to try to diversify my blog. I’ll still post regular reviews, but I hope to also write more about my writing, and now that I have Goodreads figured out, I may join some groups and complete some reading challenges. I have big plans for this blog in 2017, and I hope you all stick around.

~Lauren