Ball Lightning.

Position:Book review


Ball Lightning

By Cixin Liu, translated from the Chinese by Joel Martinsen

Former engineer Cixin Liu, Chinas most popular science fiction author, has won multiple awards in China and beyond. He is particularly known for his Remembrance of Earths Past: The Three-Body Trilogy: The Three-Body Problem (**** Mar/Apr 2015), which won a Hugo Award, The Dark Forest (2015), and Death's End (**** Jan/Feb 2017). Joel Martinsen is an Edinburgh-based translator and the research director for a media intelligence company. He previously translated Liu's The Dark Forest and Han Han's The Problem with Me (2016).

THE STORY: As the novel opens in the present era, the young Chen sees his parents burnt to death by ball lightning during an electrical storm. He instantly vows to investigate the phenomenon when he grows up, and he ends up devoting his life to its study as a way of making his parents' death worthwhile. His research has stalled when he meets Lin Yun, an army major who intends to weaponize lightning and other natural forces. A war may be building up in the region, but Chen and Lin are far more concerned with their scientific studies. They rope in physicist Ding Yi and other academics to help in this philosophical mystery set in the world of science.

Tor Books. 384 pages. $28.99. ISBN: 9780765394071

Barnes & Noble (blog) ****

"Liu uses the liminal nature of ball lightning to his advantage: a book about scientists pursuing ghosts would be fantasy, but here, he gets to have all the fun of a ghost story while dealing in concepts much more tangible.... It's a quieter book than The Three Body Problem, but no less potent a reminder that Cixin Liu is a vital, singular voice in modern science fiction." ROSS JOHNSON ****

"This'll sound like a backhanded compliment, but I mean it in the best way possible: The only time Ball Lightning disappoints is when one compares it to Remembrance of Earth's Past.... [B]eautifully written characters aren't Liu's strong suit--he's more interested in, and better at, cracking open the big ideas of space and time." ERIK HENRIKSEN

NPR ***1/2

"[T]he reader must face some long, lonely stretches of...

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