Thursday, April 28, 2016

Three-Body Problem Dark Forest

Earlier in this month I read "The Three Body Problem" and "The Dark Forest", by Cixin Liu. Liu is China's leading sci-fi author. The 3rd (final?) book "Death's End" will be out in September. I have it on pre-order.

The best part of these books is the physics - very creative and interesting. The chaotic orbit of a planet in a trinary stellar system (the title of the 1st book) is very well explained. The speculative post-standard model physics is very good stuff.

The books also adopt, as per the title of the 2nd book, the view of interstellar civilization that I first remember from Greg Bear in "The Forge of God". They are sweeping in scope, both in space and time.

The plotting was also pretty good. After at times lulling you to a point of approaching boredom, wham, action! Kind of like "Breaking Bad".

The odd part was some of the characterization. You are reminded that China is still a Communist country. Who else has "political officers" on their vessels as main characters? The 1st book opens in the 1960s with the Cultural Revolution, and, in some ways, it seems the books keep that "revolutionary zeal" feel. And that feel is the opposite of "noirish cool". Even the chain-smoking cynical detective character still has the approval of the powers-that-be, i.e., the party officials.

Here's some samples of uncoolness and other weirdness from the 2nd book:

"Mr. Shi, we haven't been working together long, but I really respect you."

A humble respect so rarely seen among modern people seemed to be in his blood, able to manifest at any time.

there was the principle of fairness in battle opportunity. ... a fair number of ships could not have been considered to have taken part, leaving them nothing in the history books but eternal regret.

They looked so noble and perfect, from the captain to the lieutenants, and their eyes shone with a godlike wisdom.

Earth now had the calm confidence to face any sort of enemy.

Yet Zhang Beihai's calm eyes were a strong force field that upheld the stability of the formation and helped them maintain their military poise. Children cast aside into the endless night needed a father most of all ...

his eyes full of a fatherly concern that gave her an undreamed-of sense of comfort ...

So, exposure to a different culture is a good thing I guess. Even if some of the attitudes seem, what, phony or insincere? Or juvenile? Quaint? Or just definitely Not Cool. Or maybe it's a translation problem, but I don't think so.

Still, the books are well worth the read, and I'm looking forward to the 3rd one.

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