Book Review: Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Not every book I read comes easily to me. I don’t mean that it was hard to get a copy of this book, it wasn’t, but I mean that in order to read it, I really had to work at it. Sometimes when you have to work at a book, it’s not necessarily a good one. But, of course, this isn’t always the case and it certainly isn’t the case with the first book in Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (according to Wikipedia and some googling I’ve done, it’s u2333sually referred to as the Three Body trilogy).

Three-Body Problem was translated from Chinese by Ken Liu (an excellent author in his own right). It’s a science fiction novel about aliens, but you don’t really meet the aliens until you get closer to the end of the novel. It’s really the story of two character from two different time periods in China. The beginning of the novel is set during the Cultural Revolution and gives us our first main character, Ye Wenjie. She watches the horrors that befall her father and his fate and black class status follows her throughout her young life. But, because this is a novel, after all, Ye’s scientific background ends up balancing out her father’s black marks on their past. She ends up entangled and then deeply entrenched in looking for alien life.

Our second thread follows that of Wang Miao and is set 40 years in the future (basically, present day China). Wang, like Ye, is a scientist, though they study different sciences. Wang is contacted by a strange group of people and ends up befriending Ye, though he doesn’t know how their stories truly intersect until later. Wang must infiltrate an organization that is bent on world destruction and when he does, what he discovers blows his mind (but that would be spoiling things for me to tell you, so I won’t).

The novel is full of Chinese history (Liu helpfully includes footnotes of his own, in addition to Cixin’s, to make sure Western authors understand what they’re reading and the historical context of the novel), science and computer games — among other things. You do not need to understand physics or Chinese history to enjoy this novel.

We follow Ye and Wang as their lives are intertwined, bringing us to the climax and conclusion of the novel. We discover what really happened to Ye once she started working on a mountain (what saved her from her black status) and we participate (though not directly) with Wang as he explorThreebodyes a computer game that proves to be very important to the story. And, toward the end, we also get to go inside the heads of the aliens.

Cixin Liu’s writing is excellent and I trust Ken Liu’s translation. I didn’t feel like I was reading a translated work. And now I want to return to something I mentioned at the start of this review — this novel was a lot of work to read. Not because it was hard, but because Cixin Liu packed it full. It’s a dense, enthralling read, but it also took me a long time to read it. In many ways, it reminds me of many of Kim Stanely Robinson’s works. Hard reads, but worth the effort — which is exactly how I feel about Three-Body Problem.

If you like science in your science fiction, plus a murder mystery, and mixing of time/story lines, you should read Three-Body Problem. It sets up it’s sequel very nicely, leaving me wanting more, but ends in such a way that I’m not angry there are three books in the series. Instead, I’m just ready for more of this universe that Cixin Liu’s created.

The Wednesday Four: (06/03/15)

What a strange mix of links today.

Of those 100 books, I’ve read four: Eleanor & Park, Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Before I Fall and Station Eleven. Of those, I would only recommend two of them. Before I Fall was an enjoyable fantasy-esque novel about a girl who only has one day to live. Station Eleven is a truly excellent piece of dystopian fiction set in the Northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, Hollywood and Toronto. I cannot recommend Station Eleven enough. Go read that one.

I don’t remember why I don’t like Daughter of Smoke & Bone, except that I didn’t find it interesting in the least and wasn’t fond of the main character. I did like Eleanor & Park, though I didn’t love it (I also didn’t like Rowell’s other YA offering, Fangirl). But a friend of mine sent me a link (I’ve long since lost it) that explained why E&P is a terrible novel and the more I think about the book, the more I agree. Though I can’t find the original link, here are some other reviews that sum up why I no longer like nor can recommend E&P.

As for the rest of the list? I can think of plenty of YA, Science Fiction and Fantasy titles that should be on that list that aren’t. I don’t really understand why there are so few of them, but there are some popular (to library patrons, at least) titles on the list. It’s worth checking out, even if I think they give short shrift to YA, SF&F books.

Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road

I’ve been a fan of Seanan McGuire since before I knew that her pen name was Mira Grant. It was my sister who hooked me up with McGuire’s series under her own name (October Daye, for those who’re curious — highly recommended) and it’s her copy of Sparrow Hill Road that I read.

Let me start by saying that I like ghost stories. I’m not a big fan of movies about ghosts or the stories you tell around camp fires, but I do like ghost stories in novels, especially ones that are more X-Files than traditional. And while there aren’t any FBI agents running around in Sparrow Hill Road, that doesn’t make the story any less X-Files-ish or amazing. Of course, even if you’ve never watched The X-Files, this book is still pretty great.

Sparrow Hill Road is about a road, of course, but it’s really about a network of roads … and even then, it’s about a girl (she’s known as the phantom prom date, among other names) named Rose. Of course, Rose is dead. She is the ghost of our story (full of many ghosts).

When Rose was sixteen, she was waiting for Gary to pick her up and take her to prom. When Gary didn’t show, Rose went after him and was then subsequently run off the road and thus she died, in her prom dress, at age six. That was in 1952.

McGuire’s writing in Sparrow Hill Road is some of her best. Rose’s story is always entertaining, always engrossing and thoroughly engaging. We follow Rose across the years, from 1952 (and even a bit earlier) to 2014. Rose crosses the country and we go with her. In some ways, Sparrow Hill Road is a young adult novel, much of Rose is still sixteen — but the truth is that she’s not. She’d be almost 80 if she’d been alive, but ghosts don’t age.

Sparrow Hill Road is a love story. It’s a sad story. It’s beautiful and thoughtful. It’s about both kinds of family — those by blood and those made. It’s also about Michigan, as Rose is from Buckley Township (there is a Buckley Michigan, though I don’t know if these are one and the same). If you live in the state, you’ll definitely recognize some of the city names.

Rose died on the road and thus her ghost lives on the road. She’s what’s called a hitchiker. She travels the ghost roads, looking for rides, among other things. But really, Rose is chasing the man that killed her, all those years ago. Unlike many suspense-filled novels, there’s only a sense of urgency when Rose feels it. I didn’t want the book to end, I wasn’t ready to stop reading about Rose. But as the the stories that make up the novel converged into the present day, Rose was ready find some sort of closure.

Do we get it? In a manner of speaking. Is it satisfying? You better believe it.

Sparrow Hill Road is also about cars and drivers, about staying alive and what happens to the dead in this world of Rose’s. It’s also a bit of a philosophical read, which was a pleasant surprise (perhaps intentional, perhaps not, that’s not important). If you’ve never read anything by Seanan McGuire, Sparrow Hill Road‘s not a bad place to start. In a way, it’s like the best of both Mira Grant (her pen name for when she writes horror/zombies/etc) and Seanan McGuire (the urban fantasy author). So, go pick it up. You’ll enjoy the ghost story, I promise.

Book Review: Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Razorhurst by Justin LarbalestierI’ve said many times to many people that I’m not a big fan of historical fiction unless there’s some sort of fantasy/SF twist and, as a general rule, this is almost always true. There have been a few exceptions, but mostly I find the genre boring without something else. It’s personal preference, I know plenty of people who love historical fiction. I’m just not one of them.

Justine Larbalestier’s new YA novel, Razorhurst, is historical fiction with that twist. The main character in Rarzorhurst is Kelpie, a young girl who can see ghosts. She lives on the streets of Sydney in the 1930s, when gangsters ruled the city.

At the end of the novel, Larbalestier gives a brief history of her interest in 1930s Sydney and that the events in the novel are basically fiction, but they’re taken from real events and some of the characters are also borrowed from history. But, unlike so many historical fiction novels (that I don’t know), Larbalestier puts more of her fiction into the novel than reality — which is part of the reason I like it.

Prior to reading Razorhurst, the only novel of Larbalestier’s I’d read was How to Ditch Your Fairy, which was a cute and lighthearted fantasy novel (almost urban fantasy). Razorhurst is about as far away from that as you can get.

Kelpie’s life isn’t easy, in fact it’s exceptionally hard — though she has a couple things going for her. She looks younger than her actual age, she can read, she knows the streets of the area she lives in (this Razorhurst area) and she can see and talk to ghosts. Kelpie doesn’t see the last thing as something that helps her, or at least recently she hasn’t. Growing up, she’d been raised by some ghosts and a couple of actual humans (Neal Darcy and a man named Snowy). But her interaction with people is rather limited and she feels, mostly, more at home with the ghosts than with people.

Kelpie’s luck holds throughout the novel, though in some ways it doesn’t hold at all. The world Kelpie lives in is ruled by two ruling gangsters, Mr. Davidson and Gloriana Nelson, and it’s by sheer coincidence that Kelpie finds herself in the middle of that world. She stumbles into the aftermath of a murder and runs into the most popular woman in Razorhurst, Dymphna Campbell.

Soon, Dymphna and Kelpie are on the run. Much of the novel is told from Kelpie’s point of view, but many other characters get chapters. We follow Kelpie as she tries to figure out how to survive and what to make of all these people (and ghosts) suddenly in her life. The story skips around and as we follow Kelpie we learn about her past in some chapters, before catching up with the present. Nothing’s neat or easy, which Larbalestier does an excellent job of illustrating throughout the novel. Characters do die and the story isn’t pretty, but it’s not meant to be.

I’ve read a couple of review that talk about how this doesn’t seem to be a YA novel, but I beg to differ. The story is mature, but it’s no darker than others I’ve read. But it does set itself apart from other YA novels — even with the ghosts, Razorhurst is a very real novel. It’s dirty and gritty, just like Kelpie’s world. But it’s also about found family, something that I really love (remember my Fast & Furious post?).

The heart of Razorhurst (and yes, there is one) is Kelpie’s struggles and how her world changes when she meets Dymphna. It’s about the importance of having people care about you, no matter what your circumstances are. It’s also tangentially about the importance of reading (one of the ghosts in Kelpie’s life taught her to read). It’s also about the differences between poverty and the upper classes, between the middle class and the lowest classes. It’s also about the idea that no matter how much money you have, crime is still crime and you can’t buy respect — and it’s kindness that really counts.

I don’t know if Larbalestier will write more, I haven’t read if there will be a sequel, but the story doesn’t need one (though it could have one). In some ways I hope it doesn’t, not because I don’t what to know what happens to the characters, because it seems more real that we don’t know. They don’t know, either, and neither should we. Much of the novel is spent waiting to see what’s around the next corner, how long the’re going to survive and not having all the answers makes the book all that much better.

I definitely recommend this book. It’s a fast, harsh, read, but it’s also clear that Larbalestier cares about her characters and we should, too. The story skips around, as we follow Kelpie we learn about her past in some chapters, before catching up with the present. It’s not a perfect novel, few are, but it’s a good book.

Falling in Love with Robots

Notes: There are spoilers for basically everything I mention in here, but if you haven’t watched Big Hero 6, you may want to skip that section, which is toward the end.

In college, we had to do a big senior thesis project and I did mine on what it means to be human — if you’re not actually human. Among other media, I wrote about Blade Runner and Marge Piercy’s novel, He She & It and in both of those novels, there are characters who fall in love with robots (androids/etc) and I find this to be endlessly interesting. I’m not exactly sure why, but I seem drawn to this theme. I’ve written a couple of short stories along these themes and somehow end up reading/watching shows with this same theme.

A year or so (maybe more?) ago I watched a good (though not great) Japanese drama called Q10. Takeru Sato plays a teenager who falls in love with a robot-girl named Q10. I actually really loved the show up until the end (which was really dumb, but if you want to watch it, I recommend the show). I like the idea that in spite of the fact that Q10 isn’t actually human (as in flesh and blood), Takeru Sato’s character still falls in love with her. The same applies to the main character of He She & It (which everyone should read). The novel takes place in a far flung future where Shira falls in love with an android named Yod. But, like most of these stories, the love cannot ever really be. This is also true for Deckard in Blade Runner (the movie — the novel is a different issue).

Loving robots is never easy or acceptable — unless the universe you create makes it so. The friend who recommended Death Note to me also recommended a lovely manga series named Chobits which is about a young man who falls in love with Chi, an android. I really loved this series, so I’m not sure if my review can be unbiased (though is it supposed to be?) because I think that as soon as I knew what the story was about, I was going to like it. While Chobits is about more than just Hideki and Chi’s friendship and eventual relationship, it’s really central to the storyline. Like He She & It, there are two stories within the manga. In Piercy’s novel, Shira’s grandmother  (one of Yod’s creator) is telling Yod the story of the golem of the Warsaw ghetto as a parallel to his existence in Shira’s world. In Chobits, one of Chi’s creators is telling Chi’s story to her in the guise of a children’s book.

I find these parallels compelling for two reasons, one because creators take an interest in their creation — you see this in Blade Runner and, a little bit, at the end of Q10 (when you find out why the robot exists). But also because it gives the androids history and background, perhaps not of their creation, but a history that they can relate to. Yod’s not made of mud and Chi cannot remember her life before Hideki found her, but the stories they’re told define them all the same.

But as much as I love these stories about humans falling in love with robots/androids, it does ruin me for other things. For example, a few weeks ago I watched Big Hero 6 and when I should’ve loved it, I didn’t like it at all. There’s nothing wrong with the movie, not really, but instead I disliked the way the movie treated Baymax at the end of the movie. One of the things talked about in Chobits is the idea that the androids in that world can be reset and there’s character who fell in love with an android and she basically dies. Her husband (they were married), instead of having her reset, decides to treat her like you would a human and allows her to die without coming back. He doesn’t care that she could, in theory, have had all of their shared memories because he’d know she wasn’t the same. Hideki, toward the end of the series, has to decide if he really loves Chi and he has this same through process.

How does this relate to Big Hero 6i? Well, at the end of the movie Baymax sacrifices himself to save people’s live, including our main character, Hiro. It was clear that Hiro loved Baymax (who belonged to Hiro’s late, beloved brother) as if he was a real person (as far as a cartoon aimed at kids can go with that theme) and so when Baymax died, I was really, really upset. Even though I knew he probably wasn’t going to stay dead — and he doesn’t. In fact, we see that he passes along his chip full of memories to Hiro so that he doesn’t even die at all. Except to me, I felt cheated. You killed off this character who was an important character and who had developed into something of a person. Why kill him off at all? I know that I read too much into it and I shouldn’t care, but it’s hard not to when there’s this whole genre out there that I adore so much.

That being said, Big Hero 6 isn’t bad and everyone should watch it. I just hated it for very personal reasons.

And, with that, I’ll take any recommendations for people falling in love with robots/androids novels! And maybe one day I’ll finish reading David Levy’s book Love + Sex with Robots.

Staff Review: Books 1 & 2 of The Lovegrove Legacy

Originally posted on Tuesday, 03 March 2015 at ROPL.org.

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t find Regency romances interesting and you avoid fantasy. If you love both of those things – and even if you don’t, keep reading. Why? Because it turns out that sometimes, when you put two things together that you don’t like – they produce something you might love.

Of course, this isn’t always true (and the opposite isn’t true – after all, I love mint and I love chocolate, but I certainly don’t like them together). But if you give me a Regency (or Edwardian/Victorian) setting and sprinkle it liberally with magic? I love it (unlike that mint chocolate chip cookie you’re thinking about right now) and maybe you will, too. If you already like those genres, together or separate, you’ll certainly find something to like in this series.

Alyxandra Harvey’s new series, The Lovegrove Legacy, is set in 1814 London (in the middle of the Regency period). It’s the story of three cousins; Gretchen, Emma, and Penelope. Unbeknownst to the three girls, they are descents of a very strong magical family, but as the three cousins soon find out – there’s a reason their abilities have been hidden.

The first book, A Breath of Frost follows the three cousins, but primarily focuses on Emma as she tries to figure out why their magic has been hidden from them. The second book, Whisper of the Dead, picks up where the first left off, but instead of focusing on Emma, we change to Gretchen. Although the primacy focus of each of the these first two books is on a particular cousin, Harvey provides us with plenty to read about the other two – along with the love interests that flit throughout their lives.

In many ways, The Lovegrove Legacy is a Regency romance — there’s a season, there’s swooning and handsome men and beautiful dresses. But there’s also magic, lots of magic, and danger. Harvey’s world is similar to our own, but with a twist of magic that will leave you excited for the third book. .

Check out both of these books from the library! If you like them, you might also enjoy the Ceclia & Kate trilogy by Patricia C. Wrede (previously reviewed on ROPL).

Some links for your Friday (on Monday, oops!)

This first link is from my dad — I’m very lucky to have parents who know what I like and while they don’t always approve, they do pass things along to me that might be interesting. This article is one of those instances. Actually, there are two articles from my parents in this post! The first, from my father, and the second, from my mother. In the first article, much of the article is about my favorite author, William Gibson. The second article is told in a webcomic format, which my mother knows I like.

  • What Is an @uthor? Today’s social media landscape confronts contemporary authors with a qualitatively different opportunity to confront their public selves. (LA Review of Books)
  • Guilty, Then Proven Innocent With eight successful exonerations so far, North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission could be a national model for fighting wrongful convictions. (The Atlantic)
  • Scorched Earth, 2200AD Climate change has done its worst, and now just 500 million humans remain on lifeboats in the north. How do they survive? (Aeon)
  • Send in the Weathermen: As the Department of Defense’s only commando forecasters, SOWTs gather mission-impossible environmental data from some of the most hostile places on Earth.
  • Wokking the Suburbs As he stepped woozily into the first American afternoon of his life, the last thing my father wanted to do was eat Chinese food. (Lucky Peach)