Tag Archives: Cixin Liu

Books Reviewed 2015

Here is  housekeeping post, collecting all the books reviewed here in 2015.

Looking back at this list, I see that this year saw Terry Pratchette’s last book (a wrenching experience), and new novels by old favorites Stross, Perry, Macguire, Holt, Gaiman, among others. I also read older but still good histories by Goodwin and Graeber. I read several books about banking, Papal and otherwise, and overlapping works about Italy, fictional and (supposedly) real.

Over the year, I reviewed a sampling of important books about contemporary digital life, including cryptocurrency, the “sharing economy”, social media, and “mind change”.   These works covered a spectrum from enthusiasm to dark worry, giving us much to think about. There are many more I did not have time or energy for. (I will say more on this topic in another post)

Throughout 2015 I continued my ongoing investigation of the question, “what is coworking?”, including reviews of two recent (self published) books about coworking by practitioners. (More on coworking in another post.)

Shall I name some “Best Books” out of my list? Why not?

Fiction:

There were so many to pick from. I mean, with Neil Gaiman in the list, how can I choose? But let me mention two that are especially memorable

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Very imaginative and well written, and, for once, not so horribly dark. This book lodged in my memory more than others that are probably equally good.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Published a few years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. A wonderful, intricate story. The flight of the parrot is still in my memory.

Nonfiction:

There were many important works about digital life, and I shall try to comment on them in another post. But three books that really hit me are:

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
From several years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. Highly influential on the ‘occupy’ and other left-ish thinking. This is an astonishingly good book, and long form anthropology, to boot. Wow!

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
An exlectic little self-published book about “home coworking”, which I didn’t know was a thing. Kane walked the walk, and made me think in new ways about community and coworking.

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Unexpected amounts of fun reading this short book. It does an old, graying nerd no end of good to see that at least some of the kids are OK. Really, really, OK.

List of books reviewed in 2015

Fiction

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Witches Be Crazy by Logan J. Hunder
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
LaFayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer

 

Book Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “The Three Body Problem” by Cixin Liu

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
(translated by Ken Liu)

The Three Body Problem is the first book of a trilogy (I haven’t read the next two—please don’t spoil them for me!). Liu gives us a classic science fiction story, based on a handful of ideas (what will happen to human society if and when we find evidence of another intelligent species, plus some interesting speculative physics), and exploring the implications.

For me and most Western readers, Liu’s fiction has added interest for being set in (almost alien) China. Not only the events historical and future society, but some of the directions of the speculation is clearly Chinese. I found it interesting, if sometimes slightly disorienting.

This book is a throwback to classic science fiction, brimming with ideas and science-based speculations.

The title refers to the famous real life physics problem, predicting the chaotic behavior of three bodies under gravitation. This problem is deeply meaningful because it shows that even with very good physical theory, there are simple cases that are beyond our capability to easily model and predict.

Liu riffs on this classic problem, to discuss the importance of reproducible and predictable physics for the development of science and even “civilization”. He gives several perspectives on what happens when this predictability isn’t present or vanishes.

This book has a fairly unique take on interstellar warfare, which is generally considered infeasible. Without spoiling any details, let me just say that infowar and cyberwar might be possible over interstellar distances. Swell.

He also portrays the all too believable despair of a defeated environmentalist. It is sad, and dark, and, unfortunately, not impossible to imagine.

On the other hand, this book is also a throwback to classic science fiction in several ways that are, to me, not especially attractive.

Liu builds some of his story on nineteenth century ideas about “stages of development” and “civilization”. This notion of “progress” and “civilization” throughout history is, of course, a key theme of orthodox (nineteenth century) Marxist theory, familiar to everyone in China. Similar ideas (stripped of Marxist class warfare) used to feature prominently in American science fiction (and social science), though such childish ideas are long out of fashion now. Of course, with a perspective from China, Liu has few illusions about the fate of a technologically weaker “civilization” at the hands of invaders.

In another blast from the past, Liu manages to arrange events so that scientists, especially theoretical physicists are the most important human beings on the planet. This charming fantasy was a popular theme fifty and more years ago in American science fiction, but not these days. Far too many ugly high tech wars and environmental disasters for anyone to look to scientists as heroes.

Liu exhibits views of religion and religious practice that I take to reflect Chinese experience. His story is frankly unbelievable in this area, especially in imagining how “first contact” would play out in deeply religious societies such as the US or the Islamic world. I’d predict conspiracy theories, lynchings of scientists, and nuclear attacks on other nations, rather than the rational, multinational global defense Liu portrays.

Overall, this is a pretty good book, and very interesting for its noticeably non-Western flavor. It is “classic science fiction”, in both good and bad ways.


 

  1. Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem, New York, TOR, 2006.

 

Sunday Book Reviews