Book review – The Three Body Problem – Hard sci-fi

The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu

4 star read

Why I read: Hugo award winning sci-fi.  I read a review on Helen’s Bookshelf which sold it to me as a must read book.

Book blurb: “The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.”

Select  quote : “To effectively contain a civilization’s development and disarm it across such a long span of time, there is only one way: kill its science.”
― Liu CixinThe Three-Body Problem

 

My review

The book begins during China’s Cultural revolution where Ye Wenjie witnesses her fathers death at the hands of the Red Guards, this event shapes her view on humanity and we see later  how this has an impact on the rest of mankind.  Years later Nanotech Wang Mayo infiltrates a secret organisation and immerses into a virtual world  ruled by the interaction of its three suns.   This Three Body Problem is the key to scientists deaths, a conspiracy which spans light years and the extinction level threat facing humanity.

Its hard to talk about this book without giving anything away!  I absolutely loved how much this book had science at its core.  I didn’t  always understand all of the physics and some I was unsure if it was current physics knowledge or it was fictional science for the story but this did not impact on my enjoyment.   The virtual reality system was amazing and really spoke to my inner gamer geek.  I loved how game theory and physics intertwined as Wang tries to solve the Three Body Problem and work out the pattern of the Stable and Chaotic eras which occur within the VR.   It’s a real hard thinking book full of huge ideas.   There’s so much going on within the speculative fiction including concepts on astrology, aliens, religion and humanity.    Like most good sci-fi it shines a light upon humanity so you see both the good and bad and possible futures based on this.   I took my time reading it as felt I would miss out on so much if I read it quickly.  I still got a little lost in places as there is just so much going on.  There are many themes than run through but all get tied together nicely at the end.

The characters are all well thought out, quirky people but realistic.  I think its a fine example of gender equality writing.   There were women scientists in the book and these were presented as it being completely normal and they just happened to be women.  Not super-hero women who had exceptional talents so could do science but real normal women.  I’ve tagged it as a feminist book because of this.  Not because it deals with issues to do with women but because of the strong sense of equality present throughout.  Its a really positive way of writing which I hope to read more of in the future.

I prefer writing that is more descriptive and evocative. I don’t know if its the translation but it is written quite plain speaking.  This does however fit in with all the science that is packed into the book.   The translator did a  great job, throughout the book are a few footnotes that explain aspects of Chinese culture and history relevant to what is happening and these added to my understanding.  This book is highly original so is a must read for anyone who enjoys hard sci-fi.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: Hard science fiction, physics, Chinese sci-fi, strong female characters, thought-provoking books, big idea books.

“Science fiction is a literature that belongs to all humankind. It portrays events of interest to all of humanity, and thus science fiction should be the literary genre most accessible to readers of different nations. Science fiction often describes a day when humanity will form a harmonious whole, and I believe the arrival of such a day need not wait for the appearance of extraterrestrials.” 
― Liu CixinThe Three-Body Problem

****

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published November 11th 2014 by Tor Books (first published 2007)
ISBN 0765377063
Advertisements

Book Review : The Growing Season – thought provoking dystopia

The Growing Season – by Helen Sedgwick

4 star read

Why I read:  Science fiction and dystopia with strong feminist themes

Book blurb: “Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent”

 

 

My review

A beautiful, thought provoking book.  Exquisitely layered with hope, sadness, heart-break, love, family, science-fiction and dystopia.  Set in the near future where a  bio-tech baby pouch has been invented and is owned by a private-for profit FullLife Company who have exclusive rights to the pouches. This pouch is marketed to allow anyone to experience pregnancy and as an end to female equality issues.   A journalist discovers that there are problems with some of the babies being born from the pouches which is being covered up by the FullLife Company.   A mix of characters try to figure out what is happening and causing babies to die in the pouches, as there is a lot at stake both financial and society wide.

This book explores many ethical dilemmas around women’s roles, equality,  family, life and death.  This is done in a wonderfully thought out and caring way that forms part of the book and the characters views.    The pros and cons of the science and how this impacts on society are explored which I enjoyed as science ethics really interests me.  Earlier parts of the book run a little slow but the last section makes up for this.  The thriller part of the novel runs slim, a lot of pages are devoted to backstories of the characters and their views, and exploring the ethics around the technology.  To me this added to the book,  giving emotion and making it a really thought-provoking read.  Some themes reminded me of the Handmaiden’s Tale with its look at how conceiving babies is a woman’s role but how the pouch could transform that.  But The Growing Season is a wonderfully original novel that deserves a place amongst the must-reads of dystopian fiction.

Sedgewich writes in a passionate, evocative prose that is very captivating.  The characters are all human, fleshed out with flaws and strengths, errors and achievements that allow you to connect with them.  At times I got a little confused with who’s story I was reading as characters would switch around within chapters so you do need to pay attention.

It is a book I will read again, for the hope contained within the pages for a better future and the beautiful tale of love and heartbreak.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: Strong female characters, science fiction, dystopia, feminism, science ethics.

****

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

ebook
Expected publication: September 7th 2017 by Vintage Digital
ISBN 1473548756 (ISBN13: 9781473548756)

Book Review: Eating Robots – bite sized visions of dystopian futures

Eating Robots: And Other Stories by Stephen Oram

Why I read:  I’m fascinated by AI and ideas of dark dystopian  futures.

Book blurb: “Step into a high-tech vision of the future with author of Quantum Confessions and Fluence Stephen Oram. Featuring health-monitoring mirrors, tele-empathic romances and limb-repossessing bailiffs, Eating Robots explores the collision of utopian dreams and twisted realities in a world where humanity and technology are becoming ever more intertwined.
Sometimes funny, often unsettling, and always with a word of warning, these thirty sci-fi shorts will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.”

My review

Bite sized visions of dystopian futures. The book contains 30 very short stories featuring robots, AI, electronic credit systems, radical body modifications and more. Marvellous snippets that make a big impact on you as you read. At the end of the book are a series of responses to the stories from robotic experts which were an interesting addition.

These were powerful stories that stay with you long after you close the book. The fascinatingly eerie takes on the near future were well-crafted to give you nightmares. Some shorts were only a few pages long which I felt were a little too short to more than glimpse at an idea and the briefness of the stories did not lead to much character development or extensive plots. But many were just the perfect size for a quick reading break to devour the thought provoking ideas often with twisted endings. The book contained a wide range of interesting concepts that Id like to read expanded versions of in a longer story by the author.

I loved this dark glance upon the future which reminded me of the TV series Black Mirror. Very imaginative, sometimes disturbing sometimes humorous but all brilliant examples of possible futures that were scarily recognisable.

****

I received an ARC from Netgallery in return for an honest review.

Paperback, 138 pages
Expected publication: May 31st 2017 by SilverWood Books
ISBN 1781326223 (ISBN13: 9781781326220)
An introduction to the book from the author and readings of a few of the stories are  available on : http://stephenoram.net/eatingrobots/

 

 

Agents of Dreamland – Weird Fiction Novella

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Select Sentence “Their language works its way into your brain, digging in and lodging in the convolutions of the cerebrum, burying into the fine groves of the cerebellum, threatening to hijack all reason and even the basest animal instincts.”

Book blurb: “A government special agent known only as the Signalman gets off a train on a stunningly hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. Later that day he meets a woman in a diner to exchange information about an event that happened a week earlier for which neither has an explanation, but which haunts the Signalman.

In a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible — the Children of the Next Level — and offers them something to believe in and a chance for transcendence. The future is coming and they will help to usher it in.

A day after the events at the ranch house which disturbed the Signalman so deeply that he and his government sought out help from ‘other’ sources, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe New Horizons. Something out beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact.

And a woman floating outside of time looks to the future and the past for answers to what can save humanity”

My review

I was so excited when I saw this book that I purchased and read it straight away.  And I was not disappointed one bit.  This is a short book only 120 pages but it packs a punch, filled with imagination, darkness and conspiracy theories.

Agents of Dreamland is a weird-fiction novella. A dark twisted Lovecraft tale of alien invasion and zombie fungus. The Signalman, a government agent is tracking down a cult leader but instead discovers a horrific crime scene. Immacolata looks through time and observes these events and through her? eyes we glimpse the madness and horror of the future as she searches for a way to save humanity. Caitlín R. Kiernan’s beautiful prose gives us glimpses of an apocalyptic future ripped straight from a nightmare.

This is not a linear story but rather twists and turns, weaving through time and back. You have to piece together the story as you go. But this just adds to the mystery and horror of the book. The characters are interesting especially Immacolata, who appears outside of time.  The book had a X-files vibe about it with sci-fi and government intermixed into the dreamland.   I only wish the book had been longer so i could read more of the weird fascinating prose.

A must read for horror fans.

*****  5 star-read

112 pages Published February 28th 2017 by Tor.com

31372244

An excerpt of the first few pages can be read on Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/2017/01/27/excerpts-agents-of-dreamland-caitlin-kiernan/

Embassytown by China Miéville

Embassytown by China Miéville

Book Blurb: “In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties—to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.”

My review:

Favourite Quote: “Sometimes translation stops you understanding.” China Miéville

Embasseytown is an unusual sci-fi about a group of humans struggling to communicate with an alien species. A town on the edge of the universe, Ariekei hosts that speak a double language and a strong female lead it has all the elements of sci-fi that I love. However I almost stopped reading several times through the first 3rd of the book. Fragments made sense but overall my brain hurt. But then it started to come together. And I marvelled at the concepts Miéville presents around language.

To anyone starting reading this one – persevere through as the second half of the book blows your mind open with intriguing concepts, politics, weird aliens and abstract ideas.

I loved the aliens in this one.  They were almost beyond description and understanding. Masterful weird fiction.  This book made me think about language, how we use it, how it changes through our use and the impact it has on us.  It left a powerful impression long after I had finished the book.

This story is a wonderful piece of art : which focuses on the sheer beauty of language and its power to shape the world.

****

345 pages Published May 17th 2011 by Del Rey

19755140

Short Stories of Life

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Book blurb: “Ted Chiang’s first published story, “Tower of Babylon,” won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov’s SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.

Collected here for the first time are all seven of this extraordinary writer’s stories so far-plus an eighth story written especially for this volume.”

My review:

A wonderful collection of short stories/novellas. Beautifully written and insightful. Although most were more speculative fiction than sci-fi.

My favourite was “stories of your life” which deserves 5* on its own. The alien language fascinated me. Its a heartbreaking story and the anthology is worth getting just to read this one.

****

18626849

 

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood

Book blurb. “A collection of highly imaginative short pieces that speak to our times with deadly accuracy. Vintage Atwood creativity, intelligence, and humor: think Alias Grace.

Margaret Atwood turns to short fiction for the first time since her 2006 collection  Moral Disorder, with nine tales of acute psychological insight and turbulent relationships bringing to mind her award-winning 1996 novel, Alias Grace. A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in “Alphinland,” the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In “The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom,” a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In “Lusus Naturae,” a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In “Torching the Dusties,” an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in “Stone Mattress,” a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.”

My review:

Nine eloquently written short tales about the later stages of life. Dark and whimsical, a mix of realism and magic, serious and humour each one entertained me and I struggled to put the book down. Atwood has an amazing ability to bring to life each character with all their flaws, passions and quirks. She writes equally well about women and men and their hopes, regrets, revenge and love all are explored. This book is a real treat.

I would recommend it as a book for everyone to read. Atwood captures what it is to be human, and gives captivating insight as they go through the ageing process. Truly worthy of 5 stars

*****

23995369

The Earthsea Trilogy

I was recently introduced to Ursula K Le Guin’s wonderful prose and speculative fiction.  So I just had to read her fantasy Earthsea trilogy to see if I loved these books as much.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Book Blurb: “Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.”

My review

The Wizard of Earthsea is a beautifully crafted fantasy story that tells of the coming of age of young Sparrowhawk. Throughout the tale he learns the skills of a mage and how to wield his power and come to terms with darkness. Along with a convincing magic system Ursula K. Le Guin creates the wonderful world of Earthsea which is written in an almost lyrical prose. This is classic fantasy and true escapism on the surface but woven throughout is an exploration of themes including cause and effect, keeping the world in balance and what it means to be oneself. A truly magical read.

Oh and if that doesn’t inspire everyone to read this book. There are dragons, epic fire breathing dragons and cute pet bracelet “dragons”.

****

13642

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

Book blurb:  “When young Tenar is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, everything is taken away – home, family, possessions, even her name. For she is now Arha, the Eaten One, guardian of the ominous Tombs of Atuan.

While she is learning her way through the dark labyrinth, a young wizard, Ged, comes to steal the Tombs’ greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. But Ged also brings with him the light of magic, and together, he and Tenar escape from the darkness that has become her domain.”

My review:

A beautifully written short book filled with mystery and awe. It is a coming-of-age tale of a young girl Tenar as she becomes the Eaten One, guardian of the Tombs of Atuan. The writing is captivating as you feel the depth and darkness of the oppressive tombs. Tenar is a wonderful strong female character who has to question everything she has known in a struggle to discover who she is.

*****

13662

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

Book Blurb: “Book Three of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle Darkness threatens to overtake Earthsea: the world and its wizards are losing their magic. Despite being wearied with age, Ged Sparrowhawk — Archmage, wizard, and dragonlord — embarks on a daring, treacherous journey, accompanied by Enlad’s young Prince Arren, to discover the reasons behind this devastating pattern of loss. Together they will sail to the farthest reaches of their world — even beyond the realm of death — as they seek to restore magic to a land desperately thirsty for it.”

My Review:

My least favourite of the trilogy as it returns to focus on a middle aged Ged.  The story is one of death and magic dying out.  The writing was beautiful but I didn’t feel a connection to these characters or feel that the story was as strong as the other two books.

***