24 November 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem (Three Body, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the scope of Dune and the commercial action of Independence Day, 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.

I'd first heard of Cixin Liu a couple years ago and knew that he was a well respected and awarded Chinese author, and after I'd read a couple of his shorter works I was very keen to read The Three Body Problem when it's English version appeared. I can most assuredly say that we've got here one very good hard science fiction novel, and it's only the beginning of a longer saga that sounds like it's going to be a real beauty. Being hard sci-fi, which is not usually my preferred flavour, I found some portions of the story a tad arduous, but not exactly difficult to read. These portions were specifically where we're taken into the virtual reality world of the Three Body computer game, and the main protagonist's adventures and discoveries therein. However, further into the book the information given through these scenes makes absolute sense and is actually a crucial part of the story, which paints the background superbly and fits with the whole story really well. The Chinese Cultural Revolution is an unusual but appropriate backdrop, and it's superbly written so that we can connect easily with the characters and their trials and tribulations of that period. I was going to award four stars to this book due to the previously mentioned "arduous" sections, but the whole story came together so well toward the end that it earned the fifth star. The next book in the series is due out in English in July 2015 and I will be reading that to see where this fascinating story goes next. Based on what I've read of Liu's so far, I reckon it's a safe bet that it'll be fantastic.

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20 November 2014

New science fiction magazine

Short fiction is great, especially sci-fi short fiction. It's the best format for this genre in my humble opinion, and it's where sci-fi really got it's start in the first place, in the pulp magazines. I currently subscribe to Analog and also the relatively new Galaxy's Edge and enjoy both very much and I always get something out of reading both of these fine magazines.

Probably the newest kid on the block (in the English-speaking world anyway) is BAST10N Science Fiction Magazine. It's been around for just under a year and publishes monthly, issue number 8 being current. They claim to publish "short stories reminiscent of the golden age" which really appeals to me, and the fantastic artwork on their website supports this idea.

This from their website:

Bastion is a new science fiction magazine publishing digitally on the first of every month. Each issue will contain 7 to 9 original short stories. Our yearly anthology will be available in both digital and print formats in early December. Immediate goals for our young magazine include establishing a solid reader base so our contributors can get paid professional rates for their work. As writers ourselves, we understand the importance of getting compensated for an author's work, so we evaluate what we can offer our authors each month. Additionally, we do our best to respond meaningfully to each submission within a reasonable amount of time, since we understand how frustrating it can be to wait for weeks or months without ever hearing back. We're also working toward becoming a qualifying market for the Science Fiction Writer's Association, which we hope will help to develop our contributor's professional qualifications.

Finally, although we do what we can to focus on our contributors, our ultimate goal is to publish stories of the highest quality for our readers.

As we're in the process of expanding and developing a reader base, we'd love it if you would tell your friends about us.

Sounds pretty good to me, enough so that I've just bought Issue 8 from Weightless Books and will put that in the queue to be read soon.

18 November 2014

The possibility of other life "out there"

Have you, like me, ever wondered about the possibility of life on other planets, around other stars, even close to home in our own solar system? And this can be further broken down into either primitive life forms (bacteria, plants or even animals) or intelligent life forms. I long for the discovery of either, preferably with the latter.

I have a firm belief in a Creator, I find that there's too much wild speculation in the theory of evolution helped along by random chance, and requires from me a higher level of faith than does the belief in a superior Creator being. There is plenty of scope within my belief to encompass other life. I wonder if my fellow humans share my enthusiasm or optimism? Or do they react with fear and distaste, startled by the concept? It could be, whether it's that they simply don't think about such things, don't care, or maybe are afraid of finding out that we share space with beings that might even be far more advanced than ourselves. I will admit that prospect does sound a tiny bit scary.

The reason I ask this? I got thinking about the idea after reading the words of a passage in the book that I am currently enjoying. The book is The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu and the passage is where two characters are discussing SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The point made here, albeit in a fictional context, is interesting:

"Wang knew that it was only within the last couple of years that serious and systematic consideration had been given to the question of how and to what degree human societies would be influenced by establishing contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, but the research had rapidly gained interest, and the conclusions were shocking.
Naïve, idealistic hopes had been shattered. Scholars found that, contrary to the happy wishes of most people, it was not a good idea for the human race as a whole to make contact with extraterrestrials. The impact of such contact on human society would be divisive rather than uniting, and would exacerbate rather than mitigate the conflicts between different cultures. In summary, if contact were to occur, the internal divisions within Earth civilization would be magnified and likely lead to disaster. The most shocking conclusion of all was that the impact would have nothing at all to do with the degree and type of contact (unidirectional or bidirectional), or the form and degree of advancement of the alien civilization."

I don't know if the author has used factual study findings here, but it certainly is thought-provoking. Do many of Earth's citizens fear the idea so?

I for one, live with the hope that one day we will meet some amazing new beings and become firm friends, sharing who we are and what we know. We will hopefully learn from each other, both the good and the not so good, and be able to enrich each others' existence and help make our giant community a better place, full of wonder and enlightenment.

A dreamer? Yes. An idealist? In some ways. I just want us as a species to fulfill a positive destiny and maybe even enjoy the company of some other folks along the way.

Not so crazy is it?

11 November 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Devourer by Liu Cixin

Devourer Devourer by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A crystalline structure floating through the depths of space bears tidings of destruction: “The Devourer approaches!”

Countless cables, thousands of miles long, are lowered from the Devourer's inside wall to the Planet's surface below. An entire world is trapped, like a fly in the web of a cosmic spider. Giant transport modules are then sent back and forth between earth and Devourer, taking with them the planet's oceans and atmosphere.

This short novel is a real gem, it's a fun and thought provoking read from an interesting and obviously skilled Chinese author. It's been translated beautifully because there were no hints of translation at all that I could detect. The story details themselves are relatively standard sci-fi ideas, but it's the 'human' aspect that impressed me, and Liu presents humanity interestingly in the light of the alien invaders. I was a little reminded of the work of John Scalzi and his Old Man's War universe novels, mainly by the dialogue and philosophical ideas, and I mean this as a huge compliment. Overall a solid story that I really recommend to any sci-fi reader.

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