zanzjan: (manuscript)
[personal profile] zanzjan
(by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu)

Finished reading this a few days ago. My thoughts:

1. The translation -- as best as I can determine not having read the original Chinese, but having read many translated works of varying qualities -- is clearly superb. The flow was flawless, and given the amount of incredibly complex physics concepts in the book this is an incredible accomplishment.

2. See above. Many really wonderful concepts in the book, enough to keep me reading it to the end, enough to make me consider getting the next book despite...

3. Characters. Sigh. For me, the one significant failure of the book is how we are never really given a consistent POV character to sympathize with.

In the first part of the book, pretty much every time we get briefly introduced to someone, they die. This was a grim slog for the first fifty pages or so. Eventually we are introduced to Ye Wenjie, who we stick with long enough for me, at least, to get attached, even though she was emotionally difficult to bond with and still rather flat. (I freely admit I'm also not a big fan of grim, so maybe that's part of the issue I had here.) Just as her story was getting interesting, we jump several decades into the future and to a new POV character. Wang Miao is not as memorable a character as Ye was, which made it hard to jump headship to him. Also, around the time he was introduced we also met Da Shi, a rude asshole of a policeman who was -- and this also probably speaks volumes about me -- *immediately* interesting. He remains, however, a secondary and intermittent character. When Wang re-encounters Ye, she has changed in ways that make her unlikeable and cold, being shown as largely ambivalent about the suicide of her daughter, and then shedding whatever lukewarm sympathy we had for her when she turns out to have become one of the primary villains of the piece. It's a neat trick to make your readers care about someone who has so thoroughly turned their back on the entire human race, but this book doesn't even land in the ballpark of pulling that off.

I think, had we stuck with Ye through that transformation, I might have been able to retain at least some sense of connection to her. Instead, I failed to bond with Wang, didn't see enough of Da Shi, and the connection with Ye was broken irreparably by the narrative structure itself.

4. Those video game bits were long and largely tedious, despite me really wanting them not to be. OTOH, it was conceptually interesting, just executed in a way that felt disjointed and mostly unnecessary to the narrative. I could have stood MORE cool physics stuff and a bit less onerous chunking through infodumps and the video game sequences.

I suspect I would have loved this book if told entirely from Da Shi's perspective. I would have probably liked it more than I did if we'd either stuck consistently with Ye or started right off with Wang and gave us Ye's history as part of *his* interaction with the unfolding events. I'm not sure if I'll read the second book, but if I do, it'll be because of the ideas. And yeah, SF is "the literature of ideas", but as many, many authors have taught us, good ideas don't have to come at the expense of character.

So YMMV. I can't say the novel ultimately worked for me, but I also very much can't say it's not worth reading anyway. And damn, huge kudos to Ken Liu for the masterful translation job.
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