Wednesday, February 6, 2019

[Book] Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu

Book cover
I have a fairly particular view of science-fiction and how it is different from fantasy.  The fantastic element in science fiction is usually both a catalyst for the story itself as well as a way to explore the reactionary side of society.  Where in fantasy, the fantastic element is simply present.  Used as a tool, maybe even explored in depth, but isn't the main goal.

For example, I think of Star Wars as a fantasy story, not science fiction at all.  It does have a classically science-fiction aesthetic.  Yet, boiling it down, Jedi are wizards, space ships are little different from ocean vessels, and the story is pushed forward by that war part of the name.

This book sits on the knife-edge between the two for me.  There is nothing about the nature of ball lightning itself in this story that is necessary to push the main plot.  There is some exploration at the individual, moral level, which to my view, is this books one link to science fiction from pure fantasy.

The theme of this book is the destructive nature of obsession, and the destructive nature of those who are obsessed with something.  There are numerous characters, including Chen, who are obsessed with various things, and the destructive nature of their interactions are compelling, and a little sad.  So, in this way, this book almost feels like a dramatic fantasy story.

The Prelude of this book begins with the main character, Chen, on his 14th birthday, witnessing both of his parents dying from Ball Lightning.  This sets Chen on a life fascinated by this natural phenomenon, hoping to understand this force that killed his parents.  The book sweeps through his collage years and into a professional life where he meets other people who have also been obsessed with ball lightning, and also other people with intersecting obsessions.

Two things of note, this book occurs in the same universe as the Three Body problem (which is fully science fiction by my definition), though it takes place before most of the events of that first book.  Second, though part of both stories do share one character, the story has no relation to the subject of The Three Body Problem.

I liked the book, and recommend it as a good dramatic human story.  It certainly has a science-fiction aesthetic.  If you are really into modern science-fiction, this book isn't it. 

Cixin Liu is the author of The Three Body Problem and the trilogy that that book started.  I loved that series (I read it a few years before I started writing book reviews) and was very excited when I saw that Cixin Liu had a newly translated book.  I purchased this book at a Barnes and Noble.

Ball Lightning
Science Fiction
Tor
Released: 14 August 2018
Hardcover, 384 pages

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