Sci-Fi November: Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

ThreeBodyProblem1About The Three-Body Problem

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.


About the Author

Liu Cixin is the most prolific and popular science fiction writer in the People’s Republic of China. Liu is an eight-time winner of the Galaxy Award (the Chinese Hugo) and a winner of the Nebula Award. Prior to becoming a writer, he worked as an engineer in a power plant in Yangquan, Shanxi.

Ken Liu (translator) is a writer, lawyer, and computer programmer. His short story “The Paper Menagerie” was the first work of fiction ever to sweep the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards.


My Thoughts

(This review is based on an advanced reader’s copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Liu Cixin, one of China’s most popular science fiction authors, is making his US debut thanks to Tor Books‘ publication of The Three-Body Problem. Originally published in China in 2007, Liu’s novel is the first in a trilogy (the next installment, The Dark Forest, will release in July 2015) and the first Chinese science fiction novel to be translated into English, thanks to the efforts of Ken Liu.

The Three-Body Problem is a work that unfolds across time, beginning in the late 1960s at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution. After witnessing the murder of her father by revolutionaries, Ye Wenjie finds herself politically tainted, yet useful to the new hierarchy of command. As an astrophysicist, she possesses skills that make her suitable for work at the Red Coast Base, a secret installation that she’ll never be able to leave and that has spawned much speculation and rumor.

In the present (or, at least, very near-future), Wang Miao, a nanotechnologist, is enlisted to infiltrate a cadre of cutting-edge scientists and learn their secrets. What he finds, instead, is an ominous layer of secrecy that has left several other scientists, including Wenjie’s daughter, dead. Along the way, he stumbles upon Three Body, a virtual reality simulator depicting the end and rebirth of civilization on a world surrounded by three suns. The conflicting gravity fields and the ebb and flows of the planet’s orbit inevitably leads to disaster, and the game’s participants are challenged to find and exploit a pattern in the chaotic three-body problem.

Liu presents a science fiction story that is grounded in modernity and physics, fully utilizing the aspects of “science” alongside his fiction. The narrative thrust is largely cerebral, as well as political, and constantly engaging. He has a skillful hand in layering the many mysteries at the book’s core, and pulls all the various threads together for form a complete whole by book’s finish.

While the book’s description bills this novel as an alien invasion story, it’s really not until late in the game that the plot dovetails toward that revelation. It’s clear that this ingredient will play a larger role in the other two installments, but for now it’s a simmering plot point that helps to really blow up the novel in the third act. I’ve seen some marketing that claims this book has the “commercial action of Independence Day,” but that’s really not the case. The Three-Body Problem is a far more subtle and nuanced work that favors a slow-boil approach, rather than attempting to be a run-and-gun actioneer. As for the aliens themselves, what we learn of them is pretty magnificent and I can’t help but think that their evolutionary tract must have been pretty damn innovative. Their scientific savvy is mind-blowing, although Liu is able to relate the real-world high-level physics supporting his plot in easily digestible chunks.

In fact, I found the strongest elements of this novel to be on its scientific and (mostly) Earth-based foci. As an American reader with an interest in both science and history, I was truly fascinated by the political machinations that dogged these characters, particularly Wenjie, and which shaped their approaches to science and their world. This intersection of politics and science is a topic Americas would do well to pay keen attention to, particularly in light of science-denying politicians, like Lamar Smith and James Inhofe, garnering positions of power. The focus on China’s Cultural Revolution and how that would shape a first-contact scenario was a very refreshing break from the presentation of similar material shaped by largely democratic, English-speaking countries. While I felt a bit of tonal similarity to British sci-fi author, Alastair Reynolds, the cultural forces informing their works are nicely dissonant.

The only real problems I had with the story were a rather bland set of characters, but the thriller-like momentum of the plot itself kept the story moving briskly despite not having a solid protagonist to really latch on to or worry about. Wang is bit too stiff and lacks any really strong elements of characterization. As I said earlier, this is largely a cerebral effort, but it lacks a lot of heart. There were also several instances where the dialog felt a bit stiff and stilted, with characters frequently going into long-winded monologues,  but perhaps something was simply lost in translation. In the end, though, these are minor gripes that are far outweighed by the sense of mental excitement and enjoyable brain-games the novel carries.

Overall, I found The Three Body-Problem to be a solid work and a wonderful introduction to a terrific writer. I was truly delighted with the way Liu developed his plot and the follow-through he exhibited in unraveling the scientific quandaries of this first-contact scenario. As the first in a trilogy, it promises enough scope and an epic scale, along with a spectacular thoughtfulness, to keep me eagerly awaiting the remaining two titles. I really need to know how the rest of this series plays out!

buy The Three-Body Problem At Amazon
Sci-Fi November: Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Sci-Fi November: Short Films

Today, I thought I’d showcase some science fiction short films that you might enjoy.

Up first is the recently released Ambition, produced for the European Space Agency to celebrate the upcoming launch of their Rosetta mission on Nov. 12.

As Tomek Bagiński’s short film Ambition makes clear, it is the essence of what it means to be human, to attempt difficult things, to reach for seemingly impossible goals, to learn, adapt and evolve.

And at the heart of this film is Rosetta, ESA’s real mission to rendezvous with, escort and land on a comet. A mission that began as a dream, but that after decades of planning, construction and flight through the Solar System, has arrived at its goal.

Its aim? To unlock the secrets hidden within the icy treasure chest for 4.6 billion years. To study its make-up and its history. To search for clues as to our own origins.

Rosetta: The Ambition To Turn Science Fiction Into Science Fact.

You may recognize Aiden Gillen as The Master here, from his previous work in Game of Thrones, The Wire, and The Dark Knight Rises.

For a look behind the scenes of Ambition, check out the making of:

I also really enjoyed the cyberpunk short film True Skin, which was released Oct. 2012.

And finally, The Service, another cyberpunk short from earlier this year that was also listed as an official selection of the Viewster Online Film Fest 3 and an official selection of Filmshortage:

If you’ve got a favorite you’d like to highlight, post in the comments below!

Sci-Fi November: Short Films

CONSUMPTION News, An Interview, Giveaways, and More!

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Consumption has been in the wild for a few days now, and had a wonderful launch this past Tuesday. As you can see from the image above, it was a #1 short story release on Kobo, and even made it as high as #3 in their overall Horror listings upon its release. I’m really, really proud of this one, and a great big THANK YOU to everyone who has purchased the eBook thus far.

If you haven’t yet bought Consumption, what are you waiting for? It’s a terrific Halloween treat for yourself or your gore-hound friends. Or it could be a fun 99 cent trick to play on somebody, but they might end up thanking you for it anyway.

To celebrate my new release, I’m offering up 25 freebies of both Consumption and Convergence eBooks through a LibraryThing giveaway. There are a huge amount of titles up for grabs over there, so if you’d like a shot at either (or both) of my titles, go enter! To make finding them a bit easier, run a quick search (Ctrl+F) in your browser and start typing the titles. You’ll land upon them pretty quickly.

The Consumption giveaway is running until the afternoon of Oct. 28, and Convergence is being offered until Nov. 7.

I recently had a great conversation with fellow author S. Elliot Brandis, whose work I’ve become a huge fan of. You can read his interview with me over at his site, where we talk a bit about both of my titles and what’s coming up next for me. While you’re there, be sure to check out his review of Consumption, too!

As far as what’s next for me, as I said the interview, I’m working on editing Emergence, the follow-up to Convergence, for a 2015 release. 2015 is going to be a neat year for me, I think, as I’ll also be taking part in an anthology of sci-fi themed works. I’m taking a small break from editing to work on a new short story for this collection. Hopefully I don’t jinx myself by saying the writing is going well! I can’t tell you much about this story or the anthology just yet, but as soon as I can release the news I will. I’m über excited to be involved in this project and there’s some fresh, top-notch talent involved. So, keep your eyes peeled for news and be among the first to know by signing up for my newsletter.

You can also check out the full details on Consumption and Convergence at these links, and be sure to add them to your Goodreads page, as well.

CONSUMPTION News, An Interview, Giveaways, and More!

CONSUMPTION: Behind The Scenes

CONSUMPTION COMPLETE

At the tail end of May, my wife and I were watching a few episodes of Food Network’s CHOPPED. It had been a while since we’d last seen the show, and the opening credits had gotten a bit of a makeover in our absence. As the sequence ended, the camera flashed on a weird, tentacly creature that surprised us, and we weren’t sure if it was a squid or octopus, or what. I made a joke, something like, “In tonight’s basket: Cthulhu!”

It was one of those stupid off-handed comments, but for whatever reason an idea took root. It must have been a Thursday, and by that weekend I was off to the races, writing more than three thousands words each day. By Monday, after a feverish writing sprint, the first draft of the story was finished.

I hadn’t written anything quite like it in a while. When I explained the premise to my wife, her first reaction was “Isn’t that a bit out of your range?” I’ve only dabbled in horror, long ago, and my last serious effort was a bit of a non-starter, one that aborted early on. In fact, for a look at my first and only published horror story to date (until CONSUMPTION releases on Oct. 14, that is!), you’d have to go back a whole decade, to June 2004, when my short story CATECHISM was published in the magazine REVELATION by Fourth Horseman Press. Since then, I’ve been much more on the side of consumer than producer in the realm of horror.  This story, though, was an ugly little baby, and I couldn’t turn away from it.

The initial concept was a bit of extreme cuisine by way of H.P. Lovecraft, a sort of satirical look at foodporn culture and Instagram dinners by way of a splatter-gore creature feature. Granted, I’m guilty of indulging in foodporn culture myself. I love food, and if it’s presented well enough I have no problem commemorating such a dish. The Food Network is my go-to station; CHOPPED, IRON CHEF AMERICA, even some of their home-cook turned celebrity shows are entertaining. I am an unabashed fan of Anthony Bourdain. And I think that NBC’s HANNIBAL is one of the best damn shows on television and is the perfect representation of culinary horror.

So naturally, I wanted to take this stuff to the point of excess and linger over some of the more disturbing intonations of it all. Originally, I was going to call the story YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT but that was a bit too on the nose for my tastes, and felt like more of a parody title than what I was going for. CONSUMPTION was more evocative to me, more mysterious, darker, and captured the sort of predatory feel of the piece itself.

My wife is right, though. It is a bit out of my wheelhouse. It’s more experimental that my previous science fiction novel, CONVERGENCE, but experimentation is one of the joys of writing and self-publishing. I can try whatever the hell I want and let readers decide how worthwhile it really is. There’s certainly a part of me that prefers being a writer as a whole, rather than pigeon-holed into a single category or type of writer. I want to dabble. I want to play with all kinds of ingredients and different flavors, if you will. On the other hand, I fully embrace the category of speculative fiction, which is broad and murky in its definition. All you need is a ‘what if.’ And CONSUMPTION began with one hell of a what if, one that, quite literally, consumed me for days on end.

Almost as soon as I finished writing it, I began editing. I carved away quite a bit, added new stuff, fleshed out the characters a little bit more, and amped up the gore. If the first draft was about just carving loose a horror story, then the second draft was a very deliberate attempt to make readers feel dirty by the end of it. By the end of the second draft, I felt that I had a tighter, better written piece, and that it was ready to go to a professional editor (and author herself) for the next round of work, and Carol Davis did a bang-up job fixing my mistakes.

For the cover design, I turned to Debbie at The Cover Collection for a custom job. While I was writing, I was also thinking about what sort of image would best represent CONSUMPTION. I very much wanted to see a kind of old-fashioned butcher’s chart, and came across this vintage diagram:

Photo by Lisa Michelle, Twisted Orchid Designs, 2013.

Instead of a pig, cow, or chicken, I wanted a nasty looking beastie. Debbie sent me a terrific stock image, and I asked for some specific alterations to bring it more in line with the creature of CONSUMPTION. The end result is a pretty close, neatly dissected representation, that was then grunged up a bit, and which focuses on the culinary themes of the story.

Hopefully you’re ready and willing to join me on this little adventure of food-gore. I hope you’re well fed, perhaps full of long pig, and well-satiated, yet ready for one more small morsel as the night deepens.

You can pre-order CONSUMPTION at Amazon, or check here for links to other fine eBook retailers where the book is available.

CONSUMPTION: Behind The Scenes

Review: Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World by S. Elliot Brandis

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About Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World

Meet the android with no name. Seventy years ago, he was freed: his permission chip was removed and a gun placed in his hand. He was sent to fight for his country.

It was the war that ended the world.

Now, America is a wasteland. Wild towns have emerged across the frontier, lawless places filled with drunks and opportunists. The android rides from town to town, collecting warrants and seeking justice. Life is violent and meaningless—full of blood, whiskey, and dust.

When he meets Sierra—a fiery southerner with a chip on her shoulder—they embark on an unlikely journey, a dangerous search for vengeance.


About the Author

S. Elliot Brandis is an engineer and author from Brisbane, Australia. He writes post-apocalyptic fiction, often infused with a variety of outside elements. He is a lover of beer, baseball, and science fiction.

His stories are about outlaws, outsiders, and the others.

To find out more:

Web: http://selliotbrandis.com/
Facebook: http://facebook.com/selliotbrandis
Mailing List: http://eepurl.com/PsmMv
email: s.elliot.brandis@gmail.com


My Thoughts

Full disclosure – I know Elliot a bit from KBoards and Goodreads. I’d first heard about his idea to write a post-apocalyptic western with a gruff android at the forefront sometime ago, and had been salivating to read it ever since. I received a free copy of his latest through his newsletter. He’s currently giving away Part I (this novella), and will be giving away Part II, as well, in the coming months. It would behoove you to sign up for his newsletter at http://selliotbrandis.com ASAP.

All that said, I’d like to think that my familiarity with Elliot did not cause me to inflate my perceptions of how much I enjoyed Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World or prompt me to approach it with any undue bias.

The simple fact of the matter is, I freaking loved it. I loved the idea as soon as he told me about it, and after reading it, I love it even more.

The execution is terrific and his handling of the android in a western setting is adroit and even-handed. I was really thrilled with how well the high-tech science fiction aspect of his central character worked in the forsaken, dying Earth environment. This is a classical western story with some nifty, much-welcomed twists.

Once Upon A Time… is also a richly dark world. The author clues us in on the world’s future-history, teasing out the information without sacrificing the story’s quick pacing or bogging us down with overly long, dry lessons of background details. There was a war, and nukes and antimatter bombs decimated the world. Androids were enlisted into the military to fight the war on behalf of the humans, taking US drone policy to the next level. It’s a smart way of bridging the two seemingly disparate genres of science fiction and western, but Brandis makes it work. Think of it as an old Eastwood spaghetti western flick by way of Firefly, but without the quirky humor or space travel.

In fact, there’s not much to laugh at in Elliot’s latest dystopian, with so much of the world bombed back into the hardscrabble living of two hundred-plus years past. Humanity has been stripped raw, and it seems like there’s only two class of people left to fend for themselves: victims and potential victims. It’s a stark, grim read, with a cast as dangerous as the desolate desert they inhabit.

While I can’t help but think there’s a good deal owed to Eastwood and Sergio Leone in terms of inspiration, there’s also some pure Peckinpah at play here. This is The Wild Bunch by way of The Android With No Name. It’s a bloody affair, right from the opening pages, where the android teaches an explicit lesson to an unlucky drunk on the difference between robots and androids. The scene is chillingly effective, and Elliot gets off to a fine start with his crazy genre hybrid.

Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World is the first in a four-part series of novellas, with the second due in December. Like I said earlier, do yourself a favor and sign-up for his newsletter. Not only will you get the first two parts of his post-apocalyptic western for free, but you’ll also get to stay up to date on somebody that I believe is going to be a huge up-and-comer in the indie sci-fi/speculative fiction corner. Conversely, you can also buy the individual parts of this serial as they release, which is also a terrific way of supporting this author. Either way, S. Elliot Brandis is one to watch out for.

buy once upon a time at the end of the world at amazon
Review: Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World by S. Elliot Brandis

Free CONSUMPTION ARC – Last Call!

CONSUMPTION COMPLETE

My short horror story, Consumption, is off to my wonderful formatting guru, Glendon Haddix, at Streetlight Graphics.

This means two things: Firstly, this story will be going on sale pretty soon. I haven’t finalized the release date just yet, but I’m eying early October.

Secondly, it also means this is your last chance to request a free copy of this ebook in advance of its sale date. Once I get the final copies in hand, I’ll be e-mailing them out to my advanced readers list.

If you’d like to snag a copy for yourself, head over to this page and scroll down to the form, which you’ll need to complete and submit. Once I receive your entry, you’ll be added to the list.

I won’t bombard with you e-mails, I promise. The only thing I ask in return is for you to post an honest review at Amazon, Goodreads, your blog, whatever, when it goes on sale next month.

This request form will be coming down in a few days, so be sure to get your request in ASAP. Once I’ve received those final ebook files, this offer disappears.

Update 9/25/14 – The final digital files are in and off to those who have requested a copy. Consumption goes on sale Tues., Oct. 14., and you can find order links here.

Consumption is a pretty radical departure from my sci-fi thriller, Convergence, but I’m pretty proud of this one. I had an absolute blast writing it and I hope readers will enjoy it just as much.

Here’s the blurb:

You Are

Reclusive chef Heinrich Schauer has invited six guests to a blind twelve-course tasting menu.

What You Eat

While snow blankets the isolated Swiss valley surrounding his estate, the guests feast eagerly, challenging one another to guess at the secret tastes plated before them.

Meat Is Murder

As they eat, each guest is overtaken by carnal appetites, unaware of their host’s savage plans…or of the creature lurking below.

One thing is clear: There is more on the menu than any of them have bargained for.

Free CONSUMPTION ARC – Last Call!

Reblog: Author Wednesday – Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks:

Many, many thanks to Patricia Zick for the wonderful interview as part of her on-going Author Wednesday series!

Originally posted on P.C. Zick:

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Welcome to another installment of Author Wednesday. Michael Patrick Hicks joins me today to talk about his first novel Convergence. This science fiction technothriller features Jonah Everitt as your everyday drug addict, memory thief, and killer. There’s bound to be an edge-of-your-seat story in the telling of his journey! convergence-800-cover-reveal-and-promotional

Hello Michael! Your book sounds exciting and chilling at the same time. Tell us a little bit about yourself as a writer before we delve into the plot of Convergence.When did you first discover your voice as a writer?

Probably in high school. I always dabbled with writing as a hobby, but in my senior year of high school–way back when now–I decided to get a little bit serious about it and took a creative writing course. I wasn’t quite prepared for the worlds it opened up for me, and I completely fell in love with the art. I’ve…

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Reblog: Author Wednesday – Michael Patrick Hicks