Sunday, May 31, 2015

Roundup of Suggested Short Fiction Brain Bleach to Counteract This Year's Hugo Nominees

With apologies and thanks to File 770 I have pulled together a list of the short fiction recommendations there that were suggested as remedies for the short fiction that is in packet for this year. The idea is that if you find yourself in despair over SF/F or if you have forgotten what high quality fiction is like, you can read some of these suggestions to restore your faith in the universe.

I pulled this list together when I realized that I am never going to remember what and where all of these suggestions were, so again - apologies and thanks to the commentariat at File 770.

This is the comment that kicked it off ...

I’ll catch up on the comments tomorrow, just logging in now because I need my faith in short stories restored. I just finished the last of the “best” short stories for 2015 Hugo Awards.
Could someone point me to really Hugo worthy short stories? I’m willing to pay if I have to, I just need to feel better. Any year I don’t care.

Rebekah Golden: Do novelettes count? Because Ruthanna Emrys’s “The Litany of Earth” on last year rocked my world.

Rebekah, I would recommend Women of Wonder, the whole series, Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood, Yoon Ha Lee’s Conservation of Shadows, and Zen Cho’s Spirits Abroad.

I mean the Women of Wonder series edited by Pamela Sargent. Not the unrelated, more recent, book of the same name recently mentioned on

Rebekah, if you want an oldie but goodie — Zelazny’s “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” is a favorite, or Asimov’s “Nightfall.”

Rebekah, have some Howard Waldrop. It’s good for what ails you.

Rebekah Golden 
“… Could someone point me to really Hugo worthy short stories? I’m willing to pay if I have to, I just need to feel better. Any year I don’t care. …”
Hie thee to your bookshelf and pull out your copy of Bradbury’s collection The Machineries of Joy, and read the title story

>> Could someone point me to really Hugo worthy short stories? I’m willing to pay if I have to, I just need to feel better. Any year I don’t care.>>
I don’t know whether I’d say Hugo-worthy, exactly, but:
That’s a collection of short stories by Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff and Maggie Stiefvater, and not only do you get a set of interesting stories, the three of them comment on each other’s stories as well, giving some interesting insights into how and why the stories are shaped.
I’d also recommend:
Many of the stories are delightful, especially “Gastronomicon.”
And in the even you haven’t read it already:

Rebekah Elizabeth Moon’s A Parrion of Cooking and The Last Lesson both in Deeds of Honor were very good.

Rebekah Golden: Could someone point me to really Hugo worthy short stories? I’m willing to pay if I have to, I just need to feel better.
I’ll second (fifth?) the nomination for Elizabeth Bear’s Covenant.

Rebekah Golden: Could someone point me to really Hugo worthy short stories? I’m willing to pay if I have to, I just need to feel better.
Here’s a list of links to what other people said they liked this year:

Some 2014 short stories I really liked:
Jo Walton – “Sleeper
Matthew Kressel – “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye

Liz Williams’ story Banquet of the Lords of Night is free on the Clarkesworld site. I liked it.

Rebekah – Could someone point me to really Hugo worthy short stories?
The Rogues short story collection from last year was quite good and had stories that ranged from all sorts of genres. Abercrombie, Gillian Flynn, Lansdale, Cherie Priest, Scott Lynch, Nix, Willis, Rothfuss, and Martin all have short stories in it.
I was also a fan of the short story collection Letters to Lovecraft that came out last year. There are some weird and middling stories in it but I enjoyed Doc’s Story, Only the Dead and the Moonstruck, and The Trees I really liked a lot. That Place by Gemma Files is a way more interesting variation of the kind of CS Lewis story that Wright was going for.

For those looking for good short stories who also liked Ann Leckie’s novels, here’s a short story set in the same world:

I dunno if it’s properly a short story (or Hugo worth, really. I don’t read enough short fiction to have any sense of the field), but Nicola Griffith’s Cold Wind was pretty good

Rebekah Golden at 8:29 pm:
Just a few short(er) stories available online (fingers crossed that they make it past the spam filter).
The Great Silence Ted Chiang
A Colder War Charles Stross
Sonny Liston Takes a Fall Elizabeth Bear.

A few more:
Toad Words Ursula Vernon.
A Dry, Quiet War Tony Daniel.
Glory Greg Egan.

Did I mention I’m a fan of Stross, Chiang, & Egan?
Lobsters the first part of Charles Stross’ fix-up “Accelerando”, is a tour de force.
What’s Expected of Us is a one-pager by Ted Chiang.
Riding the Crocodile by Greg Egan (who I don’t think gets as much recognition as he deserves.

@Rebekah: I am reading the Nebula nominees for 2015 and they are quite good (some are a little strange). You can find links to them at Free Speculative Fiction Online website. In particular, I liked The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye which someone mentioned earlier, and When It Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster, which is the best thing I have read in a while. Talk about collateral damage – the Puppies stunt most likely cost Eugie her last chance at a Hugo. Way to go, guys. Every time I think about that I get mad all over again.
(I second the recommendation for When It Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster - that one was amazing.) 

Are people still recommending Hugo-worthy short story collections as palate cleansers? 
I think “Stranger Things Happen” by Kelly Link is remarkably good.

Oneiros: I read The Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang recently and was intrigued. Is there a good place to start with Chiang’s other work?
Chiang’s not the most prolific of authors, he hasn’t published much — but every single story he puts out is a gem. A fair bit of his stuff is available online. There’s a list here, with links

‘So what short stories and short story collections do people enjoy’
Replying to this without reading the rest of the comments , so apologies for duplication: Michael Swanwicks’ The Dog Said Bow Wow. He’s a masterful short story writer, and I think you can find some of this works on Do try him out. Any Howard Waldrop collection. If you like Kelly Link, have you tried Margo Langan’s collection Red Spikes? Slightly similar in tone and style. Her novels are bona-fide brilliant, too. I’m not sure if Gwyneth Jones has a collection in print, but she’s a fantastic writer. Kim Newman’s storie collections are great, usually alternative worlds with horror/fantasy elements combined with pop-culture trash film and tv characters and character types coming to life, a bit like Alan Moore’s League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, only Newman’s Anno Dracula came out first.

Seth Gordon on said:
Amy Griswold’s short story “Little Fox” also has a morally compromised narrator (she has been raised with a clone who acted as her personal slave), and the story is so beautiful that I can’t get it out of my head, which means I guess I’ll be nominating it for a Hugo next year.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ancillary Justice and The Curve of Binding Energy

In a vain attempt to get back to something like regular posting while still grappling with the Hugo awards, for today's Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader, I am going to post the beginning of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie to kick things off ...

The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around it. It was minus fifteen degrees Celsius and a storm had passed just hours before. The snow stretched smooth in the wan sunrise, only a few tracks leading into a nearby ice-block building. A tavern. Or what passed for a tavern in this town. 

Ancillary Justice is last year's Hugo award winner for Best Novel, and this year the sequel Ancillary Sword is one of the nominated works. I bought Ancillary Justice last year, well before it was announced as the winner of the Hugo, based on the buzz I was hearing and because I thought that my husband would like it (he did).  I have to confess, I didn't get around to reading it - my TBR mountain is full of non-fiction books that I am reading for work, books that I read to find things that I think my kids would like, and other things that have been gently teetering there for ages - I just recently realized that new adult fiction has gotten a bit of a short shrift for awhile. 

But, once I decided to dive into Hugo reading - and after thinking about it for a bit - I decided that I should read Ancillary Justice before reading Ancillary Sword. I was rather torn about this - on one hand, I think a book should be able to stand on its own to be an award winner, while on the other hand, there is only one extra book to read - it is not like I am trying to read the entire Wheel of Time series for an award (eek!). Plus I already own the book. So - even though my husband assured me that Sword could be read as a stand alone - I decided that I would read Justice first. At least that way I could say I have read a recent Hugo award winning novel, right ?  

Good grief - I just realized that I have the wining novels for 2013 and 2012 and haven't read them yet either. I am going to blame this on Connie Willis.  I did read the 2011 winner Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (I read them both as soon as they came out) and, well, to put this politely - I was utterly infuriated by it. (See Books that Made you NUTS !  if you are interested. Just thinking about it makes me start mentally ranting. Has Willis never even seen a map of London!!!! Argh! #*%&*#! ) 

To stop the ranting, I am going to skip to page 56 of Ancillary Justice for The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice ...

I watched Lieutenant Awn see Lieutenant Skaaiat spring the trap Jan Shinnan had walked into moments ago. "On a station," Lieutenant Awn said, "the AI sees everything." 
"So much easier to manage," agreed Lieutenant Skaaiat happily. "Almost no need for security at all." That wasn't quite true, but this was no time to point that out. 
Jen Taa set down her utensil. "Surely the AI doesn't see everything." Neither lieutenant said anything. "Even when you...?"
"Everything," answered Lieutenant Awn. "I assure you, citizen." 

To sum up  - I really liked Ancillary Justice. Grand scale space opera is usually not my cup of tea, but the author avoided the things that would make the book unreadable for me while throwing in some really cool ideas. The concept of a starship AI made up of many joined minds located in physically separate bodies - severely cool. And where the ancillaries come from ? Severely horrifying. Makes for an amazingly interesting protagonist. 

It all added up to an engrossing narrative that I was fully engaged in. My suspension of disbelief was strained a couple times by 'amazing coincidences,' but the narrative was solid enough that nothing threw me out of the story and I liked how things pulled together.  I can understand how it won last year. 

More to the point, I am looking forward to Ancillary Sword. I am really interested in seeing what happens next.

I almost forgot!  I usually do both a fiction and a non-fiction book for this! Sheesh - last semester really wreaked havoc with my postings. Go figure.

Most of the stuff I have kicking around near me I don't want to cope with (I am taking a couple weeks off from environmental disaster) so - ah! - tangentially related to part of my problem with the Three Body Problem and more directly related to some of the background research I was doing for that interview I did concerning Japanese Balloon Bombs ...

for nonfiction, here is beginning of The Curve of Binding Energy by John McPhee. This is a book about the life and work of Theodore (Ted) B. Taylor, a theoretical physicist who led the team that designed the largest pure fission bomb ever detonated. He became a advocate for nuclear disarmament. If you want to talk about disaffected people worried about worthiness of the human race - theoretical physicists are a much more complex and interesting group than the author of Three Body Problem gives them credit for.  Anyhow from page one we have  ...
To many people who have participated professionally in the advancement of the nuclear age, it seems not just possible but more and more apparent that nuclear explosions will again take place in cities. It seem to them likely, almost beyond quibbling, that more nations now have nuclear bombs than the six that have tested them, for it is hardly necessary to test a bomb in order to make it. There is also no particular reason the maker need be a nation. Smaller units could do it – groups of people with a common enemy. Just how few people could achieve the fabrication of an atomic bomb on their own is a question which opinion divides, ... 

And from page 56 ...
"...In those days, both of us were unsure. We were about the shyest people you ever met in the world. How we had the courage to talk to each other seemed a wonder sometimes. A sleepy college town was about our speed." They went to the beach, sat on a sand dune, and talked immortality. Within his enthusiasms, he could persuade her of almost anything, but with immortality she was somewhat bored. Ted took some getting used to. In their apartment in Berkeley, he would sit and look straight at a wall for vast tracts of time. She feared that there was something wrong, and that she might be at fault; but he was simply thinking.

 Happy Friday - have a lovely weekend! 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

More Hugo's reading: Related Works ... voted category most likely to make you completely bewildered

I am plunging ahead with my Hugo's reading. Now that I have the reader's packet I have started working my way through some of the other categories. For whatever reason, I opened up the folder for related works this past weekend and started trying to process them.

My initial reaction is, what the heck is this stuff ?

The nominees in Best Related Work are:
  • “The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF”, Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House) 
  • Letters from Gardner, Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press) 
  • Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, John C. Wright (Castalia House) 
  • “Why Science is Never Settled”, Tedd Roberts ( 
  • Wisdom from My Internet, Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press) 

So Hot Equations - discussion of thermodynamics that explains why spaceships etc. won't work the way they are conceived in most science fiction. Yeah, yeah ... you can't win, you can't break even, you can't get out of the game. Been there, done that and this discussion just isn't interesting me. Mostly this is just reminding me that I want to work on my thermo lectures for next semesters environmental geochemistry class. How about talking about what authors could do to make their 'science' fiction better? That would be much more helpful and I would find it more interesting. So - it does relate to SF/F and has potential to be of use to some people. 

Letters from Gardner, soooo ...  this is actually stuff written by the author Lou Antonelli about his development as a writer ? Not getting the title here, it confused me. Ah ... "The note at the bottom of that form rejection was the first Letter from Gardner." Well, now at least I know what the title is supposed to mean.

So, reading along this is part memoir, part lecture (I am starting to sense a theme) and includes pieces of his fiction. I am tired and just not finding this very interesting. There really isn't anything for me to engage with. Not horrible, but not particularly exciting either. I don't see this as award worthy. 

Skipping the JCW.  

Why Science is Never Settled - oh goody, another lecture. Again - what the heck is the deal with the title? Anyhow, the author is going to explain the scientific method to me. 'k. Yeah, well I am one of those people with a PhD behind my name and, seriously, I don't need to be lectured at about this. More to the point,  I can't even see using this as a reference in any of my classes (I think I already have much better shtick that I do for my intro classes to get them engaged in this topic).

I also don't get his point. Sure science is subject to revision, so what? The whole point is that science is supposed to be self-correcting. After all, it was scientists who 'corrected' these so called "scientific blunders." And some of these examples are oversimplifications - a few are downright wrong - like "The highly public "ClimateGate" scandal has reportedly shown abuse of prepublication peer-review to publish some articles and block others" - really? That is how you are going to frame it? I don't get the authors constant digs at the concept of consensus either. Of course there has to be some sort of consensus in order to establish a conceptual framework from which you can build. The framework is subject to revision, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Alright, given the title, the above two points and the authors fascination with 90% - is this supposed to be some meta-level anti-climate change thing? Weird.   

If the author is really interested in improving pubic education in STEM fields, I can tell him from my experience and that of my colleagues in science education - this approach is not the way to do it. 

Finally, I don't get this entry. What does it have to do with SF/F?  At all? 

(BTW - if you need a teaching resource concerning the scientific method and examples Berkeley's Understanding Science website is quite good.) 

Wisdom from My Internet - Wow, this one actually starts with a lecture that the author added specifically for Hugo's readers where he 1) apologizes for prematurely announcing his nomination and calls some people a name; 2) thanks a person for being added to the slate except that he thought it was going to be for a short story (that he provides a link to) and 3) starts to explain about how awesome his friends, I mean his fellow nominees in this category are.  Seriously? This strikes me as profoundly unprofessional.

Then I started trying to read the actual work - which appears to be a compilation of what the author considers his cleverest tweets?  Or something like that. Amateur standup night?

Blink ... blink ... blink...  um, really ?

To put this politely - this submission has absolutely nothing at all to do with SF/F.  So on that basis alone I will stop considering it. That way I don't actually have to comment on the content, about which I would be unable to be polite. 

So - that happened. Huh?

Since I was having trouble making heads or tails of this collection of materials I took a look at some past lists of nominees. 

The 2014 Best Related Work nominees were:
  • We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink) (winner)
  • Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, Jeff VanderMeer, with Jeremy Zerfoss (Abrams Image)
  • Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, Edited by Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary, Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London)
  • Writing Excuses Season 8, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson

Hey, cool - I am already familiar with Wonderbook.  I got a copy as a gift last year and still remember some of the intricate illustrations and snippets of the content. Okay, now this one I understand and agree that it is pretty nifty piece of work.

And I just found We Have Always Fought online. Content aside - this work has relevance to SF/F, is written coherently and is engaging. It also is, in part, an interesting reaction to some more recent findings in Viking archeology - I read about this a while back since I try to follow, to a small extent, news in archaeology ( - a little puzzled, but have no desire to track back why an article from 2011 suddenly was big news last year. The article does also appear to be a lecture (is that a requirement for this category?) but at least it is a well-structured one that gives you something to think about and respond to.

Other nominees appear to be variations of perennial favorites. So, at least to my eyes, this list of nominees makes some sense.

In terms of this years nominations, I am still trying to figure this category out ... this is starting to turn into homework ...  so I also asked for suggestions as to what other works people expected to see in this category.

JJ and Nick Mamatas thoughtfully provided some suggestions on File770

JJ on  said:

Elisa: “Are there other things that you might have expected to see nominated in this category – the second volume of the Heinlein biography? I have very few points of reference for this one and would appreciate some ideas of what to look at for comparison.”
It helps if you understand that a large part of the Puppy nominees in that category were there simply as an “F*** You” to non-Puppies, and not because they are genuinely SFF-related works.
Here are some works that people had suggested for that category:
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Vol. 2 – The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988 by William H. Patterson
What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton
The World of Fire and Ice by George RR Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson
Speculative Fiction 2013: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentaryedited by Ana Grilo & Thea James
Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology by Dan Wells, Howard Taylor, Brandon Sanderson & Mary Robinette Kowal
Stand Back! I’m Going To Quote Junot Díaz (Thinking about language) by John Chu
Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison
Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy (a month of guest blog posts) by

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft is definitely something that *should* have been on Best Related Works this year, but sadly was not. (Dunno if it almost had the votes, but it was deserving.)

Again - books that make some sort of sense, some of which I heard buzz about last year and that are clearly related to SF/F.

My conclusion ?   I have no idea what the nominators were thinking with these selections. I just can't find the redeeming value that would make any of this years items award winning.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wondrous Words Wednesday 42

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!"

So, rather than having fun making wondrous words wednesdays posts, instead I have been reading Hugo nominated materials in order to be an informed voter. Ask me if I have been having fun. Go ahead, ask me.

NO!  So far, other than two of the novels, the work has ranged from meh, okay to downright infuriatingly bad as far as I am concerned. If you try to stage a coup to take over an award you should darn well make sure you do it by nominating stories that are actually worth reading.  Not marginal stuff seasoned with total dreck! 

Enough about that ... I have reached the magic number 42 with my posts, cool! Here are some of the interesting words I have run into ... 

He struggled into the haptic feedback suit, ...

haptic /ˈhaptik/
1. Of or relating to the sense of touch, in particular relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception.
Origin: Late 19th century: from Greek haptikos 'able to touch or grasp', from haptein 'fasten'.

And a quick google search turns up several companies working on making functional haptic gaming devices, plus some vaguely creepy stuff "(ick). 

Control VR - one of several projects listed at 

lined with ura sedge from Northeast China

Ura sedge is Carex meyeriana grass, considered one of the three ancestral treasures of Northeast China ginseng (人參), mink fur (貂皮), carex meyeriana grass (烏拉草). Carex is a vast genus of almost 2,000 species of perennial grassy plants in the family Cyperaceae, commonly known as sedges. Also known as wu-la grass, is a warm, springy, fibrous grass that was used to line shoes.

her eyes were both myopic and presbyopic

presbyopic \ˌprez-bē-ˈō-pē-ə, ˌpres-\

1: a visual condition which becomes apparent especially in middle age and in which loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye causes defective accommodation and inability to focus sharply for near vision

Ah, I knew the concept but not the word for it. So, okay - but how could you tell that by just looking at a person ? Weird.

plans are currently under way to build a global-scale very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) aperture-synthesis radio telescope system. 

interferometer /ˌin(t)ərfəˈrämədər/ 

An instrument in which the interference of two beams of light is employed to make precise measurements.

Interferometry makes use of the principle of superposition to combine waves in a way that will cause the result of their combination to have some meaningful property that is diagnostic of the original state of the waves. Two waves with the same frequency combine and the resulting pattern is determined by the phase difference between the two waves—waves that are in phase will undergo constructive interference while waves that are out of phase will undergo destructive interference. Most interferometers use light or some other form of electromagnetic wave.

An astronomical interferometer is an array of telescopes or mirror segments acting together to probe structures with higher resolution by means of interferometry.

Below is the Very Large Array (VLA) radio astronomy observatory near Socorro County, New Mexico, U.S. which is also where the U.S. Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) system of ten radio telescopes is remotely operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

"USA.NM.VeryLargeArray.02" by user:Hajor - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

A very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) is a type of astronomical interferometry used in radio astronomy. In VLBI a signal from an astronomical radio source, such as a quasar, is collected at multiple radio telescopes on Earth. The distance between the radio telescopes is then calculated using the time difference between the arrivals of the radio signal at different telescopes. This allows observations of an object that are made simultaneously by many radio telescopes to be combined, emulating a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the telescopes.

Sorry if that got confusing. Basically - you know how what you can see through a telescope is limited by the size of lens? Like, with a little telescope you can see the moon and some surface features but with a bigger telescope you can start to see details of the craters on the moon? This is a related idea - upsizing the "visual" field by creating a much larger "lens" - except instead of looking at wavelengths in the visual range, radio telescopes pick up extremely weak, long wavelength cosmic radio waves by using huge antennas with very sensitive radio receivers (they also pick up interference from modern electronics - part of the reason that there are still restrictions on FM radio bands). 

A VLBI uses a network of radio telescopes each of which individually records incoming radio waves, and then all of that information is joined together using a computer, which is roughly the equivalent of creating a huge lens in order to create really detailed images of the universe. This allows scientists to do things like trace the motions of gas clouds in galactic clusters. By using two telescopes on opposite sides of a continent pointed at the same quasar, you can measure the difference in the arrival time of the pulse from the quasar to measure the distance between the telescopes. Using this basic principle, and scaling up to more telescopes and making multiple measurements over time, geologists can determine the rate of motion of tectonic plates. (Cool!) 

I seem to have totally gone off the deep end with some science geekery,
so I will stop here. Have a lovely Wednesday!

Friday, May 22, 2015

My Three Body Problem problem

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, and translated by Ken Liu, is one of the nominees for a best novel Hugo this year.

To set thing up I think I should explain that the title of the book refers to one of the oldest problems in mathematical physics (i.e. creation of mathematical models to solve problems in physics). [Note - if you are not interested in the science geekery skip to after the video.] The general theory of relativity is one famous and complex example of such a model, but so to is a much simpler equation that most people are familiar with: the Pythagorean theorem, which states that for any right-angled triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse, c, (the longest side of a right triangle) equals the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides (a and b).

a2 + b2 = c2

These kinds of models are used all the time in the modern world. Technically, however, the three body problem has never been solved - i.e. no one has found a general equation that can be used to successfully predict the position of the bodies in space at some time in the future given every possible initial set of conditions. This is because the motion of bodies is chaotic and highly sensitive to initial conditions (even a very slight difference in positioning at the beginning can result in wildly different behavior as the system progresses in time).

Up until a couple of years ago there were just three families of special solutions - ones that only apply given a particular initial state: The Lagrange-Euler solutions, where equally spaced bodies go around in a circle (technically a conic section) like horses on a merry-go-round, the figure-eight family which describes three objects chasing each other in a figure eight shape, and the Broucke-Hénon solution where one of the bodies orbits inside a space that the other two bodies zip back and forth through (sorry, this one is hard to describe). In 2013, physicists Milovan Šuvakov and Veljko Dmitrašinović found thirteen new families of solutions, which is exciting for the field but pretty opaque for the rest of the world, and it is now pretty much accepted that there is no general solution to this problem. Instead this is part of the beginnings of chaos theory.


This video is Three-body problem 3D from Daniel Piker

So, now that you know what the title means, you have a better idea of what the story is going to contain. The book starts abruptly with some horrific events set in the background of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and, as it is portrayed in the book, it is pretty overwhelming.

Here are the first couple paragraphs for Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader, (note shortly after this bit the story gets into some pretty graphic violence so this book will definitely not be to everyone's taste) ...


The Madness Years

China, 1967

The Red Union had been attacking the headquarters of the April Twenty-eighth Brigade for two days. Their red flags fluttered restlessly around the brigade building like flames yearning for firewood.

The Red Union commander was anxious, though not because of the defenders he faced. The more than two hundred Red Guards of the April Twenty-eighth Brigade were mere greenhorns compared with the veteran Red Guards of the Red Union, which was formed at the start of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in early 1966. The Red Union had been tempered by the tumultuous experience of revolutionary tours around the country and seeing Chairman Mao in the great rallies in Tiananmen Square.  

But the commander was afraid of the dozen or so iron stoves inside the building, filled with explosives and connected to each other by electric detonators. He couldn’t see them, but he could feel their presence like iron sensing the pull of a nearby magnet. If a defender flipped the switch, revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries alike would all die in one giant ball of fire.

These events set the stage for what is to follow and the story jumps back and forth in time, moving forward from the events in the Cultural Revolution, and also playing out some of the results in a timeline that is generally now (i.e. the 2010's). The POV shifts from the main character in the earlier time line, Ye Wenjie, to Wang Maio in the present time.  It also floats around untethered sometimes, which can get annoying.

To give you a taste of the now timeline (and for The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice) here is a bit from page 56 of the hardback ...

Shi looked around but couldn't find an ashtray. In the end, he dropped the cigarette into a teacup. He raised his hand, and before Chang could even acknowledge him, he spoke loudly. "General, I have a request which I've made before: I want information parity."

General Chang lifted his head. "There has never been a military operation in which there was information parity. I have to apologize to all the scholars, but we cannot give you any more background."

"We are not the same as the eggheads," Shi said. "The police have been part of the Battle Command Center from the start. But even now, we still don't know what this is all about. You continue to push the police out. You learn from us what you need about our techniques, and then you send us away one by one."

Several other police officers in attendance whispered to Shi to shut up. It surprised Wang that Shi dared to speak in this manner to a man of Chang's rank. But Chang's response surprised him even more.

This is roughly were I started having a problem (one of several that developed for me). Non-spoiler version - I don't know any physicists who would be that freaked out that the universe didn't behave in ways that they expected. For the people I know, that would actually be the equivalent of a shot of adrenaline. I know several people who are actually rather bummed out that nothing really strange has happened in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The overall behavior and actions of the people in the story just didn't ring true. Yes - I know that there are cultural differences but when a main character seems to just completely forget about the existence of their wife and child, um, nope that doesn't feel right at all.

As I read, this became a general problem for me - none of the characters felt like real people. They are all more like stand-ins for a "concept." Also - I am a scientist. I work with all sorts of natural scientists and seriously - this seemed to be written by someone who has no idea how science actually works. Almost nothing is straightforward and during research, you spend most of you time finding out that whatever it is you are trying to do isn't working, or at least isn't working the way you expected it to. Even at the applied end things usually don't go as planned - you can just ask any scientist who works in an applied field about the "scale up problem." The assumption that you can "stop" the progress of science the way it is discussed in the book is pretty weird. (Yes, I know we get an explanation at the end of the book - well as far as I am concerned, that just leads to a whole new set problems with the story.)

Oh - side note - can we please get over Einstein and Hawking! For Pete's sake - there are other theoretical physicists in the world - certainly people more relevant to where the story seems to be going - how about Mather and Smoot? Or Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa? Can we namecheck some new people here? I did find that further into the book more scientists are name checked, but it still didn't flow.

I also started having more and more problems with the fact that the POV character would think something that in the timeline of the story they didn't know. This most often happened with Wang - who is the "witness" character - the person in the story who has just enough "special" knowledge that it almost seems to make sense that they get hauled around everywhere to witness all the important actions in the story.

Before I go into spoilers, to sum up ...

When I started this book, I was really looking forward to it.  I actually had it in my wish list at Amazon months ago because it sounded so cool. Now that I have finished it, I am really disappointed.  With all the hype about how deep, insightful, and exciting the book is, I have been left wondering if I read the same book. It wasn't all bad I guess, but for me it definitely didn't even remotely live up to the hype and I honestly don't know if I will ever bother to pick up the next book to see what happens with the human race. As it is presented in the book, you kind of have to wonder if anyone is worth saving.

This story also contains what quite possibly might be the single stupidest sentence that I have read in years (and I grade undergraduate term papers).

The ETO concluded that the common people did not seem to have the comprehensive and deep understanding of the highly educated about the dark side of humanity. 

There are so many things wrong with this that I can't even cope with all of it. All I can invite you to do is contemplate the world as it is now and think about how utterly out of touch and offensive that sentence is. (Yes - this is played straight in the story.)

Spoilers Ahead ... 

I was going to do a more in-depth discussion of the notes I was taking in the margins of the book about the science and what I thought of it, but I got towards the end of the book, these notes pretty much have completely devolved into "WTH!" and "this doesn't make sense!" or some variation thereof. I ended the book stuck in "This is ridiculous" land and have realized it didn't matter about the previous stuff that I had planned to discuss. The action at the end of the book made everything that came before pretty pointless. If the Trisolarian could do that why in the heck do they need to invade another world? or worry about a handful of Earth scientists?  They could literally do anything at this point. They could build their own damn stable world. This just doesn't make any sense. Why use their technology to do something so ... wasteful, if nothing else.

If you are going to use hand-waving science gibberish, you might as well start with gibberish so that it isn't so jarring when you descend into it.  I would have turned off my brain much sooner in the book and not have gotten nearly as annoyed.

I completely lost my suspension of disbelief concerning the Trisolarians by the end of the book. They all apparently live on the same side of the planet too, since they can all gather around to stand and stare at various things. Given the conditions expressed, I don't see how any civilization could develop on that planet (which isn't even a three body problem - it is at minimum a four body problem - but then I guess it is really irrelevant how Alpha Centari is really structured, isn't it.) With how horrible life is, with unnecessary Trisolarians being forcibly dehydrated and burned - why are ordinary citizens supporting this massive project!?! What will they gain?  No such thing as revolution there I guess.

Still, I have some things that I want to pull out of my notes because they annoyed me so much, sorry but this is going to turn all rambling and disordered now ...

I think that the game was pretty ill-conceived. The book kept describing it as sophisticated and deep, but none of the actual activity in the game was that convincing. And you would be very hard pressed to convince me that an internet based virtual game like Three Body wouldn't immediately have an infestation of hackers trying to crack it. I wasn't even convinced about Wang wanting to keep going back into the game. I have "drugs?" scrawled after it a few times because psycotropic drugs being administered through the V-suit were the only reason I could think of that anyone would keep going back into that "game." I mean, the concept as described makes sense (and has been used before), but the actual execution got increasingly silly.

I am also not at all cool with a significant portion of the plot requiring that there be a massive, coordinated, secret organization of sociopaths on Earth. And on Trisolaris. In fact, pretty much everyone is awful on both a small, personal level, and on the grand level of whatever horrifying philosophy they purport to believe in. Is the message that intelligent life sucks? (Is there any other life on Trisolaris?)

How do you destroy human civilization and not destroy the rest of life on Earth as well?  Does not compute! What makes any of the ETO think that 'their Lord' would be any better stewards of Earth's ecosystems?

The book makes this huge deal out of Ye sending that test message to "bounce" off of a solar layer (the "energy mirrors"), even suggesting that the event had been recreated in history books - "No matter how historians and writers later tried to portray the scene, the reality at the time was completely prosaic." And it didn't matter!  The Trisolarian picked up the original broadcasts from Red Coast. In fact, that signal she sent would, at that point, actually be the only thing that the Trisolarians needed in order to find Earth, right ? They didn't even need her "traitors" transmission.  Massive continuity error here.

The implicit assumption that all civilizations will follow exactly the same pattern in terms of "development' and have the same technical benchmarks - I am not buying that at all.

Soooo - you unfold a proton in whatever number of dimensions to make a big surface area with no depth and make circuits on what exactly?  This whole bit is just too nonsensical for me. Like - it has the mass of a single proton but when push it there is air resistance? Against what exactly?  Just ARGH! No!  If you wanted magic gibberish you should have started there !

***Divide by CUCUMBER error!!! ****

Just how many high energy particle accelerators does the author think are on the Earth? Seems to have woefully underestimated this.  Oh - I see - the book claims that the sophons can be everywhere at once. So why should they just be used to mess up some particle physics experiments and scare selected scientists? That's just dumb.

I give - this just does not make any sense anymore.  The book started out so promising and has dissolved into a a puddle of rainbow color goo.  Now my problem is - does this book go above No Award ?  'cause I have read many better books from the qualifying time period for the Hugo. Given the rules I have set for myself concerning use of No Award, this is a borderline case that is causing me trouble.