Consistently surprising and absorbing—just not for the usual reasons.

BALL LIGHTNING

A new science-fiction venture from the award-winning Chinese author of the brilliant alien-contact trilogy concluded with Death’s End (2016), whose readers, hopefully, learned to expect the unexpected.

As a boy, Chen—we’re offered no other name—watches in helpless horror as ball lightning engendered by a powerful electrical storm incinerates his parents. He dedicates his career to studying this baffling but well-attested natural phenomenon. His investigations take him to a remote mountaintop where he encounters Lin Yun, a young and extremely attractive army major obsessed with weaponizing such forces of nature as lightning. Encouraged by Lin’s enthusiasm and single-mindedness after years of futile theoretical modeling and pursuing dead ends, Chen glimpses the beginnings of a breakthrough, while his compulsive need for answers helps him suppress doubts about Lin’s ultimate goals. But neither Lin nor her superiors suffer from any such inhibitions, and they bring in Ding Yi, a brilliant physicist utterly indifferent to any real-world consequences his discoveries and conclusions might have. Fascinating conundrums and intriguing extrapolations abound—Liu demands a basic scientific literacy of his readers—but the story lacks the visceral tension, generated by the existential threat of hostile aliens, that gave the previous trilogy its edgy brilliance. What’s of greater import here is the way Liu’s approach differs from what we might expect. When, for instance, philosophical considerations arise, Liu tackles them head-on, as few English-language writers care to do. We might expect such a complementary pair of protagonists to become romantically involved—but no. When Liu writes of war breaking out, we would certainly ask why and against whom: questions that hold no interest for Liu, who declines to enlighten us. And what other writer would select a first-person narrator who later proceeds to write himself almost completely out of the narrative?

Consistently surprising and absorbing—just not for the usual reasons.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7653-9407-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM

From the Remembrance of Earth's Past series , Vol. 1

Strange and fascinating alien-contact yarn, the first of a trilogy from China’s most celebrated science-fiction author.

In 1967, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, young physicist Ye Wenjie helplessly watches as fanatical Red Guards beat her father to death. She ends up in a remote re-education (i.e. forced labor) camp not far from an imposing, top secret military installation called Red Coast Base. Eventually, Ye comes to work at Red Coast as a lowly technician, but what really goes on there? Weapons research, certainly, but is it also listening for signals from space—maybe even signaling in return? Another thread picks up the story 40 years later, when nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao and thuggish but perceptive policeman Shi Qiang, summoned by a top-secret international (!) military commission, learn of a war so secret and mysterious that the military officers will give no details. Of more immediate concern is a series of inexplicable deaths, all prominent scientists, including the suicide of Yang Dong, the physicist daughter of Ye Wenjie; the scientists were involved with the shadowy group Frontiers of Science. Wang agrees to join the group and investigate and soon must confront events that seem to defy the laws of physics. He also logs on to a highly sophisticated virtual reality game called “Three Body,” set on a planet whose unpredictable and often deadly environment alternates between Stable times and Chaotic times. And he meets Ye Wenjie, rehabilitated and now a retired professor. Ye begins to tell Wang what happened more than 40 years ago. Jaw-dropping revelations build to a stunning conclusion. In concept and development, it resembles top-notch Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven but with a perspective—plots, mysteries, conspiracies, murders, revelations and all—embedded in a culture and politic dramatically unfamiliar to most readers in the West, conveniently illuminated with footnotes courtesy of translator Liu.

Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7706-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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