Title: Ball Lightning.
Writer(s): Cixin Liu (Translated by Joel Martinsen).
Publisher: Tor Books.
Format: Advance Review Copy.
Release Date: August 14th 2018.
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.
Have you ever been so deeply fascinated by something that it hence led you to dedicate all your life into understanding the very core of that object of interest? While finding your purpose in life can lead a person to fully actualize themselves in the long run, this inevitable tunnel vision can also turn toxic one’s self and their immediate social circle. It’s being able to distance yourself from it whenever possible that you put yourself in a position to remain sane, and sanity is sometimes the most important thing a person needs in order to see life clearly. But when your goals have a personal edge to them, they might turn into something far more dangerous and impossible to contain as frustrations accumulate over the years. That’s when you start looking for answers no matter the costs and find yourself in sticky situations.
Ball Lightning is the story of Chen and his mad desire to discover the secret behind the thunderous phenomenon known as ball lightning. Following a tragic experience at a very young age revolving around this mysterious force, he dedicates his entire life into understanding it and putting a logic behind its occurrences. His researches slowly lead him to understand that ball lightning is only the beginning of a new breakthrough in particle physics. Its when he crosses paths with several intriguing figures, a female soldier and a physicist, that he encounters the one thing he has always been looking for: progress. However, its the motives behind the hunt for answers of these fellow comrades that sparks thorough discussions that not only complicates Chen’s desire to solve this mystery, but also questions the very existence of this ball lightning and their ability to ever understand it.
You’ll have to be very careful if you decide to pick up this book. Cixin Liu’s fame often arises from his classic Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, especially his The Three-Body Problem. While Ball Lightning is his latest book, it was originally published in 2004 and was only now translated by Joel Martinsen. What Cixin Liu does wonderfully is take a real scientific phenomenon and bring us on a journey filled with discoveries. If you’ve ever had a fascination for these ball lightning phenomenons, I am absolutely certain this latest stand-alone novel will give you everything you ever wanted in regards to knowledge. Ball Lightning is in fact a pure hard science story that basically simulates a thesis; trust me when I say that you’ll feel like you were doing your thesis on this phenomenon. And that’s not even a joke. Cixin Liu doesn’t hesitate in incorporating dilemmas that researchers are far too conscious about, from lack of funding to lack of answers. I’m telling you, I felt like I was re-doing my own thesis while I was reading this.
While Cixin Liu has a refined skill at making science much more digestible for anyone to pick up and enjoy, this novel heavily lacked in character development and expressive prose. For the former, if I were asked about all the characters in this books, I’d say that there’s very little distinguishing one from the other besides their own character’s mold (i.e. their jobs and motives). For the latter, I have a hard time pointing fingers at the causes for this, but I can’t ignore the fact that the writing style might have lost its touch through translation, and that’s something I’ll probably never know and confirm. There are moments where the style would venture in metaphors and similes, and actually leave a nice impression on you, but there are other moments where it simply came out awkward and abusive. I do however believe that Cixin Liu is a man of ideas, rather than a man of characters. What he brings to the table in Ball Lightning really blows open a whole universe to explore and engage in, unbeknownst to the reader.
Ball Lightning is a fascinating adventure that brings Cixin Liu to explore in depth the highs and lows of research, but also the ever-expanding and never-transparent world of science.
Thank you to Raincoast Books and Tor Books for sending me a copy for review!