This is the sort of science fiction that, like The War of the Worlds or The Invisible Man by HG Wells and like the novels of John Wyndham, but unlike Hyperion by Dan Simmons, is firmly set in the real world.
The style is very alien. The author is utterly objective, detailing what happens, recording conversations, as if this is a scientific transcript. There is no drama, there are no emotions. There are murders but there is no fear, no guilt, no remorse. As a result I was unable to empathise with any character: they were no more than avatars in a computer game or bugs crawling about under my microscope. I found it difficult to care what happened.
Perhaps this is a cultural thing. Cixin Liu says: "Chinese brush paintings are full of blank spaces, but life in Qijiatun had no blank spaces. Like classical oil paintings, it was filled with thick, rich, solid colours." (C 26) Perhaps I am trying to read a brush painting from the perspective of an oil painting.
I suppose one character, the detective, does come through because of the things he says (eg "I'm a simple man without a lot of complicated twists and turns. Look down my throat and you can see out my ass."; C 10). Perhaps this book employs the ultimate show don't tell and I am too blind to see what is being shown to me. Most of the characters I do see are cold to the point of psychopaths.
Some great moments:
- "the new rebels were a pack of wolves on hot coals, crazier than crazy." (C 1)
- "compared to the huge sky and open air of Inner Mongolia, the biggest cities in China's interior were nothing more than sheep pens." (C 2)
- "Is it possible that the relationship between humanity and evil is similar to the relationship between the ocean and an iceberg floating on its surface? Both the ocean and the iceberg are made of the same material. That the iceberg seems separate is only because it is in a different form." (C 2)
- "Can the stability and order of the world be but a temporary dynamic equilibrium achieved in a corner of the universe, a short-lived eddy in a chaotic current?" (C 6)
- "The long years had ground away all the hardness and fierceness in their personalities, until all that was left was a gentleness like that of water." (C 8)
- "A woman should be like water, able to flow over and around anything." (C 8)
- "The universe was an empty palace, and humankind the only ant in the entire palace." (C 14)
- "I felt like a libertine who has always fluttered carelessly from one woman to another suddenly finding himself in love." (C 16)
- "Why does one have to save people to be considered a hero? Why is saving other species considered insignificant? Who gave humans such high honors?" (C 27)
Lots of plot and some intriguing science. February 2020; 424 pages