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BOTM January 2008 - 球状闪电


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Well I've read this one already, so I'll certainly weigh in on any discussion.

Note for anyone reading the online version - there are a number of typos in there. It appears to have been typed up using a pinyin based input method and you get stuff like 是我 where you should have 使我,小时 for 消失, etc. It's not a massive problem - maybe one or two per chapter on average, I'd guess. However do be aware of it and if it seems like a sentence doesn't make sense, that might be why.

The version Imron links to above is divided into chapters. If for any reason you prefer one big chunk of text, see here. However in addition to the errors mentioned above, this version also repeats chunks of text in a few places - so if you get an odd sense of deja vu, skip forward until it fades.

See Douban and Amazon.cn for intros, reviews and ordering if you want to get a print copy (although seems it might be out of stock?). There's some further comment in our own science fiction topic.

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Here's a quick, more or less spoiler-free list of characters. I don't think I've missed anyone important, but I've also skipped over people who either are essentially background or only turn up for a chapter or two.

陈博士 – I’m not sure we ever find out this guy’s first name, maybe I just missed it. On his fourteenth birthday our hero sees his parents return to ashes and dust somewhat earlier than expected, courtesy of a ball lightning strike. Thus starts a lifetime obsession which leads him to a career in meteorology and later advanced weapons research.

林云 – Both beautiful and reckless, Lin Yun’s upbringing within the military and the early loss of her mother combine to produce a dangerous fascination with weaponry. No fan of authority, she is suspected of secretly transferring the products of her research to foreign states when her superiors won’t let her test them herself.

张彬 – Lecturer on atmospheric electricity during Chen’s undergraduate course, he attempts to steer Chen away from his obsession and onto a more practical path – attempts explained by tragedy and failure hidden in his own past . . .

高波 – Chen’s PhD supervisor. Talented theoretician who encourages Chen’s fascination with ball lightning.

丁仪 – Unorthodox philosopher physicist, Ding is called on to assist when things start to turn odd.

林峰 – Lin Yun’s father. A high-ranking military officer and loving father – but he holds no illusions about the risks his daughter presents.

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Nope. I did read it on PDA, but I just did so via the browser online - both the online versions linked to are fairly clean and text-only versions suitable for PDA use. Obviously the chaptered version saves a lot of scrolling about trying to save your place.

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Obviously the chaptered version saves a lot of scrolling about trying to save your place.

And a tad bit harder (as in time needed) to save into files..... (in my experience)

But I guess I could solve that by just doing it as I need it rather than trying to just do it all in one sitting (wow brilliant idea!!!)

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He is one of my favourite chinese sci-fi novelists. And you can also try books like 流浪地球(my personal pick) and 超新星纪元, and of course a lot of his other works, if you like his style as well.

I think the major difference between the two editions is some corrections on the technical concepts and terms.

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Ok, I've started reading this now, and in an effort to stimulate some discussion and also perhaps encourage more people to read it, I'm going to start writing summaries of the chapters as I go. Actually, each chapter is quite small, and I'd imagine quite manageable to read on a daily basis, even if you're time-strapped. By doing regular summaries, it should also be possible for people to maybe just read a chapter or two every now and then but still keep up with the story.

Also, for those put off by this being Science Fiction, it doesn't really seem to be very science fictiony at the moment. The early chapters seem to be set in the late 90's, early 00's and so far the only science is the perfectly normal science that exists currently in the world, there are no robots, spaceships or aliens (yet :))

Anyway, on with the summaries:

Chapter 1: On his 14th birthday, our protaganist (陈) watches as his parents are turned to ashes by ball lightning, which suddenly appears in his house (coming in through the wall) while they are celebrating his birthday. Shortly before the appearance of the ball lightning, 陈's father has just told him that the purpose of life is to find something, anything, that you can devote yourself to fully. After witnessing what happened to his parents, and obviously being affected by his father's words, 陈 decides to devote his entire life to learning about and studying ball lightning.

Chapter 2: It is now several years later, and 陈 is at university. He devotes all of his time to studying and learning, and is mostly in the library learning about the things he feels his course doesn't cover but that will be essential for his study of ball lightning. He only goes to classes that he feels will be relevant to these things.

Chapter 3: In his second year, 陈 returns home to clean/pack up, as he plans to rent out his family's house to provide him with some money. When he gets there, the house seems unusually clean (no thick layers of dust on surfaces, a clean mirror, clean water coming out of the taps instead of rusty water etc). He asks the neighbours if any of them have keys to the house but they all say no. There's not really much in the house that 陈 really cares about, but one thing he wants to keep are the paintings painted by his father. As he's packing them up he notices one of the paintings appears to have be painted in a similar style to his father's, but has a picture of a water tower in it - however the water tower was only recently constructed, and construction had only just started on it when 陈 first left for university - so it obviously can't have been the work of his father. 陈 goes to the bathroom to burn the painting. There he notices a few strands of hair in the basin. The hair is longer than he has ever let his grown, and it is also white so he knows it is not his. Some of the hairs are only partly turned white, which makes him think back to the evening of his 14th birthday, when he pulled a half black, half white strand of hair from his mother's head. She scolded him saying not to pull out white hairs as it will make more grow back. 陈 drops the strand of hair he found in the basin, but it disappears into thin air. When he looks, all the other hairs are gone too.

The impression given seem to be that the ghosts of his parents are still around.

Chapter 4: This semester, one of 陈's classes is atmospheric electricity. At the end of the first lecture, 陈 goes up to the lecturer (张彬) and begins to ask him about ball lightning. The lecturer seems quite knowledgable about the topic, but isn't very forthcoming in discussing it with 陈, saying that the study of atmospheric physics is very practical and doesn't really concern itself with phenomenon like ball lightning which is so rare that it was only in the last few decades that science accepted its existence. We also learn that in 1962, at Taishan, a ball lightning strike was witnessed by atmospheric physicists, but 张彬 isn't forthcoming about who it was that saw it, and where they are now. The semester comes and goes and 张 doesn't really leave much of an impression on 陈. In fact 陈 has almost forgotten about him, when 张 pays him a visit and asks him if he wants to take part in some lightning research that he is going to be conducting in Yunnan. 陈 agrees as it will be his first field research regarding lightning, even though it isn't specifically about ball lightning. On the field trip, 陈 meets 赵雨, one of 张彬’s research students. 赵 seems quite lazy and not really interested in what he's studying, but he and 陈 still get on well with each other.

Over the course of his undergraduate degree, 陈 makes several other field trips with 张 and after graduation, 张 becomes the supervisor for 陈‘s masters degree. 张 won't let 陈 do his masters on ball lightning. 2 years go by and 陈 gets his masters without incident. He naturally decides to continue studying for his doctorate, and this time his supervisor, 高波 agrees to let him research ball lightning.

At the end of the semester, 陈 decides to visit home again. On the way back, he stops by Taishan, after remembering what 张 told him about the lightning ball strike that happened there.

Chapter 5: 陈 gets to the weather station at Taishan and it turns out that the vice-director of the station is 赵雨. 赵 seems to think that no-one at the station now would have been there during the ball lightning strike, but during dinner, 赵 asks the old man bringing them food if he'd been there at the time. The man replies yes and then tells them the story of what happened. That night there had been a group of weather researchers visiting the station. There was a huge thunderstorm and one of them had been struck by lightning on the leg. As they were attending to this person's wounds ball lightning appeared in the room (this time coming in by passing through the closed window). The researchers called out not to touch it and everyone watched as it moved around the room and passed up the chimney and then exploded. The man doesn't remember the names of researchers or where they are now.

However, after further questioning, it turns out that the person struck by lightning that night was none other than 张彬. Even stranger is that the man remembers that while 张 was still in hospital he seemed determined to devote his life to learning more about ball lightning. This naturally comes as quite a surprise to 陈, as it seems at odds with 张's current attitude towards ball lightning.

While at Taishan, 陈 also meets 林云, a beautiful, weapons research student, currently attempting to research how to generate electricity for military use. 林云 becomes the first person that 陈 tells about what happened to his parents and his fascination with ball lightning.

Anyway, that's about as far as I've read now. Anyone else reading along feel free to add in any major points you think I've missed.

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Looks pretty comprehensive to me - I thought there was something you'd missed but I had a look and can't spot it, so I think maybe it comes up later and I'm getting confused. How are you finding it so far? If i remember correctly I was intrigued but not quite gripped by that point.

Edit: And took the liberty of adding direct chapter links to the above summary.

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I was intrigued but not quite gripped by that point.
This is where I am now. At this point it doesn't really seem like anything has really happened and the author is just setting up the background for the main story. I haven't read any more since my last post as I'm been on the road, and probably won't get the chance to read further until I'm back in China (this Sunday).
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  • 3 weeks later...

Anyone else still reading this? I finally got around to reading a couple more chapters and my summaries are below.

Chapter 6 In this chapter, we learn more about the history of 张彬. I'm not sure if it was just that I didn't pick up on something in one of the earlier chapters, but it really felt in like there was some text missing somewhere.

Anyway, 陈 has come to the end of his PhD and presents a model for ball lightning for this thesis. 张彬 is on the panel that he defends his thesis to, but doesn't really contribute anything or ask any questions.

In the two years since Taishan, 陈 hasn't spoken to 张彬 about what he learnt there, however now that his studies are over and he's going to be leaving the school, he feels he needs to get things clear. He pays 张 a visit, and tells him what he knows. In response 张 then shows him what is in his spare room - boxes and boxes of notes about 张's research into ball lightning - which over the last 30 years, he never gave up on, and a picture of 张‘s wife (long since deceased) hanging on the wall. 张 tells 陈 that he can have all the boxes, as well as a notebook and some disks. 陈 asks if he can take the picture and scan in into the computer, when 张 asks why, 陈 mentions that possibly one day he wants to let the whole world know about the first person to perform direct measurements on ball lightning.

[This was the bit I thought wasn't really explained really well. Nowhere previously does it really seem to mention 张's wife and how she died, and what relationship she had to ball lightning. Perhaps I missed something, or these questions are answered later on. In any event in the next chapter we learn a little bit more, but still nothing specific]

陈 takes the boxes home and starts reading through 张's notes, which are detailed and brilliant. In the notes 张 presents 3 different mathematical models for ball lightning, including one similar to the model 陈 presented for his thesis - however 张's notes also point out a flaw in this model - which is interesting, especially as that means he would have known 陈's model was flawed during the defense of his thesis, but never brought it up. The notes also contain many other unfinished models that were abandoned for one reason or another.

While he's reading through all the notes, 高波 comes to visit him to say that he's leaving the school to take up a position of head of the Lightning Research Institute. 高 also offers 陈 a position working there if he wants to take it, which 陈 accepts.

Two days before leaving, 张 comes to visit him to tells 陈 about the path that 陈 is about to embark on will be painful. 陈 initially thinks this is because all 张's years of research came to nothing, and tells 张 not to worry. 张 responds that this is not the reason and he doesn't have any regrets about the research he's done or his life, but that the most painful thing after all these years being obsessed with ball lightning, is that after that first encounter, he'd never seen it again.

They talk some more, and as 张 is leaving he mentions that his last hope in life is that 陈 will allow them both to see ball lightning one more time.

Chapter 7 Once again, this chapter starts to head into the supernatural territory. The night of 张's visit, 陈 can't get to sleep. As he's lying in bed he hears a sigh. And then another. As he turns on the light he thinks he sees a shadow moving towards the window, that reminds him of the hair incident all those years ago. This keeps him even more awake, and when he realises he has no hope of sleeping, he starts reading through 张’s notes again. As he's reading them, he notices that one of the pages has a section crossed out, and next to it is written a more simplifed formula. However, this is written in a different (more elegant) handwriting and has also used different ink. He compares this to the notebook 张 gave him previously (that contains 张‘s wife's handwriting?) and the writing matches up. He looks back at the date on the notes that were crossed out, and it was 1983 - 12 years after the death of 张’s wife. The new formula also contains a value/parameter for plasma fluids (?) that wasn't discovered until 1985. 陈 starts hunting through all the other notes, and finds several more corrections also written in the same handwriting/ink.

He then takes a look at the scan of the photo of 张‘s wife and using some photo-editing skills he picked up while manipulating various images of electricity these past few years, he finds out that one of the pockets on the photo contains the outline of a 3.5“ disk - again impossible considering the time that 张's wife was supposed to have died.

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Ha! This month has been crazy (been doing tour guide/translator for a group of friends from the states for three weeks) and now I am in Thailand...still hoping to get around too it but I don't think it's gonna happen this month...

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