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BOTM January 2008 - 球状闪电


imron
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Well, in order to make the deadline I decided to just read and not type up any notes. I'm now only a couple of chapters from the end. A quick summary of events: they figure out what ball-lightning is and how to create it. This of course gets turned into a weapon, with the characteristic that it can pass through walls/objects and also target and destroy specific objects (living things, electronics etc) without affecting anything else in the surrounding area (read the book if you want to know the explanations for why this is so :mrgreen:, the author definitely has some interesting ideas).

The weapon is first used when terrorists take control (and threaten to blow up) a nuclear reactor. The above-mentioned characteristics allow them to kill the terrorists without needing to even enter the building and without harming the reactor. An unfortunate consequence is that they also kill the bus-load of school children that were being held hostage by the terrorists. This is too much for 陈, who decides to quit the ball-lightning team and only work on researching technology with non-military application. Based on technology developed during the ball-lightning research, 陈 invents a machine for predicting when tornados will form. This then leads to foreign researchers developing a means to prevent tornados before they form, based on the same technology.

War breaks out, and it turns out that the research into the anti-tornado machine also led to the development of a machine for creating super tornados, which is used with devastating effect against the Chinese navy, and is something that would not have been possible without 陈's research. 陈 tries to get back in touch with people from the ball-lightning team, but due to the top-secret nature of the project, the previous base they were using is now abandoned, and the phone numbers he had for everyone no longer work.

He then sets about figuring out how to develop something to counter the tornado machine.

That's about where I'm at now, and hopefully I should be able to finish the rest of the book by tonight :)

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Yeah the macro-electron stuff was good. I am enjoying it, however there was a period in the middle of the month where things were quite busy and so I didn't do much reading. This, coupled with my sense of duty, has led to a spurt of reading over the last couple of days to make sure I finish it in time.

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Glad that this one was well-received. I'd like to get in on a BOTM in the future (are we skipping February because of the holiday?) - hopefully there'll be a month when I'm not busy and haven't read the book already.

Just an FYI: the author's subsequent novel, 三体, is now available at major bookstores in Beijing and is a 2-5 day order at Joyo. According to people who've picked it up, it differs from the serialized version (the one that's found online) in the chapter order - the Cultural Revolution stuff is introduced later instead of appearing in the prologue.

I'm not sure what that will do to the pacing - in general, I found Ball Lightning (except for the sentimental back-story info-dump at the very end) a smoother read than Three Body, but the restructuring might help - we'll jump right into the story when the main character starts having constant visions of a countdown clock. Or it may just have been done to distinguish it from Wang Jinkang's 蚁生, a recent SF novel that also opened with an anti-intellectual struggle session.

If you liked Ball Lightning, you'll probably like Three Body, too. Weird mysteries of particle physics, a strong female character, the military-industrial complex, plus apocalyptic cults and possibly even aliens. The eccentric physicist Ding Yi shows up in a more minor role.

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are we skipping February because of the holiday?
Nope, February is 停車暫借問. Will start a new thread about it shortly.
The eccentric physicist Ding Yi shows up in a more minor role.
This is the one character I didn't really like in 球状闪电. It seemed like to every difficult problem he'd just say oh it's easy, this is how we solve it.

Also, does this mean there is continuity between the books, and that the events occur in a post ball-lightning world?

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Well, I finished this last night, and I have to say it was a pretty disappointing ending. The part about 林云 seemed pretty useless and could have been dropped entirely without having much of an impact on the story, also I think the way the war was "won" was a bit of a cop-out . I also didn't really like the way that 陈 seemed to go from being an intelligent and focused person, to almost appearing like a bit of an idiot, overshadowed by 丁仪's genius.

So, overall an interesting read, that is let down by a weak ending.

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I agree about that great big 林云 bit near the end - almost felt like the author was trying to get up to a certain character count before ending. But I did like the way it ended overall, as I'd been kind of expecting them to just come up with some usable super-weapon and win, rather than the rather dubious victory they actually got.

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I was satisfied with the way things ended up. There's not much continuity in the later book; as far as I can recall, when Ding Yi shows up, someone mentions that he's heard of him before, but that's as far as it goes - I guess civilization got right back to normal and the whole catastrophe was covered up...

But actually, the ending and the involvement of the post-Soviet scientists were two places where the story completely subverted my expectations. I wasn't thrilled at first by the [email protected] bit - it was too obviously clever, and I couldn't see it going anywhere good. So it was a pleasant surprise when they got the message from the Russians. It's nice when the author is thinking a few steps ahead of me.

I kind of agree with you that Ding Yi was too clever, but I felt that Chen's retreat to basically observer status was a nice bit of characterization that upended the traditional "hero-protagonist saves the day" framework. Lin Yun's weepy farewell is an unfortunate example of the excessive sentimentality that sometimes crops up in Liu Cixin's fiction - he must actually like that kind of scene.

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I'd been kind of expecting them to just come up with some usable super-weapon and win, rather than the rather dubious victory they actually got.
To be honest, I don't think the threat to use the macro-fusion bomb would have had that much of an effect. Mostly because they had a difficult enough time convincing their own side that such a thing was even possible, and I think they'd really have to use it against the enemy for the enemy to be convinced. Otherwise how else do you convince them? You can't explain the physics involved, because then the enemy can use that to build their own similar weapon, and at that point in time, from the outside, it would just have looked as if an accident in testing had caused the weapon to be used against China themselves - who would believe that the range of the weapon could reach globally, or that it would only destroy electronics? I think it's a bluff the enemy side probably would have called, because in a worse case scenario they'd have had the confidence that they could recover more quickly.

I guess it all comes down to suspension of disbelief, and if the author can convince me that a macro-fusion bomb that only destroys specific objects and leaves everything else untouched is possible, then it's a bit of let down when he can't do the same for simpler more mundane matters.

I wasn't thrilled at first by the [email protected] bit
I wasn't either, especially because I don't believe that [email protected] would be so easy to hack, or that the hack would have gone unnoticed for so long. It was good when they finally got sent the message from the administrator telling them off and kicking them out (and it was good to see him turn up again at the end).

Also, if the quantum-state 林云 and other characters can have an effect on the real world (e.g. 张彬's wife with the graveyard and the notebook, and 陈's father with the painting), how come the quantum-state terrorists aren't causing havoc in the nuclear reactor? (hmm although perhaps that's the story for a future novel) And yeah, I know, I know, it's just a story, but once again it comes down to being able to suspend disbelief, which I had no problem doing for the more extraordinary things, but just kept being let down by the simpler ones.

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  • 8 months later...

Ok, I'm reading this book but it's going to take me forever since one chapter takes over an hour for me. (I'm an incredibly slow reader even with Powerword) It's funny that I read the first chapter and didn't even know that the parents were killed by ball lightning until I read Imron's Cliff Notes. I just thought he was using a metaphor or something else in his life. :conf Currently on Chapter 4 but it will probably take until next year to finish...

Edited by ABCinChina
I thought about it and, it takes me longer than 45 min...
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Got to admit the thought of you reading the entire book regarding ball lightening as a metaphor and trying to figure out what it represents is kind of amusing :mrgreen:

Keep up the good work though, and update us on your progress and any issues - we're here to help, when not being amused :twisted:

45 minutes a chapter isn't so bad - it's what, 30+ chapters, so a month and a bit of pre-bedtime reading and you're done. Increasing reading speed is probably a whole other topic, but I find sometimes I just need to force my eyes to scan rather than hop along character by character.

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I'm shamelessly butting in here without having read the book, but it's an interesting remark on reading.

I often force myself to read out characters in my mind one by one, because it forces me to recall the tones and correct pronunciation.

Fast reading is a whole different skill, and a useful one, though.

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I just wonder how Imron can get so much info from reading that first chapter. All I remember was that he was talking about his birthday and then all the sudden he was describing ashes. I thought that he was creating a metaphor for that. After reading the whole chapter I was thoroughly confused until I read the Chapter 1 summary. (Clearly my Chinese reading skills are lacking)

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  • 6 years later...

I finished this yesterday. Apart from the 专业 words it was a pretty easy read I think, Liu's language is not difficult.

 

For most of the time it didn't really feel like science fiction, perhaps one could rather call it research fiction: 陈 has an idea, researches, tests, it fails, has another idea, etc. The ideas were nice, but for most of the time the book wasn't really going anywhere, it seemed to me. Also I had no idea at what point Liu left reality and started with speculative things, as I don't know the first thing about ball lightning beyond that that certainly does exist. Should have read the afterword first, it might have worked better for me.

 

Still, the macro-electron thing was cool, especially when you think about the larger (ha ha) implications: there is a whole world out there, in the same place as our world, but so big that it doesn't notice us and we don't notice it. Is there life there? We can barely know, because it's just too big. For all we know we're living in a single brain cell of something alive. Or in a dog hair. Or just in the air. That is an awesome thought.

 

As to the end chapter about Lin Yun, on one hand I agree it was superfluous: we already know what catalysed her interest in weapons. But her relationship to the Russian woman was still interesting I think, as how that ended made the implications of her career clear (or perhaps not to her, unfortunately). Do not do unto others as you wouldn't have others to do unto you and all that.

 

Lastly, we never learn 陈博士's name, but after meeting 赵雨 and 林云 I went with the assumption that his name was probably 陈雷.

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[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]

Re-reading this thread and yes, you certainly missed something. Perhaps it was removed from the mainland edition because it was ghost-y? My edition was Taiwanese.

 

Zhang and his wife had been researching ball lightning together very devoutedly. One evening, Zhang Bin's wife was out doing field work [i think Zhang Bin himself wasn't there, political trouble if I recall correctly] and indeed came across a ball lightning. She took a probing instrument to it and it promptly reduced her to ashes, much as Chen's parents. All that was left was her coat and her notebook. Zhang shows Chen the notebook saying: I've never shown this to anyone, as nobody would believe me. Chen opens the notebook and finds that every other page is burned to ashes, but the remaining pages are fine. Very mysterious.

This is the notebook that Zhang gives to Chen, and in which he sees Zhang's wife's handwriting.

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