“It’s a strong book, an AMBITIOUS book, a worthy winner [of the Hugo Award].” So said George RR Martin in an interview last year. I think George has good taste, so his endorsement was enough for me to pick it up. In my experience, reading authors who aren’t British or American provides a very different take on characters, settings and worldview. So it is with Liu’s trilogy.
Each book of the the trilogy is self-contained, providing a satisfying conclusion. No ham-fisted cliffhangers here. The books mesh well and looking back on it, form a complete story. As a story-teller, Liu is truly gifted. The plot develops well, is unpredictable and felt unlike anything I had read before. With many books you can tell where its inspired from but I couldn’t here. This is probably because of my unfamiliarity with Chinese stories and tropes and it gave all 3 books a fresh, novel feeling. He also uses non-linear narrative and multiple perspectives to keep up the tempo.
What I feel he does best is the science. He introduces novel ideas throughout, the best of which is an interesting solution to the Fermi paradox. It played a major role in the plot and I appreciated that he kept it “real” for as long as possible and it only became mind-bending as many years pass. Only one point required serious suspension of disbelief, and I’m willing to let that go. More than the technology itself, it was fascinating to see humanity struggle with and adapt to situations they found themselves in.
Not entirely positive though. A couple of issues with the characters - we get to know a few characters well, and they’re relatable, and evolve with time. However, the majority of characters are either props or in the case of non-Chinese characters, do the most bizarre things. Its possible that the author struggled with non-Chinese characters similar to Western authors have issues with Asian characters. I’d speculate that the author felt this too, and hence as time went on, all the important roles were played by Chinese characters.
Another wrinkle was the dialogue. I’m hesitant to be harsh about this but it feels like the words were translated word-by-word rather than idiomatically. It didn’t flow well and was at times a bit cliched. Its a small thing, and I’m not complaining.
To conclude I find its common to compare authors in Science Fiction and Fantasy, but I’m going to avoid that here. I don’t want to compare this to Foundation or the Robots. Suffice to say that this is a special set of books, one that tries to put as much Science it can in Science Fiction.