The 3 Body Problem // Cixin Liu [Thoughts + Spoilers]

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Plot: The Cultural Revolution is laid out for 50 pages and characters that no one knows nor cares about die/suffer. The only one left standing is a woman who will eventually sell out humans to aliens living in the Alpha Centauri System [off-camera]. In modern times, a scientist/nanotech engineer[?] called Wang forgets his family so he can focus on a video game called The Three Body Problem. It’s not a hard game, not as hard as the original Mega Man, and he quickly comes across the alien plot to take over Earth. Luckily, it will take 400 years for the aliens to arrive. Unluckily, they’ve invented nine dimensional protons that fly to Earth and do their best Stasi impression, which in effect limits humans to doing nothing scientifically for the next 400 years, which in turn will allow the aliens to land on Earth and do what?

Subplot: Disregarding the blurb on the back of the cover, 100 odd pages are dedicated to flashbacks of the traitor scientist figuring out how to send a signal to aliens without telling us that’s what she’s doing even though we know that’s what she’s doing cos we’ve read the blurb on the back cover.

Subplot: Wang’s wife asks for a divorce.

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The above summary of the plot may come across as negative, but I enjoyed about half of this book, especially the parts focused on the video game and the three body aliens themselves.

However, it takes a long while to get there.

The biggest problem is definitely the opening 50 pages or so. If you’re gonna write a sci-fi book that starts with some historical context, at least write it well. Or organise it well. Or make it involving, either emotionally or concept-wise. What Liu has done is write a succession of scenes that involve characters we don’t get to know at all and then kill them off. Continue reading

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Space [Manifold] // Stephen Baxter [Spoilers]

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Title: Space [When I search for it online, it has a ‘Manifold’ added to the title].

Characters: Reid Malenfant [a name almost beyond parody]

Nemoto [Japanese scientist]

Gaijin [Alien robots]

Plot: Spanning almost two millennia, the story begins with the gaijin and their asteroid belt scam being rumbled by Nemoto, who spots them from her shoebox on the moon. Reid Malenfant borrows Stephen Baxter’s brain, figures out that the Gaijin are actually sailing in from the solar focus, which is somewhere out past the edge of the solar system, and goes to investigate. Other characters flit in and out, avoiding depth and other hobbies. The hobby is science. There is nothing else.

Better than Event Horizon?

This isn’t a bad book, but it isn’t a good one either. It’s hovering somewhere around average. Starting with the Fermi Paradox hook and then failing to keep my attention for more than seven pages is not a good sign [for me].

I’m sure there’s a better way to write that, but I’ve been struggling with English for a while now, especially when it comes to reviews. Something’s not working right in my brain. Feels like I’m parroting other sources. Or simplifying words to primary school level.

Still, this is not a bad book.

It’s about space, aliens, exploration…it has a page on different, theoretical ways we can travel to the next star…so why didn’t I like it more? Continue reading

Bakufu era Japan = Klingons

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I’ve heard this said a few times before

that Klingons in TNG and onwards were basically samurai with head bumps

but I only ever believed it on the surface level

e.g. code of honour, warrior govt

However, now I’ve read a book called ‘The Bakufu in Japanese History’ I realise that Ronald D Moore probably did read the same book before starting work on his first Klingon episode.

The house system is the same

This wasn’t unique to Japan, but in the era of Bakufu [1185-1868], which I think translates as a govt led by military guys, your house represented the power you had to a huge level. It chopped and changed a lot, and varied between different bakufu, but basically there was the bakufu [military] and two other powerful groups, Monks + aristocrats [including the Emperor], owning land and dividing power. However, by the time of the final Bakufu [Tokugawa 1600-1868?], the military and regional houses had dealt with the monks and nobles and had total control.

Don’t monks usually get slaughtered in history?

Later, yes, but not during the first two Bakufu.

In fact, it’s quite funny how the monks operated in some areas, specifically how they made their cash. Medieval Japan was quite a superstitious place, so the monks would take a portable shrine, drop it in someone’s house then sit and wait for that person to pay enough for them to get rid of the ‘evil spirit’ within the shrine. No one would challenge them as only the monks had the power to perform the task; even the samurai wouldn’t touch the portable shrines.

The noble samurai?

Ha, about as noble as old English knights. A lot of those fuckers were just thugs with swords who switched sides if the price was decent, and what’s worse, the Muromachi Bakufu made them cops in Kyoto too. Or the equivalent of cops. The rest of the samurai could just do what they pleased as long as they didn’t do it close to Kyoto. And they did. Continue reading

The Book + the Sword // Jin Yong

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Jin Yong is my wife’s favourite writer and probably the best known guy writing Chinese martial arts in the whole world.

Though most people in the west don’t know him.

I don’t know the reason, but not many of his books have been translated into English. My wife told me it’s hard to translate from Chinese to English as the traditional Chinese characters used often have a meaning that can’t be translated well. Also, there probably aren’t many western writers, apart from academics, who are at a high enough standard in Chinese writing to give it a crack.

Maybe the American-Chinese guy who did ‘The 3 Body Problem’ could give it a crack sometime?

Anyway, what my wife said could be true in this case, as the translation I read was quite simple in its style, word choice and sentence structure. And a lot of the story was just plot, plot, plot, which made me wonder if a lot of the deeper, between the lines stuff had been lost along the way.

And when I say ‘a lot’ I mean:

The Chinese version of ‘The Book and the Sword’ is about 1,000 pages

The English version is around 500 pages.

500 pages worth of story was lost?

I don’t know,

but,

although there were a lot of characters to keep track of and the story was quite melodramatic in a lot of ways, there were aspects of it that I thought were great.

Kung Fu strategy

The way Jin Yong describes the action is decent, but the parts that really stood out were the parts in-between where the characters or the narrator would delineate the style that was being used and the strategy behind it

E.g. the one third attack Continue reading

Gateway // Frederik Pohl [thoughts + spoilers]

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Book: Gateway

Author: Frederick Pohl

Plot: A guy living next to some mines on a depressing near future Earth wins the lottery and uses his cash to fly up to an ancient alien asteroid space station called Gateway. His choice: to fly one of the thousand or so ships left behind by the long dead aliens to god knows where and potentially make a lot of cash or stay still for a few weeks, drink, fuck, gamble, and then go back to the mines.

Or fly one of the ships into a star going supernova and die like whats-his-face in disney’s the black hole i.e. differently.

Subplot: A robot psychologist tries to get the main character to realise that he’s a bit of a twat.

Subplot 2: A female instructor on Gateway falls in love with the main character because his first name is ‘Main’. She later regrets it when he beats her for no reason, but is forced back into his arms by a mysterious god like entity called ‘Pohl’ who commands her to ‘close the narrative’.

Subplot 3: A Black Hole sucks as hard as it can to pull in that spaceship cos it’s lonely and sad and has been marginalised by the Tories.

Notes:

I’m torn between writing about Gateway and the Foundation books, but I’m also torn a third way as what I really wanna get back to is Babel-17, mostly because it’s all to do with language and the workings of it and specifically an alien language so weird and unfamiliar that no one can understand it, which is similar to Darmok and the Children of Tama in Star Trek TNG, but Delaney wrote his one first and I’ve read the first 40 or so pages of Babel and it seemed okay, but it didn’t reel me in enough, the writing wasn’t as strong or brilliant as other people said, but then it usually takes me a while to get into a book, the first page is always tedious, too descriptive, bland word choice etc.

Gateway had the same effect, took me two years to get past the first chapter even though it was quite well-written…

I think the main problem was the same problem that most old sci-fi had: the characters were too sharp and too smart.

Goddamn it, Siegfried and other lines like this and

there’s swearing later too, which I didn’t expect from someone like Pohl, but then

what can I expect when I know nothing about him? Continue reading

Laura [taken from S/N/D] // Soren Melville [thoughts + spoilers]

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I’m torn between writing about ‘Laura’ from Soren Melville’s book S/N/D and doing a bizarro story about left wing robots called left wing robots.

Is there enough in the concept?

I don’t know.

Writing without a plan is better, I think, though

everything I know about robots

and left wing politics is pretty vague in my head and

I don’t know if there’ll be enough detail stocked into the story to make it good.

The worst thing it could be is:

The left wing robots go to Caracas and talk to Chavez and

are reprogrammed a little and then sent to

the guy who writes Tal Cual, I can’t remember how to spell his name

I think it’s Petkoff or Tepkoff

and the left wing robots are not like the right wing robots Continue reading

KLAUS, I LOVE YOU [on the brilliance of Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht] // Soren Melville

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Dracula is not an easy book to adapt. Told in a contemporary form of the epistolary, utilising journals, diaries–one of which is recorded on a phonograph–letters, news clippings, and even a section of a ship’s log, it juggles roughly eleven major and minor characters, five of which lend their voices to the narrative, with most of the flavour and iconic action belonging to the first half of the book. On screen, there are too many characters and relationships to devote enough time to to fully develop (though they are not horribly dense in the novel to begin with) and thusly, many adaptations of the work both combine characters and shuffle their relationships with each other into a more manageable narrative.

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This is what both Nosferatu and, naturally, it’s adaptation Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht do. Nosferatu is a minimalist version of Dracula, retaining the original flavour with only a handful of the original characters. In it, the Jonathan Harker of Dracula is turned into the character Hutter; his fiancée Mina into his wife Ellen; Dracula into Count Orlok and the mad Reinfield into Knock. Lucy, her suitors, and her subplot–her seduction and death at Dracula’s hand, her transformation into the “Bloofer Lady” and her sensational second-killing at the hand of her betrothed–are gone, as is the prominent character of Van Helsing, who guides the majority of the novel. Without this character leading the others, it is up to Ellen, the Mina character, to save the city from the vampire and its plague. Unlike her counterpart in the novel, she is not without power, and it is she, not Van Helsing, who becomes informed on the nature of the vampire, and how to kill it. It is this knowledge, paired with her beauty and purity of heart, that overcome the vampire in the end.

Unlike Stoker’s Dracula, Murnau’s vampire Count Orlok is vanquished by Ellen in a stark contrast to the book, in which it is the boys that do all the noble vanquishing of evil. The 1922 date of the film argues that it was not a feminist agenda that changed the plot, but a simple need to streamline and, perhaps (to be quite honest) to keep things from being too boring. Continue reading