Archive for December, 2007

Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007


A man who witnesses both his parents get turned to ash by ball lightning devotes his entire life to researching the poorly-understood phenomenon. His quest takes him to a national defense research institute where government scientists are seeking to use ball lightning as a new-concept weapon. He becomes disgusted with the thought of his pure scientific research being used for killing, but every time he tries to escape, his obsession draws him back in.

Ball Lightning is well-paced and tightly plotted. Liu handles the science quite well, and the current state of lightning and weather research, as well as his speculative explanation, hang together just enough to stave off disbelief. His depiction of military research is not at all boosterish, and the believable characters, including the self-doubting narrator, a woman who is enamored with danger and destruction, and a physicist who is out for pure knowledge, damn the consequences, add depth to the story. Highly recommended.

A short excerpt is available at Words Without Borders magazine, and a longer, 12,000-word excerpt can be downloaded from the Paper Republic literary website.

A History of the Conquest of the Maya by Ma Boyong

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Alternate history as comic novel. Ma Boyong imagines a meeting between exiled forces of the Shang Dynasty and pre-Columbian middle America.

The book originated online and is written in the same arch tone that Ma employs to great effect on his blog. He’s also obviously a fan of Stephen Chow.

Lightweight and fun, the book will probably grate on anyone familiar with actual Mayan history, although it does acquit itself better than the other “China meets Maya” novel I read this year. (That book, thankfully, remains unpublished.)