It does this while threading characters from each stage of "zoom" into future stages, creating for a lot of interesting cross-over plots and sub-plots.
As other commentator's have said, it also wove together Chinese culture with science fiction and history with drama very fluidly.
It was, for me personally, a very "fun" read. Kept me excited at each chapter, and I genuinely didn't know what to expect next. I highly recommend to any sci-fi fans out there, even those like me, who initially didn't think they could stomach around 1,000 pages of a translated-from-Chinese sci-fi novel.
Which is not really new. The three books could be condensed a lot. It felt like reading the Dune prequels and sequels: useless details not advancing any plot just to make the book bigger.
It may come from the difference between western and Chinese ways to tell a story. Or the translator job. But they were snooze-fest for 300 pages then 10 pages of something happening then back to boring.
See, I can even remember some names :)
Non-arguments like this make me actually want to check it out.
On one hand, the self-annihilation idea implies that super-predator civilizations, being extremely rate to exist, would not have strong motivations for exterminating competitors.
What would possibly be the need, given the vastness of time and space, and the thermodynamic arguments given? Indeed, following this logic, the extraordinarily rare galactic survivor civilizations are almost guaranteed a long, peaceful existence.
On the other hand, it all develops on the curve of the galactic gaussian justifying possible pre-emptive defense investments. There's a difference of 3-4 or n sigmas statistics likelihood. In the former case, the likelihood of a rare rival emerging is high enough that pre-emptive defense strategies will be considered, and rudimentary systems of deterrence put in place. In the (high) n theory, it probably would not. How a civilization in the early stages of hegemony determined this fact, would be an interesting and possible civilization-saving (or destroying) feat....
Side note, haven't heard of the Revelation Space trilogy. Does it offer a workable theory for the origins of the predator dynamic?
Not really, it's doesn't get any philosophical treatment and is more of a plot device. Without giving away spoilers it's more a bit like iRobot (the movie) with the predator having noble but extremely long term goals of what's best for life itself, I don't think why it does this really holds up either but it works as a plot device. It's happy with intelligent life as long as it doesn't expand into the galaxy, it doesn't act preemptively.
> On the other hand, it all develops on the curve of the galactic gaussian justifying possible pre-emptive defense investments. There's a difference of 3-4 or n sigmas statistics likelihood.
The other factor is the cost to put down potential rivals, in the dark forest universe this cost is incredibly cheap. If the cost were a lot higher then the outcome would be very different.
E.g. If there were no FTL travel, deterrence would look very different. Especially if the average time for a civilization to become multi-planetary < the average distance to the nearest annihilation capable civilization
which I think is the most memorable and haunting section title of an encyclopedia article ever written.
His vision of the future is bleak in the extreme. His characters are naively constructed and occasionally make incomprehensible choices.
The worst sin is he's unsure whether he wants to write hard sci-fi or just mostly "fi" with a thin veneer of "sci". Occasionally he seems like he wants to stick to solid science with a few extra assumptions (in the best tradition of hard sci-fi); but then he veers off into some cartoonish "science" that's quite jarring. In the end, you get the impression he just tries to brag about how much science he "understands".
In the end I was reading it the way some folks watch a bad movie - to make fun of it.
If you want cosmic scale hard sci-fi, try Stephen Baxter. He can be a bit dry at times, but that's his only fault.
The book is written in a very simple, juvenile style, at the linguistic level of a YA novel. There's zero depth to any characters. By modern standards, it's all "tell", no "show". I've read several reviews that suggest this is actually how most modern Chinese novels are written. That doesn't make it more readable, unfortunately.
The style seemed rather unintentionally surreal. My sense after reading was that I had just been reading Vonnegut's "The Sirens of Titan" but without any of the humour. Many of Vonnegut's books are breezy, somewhat outrageous fables that don't go very deep into their characters, of course, but they work because they're funny, colourful, inventive, well written, and are full of great ideas. I think Lui Cixin's book would have worked much better as a Vonnegut-style satire.
If you want a similarly dark look at the future of humanity's role in the universe, take a look at Peter Watts' Blindsight . While it certainly won't win any prizes for literature, and it has some odd quirks, it's considerably better written, and might especially appeal to fans of Neal Stephenson's loose, ragged style of writing. Moreover, it's probably the creepiest sci-fi novel I've read. On the surface it's a somewhat straightforward story about a team of transhuman specialists who are dispatched to investigate an apparently alien artifact. But it goes deep into some fairly cynical ideaas about human consciousness that are somewhat existentially unnerving.
> The style seemed rather unintentionally surreal.
This might be an artifact of translation, combined with whatever cultural differences there are between Chinese literature and the "Western" literature (scare quotes because the category is loosely defined). The style actually seemed somewhat poetic to me. I'm just not knowledgeable enough in this neighborhood to pass judgment.
But I agree that the style doesn't connect with the substance of the book, mostly because the substance is disjointed and so uneven.
Blindsight is fairly bleak as well. At least Stephenson is unabashedly optimistic. Peter Watts is echoing there some very important debates in philosophy and neuroscience these days - Thomas Nagel's "what is it like to be something", David Chalmers' hard problem of consciousness, p-zombies, the skepticism of Dan Dennett, etc. The problem of consciousness in general. Blindsight is great as a sneaky introduction to these concepts, even though it's quite cynical, as you've said.
I've never connected well with Vonnegut, actually. But then I didn't really connect either with hugely popular authors such as Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. Maybe there's a pattern there.
One thing Adams and Vonnegut have in common is their almost nihilistic sense of cosmic absurdity and the futility of purpose. Without spoiling anything, the whole story in The Sirens of Titan turns out to be meaningless. A bit like how, in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, we eventually realize that Earth was originally created by little white, superintelligent mice to compute, over billions of years, the meaning of life, the universe and everything. (The answer isn't... terribly useful.) It's absurd, and funny, and sad at the same time.
Vonnegut got more eccentric in his writing over time, but Sirens is actually very straightforward, and it's a masterpiece. Give it a shot. Cat's Cradle is also excellent. I never liked Slaughterhouse Five, which everyone recommends, as much.
You nailed it. That's the part I could not swallow.
But I'll give Sirens another try. Thank you.
You're right that the prose is a little Stephenson-ish, but to avoid giving anyone the wrong impression I'd add that the pace, story, structure, and—how to put this?—evenness of quality aren't.
The only persistent offender here I can think of is Stephenson. Who else are you thinking of?
BTW, many years ago I used to hate Stephenson's dry style. But for some reason I kept reading his books because I like his ideas. Eventually I figured what he's really like - just a different attitude - and at that point I started to enjoy his writing quite a lot. Anathem is one of my favorite books in all literature, ever.
> The only thing I didn't particularly enjoy was the flashbacks to the protagonist's past on Earth, which seemed a bit trite and repetitive.
Yeah, that was boring.
William Gibson, although I liked Neuromancer's ending, and every novel since that has followed the same template (mystery bigwig hires someone to find McGuffin, but is really manipulating/being manipulated about something else, the end).
Maybe I was being harsh. I'll see if I can think of more examples.
At the other end of the scale, Iain M. Banks never wrote a badly paced book that didn't have a perfect ending, as far as I'm concerned. The guy was a master.
I finally realized his enjoyment is in Type B writing. It's the detail next to the main plot, rather than the motion itself.
Which parallels what I like about film noir -- it's not about finding the murderer: it's about watching the characters find the murderer.
Which is why I maintain the Lost ending was hilarious. JJ Abrams essentially said "Look, you didn't really care about the answers: you cared about watching these characters look for answers. And in the end, it's the characters who mattered." Which is probably not something you should ever point out to a TV geek if you want to keep your head intact. ;)
All that said, just imagine how fantastic his novels could be with better plotting! He's not terrible at characters, it's the plot that ultimately disappoint. I think his imagination peaked with Neuromancer, unfortunately; his later novels didn't bring much new to the table beyond what he's laid out in that book, and I find his later obsession with art (like the locational VR art in the Blue Ant trilogy) and video games tiresome. His newest one didn't click for me at all.
Lost, ugh. Such a promising start completely wasted by lack of planning.
Peter F. Hamilton.
He has some awesome universes but his endings are usually a lot fo Deus Ex Machina. But the thoughts of MorningLightMountain analyzing a human is a good example of how he can get some alien concepts done.
[EDIT] the action writing in Blindsight is particularly good, in fact. Some of the best I've read.
> This is awkward and a little creepy. They tell me I have to do it for promotional purposes, but I've already got a blog. I've already got a website. Being told that setting up an author page on fcuking Amazon is essential to success? A company that treats us all like such goddamn children it doesn't even allow us to correctly spell an epithet with a venerable history going back 900 years or more? That just sucks the one-eyed purple trouser eel.
> Still, here I am. But if you're really all that interested, go check out my actual blog/website. Google is not your friend (any more than Amazon is), but at least it'll point you in the right direction.
I _love_ Blindsight.
I certainly enjoy literary books, but I think describing the style and tone of Liu's books as simple and juvenile is missing the point a bit.
It's surreal in the sense that the writer asks you accept certain developments at face value, just as it asks its characters to. If it had been a satire, then it would have perhaps been able to reach the heights of Vonnegut, Lem or Adams. But everything seems like it is meant sincerely, without irony. The wooden main characters run around like chess pieces with little or no inner life, just to fulfill the necessities of the next scene. The book lacks realism -- not in the sense of being realistic against our world, but in the sense that it's a fable, told like a children's story, yet seemingly marketed to adults. You kind of have to brace yourself a bit, as a reader, because it's told in the way an adult might speak to a slow child, which feels condescending. I don't want to be told how a character thinks or feels.
There's nothing wrong with the story, per se (although I have issues with some things, like the nanotech at the end of the book, which comes as a huge deus ex machina -- it asks the reader to accept too much in terms of technological plausibility). The story is interesting. It's just told in a completely ridiculous way.
Regarding Use of Weapons, I don't completely disagree. Unlike a lot of people, I don't think it's Banks' best work. I do think it's the superior book by far. I can forgive Banks for being playful about narrative forms even though it's a gimmick that doesn't elevate the story in any way (at least for me).
OMG, this. So much this.
> If it had been a satire, then it would have perhaps been able to reach the heights of Vonnegut, Lem or Adams.
Unsurprisingly given my stated preferences, the only book by Lem I truly enjoyed was Solaris. And when I say enjoyed I mean it was a huge, near-mystical experience (well, I was a teenager).
The faux-encyclopedic style, I'm pretty sure he doesn't mean it in an ironic sense, does he? Seems more similar to Borges in a way. I re-read it recently and again it seemed a completely sincere book. He just opened up the floodgates for everything that mattered to him, affairs of the heart and of the mind also.
Did you read Lem's His Master's Voice? It goes even beyond Solaris in that way. It's about the infighting, political maneuvering etc. that surround an attempt to decipher what may or may not be an extraterrestrial signal. It's perhaps a bit drier than Solaris, being written as a memoir by one of the scientists involved.
I'd say Lem had two modes of writing. He wrote comic adventure stories like the Pirx stories and The Cyberiad. And he wrote ironic, somewhat cynical or pessimistic criticisms of science, such as Solaris, HMV and The Futurological Congress. The latter is great -- during a scientific conference on the future of human civilization, the drinking water is poisoned with psychedelics drugs, and the main character a future dystopia. It's a short, fun book. Cynical, but fun.
His other novels, such as Eden and Fiasco, reflect this view. He's never struck me as a fan of humankind.
I'm not sure I see much of a Borges connection, other than the fictitious history of Solaris.
Have you read any of the Strugatskys' books? They're like anti-Lem's -- lot more optimistic and unabashedly humanist, I think. Roadside Picnic is a great start, but they wrote a bunch of great novels. Beetle in the Anthill is one of my favorites.
The love story is definitely not the main thread, but I felt it was very personal. Not sure why. Kelvin is Lem, no doubt about it, and he poured into the book some measure of his soul. I didn't catch that when I was 16, but I felt it quite powerfully a few months ago when I re-read it.
The contemplative atmosphere of the movie by Soderbergh seemed to capture some of the spirit of the book, but it would take a heck of a lot of text to explain why. But that was it, it didn't capture much else.
I didn't read much else by Lem - the Cyberiad and some Pirx stuff, but that's about it and it was long ago and I don't remember much. Nothing felt as meaningful as Solaris to me.
I didn't read many books by the Strugatskys, but those I've read are awesome.
If you read a writer like Peter Tchaikovsky, you get actually interesting ideas, and really good execution. And I'd say PT is pretty mid-range for contemporary sci-fi authors. People like Yoon Ha Lee or China Mieville are really pushing the genre forward. Lui Cixin's work on the other hand reads like one of those 70's books about uplifted dolphins and sexy spacewomen, all robotic characterization and uninspired writing.
Where would you recommend someone start with Adrian Tchaikovsky?
If this is the first sci-fi book you read, and especially if this happens at an early-ish age, I imagine it may seem impressive.
I really had kind of hoped to get a glimpse into what he'd have come up with for if the universe restarted.
Aka "the last 100 pages, where something actually happens."
We fret every day about consumption, waste, and energy, and here are some people discussing methods of moving planet-sized objects. It's a kind of optimism that's so rare it almost feels outdated.
Unlike most of what is for sale in this world, which happens to be uninspiring garbage.
I'm afraid we have to keep fretting. In the Numberphile video about the number of particles in the Universe (https://youtu.be/lpj0E0a0mlU?t=378), they take an interesting diversion to ask "How long until every particle in the Universe is inside a human being?" In other words, when will we reach the ultimate limit to growth? Well, at the current annualized population growth, it's less than 9000 years! And that scenario involves every human being at that future time floating around naked in the vacuum of space. There is no food to eat, water to drink, nor air to breathe left over.
Practically, this means a couple of things that are less than obvious. First, the best case is that we will reach a point where the growth in volume of the space we occupy will exceed the speed of light. In other words, "long" before 9000 years from now, we will either establish some sort of equilibrium, or we will run up against a hard Malthusian limit. We will absolutely be concerned about "consumption, waste, and energy" in a way that is far more focused than it is now. (The only economic models that are permitted to work are zero-growth models, practically speaking.) Second, to give you an idea of how soon this is coming, the Universe is much larger than 9000 light-years across. That is to say, even if we could manage the resource usage of our 1.011% growth rate optimally, we could never actually fill the Universe in that time frame, as it would take about 15 billion years or so if we were all flinging ourselves outward at very near the speed of light. (n retrospect, these two are restatements of the same idea.)
Finally, and most dismally, the analogous calculation for the Solar System (an infinitely more reasonable calculation to perform) must be abysmally worse and monumentally more urgent. To give you an idea, the current doubling time of human population is something like 60 years. That means, for example, that if we were to anticipate that we'd run out of meaningful room on Earth in 60 years' time, we'd have to start working on our "second home" now, to have it ready. Once it was ready, we'd have to be working on two more. Then four, and so on. Good luck with that!
(Note: After we have consumed the Earth and converted it to habitats, we will have to consume Jupiter in a similar way in about 500 years. This gets out of hand very quickly.)
EDIT: El-oh-el at the few people who's fee-fees were hurt enough by this back-of-the-envelope analysis of growth rates and resource use to downvote it. Keep fighting the good fight, no matter how lonely!
I also don't think humanity will last this long, but as an academic problem it's fun to think about.
Funny I would have expected that to happen when we started consuming more than the primary production of the planet: https://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/08/09/opinion/heres-ho...
As it says in that article,
> Such concepts obviously imply an interstellar civilization capable of reaching the objects in the first place. But once there, the energies to be exploited would be spectacular.
The paper discussed in these articles is not proposing that we puny current Earthlings fire lasers at the closest binary black hole systems. It's exploring the possibility of getting close enough to such a system to make this technique useful.
 The Schwarzschild black hole as a gravitational mirror
we also can’t get to a black hole, so for this civilisation it’s safe to assume they have a significantly better understanding of physics than us. we don’t know what we don’t know
It is sure that the current laws of Physics are incomplete, and some may even be wrong, but this effect is so fundamental and the proof is so simple that I doubt it will change.
The discussion we are having now gives an eternal objective reference point - the technology required to exploit the gravitational energy of binary black holes. How advanced would you say our current technology is, compared to that reference point?
Instead of firing light off at black holes, why not fire some material around a gravity well and allow it to strike the spacecraft in a way that it A) imparts the inertia it has gathered from whatever body you shot it around and B) is captured to be fired again at a new angle according to your new position?
I know there are a ton of logistics to wade through with this, but it should be at least hypothetically possible. It's the same concept as in the article, save for the fact that we are now firing matter around objects we actually can reach in our lifetimes rather than light around black holes that would take an exceedingly long time to propagate.
Now just delete the mothership from this picture; the 'material' is the spacecraft itself.
This is a gravity assist, and by stacking enough of them you can basically pick up as much extra delta-V as you want (at least until you reach Solar escape velocity).
The main drawback is that it can take decades of flying a convoluted series of gravity assists before you get to where you need to go, and that's all within one system.
(The two-body idea you proposed has the same problem. The mothership has to sit there and wait while the matter flies back and forth on multi-year long orbits. Also now you have to figure out how to 'catch' a hypervelocity projectile...)
Another thought is that if the projectile were small and aerodynamic enough, you could dip closer into a body's gravity well than the spacecraft could due to atmospheric drag, grabbing more momentum than the spacecraft itself could. The lower periapsis might yeild more delta-v due to the more pronounced Oberth effect than the spacecraft could provide. That's all assuming you don't go TOO far into the atmosphere with the projectile.
I think the logistic issues of catching a bullet are probably the limiting factor here. Light at least _wants_ to be absorbed. Matter just wants to go through you.
> Light acts the same way, but light cannot return faster than the speed of light. Instead, in gaining momentum from the black hole, the light blueshifts.
How do you get propulsion from blueshifted light?
You first emit the photon towards the black hole, momentum gain. Absorbing the photon on the return would be a two-fer, and reflecting a three-fer.
You emit photon 1. It has momentum m. It comes back blueshifted, so you get momentum km, with k > 1. You reflect that back, and you get momentum k^2m...
It's not that simple, because as you start to move away, you redshift the photons you reflect. And the alignment issues are going to be pretty severe. And if you get too much compound interest, the photons may be blue-shifted enough to kill you or damage your ship. Still, the idea is pretty slick.
Wouldn’t it be a wash?
You steal energy from the object you're slingshotting off. The black holes are slowing (infinitesimally) down every time you do it, gifting their energy to the accelerated object.
Hence the article talking about potentially detecting this sort of behavior by monitoring for prematurely merging and overly eccentric binary black holes.
Obviously you cannot exceed the speed of light but it doesn't seem like it would be a wash.
Maybe this way?
But the general form of what you're describing isn't any more outlandish than a time capsule, i.e. 'transmitting information into the future'.
But no, sorry, you can't see the past with the paucity of black holes near the Earth (and ignoring all of the other impediments to such a thing happening).
Dark energy is the concept that while the universe is expanding, gravity wins / everything is at escape velocity, it shouldn't be expanding faster. Dark energy is the fact that the two asteroids separated by the bomb (the big bang) aren't just at escape velocity, something is causing them to accelerate.
'Gravitational radiation' is, apparently, a thing; gravity waves basically. It's not _electromagnetic_ radiation tho, which is what I'm guessing what you meant.
I don't think it's crazy to think that gravity is propagated at the speed of light but that we can't, and likely won't ever be able to, measure any gravity waves smaller than those generated by extremely large-gravity systems.
I don't believe this is correct, as gravitational force/bending of spacetime moves at the speed of light.
Wouldn't fuel need to be expended on the ship to generate the beam? Or is the beam reflected back to the black hole for re-energisation?