review: the three-body problem

29 April 2021

book info:

on sale: now

copy from: a friend's personal copy

pages: 399

review written: 29.4.21

originally published: 2006

edition read: Tor Books, China Classics International


title: The Three-Body Problem

author: Cixin Liu, translator: Ken Liu



summary: 

The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience the Hugo Award-winning phenomenon from China's most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

(I eliminated the rest of the summary because I read this book not knowing anything about it. I feel like this will make you experience the same confusion I felt, and the same immense amazement I experienced when I realized what was happening.)

- from goodreads

my review:

My friend, who has been learning Chinese for the past year, lent me a copy of this to read with high praise. I am a casual fan of science fiction as I enjoy Star Trek, Ray Bradbury, and Interstellar, so I was thrilled to be able to read more science fiction from a Chinese author, since the majority of my experience has been from Western writers. My friend studied computer science and engineering at the college we went to, and I studied medical sciences and international affairs. I think he must've enjoyed the scientific elements of the book while I may have enjoyed the political dynamics. I studied fundamental physics, calculus, and basic computer science as well, so they served as a good foundation to really enjoying the book. My friend, in his studying of Chinese, has definitely picked up on a lot of cultural aspects which likely enriched his experience. Overall, I feel like there's something for everyone to enjoy.

My first thought upon completing the book minutes ago is this: thank goodness it's science fiction. Now, to the review. It's obvious to me that this book was written by someone from China or Russia. There's quite of bit of communist/socialist propaganda as the book begins during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Naturally, the main characters are all academics and experts in their field, which later turns out to be very intentional. This elevates the prose as there's large chunks of text dedicated to explanation of theories and physics, which are all important for the reader to grasp the "fiction" element of the story. If you're a curious reader,  you'll find these chunks to be very interesting. I typically skim through a lot of fiction stories, jumping over small details for larger plot points. I found myself reading every single word of this book until I kept itching in curiosity at the end and skimmed around the last few pages. Some might find the dense exposition to be tedious to get through and may want to enjoy more fast-paced science fiction. 

An example of what I mean, from page 194: "Have you heard of the Monte Carlo method? Ah, it's a computer algorithm often used for calculating the area of irregular shapes. Specifically, the software puts the figure of interest in a figure of known area, such as a circle, and randomly strikes it with many tiny balls, never targeting the same spot twice. After a large number of balls, the proportion of balls that fall within the irregular shape compared to the total number of balls used to hit the circle will yield the area of the shape. Of course, the smaller the balls used, the more accurate the result. Although the method is simple, it shows how, mathematically, random brute force can overcome precise logic. It's a numerical approach that uses quantity to derive quality." 

What draws us all together is science, which is why I believe this book has had a global appeal from President Barack Obama to George R.R. Martin. Not only does the book encompass Chinese history and science, but it also covers broad scientific history, human development (from early civilization to modern society) in the context of science fiction themes such as intelligent alien life, and psychological themes of anxiety, depression, and more. While I've categorized the book as science fiction, it can be read through an anthropological lens and a psychological lens, which made the book so much more enjoyable for me. To note, these are all fields I have some rudimentary knowledge about, I'm not an expert. 

One part of the book that really made me know this was definitely a Chinese author writing was the small jabs at Westerners. At some point, a Chinese Emperor asks why a Western scientist did not ask the Romans for help, to which the Westerner describes how Rome's river is polluted by vomit from the indulgence of Roman elites, stating "The entire empire has sunk into a quagmire of extravagance." Later, a Chinese national finds a solution to a problem that the Americans could not, and makes a joke about American losses in Vietnam. It is important to note that the author did not glorify the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, so there is not such heavy bias that a non-Chinese reader might not enjoy the book. Knowing that China's ruling party, the CCP, censors creative works to hide criticism of the CCP (from TV shows, movies, to even text messages sent between citizens - for example: any mention of Tiananmen Square is banned. If someone types it out to send in a Chinese social network, the network immediately removes it before it is posted and it could get the user in trouble). I'm sure the author wrote within the constraints of the government under which he lives.

All in all, I found the book to be gripping and deeply interesting, more so like a textbook of sorts rather than a work of literary prose. It was incredibly imaginative. A good part of the story walks our main character through a unique virtual reality videogame, which I found fun to be especially enjoyable. I recommend this to older audiences at the college/university level and above! 

My ratings are from one umbrella to six. Six means above expectations/the best book ever. Five is equivalent to 5/5 ratings.

end of the year update - 2020

11 December 2020

 Hello everyone!

It's been quite a a while since my last real blog post, apart from the single review I posted this year (Circe) and the other one I posted in 2018. I've been neglectful and it's not on purpose. I have been reading less and less and as I sit here trying to read another book, I realize I've read only 2 books this year. I used to do reading challenges of 100 books and now I'm struggling to read at least 10. With this terrible pandemic, it's been a tough year for so many people across the world. I graduated and spent the year preparing for medical school admissions including the MCAT, letters of recommendations, and essays. I started working in February as a medical scribe but the pandemic put me on hold for months before I finally returned in July and really starting logging hours in August. Working full-time now, I have found yet another excuse to not read but I think I'm only like this because I haven't found books I was really interested in reading. Now, I have found three that I'm hoping to read by the end of January! 

1) The Labyrinth of Spirits - Carlos Ruiz Zafon  

2) The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason - Charles Freeman

3) Catch 22 - Joseph Heller 

I first began my search by hopping onto Goodreads and looking up my favorite authors. To my surprise, Carlos Ruiz Zafon published a fourth book to one of my favorite series, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, in 2018. It goes to show how out of touch I've been with the literary world. It's been a while since I've read the first three books so I'm planning on doing a re-read of all three before touching the fourth. I feel like I can only enjoy (1) if I can fully immerse myself in the series. See, the books are loosely tied to one another with recurring characters and references to previous events so I think a re-read is definitely necessary. After this, I decided to jump on over to this blog and check out the "to be read" tab. I was surprised at (2) because I don't actually recall ever adding it to my list! 

The third book, Catch 22, has actually been on my shelf for years. My brother had to read it for a class in high school so it ended up on my shelf because of the lack of bookcases in the house. I've been meaning to read it, and didn't even notice it on my "to be read" list, until I talked to a friend of mine. We both decry the loss of reading in our lives and we wanted to motivate each other to read again. I suggested a mini book club with just the two of us reading a book. I nominated Catch 22 because I've tried multiple times in the past to get beyond the first chapter and always failed. Now, I'm on Chapter 2! We agreed to read a bit more  in the hopes that it gets interested. 

I downloaded (2) on my iPhone to read while I'm at work and if there's downtime. I recently got the new iPhone 12 mini and while the screen is small, it's crystal clear and actually enjoyable to read from. I've read a couple books on my older I-pad and it's actually different. 

Lastly, in order to prepare myself for a 2021 full of reading, I sent in a request through my local library system's "Ask a Librarian" service. I filled out a Google Form asking for recommendations based off my favorites and I hope I can get some good recommendations to read! 

The sharp observer may not that my "Currently Reading" tab on the side says "Fahrenheit 451"  but the reality was is that I downloaded it on my I-pad and never read it. Alas. I think I'm still in love with paper format and my lazy option of instant downloads has been a contributing factor to my lack of reading in recent years. I purposely didn't post any of my reading goals or attempts at reading books on this blog because I knew I'd be held responsible, to a degree, by my audience, or even myself. I'm optimistic about the fact that I have written this post because it means there's a very real possibility that I'll follow through.

For all my readers that are still out here after over a decade, thank you! Do comment below so we can reconnect (or connect if you're new!)

Best,

Kirthi



review: circe

13 August 2020

 35959740. sy475

 book info:

on sale: now
copy from: epub
pages: 393
review written: 13.8.20
originally published: 2018
edition read: Little, Brown and Company

title: Circe
author: Madeline Miller

summary:
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe's place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe's independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Review:

After over a year of trying to read books and losing interest, I decided to finally sit down and read Madeline Miller's second book, Circe. Her first, The Song of Achilles, is a frequent re-read from my bookshelf. I'm so in love with the storytelling and characters that I just cannot get over the fact that all I have is one book when I wish it would be seven. The Iliad, my favorite classical work, tells the story of those two main characters amongst a host of other heroes and side characters so I can understand why the book was short as well if it were to stay true to Greek mythology. Now, all I know of Circe is from what was written in The Odyssey, a work I read in my high school English class. I put off reading this for so long because her character in the Odyssey was just one among so many and I even confused her for Calypso. I'll tell you this now - Circe is not the Circe you're probably familiar with. I love how Madeline Miller took from many sources to piece together a relatable and human story of the famous witch beyond what we know of her as the witch that transforms men into pigs.

I read every chapter anticipating Odysseus but I soon forgot about him and got lost in the tales of Circe's other encounters, her upbringing, her relationships, her motivations, her desires...and I found that she was a feminist hero that I didn't expect to find in classical literature. Women in Greek mythology are often weak, sex objects, jealous, angry, and foolish except for the one or two rare exceptions. Circe as I remember from my class also embodied many of these traits. However, Miller takes us deeper into our preconcieved notions. She pains Circe's foolishness almost as a virtue, one that makes her love humans and hate gods. It was refreshing to see Circe not as a tormented and lonely witch, but as a powerful and independent, fierce and brave. She even openly discusses how nymphs are treated as sex "jelly" to be "fucked" and rebels against this world that makes it so. Her hatred and open defiance to a system that so actively worked against the innocent and the female is so relatable in today's world. I find it remarkable how Miller takes these stories of old, maintains their antiquity, yet tells them in a way so relatable to readers today. I often read "versions" of Greek mythology that are modernized, that paint Greek gods and heroes in a different way than they are originally represented. Miller keeps true to historic writings are much as she can and it gives a sense of authenticity as I read, like Miller was actually writing closer to Homer's time than today. 

For those who are into Greek mythology, as I grew up reading picture books of them before grade school and made my way through Edith's Mythology in 3rd grade, you'll find Miller's poetic, lush, and illustrative storytelling to be rich with small references to other tales of Greek mythology. Finding each one and recognizing them is like discovering a hidden gem. For those that don't necessarily read too much mythology, you'll still be able to follow the story and enjoy it as it's truly well written.

I think the downsides of the book can only be attributed to Circe's story itself where, for most of it, she's trapped on her island. However, Miller keeps up the pace of the plot so the only way we know the passing of time is through snippets here and there that reveal it so.

As I revel in my post-reading mood, I find myself really wondering about my own place in the universe and I'm sure we've all felt loneliness and confusion about our fate as Circe has. The difference is, she's an immortal and we're all mortals here. The way she thought about the world was different than her other character Achilles, a demigod doomed to die early in life. It was interesting to reflect on my own life, which I think is the mark of a great writer. It's not just telling stories, but telling it in a way that the reader can reflect upon themselves. I've always known I would be just a speck of dirt amongst others. All things come, all things go. Fame was never for me. Did Achilles, if he ever existed, ever wonder how his name would be remembered forever? Actors and actresses of the 1800s are forgotten. Celebrities are short-lived. Only the greatest live in name, real or fictional. 

I may be unfair in my rating, which I disclose is out of 6 umbrellas. I dock 1 because of the sometimes slow moving of the story and also because, after I finished reading, I looked up Circe's story to see how it ended according to original texts that describe her. The ending in Miller's book is less harsh than the "real" ending but it left me feeling happier than the kind of ending in "The Song of Achilles" which I knew would come (as a fan of the Iliad, I dreaded the ending from the very first page). I'm glad Miller wrote her version as I prefer it to what original texts described but somehow, I feel that for Circe's life and story, the ending almost seemed out of place? Circe faced a lot of shit in her life but it was mostly peaceful whereas my heart was torn every other chapter of The Song of Achilles. I know Miller spent 10 years writing that book and probably spent less time writing this one, and it's probably unfair of me to compare the two works, but I can't help it. My ratings are my own.

Therefore, this book gets 5/6 umbrellas :) It's basically as good as a 5 star ratings since 6 umbrellas indicates it's one of top favorite books ever like perfection



Note: I feel that I need to clarify my rating system since I notice I only did so when I first introduced the system a long time ago. Maybe I'll add a graphic on the sidebar? Let me know!

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