So the next Hugo nominee turns out to be the third novel in a series that I hadn’t previously read, so I started in on Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem (translated by Ken Liu), which is itself a 2015 Hugo nominee.
So this is a novel originally written in Chinese, and it seems that Ken Liu, when translating, has tried to keep it faithful to the style of the Chinese novel. Which, I’m not going to pretend to know much of anything about Chinese prose style, but in this case at least, it means that the dialogue comes across as very stilted and artificial. Which, ironically, makes it seem kinda old-fashionedy, as it reads like old Golden Age SF, Asimov or Clarke or whatever.
But actually, now that I think about it, what it’s really most like is indeed an Asimov novel, but not one from the Golden Age—it’s The Gods Themselves, a novel wherein aliens (from a parallel universe with different physical rules) try to communicate with the people of Earth, and factions on both sides try to steer the interactions between the societies. That’s not exactly the plot of The Three-Body Problem, obviously, but it gives a surprisingly large amount of the flavor.
On the SF side, anyway. Because the other subject it deals with is China’s Cultural Revolution, during which the first part of the book is set. To my tastes, this is by far the more interesting part—a straight historical novel that ditched the SF trappings not be abandoning the stuff that makes this novel interesting. (Of course, it also wouldn’t have been nominated for the Hugo, which means I probably wouldn’t have read it, so… yeah, really need to work on reading more mainstream fiction.)
But in the end, what you’re getting with this book is really a book with quasi-Asimovian prose and SFnal content, but embedded in a Chinese context. It’s interesting, and I’m happy to keep reading more, but it’s definitely the “Chinese” part that makes the book more than an utterly forgettable throwback.