The Three-Body Problem: Cixin Liu

Three-Body-Problem

For over a year, I have been hearing praises of this Chinese sci-fi saga, and after a couple of false starts, I picked this up over a weekend, and finished it too. It was gratifying to do this, given that I have struggled to find time, or mental energy, to devote to reading novels, over the last few months.

The story follows two threads, one of Ye Wenjie, an ostracised scholar whose father was killed in Mao’s Cultural Revolution, who ends up at Red Coast, a radio telescope observatory that serves as a Chinese version of SETI looking for extra-terrestrial life. The other thread follows Wang Miao, a nanotechnology professor who gets hooked onto a cerebral VR game called Three Body, set on an Earth-like planet which flips unpredictably between Stable and Chaotic Eras, times of calm and violent weather phenomena respectively.

The book contains a lot of ‘hard science’, by which I mean less of hyperdrives and warp travel faster than light, and more of extrapolating technical concepts to provide the scientific leaps that the story demands. The science part of the science fiction, though a bit too technical at times, was the part that engrossed me. The Three Body world-building was interesting, but the language and the narrative style throughout the book felt flat. Maybe it’s an issue of being lost in translation (the original novel was written in Chinese), but it was noticeable enough to be distracting at times. Nevertheless, I would want to pick up the other books in the trilogy sometime soon, to see where the story goes.

 

The Calcutta Chromosome: Amitav Ghosh

the_calcutta_chromosome

This book has lain with me for ages before I picked it up a couple of months ago. It’s a short, quick read, but very un-Amitav Ghosh, at least un whatever other Amitav Ghosh I’ve read.

The story follows quite a few different threads. Antar, who finds a card belonging to an old acquaintance, L. Murugan. Murugan, who is a big fan of Ronald Ross, the guy who discovered that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes. Urmila and Sonali, journalists with a Kolkata magazine. All of them tied together by the mysterious Calcutta Chromosome.

The story skips back and forth, which is meant to spin a web and confuse the reader, but I got the sense that Ghosh got a little confused himself. The science is a lot of gobbledegook, and I confess, I’ve forgotten what exactly the Calcutta Chromosome is. I get the core – it’s an interesting fusion of Eastern philosophy and Western medicine – but too esoteric for my taste. ¬†And add to that ghostly trains and reincarnation and all that, it becomes too much. What is interesting about the book is the history. Ghosh’s research is impeccable, and I learned a lot about Ronald Ross, malaria, colonial India etc. Had he just written a history of malaria, I would have read it.