Thoughtful and Thought-Provoking.

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kendracula Avatar


TW for children in peril (imperiling each other) and graphic on-page violence.

I should first give the disclaimer that while I did eventually finish THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM, I never quite got to the point where I enjoyed it. (My apologies to President Obama and the entire Democratic Party for failing to love a book on his summer reading list ... I feel the full burden of shame in failing at that.) I own a copy of BALL LIGHTNING but haven't yet dug into it because I'm that person (the one who buys more books than I can feasibly read, every time). I was more hopeful that I might enjoy SUPERNOVA ERA based on the first couple of chapters, which I was lucky enough to preview by way of BookishFirst (thank you!!). I placed a hold through my library system as soon as it was preordered and read it as soon as it made its appearance.

First, regarding my expectations: Yes! I did, in fact, actually enjoy reading this book. It has been long enough since I attempted Cixin Liu's earlier trilogy that I couldn't specifically point to stylistic or content elements that made this book more of a fluid reading experience for me, but I suspect it's probably a messy combination of bits and bobs on all fronts. It's also worth noting that SUPERNOVA ERA is translated by Joel Martinsen rather than Ken Liu, and that might have affected things. (Although, sidebar: I love Ken Liu's Dandelion Dynasty series. So it's not that I dislike his voice.) My suspicion is that I have an instinctive aversion to math, and I am really (REALLY) terrible at anything involving games, virtual reality, and shared digital spaces in real life. (No hand-eye coordination, and an irrationally heightened terror of the uncanny valley.) SUPERNOVA ERA is a pithy and meaty novel that is no less exceptional (but is perhaps more enjoyable to me) for its lack of ungainly mathematical thought experiments. It is also thoroughly consistent with the author's other works in respect to characterization and ambition, so I highly doubt his regular readers will be disappointed.

I also think SUPERNOVA ERA provides an interesting comparison or counterpoint to works like ENDERS GAME and READY PLAYER ONE, both of which are ultimately optimistic takes that focus on what are, for all intents and purposes, exceptional young people. Unlike those two books, SUPERNOVA ERA does not emphasize any one child's story (or exceptionality), but rather examines what is and is not typical childish behavior in a time of high stress. According to Liu, typical childish behavior generally doesn't equate to restraint, nuanced future-thinking, and unflappability. His cast of children are not tasked with saving the world, but rather with keeping as much of it functioning as possible without guidance or oversight. The question of mediation by way of a shared digital space is also handled thoughtfully and at length. I thought the depictions of American children were amusing and likely to ruffle some feathers on this side of the pond, but not wholly inaccurate. (Yeah, they have nukes.) I did end up skimming several of the chapters dedicated to the children's war games, not because they weren't well written, but because they were, and I can't handle picturing hundreds of thousands of children fighting each other to the death with any degree of equanimity. I mean, I work with kids the ages of those Liu puts in the paths of tanks. Nope, can't do it. If you are likely to be triggered by fairly graphic descriptions of state-sanctioned warfare involving children, skim the sections set in Antarctica.

Anyway, an interesting book and an enjoyable read, at least so far as this Liu novice is concerned.