Cixin Liu ‘The Three Body Problem’

And your conclusion?
Everything thats happening is coordinated by someone behind the scenes with one goal to completely ruin scientific research.
I dont know, but I can sense the plan. A very comprehensive, intricate plan. damage scientific research installations, kill scientists, drive scientists like you crazy and make you commit suicide, but the main goal is to misdirect your thoughts until you’re even more foolish than ordinary people.

Something is seriously wrong, the worlds top theoretical physicists are commiting suicide and an unlikely duo are brought together, the applied physicist Wang Miao and the rough detective Shi Qiang as Wang Miao is persuaded to infiltrate a mysterious organisation, The Frontiers of Science. One day Wang Miao has a count down which only he can see appear before his eyes, beginning at 1200 hours and nothing he can do will make it disappear, Wang Miao becomes worried and goes to visit Shen Yufei, a member The Frontiers of Science who tells him if he gives up his research and directs his laboratory to work on another problem the count down will stop, he tries this for a few days and it does. Whilst at Shen Yufei’s apartment he notices that She and her Husband are playing a Computer game whose internet address he notes down. Shi Qiang an untypical policeman is brought in by the military to work on the problem of the suicides without being told of the background which he nevertheless begins to intuit as illustrated in the opening quote as he gets Wang Miao back on track.

What is the computer game that the members of the Frontiers of Science are playing owners Wang Miao, The Three Body Problem? the aim is to solve a problem in an imaginary world of a planet and two suns where a civilisation tries to develop but suffers near annihilation at irregular intervals which they cannot predict and which are linked to the movement of the three bodies. The civilisation only survives because they have evolved the capability to dehydrate when the suns come too close (a chaotic era) and to rehydrate again when all is safe. A computer game at many levels as at the end of each chaotic era the rehydrated civilisation, which evolves from era to era, tries to solve the three body problem in order to predict these chaotic eras using known eras and characters from our historical past.

This book is the beginning of a trilogy involving the Trisolariens whose world is about to come to a cataclysmic end and who have been seeking another world. At a secret Chinese deep space listening centre Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist who had been sent out to this centre at the back of beyond decades earlier during the cultural revolution, emits a message about the Earth and then picks up a first ever message from outer space in return. Will she then reply knowing that with the direction of the message and the time between sending and receiving the Trisloariens would discover Earth.

Liu Cixin then introduces us to Superstring Theory as the Trisolariens propel a proton towards the Earth at the speed of light, a proton you will say can do no damage, Wrong! When unwrapped from up to 11 dimensions down to 2 dimensions it can contain information and commands and can wrap itself around the Earth. For more explanations try fiction unbound.

If you read Science fiction and haven’t yet read Liu Cixin, a nine times winner of the Chinese Galaxy Award and want to know How far do She Hang and Wang Miao get? Do they discover Ye Wenjie? Does anyone suspect what is behind the suicides? and can anything be done? Then get out there and buy it!

First Published in Chinese as “San Ti” by Chongqing Publishing House in 2006.
Translated into English by Ken Liu and published in 2015 by Head of Zeus
Translated into French by Gwennaël Gaffric and published by Actes Sud in 2016


Olivier Norek ‘Between Two Worlds’

‘You know how they try to climb into the lorries at least? The attacks on the HGVs, the violence towards the drivers, accidents provoked like stage coach attacks, road blocks and fires on the motorway. Does that mean anything to you?’***

Welcome to Calais, the setting for the French crime writer closest in theme to Ken Loach, Olivier Norek and his latest book, ‘Between Two Worlds’. Norek has left his Paris suburbs for the Jungle at Calais, showing us the impact of migration policies on the migrants, the city of Calais and the police by concentrating on the stories of Adam, the Syrian refugee and Bastien the police lieutenant. Here in the opening quote, Bastien’s team try to explain to him their job on the day of his arrival in Calais. The police do not go into the migrant camp but try to police the effects of the camp as the people smugglers try to halt the lorries for groups of migrants to try to climb on board, and the tourists that now avoid the area causing economic distress in Calais:

I know what I’ve seen on the telly, no more than that admits Bastien. Well I’ll let Érica take care of that, getting back to the Angry Calaisiens, their initial aims were to film and to post the every day life of Calais onto the social networks, the difficulty of the locals when faced with this penniless floating population, the attempts, sometimes ultra-violent, to cross over to England. Then the extremists latched on, the migrant bashers who organised attacks on immigrants, black hunting, some call it ‘safaris’.***

The police in this book carry out their job, sometimes dangerous, night after night, often showing signs of depression and when in this story they get a chance to help a migrant they are only too happy to be able to hold their heads up and to look their own families in the eyes again.

The story begins with Adam, a military policeman in Syria and his family who are secret opponents of Bachar el-Hassad needing to get out of their country quickly as someone in Adam’s cell is captured, Adam puts his wife and child on a flight to Tunis hoping to join then as soon as possible if he is not captured, they have seen reports on the internet and Adam tells his wife:

Wait for me, like we said at the safest place, the women’s huts in the jungle at Calais.***

Things do not go to plan and Adam finds himself alone, looking for his family in Calais where we hear something of the organisation within the camp, the clans: the Afghans the most numerous but also the soudanais. Adam who as a military policeman had learned to look after himself rescues a young illiterate African, a sexual slave, who has had his tongue cut out and that he names Kilani, from the Afghans and for a quid pro quo works with Bastien within the camp in order to get Kilani to England. How do the sniffer dogs find the migrants in the lorries? Well we learn that too:

The sniffer dogs are trained to find the smell common to all migrants. That of bonfires.***

First Published in French as “Entre Deux Mondes” in 2017 by Michel Lafon
*** My translation

The original quotes before translation

‘Vous savez comment ils essaient de monter dans les camions tout de même ? Les assauts sur les poids lourds, les agressions de chauffeurs les accidents provoqués comme des attaques de diligences, les barrages et les incendies sur l’autoroute. Ça vous parle?’

Ça me parle comme la télé m’en parle mais je n’en sais pas vraiment plus avoua Bastien. Alors je laisse Érica s’en chargera et j’en reviens aux Calaisien en Colère leurs premiers buts étaient de filmer et de poster le quotidien de Calais sur les réseaux sociaux, la vie difficile des habitants face à cette population sans attaches et sans argent, des tentatives parfois ultra-violent de passage vers l’Angleterre puis des extrémistes s’y sont greffés des casseurs de migrants qui ont organisés des ratonades et des chasses aux noirs, des safaris disaient certains

Attends moi, comme on avait dit à l’endroit le plus sûr, les baraquements pour femmes de la jungle de Calais.

Des sniffeurs sont entraînés à trouver l’odeur qui est commune à tous les migrants. Celle du feu de bois.

Jane Harper ‘The Dry’

First on the scene, the flies swarmed contentedly in the heat as the blood pooled black over tiles and carpet.

Outside, washing hung still on the rotary line, bone dry and stiff from the sun. A child’s scooter lay abandoned on the stepping stone path. Just one human heart beat within a kilometre radius of the farm. So nothing reacted when deep inside the house, the baby started crying.

Jane Harper’s first novel is set in a small farming town, Kiewarra, a 5 hour drive from Melbourne with a triple murder, it seems that Luke Hadler took a shotgun to his wife and son in their remote farmhouse then drove of into the bush before blowing his own brains out, but it would seem that he forgot his baby daughter who as the opening quote tells us wakes up and begins crying. The background is the changing climate and the drought putting pressure on this farming community where there is no longer enough water to feed the cattle. Could Luke have had debt problems as his mother supposes?
Luke Hadler’s mother
, Barb, wants his childhood friend Aaron Falk, now an officer with the Financial Intelligence Unit in Melbourne, and who has not been back to Kiewarra for 18 years, to look into the debt aspect. To get him to come back to the funeral, Gerry Hadler, Luke’s father sends him a short cryptic note:

The funeral was starting. Gerry inclined his head in a tiny nod and Falk unconsciously put his hand in his pocket. He felt the letter that had landed on his desk two days ago. From Gerry Hadler, eight words written with a heavy hand: Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral. It was Falk who looked away first.

As the funeral begins we understand that Aaron does not want to be in Kiewarra and that the farmers may not yet have recognised him:

‘You still live round this way, do you?’ The farmer shifted his large body slightly and fixed Falk properly in his gaze for the first time. ‘No. Not for a long time.’ ‘Right. Feels like I’ve seen you, though.’

We soon understand that on to this mystery is grafted another 18 year old mystery, the drowning of Ellie. Luke and Aaron, Ellie and Gretchen were friends, both in and out of school and then one day Ellie is found drowned with a note in her pocket, Falk’s name and the date. Nothing was ever proven but Falk and his father were run out of town.
Luke had given Aaron an alibi for the murder and at the time of course giving himself an alibi, Gerry had known as his note had said that Aaron had lied and wanted to know only one thing:

I have to know.’ ‘Know what?’ Gerry’s eyes looked almost black against the bright sunlight. ‘If Luke had killed before.’

And so the double mystery plays out against this small town background with this extra element of tenseness as everyone in Kiewarra is at the end of their tether due to the drought and as Aaron discovers, even the river where Ellie had drowned has dried up. A pleasant quick read.

First Published in English as “The Dry” in 2016 by Pan Macmillan Australia.

Tom Wolfe ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’

The Mayor shook his head some more. He found the Christian churches baffling. When he was growing up, the goyim were all Catholics, unless you counted the shvartzer, which nobody did. They didn’t even rate being called goyim. The Catholics were two types, the Irish and the Italians. The Irish were stupid and liked to fight and inflict pain. The Italians were stupid and slob-like. Both were unpleasant, but the lineup was easy enough to comprehend. He was in college before he realised there was this whole other set of goyim, the Protestants. He never saw any. There were only Jews, Irishmen and Italians in college, but he heard about them, and he learned that some of the most famous people in New York were this type of goyim, the Protestants, people like the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilt’s, The Roosevelt’s and the Astor’s, the Morgans. The term Wasp was invented much later.

Reading Wolfe’s Bonfire is a deep dive into the 1980’s New York and in particular to the Bronx and Manhattan. As Wolfe points out ‘Wasps were rare in the Bronx’, the Bronx which had been Irish was now run by the Jews, see the Mayors quote at the introduction, but the inhabitants, the electorate were now overwhelmingly Black or Hispanic. In this widely painted story Wolfe takes us into the heart and motives of all of the main protagonists and nobody comes out of it smelling of roses.

The story concerns a Wall Street bond salesman named Sherman Mc Coy, a Wasp who lives on Park Avenue, son of a Wall Street man, the Lion of Dunning Sponget, the epitome of entitled. But Sherman is worried and feels guilty about everything, about under achieving, about overspending, about his wife who controls him. Sherman is having an affair with a rich, ‘foxy’ lady, Maria and meets her in a seedy rent controlled apartment which she sublets. Nothing seems to be going right for Sherman who after making a weak excuse to his wife to go out, tries to call Maria from the phone box to try to see her:

He picks up the telephone and cradles it between his shoulder and his ear and fishes around in his pocket for a quarter and drops it in the slot and dials.
Three rings and a woman’s voice: ‘Hello?’
But it was not Maria’s voice. He fingered it must be her friend Germaine, the one she sublet the apartment from. So he said: ‘May I speak to Maria, please?’
The woman said: ‘Sherman? Is that you?’
‘Christ! It’s Judy! He’s dialled his own apartment! He’s aghast – paralysed!

This is a piece of comedy but is also typical of Sherman as the book begins, he freezes before his wife, his guilt spoils his evening and then doesn’t know how to lie.

The problems begin for Sherman when he picks up Maria from La Guardia and takes a wrong turn of the highway and finds himself in the Bronx, he is immediately lost as he has never been here before and the Manhattan grid system just doesn’t continue on out here. What they see through the car windows is a whole new world to them and as they search a way back onto the freeway they are scared. And the the incident! The ramp onto the freeway is blocked by rubbish and as Sherman gets out to move it two black youths come towards him asking if they can help, Maria screams at him to get back to the car, he runs at the tallest of the two and knocks him to one side then jumps into the passenger side and Maria accelerates away, but they hear a light thump and the smaller of the two disappears from the rear mirror. Sherman, still feeling guilty wants to report the incident but Maria says she was driving and that she doesn’t want to report it. The youngest of the two youths goes to hospital and is treated for a bad wrist, the next day, after having told his mother of the car, a Mercedes, of the two whites in the car and of a part of the plate number, he returns to hospital and falls into a coma. These are the facts but then self interest is invited to the feast.

The reverend Bacon, a black minister pushes the case into the news, thinking not of any penal case but of a civil case against the hospital. The Bronx District attorney, with an election due, wants to find and make an exemplary case of this white man in the Bronx, to show that it isn’t the Johannesbronx, so when they discover that the car belongs to Sherman, Bacon whips up the press, the civil case against a rich wasp will be with more than the case against the hospital, the district attorney couldn’t ask for a better profile to prosecute and so Sherman is taken down town to be booked based on the second black youth, the Crack king of Evergreen Avenue’s testimony in a plea bargain to drop all charges on him who puts Sherman driving and hitting the boy in a straight stretch of road. They can’t resist taking him in before the press and doing this one by the book, exemplified by the exchange between Sherman and another person in the holding cells:

‘What are you here for?’
‘Oh man, 220, 265, 225.’The fellow threw his hand out, as if to take in the entire world. ‘Drugs, handguns, gambling paraphernalia – ayyyyyy, every piece of bullshit, you know?’
The man seemed to take a certain pride in his calamity.
‘You hit somebody with your car?’ He asked once more. He apparently found this trivial and unmanly…..
‘You got cigarettes?’
‘No, they took everything away from me even my shoestrings.’
‘No shit?’ He looked at Sherman’s shoes. He himself still had on shoelaces, Sherman noticed.

Sherman’s attorney, an ex-prosecutor is in it strictly for the money, dropping him when his money runs out. Sherman is able to show, via a recording that Maria’s testimony against him is false and the charges against him are dropped. Sherman is one of the only people to come through this better than he was, no longer continually feeling guilty in his life or indecisive as when, in front of the detectives, he throws out of his apartment the representative of his neighbours that want him to leave their apartment block:

‘You know, I have a confession to make,’ said Sherman. He made himself smile again. ‘Until that sonofabitch came up here, I was thinking of blowing my brains out. Now I wouldn’t dream of it. That would solve all his problems, and he’d dine out on it for a month and be damned sanctimonious while he was at it.

I’m afraid my write up really is unable to show anything of the complexities of this great book.

First Published in English as “The Bonfire of the Vanities” in 1987 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Madeline Miller ‘The Song of Achilles’

The horse’s muscular legs ended in flesh, the equally muscular torso of a man. I stared — at that impossible suture of horse and human, where smooth skin became a gleaming coat.
Beside me Achilles bowed his head. ‘Master Centaur,’ he said. ‘I am sorry for the delay. I had to wait for my companion.’ He knelt, his clean tunic in the dusty earth. ‘Please accept my apologies I have long wished to be your student.’…
He regarded Achilles a moment. ‘You do not need to kneel to me Pelides. Though I appreciate the courtesy. And who is this companion that has kept us both waiting?’
Achilles turned back to me, and reached a hand down. Unsteadily I took it, and pulled myself up.
‘This is Patroclus’

In this, the Orange prize winner of 2012, Madeleine Miller, in her retelling of the life of Achilles, takes us back to the age of heroes and through the voice of Patroclus, re-centres the story of Achilles’ life firmly around his love for Patroclus. Before he is exiled from his father’s court, Patroclus, as a boy suitor, is present amongst all of the kings of Greece when Helen chooses and is given to Menelaus after Odysseus had engineered the oath of every man present to uphold Helens choice and to defend her husband against all who would take her from him. The founding oath of the Trojan war.

We follow the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles as children at king Peleus’s court, of their mutual attraction one for the other and of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a lesser of the lesser gods, a sea-nymph only, and her hatred of Patroclus. Their relationship is finally sealed when Achilles, as a young adolescent, is sent alone into the mountains to be trained by Chiron the centaur and Patroclus runs away from the court of king Peleus to join him as illustrated in the opening quote.

And so on to Troy, Patroclus leaves us in no doubt that Agamemnon’s true interest is rather in the fabled riches of Troy rather than his brother’s wife. As the boats approach the shore Patroclus describes to us Hector, seen in the distance and the first hints that the war might be more difficult than they had imagined:

His power came from his carriage, his perfectly squared shoulders, the straight line of his back arrowing up to heaven. This was no slouchy prince of wine halls and debauchery, as Easterners were said to be. This was a man who moved like the gods were watching; every gesture he made was upright and correct. There was no one else it could be but Hector.

This is however a book about the love of the two men, a normal thing amongst adolescents in Greece at the time, but not amongst warriors. Achilles, “Aristos Achaion”, the best warrior, a half god, could and did do as he pleased. Madeleine Miller, after Patroclus’ death, brings out Achilles’s despair as illustrated here when king Priam comes at night to request the return of Hector’s body:

Priam’s eyes find the other body, mine, lying on the bed. He hesitates a moment. ‘That is — your friend?’
‘Philtatos,’ Achilles says sharply. Most beloved. ‘Best of men, and slaughtered by your son.’
‘I am sorry for your loss,’ Priam says. ‘And sorry that it was my son who took him from you. Yet I beg you to have mercy. In grief men must help each other, though they are enemies…..
Priam’s voice is gentle. ‘It is right to seek peace for the dead. You and I both know there is no peace for those who live after.’

A chance to catch up once again with the time of heroes and the love story of Achilles and Patroclus.

First Published in English as “The Song of Achilles” in 2011 by Bloomsbury Publishing.

Martin Suter ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’

‘Dr. Fluri was no more under the illusion for this point than the other participants. img_1412-1His only thought was to save face, the same one Urs Blank would have happily slapped that same afternoon.***

Welcome back to the Swiss author, Martin Suter, once again read for German lit month VIII. Urs Blank is a successful corporate lawyer specialising in mergers and acquisitions, we discover him at the beginning as he prepares and helps to negotiate a deal that is a merger only in name, Dr. Fluri’s company is to be taken over. The narrator lets us know of Urs’ frustration at the pompous Dr. Fluri as illustrated in the opening quote. As then Urs is given the opportunity to ruin Fluri and takes it we understand that Urs has a surpressed “dark side”. We are not the only ones to see this, Pius Ott, A multimillionaire and hunter (he hunts both rare and dangerous wild animals including both a rare lynx early in the story and had at one time hunted and killed a man eating lion) who is the money behind the takeover of Fluri’s business, appreciates Urs’ killer instinct and thinks he recognises a kindred spirit. Ott is the character Urs could become, Ott was never interested in Fluri’s business, only in destroying the man which Urs did for him.

But Urs is dissatisfied with his well ordered life, lunch same time, same place each week with his friend, the psychiatrist, Alfred Wenger, his life without love with his companion, Evelyne Vogt and wants to change something, and so he does. What at first seems a banale middle-age crisis as Urs takes up with a young hippy girl, Lucille, swings out of control when she persuades him to come to the countryside with some friends and to try some psychedelic mushrooms. Urs has a severe reaction to the mushrooms which release his dark side, he no longer feels guilt which we discover as he kills Lucille’s cat with his bare hands and puts it in his briefcase or as he causes the death of a random impatient motorist who wants to overtake him:

‘The car behind was  bumper to bumper with his Jaguar, lights on full beam. Blank showed no reaction, coming out of the next curve the car set to overtake him…. it was a two seater sports car….it wasn’t a match for his twelve cylinders. The more the other accelerated, the more Blank accelerated….the lights of the car coming in the opposite direction shone on the sports car next to Blank….Blank accelerated. Behind him he heard the impact, like an explosion.
Then there was silence, he could only hear the hum of the air conditioning. Blank turned on the radio. A classical music channel, Haydn..***

After talking to his friend Wenger and thinking back to his experience with the mushrooms Blank realises that there was a mushroom different than the others in those he took, he then sets out to search for this mushroom. Blank retreats into the forest over several months, the only place he feels really safe, where he learns to live in total self sufficiency in the wild. An incident with Pius Ott, finishing with Blank punching him and walking away leads to the hunter detesting him, soon after, to escape from the police (there were other murders), Blank successfuly fakes his own suicide, living then entirely hidden in the forest. When Ott discovers that Blank is still alive and could thus be killed without being missed then the hunt begins between the hunter with no concience and the proficient forest dweller with no concience and builds up to the final crescendo.

This was really a fun book, a well written psycological thriller for which a 2016 film by Stephan Rick exists, a shame that it hasn’t been translated into English yet.

First Published in German as “Die Dunkle Seite des Mondes” in 2000 by Diogenes Verlag.
Translated into French by Olivier Mannoni and published in 2000 by Christian Bourgeois
***My translation

Ota Pavel ‘How I Came To Know Fish’

Fishing is above all freedom. To cover miles looking for trout, drinking from springs, img_1399alone and free for at least an hour, a day, or even weeks or months at a time. Free from television, from radio, from civilisation.***

In this book read for the Roman de Rochefort prize, the author is the narrator, Ota Pavel tells us the story, through this book of more than twenty five chapters, each a short story, of his family’s life in central Europe in the early and mid twentieth century, a story of his father Leo Popper, a larger than life character, a non practising jew, who always had a way to make money, and if he had any he spent it, a real roller coaster of a life  and Ota’s long suffering  mother, a catholic. Leo’s passion in life was fishing and so he “invested” in a country house where they could go on holidays, this was then the beginning of their fishing life. Ota describes the man who taught them to fish, Prosek the poacher:

Prosek had a long, yellow bamboo rod, a whip without a spool. He would walk against the rushing water so that the fish could not see him and crack the whip as he styled his dragoon’s moustache. That is how his method got the name ‘crack-casting.’

His father is best understood in the chapter “In the service of Sweden”, where we learn that Leo, with no training can sell anything to anyone if he is motivated , after taking a shine to the Electrolux Czech bosses wife he becomes the best door to door salesman of fridges and vacuums in the country:

Dad sold four vacuums in Rokycany on the same day, which for a novice was quite an exploit because the people had been attached to their brooms and dust pans for hundreds of years, considering a vacuum at two thousand crowns as a devil’s invention and whatsmore, perfectly useless.***

Amongst the many stories, his father who owns a carp pond has it conviscated by the local mayor when the Nazi’s arrive because of the very technical question, is it possible for a jew to own a carp pond. Leo and his two older sons are sent to Auschwitz but Ota avoids this because he is too young and they had forgotten to have him circumcised. Throughout the war Ota, although young keeps them alive partly from poaching fish until both his father and two brothers against all odds return home after the war to the slow descent of Czechoslovakia during the communist period.

In all honesty to enjoy this book to its full it’s best to like fishing, where, as the opening quote tells us, fishing is about freedom.

First Published in Czech as “Smrt krásných srncu” in 1971.
Translated into English by Jindriska Bdal and Robert McDowell and published in 1990 by Story Line Press
Translated into French by Barbora Faure and published by Editions Do in 2016.
***my translation

The original quotes before translation

La pêche c’est surtout la liberté. Parcourir des kilomètres en quete de truites, boire à l’eau des sources, être seule et libre au moins une heure, un jour, où mêmes des semaines et des mois. Libéré de la télévision, de la radio, de la civilisation.

Prosek avait une longue canne en bambou jaune. Une ligne sans moulinet. Il avançait à contre-courant pour ne pas se faire repérer des poissons en faisant parfois claquer sa ligne et ses moustaches de dragon – il appelait cette technique ‘pêcher à la cravache’

Papa vendit quatre aspirateurs à Rokycany dans la même journée, ce qui était un exploit pour un novice, car les gens étaient attachés depuis des centaines d’années à leurs balais et leurs balayettes, considérant un aspirateur à deux mille couronnes comme une invention du diable et de surcroît parfaitement inutile.