Browsed by
Month: December 2023

Three Body Animation

Three Body Animation

Three Body Animation (2022) – BiliBili

I suspect almost nobody has seen this series as there is no proper way to watch it with English subtitles. Three Body Problem is one of my favorite books so when this animated series was announced it quickly got my attention. The trailer was magnificent in my opinion and did a great job of showing the very subtle and scary nature of how Trisolaris is always observing and plotting against humanity. Once it actually began airing I discovered that there was no way to watch it and that it was in fact an adaptation of the second book, The Dark forest, rather than the first book Three Body Problem. The Dark Forest is what I believe is the best part of the trilogy so that was great news. After waiting weeks and then months for some kind of translation or way to watch this I lost my patience and decided to do whatever it takes to translate it and create subtitles myself. Knowing absolutely no Chinese myself this was a bit of a difficult task. In the end I found some software that was able to process the video file itself and identify text on screen and extract the Chinese text and the timing in the video into a series of images. Then after feeding the images to OCR software to convert it into Chinese text I used a combination of Google translate and ChatGPT to translate the text into English. After a lot of grammar editing I combined everything back into a properly timed subtitle file and muxed it together with the video. Then I was able to properly watch the episode.

After putting in so much work I was rather disappointed in the end. For the majority of the series they focused on what is arguably the least interesting part of The Dark Forest. On top of that the pacing was awkward and the tone made it feel like a comedy when the source material was much more serious. The plot starts by showing the climax of the first book which involves the destruction of the ETO ship by slicing it into dozens of thin pieces using wires made of nano material. I enjoyed seeing this scene animated as it was quite the spectacular moment in the book. They also did this scene at the end of the recent live action adaptation of the first book. While that version was nearly all CGI for this scene as well I believe the animation did it far better. Another aspect of the animation that I believe they did a great job with is the character design. I don’t know how, but all of the characters are essentially exactly as I imagined them to be. I watched the live action adaptation prior to this one, but I think the actor they chose for Da Shi is not how I imagined him. Without the limitations of finding an actor who can play the role the animation is better able to characterize exactly as the book describes.

One of the aspects of the animated adaptation that I have seen get criticized frequently is the art style. Both the characters and the scenes seem to not appeal to many people. Personally I think the art is my favorite part of this adaptation and possibly the only redeeming quality. Without spending an obscene amount of money to make CGI at the level of Wandering Earth II this is the best that could have been done. With the amount of technology depicted such as space stations, futuristic cities, particle accelerators and alien space ships that are in the book I don’t think it would have looked quite right to use a more realistic style of CGI. The emotions that are able to be expressed by the characters with this style can also a bit more exaggerated as well as subtle which I think suits this show well.

I think this series had a lot of potential that it squandered with poor pacing and choosing the wrong aspects to focus on. The show only adapted a small portion of The Dark Forest so without another 4 to 5 seasons the slow pacing does not make a lot of sense. A lot of plots were clearly set up for later, but their plots went nowhere because the show ended before it could make much progress. Instead it spent a disproportionate amount of time on Luo Ji trying to get away from his responsibilities as a Wall Facer and abuse his position to find a woman from his writing and imagination. Then it turns into an out of place love story that goes on for much longer than it did in the book. They also changed some key plot points compared to the book which ended up devolving into a weird quantum time type nonsense. I didn’t entirely dislike the story they told, but I would have much preferred they stick to the source material more closely as I don’t believe the writers are as good at coming up with as fascinating fictional science as Cixin Liu.

I believe this show could still redeem itself with at least a couple more seasons as long as they resolve a couple of key issues. First and foremost the pacing needs to be sped up if they want to have any chance of making it to the most interesting parts of the book. In the next season they need to have Luo Ji come to terms with his role as a Wall Facer as quickly as possible and get to the part of the book that takes place in the distant future. Secondly the tone should be more serious rather than what I can only describe as a romantic comedy. And lastly and maybe most important of all is the plot should stick to the source material and adapt the story that people want to see. This adaptation could be great and I hate to see it in such an awkward state.

A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire (2019) – Arkady Martine

I know this is a bit blasphemous in the world of books, but the cover and title of this one really stood out to me. The contents of the book did not entirely disappoint my vague expectations, but I think calling it a space opera is a bit of a stretch. It has a lot of the elements of a space opera yet lacks one of the more critical ingredients which happens to the space. From what I hear the sequel does a lot to remedy this problem. As a standalone book I think it suffers a bit from having a seemingly grand scope and scale without actually getting there. There are also themes of poetry that is brought up frequently which is implied to be a significant aspect of Teixcallan empires culture despite there being very little poetry explicitly written. This is a general problem I have throughout the book in which the characters mention a lot of places and culture without the story getting there to show you first hand. Perhaps the author thought the imagination of such things was more powerful than if it had been written directly. The places, people and culture that we do see are well described and fascinating. It is relatively easy to extrapolate from what we are shown in detail to what is briefly mentioned and imagine a more flushed out world. The book could have done this itself, but it is already quite long for how much happens.

The book starts off strong with one of our primary characters Mahit Dzmare, an ambassador from a small independent space station, arriving to her newly appointed position on Teixcalaan. Her predecessor Yskander has died and likely murdered for reasons unknown and the circumstances and politics surrounding his death are numerous as they are mysterious. Lsel station where Mahit is from has a unique and peculiar technology called an imago machine that allows the recording and implanting of memories down through the generations. Mahit with her exceptional aptitudes in language and politics awarded her the honor of receiving the imago line of her predecessor despite it being many years out of date. Unfortunately the younger memory of Yskander that Mahit carries within her witnessing the dead body of his older self causes a malfunction in her imago machine. This leaves Mahit without the knowledge of her imago line an direct predecessors knowledge to help her navigate the politics of the Teixcalaan empire.

The murder mystery of Yskander is my favorite part of the plot which is the lure that kept my reading. It’s hard to stop reading something before you learn all of the details of a mystery if it is even moderately captivating. Besides the mystery the various descriptions of technology such as the imago machines and the city run by a perfect algorithm were enjoyable concepts. The city itself being described as a single entity is particularly interesting and I appreciate how the author never uses the terminology “AI” to describe it. This plot point didn’t feel as significant as I think it could have been, but it is possible it will be more important in the sequel. Despite not being completely enamored with A Memory Called Empire I am still looking forward to the possible conclusion in the sequel A Desolation Called Peace. Especially if becomes more space and not just opera.



Seveneves (2015) – Neal Stephenson

After describing my interest in the hard science fiction of Greg Egan to an acquaintance they recommend the author Neal Stephenson to me. They didn’t give me any particular book as a recommendation so I started looking up titles myself. To be honest I picked up Seveneves because the name “Izzy” caught my eye. This is apparently a completely fictional nickname for the International Space Station (I.S.S) that Neal created. It wouldn’t be much of a problem in text format, but as an audiobook I can’t imagine how tedious it would be to be saying “I.. S.. S..” or “International Space Station” 352 times. I queried the ebook and determined that the word “Izzy” appears exactly 352 times throughout the book. That is at least a third of the pages so rather frequent. While I would definitely categorize this book as hard science fiction I’d say it still revolves heavily around characters. Of which there are a great number of in this book. It was actually rather difficult to keep them all straight throughout this exceedingly long book. I believe there are nearly 900 pages total. Unfortunately in my opinion the story that was told did not warrant such a long book. To be fair I don’t think any of the book was unnecessary fluff. It is so long because of both the pacing and the great detail in which the world and events are described.

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.

This is the very first sentence of the book. I have never seen the threat so quickly established. This immediately brings up a lot of questions. Such as, what is going to happen to Earth? What blew up the moon? What are they going to do about it? Will humanity survive? Only some of these very critical questions get answered which has left me somewhat dissatisfied. Of course once you finish the book you will know that some things were not the point the author was trying to make as the story takes a vastly different turn than expected by the end.

Around two thirds of the book takes place on Izzy. The main protagonist in the first two parts is Dinah who coincidentally is already onboard Izzy at the time the moon explodes. She is a bit of a quirky engineer who is working on developing various types of robots for purposes such as mining. Initially upon the moon exploding all of the large remaining pieces stay gravitationally bound to one another in roughly the same position as the moon had been prior. It is not until further analysis that it is discovered that the large pieces will slowly collide and an exponential rate until it turns into clouds of millions of smaller rocks that will eventually fall to earth. The hard rain will completely burn away the atmosphere and obliterate the surface of the Earth. This sets off a frenzy to create a plan to save humanity by any means necessary.

If this book was half as long or focused far more on the story in the third act I would have enjoyed it far greater. It felt like the third act was the story that the author really wanted to tell, but for some reason spend the majority of the book merely on the setup for it. It also ends so suddenly that it feels incomplete. That said I enjoyed this book more than I did not ironically due to the great detail in which events are described. You can really feel the horror, claustrophobia and futility the characters are going through when trapped in space with no planet to return to or ask for help. I will likely pick up another Neal Stephenson book in the near future. All of his books seem quite long, but Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon look interesting.