Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu

Title: Ball Lightning.
Series: No.
Writer(s): Cixin Liu (Translated by Joel Martinsen).
Publisher: Tor Books.
Format: Advance Review Copy.
Release Date: August 14th 2018.
Pages: 354.
Genre(s): Science-Fiction.
ISBN13: 9781250186508.
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.


Have you ever been so deeply fascinated by something that it hence led you to dedicate all your life into understanding the very core of that object of interest? While finding your purpose in life can lead a person to fully actualize themselves in the long run, this inevitable tunnel vision can also turn toxic one’s self and their immediate social circle. It’s being able to distance yourself from it whenever possible that you put yourself in a position to remain sane, and sanity is sometimes the most important thing a person needs in order to see life clearly. But when your goals have a personal edge to them, they might turn into something far more dangerous and impossible to contain as frustrations accumulate over the years. That’s when you start looking for answers no matter the costs and find yourself in sticky situations.

Ball Lightning is the story of Chen and his mad desire to discover the secret behind the thunderous phenomenon known as ball lightning. Following a tragic experience at a very young age revolving around this mysterious force, he dedicates his entire life into understanding it and putting a logic behind its occurrences. His researches slowly lead him to understand that ball lightning is only the beginning of a new breakthrough in particle physics. Its when he crosses paths with several intriguing figures, a female soldier and a physicist, that he encounters the one thing he has always been looking for: progress. However, its the motives behind the hunt for answers of these fellow comrades that sparks thorough discussions that not only complicates Chen’s desire to solve this mystery, but also questions the very existence of this ball lightning and their ability to ever understand it.


You’ll have to be very careful if you decide to pick up this book. Cixin Liu’s fame often arises from his classic Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, especially his The Three-Body Problem. While Ball Lightning is his latest book, it was originally published in 2004 and was only now translated by Joel Martinsen. What Cixin Liu does wonderfully is take a real scientific phenomenon and bring us on a journey filled with discoveries. If you’ve ever had a fascination for these ball lightning phenomenons, I am absolutely certain this latest stand-alone novel will give you everything you ever wanted in regards to knowledge. Ball Lightning is in fact a pure hard science story that basically simulates a thesis; trust me when I say that you’ll feel like you were doing your thesis on this phenomenon. And that’s not even a joke. Cixin Liu doesn’t hesitate in incorporating dilemmas that researchers are far too conscious about, from lack of funding to lack of answers. I’m telling you, I felt like I was re-doing my own thesis while I was reading this.

While Cixin Liu has a refined skill at making science much more digestible for anyone to pick up and enjoy, this novel heavily lacked in character development and expressive prose. For the former, if I were asked about all the characters in this books, I’d say that there’s very little distinguishing one from the other besides their own character’s mold (i.e. their jobs and motives). For the latter, I have a hard time pointing fingers at the causes for this, but I can’t ignore the fact that the writing style might have lost its touch through translation, and that’s something I’ll probably never know and confirm. There are moments where the style would venture in metaphors and similes, and actually leave a nice impression on you, but there are other moments where it simply came out awkward and abusive. I do however believe that Cixin Liu is a man of ideas, rather than a man of characters. What he brings to the table in Ball Lightning really blows open a whole universe to explore and engage in, unbeknownst to the reader.

Ball Lightning is a fascinating adventure that brings Cixin Liu to explore in depth the highs and lows of research, but also the ever-expanding and never-transparent world of science.



Thank you to Raincoast Books and Tor Books for sending me a copy for review!



27 thoughts on “Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu

    1. Hahaah I was really intrigued by the author since I’ve heard a lot of praise for The Three-Body Problem! I’ll still give that one a shot, but if it’s really anything like this, my expectations for the author will forever be… much lower! 😛 Thanks for reading!


  1. I can’t help but think of Robert Pirsig and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and his obsession with the concept of quality. Sometimes, the digger you deep, the harder it is to get out of the hole. Although, we’re talking about ball lightning here, which is pretty cool. Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some authors sure do know how to make a less-than appealing subject so much more intriguing, while others might struggle to think about the reader and how they’ll digest the information. Indeed, this whole ball lightning phenomenon definitely made it all much more interesting, but its issues were a bit too strong to overlook! 😀 Thanks for reading, sir!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was such a philosophical review. Love it!
    Got the author’s other book, the three body problem but haven’t read it yet, so not sure what to expect overall, but you gave me a pretty good idea 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re too kind! Thank you so much for reading, Norrie! I too have his trilogy, but after reading this one, I’ve sort of instinctively lowered my expectations. Hopefully it’ll blow my mind and reassure me that the love it got was merited! 😛 And I do hope your experience with it will be far more enjoyable too! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It is kind of hard to critique an author’s writing style when it’s been translated. Did something that came across awkward in English read beautifully in it’s original language? I don’t tend to enjoy books with lots of science-y stuff in it, so I don’t think this is one I’ll pick up, but it does look interesting. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. It’s why I always prefer reading an author’s work in its original language (which means English or French), but when I venture into territories like this one, it all becomes a bit complicated. There are some really great translators though, but sometimes the original work is simply not meant to be translated as a lot of its beauty is lost in translation. Thanks for reading, Stéphanie!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahah thanks man, and it’s all good! This would honestly only please those who are curious in the meteorological phenomenon, in hard science-fiction or those who are interested by this author’s work. Otherwise, it’s a bit of a stretch. Entertainment is not guaranteed! 😀 Thanks for reading as always, good friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. While I’m sure this is a good book (you rated it three stars so there must have been good parts to it) I don’t think Ball Lightning is going to be for me. I’ll admit sometimes sci-fi reads can be too confusing for me if they’re too technical and I can tell just from your review I would be completely lost if I picked this one up. Still great review Lashaan. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahha it really depends on the person’s interest in hard science-fiction. It can get really technical and dig deep into scientific knowledges, and that’s something that won’t be too enjoyable for a lot of people. The flaws in character development and in the “writing” were too noticeable for me to overlook them, it’s why my rating went down, but I was still glad to have my first look at this author’s work. I still plan on trying out his Three-Body Problem some day, and hopefully the praise that one got will be far more factual! 😀 Thanks for reading, Beth!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love how you started off this review- very profound! And generally, this is a brilliant review. I doubt this book would be something that my brain could take because I doubt I would have the stamina to get through this. You do make a compelling point with your review, though! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awn, thanks Liz! I love your feedback on it all. It definitely gives me an idea of what works and what doesn’t in conveying my thoughts. Thank you! ❤ And yes, it can get quite heavy, so it'll take some interest in the subject/the author to even want to pick up this story! 😀 Thank you again for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. *the greatest comment ever written on your blog*

    Sadly, I couldn’t translate it into our 4 dimensions, so you’ll just have to use your imagination 😉

    This sounds like a rather unpleasant book to be honest. However, I certainly understand not being able to tell if something is really off or if it is is the translator’s fault…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At least tell me what language it was in! A mystery is meant to be solved!!!

      Hahaahah that brutal honesty! I wouldn’t even say it’s on the translator to be honest. I believe some things don’t sound the same from one language to another. It’s why I always prefer reading my stories in their original language (English or French). However, everything that has to do with character development is definitely on the author and his decision to put his focus elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. THe language was “Vorgon” 😉

        I wish I “could” read in more than one language, but eh, I’ve got so many books in just English that a translated book has got to be really good. Mainly classics or something Russian…

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This sounds so interesting, I have no idea if it will be for me. But I would like to give it a try just to see what it’s like. Probably best to use the library for this one. Fantastic review:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would definitely recommend a library copy for this one. I would have a hard time recommending it to just about everyone. You really have to be intrigued from the beginning to even want to try it out. 😀 Thank you so much, Asia! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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