cover image Ball Lightning

Ball Lightning

Cixin Liu, trans. from the Chinese by Joel Martinson. Tor, $24.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7653-9407-1

In Chinese folklore, ball lightning is known as “ghost lanterns,” and ghosts of a quantum kind haunt this thoughtful technothriller about the science of the next war. Chen, traumatized when ball lightning invades his birthday party and kills his parents, resolves to understand the elusive phenomenon, despite discouragement from his similarly hurt advisor. Encountering evidence that others have been struck by ball lightning but survived, he teams up with Lin Yun, a young major in the Chinese army with her own obsession: “new concept” weapons. Together, they track down a lost Russian research base and an eccentric Chinese genius, bringing together the clues that reveal ball lightning’s secrets in time for it to be weaponized for a conflict with America. Liu (the Three-Body Problem trilogy) pits the quest for theoretical knowledge against the push for practical, if deadly, applications. Without tilting the debate, he moves his characters through both their fears and their desires, showing how neither purity nor repudiation will bring more than a measure of personal relief. Readers intrigued by cutting-edge and slightly speculative science, and the philosophy of scientific ethics, will want to pick up this fine novel. (Aug.)