In a tale of obsession and invention, Liu Cixin’s latest translated novel puts a new face on the sci-fi master

The science of Liu Cixin’s Ball Lightning is less compelling than the brutalities of his famed Three Body Problem trilogy. It’s about the strange and observable scientific phenomenon of ball lightning. Fans of Liu will ask the inevitable: How is he going to use it to smash the world to bits?

Those drawn to the darkness of the writer’s work may find themselves a little disappointed. The themes that Liu is famed for, such as inescapable destruction and planet-wide genocidal conspiracies, are more domesticated.

Ball lightning—once considered the realm of conjurers and conmen—is a real phenomenon. Believed to be plasma, ungrounded feedback, and other natural forces creating a visual curiosity, ball lightning is somewhat special to Liu; he claims to have actually seen it in a field in Handan, Hebei province, in 1982. This experience no doubt drove the central theme of this novel: obsession.

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Lightning Round is a story from our issue, “Home Bound.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Tyler Roney

Tyler Roney is the former managing editor at The World of Chinese.

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