Cixin Liu (The Three Body Problem), a nine-time winner of China's Galaxy Award and a Hugo Award winner, explores the ontological consequences of unrestrained scientific inquiry in Ball Lightning, translated by Joel Martinsen. A quantum physicist chases ghosts while studying a little-understood natural event after its devastating display of power changes his life forever.
Ball lightning, an inexplicable phenomenon that destroys specific objects with bursts of deadly energy, strikes Chen's home one night and incinerates his parents. This event drives him to dedicate his life to studying it. While on a graduate study trip, he meets the beautiful and ambitious army major Lin Yun, who dreams of harnessing ball lightning's deadly energy for military weaponry. She enlists a dubious Chen, post-graduation, to work on ball lightning research alongside the morally ambiguous Ding Yi, a brilliant theoretical physicist obsessed with the pursuit of knowledge. Together, they unravel the secrets behind this mysterious energy source, but as Lin Yun and Ding Yi become consumed with its awesome power, Chen struggles to reconcile his own values against the self-serving interests of his co-conspirators.
Liu nimbly explores the ethical conundrums facing unrestrained scientific research and its consequences to humankind's survival. The single-minded and headstrong Lin Yun shuns moral considerations in her relentless pursuit of knowledge; philosopher Ding Yi acts as the mode-alternating "quantum wave" between good and evil; and Chen serves as the trio's moral compass.
Ball Lightning is a cautionary tale about the dangers of total technological reliance and unchecked ambition, an all too real issue that continues to haunt the modern world. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant