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Science Pushes Open New Doors with Blood-Smeared Hands: Cixin Liu’s Ball Lightning

科学以血污之手推开新门:刘慈欣的《球状闪电》

Erik Henriksen 撰写
Tue Aug 14, 2018 3:00pm



Yeah, yeah—you’ve already heard no shortage of praise for Chinese science-fiction writer Cixin Liu. But here’s the thing: He deserves all of it. Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy—the remarkable, Hugo-winning series published in America as The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End—is just as mind-bending and breathtaking as its fans claim. (And, not for nothing, those fans include this guy.)

没错没错,对中国科幻作家刘慈欣的溢美之词,你们早已司空见惯。但这么着讲,他配得上每句褒奖。刘慈欣的《地球往事》三部曲,即《三体》《黑暗森林》《死神永生》荣获雨果奖的杰出系列,正如粉丝们(值得一提的是,包括在下)宣称的那样脑洞大开精彩纷呈。

Until this week, the Remembrance trilogy and a scattering of short stories were all that English-speakers had of Liu’s unforgettable work. But with the American publication of Ball Lightning—a novel originally published in China in 2004, and now translated into English by Joel Martinsen, the translator of The Dark Forest—we finally have more Liu.

直到本周之前,《地球往事》三部曲和一些零星短篇小说是所有英语读者在刘慈欣让人难忘的作品中所仅能拥有的。但随着初版于2004年的中国,由《黑暗森林》译者乔尔·马丁森英译的《球状闪电》在美国的出版,我们终于能更“刘”一点。



As he ages, Chen remains single-mindedly focused on learning the secrets of ball lightning; early on, he describes himself as “a machine in pursuit of a single goal.” That’s on page 17—and, unfortunately, page 17 is about where his character development stops. Luckily for us, Chen’s accompanied by more interesting characters: Alongside befuddled military brass, half-mad scientists, and swaggering helicopter pilots who’d fit right in with the ego-fueled flyboys of The Right Stuff, Chen meets Lin Yun, a morbid army researcher who’s intent on using ball lightning as a weapon, and Ding Yi, a lively wildcard of a theoretical physicist. Ding Yi’s the book’s best character—he pops up later in Three Body—and in Ball Lightning, his curiosity overwhelms any personal and ethical considerations. Unlike Chen’s morose plod toward discovery, Ding Yi’s passion to decode the universe comes with the thrill of social and moral transgression: “Extraordinary research must be advanced through extraordinary measures,” he insists. “Otherwise, in this rigid society, science wouldn’t budge an inch.”

随着年岁渐长,陈仍旧一心一意专注学习球状闪电的秘密;之前,他形容自己是“单纯追寻一个目标的机器”。这段话在第17页上,很不巧,就在第17页他的人物性格发展停止了。幸好我们读者能看到陈遇到了更多有趣的人物:除了有豪饮的部队首长、半疯癫的科学家、以及与《太空先锋》里目空一切的飞行员们简直一个模子刻出来的趾高气昂的直升机飞行员们之外,陈遇见了林云这位想要将球状闪电作为武器的心理病态的军队科研人员,还有丁仪这位不循规蹈矩的理论物理学家。丁仪是这本书里最棒的角色,之后也会在《三体》系列里出现,而在《球状闪电》里,他的求知欲压倒了任何个人因素和伦理顾虑。不像陈在发现之路上的孤僻跋涉,丁仪破解宇宙奥秘的激情伴随着违背社会道德的兴奋感。他认为:“非常规的研究就需要采用非常规的推动方式,否则在这个僵化的社会里,科学将寸步难行。”
【《太空先锋》是美国一本畅销书并改编为同名电影,讲述了美国第一批宇航员诞生的故事】

As Ball Lightning clips along, we visit lightning-burned mountaintops, a nuclear power plant seized by terrorists, and an eerie, forgotten outpost beneath Siberia—and all the while, ball lightning seemingly pops in and out of existence at random, inspiring and frustrating Chen and his companions. “The descriptions in this book of the characteristics and behavior of ball lightning are based on historical records,” reads Ball Lightning’s epigraph, but heads up: Things get weird. I don’t want to spoil how weird, but: Things get weird enough that before the real weirdness even starts, Chen’s tossing off observations like, “It was impossible for your spirit not to be affected by watching ball lightning turn group after group of test animals to ash every day.”

随着《球状闪电》的展开,我们读者拜访了雷击的山巅、被恐怖分子占领的核电站、以及隐藏在西伯利亚地下被遗忘的怪异基地。自始至终,球状闪电的出现和消逝似乎并无规律可循,让陈和同伴们即受启发又感沮丧。《球状闪电》的题词是这样写的:“本书对球状闪电的特征表现的描述基于历史数据。”请注意,事情要变得古怪了。我不想剧透如何古怪,但已古怪到即使真正的古怪还未开始,陈就凭观察而匆匆得出:“看着一批批的试验动物被球状闪电烧成灰,精神不受到刺激是不可能的。”

That, though, leads to one of Ball Lightning’s quirks: Like the Remembrance trilogy, this book operates at a cool remove, thanks to prose that sometimes feels straightforward and at others feels distant and overly formal. Unless you’re smarter than me and can compare the Chinese and English versions, it’s impossible to know if this stiltedness is Liu’s original intent, a result of cultural differences, a byproduct of translation, or all three. (Translating Liu, it seems, is no easy task: As Ken Liu, a frequent translator of Cixin Liu’s, wrote in Clarkesworld, “Conflict between the author and the translator is present in every act of translation, but it’s especially acute in contemporary passages between English and Chinese.”) When Liu’s dealing with far-out sci-fi concepts, the clunkiness of the prose rarely draws attention to itself—but with human emotion, there’s no avoiding it. “I was unaccustomed to being alone with the opposite sex, or to their refined sensitivity,” Chen explains while spending time with Lin Yun. “But to find those feminine qualities so concentrated in a woman piloting a land mine-equipped car was breathtaking.” Later, after witnessing Lin Yun in a moment of distress, he not-so-helpfully notes, “This episode informed me that her life was far more complicated than I imagined.”

这又牵出《球状闪电》一大特异点:同《地球往事》三部曲一样,本作的风格颇显冷酷,原因在于行文时而平直时而又太遥远太正式。除非你比我聪明,还懂得比较中英文不同版本的差异,不然无法得知这种生硬感到底是刘慈欣故意为之呢,还是文化差异所导致,或是转译后的副产品,甚至是三个原因都有。(翻译刘慈欣的作品,似乎不是件容易事:就如刘慈欣的御用译者刘宇昆在《克拉克世界》杂志上谈到,“作者与译者之间的分歧冲突虽然会出现在翻译的每一步,但在汉英文本间尤甚。”)当刘慈欣在处理宏远的科幻概念时,字里行间的笨拙并不引人瞩目,但涉及人的情感时,就不可避免地显露出来。比如文中,陈在与林云相处时如此解释:“还不习惯同异性单独相处,更不习惯她们的细腻和敏感,但想想这种女性的特质在一个开着装有地雷的汽车的姑娘身上体现出来,真是给人一种奇妙的感觉。”之后,在目睹她情绪低落时,他无助地留意到:“从这件事我发现,林云的生活远比我想象的复杂。”



That shore is rarely glimpsed by Ball Lightning’s characters, who obsess over the universe’s unknowns for darker reasons: childhood trauma, cruel bloodlust, sociopathic curiosity. As usual, Liu is a master at evoking awe and horror at the scale and strangeness of our universe—but here, he also lays bare why we study it. One of the book’s war-scarred characters might put it best: “All the forces of the natural world, including those that people believe are the most gentle and harmless, can be turned into weapons to destroy life.”

对岸却鲜有被《球状闪电》的角色们看到,他们痴迷于宇宙里的未知,却打着阴暗的理由:童年创伤、残忍嗜血、反社会人格的求知欲。由我们认知的世界范畴里产生规模感和陌生感并从中唤醒我们的敬畏与恐惧,刘慈欣在这方面一如既往地展现出大师水平;本书里,他也给出我们为什么要研究之的直接理由。书中一位饱受战争伤害的人物总结得最恰当:“自然界中的各种力量,包括人们认为最轻柔最无害的那些力量,都可能变成毁灭生命的武器。”