Literature / Ball Lightning

Ball Lightning is a 2004 Chinese science-fiction novel by Liu Cixin and is being translated by Joel Martensen of Possibly the single most popular sci-fi novel in China.

The story is centered around Dr. Chen and Major Lin Yun's pursuit and research of the eponymous anomaly, its weaponization and a war that... got worse after it ended. As shown by its sequel, the Earth's Past trilogy (The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest and Death's End.)

Dr. Chen, who witnesses both his parents get disintegrated by ball lightning, devotes his entire life to researching the poorly understood phenomenon. His quest takes him to a national defense research institute where government scientists are seeking to use ball lightning as a new-concept weapon. He becomes disgusted with the thought of his pure scientific research being used for killing, but every time he tries to escape, his obsession draws him back in.

Currently being translated by Joel Martinsen and Liu Yukun.

Ball Lightning contains the following tropes:

  • Abnormal Ammo: The Lightning Machineguns developed by the researchers fire supercharged mega-sized electrons that can disintegrate anything in front of them until the charge runs out.
  • Artistic License Nuclear Physics: The power plant the eco-terrorists held up still uses the same technology as the Soviet era Chernobyl plant, even though it is claimed as the most advanced in Asia.
  • Asshole Victim: Most people tend to touch ball lightnings when they appear around them. Guess what? Though some of them only got their fingernails and toenails disintegrated. Also some eco-terrorists who become the first practice-targets when they hold up the biggest nuclear power plant in China.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": As it turned out, the titular Ball Lightnings are in fact not weather anomalies but electrically charged projections of "Macho-Electrons", a physical structure largely unknown to humans. However, they are still mostly called "ball lightning", and some James Bond fans in the book called them "Thunderballs".
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Chen's first encounter with the ball lightning traumatized him for a year, locked in a hospital.
    • His university professor's past is equally bad if not worse. He was forced to change his name (because it sounds like Khrushchev), isolated for years being considered insane, and saw his girlfriend being disintegrated before him.
  • Lady of War: Major Lin Yun.
  • Lightning Gun: Or Macho-atom gun.