Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Yuanyuan’s Bubbles, by Cixin Liu

(Hard SF) Yuanyuan has been fascinated with bubbles ever since she was a baby, but her hometown is dying from drought and needs water, not bubbles. (7,329 words; Time: 24m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆, Average
Recommended By: SFRevu:5

"," by (translated by Carmen Yiling Yan), appeared in Clarkesworld issue 111, published on

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The story does a nice job of tracking the city's need for water as well as Yuanyuan's obsession with bubbles. While one might be skeptical that such a powerful bubble-solution could really be made, all the scientific concerns voiced in the story seem to be solid.

Con: Yuanyuan isn't the one who saves the city; it's her father, and this isn't really his story. It's disappointing if the heroine doesn't save the day.

The story proceeds in a linear fashion, revealing new things as it goes, but there's no foreshadowing, no building up for new developments, no tension.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I kinda spoiled this story for myself with anticipation.

    It was so clear, right from the start, that we were going towards somehow using bubbles to solve the water problem. And, this may have just been me, or the narrator, but I read the father as a largely unsympathetic character - harsh, disapproving. He's devoted to a great noble cause, but we don't see much personal warmth or appreciation towards him.
    Whereas Yuanyuan is colorful, creative, fun-loving, wildly successful.

    So the whole piece, I was anticipating that the story go "Dour father's noble goal seems hopeless; until his Manic Pixie Girl daughter swoops in to the rescue, using the frivolous passion he'd dismissed for so long."

    Which REALLY bugged me. Because Yuanyuan was so dismissive right back. It felt like a kind of "Responsibility and dedication SUCK; awesome hobbies will solve all our problems!", which I just ugggh no.

    This carried me firmly up to "Baba, I brought you a birthday present!"; everything was right on track.

    And then... it went differently. Yuanyuan is brilliant, but she isn't the saviour. The father is the one who makes the connection, who turns Yuanyuan's bubbles to practical use. I am SO MUCH BETTER with that, I have no words.

    I still feel like the story is off-balance, with Yuangyuang as the shiny awesome one and the father as the disapproving adult who may have a cause, but doesn't seem to have any other redeeming qualities, and even his cause is somewhat suspect. But in the end, it's a story about cooperation and cross-pollination between to very, very different worldviews, which is nice. And the elements - the science and logistics of water supply and bubbles - are cool, intriguing and build a solid story.

  2. Actually, the father and daughter aren't much different. They're both ridiculous dreamers; who'd have thought to set up a city in the desert and expect it to thrive when it'd almost immediately hit problems of water scarcity?

    My problem with the story, however, is the translation quality, or perhaps the writing quality of the original. The daughter needs to come off with more dignity; she seems like one of those airy / insane SV types with utter and complete callousness for the collateral damage of their dreams.

    The point seems to be that she doesn't understand her father either; i.e, as a daughter, she buys her father a home on Lake Tai, a famous vacation spot, just as much as you might buy your parents a home in Florida or the Cote d'Azur. But her father, like her, is an idealist; he's committed to the Northwestern desert project and would rather die in the city he built.