A man who witnesses both his parents get turned to ash 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.
Ball Lightning is well-paced and tightly plotted. Liu handles the science quite well — the current state of lightning and weather research, as well as his speculative explanation, which hangs together just enough to stave off disbelief. His depiction of military research is not at all boosterish, and the believable characters — the narrator, a woman who is enamored with danger and destruction, and a physicist who is out for pure knowledge, damn the consequences — add depth to the story. Highly recommended.
A short excerpt is available at Words Without Borders magazine, and a longer, 12,000-word excerpt can be downloaded from the Paper Republic literary website.