`Search for the Buried Bomber' begins in an interesting way. The first is that it is written by one of China's most popular novelists and this book is said to be hailed as China's most spectacular suspense novel. We begin by reading the memories of a retired geological prospector who was sent on a mission in 1962. He says he swore to never reveal what he saw and he will not break that oath - he accomplishes that to a great degree.
We learn a lot about caves and geological prospecting, step by step it is described, their journey and the problems inch by inch. The improbability of what is happening, with doors welded shut and bodies entangled in wire and sacks, wide rivers and endless spaces are cursorily described but it is extremely difficult to picture the surroundings. There are just too many questions and too many unknowns. At almost every step the narrator is at deaths door and escapes from that situation to land in another one. People are lost from the expedition and some found again, they come into the storyline and out again, which does not lend to a smooth plot; it just makes understanding what is really going on more difficult. Why would a real group act in this manner?
The setting and the plot are so odd that it is hard to distinguish what is really happening. We are never given a satisfactory ending or explanation of the bomber they find -oh we are told it has made a flight, but the reason and results are not for us to know. We are simply told that what he has seen makes his blood run cold and possibly is the most incredible thing in human history.
When so much is hidden from the reader and we are not even left in on a conclusion ...why tell the story? It's like a slap in the face to the reader, we are worthy of reading and taking the time to listen but not respected enough to be given an answer.
Xu Lei's SEARCH FOR THE BURIED BOMBER held my interest right up until the end. The story deals with Chinese prospectors investigating an underground Japanese base abandoned beneath China. As the prospectors go deeper and deeper underground, they find strange evidence in the camp, including a huge Japanese bomber that was assembled, and flown, underground. Along the way their number begin to succumb to various accidents and treachery, plus they find the corpses of a team sent in earlier that they knew nothing about.
While the book is definitely Indiana Jones-esque in it's over the top archeological traps and discoveries, as entertainment I enjoyed reading it right up until the end. Mostly because there IS no end. The book just stops, leaving the reader wondering why they just wasted their time reading the book! No indication that conclusion will be presented in sequels either, so I was just left hanging and frustrated.
In addition, the book appears to be written in formal English, meaning it doesn't flow very well and seems somewhat stoic, no doubt because the author is native Chinese.
Not worth the effort, considering the ending.
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I decided to give this book a try, because it was written by an up and coming Chinese author, and I was curious to see what he might have to offer in the way of action adventures.
Without giving anything away, I found the story telling to be smooth, and the writing did not get in the way of the story. The story is, like many action books, plot-driven, with one event leading to the next, to the next, and so on. The character development was adequate for the story, but certainly not outstanding.
I will say that in order to enjoy this book you have to be able to suspend reality and willingly move into the realm of the extraordinarily unlikely.
When I finished reading the last page and the afterward, it became clear that this book has to be the first of a series...either that or the author just ran out of ideas and quit. It was that abrupt. My main criticism of this book is that when you expected the loose ends to be tied up and answers to be provided I was left left cold, flat, and alone as a reader, with nothing to go on except the expectation that another book might clear things up. That is, this book didn't provide any sort of satisfying, stand-alone resolution. While I would be moderately interested in discovering what the author left hanging at the end of this book, I am not willing to read on, because there is no guarantee that the same thing wont't happen at the end of book 2 or 3 or...
plus the story was not compelling enough for me invest time to read the next installment in the series.
The book does not sufficiently stand alone to recommend it on its own merits, and I felt abandoned by the author in the end. Just so you know.
For this reason, the best recommendation I can award is 2 or 3 stars. I'll go ahead and award 3 stars.
Totally fascinating premise. Very interesting time and place. Well written (translated) technically. We're even given a locked room mystery. I read a lot of Oriental fiction (in translation). I am used to the style being different from "our" style. I am really interested in that area and enjoy learning about it, even through fiction.
This is apparently the first in a series of some length. Unfortunately, it went to great lengths to not give the reader enough of the story.
There were too many times the author lit the bulb for the reader hours after leaving us in the dark. It was disappointing that it ended in the way in which it did. This deserves five stars for concept and one star for delivery of the story. That averages to three stars. I'm not sure I'm willing to spend this much time on a sequel. Fool me once and all that.
on July 28, 2013
Dark Prospects was awesome, and I basically finished the entire thing in one sitting. But like other people have been saying, once I finished it there were still a bunch of things in the story that were left unresolved, and nowhere in the book did it say anything about this being part of a series. However, despite being disappointed by the ending, I still enjoyed the book so much that I kept thinking about it after it was over. Recently, wanting to see what else the author Xu Lei had written, I searched his name on Amazon and came up with this page: Into the Abyss (Dark Prospects). As you have no doubt guessed, I had found the second and final book of the Dark Prospects series! I was so excited to have discovered it that I immediately downloaded it and began reading. Once again I finished the whole thing in practically one sitting, but this time the ending was extremely satisfying. Just about everything was resolved, and the few parts that weren't were,in my opinion, better left mysterious. Seriously, the finale to this series is really incredible and totally unexpected, so everyone who liked book one but was disappointed by the cliffhanger ending should definitely check it out.
on April 4, 2014
This is an incredible page-turner, and so spooky that I'm tempted to describe Xu Lei as The Chinese Lovecraft. However, as other reviewers have pointed out, this book ends with a cliffhanger that deprives the reader of narrative closure or even a satisfying payoff.
That might be forgivable, given that this book does have a sequel, "Into the Abyss." However, in reading the reviews of that book, I get the impression that it *also* deprives you of the satisfying payoff you surely deserve after sticking with the story through two novels.
I haven't read "Into the Abyss," but the picture that emerges is that the two books together might be the literary equivalent of the TV show "Lost," something that seems brilliant at the time, but eventually loses its way because the creator had no clear idea of where it was going.
Still, this is masterful writing, made all the more impressive by the author's relative youth, and by the fact that this is a translation of a Chinese text.
With China on the verge of the catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution, the events of (and participants in) the prospecting initiative known as the Inner Mongolia 723 Project were soon to be forgotten, but one of the surviving "forgotten", a retired army geological prospector, has decided to tell his (and their) story, and this volume constitutes only the first part of that story.
It began as prospecting for natural resources, or so they were told, and what would have struck us as truly paranoid security measures seemed not so odd to them at the time, living under a government that tended to regard EVERYTHING as a state secret. Gradually, however, Engineer Wu and his fellow prospectors learn that nothing is as it seems, that they have been told hardly any of what little truth is known, and it starts with the revelation that what they are really looking for is a massive multi-engine WWII Japanese bomber...
detected during seismic exploration some 3,600 feet underground.
What follows is a nail biting, thrill (or scare) a minute journey into a giant tear in the mountainside, down a dangerous underground river, through the rusting remains of an inexplicably massive abandoned (though still partially functioning) Japanese base chock full of evidence of their wartime atrocities, while being kept in the dark by superiors who know more than they are willing to tell. Author Xu Lei, ably translated by Gabriel Ascher, knows how to build (and maintain) suspense that will keep you reading just a little bit further, then a little bit more, until you find yourself at the annoying cliffhanger ending with Engineer Wu and his surviving (or at least not yet gone missing) colleagues on the verge of learning (at least part of) what the Japanese knew (and perhaps what drew them here in the first place). I've a hunch, though....
The sequel/continuation Into the Abyss is now available.
I selected this book partly because it just sounded like an interesting story, and partly because it was written by a Chinese author. I've visited China twice myself, and am extremely interested in understanding the character and worldview of the Chinese people... something that mostly eluded me during my short tourist trips. And indeed I was intrigued to find that the author does mention the terrors of the "Cultural Revolution" in relatively frank terms. As to Chinese opinion of the Japanese, if this book represents 2012 more than it does the story's date of 1962, then maybe the Japanese better quit kicking the 8000 pound gorilla over those dinky islands out there and concentrate their military efforts on building a really big fence around their homeland.
As other reviewers have noted, this book is a heck of an exciting read. Much of it reminds me of Tom Sawyer's journey through McDougal's Cave, magnified about 500 times. If anything, the book has a slight comic-book type air to it, like the old horror comics of the 1950's. Mysterious clue after mysterious clue is uncovered, one baffling discovery after another, until halfway through the book I thought to myself that the author is going to have to pull off one HECK of ending to tie all this stuff together and explain everything in a satisfactory way. Well, as I got 40 pages from the end, then 30, then 20, it became sadly obvious that there was going to be no such complete ending. Not to say that nothing at all was explained, but I guess they have to keep you hooked for the next installment. I myself was not entirely clear that this was part of a planned series, so for a bit I had felt the author had lazily copped out with one of those "figure it out yourself" type endings. But I guess the "Dark Prospects" bit mentioned on the back cover of my proof copy is the name of the series so I'm giving the author the benefit of the doubt that more things (such as the fates of at least 6 different groups of people who disappeared along the way) will be explained later.
The translation is generally very good. Yet perhaps the author benefits from the translation in that minor errors which may well be his responsibility can instead be blamed on the translator to help keep the story believable. For instance, a bomber aircraft with a "rusty" skin (weren't they made out of aluminum?) and an "engine room" (weren't the engines out on the wings?). Early on in the book we are told that a forest fire evaporated enough water out of a bog or swamp to uncover the wreckage of an aircraft concealed there. Later, seismic sonar not only reveals in detail the thin metal skin of an aircraft sitting in an open chamber 3600 feet underground, but also apparently misses vastly larger concrete structures located right next to that aircraft. I found these things, each fairly crucial to the plot, impossible to believe... yet somehow I was able to blame the translator in an effort to better enjoy the story.
Characters are developed in an interesting fashion, each sometimes showing great weaknesses, yet at other times great strengths.
For whatever faults this tale might have, I'd certainly be inclined to buy further books from this author. I'll just be REALLY mad if he never does end the story properly.
on April 23, 2015
I enjoyed this book. It is historical, but not tedious and nostalgic, but not sappy. I found it suspenseful because it took me into a world I am unfamiliar with, and all the while I am learning things. It drew me in and schooled me at the same time. I love those kind of books.
on March 29, 2013
Search for the Buried Bomber is a publishing sensation in China. With his Grave Robbers' Chronicles series, Xu Lei is the most popular novelist in that country. Search has been released to outstanding reviews. Now that I have finished reading the book (very difficult to put down), all I can say is: "When is the sequel coming out? It's been published in Chinese. When do we get the English version?"
It's 1962 and Engineer Wu is being sent in with a team of Chinese Army Corps of Engineers to the mountains near Mongolia to prospect for natural resources. He refers to himself throughout the book as a "prospector", but I have a little problem with that term. When I think of "prospector", I think of an old, toothless guy in a cowboy hat panning for gold. But this is the term the translator, who does a fantastic job, by-the-way, has decided to use.
When his team arrives at the site of "Project 723″, they are shown around the camp, given a brief account of what they will be doing and shuffled into a room to watch a "zero film", i.e., a film of top-secret access. The team is even ordered to swear a vow a secrecy before the get to see the film.
As the novelist explains state secrets:
Someone later explained national secrets to me in this way: if a secret involves the livelihood of the people, it's confidential; if it involves the economy or military affairs, it's secret; and if it involves Party leaders or some impossible-to-explain subversion of the current worldview, only then is it considered top secret
And what they are shown is a crude remote image of a Japanese WWII Shinzan bomber, 3600 feet underground.
How did the bomber get underground? And why? Engineer Wu's team is soon given the task of descending into a newly discovered cave where the bomber lays. They will travel into this unknown world, brave unimaginable dangers until reaching the underground bomber and the Japanese installation around it. To reveal much more would ruin the story for potential readers. Suffice it to say, this is one of the best adventure novels of the past ten years. Imagine Journey to the Center of the Earth meets Flight of the Phoenix. And along the way, we learn a lot about cave geology.
Search takes place right before the cultural revolution, or, as Engineer Wu describes it "the ten-year calamity". Most of the historical references are easily understood by the reader, with only one time the translator resorting to a footnote to describe a popular movie in China from the 50′s.
What makes the book such a page-turner is the reader only gets the information needed to advance the plot at the same pace as the narrator. You know Engineer Wu survives to tell the tale, but what about the rest of the team. Even more suspenseful is a tendency for characters to vanish and reappear. The reader gets a creepy feel for the subterranean world the team explores, with the use of dimming flashlights.
I can't recommend this novel enough. I'm told these Chinese serial novels can have a story arc which spans ten books. I'm dying to read the next one.