I’m not mad for sci-fi, but I always am for a good story, well told. Cixin Liu is a masterful storyteller, and The Three-Body Problem was for me a totally enthralling story, from the first page to the last.
Although first published in 2006, The Three-Body Problem was not translated and published in English until 2014. It’s the first volume of a trilogy, Remembrance of Things Past (with homage to Proust, of course), and all three novels have been translated and published in English. I shall be reading all three novels.
It is worth noting that Mr. Liu has written other works, notably “The Wandering Earth,” made into a feature-length film and available (free) on Netflix streaming. It is a fantastic bit of storytelling as well.
The Three-Body Problem is not a murder-mystery. Rather, it concerns a planet named Trisolaris in the Alpha Centauri galaxy which endures a massive environmental problem caused by its three suns. On earth, Ye Wenjie, a Chinese astrophysicist, has made first contact with Trisolaris, but she is unaware of the planet’s problem – or its portended solution. Yet for several very good reasons she is keeping her discovery to herself, at least at the outset. Whatever happens with true first contact is many light-years in the future.
IMO, the story is remarkable for two reasons.
One, it takes place solely within China and with Chinese people. It begins around the time of the Cultural Revolution and progresses to its own present day, around 2006. It has a mature balance between female and male characters. It’s also a deep look into a culture few Americans really understand, and the net result is seeing they aren’t that much different from us, even though they’ve been beset by a whole lot different problems and social concerns. For me, that netted out as compassion and respect.
Two, it is a “first contact” story without the usual tropes and trappings. There’s no ooh-ing or ahh-ing, no “War of the Worlds” on one end or “Contact” on the other. In a word, it’s the rational response of a scientist, not the hysterical, histrionic reaction of a politician or military leader. We become familiar with both Chinese science and scientists and Trisolarian science and scientists in a very a real novel of ideas. For perspective, you might want to take a look at this Goodreads page.
I loved this book for its fascinating story, which never lapses into the common sci-fi genre but instead remains at the high level of a work by Neal Stephenson, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Richard K. Morgan, perhaps even Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov. Moreover, kudos fo for being so well written – and translated.
It’s a big book, both in ideas and in length, but I devoured it in a week.