Title: The Three-Body Problem
Author: Cixin Liu Translated by Ken liu
Published by: Tor Books on November 11, 2014
Genre: Science Fiction,
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Synopsis: The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.
Fans of hard SF will revel in this intricate and imaginative novel by one of China’s most celebrated genre writers. In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death.
Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.
It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.
If you somehow haven’t read the synopsis on the back of the book, don’t do it! It spoils a lot of the plot. Stick to the Goodreads synopsis, because that is all you need to know.
I’ve been intimidated by this book because it is adult sci-fi with some really hard science. I didn’t even take physics in high school. Fortunately, there were footnotes that helped me to understand what was going on and point me in the right direction for further research. Probably the most important concepts you might want to know about are Einstein’s theory of relativity and the three-body gravitational problem.
The whole time I read this book I was fascinated yet creeped out. There were so many interesting concepts to learn about and so much mystery I kept trying to figure out, yet at the same time I kept getting the feeling that I was a tiny dot in a vast universe or like someone floating in the ocean without knowing that there’s a shark nearby. I felt like a small person in an unknown world and it was terrifying, but these feelings seem to be what Cixin Liu was trying to evoke in his readers. Cixin Liu’s writing and Ken Liu’s translation are simple, but there are small details like coding across the page and count downs actually being counted down that make you feel extra little.
This book deals with the concepts of being too limited to figure out the answers to the universe and how to deal if what you’ve been devoutly believing in your whole life was proven false. Many characters in this story are highly educated scientists, so you can imagine how these affect them. They become frustrated and overwhelmed and possibly end up questioning their own life. We are also asked to question our own existence. We can learn and discover and achieve, but what does that all matter when we are speckles on a planet that is a dot in a galaxy that isn’t even visible in a map of an ever growing universe?
Sometimes I thought life was precious, and everything was so important; but other times I thought humans were insignificant, and nothing was worthwhile. Anyway, my life passed day after day accompanied by this strange feeling, and before I knew it, I was old…
Usually I can only really get into stories with well developed characters, but this isn’t the case with The Three-Body Problem. The only character I might have cared for was Ye Wenjie, a scientist who witnesses her father being killed during China’s Cultural Revolution and who later is sent to work at a research facility in order to avoid punishment. Even then, I still needed to read between the lines to accept her actions and choices.
However, I don’t actually think the characters were that important. It’s the concepts and how these concepts affect people and civilization that make the story. Like I keep saying in this review, I felt like a tiny dot in a vast universe while reading, and this is how I imagined the characters, too. They just happened to exist in a bigger story, and I think this was intentional.
There is so much more I want to talk about in this review like the virtual reality game that is basically the Oasis of Ready Player One but for really smart people, but I think that will lead to spoilers. If you’ve been curious about this book, I highly recommend it! It is hard science fiction, but I think it is worth the extra work you may have to get everything you can out of the story.
Buddy read with Ryan.