The Three-Body Problem

Cixin Liu
The Three-Body Problem Cover

The Three-Body Problem


This novel won the 2015 Hugo, the first novel written in Chinese and then translated into English to have this honor. It, for all of its minor blemishes, is well worth it. The story is reminiscent of some "Golden Age" science fiction, but the science is modern and as far as I can tell fairly accurate. The minor problems with the story that I see are probably due to the difficulties of translating, not only the words and meanings, but also a very different cultural mind-set.

The story begins during China's cultural revolution of the mid 1960's and 1970's, where a certain scientist was murdered in front of his small daughter, Ye Wenjie, over his beliefs in science over political dogma. The man's wife was turned against him and the daughter saw this as well. The scene moves to the daughter now fully grown and a scientist in her own right, however due to her "past" associations she was not considered a full member of the party, so Ye Wenjie is exiled to a scientific research station that listened for signals of a possible outer civilization.

This other civilization is a mathematical nightmare come to life. Imagine living on a planet with three suns, and not a stable orbit. Each sun takes its turn "capturing" the planet. The civilization has adopted to the extremes of heat and cold, I do mean extremes, by being able to completely dehydrate their bodys and storing the husk, to be hydrated at a safe time when the orbit stabilizes. This is where a "red flag" came up for me, such as how does that happen? If they are all dehydrated, who gets the signal that all is well? But the story does capture your attention and you are able to gloss over some of these.

It does turn out that when we do get this signal from the Other, that Ye Wenjie is the one that notices it and even after she is warned by this other civilization's own martyr and traitor, to not answer, because that would lead to an invasion from them, her own bitterness against humanity is strong enough that she does answer, hoping that any civilization able to successfully travel the distances of interstellar space, would be benevolent. Which is proven to be NOT the case.

This is volume one of a trilogy, the second is out here in the States and the third is due in September. I have the second coming in the mail and will order the third when it does appear. If the next two are as good as this, it should be an experience well worth your time!