The Three-Body Problem

Cixin Liu
The Three-Body Problem Cover

The Three-Body Problem


Sadly this book really didn't work for me. There were some elements I really enjoyed which I thought the author got just right and other parts where I found the book to be a struggle and a chore.

The Three-Body problem is set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, being a 'not too distant' memory where scientists make that 'first contact' with extra-terrestrial intelligence. In that it explores similar themes it does remind me a little of Sagan and James Gunn's 'The Listeners'. I like the notion of a society recognising the potential of intelligence in the universe other than our own and the impact it would have on our own civilisation.

So, the positives - there are elements of the book where the tension is ratcheted up significantly. The central character Wang begins to see a countdown on the images of every photograph he takes and later begins to see the same sequential countdown imprinted on his eyeballs. There is actually a great horror short story in there and I was reminded of short stories that made up 'The Twilight Zone' and the such like. As the clock counts down and Wang seeks a solution Liu managed to captivate and excite me, at least for a short period.

We really only get the perspective of the aliens towards the end of the book and again I can see where the second novel in the series may be interesting. The alien civilization is well, alien enough for us to be interested in them whilst having some semblance of what we may term the 'human condition' so we can understand them. I also liked the 'not very subtle at all' analogy of the aliens as communism and why people follow it, some as a religion to embrace and follow blindly, some to wipe away the horrors of how badly humanity had treated people in the past and some to harness it's power for their own interests. This lack of subtlety isn't a criticism and I think Liu manages to explore this idea quite well.

I think it would benefit readers to have a basic understanding of 20th Century Chinese history, in particular to understand the impact of academics but it isn't essential.

This book is very much in the 'hard SF' category which the reader will either like or not. If I'm being honest most of this just washed right over me. It is SCIENCE BABBLE which I found quite difficult to follow at times - I felt well and truly physiced to death.

At the heart of the book is a virtual-reality computer game called '3body'. Essentially this is a game where the players attempt to solve the 'three-body problem' - what I can gather it's a mathematical problem trying to understand the patterns of movement in relation to each other of three celestial bodies. In this case a planet is in the orbit of three separate suns with it's unpredictable sequences of ecological destruction. This is mirroring the experience of the alien civilisation in contact with Earth. My gosh, these chapters were ridiculously hard for me to follow and to be blunt - boring.

The central characters too are quite simply boring and forgettable. With the exception of a plucky and perceptive police detective Da Shi pretty much every other character is one dimensional, unsympathetic and forgettable. It could be argued that something may be lost in translation but I'm not so sure. Despite what may be written and verbalised the characters are devoid of passion and interest.

So, there are flashes of a good novel in here but not enough to make me want to read more of the series. Quite disappointing.