The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu


Science FictionThe Three-Body Problem by Cixin LiuTranslated by Ken Liu

(All character names in this review will be written in the Chinese style, surname then given name, as the author put them in the original language.)

During the Cultural Revolution in China in the late 1960’s, Ye Wenjie watches her father die at the hand of the Red Guards. Although Ye has a degree in astrophysics, she is one of the many educated and rich who are sent to work in the farm lands and agricultural regions. Ye is sent north to the Greeater Khingan Mountains to help with the lumbering there. On top of the mountain is the Red Coast Base, an isolated building with satellite dishes and air space vibrations that repels wildlife and birds. When Ye gets involved in a publication that is labeled seditious, she is banished to the station with no contact with the outside world.

Fifty years later the Cultural Revolution is only a black spot in China’s history. Now their leading scientists are committing suicide. Wang Miao is a researcher in nanomachines. His team has starting some basic building with the goal of a possible geosynchronous tower that can be built into space (see Arthur C. Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise for a full explanation).  Wang is pulled in by an international team investigating these deaths. There is an world wide society called the Frontiers of Science. The dead scientists belonged to the society. This team want Wang to join the group and give them any information he can learn that would help them discover what is really happening.

One of the dead scientists was Ye’s daughter. Wang visits Ye to see if he can discover why her daughter gave up on science and killed herself. He also is introduced to a virtual reality game called Three-Body. Nobody knows who sponsors the game. He logs in out of curiosity. There’s something about the scenario that keeps pulling him back. Eventually he learns how the video, the Frontiers of Science, and Ye are connected. Wang also learns the implications for Earth’s future.

Cixin Liu is a famous science fiction writer in China whose work is now being translated into English. The Three-Body Solution is the first of a trilogy that is getting wonderful reviews. It’s hard science fiction with a twist of the fantastic.

I enjoyed Liu’s overall story. I waded through the math and science when they were the focus of the novel. When I understood it and the three-body problem the book started to come together. Even so, I don’t care as much for the “hard” science fiction as much. I get mired down and the book drags.

The last third of the book is a surprising twist. The first two thirds build up to it but readers don’t know where it’s going until Liu takes them there. It’s that twist that may pull me back to the second book of the trilogy.

The Three-Body Solution is translated into English by Ken Liu. Ken Liu adds an afterword explaining how he worked very diligently to get the tones and essence of the book into English without adding too much explanation. But the footnotes that are in Cixin Liu’s novel are very helpful to those of us who don’t know the Chinese culture. I was glad for them.

When I was mired in the math and physics of The Three-Body Solution, I dozed off. When I was reading the parts of the novel that dealt with the characters, their actions, feelings, and consequences, I got caught back in.

Notice: Non-graphic violence

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