“Even if God were here, it wouldn’t do any good. The entire human race has reached the point where no one is listening to their prayers.”
Author: Cixin Liu
Category: Science Fiction
Series: Remembrances of Earth’s Past #1
Begininning against a backdrop of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and spanning to modern day, The Three-Body Problem is a hard science fiction book that asks some difficult questions about humanity and its behavior over the past century.
The Three-Body Problem was originally written in Chinese and so has been translated into English. The translator, Ken Liu, makes a note at the end of the book regarding the difficulties in translating this book as there are different narrative expectations between the two cultures. Knowing this did make the parts of the book that were a little more difficult to get through more bearable.
This book was just so dry! There was a heavy focus on the science presented. Pages and pages of scientific exposition. While this is kind of expected in a science fiction book, it was so detailed that for someone that who might optimistically say that they have a very basic grasp of physics it got a point where I just couldn’t follow along at all and just hoped for a summary of what it all meant at the end of the scene.
While there was a lot of attention to detail on the science side of things, there was almost no characterization at all. Da Shi an Ye Wenjie were just about the only characters that I felt like had any sort of personality at all. The character with whom we spend the most time, Wang Miao, has about the same personality as wet cardboard.
Knowing that there are different expectations in narratives in Chinese culture though, it is hard to fault the book at all for the focus on the plot/science rather than the characters. If this is what is what the intended reader looks for in a science fiction story, then I have no doubt that it blew them away. In an odd way, while this made the book a little more difficult to get through, it was also fascinating to consider the differences between Chinese and Western tastes in literature.
In that same vein, the story having such a focus on the Chinese Cultural Revolution was also fascinating. I know next to nothing about Chinese history so while I knew that the Cultural Revolution was a thing, everything else presented in the story was entirely new.
One of the things that made the book hard to get through though was not knowing for most of the book exactly where this was all going. The synopsis says something about an alien invasion but all the information given in the story for quite a bit into it does not look like it at all. There is a bunch of facts and “clues” that make no sense at all until reveals about 2/3rd.
When those reveals do come in the story gets good. And that is all there is to say on that. :)
While the style of narrative and the focus on science rather than characters moving the plot forward made it a little hard to get through at times, The Three-Body Problem’s examination of humanity and its behavior in the past century and whether or not we should continue to have faith in it was incredibly thought-provoking.
The VR video game chapters were easily my favorite of this series. I had a bit of trouble with it at times just because it stretched my imagination a little thin at time (like the human computer…) but overall I really enjoyed the concepts that it presented.
I am not sure if I will continue this series or not. I am interested in seeing where it all goes but I was pretty worn down by the heavy exposition structure of the story. If nothing else, this book has inspired me to make reading more Chinese history more of a priority.
Getting to see sci-fi from another culture’s perspective was interesting. Whether it was the authors style or the style of Chinese narration, this book is very straight forward.
The focus on the details and the overall story is something I am not usually intresed in. Don’t get me wrong, there has to be a good plot, but I definitely lean more towards character driven stories. The plot was strong enough later in the book that instated interested throughout. Not to mention a character played in full suit VR! I have been dreaming of that since middle school.
If you are not scientifically inclined, there are parts that will bore you. It dives deep into the science and does not hold your hand. To some this will be fine, to others like me, you will be waiting for something interesting to happen.
The parts with the game and the ending are what keep from not liking this book. While I am interested in what comes next, it is not something I am on the edge of my seat for.