Title: The Three Body Problem
Author: Cixin Liu
Series? Yes, 1 of 3.
I received this book from Harper Voyager Australia in exchange for an honest review.
One of the first things you’ll learn about me is that I detest physics and maths, I have absolutely no mental aptitude for it. This is one of the first things you’ll see when you Google The Three Body Problem:
I.e. DO. NOT. WANT. However, I found that the book was surprisingly engaging and accessible despite its deep rooted background in theoretical physics. Here’s why!
The book follows two protagonists and timeline:
- Ye Wenjie, a physicist who watched her father persecuted and murdered during China’s Cultural Revolution during the 1970s, and
- Wang Miao, a scientist researching nanofibre technology in present day. He’s recruited by the police to investigate a group of scientists. The reason? Many scientists around the world have started committing suicide,
Ye’s story is the driving force of this book, watching her father’s execution for the crime of intelligence and progress has changed her fundamentally. Her narratively examines humanity and the price we pay for scientific progress, it questions whether it’s all worth it.
“It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.”
Next to Ye, Wang is a slightly duller protagonist. Through his eyes we are able to slowly uncover the rest of Ye’s story, as well as immerse in the titular Three-Body Problem. Unfortunately, Wang is a bit of a blank slate, however, I did enjoy slowly seeing how he i) goes through the Three Body Game – I found myself cheering for him whenever he advanced in the game and ii) his story (and really, the story of the larger world) connects to Ye’s narrative.
THE BOOK IS AN UNRAVELING PUZZLE
In addition to the fun I had piecing together the whole storyline from the interchanging narrative, I also really enjoyed the virtual reality world: 3body.net – that Wang entered. The game’s objective is to save a civilisation on a planet governed by the gravitational pull of three separate gravitational entity, resulting in very turbulent landscape where apocalypses are dime-a-dozen. The civilisation goes through hundreds literally hundreds of cycles, always to meet crushing demise in the end.
“In the face of madness, rationality was powerless.”
The Three Body world was also delightfully trippy. We had cameos ranging from Isaac Newton, to the first Emperor of China, in ways that completely defies logic and geography. I found the collection of all these figures and how the fuss over the Three Body Problem highly amusing, they were the best part in this book!
Also, you know the book’s got me good every time I fist bump whenever Wang advances to the next level in the Three Body Game! Propriety in public spaces be damned!
Along with being a puzzle falling into place, this book also made me curious about theoretical physics, something my university lectures never managed to achieve. I went off to watch a couple of YouTube videos while reading this book, and I feel appropriately proud of myself *chest puffs up*. The last time this happened was after I watched The Theory Of Everything XD! Yay for entertainment that makes you smarter!
IT UNDERSTANDS THE MADNESS THAT IS SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
“The creation myths of the various peoples and religions of the world pale when compared to the glory of the big bang.”
This is a short point but I have to put it in here. As someone who’s dabbled in a little bit of research in my University days, I completely understand where the scientists in this book are coming from! Modern science requires almost religious faith. Anyone who’s ever done research will understand the frustration of seeing those random data, and the pains of trying to make sense of them. Gah! Thinking back on those dark days toiling in a University research lab makes me want to pull out my hair. The Three Body Problem addresses that, and delves into it even more – in a terrifying but relatable way.
BONUS: IT’S THE FIRST CHINESE SCIFI TO BE TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
I am so excited this book seem to be doing fantastically, because I want to believe it’ll open doors for other books to be translated and thrown into my eagerly awaiting paws. I have a list of C-fantasy I would love to see translated into English! Being able to see science fiction that’s grounded in another country and through slightly different eyes is bloody fascinating, I also adored Ken Liu’s translation. Kudos to him for being able to translate such a jargon-heavy book while still keeping the flowing, memorable proses.
The sequel is due out this month, and the Chinese blogosphere seems to be unanimous on saying that the second book blows the first out of the water. At the ending of this book, the plotline is on the verge of something HUGE, needless to say, I am fairly excited!
Overall, The Three Body Problem was completely unique, with the power to make you question your current reality. I recommend it to everyone who’s looking for a fresh take on scifi! Don’t be scared off my the maths and the physics, I am possibly the least qualified person in the world out there, and I still thoroughly enjoyed it!