The Three Body Problem

I don’t read much fiction these days, and I don’t think I’ve written about a fiction work online since … the Internet began. But I can heartily recommend The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Liu offers science fiction on a grand scale, but he sets in in a time and place that we can readily recognize. The book begins in the Cultural Revolution, and introduces the most complex character right at the beginning, Ye Wenjie, who loses everything in a few short hours and must learn to survive in a hostile China. The Chinese ambience continues throughout, with most of the later action of the work taking place in and around Beijing. The book’s male protagonist, Wang Miao, comes across as a successful, 21st century modern Chinese.

One other character that you will meet early in the book is the tough cop, Da Shi. He contrasts sharply with Wang, who is a physicist. Da Shi smokes, drinks, and swears, and he doesn’t have any noticeable social skills. “I’m a simple man without a lot of twists and turns,” he tells Wang. “Look down my throat and you can see out my ass.” As you can readily imagine, when Da Shi shows up some heads are likely going to get punched.

One element of this work that I especially like is that Liu takes his science seriously.51fGDeB1DWL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_ Unlike a lot of science fiction, Liu does not simply invent “science” for the convenience of his fiction (think of the movie Interstellar if you need an example). For instance, space travel takes a long, long time in Three Body Problem—he doesn’t finesse it with some convenient new technology. And he uses contemporary physics pretty aggressively—when characters talk about string theory or nanotechnology or astrophysics, pay attention! That might become important later in the book.

I won’t say anything about the plot. The book sets up a kind of mystery early on, and talking about the action in the book would only spoil it. But the themes of the book include a critical discussion of Communism and of religion (never explicit, in fact, the latter is hardly mentioned) and the scientific outlook on life.

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