Book Review: The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Title: The Three Body Problem

Author: Liu Cixin and Ken Liu (Translator)

Genre: Science Fiction, China

Publisher: Tor Books

Published: November 11, 2014

Page Amount: 400 pages

Goodreads Summary: The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

Why Read:  In my quest to read diverse authors, I found myself uncertain if I wanted to read The Three Body Problem. I love physics, and I certainly love science fiction but Chinese science fiction was something I hadn’t tried yet. As per usual, Book Riot inspired me to try something new. After all, when we expose ourselves to new books and to ideas that might be difficult to understand, we grow.

Review: It is rare that I find or read books these days that really challenge my perceptions of how things are in the world. It’s even rare to find books that are physically challenging to read. The Three Body Problem checked both of those boxes for me. The concept that it worked with, or the “three body problem” is a physics problem, and refers to the issue of trying to find the motion of three bodies in some place or time using the laws of classical mechanics. Hard enough, to place the whole foundation of a science fiction book on a somewhat hard to understand physics dilemma. Add in the issue of Chinese culture and in particular, the backlash of the Cultural Revolution… it was a book that required a lot of patience.

While I was reading it, I sometimes found myself lost or confused about why a certain thing was happening or why a character behaved a certain way. I don’t know whether that’s a function of how it was written or how I culturally had difficulty understanding how a VR (virtual reality) suit worked. Closer to the end of the novel, things became clearer.  But a large part of why I ended up really enjoying the book was that I felt challenged. The book was written towards an audience that understands physics very well, or at least who can understand this one particular problem.

I don’t study physics. Nor am I particularly good at math in general. So a lot of the concepts that were discussed, I felt a need to look up and figure out myself before moving back into Cixin’s fictional universe.

What was also harder to understand was the Chinese way of thinking when it comes to groups vs. individuals. Many of the characters in the novel do act with individual motivations but particularly at the beginning of the novel, the Cixin is describing the mental state and how things were during the Cultural Revolution. We don’t learn about that in school so much, one mention in class here or there – but nothing like the detailed emotional way that it is written about here. That was… that was challenging to read about. Reading about any society that tells its people that education is dangerous is not only frightening, it’s sad. How can any society grow if they can’t invest in education?

So the Three Body Problem? Difficult. Yes. Challenging. Yes. Confusing. Yes. Would I read it again? Probably. I like reading books out of the ordinary from other people’s cultures. It gives me as a reader the chance to jump into the shoes of a different kind of person that I am not and I value that ability. There are two more books in the sequence… so perhaps.

Rating: 4.4/5 Stars

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