Review – The Three Body Problem – Liu Cixin

The Three Body Problem

Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #41. The Three Body Problem, another translated novel, is by a Chinese author who has written this trilogy over the course of a few years and only recently had them published in English, making this review possible. Thank you information age!

The Three Body Problem (ding, 16) is one of those rare novels which get confused with movies in the subconscious. I woke up the day after I finished half this novel, head full of insane dreams about aliens and universe-shattering philosophies, and thought to myself “whoa, what Christopher Nolan film did I read last night?” I was given a rude awakening when I realised I had left the book on my bed, and had managed to kick it to the floor when I arose, about to embark on an epic quest to find the DVD cover and plaster posters over my wall. Because T.B.P (again, that title is just balls) does that to your mind. Characters are important, the plot is fantastical, and the concepts will blow your brain. It’s at the start of the hard end of science fiction, which although doesn’t mean that it’ll ruin you for re-watching the Star Wars original trilogy over the weekend, it’ll mean you pick it apart a bit more.

And phwoar. What a plot! The book revolves (can’t stop won’t stop) around a physics problem called the three body problem, and tells the story of a solar system which has three suns, called (unimaginatively) Trisolaris. Since the Cultural Revolution in China (a big setting in the book, which hops back and forth between then and the present day) humanity has known about the existence of these aliens, and a cult is established which praises the alien race and begins to recruit open-minded people to repopulate the earth after the aliens cleanse it of all human life (yeah, and that’s not even the spoilery bit). So our hero (he’s an utter nerd) stumbles across the videogame which is used as a recruitment tool by the crazy psychos who want the world to end. And that’s only in the first half of the book!

Action scenes (when they do play out, which is not very often) are choreographed like a massive ballet, and are tense and gripping. Concepts are explained simply, and without condescension. All the characters are amazingly real, and feel like actual humans with human emotions. The time skips are infrequent, so you don’t lose the thread of what’s happening, and they merge perfectly, to the point where the past is revealed just as it is necessary for the present to develop the plot. For a translated novel, the style is amazing. It retains the feeling of being written in a foreign language, while simultaneously being riveting and articulate. Kudos to the translator.

And never, ever have I felt so small while reading a book than this novel. I had a copy with me as I was flying international back from a holiday, and midway through the flight I reached the part where the universe’s cosmic radiation spikes as Wang Miao watches it through radiation goggles, and I took a moment to stare at the horizon from 30 thousand feet up. The horizon curved to my side as I literally saw the curvature of the earth, and I have never, before or since, thought so deeply of my insignificance on this tiny, blue planet.

The Three Body Problem was published in English in 2014 by Tor Books. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – The Three Body Problem – Liu Cixin