I very much enjoy translated works from all over the world in part because it feels like I’m getting a bird’s eye view into various aspects of another culture. Also, I enjoy a good work of science fiction from time to time. Well – I struck gold on both counts with The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin which won the Hugo Award in 2014, was nominated for the Nebula in 2015 a-and (ta-da!) also won the Galaxy Award which is the heavy-duty Chinese science fiction prize a few years ago (when it was first published there).
I usually listen to sci-fi and I’ll bet this would have been a great listen, but up here in Dakota-land I have precious little listening time. Furthermore, it was selected by a group and I can’t just postpone listening until I get home. I will be listening to the next two books in the series though – you betcha! (at home)
The Three-Body Problem
by Liu Cixin
2008 / 399 pages (Kindle)
rating: A+ / sci-fi
translated by Ken Liu
Book 1 of “Remembrance of Earth Past”
The narrative starts in China during the 1960s when the Cultural Revolution was at its height and academia was in peril. Ye Wenjei, the daughter of a family of doomed physicists, is left at the mercy of the Red Guard and she is sent to a camp in the northern mountains. There she wonders about a certain “Radar Peak” which she sees often and a friend gives her a copy of the book Silent Spring (Rachel Carson – 1962). She is found guilty of even having the book, is arrested and sent to a top-security military base which is focused on contacting extra-terrestrial life. She becomes involved.
Next thing we know the setting is current era and Wang Miaow, a nanomaterials researcher, is visited by the police and two scientists. Other scientists are dying – perhaps committing suicide for some reason. One suicide note says, “There is no physics.” Then Wang starts to see numbers on film negatives, in front of his eyes, elsewhere. It’s apparently a countdown with about 50 days to go. Wang’s own projects have been interfered with and the security agency want his help with a spy project. His own project is put on hold which seems to stop the countdown. Wang then visits the home of his friend who explains the “three-body problem” of physics and perhaps related to what’s happening in the world at the moment.
Wang is introduced to a computer game called Three-Body and wearing appropriate head gear and body suit is transported into a full immersion world in ancient China. Wang plays this game through several chapters and it demonstrates the history of the earth or somewhere as well as a number of science and technology problems. Very imaginative and with sound research backing it up.
The narrative alternates between the current day with Wang’s “history and science games” plus a couple more deaths and the 1970s with Ye Wenjei at the military base. Eventually the plot breaks free and we find that extraterrestrial life has been contacted and there are two factions of humans, those who want them to come and save the earth and those who are totally opposed to the alien forces coming. These two factions are essentially at war with each other in their mutual desire to save the earth.
This is great stuff -Liu Cixin has definitely created a believable world including technology, physics, quite a lot of history with excellent suspense and a wee bit of interpersonal relations. I’m sure folks who are more knowledgeable about the scientific aspects will get more out of it than I did, but I found myself smiling and really enjoying the science and technology as well as the way it was all woven into a very imaginative plot.