Book Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

“All great sci-fi is: Be careful what you wish for”. ~ Damon Lindelof

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated into English by Ken Liu, is already a classic of modern science fiction. It is the first novel of Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. It is the first Asian novel to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel. Its translator is also a Hugo Award winner.

The story opens during China’s Cultural Revolution—a brutal time during which the Chinese Communist Party struggled to maintain central control after the death of 30+ million people during the Great Leap Forward.

Ye Wenji is a young astrophysics graduate who witnesses her father beaten to death by Red Guards. She ultimately lands in prison but is saved by an opportunity to work with military physicists at a secret Chinese base. A woman of many talents, Ye manages to send an interstellar message that ultimately attracts the attention of an alien civilization. The latter civilization is looking for a new home, as they are struggling in a universe that consists of three solar-type stars orbiting each other in an unstable “three-body problem,” which has wiped out a long succession of intelligent civilizations.

Now, if you are not an astrophysicist and you don’t know what the three-body problem is, here is the video that helped me understand.

Newton’s three-body problem explained – Fabio Pacucci

This year has been defined by growing tyranny, lies, and complex science. For some reason, I was hoping for a bit of an escape. Turning the pages of Liu’s science fiction thriller, I delved into the even more complex science of astrophysics in a world of tyranny, lies, and failing civilizations plus alien invasions. There was no escape—just the reminder that things could be worse. The moral of the story of Ye’s invitation of an alien invasion is a sobering reminder – best to not allow our despair to inspire actions that make matters even worse.

Netflix has acquired the rights to the full series. In his announcement, Netflix Vice President Peter Friedlander reminded us of the passage from The Three-Body Problem, “In my line of work, it’s all about putting together many apparently unconnected things. When you piece them together the right way, you get the truth.”

The Three-Body Problem is an astonishing story with numerous insights into the world in which we live and struggle—insights into what happens to a society facing serious geophysical and economic risks and living with the secrets and divisions such risks create.

Sound familiar?

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Liu Cixin (Wikipedia)

Ken Liu website

The Three-Body Problem (Wikipedia)

2015 Hugo Award