Book Review: The Three-Body Problem
The Three-body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu), Three Body
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.
I have had my eye on this book for quite sometime now, and luckily Head of Zeus published this book early 2015 and were kind enough to surpise me with a review copy. I have been a long time fan of Science Fiction and this genre comes in many forms. The Three-Body Problem is however in a bit of a league of its own when it comes down to how Cixin Lui uses several tropes in the story. Cixin Liu focuses on the science in the fiction in The Three-Body Problem, and also isn't afraid to involve emotional and dramatic scenes as well, thereby creating a well versed story. In one word. Brilliant.
When it comes to the start of the story it is quite something different that I would have guessed, this is what got me really interested in the story. The Three-Body Problem, begins with a heavy focus on the 1960's and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This introduction was to be honest a bit shocking, I don't know how well it relates to the real things but there is always that grain of truth so I can only imagine. After this introduction the focus is on Ye Wenjie, she lost her father in the introduction as he stuck with his own believes in science. Forced to choose a life lived via the rules of the Chinese government to take place in a secret project or undergo the same fate as her father Ye Wenjie takes the former. The story of Ye Wenjie makes up for the first narration. The second one is shown by Wang Miao and takes place in the modern day. Wang Miao is a top research scientist focused on the field of nano technology. News reaches him that more and more unexplainable suicides are happening and he gets pulled into the investigation. Wang Miao discovers that a group called The Frontiers of Science. Pressured by Shi Quang, a police officer, Wang Miao is to investigate The Frontiers of Science. Here Wang Miao finds out that weird things have been happening in the fundamental research that defies everything. Furthermore a lot of the scientists that have committed suicide all started playing a video game. A video game that is called Three Body. If you are in an investigation there is only one thing to do, Wang Miao one day logs into Three Body. This brings me to the third narration of the book. Three Body is a MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), in this game seasons are switched between chaotic era's and stable era's. The stable era's allow for civilization to build and the chaotic era's make them fall... Currently the games already stand at game 180 but no one ever achieved to make it last. In the beginning of this all Three Body sounds like an innocent but quite addictive video game. And Wang Miao tries it out a couple of times. When he again gets further in his investigations he comes across the organization known as the Adventist. Now it becomes clear what the bigger picture of it all is. Aliens. The Three Body games closely represents the Trisolaran world, who thus faces a Three-Body problem. They have been using humanity for their own advantage. Now, I think a lot of people would be pleased if problems got solved, however, the Trisolarans haven something different in mind. They need a new planet to live. And in the whole galaxy as we know it, Earth is most suited for life... The ending statement of the book. You're bugs, as said by the Trisolarans, says enough.
I must admit that the layout and build up of the story might not make it a book for everyone. The start is a bit slow and delves into history of the Cultural Revolution. But there are definite points in the book where Cixin Liu picks up the pacing bit by bit. This is especially achieved by the discoveries that Wang Miao makes during his investigation. Added to this comes the Three Body game itself. As I mentioned is seems as a videogame but soon proves to be much more. There is a steep learning curve when it comes down to finding what the game is and how several things work, but for me this really was just a trigger to keep on reading and find out the details of it all.
For the characters of the book, I was taken by how carefully they reflected us. Ye Wenjie who saw her father being murdered in front of her eyes. This fact immediately makes you feel sorry for her and sympathize with her hard life, when she is forced to participate in a secret operation. But sometimes people can deceive, and this is the case with her, I won't tell what but you will go from wishing that Ye Wenjie had a simpler and easier life to, oh no she didn't. Quite a remarkable change in her character. And the best thing about this is that you see the gradual transition of this. As for Wang Miao, he is a smart guy, a really smart guy. He won't rush anything, even when he need to. Wang Miao always takes in pros and cons and weighs them together to come to the best judgement, really what you would expect of a scientist. I liked his reasoning a lot and that he took quite some challenges to get where he got. Directly contrasting to Wan Miao's character is that of Shi Quang, the police officer. Shi Quang is a bomb to go off, pressuring Wang to act and look deeper, and this relation doesn't always go that well...
The world building in The Three-Body Problem is a definite feat. From showing the 1960's with the ongoing revolution down to the modern day with Wang and what happens in the Three Body video game AND with the Trisolarans it's is all amazing stuff. There is a lot of information coming at you and sometimes it is brought to you in a less if more kind of way where you just have to accept things or stick with it and get the explanation later on, I know this can frustrate some people, but I always see this as a way to let you own imagination run that extra bit free then normal.
The bottom line is: The Three-Body Problem is a book that you must have read, whether you are a Science Fiction fan or not. Cixin Liu tackles so many different topics from action, thriller and a strong emotional backdrop. In essence this is a Hard Science Fiction story but with a lot more hiding behind several curtains. Ken Liu translated this book from Chinese to English and I think he did a great job. The writing style is really good and there aren't any irrularities that I discovered. I cannot imagine what effort it must have cost to translate such an epic story to English but it paid off really well.
I found out that just today The Three-Body Problem won the Hugo Award for best Science Fiction book. More than well deserved if I may say so myself. A great performance.