The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
This is book one of the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” triology.
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How strongly I recommend this book: 8/10
The Book in Three “Sentences”
- Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a scientist is drawn into a conspiracy involving a computer game and an old research station and extra-terrestrial life.
- Do we really want to contact other civilizations? If you had the chance to pull the plug on the human race, would you?
- Is science truly objective and provable, or is it simply the best we can do given our limited understanding of four dimensions?
When this book was first published it earned nominations for the Hugo and Nebula awards. This is definitely adult science fiction. As the characters search for extraterrestrials, some force is trying to destroy the roots of human science and technology by killing scientists or driving them to suicide. This becomes even more strange as a virtual reality game called The Three-Body Problem, which can only the most brilliant scientific minds can hope to beat.
The beginning of the book is embedded in a culture and political system dramatically unfamiliar to most of what I know. The text is conveniently illuminated with footnotes courtesy of translator Ken Liu.
The value of basic science is an omnipresent question in this book. The book asks whether culture and public opinion should be able to shun or repress science. Ask we see portions of society question or reject science, it is interesting to see this author extrapolate on these positions and beliefs.
The NPR review of the book suggests the book asks the question: At what point does science become dogma, and what point does that same dogma become religion? Cixin Liu doesn’t pose that question so much as let it play out in a sweeping drama that risks the highest stakes imaginable — and some that can barely be imagined at all.
This is hard science fiction, with long technical passages on a variety of subjects (quantum mechanics, artificial intelligence) and the connective tissue of a strong action-based thriller. As the book is world-building, it takes time to build up. In addition, at times the thread between elements is a bit hard to follow. As such, it feels like you’re lost at times. If you stick around, it is gripping and will pull you into the next two books.
Lastly, it is important to note the cultural significance of this text as it is written by a leading Chinese sci-fi author as nations consider who will control the technological frontier and ultimately our futures.
Who Should Read This?
This book was equal parts The Last Starfighter, The Martian, and/or Ready Player One, mixed with some classic sci-fi you’d read from Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven. The Three-Body Problem is the first book in the trilogy and a good starting point for the remaining two books.
If you like sci-fi…you’ll definitely enjoy this.
Notes & Quotes
According to Wikipedia, in physics and classical mechanics, the three-body problem is the problem of taking the initial positions and velocities of three-point masses and solving for their subsequent motion according to Newton’s laws of motion and Newton’s law of universal gravitation.
“Should philosophy guide experiments, or should experiments guide philosophy?”
“Theory is the foundation of application. Isn’t discovering fundamental laws the biggest contribution to our time?”
“At the same time, they want to ruin science’s reputation in society. Of course some people have always engaged in anti-science activities, but now it’s coordinated.”
“Everyone is afraid of something. The enemy must be, too. The more powerful they are, the more they have to lose to their fears.”
“All the evidence points to a single conclusion: Physics has never existed, and will never exist. I know what I’m doing is irresponsible. But I have no choice.“
The following video review of the full trilogy identifies this as the “most horrifying science fiction series of all.” Please note…spoilers exist.
“The study of the deep structure of matter is the foundation of the foundations of all other sciences. If there’s no progress here, everything else—I’ll put it your way—is bullshit.”
Photo by Manouchehr Hejazi on Unsplash