Translator: Ken Liu
Narrator: Luke Daniels
Published by Macmillan Audio on November 11, 2014 (first published 2008)
Genres: Science Fiction
Length: 13 hrs 26 mins
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Fans of hard SF will revel in this intricate and imaginative novel by one of China’s most celebrated genre writers. In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death.
Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.
Liu impressively succeeds in integrating complex topics—such as the field of frontier science, which attempts to define the limits of science’s ability to know nature—without slowing down the action or sacrificing characterization. His smooth handling of the disparate plot elements cleverly sets up the second volume of the trilogy.
The Three-Body Problem is hard science fiction, in that there’s a lot of science involved. I don’t know where I originally heard about it, probably some “best of sci-fi translations” list, but it’s won a fair number of awards and is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s also hard to talk about without giving away spoilers. But should I worry about that when the blurb itself, not the one above but the official blurb, gives it away too? Do you like spoilers? Do you hate them? They don’t bother me and I honestly sometimes search for them, but I know not everyone feels that way.
The story starts off during China’s Cultural Revolution. Ye Wenjie’s father is killed by the Red Guard and she is eventually shipped off to a remote mountaintop where a government-sponsored group is secretly exploring the possibility of electronic communication with aliens.
Flash forward to the present. Wang Miao, a nanotechnology researcher, has begun seeing a countdown clock everywhere he looks and it’s freaking him out. He also stumbles onto a video game, the titular Three-Body Problem, which simulates a civilization on a planet that has three suns.
We don’t learn about the mega important event that’s on the horizon until about halfway through the book, but this installation in the series is more about how that potential future event affects what people do now. How they see the human race affects how they view the future.
There’s a lot going on. Loyalty and betrayal, hope and revenge, politics and philosophy. It’s also got the big question – should we be searching for extra-terrestrial life and what happens if we find it?
The plot and concepts are the stars. The characters are a little flat and not terribly memorable, the exception being Du Shi, a policeman who is funny and irreverent and provides a bit of the everyman in a cast that consists mostly of scientist, colonels, and rich people.
So this is just the first of the trilogy. I can’t wait to see where the second takes us.
I absolutely love #SciFiJune. It gets me to read all those sci-fi books I see and think look interesting, but never actually get around to reading. This also counts as 4 pts in the COYER Treasure Hunt (book that prominently includes gaming in some way).