Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

During the madness of China's Cultural Revolution, a young physicist is exiled to a remote and secretive installation in the Khingan Mountains. There, she sends a desperate message to the stars. Years later, a scientist working with cutting-edge nanotechnology is troubled by unsettling visions and finds himself drawn into a strange video game set on the chaotic and alien world of Trisolaris. A war is coming, and it seems like science itself will be the first to fall.

The Three-Body Problem is a slow-burning and absorbing hard science fiction novel that is all the more chilling for its matter-of-fact tone. The standout aspect of this book for me was the plot. Nothing makes sense at first - there's no info-dumps here, only small hints -  but I quickly found myself absorbed as the the two narratives interweaved ever more tightly and more and more of the mystery was revealed. The world-building, too, was fascinating. Not so much Earth but Trisolaris - an intriguing and complex alien world completely unlike our own. 

While the absorbing plot and the rich world-building drew me in, I found the characters disappointing. The Three-Body Problem is clearly a story driven by plot and the characters do little more than get swept up in it. They also lack emotional depth. This may be a deliberate choice - the book has a matter-of-fact and formal tone which echoes the hard science behind it - or may be due to the Chinese writing style. Either way, I would have liked to have seen more emotional depth because I love to read about complicated characters facing difficult decisions.

At its heart, The Three-Body Problem is an absorbing science fiction book with a heavy emphasis on the science and a chilling mystery at its core. It asks difficult questions about who controls the direction of scientific progress, and the role of culture and politics in shaping science. I don't read a lot of hard science fiction - a lot of it goes well over my head - but this book has convinced me to read more.

Recommended For: Fans of hard science fiction who like their science fiction with a heavy dose of science fact

Read On: The next book in the trilogy is The Dark Forest. Another science fiction book crammed full of science fact include Seven Eves by Neal Stephenson.