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The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth's Past (1)) Hardcover – November 11, 2014
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"Wildly imaginative." ―President Barack Obama
“The War of the Worlds for the 21st century… packed with a sense of wonder.” – Wall Street Journal
“A breakthrough book . . . a unique blend of scientific and philosophical speculation, politics and history, conspiracy theory and cosmology.” ?George R. R. Martin
“Tackles politics, philosophy and virtual reality in a story that moves at a thriller’s pace” – The Washington Post
“Evokes the thrill of exploration and the beauty of scale.” – The New Yorker
“Stunning, elegant…a science-fiction epic of the most profound kind.” NPR
“Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review, on The Three Body Problem
"A must-read in any language.” ―Booklist, on The Three Body Problem
"The best kind of science fiction, familiar but strange all at the same time." ―Kim Stanley Robinson, on The Three Body Problem
About the Author
Ken Liu’s fiction has appeared in F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld, among other places. He is the author of The Grace of Kings, and has won a Nebula, two Hugos, a World Fantasy Award, and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award, and been nominated for the Sturgeon and the Locus Awards. He edited and translated the Chinese science fiction anthology Invisible Planets. He lives near Boston with his family.
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Absolutely zero character development, I mean nothing! Just flat personalities all-round. In fact, I couldn’t begin to emphasise the two-dimensionalism present in this book even if I was blessed with the eloquence of a Joyce or Shakespeare.
Oh, and it might be good to have at least a PhD - no, that is a bit much, make it a Masters in physics - because the amount of academic regurgitation is borderline criminal!
And what the hell is this video game plot all about...are you kidding me?!? Dehydration!?? Utter-Rancid-Rotting-Garbage!!!
To leave my sardonic humour aside for a second, perhaps it really did not translate well from Chinese...similar to how Crazy Rich Asians (also garbage, but entertaining garbage!) was hugely profitable in the US, but an absolute bomb at China’s Box Office.
I’m so alone...someone please help me...please explain how I was led astray by so many?!
There is also rather ... amateur hour writing, which may be due to the translator.
In the book plot, the invariance of physics under translations in time and space has been proved to be wrong at higher energies, and because of this "There is no Physics" and scientists have started killing themselves due to despair. This is nonsense.
In the real world, Particle Physics has gotten rather boring and predictable. Short of some absurd theoretical results at energies that we can't test experimentally, the Standard Model has tremendous explanatory power and has explained all experiments and predicted new results correctly. CERN discovered the Higgs, as expected, but has brought out no new Physics, thus far. This is disappointing. Much, much more exciting would be a field breaking result, (such as a new, previously unknown, variance of Physics in time and space at higher energies). Particle Physics would be fun again.
Similarly, when Wang Miao starts seeing a countdown, instead of jumping to the most likely conclusion (that he is becoming mental ill, and needs outside, non-biased verification of what he is seeing) or that he is receiving messages from some outside intelligence, he starts to go crazy in a very over the top and amateurishly written way.
This series well and truly "blew my mind away". This isn't a page0-turning space opera adventure kind of story. The story is interesting and good, and there is most definitely some drama and entertainment - and the writing is excellent (translation to English is superb). But the main thing for me about this series is that it educated me about physics and really made me look at EVERYTHING through a new lens. The ideas in this book I had never encountered before - and I am a voracious reader. I found this series to be totally original and mind-blowing. There were time where I simply needed to put it down after reading only a short time, in order to simply ponder the ideas presented. I've never had quite an experience like this with a book.
Highly recommend this series. And, make sure you read all three, because each one is better than the last. The last book of the series was my favorite and just absolutely melted my brain. I mean, to the degree where I am questioning my own reality. Yes, it is that good. Really, a mind and perception altering experience.
Above all else the plot, world-building and pacing of the book are completely top notch. To have a hard sci-fi book that is not about space marines and laser guns but still manages to be a page-turner that you can't put down is an amazing achievement! This book represents the best in science fiction. It's about big ideas and examining possibilities. I refuse to discuss the plot but if you have an interest in science and technology and love the hard sci-fi genre, stop reading this review and order the book immediately!
I will provide one disclaimer. If you have no interest in science whatsoever or just lack an aptitude or understanding of it, this book series may not be for you. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to enjoy this book but you probably will need to have at least a baseline understanding of some basic scientific principals and/or a willingness to google some stuff.
Anyway, get it!!
Top international reviews
Like most western readers and film-watchers, I'm very used to aliens always targetting America and the heroes being American - or at a pinch, British - and it felt surprisingly fresh to watch these semi-familiar events unfolding in a Chinese context. I was almost as fascinated at the insight into normal middle class lives in modern China as I was by all the science, science fiction, and history. And I loved the fact that many of the historical, cultural, and literary references were East Asian in origin.
It was the "oooh, a Chinese sci-fi novel, how intriguing," that made me pick this up, but I can't emphasise enough that this book has value far beyond that. The philosophy was thought-provoking and the science was head-spinning. I read a fair amount of sci-fic, but mostly the sort that's heavier on the fiction than on the science, so I'm not sure how clever the physics here was relative to other pieces of hard sci-fi. But with a ten year-old physics A-level, I found I had to concentrate and sometimes got a bit confused, but could follow proceedings.
The plot is really quite slow-burn, and for large swathes of the early and middle sections of the book, there's relatively little action and little really even to make this feel like sci-fi, beyond a few sinister hints and some unexplained mysteries. The first few chapters in particular - set in the Cultural Revolution - are more like historical fiction with a bit of science thrown in. Which is fine by me, as I enjoy that genre too. In the middle, lots of the action occurs via a mysterious virtual reality computer game, aimed at those with expertise in maths, science, philosophy, and history. The world it portrays is disconcerting and it's relevance to the plot in unclear - but ultimately, cleverly resolved. Towards the end, the action picks up, but it's all still focused on earth, humans, and more-or-less realistic science, rather than anything more flamboyant. As an aside, I went straight on to the sequel, where that really isn't the case.
Much as I enjoyed the plot, setting, and ideas, the characters often felt rather thin and two-dimensional, and the conversations between them often felt quite stilted and forced. I'm not sure whether this is due to translation issues, Chinese writing conventions, or the author's own deliberate choice or weakness. At times, it almost threatened to distract me from enjoying the novel, but that was ultimately never the case.
Overall, between the slow pace, the hard science and philosophy and - more negatively - some of the characterisation and dialogue, this isn't always an easy read. But it's ultimately a very worthwhile, interesting, and on balance, enjoyable one, that I'd heavily recommend.
To summarise the book, an eminent scientist is asked to join a global task-force fighting an unknown enemy that is making scientists commit suicide. It turns out the enemy is an alien race, invited to Earth by radical environmentalists (amongst others) despairing of humanity's behaviour.
Perhaps some of the problems are down to the translation - it was apparently done by a friend of the author rather than a professional - and perhaps some are down to the way Chinese novels are written. But in the end you can only review what you read. The major issues? First, the characters are utterly one-dimensional, interchangeable and without any kind of character development. Second, the dialogue is wooden and non-one has any kind of distinct voice. Third, the plot is simply unbelievable. It is just about credible that some humans, seeing their own species as environmentally destructive - might reach out to aliens without finding out what those aliens are actually like. But it is absurd to suggest that highly intelligent scientists around the world would be committing suicide because of strange results in their experiments. It is surely far more likely that most would be intrigued rather than despairing? Fourth, the computer game that the protagonist is drawn into makes no sense whatsoever. It is not a game in any real sense and the claims about its complexity and depth are not match in any way with the actual game as it is described. finally the action scenes are without any kind of suspense or excitement, devoid of interest and realism.
In some ways, this reads like a first draft, something that would then be worked on and revised and edited and worked on some more. Perhaps after that you might end up with something half-decent, that a good editor could knock into some kind of shape. But as it stands it is just strangely bad, in just about every important way.
As the story unfolds the complexity deepens culminating in the bewildering realisation that we have already been infiltrated. The descriptions of the alien technology and capability are truly mind bending and fascinating! Hard Sci-fi encapsulated.
This translation in to English has a postscript by the author where he reveals a little of his personal history and what draws him to the genre. This is a great addition and helps explain some of the socio-political and psychological aspects of the book.
There is also a translator`s postscript. Likewise this is a really good idea for a translated work such as this. I am always a little wary when reading translations and this postscript outlines precisely what I feel and helps to address this issue.
The story itself? I have to say that at times I was reminded of the work of the late, great Iain M. Banks. The aliens are superbly alien, the humans are superbly human. Both sides have moral grey areas, and this book shines its light on them. I have already purchased the second book in this series, to enjoy as my holiday reading.
It is most definitely hard sci-fi, make no bones about it. It delves into various levels of physics theories ranging from orbital dynamics, down to quantum theory, and in doing so doesn't give any preamble or basic intro, for the most part you either get it, or you don't.
The story is structured very well in that until relatively late in the novel you're guessing as to its true message. There are multiple themes explored here, none of them are light and fluffy, and most are interwoven to some extent. The result is quite a dense and sometimes intricate story which you need to push through in the faith that it will all come together, and in that it does.
By the end of the story the various plus and themes resolve themselves very well and you are left with sometimes an uneasy feeling about human hubris, what first contact might actually be like, and the dangers of contact with a more advanced civilisation (which have been week publicised by interviews with Steven Hawking and the likes).
All in all I found it a very satisfying, though at times frustrating read.
Something to note, the footnotes are really good and definitely worth clicking on as you go through. Because this is a Chinese book, many bits are difficult to decipher due to lack of cultural or linguistic context, the footnotes make this much easier.
Definitely would recommend this novel for anyone who is scientifically literate and likes some good hard sci fi. Definitely not for the casual reader though!
This story is hard science fiction in the truest sense, yet retains enough of the unexpected to truly delight the reader. Cannot wait to read part 2.
Its just not very well written.From the characters, trough the story and all the way to how the plot is being advanced....its just not very good. The setting is quite interesting, and the idea is decent/good as well, but anything after the game sequences in the book is just....awful, lacking, and poorly written.
Maybe its the translation, but I doubt it. Way too many instances where characters simply explain their entire personality and motivation directly to you, as if the author is breaking the third wall in the most basic way imaginable.
"I always was a lazy boy but was also super intelligent without giving it a second thought but I never could be bothered to apply myself but then I decided to go to the monks where the head monk was super smart too and gave me an epiphany that motivated me to start working on this thing that is super important for the plot and then this woman found my half-burned notes and figured out instantly that I was working on this giga-complex problem and as it turns out this is very important to her as well so she got me out of the buddhist temple and we got marred even though I am practically dead inside and dont care about these things and now she threatened to kill me'
It would've been fine if this was just single occurrence, but at least two other characters are done in the same manner and it is just painfully bad and cringe-worthy.
Don't bother. Hugo award my arse
But if you were to ask me how it felt Chinese, I would struggle to be specific. There are a few sections where I felt the sentence structure felt rather clumsy - for example, in Chapter 18, (discussing the psychological impact of the virtual reality game that plays a major role in the story) 'All the players, including Wang himself, couldn't bring it up easily'. The meaning is clear, but a more natural way of putting it would be 'None of the players, Wang himself included, could bring it up easily' - or so it seemed to me, at least. I stand ready to be corrected, but in any case these issues were few and far between, and so can't be considered a cause of the 'Chinese flavour'. It's more subtle than that, perhaps something not in the words but in the world view behind them.
The important question though, is did it add or detract from the story? And unfortunately, for me, it detracted. I had no issue with the plot, which was complex but well developed. I found the science fascinating and the glimpses of Chinese life and history intriguing. The characters were variable, some more distinctly portrayed than others, but none in a way that distracted from the story. Yet, overall, the writing had a ponderous feel to it. It was interesting, but never got exciting, and the pace didn't seem to vary.
Is that because this is the Chinese style? Is it the author's personal style? Or is it something I've read into it myself? I have no way of being sure. But the truest test will be, do I want to go on and read the rest of the trilogy? Well, I would like to know what happens and how the world responds to the Trisolarian threat. But I'm certainly not ready to plunge back into it immediately. I'll need to take a break from the writing style for a while. Then, I'll think about it.
I read The Wandering Earth before reading this. That's a short story compilation, and the sketchiness of the characters actually adds to the poetic beauty of the book. In a full length novel this is more of a weakness.
In any case there's imaginative force here. Definitely worth your time, even if you decide its not for you.
THANKFULLY, this is one of the rare cases when one's expectations are not only met, but surpassed. This book is EPIC. It demands both your attention and concentration and rewards both with novel that is at once deeply philosophical and profoundly moving. As lifelong science fiction reader, now novelist (Check out the great anthology "Not So Stories" available now!) this book is a rewarding revelation and is one of the best science fiction novels I've read in over 20 years.
Do yourself a favour and read possibly one of the best science fiction novels in print today.
The characterisation is pretty good, especially of the deeply traumatised central character.
Apart from the cliffhanger ending, my main problem with this is that although there are many ingenious hard-ish SF ideas in here, they make less and less sense the more you think about them; for the central conceit the real-world physics is basically wrong, and some of the characters' motivations don't make much sense if you think about them too much: "but if they could do all that, wouldn't it be a whole lot simpler for them to ..."
If you don't tend to fret about such things but are happy to suspend belief and just go with the flow of a well written narrative, you'll have a good time.
Update on having finished the trilogy: yes, it is worth it. The physics gets pretty implausible as the series goes on, but it's worth it for the payoff in sheer SFnal sense-of-wonder (particularly the final volume, which plays with some pretty ... audacious ... ideas about how the universe came to be the way it is.)
As with the first volume, the remaining two also show a good deal more depth of characterisation than you usually get in concept-heavy SF.
Upgraded my stingy original four stars to a well-merited five.