Book Thoughts: The Three-Body Problem
Author: Cixin Liu
Year: 2008 Released as a book, English translation released 2014
I really don’t understand the overwhelming love some people have for The Three-Body Problem. It is an okay book. There’s nothing particularly terrible about it, but there’s nothing great about it either. The bones of a great story are there, poking from just beneath the surface, but it never materializes as it is constantly being buried under unnecessary details. I’m no stranger to dense Sci-Fi being a fan of David Brin and Peter F. Hamilton, but this book is a far cry from those in both story structure and science content. As an alternate history story it reads more like an episode of the X-files, and I don’t mean one of the good episodes.
Out of all the characters introduced in this book only a couple matter. Yes, I understand that seems like a bold statement. The myriad of characters introduced do very little to advance the story and are mainly included as a means of fleshing out motivations. Half of them only appear in Ye Wenjie’s past and are all dead in the books present time period. The other half have been introduced through their interactions with Wang Miao. These interactions fall into two categories; “This person may know more you should talk to them.” And “What are these mysterious people talking about.” And then there are aliens.
The book starts during China’s Cultural Revolution during which Ye Wenjie’s father, a physicist and professor, is killed for not conforming to the new ideology. Her sister, a high school student and Red Guard member, is killed in the inter faction fighting and her mother commits suicide out of guilt for supporting the revolutionary authorities. Ye Wenjie decides to take a position in a worker’s camp far from any of the political centers and works with a logging team trying to put behind her everything that happened to her family. While on the logging team she meets a man and gets caught up in some politics. This leads to her working in a top secret military communications base where she hooks up with a former student of her fathers, and they later marry. While at the base Ye Wenjie intercepts an alien signal and responds to it in secret. She pledges to help the aliens, the Trisolarans, in taking over the Earth since she feels all the worlds governments are corrupt. It takes several chapters, many flashback sequences, and walls of text to get this much information out of The Three-Body Problem.
Wang Miao is a nanotechnology researcher who gets dragged into the story because his research could be dangerous to the Trisolaran invasion and he has a tentative connection to a member of the secret society attempting to lay the foundation for the alien arrival. He spends most of his time playing a computer game titled, you guessed it, The Three-Body Problem. Upon solving the mystery of the game Wang Miao is invited to join the elites of the secret society and learns the truth about the aliens and their invasion plans. He learns about Ye Wenjie’s background, the secret military communications base, and the strange artificial intelligence the aliens have sent to Earth. All of this could be told in a much more concise manner than is managed.
Finishing this book was quite a task. I just could not bring myself to care about most of the discussion or the characters. At the end of the day it made no difference to me whether or not they all died as they were either generally unlikable or so shallow as to not be missed. The aliens were somewhat interesting and to think that there is a secret organization working to pave the way for extraterrestrial invasion was compelling, but the execution was lacking. It’s tempting to blame this on translation issues, but that would not excuse the story or lack thereof. The author seemed preoccupied on the Cultural Revolution and how it was so terrible that of course this person would rather have aliens take over the world. This led to very little time spent on the sci-fi premise of this book. All of the relevant background for Ye Wenjie could have been covered in a few pages, but instead we get her biography and a few pages on the alien invasion. Out of the entire three hundred plus pages of this book the most interesting thing was the fact that you can weigh unknown objects in order to determine whether or not they are nuclear bombs.