The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

three-body-problem
This highly lauded science fiction book starts with a horrific peak behind the curtain of the Cultural Revolution in China, with the public beating to death of Ye Wenjie’s father. As the blurb puts it, this “singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind.” A fair summary.

What happens next, according to the flow of the book, is that four decades later, nanotech engineer Wang Miao becomes involved with a group of scientists (some of whom have committed suicide) and an online virtual game world that hints at some galactic happenings. That world is the location of the three body problem, a world constantly at risk from the chaotic and unpredictable behavior of its three suns.

The author ties these threads together, writing beautifully at times, with panache and vigor. The translator – Ken Liu – does a great job, supplementing the narrative with suitable explanations of some of the terms, historical references, and other matters alien to a western reader. The book is part of a trilogy, and the general perception is that this is the weakest of the three, but still a fine book. It’s got some interesting ideas, and thoughtful scenarios.

All of that having been said, for me it fell flat. I could not build up any sympathy for the characters, and cared not for their fate. The story unfolded too slowly for me, and was often boring. The scientific narratives were OK, and often turned out to be more enthralling than the plot. The writing may be of the highest quality, but at times it did not go anywhere – at least for me. It was a real struggle to finish.

In short, not my cup of tea, and not one I could recommend.