Book Review

Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem

I have to admit, I hardly know anything about China. Sure I touched its history and culture during my time at university, but maybe I only know as much about the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath as I know about the consequences of consuming Tide Pods: what if one needs to go through a horribly detrimental and self-inflicted disaster before one can perhaps move to understand the errors of their ways and decide to take a more enlightened path?

Equally frightening and very much in line with the tone of The Three-Body Problem is the relative ease of my comparison between a globally important historical decade and a ridiculous contemporary internet meme. It certainly feels like there is nothing but a bleak future for us humans.

It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.

The Three-Body Problem begins with the backstory of Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist who ends up making a decision which will shape the world in the book irreversibly. Without this background, I imagine it could be quite hard to symphathise with her. I instantly liked Ye, and not only did I sympathise, I empathised. Being the geek that I am however, I was anxiously waiting to get past the history and venture into unfamiliar and breathtaking science fiction. It took a while. And then it delivered.

All the evidence points to a single conclusion: Physics has never existed, and will never exist. I know what I’m doing is irresponsible. But I have no choice.

In the present time, nanotech researcher Wang Miao, is caught up in a military operation against an unknown enemy and is trying to solve a puzzle in an online game that is like no other game anyone has ever played before.

I refused to read the synopsis and kept myself away from spoilers, which is a lot harder than you might expect due to ubiquitous feeds everywhere nowadays—Oh yes, I am most certainly referring to you, Jon Snow. It added an extra level to my reading experience. I was left to my own devices to try and figure things out during Wang’s narrative and it made for a few self-affirming moments when I did before it was spelled out for me.

Without giving too much away so potential readers can also reach their own conclusions, I do want to touch on the central idea of the book: which sociological, philosophical and psychological ramifications could extraterrestrial contact lead to? Regardless of the many theories and apparent conclusions made in any of these aspects and areas, it makes me wonder how one would cope individually? Would you remain hopeful? Or would you descend into utter madness?

Your lack of fear is based on your ignorance.

Lastly, ever since I read a translation of The Lord of the Rings and was left rather disappointed, I have steered away from reading books in anything else but their original language. I felt that to truly appreciate a written work, it has to be savoured with authentic flavours. Yet, I was drawn to this book and maybe it was time to let go of stubborn self-imposed limits and rules. I am glad I did, for Ken Liu showed me that translated work does not always necessarily lead to a loss of richness and meaning.

Leave a Reply