Chinese science fiction making a splash

Written by
Original Chinese language version by Liu Cixin in 2008
English translation by Ken Liu and published in 2014

Literature is a wonderful thing. It can be as cheesy and terrible has a love triangle between a shiny shovel-faced vampire, a girl who only has one face and a boy so affected by gamma radiation that he turns into a werewolf. Alternatively, it can be grand and sweeping, like Lord of the Rings and inspire whole new genres of storytelling. Three Body is, also the first of a trilogy, which takes place in the present and the past, telling a haunting tale about people and motivation.

The story focuses on two main characters, Ye Wenjie, a female astrophysicist who watches, helpless, as her father is beaten to death by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, and develops a hatred for humanity. Then there’s Wang Miao, a scientist working in nanotechnology who somehow gets caught up in trying to untangle the conspiracy wrought by Ye.

I won’t spoil too much of the story, safe to say that it involves an alien invasion and people on both sides who are welcoming and fighting the alien invasion. If you’re wondering, the title refers to the Three Body Problem in mechanics, and runs as a theme throughout the book.

What Three Body does is ask whether there will come a time when someone is drawn into such a pit of despair that they want to take away the power for humanity to make decisions for itself. Others may just say, “screw this, kill everyone and let the dust settle”. Very extreme and frightening motivations. And yet, as the book depicts, it might well be that people in power, those who have influence, are the ones that can set the wheels in motion.

Reading about the Ye Wenjie’s journey through life, her traumas and powerlessness and witnessing a lot of the waste and irrational actions of people, you could probably understand some of her thoughts. But she’s also so shut out of seeing the good in humanity that it made her blind.

The Three Body Problem is a fantastically well written science fiction book. While I might have some issues with elements of the book, especially the aliens involved, it is quite the tale. The rest of the trilogy is currently being translated, and I’m very much looking forward to trying them out.

Rating

A very interesting and thought provoking story.

Read this if you…

Like philosophy dressed up in science lingo, ala Flash Forward.

Don’t read this if you…

Dislike slow burns and heavy scientific concepts.

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