[Book Review] The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem / Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Powell's Books)

A secret project born during China's Cultural Revolution, and some of the brightest minds of the generation locked inside, by choice or for lack of any other option, watching the skies.  Today echos of actions taken still ring, shaking the foundations of belief for the worlds' greatest physicists as the rules of reality seem to have bent, and intellectuals are drawn into the puzzling game Three Body.  Meanwhile an alien race living on an doomed planet with three suns has launched a fleet.  Some herald them as the saviors of humanity, some as the doom.


The Three-Body Problem is a fascinating and complex book, but one that I slogged through.  The story is very heavy in detail and exposition, delivering very rich settings and environments possibly at the cost of the narrative.

The novel itself is fascinating to read, drawing on a social & political history that is in many ways alien to myself as an American.  Regardless of efforts to read works by authors from around the world, most of the Science Fiction that I read is from the United States.  Very hard science (at least on the Earth side, I'm a little less convinced of the Trisolaran science), with philosophical discussions about physics and mathematics, which makes sense considering the main characters and the nature of the three-body problem.

The story moves backwards more than forward, creeping through the 'current' timeline of the narration, and then jumping back through revelation of past action or involvement.  These revelations are where we are finally handed all the pieces to understand what is going on, why these people are connected.

I also used this for the May bookclub pick, and there's definitely a lot of interesting material in the story.

Discussion fodder:
  • Destruction of nature (deforestation during the Cultural Revolution, pesticides in Silent Spring, harvesting of the replanted forest, extinction of species) and the destructive force of nature (the three-body problem faced by the Trisolarans) comes up repeatedly, how does it influence the characters and the plot?
  • How do you think a sudden disruption of the laws of physics would affect the world the life of those who study it?
  • Shi Qiang says that the entire history of humankind has been fortunate, that from the Stone Age until now, as a race, we haven't experienced any true crises.    Do you agree?  What about his prediction that a crisis is coming?
  • What do you think of the game Three Body?  Would you have continued to play?
  • How do you think that human societies would be influenced by contact with extraterrestrial intelligence?  Would it exacerbate cultural conflicts as predicted?
  • What do you think about the social divisions between the groups heralding the arrival of the Trisolarans?  What about the reasons that they look forward to the invasion?
  • Do you think it's surprising how many people abandoned all hope in human civilization, seeking salvation from the Trisolarans?
  • What do you think of the science of The Three-Body Problem?
  • Would you have been able to resist responding, if only to verify that the communication received was actually extraterrestrial in nature?
  • Evans calls his ideology "Pan-Species Communism," that all lives are equal.  Would you say it's aptly named, or feasible?
  • What do you think about the social structure of Trisolaris?  How are the Trisolaran's similar to us?
  • Da Shi points out that regardless of all our technology, insects persevere.  Do you think that even if humanity is just "bugs" to the Trisolarans, that as a race we have a chance?
Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

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