THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM – Cixin Liu (2007, translation 2014)

The Three-Body ProblemThis first book of the Three-Body trilogy isnt’s so much SF set against the backdrop of Chinese history, but rather the reverse: a book about the history of the Cultural Revolution seen through the eyes of scientists. It takes quite some time before it turns into SF. If it weren’t for the dust jacket blurb, you wouldn’t really know this had anything to do with aliens until about page 270 (of 390 pages), and only the final 60 pages are what could be called full blown SF – luckily of the thrilling, mind-blowingly epic kind. But this long build up doesn’t matter, because it’s an excellent story, and it is the first part of three: Liu Cixin really takes his time to set things up, and that pays off. The book has real depth and attention to detail, both character as science wise.

The Chinese dimension is really interesting. One gets insider insight in the madness of the revolutionary era. I’m surprised a book that is this critical was allowed to be published in China itself. It only proves that my understanding of China is very limited, and reading this opened up things a bit.

Parts of the book are devoted to the world of an online game, and that has a kind of magical realism feel to it – almost a mythical, Wolfeian kind of storytelling. It reminded me a bit of the sequences of Reynolds’ House Of Suns devoted to a virtual reality game, and its theme is partly the history of science itself: Stephenson’s Baroque cycle popped in my mind at times too. It’s intriguing and harrowing. Very good stuff.

The last part of the book owes a lot to ecological themes. In a sense, this book deals with the same questions and problems that Dune‘s Leto tried to solve with the Golden Path.

The prose is strangely detached and at times very beautiful. The narrating voice is more fluid than in most Western books, and that makes for an interesting read too.

I can’t wait to read the 2nd volume – which promises to be much more SF. The series as a whole should undoubtedly become classic. The Three-Body Problem is highly recommended. Mandatory reading.

originally written on the 16th of February, 2015

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