The Three-Body Problem
February 7, 2017 10:01 AM - by Cixin Liu - Subscribe

The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China's most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin. Translated into English by Ken Liu and published in 2014, this novel won the Hugo for Best Novel in 2015.
posted by infinitewindow (18 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
This book freaked me out, which I think is usually a good sign in sci Fi.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:36 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


This novel continues to fascinate me. I read it four months ago and left it with my hosts in Scotland (as is my custom when I stay in people's homes; letting someone borrow a book I enjoy gives me great joy), so I can't quote it directly. Part of what fascinates me is the interplay of 1. stilted dialog 2. passive protagonist 3. big Hollywood-style visual setpieces.

1. I defy North American native English speakers to read this novel out loud. The dialog is stilted and a bit bizarre. You'll laugh in frustration. Here's my theory about why the dialog is the way it is, but I recognize it's more of a rationalization than a hypothesis.

2. I honestly can't remember anything Wang Miao, the nominal protagonist, did actively on his own within the novel. So many peripheral characters get great action and great motivations. (Remember the guy in the beginning who seemed helpful and caring, who comprehensively snitched on Ye Wenjie?) It seems like a deliberate commentary on the actual relative helplessness of people caught up in world-historical events vs. the great-man theory of history. Ye Wenjie, the second-most interesting character to me, is definitely the "great man" and sets into motion the possible destruction of all life on our planet. The most interesting character to me is Big Shi, who if I recall correctly is basically a plot device and almost seems to recognize that fact and laugh at it.

3. But yeah, the Hollywood-style setpieces really dazzled me. It's almost like Liu Cixin dared the movie industry to make a faithful adaptation of his novel. The various in-game dooms of Trisolaris and the nanowire trap at the Panama Canal are begging to be shown on the silver screen. They're so big and so well done that they seemed like they were from another novel—one that was a lot more Western or conventional.

I haven't read the sequels yet. The back flap copy of The Dark Forest again makes the novel sound like a Hollywood SF thriller, but after reading this first in the series, I know that can't be the case.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:34 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


It's interesting to read your take on this book infinitewindow.

I found its hopelessness to be pretty unsettling, but I couldn't quite shake the feeling it was like a Crichton novel.
posted by fleacircus at 9:00 PM on February 7


Starting in on this after I finish Schatzing's The Swarm. It seems like ever since I first heard about it (in an AskMe from a few days ago) it's all I ever hear about!
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:20 PM on February 7


The back flap copy of The Dark Forest again makes the novel sound like a Hollywood SF thriller, but after reading this first in the series, I know that can't be the case.

I've read it and it's great and utterly terrifying.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:29 PM on February 7


I enjoyed the book a whole bunch, but the one image/scene that stuck with me even a year after I've read it has to be the computer made out of soldiers with flags and horses. That was just such an amazing idea and a beautifully constructed image.
posted by Carillon at 11:14 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I've been so intrigued by this book, but I've heard it suffers from a near-total absence of women characters, esp women characters with agency, which is a real deal breaker for me.
posted by smoke at 1:13 AM on February 8


I've been so intrigued by this book, but I've heard it suffers from a near-total absence of women characters, esp women characters with agency, which is a real deal breaker for me.

There's no shortage of women in the books, including a major character in the first book whose very deliberate actions sets up the entire storyline, plus numerous others. And the third book follows a single woman across a huge timespan. Ok, it's hard scifi and most women are scientists and have Chinese names, which is perhaps a bit confusing if you're not used to that and not paying attention, and there may be other reasons the characters won't click for you, but I completely fail to see how someone could argue that they're not there.
posted by effbot at 5:57 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]


I've read the first two of these in the past month and have the third on the way to me from the library. I love the slow and increasingly horrifying unfolding of the plot in both of them. I started off being kind of impatient and wanting it to get rolling, and then by the last third of each book was excitedly trying to explain plot points to my completely uninterested husband. And the imagery! The nanoweb across the Panama Canal is something I will not ever forget.

I've read some criticism about the way women are treated in these books as well and I don't really see it. There is some disturbing obsession & objectification by one of the male characters in the second book, but I don't think we're intended to think it's normal or good.
posted by something something at 7:18 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


Agency is going to be a little weird because the story is kinda about oppression/repression of science and the main characters are all scientists. There's also a major character who is a woman who does some pretty significant actions. It's not notably progressive by gender but gender and agency seem like weird things to single the book out for criticism. Maybe I'm missing something.

I wondered, though how much of this book's popularity comes from the kind of regressive sci-fi fan pushing it, because of some very surfacey aspects. Like the beginning, when the revolutionary leftist girls beat the scientist to death with belt buckles --- just like Tumblr, amirite? And the main female character is sort of conniving, and FUCK YEAH SCIENCE is what should save the world. I didn't read the whole thing through that lens (having grown up in Kansas I know the threat to science and intellectual life in America is not from the left lol), but after I was done I was wondering how much of the buzz about this book was bad puppy buzz.

My favorite parts were the WTF-ness of the vision-clock, the sort of paranoia and gnawing madness of the discovery part. The idea of the unwrapped and re-wrapped AI particles achieving the power of like a magical, malignant invisible but omnipresent thing (much like an ideology); that was all kind of interesting and a little harrowing.
posted by fleacircus at 7:58 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


It has been a while since I read this, but I loved the weird 50's throwback scifi feel of some of the chapters set on the trisolaran world. The growing sense of dread as we discover more about the trisolarans is very well conveyed.

I also really enjoyed seeing the Cultural Revolution from a Chinese prospective. I had assumed that being critical of the Cultural Revolution was still a no-no in China but this book pulled no punches.

One of the rare books that made me immediately want to read the sequel (which I still haven't done).
posted by AndrewStephens at 1:19 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]


This book was a crazy mix of enigmatic character motivations and incredible setpeices, as has been said earlier. It's a great example of how literature can spark the imagination to produce visuals to match anything Hollywood can create. Everything in the video game world, the Panama Canal trap, and the Trisolarans' attempts to create their computer particles are all incredibly fantastic sequences.

That being said, once I finished I had exactly zero desire to continue on with the next books in the series, so I looked up synopses of them and feel that this decision was right for me. It's impossible to say if it's the writing, or the translation, or the foreign culture it's set in, but I had exactly my fill of it, which I personally think is absolutely fine. I'd recommend it, but compared to other books I sought out due to acclaim from various nerd taste-makers (Seveneves comes to mind) it doesn't entirely live up to the hype.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:46 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]


Like Mr.E, this book just didn’t work for me. I wanted to like it & still can’t quite put my finger on why as it ought to have hit all my buttons.
posted by pharm at 2:30 PM on February 9


I liked Three-Body Problem but halfway through The Dark Forest I got bored and gave up. It was actually starting to pick up a bit as we learned more about how the Trisolarans think but ultimately I just moved onto a different book.

Anyway, Three-Body Problem itself was a great novel and I sort of wish it wasn't a trilogy and had a more satisfying ending just by itself.
posted by GuyZero at 3:02 PM on February 9


"That being said, once I finished I had exactly zero desire to continue on with the next books in the series, so I looked up synopses of them and feel that this decision was right for me. It's impossible to say if it's the writing, or the translation, or the foreign culture it's set in, but I had exactly my fill of it, which I personally think is absolutely fine."

"Like Mr.E, this book just didn’t work for me. I wanted to like it & still can’t quite put my finger on why as it ought to have hit all my buttons."

That's me as well. When I was younger I would never give up on a book, but that was before the Internet was common in homes and pockets, and I didn't have as much distraction. Now I try to let go of that nagging sense of personal failure if I don't continue, and just close a book that's not doing it for me and walk away. I'd say I got about 1/3rd of the way through this one. All my friends love it. I had every reason to love it.

and yet something was so off-putting about the writing style and the characters. It just struck me as relentlessly cold and unemotional which might have been the point, I couldn't tell. All I know is that at the time I was reading it, it was absolutely what I did not need to be feeling at that time so I had to let it go.

However, unlike most other books that I've closed before the end, I'm still tempted by this one. Maybe one day when my reading list subsides a bit I'll try it again.
posted by komara at 12:29 PM on February 10


I liked the way this book gave me what I assume was a Chinese centered perspective on the world. I didn't love the language. I assume that's because it's translated from Chinese. When I've read other fantastical translations (like the Wind Up Bird Chronicles or The Master and Margarita), I'm left with the same feeling as though they were written for children. That may be a limitation of translations in general.

I love the idea of the sophons. There is something so unique (to me anyway) and cool about that idea.

Since this book was so Chinese centric to my reading I was really surprised at how US centric the second book seemed to be. I wasn't sure if that was deliberate or not.

I felt like the 3rd book was the best of the series.
posted by willnot at 4:28 PM on February 10


I had the same reaction as some of you when we read this one for book club a few months back. Intriguing ideas, love the cultural perspective, but ....just didn't care a lot. I wasn't sure if it was intentional or perhaps just distance created by translation-but the stilted language and the lack of emotional connection to the characters made me not interested enough to read the next two.
posted by purenitrous at 9:08 PM on February 10


A friend who is way smarter than I am recommended the first book and With good reason.
The fact that is a translation is a point in its favor, for me, because l didn't feel like I needed another 'American Brave White Man Saves the World by being Brave and White and a Man' ifyouknowwhatImean. And the main character is a woman who does something pretty massively fucked up for some pretty human reasons. Sold!
The set pieces are well done but I've really appreciated the craziness, inventiveness of the many many ideas that run through the book.
The stilted dialogue and at times flat characters were just a thing that was a little too bad but not terminal. I started the second book four times before I was able to get through the moronic pretentious first chapter. Most of the rest of the book, until about the last third, was a bit of a slog as well. The ending made up for it, though. I'm looking forward to reading the third.
Easily my favorite sci-if book since Blindsight.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:19 AM on April 22


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