Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu (Three Body Problem #1)

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1)The Three-Body Problem is a Hugo Winner.  That means that, in the sci-fi/fantasy category, it's good.  I will trust other people's judgment on that, for the most part, because I am not a connoisseur of "hard" sci-fi, which this is.  I'm more a StarDoc type of girl, personally, if I read sci-fi at all.  Time-travel isn't bad, either.  This...this was a little "hard" for me, but I still enjoyed it overall.

So, the story is about people making contact with aliens.  It jumps between a couple of timelines: the Cultural Revolution in China and modern-day China, when China and the rest of the world are secretly (as in, the militaries and governments are, but the people don't know about it) preparing for a war against said aliens.  The basic story is this: during the Cultural Revolution, Ye Wenjie is thought to be anti-revolutionary and is confined to a base called Red Coast atop a mountain called Radar Peak, for the big antenna located there.  She works on the systems at the base without really knowing what they do, other than that they broadcast and receive signals from space.  Eventually, she figures out some science that makes it more likely that any signals broadcast into space would be picked up by intelligent life, and sends out a signal because she is increasingly disillusioned by life on Earth.

In the current day, Wang Miao is asked by the military to infiltrate a group of scientists among whom suicide has been rampant.  He refuses, but when strange things start happening to him, including a countdown that only he can see, he relents and agrees.  Along the way, he encounters a strange virtual-reality video game called Three Body, which features a world that is plagued by unstable day/night and season cycles.  Wang sets out to solve the problem of Three Body, and of course gets sucked into the drama surrounding it.

I thought this book had some really interesting parallels between Earth and the alien civilization, Trisolaris, and I actually learned quite a bit about the Three-Body Problem itself, too.  It's a physics problem in which three bodies (in this case, stars) affect each other's gravity and orbits and those of anything else near them--like, oh, planets.  The thing is, no one has actually solved the Three-Body Problem and found a way to accurately predict the movements of every three-body system.  I think this was an interesting way to incorporate the alien civilization into the story, as a group trying to solve the problem for their own self-preservation.  The movement of the timeline between past and present also worked here.  I don't think the author held anything back from a misguided attempt to make us gasp with shock, but instead revealed things in a manner that was surprising, and interesting, but still sensible to both the characters and the reader.

I'm not sure if I'll continue this trilogy; I'm not opposed to it, per se, because this was clearly a very solid book, but I'm not quite sure if it was my cup of tea.  The actual "conflict" also doesn't seem to be very immediate to me, because it's removed by almost five centuries from the main characters, which makes it hard for me to just salivate at wanting to know what comes next.

Overall, I'm going to give it 3.5 stars.  It's well-written (and, I would guess, well-translated, which definitely helps) and has a solid base, but I wasn't totally engrossed.

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