The Three-Body Problem

I feel quite fortunate that Ken Liu translated this book from the original Chinese masterpiece which was Cixin Liu’s labor and that it was distributed to the English speaking world. It was only through that effort that I was able to experience such a superb example of what I love about excellent Science Fiction…excellent science and excellent fiction!

Excellent Science

Since my background was in Physics before I took this whole programming career path, the title of “The Three-Body Problem” was not a mystery to me, since it’s a well known problem in Classical and Quantum Mechanics. It turns out that it is incredibly easy to map the motion of two bodies (the Sun and the Earth, for instance), but as soon as you add a third massive body (the Moon!) the math complicates quickly and is usually “solved” via some form of perturbation. That’s fancy language for “tweaks” on the two-body solution. Special cases exists, but there is not a general solution, which is what makes it an excellent central idea for the book!

If you recall from my review of Foundation what made it such an interesting book was the central character not being a person but an idea, that of the Foundation. Well, such is the case in this book as well; though there are many interesting characters, the central role is played by the captivating idea of an advanced civilization whose home planet is trapped in such a gravitational system (note, this isn’t a spoiler as it’s in the dust jacket, which I consider fair game).

Could you imagine if our civilization had to endure Chaotic Eras where the Sun was so perilously close that near extinction resulted from the fire storms? Or so far away that the food supply perished and agonizing long winters threatened the survival of the species? And worse, that we couldn’t predict when either would occur and our Science failed us?

Really, the Science is so damn good in this book, it creates a believable framework for the whole story.

Lastly, the “failure” of Science and the rise of religious belief provide an interesting sub-narrative which I won’t spoil with any more words. After you read the book, we can talk about it. Deal?

Excellent Fiction

It won the Hugo in 2015, so you know it’s going to be excellent fiction, but what really surprised me was the prevalent use of imaginative similes to reinforce the verbal scenery. It was one part poetry, one part novel. I loved it.

Being plunged into an unusual situation, that is, cultural revolution China, there is the risk of losing the reader – at least this reader – with too much strangeness. But, instead, I felt immersed by it and found the narrative to be true. That is, I believed each of the characters, their motivations, and how they interacted with each other. Well, with maybe one exception, but it doesn’t matter.

I lost a bit of interest about 100 pages from the end, but the sheer kinetic force of the first half of the book drove me past that and onto the end, eager to read the rest of the series.

Trilogy Alert

Ok, so if you are going to read this, you should know in advance that it’s a trilogy and that the first book doesn’t conclude the story. I’ve got “The Dark Forest” on the queue for reading, but the third book “Death’s End” hasn’t even been released yet.

I don’t really think that is a bad thing though. Sometimes you find a world in fiction that you just want to spend time in, and this is just such a world.


Published under science-fiction, book-club, cixin-liu