The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It has been very interesting reading this book. As someone who started reading SF in the 80s, I’ve read my share of American Cold War SF. But I’ve never read a full length Chinese SF novel. As I’ve often commented, what’s interesting with other cultures is seeing where we’re similar and where we’re different. For example, Da Shi, the cop, is similar to a detective cop in a American fiction. That makes sense – a detective is essentially an amateur psychologist. And humans are very similar in a lot of ways, including in the way in which criminals think. Some of the differences in the way the characters think or act defy an easy characterization, but showcase how our cultures think differently.
The book starts off in the Cultural Revolution. This was the most depressing part of the book because it actually happened. Chinese officials decided, “yeah, we’ll become an awesome country by killing all the people who know stuff.” This sets up the motivations for Ye, our main character.
A big plot point revolves around a video game called Third Body. This part of the book reminded me a lot of The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. It’s a great way to get some more technical issues across to the audience without simply having an info dump.
While it starts off as a subtle effect from what seems like a few throwaway lines, a lot of the book seems to be written in the future talking about past events – even the stuff that takes place in the “present”. This gives off a similar effect to reading the first Foundation book by Asimov. There’s an inevitability there that provides a sense of anxiety. This is given away a bit by the name of the trilogy – “Remembrance of Earth’s Past”. But someone who just sees the book without going to Goodreads might not know that.
A couple other small things. I like that Mr Cixin gets creative in the story-telling. Some chapters are reports and others are interviews while the greatest chunk of the book is a straight-forward storytelling. It allows him to use the best way to get across various points. I also like the poetry of two moments in the book as symmetrical moments. One person on Earth and one person elsewhere who have similar decisions to make for opposite reasons; the way those chapters mirror each other is great.
While this book could somewhat stand on its own, it is a LOT of setup and it just has me very curious to read what’s in store in the rest of the trilogy. I definitely recommend it if you want a very different kind of story.
Unrelated to this book specifically – it’s the last book on my reading challenge. Challenge complete with 4 more months to go.