BOOK REVIEW (Conclusion): The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (Translated by Ken Liu)

written by David Steffen

Less than a month ago, just before the Hugo Award voting deadline, I gave a preliminary review of the first 100 pages or so of the Hugo-nominated novel The Three Body Problem.  I gave the partial review then to get it published before the Hugo deadline, but since then I’ve finished reading.  This review will be pretty brief because I don’t want to spoil everything, and the truth about what exactly explains the weirdness that’s happened so far in the book takes a while to unroll.

As mentioned in the partial review, I thought the beginning was much too slow, going into a lot of background detail on a character who was important to the story but didn’t end up being the main point of view character.

I continued to especially enjoy the in-book game titled The Three Body Problem in it’s weird representation of a world with chaotic seasons, and generally found those sections more compelling than the other parts of the book.  The book in general is more distantly told than I prefer, often with the POV character bringing up a topic that he said he’d been planning with no prior note about it.  I’m not sure how much of that is a language or cultural difference in the expectations of storytelling but I was interested enough to keep reading.

I guess I hadn’t paid enough attention and hadn’t realized that this was book one of three until it ended.  Some things are resolved by the end of the book, but I wouldn’t call it a real complete story arc on its own–its very much a Part One, not a standalone story.  Without getting into spoilery specifics, I thought the tension kind of ramped down near the end, so I’m not really sure how that’s going to carry over into the next book.

I enjoyed reading the book, finding out what was behind the weird occurrences, and finding out more about the in-book game.  But with the generally slow and uneven pacing the ramp-down in tension near the end I’m not sure I’m into it enough to want to keep reading books two and three.


Hugo Novel Review (Partial): Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

written by David Steffen

I’ve been reading as fast as I can before the Hugo voting deadline on July 31st, but there’s been a bunch of things competing for my time  and so I haven’t been able to read as many of the nominees as I like.  I am only part way through The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu, published in English by Tor Books, but since the Hugo voting deadline is almost here I wanted to give a partial review–I’ll give a complete review when I have had the time to finish the book.

The story starts in China in 1967, during the Cultural Revolution (a social-political movement started by Mao Zedong whose stated goal was to preserve the “true” Communist ideology from the corrupting influences of capitalist and traditional elements from society.  Ye Zhetai is a physics professor at the time, trying to teach his students without coming under the ire of the movement, but in a debate about relativity he is struck dead.  His daughter Ye Wenjie follows in his footsteps, becoming a physicist as well, and ends up being recruited for a top-secret research project.

In the present day Wang Mao, a nanomaterials researcher, is called into a meeting between top researchers and military officials, where a list of physicists who has committed suicide is revealed, each for apparently the same reason, leaving long essays as suicide notes.  It has something to do with the organization called Frontiers of Science which are considered radical by the rest of the scientific community, to answer the question: “What is the limit of science?”  The implication seems to be that something about what they have found in their research is driving them to kill themselves.  He starts seeing elements pointing to a countdown in impossible places.  A countdown to what?  Wang Mao takes a position at the Frontiers of Science, and he sees fellow researcher Shen Yufei playing a game called The Three-Body Problem, which is based in a fictional world where there is no discernable pattern to the seasons and the challenge of the game is to find some pattern so that a civilization can be established in a stretch where the weather is favorable.

And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten in my reading.

The novel is very slow to begin.  It seems like half of what I’ve read so far didn’t have much relation to the other half, but I’m still in the first quarter of the novel so at this point I’m assuming it all ties together to justify that slow start.  I also figured that there might be some cultural differences about the expectations of story structure so I didn’t want to give up on the story until I’d given it a good long time.  I really felt like I got hooked as he was playing the Three Body Problem game, the details of that game and the strange challenges were interesting and caught my attention.  The problem of the physicists committing suicide has a bit of a Lovecraft feel to it–forbidden knowledge that drives one mad, though in general it feels more science fiction-y than horror-y.

Anyway, I’m interested in how it turns out, I’m enjoying the read, but without more pages consumed, I can’t say overall whether I like it or not.  I’ll let you know soon.