The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
4 stars for being a book that was nothing like anything I have ever read.
The first few chapters in this book are filled with hooks. A scientist is beaten to death during the cultural revolution in China, his daughter is pulled into a secret mission involving a massive parabolic antenna that repels lifeforms, her daughter and many other scientists kill themselves declaring that science is dead. If this is not enough, another scientist begins seeing an alarming countdown but has no idea what it was counting down to.
But what followed was so different than what you’d expect from these hooks, and not in a good way. My husband, who was forced to listen to parts of the book now and then because of me, remarked that it felt like he was listening to a different book each time. It almost felt like the author, Liu Cixin, knew what story he wanted to say but was confused about how to say it. For example, many chapters are dedicated to suspense building but it fell flat because the synopsis of the book already gave away the suspense! This lead to important plot points being resolved in a very unsatisfactory manner. In the final chapters especially, it looked like the author had given up ‘showing’ completely and just stuck to ‘telling’.
What he was telling though was astounding. There were many moments when I stunned by what I was hearing and stopped what I was doing. Clearly, what Liu Cixin lacks in storytelling, he makes up with his imagination. Whether it was the creepy countdown, the nano-material blades slicing a ship into 40 pieces, or the creation of supercomputers using one tiny proton, I was awed by his ability to imagine something so fantastic.
The three body game within the book is another great feat of imagination. It was engrossing and educational. The environment the game is set in takes seemingly familiar elements and turns it into something terrifying – like the gigantic tidal waves in Miller’s planet from Interstellar. Not only was the game a great way to learn about the alien planet but it also taught me a lot about how civilizations developed and how scientific progress happened.
In spite of all the problems I spoke about earlier, this is by far the best science fiction I have consumed. I am looking forward to reading the next two books in the series which are supposedly better than this one.