The Three-Body Problem (Book)

Liu Cixin, Ken Liu (Translator)


This isn’t a review so much as it’s a collection of comments I made while reading the book back in August 2018, originally posted on one of my Mastodon accounts. I’ll probably fix it up into an actual review at some point.

Chapters 1-2 and Silent Spring

I find it bizarre that a book that criticized excesses of capitalism would have been characterized as counter-revolutionary, capitalist propaganda.

But of course both capitalism and communism are quite capable of environmental destruction. Rapacious state, corporation, or individual, it’s a universal human failing, like the image of an iceberg in the ocean that Wenjie imagines, independent of ideology.

I would not at all be surprised if Silent Spring was actually portrayed this way, particularly knowing China’s environmental record.

I also did a double take on the idea of banning teaching relativity for ideology…but then I remembered we’ve got the same problem with people trying to block teaching evolution here in the US.

One more thing I have to wrap my mind around to read a story set during the cultural revolution.

It’s a weird mindset to imagine, and it’s interesting to compare to the more familiar present-day culture in the next few chapters.

Chapters 5-7: The Game

The mystery, the questions about the nature of fundamental laws of physics (i.e. are they actually fundamental?), and the countdown have all been fascinating.

I’m up to the introduction of the VR game that lends its name to the title, and for the first time I feel like the story is getting bogged down.

I know it’s symbolic. I figure it’s a way to get ideas across to the players without discussing them openly. But it’s still dragging.

Leveling Up

Now that I’ve gotten through another cycle of the VR game story, it’s become more intriguing. Presumably we’re going to work through a bunch of cosmological models as it goes on.

I love the idea of using NPCs to simulate a computer in-game. It reminds me of the working CPU models made in Minecraft with redstone, except more creative because NPCs aren’t designed for circuitry.

I also like the way the author mixes up the narrative structure, with documents, a personal statement, and of course the game interspersed with the regular narration.

And I’m really curious as to how the trick with the cosmic background radiation is supposed to have been managed.

And of course, is the countdown really leading to something, or is it, as Shi suggests, just a way to mess with Wang’s head?

Chapter 22

I don’t quite buy the game as a recruiting tool.

They’re supposedly all about replacing human society with the aliens’ (one way or another), but the game doesn’t tell you much about that society except that it’s persistent, can hibernate for eons, and coming for us.

It conveys key facts about their environment and biology, but doesn’t present a culture to emulate. Unless it’s in the chapters Wang misses?

Or is the vagueness itself part of the appeal? Anyone dissatisfied with the world as it is can project their own ideals onto the aliens?

Final Chapters

I’m seriously impressed by the concept of the sophon. It’s one of the most overpowered pieces of impossible tech and yet it’s a simple extrapolation from string theory – and making use of known quantum effects gives it a lot of other abilities that handily explain the mysterious happenings early in the book.

Some of the catastrophes, I can go with. But one big enough to create a new moon? The planet would have basically been sterilized.

I also wondered about the secrecy of incoming communication with Red Coast 2. Surely other SETI projects would have picked up the signals, whether they could decode them or not.