Book Review: Mind Bending Epic Sci Fi Story The Three-Body Problem

Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem is stunning, elegant, epic, and hard core science fiction with mind boggling ideas like using the sun as a radio amplifier, unfolding 11-diemnsional photon into two dimensional circuit boards to etch communication bus to create an artificial intelligence chip,  using nano-technology filaments to cut a ship into thousand pieces, or the evolution of a distance alien civilization through multiple destruction caused by its three suns.

The story spans multiple decades and characters, zooming in on Ye Wenjie and Wang Miao, two scientists born decades apart. Wenjie is an astrophysicist with a haunted past; she’s the daughter of a physicist who was beaten to death by his students during the Cultural Revolution for daring to teach the “reactionary” idea of general relativity while she witnessed the madness helplessly.

Miao is a nano tech engineer drawn into a virtual-reality online video game called the Three Body that’s metaphysical and at the same time simulates the three-sun world of the alien civilization.

Either of these premises alone would make for a rich SF novel, but Cixin Liu is only getting warmed up. By the time the book hits its peak, it’s unveiled a conspiracy that spans solar systems — one that not only threatens to alter the human race, but the very building blocks of physics that we’ve evolved to understand.

The Three-Body Problem is hard SF, full of lengthy passages of technical exposition about everything from quantum mechanics to artificial intelligence. But Cixin Liu supports all of that braintwisting theory with empathetic characters and a strong action-thriller backbone. That’s a lot to set up. The story begins slowly  and it takes a while to untangle exactly who or what the focal points of the plot are supposed to be. Once it’s up and running, though, it’s gripping.

In the following volume he expands upon “dark forest” theory of alien invasion of the Earth. One might say it is China’s imperial history, the history of other expansive civilizations and the pre-history of the first contact of Neanderthals with modern humans.

He asks a classic sci fi question – if we ever detect a fist signal from an alien civilizations, can we hide our dark history to the distant civilization? How would Earth grapple with the bare facts of “first contact”? Will there be riots and chaos as portrayed in Hollywood movies?

How the World religions will react? It may be easy for Buddhists and Hindus with beliefs of grand and teeming universe of untold antiquity vibrating with living energies but Christianity will face the tougher challenge of explaining if Jesus salvation extends to distant planets.