No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, August 28, 2015

2015/15: The Three-Body Problem -- Cixin Liu

Is it possible that the relationship between humanity and evil is similar to the relationship between the ocean and an iceberg floating on its surface? Both the ocean and the iceberg are made of the same material. That the iceberg seems separate is only because it is in a different form. … It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race. [loc. 348]

Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and immensely popular in China: this novel was recommended to me as 'good hard SF with believable characters', and I'd second that.

As a student during the Cultural Revolution, Ye Wenjie saw her father beaten to death for refusing to recant his belief in science. Struggling to reconcile physics and morality, she accepts a post at a top-secret research base.

Wang Miao is a nanotech researcher in present-day China, who's asked to infiltrate a secret cabal of scientists, the Frontiers of Science group: there's been a spate of suicides in the scientific community and the police are at a loss. After some inexplicable occurences (a timestamped countdown on photos; a flicker of the universe to confirm a threat) Wang Miao is introduced to an online game, Three Body, populated by characters from history. In the game, flying stars herald Stable Eras (when civilisation can flourish) and Chaotic Eras (in which the laws of nature become unpredictable). The goal of the game is to predict the pattern of the sun, and perhaps thus the onset of Chaotic Eras. With sufficient warning, the world's inhabitants can dehydrate and be stored during a Chaotic Era, to be resurrected when stability is restored. Thus far, nobody has solved the riddle. Wang Miao has some ideas, though ...

Enter Ye Wenjie, whose account of her work at Red Coast Base shows the Three Body game in a very different, and much less innocent, light. Meanwhile, modern physics is being called a 'lie'; weird results are popping up in experiments all over the world; and popular opinion is turning against the scientific community.

The scientific ideas in The Three-Body Problem were explained clearly enough for this non-scientist to feel that she understood them -- though that obviously does require a certain degree of infodump. Equally interesting was the depiction of Chinese society, both in the Cultural Revolution and in the present day.

The first of a trilogy: I understand that the second and third are each different in ambience to this, but I'm intrigued to see how things work out.


  1. I liked the cultural revolution bits!

    1. I did not realise you had read this! We should discuss.