Three Body Problem was on my “must read” list ever since it won the Hugo Award two years ago. Unlike past Hugo award winners, this book was special because it was the first time a Chinese author won the most prestigious award in science fiction literature. As someone who loves both sci-fi and China, I just had to read this thing.
But for whatever reason, I didn’t get around to it. It was probably the not-so-appealing cover. Maybe it’s the weird title. Or perhaps it was the summary of the book, which involves the overdone plot of “humanity fights aliens.” I have to admit–from first glance, it didn’t seem all that appealing.
But then a few months ago…
“Mary,” husband said to me as I picked him up from the airport. “I just finished Three Body Problem–and it’s now my favorite book EVER. You have to read it. NOW!”
My husband wasted no time. As soon as we arrived home from the airport he found my iPad and loaded the entire trilogy onto my Kindle app.
“Ok” he handed the kindle to me, “start reading.”
I had never seen my husband so excited for a book. I shrugged and, before bed, started the book.
Within weeks I had finished book one. A few days later I gobbled up book 2 (the Dark Forest). Now I’m nearing the end of book 3 (Death’s End).
It’s the best science fiction I’ve read in years.
The storyline is innovative, scientific, philosophical and downright disturbing. It is a very realistic account of humanity’s reaction to an alien invasion… and it’s not pretty. From the cultural revolution, to environmental ruin, to the death of democracy and the survival of humanity–the plot really covers it all. What really sets this book apart from other sci-fi is the amount of scientific detail woven into the storyline. The author goes deep (sometimes too deep) into physics and astronomy to explain space exploration and alien civilizations. Unless you’re a physicist, I guarantee that, at times, this book will go way over your head.
Plus, aside from the plot, it’s refreshing to have an Asian protagonist star in every book. Period. While the trilogy doesn’t have a typical ‘protagonist’ cast for each book, the overwhelming majority of actors in this series are Chinese. It definitely put me in a different place and perspective compared to typical, western sci-fi.
Finally, every book in the trilogy provides great closure (something I really value in a book). I haven’t finished book three yet, but I heard that it leaves most readers happy and satisfied. In fact, the ending for book two was so well done I wondered why the author even bothered to write book three.
Characters could be a little stronger. They’re not deep, three-dimensional characters like you would find in Game of Thrones. Sometimes it feels like they’re simply fulfilling a plot device the author wants carried out.
And while I love the plot, sometimes it’s just too damn complex. I had to skim over a lot of scientific theory throughout the book because it was way behind my comprehension. Although I enjoyed how the author made the book more feasible with his in-depth scientific theory, he can sometimes bog the reader down with too many details.
And it’s kinda sexist…?
When I googled book reviews, I read a few blogs by angry, female sci-fi readers accusing Liu Cixin of being sexist and demeaning women. At first, I was stunned. This book not only had a good chunk of key female characters, but all the female leads were scientists, politicians and innovators…!! Considering the numerous amount of strong female leads, how could the author be sexist?
It wasn’t until book three I realized that, perhaps, maybe those angry female bloggers were onto something. Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that female characters in this book are the root cause of all the problems in this trilogy. It’s subtle, but if you take a step back and look at all the tragedies that occur in this book, it’s basically like Eve screwing over Adam and all of humanity, but multiple times and on a much larger scale.
Plus, all the male leads always end up lusting after some soft and demure Chinese chick…which is fine, I guess. Still, through the way he crafts female love interests in the book it’s quite obvious to imagine Liu Cixin’s image of an ideal woman. Innocent, demure, soft-spoken, motherly, caring. These are all great traits and are the epitome of Asian feminine beauty, but unfortunately it reinforces some negative stereotypes.
In a nutshell
If you’ve seen the movie Interstellar and liked it, then you’ll go crazy over this book. Three Body Problem is basically a way, way better version of Interstellar. Just imagine Interstellar with a better cast of characters and an even more mind-blowing story.
And thanks to Liu Cixin and this trilogy, the floodgates to Chinese sci-fi has finally been opened. Here’s to hopefully more amazing Chinese sci-fi/fantasy literature being translated and released in the future.