The Three-Body Problem

A lot has been said about Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem and I've owned the novel since Tor Books first sent out review copies. So why wait this long to finally read it? Well, although this book has garnered lots of rave reviews and was even pimped by President Obama himself, the fact that it was a translation sort of put me off for a while. And yet, I always knew that I'd give it a shot.

As is usually the case when I wait for a few years to finally read a book, I felt like an idiot for not reading the opening chapter of the Remembrance of Earth's Past series when it first came out. The Three-Body Problem may not be perfect, but it is indeed a superior read.

Here's the blurb:

The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience the Hugo Award-winning phenomenon from China's most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

Cixin Liu became the most popular science fiction author in China, but most wondered if the English translation could do justice to this series. Ken Liu's translation worked well for the most part. There are a few clunky portions here and there, and I have a feeling that some things got lost along the way because they could not be translated properly. In addition, the dialogue did not always ring true. I'm glad Ken Liu elected to go for footnotes to provide additional information, as there are already too many massive info-dumps throughout the novel. All in all, I have a feeling that the English translation is as good as it could be and that certain elements simply couldn't be translated perfectly. True, some readers might find that off-putting. Then again, The Three-Body Problem is a novel of big ideas and one soon forgets about these little things. What's a little clunky dialogue when there are mind-blowing themes being thrown around?

I loved the fact that the backdrop of the beginning of this novel was the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The vast majority of the science fiction I've read over the years was produced by American and British authors. To get the Chinese point of view regarding world events and witness how the country would react to first contact with an alien civilization was interesting. Non-Western views were indeed quite refreshing. There are a lot of hard scifi concepts involved in the plot of The Three-Body Problem, and the author did a great job "dumbing" down most of them so that virtually any genre readers can enjoy the story. Though it was probably impossible, I just wish that massive info-dumping could have been avoided. Still, for a novel of relatively short size, The Three-Body Problem is extremely vast in scope and vision. Imagine something that can rival with Peter F. Hamilton's imaginiation but with a third of the pagecount.

The characterization can be a bit uneven, especially early on. It takes a long time to get to know the protagonists, but it does get better as the plot moves forward and secrets are unveiled. There are two main characters who take center stage. The Three-Body Problem starts during the Cultural Revolution, when a young Ye Wenjie is forced to watch as her scientist father is beaten to death by revolutionaries. The girl is then sent to do hard labor at a re-education camp, where she somehow manage to find herself working, unbeknownst to her at first, on a top secret government project seeking out extraterrestrial life. In the present, nanotech scientist Wang Miao gets arrested by cops, only to be brought to a secret meeting comprised of international military officials who are fighting an unknown threat. Some unnamed force is seeking to destroy human science and technology by killing brilliant scientists or driving them to suicide. Fearing that he might well be the next one to die, Wang must go undercover and begin playing a virtual reality game called The Three-Body Problem; a game only the greatest scientific minds can hope to beat. The supporting cast is not particularly memorable, with the sole exception being Captain Shi Qiang. It's hard to like the policeman early on, but he definitely grows on you as the story progresses.

The Three-Body Problem suffers from pacing issues from time to time, especially in the first third of the book. Yet the more you learn about the project Ye Wenjie is working on, and the further Wang Miao advances into the virtual reality game, you gradually begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together and the more fascinating the novel becomes. It's no surprise that it won the Hugo Award for best novel.

The Three-Body Problem is science fiction as it ought to be! If, like me, you have yet to read Cixin Liu's bestselling award-winner, you should give it a shot ASAP!

The final verdict: 8.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

1 commentaires:

Davieboy said...

I've listened to all 3 volumes of the trilogy on audiobook and was really impressed.
Completely held my attention throughout; complex physics ideas entertainingly wrapped in a riveting plot.
Highly recommended.