Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Three-Body Problem: Good For Blowing the Mind

What attracted me to Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem was the fact that a Chinese novel had won the Hugo award for 2015. I had never read a Chinese novel, but I figured it was worth a shot.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. The book's greatest strength is to deliver strangeness while at the same time making it accessible. The imagery was so great, it triggered for me several vivid dreams.

This first of a trilogy recounts a series of mysterious events. Wang Miao, a prominent nanomaterials scientist, becomes caught up in the investigation of unexplained scientist suicides. This leads him to a virtual-reality video game, called "Three Body," which describes a world with chaotic seasons. And this is just the beginning of that strangeness I mentioned earlier.

The name of the book, itself, provides clues as to what's going on. It's a physics/math problem that has yet to be solved explicitly. In the Two-Body problem, two masses in a system will end up in some predictable orbit around each other. But throw in a third mass, and the system becomes unpredictable.

You may ask: what does this have to do with anything? You'll have to read it to find out. I was pleased with how Cixin Liu pulls it off.

Be prepared, though, for a different kind of reading experience. I'm not sure if it's the translation, or the author's writing style, but I found the prose often going into "legend" mode, much like what you might find in the stories of Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill. Or probably more appropriately, some old Chinese story. This was a little strange to me, but I found the imagery beautiful and worth reading.

I strongly recommend this book, so you can also enjoy a different kind of sci-fi. In another month or so, I will pick up the sequel, The Dark Forest. The third book hasn't been translated yet, but will come out later this year. And a Chinese film will be released this year as well. Perhaps some theaters in the US will show it?

1 comment:

Shane Brewer said...

Just finished reading the first two books. Both excellent. I agree that there is a slightly different feel which I attribute to a combination of the authors culture and political environment and, to a lesser degree, this being a translation. Very good series so far.