The Three-Body Problem

Liu Cixin

Book cover

While reading this, I was trying to think if I have ever read a novel set in China previously. I don’t think I have. Parts of “The Woman Warrior” take place in China, but it’s a fundamentally Chinese-American book. The stories of Chuang Tzu take place in China, but that’s about the closest I can come up with. Anyway, I did enjoy reading a book set in China, with some of the historical parts taking place during the Cultural Revolution. And it makes sense that a book about humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization should be told from a Chinese perspective–since the modal human is Chinese.

That said, I didn’t like the book that much. Liu sets up a bizarre mystery at the beginning, but ultimately resolves it by using a superpowered imaginary substance–not that satisfying as storytelling goes. The plot is pretty standard-issue sci-fi as well. One aspect I did like was the use of a cult computer game as a key method of information exchange. It reminded me of Ender’s Game (both the battle room and the Giant’s Drink section).

I did learn one interesting true fact from the book, which is that Alpha Centauri actually is a three-star system. I felt confused when Liu had the aliens be from Alpha Centauri, but also from a star system where the unpredictable three-star orbit was an important plot point. I had always thought of Alpha Centauri as one star with the red dwarf Proxima Centauri orbiting it, but in fact AC itself is a binary star! From what I can tell though, the three-body mechanics are not chaotic in reality, because PC is so far from the stable binary stars.

My Goodreads rating: 2 stars