“Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.”
What is this book about?
Part one of an extremely popular Chinese science fiction series and a Hugo Award winner, The Three-Body Problem starts off with a glimpse of 1960s China. The Cultural Revolution, an extremely disruptive period of chaos and civil war, was at its height. We are introduced to Ye Wenjie, who witnesses her father, a renowned physics professor, being beat to death by four 16-year-old Red Guards. Somehow, by a stroke of luck, she ends up at a top-secret military base a few years later.
Then, we skip about four decades ahead to the present time. We are now following the novel’s main protagonist Wang Miao, an accomplished nanotech engineer, who is asked by a group of Chinese and foreign military to infiltrate a secretive organization of scientists after several of the world’s most prominent academics have committed suicide. From there on, Wang loses himself in an unsettling virtual reality game called Three Body, and strange things start to happen to him. Something hostile is behind it, but the one question nobody seems to be able to answer is: who is this enemy?
Why is it boring?
The story starts in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, a major episode in modern Chinese history. It is a big influence on why some of the characters do what they do and how they think. As it happens, I studied Chinese and know quite a bit about China’s history, but it makes you wonder how accessible it is to readers who don’t know much about it. (Someone else will have to tell me!)
The translator uses quite some footnotes or in-text additions to explain some of the more obscure scientific references or culture-specific elements. I didn’t find them that annoying, and I did sometimes need them for the science parts.
Who would you recommend it to?
If you’re into science fiction, especially ‘hard’ SF, you have to read this. I think it’s great and really refreshing to read (science) fiction that is not Anglo-American in origin, and a good way to broaden your literary universe.
Why should I read it if it’s boring?
Once you’re past the first, slower-moving part, it becomes a thrill to read, especially when you’re nearing the end. Tension and stakes are high, and I just couldn’t stop reading. Once Cixin Liu connects all the dots, you’re left with an incredibly eerie ending, which made me want to do two things: (1) order parts two (The Dark Forest) and three (Death’s End) and (2) read it all over again.
Written by Corianne Oosterbaan. Corianne is a Dutchie from Rotterdam, living in Brussels, with an undiagnosed book buying problem. She loves reading, obsessively updating her GoodReads and writing fiction. So, it seemed only natural she now writes book reviews for Bored to Death book club. She likes to read everything from speculative fiction, the high-brow stuff, the low-brow stuff, history and pop-science non-fiction. On the rare occasions she’s not reading or writing, she likes baking, cooking and travel.