Sunday, March 31, 2024

Book Review: The Complete THREE-BODY PROBLEM TRILOGY by Cixin Liu


THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM (2008) by Cixin Liu

What surprised me when I began reading this novel was its frank description of the horrors of China's political turmoil in the 1960s and 70s. (I had assumed such books would run into state censorship.)

It was tempting to interpret THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM as criticism of the Communist regime in the guise of SF... but as I read on, it became evident that the author has much bigger fish to fry. The novel carries a very serious message about the search for extraterrestrial life.

The plot has three interwoven threads: the tragic life of the scientist Ye Wenjie, the hunt to uncover a massive conspiracy against science itself, and the history of an extraterrestrial civilization pitted against Earth.

There is a lot I really like about this book. It is mostly well written, there is not an ounce of unnecessary text, it knows what it wants to say and makes a clear, reasoned argument. This is "highbrow" SF of the finest order.

It's refreshing to read SF that comes from a Chinese perspective! Cixin Liu breathes new life into a very old theme - "first contact."

It also contains original ideas and some amazing, memorable scenes.

The only weak part was the depiction of the extraterrestrials themselves - they struck me as behaving too much like Earthlings to be credibly "alien."

Does THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM's message hold up to scrutiny? If it does, it could influence the course of humanity's future. You should read the novel and make up your own mind.

Strongly recommended reading.


THE DARK FOREST (2008) by Cixin Liu

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM ended in a huge cliffhanger: Can humanity survive an impending alien invasion?

You must read the third book in the series to find out how this story ends, because the sequel THE DARK FOREST leaves many questions unanswered.

THE DARK FOREST is mainly about preparing humanity for a terrible future - and how hope can survive.

The novel also develops the argument made in THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM - about the inherent danger of alien civilizations... I am not sure where I stand on that subject, but I think that far too much science fiction isn't taking it seriously.

THE DARK FOREST suffers from being the middle book in a trilogy. It is very clear about what it wants to say, but it is unevenly written (or translated??).

The "flatness" of the characters, a typical feature of "Hard" Science Fiction, gets worse here - because the author struggles to give the characters depth, but he doesn't completely succeed.

There are several plot twists - some are good - and a major one that is quite weak (humanity wandering stupidly into an obvious trap, with disastrous consequences).

Despite these criticisms, I just had to read the book to see what would happen next. I recommend it with a caveat: if you're not engaged in the main plot or the trilogy's "big ideas," THE DARK FOREST may bore you.

Me, I'm engaged and then some...


DEATH'S END (2010) by Cixin Liu

This novel is the third and final part of a trilogy that began with THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM and continued with THE DARK FOREST.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series. The second book didn't reach the same heights as the first... but the third part really succeeds. This is seriously epic stuff, spanning the far future and painting a vision of the ultimate fate of humanity.

The plot involves spectacular super-science, scale and size being used repeatedly to evoke gigantic change, vast passages of time... and destruction on a cosmic scale.

You might think that the human characters would be utterly dwarfed by the sheer scale of the story. But the author still manages to make the characters and their actions matter.

I noted that in all three books, Cixin Liu has a great knack for building a crisis and raising the stakes. Disaster is heaped upon disaster, until the odds against the protagonist seem hopeless – and then, at the last minute, comes an almost miraculous rescue, solution or escape from certain doom.

Speaking of doom – the THREE-BODY PROBLEM trilogy is based on an extremely bleak premise. I had to finish the trilogy to see just how far the author would go with his ”Dark Forest” hypothesis. I won't spoil the plot, but I was impressed that he took his idea and ran with it.

You may appreciate THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM as a standalone novel, but the two sequels do not stand on their own.

I recommend the whole trilogy for readers of ”hard SF” with a grand, epic sweep and for its unique, somber vision of the universe.

#bookreviews #bookreview #books #literature #sciencefiction #aliens #seti #cosmology #scifi #hardsf #chinesesciencefiction #cixinliu #liucixin #threebodyproblem #deathsend

Friday, March 15, 2024

STARSHIP TROOPERS, HELLDIVERS II, And Military Memes. Do You Want To Know More?

A new Substack piece on the connections between science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, director Paul Verhoeven, Internet memes, and the Swedish hit game HELLDIVERS II. Read it HERE:

"STARSHIP TROOPERS, HELLDIVERS II, And Military Memes. Do You Want To Know More?"

#Helldivers2 #starshiptroopers #games #gaming #Helldivers #sciencefiction #books #movies #satire