I have a crush on this book

If you ever need a gut-check on the scope of your own fatalism, crack the spine on Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem.

The first in a trilogy, TTBP was published in China in 2008, and translated into English for the first time in 2014. It kicks off in the 1960s, during China’s Cultural Revolution, a period in which academics and scientists were punished (killed, even) for their alleged infractions against Communism. But this is just the tip of the three-body iceberg. What surfaces is a geopolitical novel carrying itself as a sci-fi novel (see: World War Z) that explores what might happen on Earth if and when an advanced alien civilization were to make contact. But like, with lots of physics. Lots of physics.

Since finishing TTBP a few months ago, I find myself mentioning it constantly. When people ask me about the most interesting books I’ve read this year, sure, but also in far less related conversations. If videogames come up, I’ll talk about the eon-spanning and intentionally plodding game used to suss out potential participants in the “What should we do about this alien race?” debate. If religion comes up, I’ll talk about the faith each societyโ€”Earth’s and Trisolaris’โ€”has in the others’ capacity to save (or destroy) its planet. And if the topic of how best to quietly kill a battleship’s worth of political agitators comes up, I’ll definitely say “Why, a grid of super-sharp and near-invisible nanomaterial thread, of course!” (That happens.) In other words, the Three-Body Problem is nothing if not useful in everyday conversation.

Since finishing TTBP, I’ve also talked to other people who read it, and the votes are in: We are all, even those of who didn’t love every moment, just a touch obsessed. We think about this book a lot, and find ourselves weaving its name into conversations. In short: We have a bit of a crush.

I wouldn’t say that science-fiction has historically been my jam, and I wouldn’t say that TTBP is the best novel to turn to for breaking into the genre. It’s completely bizarre but still quite technical, and there are extra science-y bits that I made myself read multiple times over, but I know others just gave up and skimmed. Liu has an awesome imagination and a knack for storytelling, but I wouldn’t call his characters particularly developed or relatable, and I would also concede that it takes awhile for the novel to get going (but when it does, mannnnnn). Perhaps least important but not irrelevant, this is a translationโ€”sometimes the language feels stoic or stilted, and it’s hard to discern how much of that is cultural, by authorial design, accidental, or a conscious decision on the part of the translator.

But at the end of the day, for me, none of that mattered. TLDR: I’ve never read anything like The Three-Body Problem before, and that was enough to keep me in the mix, keep me reading, and keep me talking about it weeks later. Challenge yourself to this book; I do not think you’ll regret it.


TITLE: The Three-Body Problem
AUTHOR: Cixin Liu
PAGES: Kindled
ALSO WROTE: theย rest of this trilogy
SORTA LIKE: A Canticle for Leibowitzย (review) meets The War of the Worldsย meets Ready Player Oneย (review) meetsย The Dark Towerย (review) meets Interstellarย meets Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
FIRST LINE: “The Red Union had been attacking the headquarters of the April Twenty-eighth Brigade for two days.”

7 thoughts on “I have a crush on this book”

  1. I’ve had this book for a long time, but I haven’t felt it “pull” at me. I’m ok with sci-fi and political novels, etc., but a part of me feels that TTBP is a bit hard to go through. I’m currently reading NK Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Series, starting with The Fifth Season. Maybe after this series, I’ll try going back to the Three-Body Problem.

    Thanks for the review! Now I’m feeling pretty confident about it.

    1. I do! I need a breather between them just because I agree, the first one is great but it takes some mental work. But I definitely plan to finish the series.

  2. I live in China and speak/read reasonable Mandarin, so I heard about this trilogy on the Chinese internet some time ago. As soon as it was translated into English I bought the first book (on the recommendation of my S-i-L who is a science Prof in Germany. I have to say I struggled, and struggled, and struggled to get into it – to no avail. Like you I am not a natural sci-fi reader, but it seemed more than that to me. S-i-L raves about it, thinks its one of the best books ever….maybe this book is more like Marmite, it polarizes readers, either you love it or you loathe it – there is no middle way.

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