The Three Body Problem is an exploration of how the world would react to the discovery of intelligent, extraterrestrial life. Liu Cixin explores this idea with both great imagination and restraint. While the book builds up the potential of space-faring species, it was very much grounded in reality, or as close to it as one could get when writing in this space. For a sci-fi novel, it had a lot more science than I was expecting, and I enjoyed it immensely.

The plus points are clearly the premise, the narrative, and the world-building. I never, however, connected or invested in any of the characters to the same extent I would other novels I have read spanning ~400 pages. While I understand it was likely not the focus of the author, it’s a minor criticism I would level at the work. It is, nevertheless, a gripping and sinister imagination of how humankind would react to the possibility that we are not alone in the universe.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

What I found fascinating was the strategem used by the Trisolarans to disrupt scientific advancement on Earth. My first haphazard suggestion would have been to systematically and ruthlessly kill of people of influence, to disrupt the world’s ability co-operate. In the wake of anarchy, the world’s populations would be more concerned with rebuilding their institutions than spend time on science. But I thought the choice to send the Sophons to interfere in scientific experimentation was as genius as it was sinister. Scientists, by the nature of their day-jobs, try to make sense of things logically. Interfering in scientific experiments, in such a way that the interference was undetectable, to confound and halt progress is such a simple but effective proposition. The scientific method would have the world’s scientific hive-mind labour and obsess over tampered experimental data and would effectively stop progress in it’s tracks.

The split described in the ETO was interesting. There were the Adventists, who believed that humanity wasted their opportunity build a flourishing world. And would prefer the world destroyed than go on in its current state. Then there are the Redemptionists who want to do their best to help the Trisolarans solve the three-body problem. Finally, you have the survivors, who will do anything to ensure the livelihood of their ancestors. I would identify most with the Redemptionist logic, but could see how Adventists and Survivors would grow to large numbers in the real world. With something like this, there is no precedent in human history. With something as game-changing as extra-terrestrial life, it would cast a shadow over all that we thought we knew, and anything would be possible.

Verdict

Recommend. This book asks one of the biggest questions there is: are we alone in the universe? And spends ~400 pages building a world that tries to come to grips with it.

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