*I’m only allowing myself twenty-five freebie books this year–books that aren’t on my 2015 TBR–because last year half the books I read were impulse reads and I barely made a dent in the books I meant to read. I’m sure this is a problem you’re all familiar with.
I’m a big sci-fi fan, but I’ve pretty much only read American sci-fi. Some British and Canadian authors have snuck in there, but that’s about it. It was a super interesting and jarring experience (in a good way) to read a science fiction book from a culture so unlike my own in history and values. Not just about a culture, but FROM IT. Since one of the main things science fiction does is to ingest culture and spit it back out in a form that allows us to interrogate our own beliefs, it was really, really fascinating to see what kinds of concerns Cixin Liu was interested in exploring about Chinese values (and world values as Chinese culture sees them).
Cixin Liu is China’s most popular bestselling science fiction author, and The Three-Body Problem is the first book in his most popular trilogy, ‘Remembrance of Earth’s Past’ (which is being called Three-Body in English). The book begins just as China’s Cultural Revolution was getting started, and if you’re not familiar with that piece of history, you really need to read up on it at least a little bit before you read this book. It’s central to understanding a lot of the between the lines stuff, and why characters act the way they do that might seem really foreign to Westerners specifically. It would be like trying to understand American behavior without knowing anything about the history of slavery and the Civil War, or trying to understand Scottish history without knowing about the Jacobite Rebellion, just to pull two examples off the top of my head.
From the blurb:
“. . . a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.”
From there, all you really need to know is aliens are coming, and they are prepping us for their arrival. Weird shit starts happening. Scientists start killing themselves. A countdown appears in a man’s field of vision. The universe flickers. The central question the novel asks is whether the threat of alien invasion will unite us as a species, or whether it will tear us apart even faster.
The only ‘issue’ (for lack of a better word) I had with this book is that one of the main characters was so thinly drawn. He was essentially a pair of eyes for us to see the story through. It also didn’t help that every character around him was exactly the opposite: rich, complicated characters with arcs and faults and personalities, especially the character of Ye Wenjie, a politically ostracized scientist who is deep into the alien happenings. Her arc is the perfect example of personal, emotionally affecting character work expanded large onto a scope of terrifying science fiction ideas.
“Is it possible that the relationship between humanity and evil is similar to the relationship between the ocean and an iceberg floating on its surface? Both the ocean and the iceberg are made of the same material. That the iceberg seems separate is only because it is in a different form. In reality, it is but a part of the vast ocean.… It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.
This thought determined the entire direction of Ye’s life.”
Every sci-fi fan should read this. It is terrifying and thought-provoking and unsettling, and really, really interesting. Can’t wait for the translations of books two and three.