Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem poses existential questions about contact with alien life form but ultimately the hard sci gets in the way of a good story.
I chose to read this novel after reading Doom by Niall Ferguson – a non-fiction analysis of the politics of catastrophy. Niall Ferguson devotes a chapter (11) to the three empires – United States, China, Europe, and their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Niall Ferguson describes the novel as “China recklessly creates , then ingeniously solves, an existential threat to humanity.” Sounds familiar? Niall Ferguson goes on to comment that, after causing the COVID-19 disaster (and in the novel, the contact with an alien being), China then sought to claim the credit for saving the world from the disaster (with COVID-19, and in the novel).
Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem has quite a reputation.
Ken Liu’s 2014 English translation won a Hugo award, becoming the first novel from Asia to do so. Whilst spanning decades it is not quite a futuristic fantasy. Whilst it contemplates the prospect of contact with alien life form – through the complexities of shape-shifting Chinese communism – it remains a thesis about human societies and their emotional response to meeting another life form.
The book takes its name from a real-life physics problem. Whilst it chronicles the anticipation of meeting other life forms leading to existential disaster (as in real as civil wars and global warming, I found the novel dense to read with large sections exploring mathematical principles and scientific progress as plot devices.
A lead character, Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist who loses her parents and job during the revolution. She makes contact with the alien planet Trisolaris in her top-secret job as a technician on Red Coast base. In reaction to the horror of the revolution she encourages the Trisolarans to take over Earth and improve it.
The novel takes a left turn when she sets up a cult of supporters, the Earth-Trisolaris Organization, and recruits new members through a virtual reality game called Three Body. At times the diversion through the games feels like another – unnecessary story, making the environmental issues of Trisolaris lost in another sub plot of the game.
Ultimately the science part was a disincentive to me, and the virtual reality game too, making it harder to follow the main story.