The Three Body Problem

This has been on my ‘to read’ list since it was translated in English a couple of years ago. It got great reviews and was deemed interesting, beyond its qualities as literature, for insight into a lesser known aspect of contemporary Chinese culture, which is to say, its science fiction.

The Three Body Problem is ‘hard’ science fiction, more or less. My friend Ryan gave a succinct definition of hard science fiction as being sci fi that depends on one thing being true that is not currently true. That could be a change to the laws of physics or it could be something like a technology not currently available. But the idea is to keep everything more or less the same, except for that one thing, but incorporating the projected, cascading effects of the change.

In this case, it is that contact was made with alien civilization living in the three star solar system of Alpha Centauri (the book’s title comes from the difficulty of determining orbital patterns when there is the gravitational effect of three stars on an object; the question, I gather, is whether it is possible to determine or whether the complex factors involved make it impossible and also whether it is a repeating pattern or not).

Something I see in Chinese movies, too (I watch a lot of Chinese actions movies – from the heyday or the Shaw Brothers to the latest one on Netflix), where the current government is not only not criticized, but more or less praised. There may be local corruption, but the theory is sound, as it were. That said, it was pretty darn critical of the Cultural Revolution.

It also implied that environmentalism is an alien plot to stop science. That felt a little weird, not in the least because China is now taking climate change and environmental degradation seriously.

Over all, it’s a surprisingly tense book, especially since we don’t really encounter the aliens (yet), but instead it’s a journey through scientific concepts and Umberto Eco-level conspiracies.

 

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