Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu: solid hard sci-fi with Chinese origin

There are very few sci-fi books that deliver an earth-shattering message. Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu is one of them. After hearing about it numerous times in Tim Ferris Show and other places, I finally read it in 2022. Its sci-fi concepts wrapped in an intriguing story captivated me so much that I finished the whole “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy in one go.

Hard sci-fi

Starting from the title itself, the novel is based on a three-body problem in physics. When extrapolated to a cosmic perspective, it sparks an intriguing place in our Milky Way. It’s surprising how underutilized in sci-fi stories is, this special case of n-body problem.

Proper historical and scientific research and use of parallels is the foundation of Liu’s book. Great physicists, philosophers and historical figures come alive and help explain technological development. Once the stage is set, the author asks vital questions:

  • What shall humanity do when faced with superior beings?
  • How would humanity defend itself?
  • What it means to be human in comparison to a superior being?
  • Who would lead scientific breakthroughs?
  • What if the scientific method doesn’t work anymore?

Most importantly, the book is free of space opera nonsense. There are no laser blasters or faster than light spaceships. Everything is based on our current understanding of physics. Solid hard sci-fi in its best form.

Chinese heritage

Me, and many of my friends to whom I recommended the book, experience similar challenges when starting the novel. The beginning, set in the 1960s China, is dull. Even though I’m interested in history and Chinese culture, there’s nothing captivating story-wise.

That, may be related to my lack of familiarity for all things China, including character names. My Western English-dominated perspective allows me to understand the story setting, but not all the nuances of the Chinese cultural background. However, it is refreshing to dive deep into an adventure without typical “Jack and Jane” as main characters.

Nevertheless, think about the “Three-Body Problem” as a fabulous list of hard sci-fi concepts, served in a decent storytelling of Chinese origin.

Ideas validation in 2124 and collective’s journey

I hope that people in 2124 will be reading Cixin Liu’s novels and appreciate how accurate were his visions. That’s how impressed I am. Jules Verne’s 19th century visions of submarines and spaceships became a reality a century later. Therefore, I imagine that Cixin Liu’s early 21st century ideas can materialize in the coming decades.

Moreover, I highly enjoy the absence of hero’s journey arc in the novel. In real life, the scientific discoveries are not achieved by the sheer willpower of a charismatic individual. Thus, a group of diverse and often flaw people (including scientists) are equally important characters in the book. I was thrilled to enjoy this collective’s journey on a quest to save humanity.

Before you read Three-Body Problem

Discovering all the plot twists and visionary hard sci-fi ideas on my own was the most gratifying experience. If possible, don’t read any plot overviews or reviews with spoilers. I was lucky to dive into the whole trilogy before it entered global pop-culture. Still, I highly recommend reading the book, even if you watched the adaptation. Reading a possible future scenario of the human race is truly invigorating. If you like physics, space, and deep humanistic questions, you’ll enjoy the Three-Body Problem.

Then be good to fellow humans and recommend the book without spoiler. Like I just did.

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