Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin (audio)

Everyone’s reading it, so I finally got around to it too. I guess this is a science fiction mystery book, and I enjoyed it overall. I was a bit disappointed when the whole mystery was revealed though, maybe this is the nature of mystery books?

The part about the Cultural Revolution in the beginning was super interesting and well written, including great metaphors which were somehow preserved (or maybe introduced) by the translator. I also liked the way in which the Communist theme permeated throughout the book, especially in how the message broadcast from Red Coast evolved from one loaded with propaganda and political fervor to a much more neutral and nuanced one. Incidentally, I wonder how this book made it past the Chinese censors.

Throughout the mysterious first part, I got a kick trying to figure out what was going on, and was really captured by the story. But I was disappointed by the big reveal. I found the hard sci-fi quantum and multi-dimensional explanation to be a bunch of mumbo jumbo, maybe due lack of physics expertise? Also, the AI protons sent by the Trisolarans just felt like a lazy explanation for the weird phenomenon plaguing Wong and other scientists earlier in the book. That said, blocking another civilization’s development is an interesting angle I haven’t thought/read/heard about before.

I enjoyed the development of some of the characters, especially Ye Wenjie and Big Shi. She was a compelling hero and a complex character. Her early life was well written, and again the slow revelation of the mysterious aspects of her backstory was compelling to me. I think it also helped that my audio book's reader did a good job modulating voices and

I really liked that I had to check some of the references made in the book to see if they were fictional or not. Turns out Silent Spring and Rachel Carson are real, but Bill Mather’s “contact as symbol” theory corporation is made up. This was a nice device to keep me on my feet, and blend fiction with reality.

There is a dark, unstated backdrop to the whole book. Ye wants to find a new civilization to right the wrongs of humanity, but after contact, rather than some profound shift in the worldview of our intelligent species, concerns just go up to a meta level. Both Sapiens and Trisolarans are back to the same inter-species competitive grind.

This book made me want to read Silent Spring, and get more informed about the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese history in general. I found the end to be both a humbling and hopeful. We may be bugs, but we are proud of it!