The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (2024)


530 reviews352 followers

August 6, 2015

Badly Written and Ill Conceived Science Fiction with a Few Interesting Ideas

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (2)
I'm not sure I read the same book as everyone else. This got lots of four and five star reviews here on Goodreads.

Plus, it's been nominated for both Hugo and Nebula awards.

As often happens, I'm not with the majority opinion here. I give it two stars.

I'm not sure if the problem was the translation, or the original text, or both. (Unfortunately I only have the audio for this, so I can't quote the text here).

But I found the writing wooden, the characters two-dimensional cartoonish stick figures, and the audio narration poor. Although most of the characters are academics or intellectuals, the most believable and interesting character turns out to be a coarse and apparently ignorant policeman, She Qiang (nicknamed "Da Shi").

Most of the characters are cold and unsympathetic. A few of them commit murders for which they seem entirely unremorseful. It's impossible to care about these people.

And there are many unbelievable plot developments. For example, Mike Evans, an environmentalist, conveniently inherits his billionaire father's money at just the right time in the plot. I won't say much more about this as it's a spoiler.

This might have been acceptable in the early years of science fiction, but now it just seems like a bad novel.

As for the science...I'm not a physicist, so I can't really discuss the physics. Evidently, the three body problem has been unsolved by physicists dating back to Newton. So this part has some scientific basis.

Also, the stuff about micro circuitry was interesting.

But I have worked with computers for many years. The "human formation computer" (a computer powered by trained soldiers with colored flags) seems a bit silly to me, although nothing is impossible. I doubt if millions of humans could achieve the required precision. Interestingly, a minor character in the book who is an executive in a software company says the same thing.

Also, the author seems preoccupied with social status. And science is held up as an object of worship.

Science and technology are important, but I don't think they should be a religion (which in some quarters they seem to have become).

Anyway, here's a brief summary.

As a young girl, Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist, witnesses the killing of her father by Cultural Revolution fanatics.

She becomes an astrophysicist herself and is recruited for a secret Chinese science/military project, Red Coast. It's years before she learns the true purpose of the project.

Meanwhile, many intellectuals are playing a video game (which requires a haptic suit), called "The Three Body Problem". The main gamer character, Wang Miao, is a professor of physics specializing in nanotech.

It turns out the game and the Red Coast project are connected.

They both relate to extraterrestrial life.

In most respects, Trisolar is behind earth technologically (they are playing out earlier eras in earth history), but in certain respects they are ahead of earth.

Trisolar swings between "chaotic eras" and "stable eras". Both of these last for indeterminate time periods. Hundreds of civilizations there are destroyed by extremes of heat and cold produced by configurations of the three suns. Residents of Trisolar dehydrate themselves to survive chaotic eras.

The game's purpose is to spread information about Trisolar among persons of high intellectual capacity and high social standing. Even though Trisolar really exists, the game plays out differently for different players.

Anyway, I won't say much more about the story. I don't want to spoil it.

If you liked The Martian, you might enjoy this. The focus is technology and science, with the prose, characters, and plot being entirely secondary to the ideas. Isaac Asimov's Foundation was another book where the characters and plot were subordinate to the ideas, although I think it works much better as a novel than this does.

I didn't really care for Luke Daniels' audio narration either. His voice varied from leaden in some spots to over-excited in others. And when doing foreign accents, he either exaggerated them, or in some cases, got them wrong.

I'd say pass on this one, except that lots of others seem to love it.


558 reviews28.1k followers

March 21, 2024

I'm going to call it right now. Even though I only just finished book one, I'm certain The Three-Body Problem will go down as my favorite sci-fi series of all time.

This book blew my mind so thoroughly that it leaves only destruction in its wake. Where could Liu Cixin have possibly come up with all of these ideas and concepts? No wonder everyone says this is wildly imaginative. Even a single one of the ideas in here would have sufficed for a book of its own, but to put them all together into a single cohesive epic tale is absolutely jaw-dropping.

The pacing is relentless and the surprises just keep coming. In fact, it has more twists and turns than most mysteries and thrillers I've read. Not only is the story utterly riveting, but it's also insightful and thought-provoking, touching upon science, politics, philosophy, and history. I found myself glued to the pages. I wanted to inhale the story as fast as I could, but I had to slow myself down periodically to reread and fully absorb all that the book was trying to tell me.

This is my favorite type of science fiction, one that puts science front and center and unabashedly celebrates everything about it. There's no handwaving, no hocus pocus. Every point brought up is eventually explained via actual science in ways that made complete sense. And what ingenious explanations they are, sure to stun and amaze any reader.

I found the initial pages, set during the Cultural Revolution, to be enlightening. This was the defining event of my parents' generation, yet they hardly talk about it. How do you put into words the frenzy that overtook a whole country, such that science and learning were denounced, and friends turned on friends, neighbors turned on neighbors? It's like a fever burned through the population, and left famine, trauma, and destruction in its wake. This emotionally fraught experience influences all who went through it, including the characters in this book.

With translations, there's always the fear that some vital but intangible part of the story will be lost. And this is especially the case when the two languages in question do not share a common linguistic ancestor, so translating between them is not as simple as one-to-one. In the translator's notes at the end of the book, Ken Liu mentions that he was cognizant of this and tried hard to preserve not only the story, but also the cadence and feel of the Chinese language and culture in his translation. I think he did an excellent job.

One thing to note is that the official book blurb is quite short for this story, but in my opinion, even that gives away too much. This is a book best experienced blind, so if you're going to read it, don't look up anything about it ahead of time.

What a tremendous way to start the trilogy. My expectations for the remaining two books are sky high, and I'm assured by everyone I know who has already read them that they will be met and exceeded. I have no doubt only goodness awaits me.

See also, my thoughts on:
#2. The Dark Forest
#3. Death's End

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Rick Riordan

Author252 books430k followers

February 18, 2016

Adult sci-fi. By Chinese author Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem takes a classic scenario -- contact with alien life -- and cranks up the sinister factor to maximum. The story begins during the Cultural Revolution when young Ye Wenjie watches her scientist father beaten to death by fervent revolutionaries. She is sent off for hard labor at a re-education camp, but by a strange twist of fate gets a chance to work at a top secret government project seeking out extraterrestrial life. Fast forward to the present, when nanotech scientist Wang Miao is snatched up by cops and brought to a secret meeting of military officials who are fighting an unnamed enemy -- some force that is trying to destroy the roots of human science and technology by killing scientists or driving them to suicide. Wang goes undercover in this strange conspiracy when he started playing a virtual reality game called The Three-Body Problem, which only the most brilliant scientific minds can hope to beat.

The premise is fascinating and well-grounded (as far as I can tell) in hard science. The book raises haunting questions: Do we really *want* to contact other civilizations? If you had the chance to pull the plug on the human race, would you do so? Is science truly objective and provable, or is it simply the best we can do given our limited understanding of four dimensions?

I found the novel a bit of a struggle until about halfway in. There are a lot of characters, and many of them seem like ciphers to advance the plot or mouthpieces to espouse ideas rather than living breathing people. Sometimes the prose seems like the summary of a novel rather than a novel. However, the ideas are compelling. This is about as close to "mind-blowing" as any book I've read. If you like big ideas and fantasy based on hard science, this is worth a read.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.

Emily (Books with Emily Fox on Youtube)

594 reviews65.7k followers

March 29, 2024


I just rated a book 5 stars.

Just read it.

**Update now that I've read the whole trilogy!**

This is now one of my all time favorite sci-fi series. The concepts are brilliant and I fear that I'll never find anything this mind-blowing.

With that said... the books are quite sexist (the first half of the first two books are quite slow and painful) but I still recommend them if you can stomach it.

They're incredibly science heavy but anyone interested in space and first contact with aliens needs to read this!

*After watching the show all I can say is... the characters were done so much better in it. Prepare yourself if you haven't read the books yet!*

    audiobooks favorites


641 reviews562 followers

January 16, 2015

A scientist is drawn into a conspiracy involving a computer game and an old research station and extra-terrestrial life.

Translated from the original Chinese. I have to admit I read this book mostly because the way it's being talked about made me really uncomfortable. There's the contingent who want to treat it as some sort of referendum on the Chinese science fiction landscape, or Chinese literature in general, as it was a wildly successful bestseller there. Yeah, okay, tell you what – go take a look at this week's NY Times bestseller list and pick out the book we should translate into other languages for readers to judge as a referendum on all of American writing of that genre. I'll wait. And then there's the way the translator responded to criticism by making a lot of sweeping statements about Chinese writing that I have very little doubt, even in the absence of any personal expertise, are dubious at best. This book is occupying some weird space in reviewerland, is what I'm saying.

So I read it, and. Um. It's not very good. Flat characters, some shall we say eyebrow raising decisions regarding women, a lot of but humans don’t human that way, etc. Which kind of figures, since if notions of best seller can be translated, then this book is Chinese Tom Clancy. So . . . there you go.

It did intrigue me on behalf of other Chinese science fiction, though. The cultural context of this story – the asides about how communism impacted intellectual thought, for example – interested me more than anything else.

I generally have a pretty good nose for these things, though, and I smell movie deal, for what that's worth.

    fiction science-fiction


991 reviews274 followers

July 10, 2015

I'm really waffling between whether to rate "did not like it" vs. "it was okay" -- I very, very rarely give out one stars, and it feels uncharitable because it was a book I wanted to like more than I did, and I want more diverse SF, but... no. I've consciously created a "not my cup of tea" shelf for this very book, however, because a lot of people seem to have liked it. Is this what hard SF is like? In which case, it reminds me of similar "I am completely unable to get interested in this" problems I had with Kim Stanley Robinson last year.

I actually started this book months ago, but wasn't feeling it after the first chapter and stopped. I picked it up again now, stubbornly ploughing through because of the Hugos, and I kept waiting for it to suddenly turn around and wow me, but... it never did. At the 80% mark, I was still waiting.

Learning more about the Chinese Cultural Revolution was fascinating, and I liked seeing its colossal effects on Ye, plus the feeling of 'science will save us' that permeates the society. Liu Cixin's imagination of an alien society was really good and unique (dehydrate! dehydrate!).

Da Shi is, hands-down, the best character of this entire book. I much rather wanted to read his tales of fighting crime, with his seedy, no-bullsh*t, 'I'm not a good cop, but I'm a great cop' approach. He livened up every scene he was in! Instead, this was so much like reading a physics textbook.

That's about where my praise ends, because I prefer emotional character-driven plots with some action, whereas this is a science-driven impersonal plod. Who the hell is Wang, our protagonist? After one single scene with his wife and son (!), they literally disappear for the rest of the book, and I couldn't tell you what his personality is like. He's just the viewfinder through which we see information unfold -- and unfold it does, with just reams and reams of exposition and info-dumps.

The prose is dull. I didn't so much mind it being stilted, and the dialogue carrying the remnants of its original language (a conscious effort on the translator Ken Liu's part), but it's just such a trudging plod. I highlighted a few more poetic passages that I really liked, but for the most part it leans more to clinical and dry.

I really liked the virtual reality chapters, but after all that buildup, I feel like it just fizzles out and absolutely, literally, nothing has been accomplished by the end of the book. With where the plot goes, the entire book honestly just feels like a prologue for the sequel.

I feel like the Goodreads blurb was pretty awfully off-base, touting that it has "the scope of Dune and the commercial action of Independence Day". I... what??? There is literally ONE action scene, it occurs about 90% through the book, and the characters aren't actively involved, just watching on from afar. And while the alien world/society is interestingly-written, it is nowhere near the scope of Dune.

Without characters with real depth to get attached to, I just never got hooked into this book. Ye has so much potential, but I feel like she wasn't fleshed out enough either -- people's more interesting psychological choices are left unplumbed/unexplored, meaning that I'm left with behaviour that I don't really buy, that doesn't seem natural for a human to do. Specifically:

The chronology and pacing is all over the place, too, hopping back and forth in time and as characters tell each other rambling stories. It's slow and sedate and takes forever to get anywhere -- the blurb trumps up , but even that doesn't happen in the book at all, and indeed, , so what in the world is the point of this story?

I mean, I get the point. I get that it's about humans pitted against humans, and the divisive cracks that can tear us apart even without the physical presence of an Other.

But man, I just couldn't bring myself to care. I'm so sorry, Cixin. I wanted to love it.

    asia-or-aapi hugo-awards-2015 in-translation

Mario the lone bookwolf

805 reviews4,880 followers

May 7, 2022

Comparing Cixin to Arthur C Clarke, as the press did, might be appropriate.

Reread 2022 with extended review

Hostility towards science ruins everything
Ignorance and especially ideology fueled hate against science, and especially scientists who were torchbearers of the unwanted, enemy ideology are a certain way to ruin your world domination plans. No matter if Catholic church, the Nazis with their weird physics ( infodump, no required reading, and uchronia overkill: if they wouldn´t have been antisemitic, but instead anti communism, anti American capitalism, anti Muslim, etc., they would possibly have had the correct science to first build nuclear bombs. Because many people at the Manhatten project would have stayed in Germany) or, in this case, the Chinese. As soon as one bans certain science and doesn´t allow research, degeneration sets in, and keeping pace with more enlightened competitors becomes impossible. Cixin shows the historic examples and contrasts them with near future science, showing how far we came in such a short period of time thanks to the rise of science, relativizing the depressing beginning.

Epic, flowery language, which is unusual for the genre
First, this seems more like an extremely well written, average nonfiction novel, because the science comes slowly (but boy, how it finally comes), and all the metaphors and character fused and focused exposition make one as interested in the characters as in the story itself, which is amazing for a genre that often prioritizes plot and worldbuilding over protagonists. Especially towards the second half and end, this acceleration leads to a culmination of both style and world that is a rare, exceptional enjoyment in the genre.

Unique ideas
I can´t really mention much without spoilers, but this work has some mindboggling, ingenious ideas I´ve hardly ever seen in other sci-fi works, not even close. It may be Cixins´technical background that made him finetune such pearls of the genre into his work and, if I got it right, even added some innuendos to Chinese history and military tactics, although I am far from sure und too unknowing to definitively confirm that conjecture.

Drawing a (big) history picture of ones´ country
Some other authors, I am too lazy and procrastinating to remember and name them here, did already use the real, alternative, future, alternative past, etc history of their countries to give great edutainment lectures of the sociocultural, epigenetic evolution and that it could have been completely different, often just decided by one improbable random event, a prodigy inventing or discovering something, or a lunatic hate preacher made god king, leader, or elected democratic president, whatever the difference is. ( Personal opinion: It´s not as if voting all few years and having a work environment that´s just slavery with extra steps, and sometimes even free social services in Europe at least still, speaks of true sociocultural evolution. See freaking end of history drivel. It´s just less inhumane and politically correct, but it stayed a de facto dictatorship.) That´s not just entertaining, but a great way to learn more about foreign cultures too, especially with the subtle criticism and satirizing element sci-fi loves to add to everything in general and which makes it the best genre of them all.

Maybe a bit too hard for the beginning and average sci-fi reader
One prone to the genre and used or even in some theoretical concepts will enjoy it, for others it might be a bit too much, especially because so many protagonists are scientists too to make the infodumpy technobabble Elysium more credible and better and easier to plot. Skimming and scanning the theoretical, as in other less hard sci-fi works, isn´t a solution in this case too, because everything is so interconnected that one won´t get the whole picture anymore without it.

Old perspective before reading the whole trilogy:
Can´t wait to see how the other parts are, especially regarding its outstanding role in the genre
What I´ve heard, Cixin did an amazing job in connecting the whole trilogy, especially regarding the scientific, main tropes fueling this new milestone of the genre. With other of my favorite genre authors, whose perfect deliveries I do already know and love, this wouldn´t be so exciting, but because of the special, fresh taste of this first piece of orgiastic sci-fi nerdgasm, I am so looking forward to reading the next parts as unprepared and curious as I could be. And, without being narcissistic (again), this means something.

New view after having been enlightened and proselytized to just believe in the almighty Flying Spaghetti Monster:
This trilogy owns close to everything just aspiring to be a big sci fi we´re so small in comparison moment. If you can handle this epic triple, you´ll begin a never ending love affair with the best genre to rule, vivisect, and cosmic body horror them all.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:



Author5 books4,484 followers

April 3, 2024

Re-read 1/30/24:

I got my special hardcover out and took my sweet time reading this. It's a favorite, to be sure, and I knew it before I started it now.

I mean, sure, I'm reading it because the Netflix adaptation is coming out rather soon, but MOSTLY, I just want to enjoy the OMG WHAT DID I JUST READ moments all over again.

Hard SF is absolutely my thing. Good or even great Hard SF is just too much for my poor heart. Good thing I know how to dehydrate just before I'm utterly dead. I'll be sure to come back during another Stable Season.

And yes, I'm muahahahahahaing about what I know will come in the full trilogy. No spoilers, but wow.

Original Review:

From the opening, I was struck by how much history I didn't know about China's Cultural Revolution. It might be obvious to anyone growing up in those parts, of course, but I was almost lost in that story long before I saw that there was anything sci-fi about the novel. This is a good thing. It speaks of good writing.

And then things changed. I became a frog in a pot. Small hints accumulate, surrounded by mathematical problems both fundamental and curious.

And then the MC's sanity is questioned. It's an open question that both the reader and the character must answer.

And then I got an idea. I could easily make the argument that all scientists in this novel are actually Main Characters, and indeed, that theory only becomes crystal clear later in the novel. It was a delight.

The novel is full of scientist suicides, damn odd hallucinations, all the way to a fantastic virtual reality game that draws intellectuals from around the world before devolving into a suggestive epic space opera featuring some of the most interesting aliens I've read about in a LONG time.

The worldbuilding is top-knotch-squared.

The clever uses of technology are the true highlights of the novel, and I'm upset. Why? Because the translations and publications for the next two novels are still in the future. Why am I still upset? Because I can hardly find the other works for this great author.

A grandmaster of Chinese sci-fi? I can't deny the fact. And just because I can't compare to other science fiction masters of Chinese literature is a null point. I am already a fanboy. I'll be revelling in every work I can get my hands on.

This is a fantastic example of how great science fiction can be. Truly inspiring.


This novel now a Hugo Nominee for 2015 because of the translation and introduction into the English-speaking market. It is a last minute replacement for Marco Kloos's Lines of Departure that was bravely self-removed due to the Sad Puppy 3 controversy. It wasn't his fault, and he got caught up in some seriously not-cool BS with this year's Hugo. He should be treated like any other Hugo Nominee. With respect and awe for the accomplishment it is, even though he withdrew.

On the other hand, after finding out that Three Body Problem took his place, I have to admit that it couldn't have happened to a better novel. I loved this one. It was really fantastic and it had everything I like to see in seriously good fiction.

This one might truly be my top pick for the year. It might be the one I cast my ballot on. But first, I need to read a few more Nominees. I take this very seriously. We bring our levels of joy and dedication to the ideas we thrive on. Awards are only as good as we make them. I refuse to let the Hugo become a quagmire.

Let the best novel win!

Brad K Horner's Blog

    2024-shelf fanboy-goes-squee history

Adina (way behind)

1,076 reviews4,401 followers

September 6, 2017

The Three-Body Problem was the best SF novel that I’ve read so far. Admittedly, I did not read a lot of them. However, I can recognize when I encounter a special gem and this one definitely is unique in its world building. Moreover, it is very well written (and translated) which, unfortunately, it is not always the case with SF novels, especially with the classics.

The first chapters take place in the Chinese Cultural revolution and I thought to be a harrowing experience which perfectly introduced the reader in the oppressive atmosphere of the time. I do not want to say too much of the plot because I believe it is better for each of you to explore it. I went in almost blindly and I appreciated the opportunity to discover by myself how the plot develops. What I can tell is that you will read an amazing blend of Chinese history, mythology, hard SCi-Fi and well crayoned characters. If I were to reveal anything I guess this quote from the first part of the novel is pretty suggestive.

“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.”

The novel can be hard on science sometimes but the aspect did not lower my enjoyment, although I was overwhelmed by some explanations as my background is mostly economics. Despite some long science passages, the narration flows beautifully and I was not bored for one second.

I am looking forward to reading the next volume in the series and I hope it will not suffer from the 2nd books syndrome.

Excellent! One of the best SF books I've read. Review to come.

    china fantasy-sf favorites


864 reviews14.4k followers

December 18, 2022

This is when using a few "Expectations vs. Reality" memes could have come in handy, actually. Because I remember that this book made quite a splash in the SFF world (netted a Hugo, actually) and the reviews from my very respected GR friends are overwhelmingly glowing.

So maybe I just read it wrong, whatever that means. But…

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (12)

The story set-up was actually interesting, and there were some ideas that were worth exploring: the startling naivete of believers in a bright shiny idea, and the dangers of one person making decisions that affect the whole humanity, as well as implications of science breakdown. But it is the damn execution that ruined it for me.

It's the passive detachment that persists through the entire narrative. Not only do things mostly- *just happen* to our main POV person (like those old 19th century novels where the protagonist serves just as our eyes into the story with not much agency and mostly observational powers) but there's a strange lack of emphasis on events and revelations that by all means should elicit any sort of strong response. It seems that the same amount of emotion is spent on a video game as there is on murders and possibility of alien invasion.

And the wooden, stilted, dry and choppy writing does not help.

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (13)

Things are basically just chugging along from A to B to C with no drive behind it. At one point I said to my buddy reader that I have more inner turmoil and emotion picking a pair of socks to wear for the day than a character in this book realizing that truly creepy things are happening. And characters’ conclusions and motivations make ZERO logical sense to me besides that the plot needs them to think a certain way.

It's a detached monotony with an odd mechanistic cadence to it, and at times I was wondering why I am supposed to care when even the characters don't.

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (14)

And then, close to the end, we get a sudden boatload of exposition with extra exposition on top, and my eyes rolled so hard I think I strained a muscle. It was almost as bad as a moustache-twirling villain explaining the plot at the end trope.

And in the end I realized I just didn’t care, and although this book is nothing but a prologue into a larger story, it seems, I really don’t care enough even to read the entire trilogy synopsis on Wikipedia.

2 stars, being generous. At least the science bits were almost cool, although exceedingly dry.

Buddy read with Alexander Peterhans. Maybe we will have better luck next time.


Also posted on my blog.

    2022-reads hugo-nebula-nominees-and-winners

Shawn McComb

76 reviews13.4k followers

March 16, 2023

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740 reviews53.1k followers

September 29, 2017

3.5/5 Stars

The Three-Body Problem may be one of the most critically acclaimed Sci-Fi novels of our modern age, and in my opinion, it truly deserved the recognition for all the Sci-Fi ideas and narrative, but not for the characterization.

The Three-Body Problem, the first book in Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu, was actually something I never heard of despite its apparent popularity until I stumbled upon an interview with Barack Obama. He stated that this is one of his favorite novels, Mark Zuckerberg agreed and said the same thing, and that made me decided to give it a try. Plus, the cover for this trilogy is gorgeous. Most of you probably already know that TTBP won Hugo Award for best novel in the year 2015, it also has been nominated for many other Sci-Fi awards and there’s an upcoming movie in production already.

Pictures: Movie posters of "3Body: Once Upon a Time in Earth". Artworks by Jay Wong

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (17)

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (18)

The question is: does it deserved all the praise it received? Mostly yes, especially when it comes to how the book discussed a lot of relatable topics with our current societies; mostly science (d’oh), religions and human nature.

“Even if God were here, it wouldn’t do any good. The entire human race has reached the point where no one is listening to their prayers.”

As far as we know, humans have been reaching for extraterrestrial contact forever now; there’s been plenty of “sightings” or conspiracy theories but none of them are concrete proof. I’m a believer that there are another life forms outside of Earth, and there’s no doubt it will be a groundbreaking discovery when they truly make that first contact with our world. As exciting as that sounds, humans tend to forget that when they do appear, how EXACTLY will humanity react? The Three-Body Problem revolved mostly around this question and the concept of The Three-Body Problem equation—that hasn’t been solved—were used to explore motivation and behavior of humans in the face of the unknown.

“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.”

The book shone light upon many historical events of China’s Cultural Revolution and several philosophies of the well-known scientists such as Einstein. The entire plot was told in two different timelines, Cultural Revolution and our modern age, both in China; the scope of the story, however, is massive. There’s a lot of limitation to what I can talk about here because the main strength of this book lies within its mystery; telling you more of the plot will definitely change your expectation, in fact, I probably already said more than enough.

One thing you should definitely know though is that this is a hard Sci-Fi, and I will not claim to understand all the scientific terms in this book. I’m not a genius or science freak here, some scientific terms did go over my head. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite good at envisioning and understanding Sci-Fi in my head, but only when it comes to something that has to do with pewpewpew (laser gun), ngungggggggg (lightsaber), boom boom wooshhh (space opera) or alternate reality stuff; the terms that go over my head mostly have to do with physics and scientific calculations. For someone who on a good day got 7/100 (don’t you dare laugh at me) on their physics final exam back in high school, stating that I understood all the scientific terms here is equivalent to saying an iguana invented iPhone; impossible.

Now, enough talking about how dumb and dumber I am with physics, my point is, despite some terms I failed to understand, I was never bored throughout my time reading this book. I don’t think it’s fair for me to judge the prose, especially knowing that this is a translated work but in my opinion, Ken Liu did an excellent job on the translation. Cixin/Ken Liu explained the required terms in understanding the plot as easy as possible, making sure that the readers fully understand the plot at least. The reason I say this book is slightly overrated is not due to the plot or scientific terms; how can I possibly judge something as overrated from something that I don’t fully understand? That’s nonsense. However, it's because of the weak characterizations.

This book is written in third person limited omniscient narrative and this direction is apt for the story that Cixin Liu tried to tell; with a lot of changes in locations and timelines combined with the withholding of information, they provided a sense of mystery that compelled the reader to continue. However, the downside of this is that the characters felt flat and devoid of feelings because we never truly get inside the person’s head. Characterizations are the most important factors in the books I read, and this book suffers from great characters to love. In fact, I'm fully disconnected from the characters that I can’t even bring myself to care whether they die or not.

Overall, The Three-Body Problem is a great book filled with imaginative ideas and intriguing plot but fell short due to its weak characterizations. If you’re a fan of heavy scientific terms, this is truly a book you must try to read. I can’t wait to see what the sequel has in store because the ending of this book made me realize that this is just a beginning to an epic Sci-Fi tale.

You can find this and the rest of my Adult Epic/High Fantasy & Sci-Fi reviews at BookNest

Emily May

2,070 reviews313k followers

March 24, 2024

One night, Ye was working the night shift. This was the loneliest time. In the deep silence of midnight, the universe revealed itself to its listeners as a vast desolation.

I have friends who thought this was one of the deepest cleverest books they’ve ever read, and other friends who thought it was an overlong, dull stream of exposition.

The difficulty I have is that I think they’re both kinda right.

Some people said the beginning was slow, but this was the part I found most gripping. I was fascinated by all the parts about the Chinese Cultural Revolution and I thought it was very tense when Wang began seeing an inexplicable countdown in the photographs he took. What happens when the timer gets to zero? I was desperate to know.

I also love books that are like looking up into the vast expanse of space and feeling just how infinitesimal you are. It can be literal or metaphorical, but I think some of the best sci-fi concepts are ones that make me feel tiny. Blake Crouch also does it effectively for me, though his books are a lot lighter than Liu's. That feeling of being stood at the centre of something way bigger and more complex than you will ever understand is so powerful (look at me being deep!)

The story unfolds slowly, creating a sense of foreboding and just... wrongness. It was effective. There were moments in the first third or so where I felt deeply unsettled, almost scared.

The hardest part for me was in the middle. There was a lot of technical language that I had to struggle through with the help of google. I am one of those people who will profess an interest in science but, truthfully, I am most acquainted with simply-explained easily digestible science. I gotta be honest.. start talking about nanoparticles and molecular construction and my eyes typically glaze over. But I don’t mind doing the work. Google was my friend. I tried my best to follow it.

I think, though, worse than the technical language and never-ending exposition, was playing the game. In the middle of this book, the characters spend a lot of time playing a video game called Three-Body. I get that it serves a bigger purpose than simple game-playing, but also it is in fact just a game, and I found it mind-numbing to sit through Wang's adventures into each new Trisolaris civilization.

I've never been into books about playing games, never got the Ready Player One thing. I like playing games myself, but don't understand the appeal of watching others do it. And that's what it felt like I was doing for a big chunk of this book.

Add to this the fact that characterization suffers in favour of exploring the sci-fi concept, and my interest peaked somewhere in the first half.

My husband just finished the second book and liked it more than this one, so I will give it a go. I'm hoping for a little less conversation, a little more action and a lot more in the way of characters I can become invested in. Here's hoping!

    2024 sci-fi

Michael Finocchiaro

Author3 books5,895 followers

April 20, 2024

A fascinating piece of sci-fi by Chinese writer Cixin Liu. A surprising mix of nanoscience, string theory, astrophysics. and religion with the Cultural Revolution as a background, the story takes its protagonist Xiao Wang (the nanoscientist) into an adventure that will impact all of humanity. I liked Ye, the astrophysicist, and found Du Shi, the policeman, funny and well-drawn. As for the action and plot, it is easy to read although I got a little lost in the pure science aspects once or twice (despite being an engineer and having dabbled in quantum mechanics years ago). I am excited about reading the next two books (which I suspect will be a little like the Foundation Trilogy by Asimov) and hope you'll also enjoy this one. Note that it won the Hugo Award in 2015, kind of a geek's Pulitzer if you will.

Having finished the entire series, I have to say that it does get better and better as it evolves. The narrative structure of this first book is quite different than the other two but all are extraordinary.
I am reading the Cixin Liu-approved fan extension, The Redemption of Time by Baoshu now, and it is really good but you have to have finished the trilogy to follow it.

2024 update
I just finished the Netflix adaptation of this first book. I watched the first episode via Rakuten of the Chinese version, but found the pace to be too repetitive and brooding for my western taste. The American/British version has been scorned by China due to the depiction of the brutality of the Cultural Revolution in the beginning (an illegitimate criticism being that the book itself was unsparing in its depiction of the violence and absurdity of this sorrowful period of Chinese 20th C history, if you are unfamiliar with it, please read up a bit perhaps stating with the beautiful Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie). However, their criticism of the nearly all-white casting seems legitimate to me. Where in the book, the protagonists are only connected by the events moving forward in the story and were primarily of Chinese origin, the showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss (creators of the A Game of Thrones adaptation which started out fantastic and ended abruptly and catastrophically) cast is very white and most of the protagonists start the stories as a group of university friends from Oxford. So, the adaptation already has a very western perspective which the book absolutely did not have. On the other hand, the way that the computer game that Sophon orchestrates is very well-done (even if Sophon looks more Thaï-American than Chinese once again). I suppose that Benioff and Weiss couldn't resist recasting John Bradley here, but I kept seeing Samwell Tarly rather than Jack Rooney and . The character Evans was rather weak in my opinion as was Auggie (despite being drop-dead gorgeous which is probably why they cast her in it).

If you look at it independently from the original book, it is good sci-fi with a palpant tension in the plot and a narrative that relentlessly pulls you forward towards the final crisis (which will have to wait for the next seasons to occur). The filming and special effects are what you'd expect from the old GoT crew. Let's hope they don't f*ck it up in the later seasons (because honestly seasons 7 and especially 8 were sad parodies of the rest of the show in my opinion). But, if you try to compare it too closely to the book, you will be disappointed I think.

Fino's Cixin Liu and other Chinese SciFi and Fantasy Reviews
The Three Body Problem
The Dark Forest
Death's End
The Wandering Earth
Supernova Era"
Ball Lightning
The Redemption of Time (Fan Fiction approved by Cixin Liu)
Invisible Planets (Short Story Anthology)
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
The Grace of Kings
The Wall of Storms

    chinese-21st-c favorites fiction

John Mauro

Author6 books761 followers

March 26, 2024

My complete review is published at Grimdark Magazine.

Against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution, Ye Wenjie’s father is a well-accomplished physics professor at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. His embrace of Western science—including the work of Einstein and Bohr—leads him to be accused of embracing reactionary ideologies. He is beaten to death by students from the Red Guard in front of his terrified daughter. Ye Wenjie herself later becomes persecuted and imprisoned for embracing Western thought. She is saved by two military scientists working at the Red Coast, a top-secret space program by the Chinese government, who recognize Ye Wenjie’s outstanding abilities as a physicist.

The core idea of The Three-Body Problem draws directly from Stanisław Lem’s 1961 sci-fi classic, Solaris, which considers whether a planet that orbits two suns can support the evolution of life. In Solaris, the two suns have vastly different intensities, causing the climate of the orbiting planet, Solaris, to vary drastically depending upon which of the two suns is currently closer. The resulting climatic fluctuations cast doubt upon whether Solaris has a climate consistent enough to support biological evolution, which requires relative climatic stability over millions of years.

In The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu ups the ante by introducing a third sun to the problem. The orbital path of a planet around three suns poses a complex mathematical problem that has eluded solution for hundreds of years. In The Three-Body Problem, the orbiting planet, Trisolaris, experiences periods of relative stability punctuated by periods of sudden climatic chaos.

Throughout its planetary history, Trisolaris has undergone hundreds of stable periods, where society has achieved varying levels of scientific and technological development, only to be wiped out by sudden climate changes. The Trisolarans have evolved the ability to dehydrate themselves to survive through these periods of chaos, but they have finally determined that the only way their society can survive in the long-term is to colonize another inhabitable planet with a more stable climate. Compared to Trisolaris, the pale blue dot we know as Earth looks rather enticing.

Beyond its excellent treatment of scientific principles, The Three-Body Problem raises several important philosophical questions, the deepest of these being: Is humanity worth saving? As Ye Wenjie becomes one of the leading scientists searching for extraterrestrial life, her experiences during the Cultural Revolution have molded her views on the value of humanity.

Read my full review at Grimdark Magazine.


3,803 reviews1,219 followers

May 21, 2022

Remembrance of Earth's Past #1: This book won the 2015 Hugo Award for Fiction despite being originally published in Chinese/Mandarin(?) in 2006! How good does a book have to be to sweep all before it at the Hugo's nearly a decade after being first published? Well. It would have to be a book as good as this one! Nanotech engineer Wang Miao is more or less compelled to infiltrate what appears to be a secret cabal of scientists, compelled by a secret military(!) alliance between NATO, the USA and China! While undercover Wang gets absorbed with the online-immersive game 'The Three Body Problem' a game that seeks to build civilisation in a chaotic world with three suns! It begins to dawn on Wang and his betters, that this game might be much much more than it seems!
The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (23)
A book that starts with one of the key character's Cultural Revolution trauma leading to them being exiled to a scientific research base, a base set up to reach out to possible intelligent life in the universe, was in itself astounding, interesting and uber page turning, until I realised that that was the backstory and just the opening salvo of what I feel beyond doubt will be the greatest speculative fiction / science fiction series I've read since Dan Simmons' The Hyperion Omnibus. This book takes a frank and honest look at the traumatic impact of the Chinese Cultural Revolution on the science community; what could happen to 'real police' forced to serve under authoritarian regimes; how science would most likely reach out to the stars; how the modern world breeds apathy; and most of all beautifully using real and theoretical physics to illustrate questioning the rationale that far advanced extraterrestrial intelligent life would necessarily be any more enlightened than humankind!
The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (24)
It was after reading Yun's review, and knowing Yun is as wary as I, to award Five Stars and super-praise a read, that I knew that this book had to be something special, and it so was! What I can only really say is just read it. Page for page the most innovative, awe inspiring, far reaching, outrageous take on hard science/speculative fiction I've ever read, a book that dares to bring science itself to the front of storytelling and making it the biggest 'character' in the story, and somehow doing it so well! One. God. Damn. Fine. Read. 10 out of 12, Five Star Read.
The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (25)
2022 read

    sci-fi-beam-me-up spec-fi-i-guess

Matt's Fantasy Book Reviews

324 reviews6,378 followers

August 22, 2023

3.5 stars. A strange book that feels more like a concept than a fully fledged out book. But what a fun concept it was!

Watch my video review by clicking here.


455 reviews16.5k followers

December 23, 2017

While this is obviously a masterpiece of hard sci-fi, that is also the reason I had a hard time connecting to it. While the science behind it all is complex and interesting, I found myself glazing over many a time and detaching from the story. The characters didn't feel real to me. Aside from that, this is a book I'd love to discuss with others because I wonder how much of this book was harder for me due to cultural and historical differences I wasn't even aware of while reading.

I think I have discovered that hard sci-fi is not for me, as I need more of a connection to the story and characters, but I'd recommend this for any science buff.

Matt Quann

700 reviews414 followers

September 29, 2020

I just spent a week with this hard science fiction, Hugo-award winning novel from Chinese author Cixin Liu and I have to admit: I'm impressed.

The Three-Body Problem had me putting off tasks to pick it up, stuck with me throughout my day, and was always a pleasure to read when I sat down with it. With that said, this isn’t a novel I’d easily recommend to everyone. This isn’t a review that offers a pan-recommendation along with its 5-star rating. Indeed, this review seeks to help an intrigued reader decide if this book would be a good fit for them and their reading taste.

Hard Sci-Fi

The premise of The Three-Body Problem is that an alien civilization receives a message from a Chinese scientist in the 1970s and plans to come to Earth, naturally, for a good old-fashioned invasion.

I know, I know. You’ve read this story before, right?

I assure you that this is a wholly original take wherein the aliens don’t even make a proper appearance for the entire novel. Instead, The Three-Body Problem is more concerned with its titular problem, scientific history, cutting edge scientific theory, and a fair smattering of ludicrous science near the novel’s end. This novel revels in its appreciation of science and a bit of brushing up on introductory physics would not go amiss.

However, if you don’t recall the mathematical expression that governs the motion of two celestial bodies in a vacuum, you need not worry. Cixin Liu (and his translator, Ken Liu) does a fantastic job in explaining basic and high-level science concepts in clear language. Although there were times in which I had to set the book down to interpret, these moments were largely towards the end of the book where the science gets really out there.

I was also less than impressed with the video game within the book that serves as an introduction to the alien civilization. Roughly, each time the game is booted up the player is greeted by an ever-advancing Earth-based representation of scientific progress. So, at first you meet an ancient Chinese king, but eventually you hang out with Einstein. This grew on me after the first few chapters set in the game. Liu uses these sections to convey the difficulty of the scientific problem at hand, show reverence for science history, and introduce the civilization in an innocuous way.

Space & Time

One of the things that really sets this reading experience apart from traditional science fiction is that it is really, really Chinese. The first 100 pages deal mostly with the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In fact, after 100 pages I realized that I was enjoying that material so much that I wouldn’t have minded if aliens never stopped in. Of course, as the novel goes on it does an excellent job of weaving together the threads from the Cultural Revolution and the impending invasion.

This Chinese-based sci-fi is a breath of fresh air, and it’s a shame that China’s most popular sci-fi author has never made the jump to English before. Not only is it set in a different part of the world from most sci-fi you’ll encounter, but it also feels remarkably different in writing style and plot development. Where other novels skim over the nitty-gritty of the science behind spectacle, The Three-Body Problem spends pages making sure the reader knows what to expect. This never feels obnoxious; on the contrary, it is refreshing to see an author convey a concept in such understandable language.

Though the novel alternates between the time of discovery during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the present day story, it never feels random. There are stretches where I spent 50 pages in the present, took a brief 10 page detour into the past, only to return for a lengthy bit set in the present. The story unfolds rather than following a strictly predictable path. Instead of predictability, it seems guided by logic. You don’t know about Y, but once you know X, Y follows much more easily.

This all makes for a read that is compelling because it makes the reader feel as if they are hot on the pursuit of the central mystery.

The Three Dimensional Character Problem

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned the cast of characters, and there’s good reason. I’m not the first reader to note this, but the lead characters in The Three-Body Problem are pretty flat. Indeed, Wang Miao may be a brilliant nanotechnology researcher, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you much about his personality. Instead of driving the plot, Wang reacts to it. I never felt that the decisions he makes in the novel were guided by his belief system. He’s kind of like the cart on an on-rail amusem*nt park ride. The ride sure is thrilling, but you’re unlikely to remember much about the cart.

Now, normally I’d be roasting this book alive for having such weak characterization. I mean, why read a book if you don’t care about the characters? The Three-Body Problem genuinely makes the case for having a fairly empty lead. I kept thinking during my read that I could imagine being in Wang’s shoes, pulling back the curtain on yet another mystery. It is genuinely impressive that Liu is able to pull off, at least for me, the sensation of feeling like you’re in on the mystery that would be lost with a stronger character.


This novel doesn’t end with resolution, though you could conceivably just read this novel and come away with a complete story. Of course, there are two more novels in the series that will delve further into the impressive, exciting, and pessimistic world that Liu has created. I’m hoping for some better-developed characters, but will happily continue on if the subsequent books are as mentally stimulating as this.

I’d suggest tackling this one if you are interested in a headier science-fiction story that eschews typical western plot, makes your brain twist and turn into weird shapes, and makes the case for more translated SFF.

**The second book is better than the first! You can find my review of The Dark Forest here!

    favourites not-can-us-or-uk sci-fi


1,927 reviews17k followers

March 27, 2017

I liked this and there is no doubt that this is a science heavy, brilliantly produced and contemplated, highly original SF novel from a physics understanding Chinese author that was good enough to win a slew of awards including the Hugo.

But I like to watch Ridiculousness. I like Travis McGee. I like Mickey F****** Spillane. Beer and pizza and a bug zapper is quality entertainment.

“Conan – what is best in life?”

Three Body Problem did not have near enough axe welding barbarians or laser beams for my taste.

Liu Cixin’s wildly popular, speculative fiction gem was first published in China in 2008 as 三体 (I guess – that’s what it says on Goodreads) and I enjoyed the English translation written by Ken Liu (himself a very talented writer) published in 2014.

Liu begins in the late 60s during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and then moves forward in time to a near future where a strange virtual reality game replicates an even stranger reality.

And the aliens.

Maybe I would have liked this more if I were a physicist. A very smart commentator opined that perhaps Westerners don’t get the subtle nuances of a writer whose cultural background is not based upon the individual but rather is more attuned to a gestalt perspective.

“Brilliant and entertaining “
– Dr. Sheldon Cooper.

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (30)

Metodi Markov

1,520 reviews372 followers

June 12, 2024

Българските читатели имат отчаяна нужда от модерни, умело напи��ани и смели фантастични книги. Такива, със съвсем малки изключения достигат до книжния ни пазар толкова рядко, че всяка прилетяла бяла лястовица се превръща в мини сензация.

Като верен почитател на жанра, формирал част от личните ми книжни предпочитания в края на осемдесетте и през деветдесетте години на миналия век, давам на "Трите тела" от Лиу Цъсин много висока оценка - и историята, и героите са чудесно развити и така успяха да задържат интереса ми до края на тази първа част от трилогията. Признавам, не разбрах всичко от физиката в книгата, но схванах общите идеи на автора и това само засили удоволствието ми.

Лиу Цъсин е вплел в интригата на този роман много интересни проблеми, върху които си струва човек да си поблъска главата. Очаквам развитието на клопките заложени пред човешката цивилизация от събитията през "Трите тела" в следващите два романа да е отново майсторски изпипано!

Интересно би било и да се научи, как се е промъкнала тази книга покрай жестоката комунистическа цензура, властваща в червен Китай и в този момент.


"В Китай всяка по-възвишена мисъл е обречена да се сгромоляса на земята. Гравитационното поле на реалността е твърде силно." (важи не само за там)

"Защо човечеството няма вродени знания за законите на Вселената?"

P.S. Преводът на г-н Стефан Русинов от китайски е чудесен и допринася много да се насладим напълно на това отлично четиво!

Тук можете да чуете интересните размисли на преводача за книгата и неговата работа по нея:

    2020 favorites linz

David Brin

Author298 books3,196 followers

November 17, 2014

The Three-Body Problem is part one of an award-winning trilogy by Liu Cixin — and is arguably the best Chinese science fiction novel ever translated into English. Liu uses the “three-body problem” of classical mechanics to ask some terrifying questions about human nature and what lies at the core of civilization.

The series explores the world of the Trisolarans, a race that is forced to adapt to life in a triple star system, on a planet whose gravity, heat, and orbit are in constant flux. Facing extinction, the Trisolarans plan to evacuate and conquer the nearest habitable planet, and finally chooses a candidate/victim when it intercepts a message—from Earth. The Three-Body Problem has been translated into English by award-winning writer, Ken Liu (author of books such as The Grace of Kings). Take a look at Stephan Martiniere's way-cool cover for the coming Tor Books edition!)

Special note… The Three Body Problem deals very closely with the issue of SETI and the Fermi Paradox and whether we should shout "yoo-hoo!" into the cosmos -- a quandary about which I've also written, from time to time.

But the biggest news is this proof of the maturation of Chinese science fiction into the top ranks of thorough and fascinating thought experimentation. I’ve long maintained that the health of an enlightened and progressive society is measured by how vibrant is its science fiction, since that is where true self-critique and appraisal and hope lie. If so, the good news stretches beyond China!


113 reviews164 followers

October 9, 2023

3.5 stars, rounded up purely for the entertainment value.

First, I should probably clarify that this is a review for 三体, the Chinese original of The Three-Body Problem, and therefore contains no opinion on Ken Liu's translation (except that I'm happy he fixed a factual error in the original text, which I found out while discussing with friends in this thread). I should probably also clarify that, had this book been in English, I would've probably DNF'ed or given it a much lower rating, since the writing style hits quite a few no-nos that are typically immediate turnoffs for me -- bland and distant narrative voice, all tell and no show, flat stick figure characters, weird and awkward moments when sudden emotional monologues pop up that build up from nowhere, etc ... But somehow, either because I have a different cultural expectation here (many of these traits aren't too uncommon for Chinese books as far as I can tell), or because I can read Chinese much faster and skim over the details I don't like (it took me only about a third of the time I typically need for an English book to finish this one), I was able to look past these problems and focus on just the ideas instead of the writing, which honestly is what I think the author expects us to do.

Okay, with those caveats out of the way, I can now talk about the science fiction part.

The majority of the book felt like a collection of trivia facts to me, in a good way. Things started slow, and it took seven chapters to get to the real focus of the plot, but once it got there I was thoroughly intrigued. The video game chapters, which explained the three body problem through a semi-historic tour of philosophy, math, and basic computer technology, were entertaining and surprisingly accurate (or, at least as accurate as I could tell. I did find certain details misleading, such as the error linked at the beginning of this review and the fact that (mild spoiler) , but none of the important information was off, and the messages behind the examples were all valid). The backstory of Red Coast, a space radio station, got increasingly interesting over time as well, and I was thrilled to have learned quite a few random facts about cosmic radiation and directed-energy weapons. It's been a while since something prompted so much googling to satisfy my curiosity, and for that alone I thought the book was worth reading.

And then ... there came the ending with the big reveal and twist that made me wonder if the author was tripping.

Here I have a confession to make: I am not a physicist, so I had a lot of fun reading that chapter and cackling at the insanity of it. BUT, even a non-physicist me knows that a lot of the science behind this is pure fiction: So if the credulity of science bothers you on an intellectual level, or if you don't like your hard sci-fi turning into a fantasy... then tread carefully. But otherwise, I thought it was nice to just see how far the author's imagination could take us, which, I admit, was quite far.

At this point though, I'm not entirely sure if I want to read The Dark Forest, since it appears to take a more typical first-contact turn and feels quite a bit different from this book. But I'll consider it, and I might even finally pick up A Brief History of Time after being intrigued by all the cosmic trivia facts.

P.S. For anyone else who might find this useful, I stumbled upon a great post written by a physicist, which talked about some other science bugs in this book that I had absolutely no idea were there. I liked part 1 of the post more than part 2, though they were both massively informative.

P.P.S. This was a buddy read with Hirondelle, who unfortunately didn't enjoy it as much, but it was a lot of fun and quite educational nevertheless! Thanks a bunch <3

    non-english-original owned science-fiction

Rachel the Book Harlot

175 reviews50 followers

June 28, 2015

2.5 stars

There has been an enormous amount of buzz and accolades surrounding Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem. It has been nominated for numerous awards, including a 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Does it deserve all the hype? In some respects I can see why it has garnered so much praise. The science is fun, there are some interesting philosophical concepts, and the world-building is also interesting. However, that for me is where the praise ends. Where the book fails is in the basic fundamentals of what makes a good story: writing, characterization, pacing, and plot. Harsh, I know.

The characters are flat, the writing is lifeless and choppy, the pacing is slow as molasses in some places, and some of the dialogue is downright terrible. There are instances where the author awkwardly uses dialogue to info dump:

"Professor Wang, we want to know if you've had any recent contacts with members of the Frontiers of Science," the young cop said.

"The Frontiers of Science is full of famous scholars,and very influential. Why can't I have contact with a legal international academic group?"

There are also weird instances where characters behave like stage actors, having side conversations with one another in order to provide the audience with info while other characters in the scene pretend not to listen. Strange and awkward.

Despite these problems, the story does start out interesting enough with the character of Ye Wenjie during the Chinese Revolution. However, it later jumps to the modern day, through the point of view character of Wang Miao, where its problems can no longer be ignored and the story fizzles.

Perhaps it is unfair of me to heap such harsh criticism at the writing since this is a translation from the original Chinese. Maybe these issues do not appear in the original? I cannot be sure, and if someone has read the original I'd love to hear your thoughts. But, as it stands I can only go with the version I've read. Sorry, book. You had some interesting elements, but not enough to overlook the problems.

Final Rating: 2.5 Stars


Peter Tillman

3,764 reviews420 followers

December 18, 2022

1 star is a little harsh, but this is (imo) a very bad book. I'd recommend reading some of the 1 and 2-star reviews here before you give it a try. Yes, I'm aware that (at time of writing) 125,840 raters and 13,226 reviewers, liked it (on average) a whole lot more than I did.

I read maybe 40% before putting it aside. Cardboard characters, a plot line that is purely arbitrary and nonsensical.... Bah. Some of the Chinese details are of interest. Say 1.5 stars to where I gave up. I've read (and liked) a short story by Liu Cixin at, fwtw.

For background, I've been reading SF for 50+ years. I might have pressed on if I was 15 again, but life is short, and books are many. Caveat lector!

    award-win-nom did-not-finish lost-interest

Jake Goretzki

749 reviews140 followers

September 20, 2016

I have a rule that I have held to fairly robustly for many years that you should always finish the book you start. You owe it to yourself and to the writer. If we were to give up every book that didn’t manage to hold our interest, we’d run the risk of giving up on whole swathes of modern literature. We’d also stray dangerously close to the dimwit view that characters need to be ‘likable’, things need to be thrilling and stuff needs to be happening.

I have held on until the end of some truly f*cking sh*t novels. Two of them were by Nicola Barker – currently the most execrable living novelist in English. It’s hardly a secret that Barker has in her possession time-stamped photographs of the UK’s premier literary editors doing unspeakable sexual acts, and makes very efficient use of them.

I’ve only abandoned two books in the past five years. One of them was Nabokov’s f*cking awful ‘Pale Fire’ – a disjointed, unreadable pile of sh*te chiefly composed of footnotes around a parody text. Think of it as a literary in-joke that would have worked if only it had been 300 pages shorter, perhaps in the Christmas edition of a literary journal. As a fundraiser. No more then two pages. It enraged me, but at least it was Nabokov. I still contrived to finish though - by literally using a form of speed-reading meets scanning that allowed me to claim to have seen all the words. ‘I counted them out and I counted them in’.

The other was a piss-poor piece of whimsy by a dad-joker who occasionally writes for Guardian called Ian Sansom, which I was given as a proof copy by someone I knew who worked for his publisher. This was an achingly unfunny, cliche-stuffed pile of whimsy called ‘The Case of the Missing Books’. Its protagonist was a Northern Irish Jew called Israel…I can’t remember. Something like Flaherty or Armstrong. It was so infuriatingly sh*t – imagine a sitcom that only got one series in the late eighties, perhaps starring Hale and Pace – that I left it the overhead locker of a plane after writing ‘This book is irredeemably sh*t. Do not read it’ in the inside cover in biro.

And so to the ‘Three Body Problem’. It’s long and it’s tedious. There is no character. I read plenty of SF and I bet I will be told that this is ‘Hard SF’, that’s all. It’s not ‘Hard SF’ – it’s ‘f*cking Boring SF’.

There is no character development. I could not distinguish one protagonist from another. I didn’t even know their gender most of the time. I admit, I was afflicted by the same laziness that afflicts bored readers of Russia literature; Vronskii quickly sounds like Vranitskii and Radionov sounds like Radishchev. And so here: Yi and Wan and Wiao and Who? Neither could I distinguish between Red Force and Red Base, or whatever that was.

I didn’t care about the computer game either. Whole paragraphs and pages were dedicated to tedious textbook science – perhaps terrifically exciting if your thing is telescopes sans human interest. Paragraphs like “Yi had thought that the electro magnetic pulses were negatively charged by a reverse diode, but the Association of Federal Science revealed that a latitudinal pulse had in fact elevated the nano-trousers to a force of not three but ten gradients. This could only mean that the Foundation’s position on Dr Wienerschnitzl’s theorem – which Yang had mentioned in her studies – was correct. If this was true, the conclusion could only be that Mike Evans was wrong’. (Note: the most entertaining bit in the 58% of the book I read was the sudden appearance of a bloke called ‘Mike Evans’. Mike Evans is the name you’d give to the embattled caretaker manager at Wrexham when the veteran manager leaves after four consecutive defeats in September. Frankly, the novel would have been vastly improved if it had featured the character of an embattled caretaker manager at Wrexham.

Look, I’m pretty sure I’ve read most of the Hugo winners of recent years. Perhaps this picks up in the final third. Perhaps the aliens show up and they’re very interesting or massive sad*sts. Look at Michael Faber though: you can do interstellar and nothing happens and still get a very decent novel. This? A quarter of the way in, to be dehydrated, packed into a barn and eaten by rats felt like a small mercy.



1,403 reviews470 followers

April 7, 2016

Alright. I read this wrong. It's all on me.
I've got my Cone of Shame and am headed to the Shame Corner right now.
It was nice being out for awhile but we all knew I couldn't stay out for long.

I'm not sure if something was lost in translation, if I'm just really not good at science, or if I am waaaaay too American, but whatever the case, I did not enjoy this.

Well, I did, but only through maybe the first half. Then it got tedious, then it got boring, then it got downright ridiculous, and then I stabbed my ears out so I wouldn't have to listen anymore.

The story follows two timelines and characters that you know are going to intersect.
It starts with (phonetically-spelled, based on the reader's terrible pronunciation): Astrophysicist Yeah Wen-Sia who sees her father killed by three fanatic teenage girls when he won't deny science during the Cultural Revolution. Then, her favorite and best teacher commits suicide, her mother, who is terribly unstable, abandons her, and her sister has joined the Revolution and is a fanatic in her own right. Ye is angry and carries this anger with her to the woods where she is employed in deforestation at the base of Red Coast Station which is, essentially, a military base with a huge satellite that sits up on top of a hill and is fairly inaccessible and anyone who even strolls near will be shot.

The second storyline is that of (phonetically-spelled, based on the reader's terrible pronunciation) Wong Meow, owner of zero personality. He's a nanotech/biology somesuch researcher scientist in the current day who is alarmed when the nation's top physicists and other brainy sorts start committing suicide. I don't really remember, if I ever actually knew, how he falls into all of this, but he gets involved, via a tough-as-nails cop named Dah Shee, with a sort of investigation into the larger scope of the problem that is causing these scientists to kill themselves.
Through a series of not-noticeable events, Wang finds out about an online game called Three Body and he decides to play. It's a weird game that follows civilizations as they grow and then collapse on a world where there are three suns and these suns pose a real-life (like, real to our lives) mathematical quandary called the Three Body Problem in which three things whiz around a stationary object (I think. I may be making the stationary object up) but each has a different kind of orbit and they're sort of random and you must find the pattern of their zoomings to predict when they'll be close to each other or the object and when they'll be farthest apart, etc. How can you track the movement of these three bodies to predict what they'll do next, is the question. At any rate, if you solve the Three Body Problem in the game, you win. Only really smart people can play this game, obviously. People whose brains think in spatial relationships and numbers at all hours of the day, I assume.

There are more characters but these are the main two and their lives intersect and things happen.

Before I spew forth my list of what I misunderstood, I'm going to share what I thought I was going to read.

The Direction In Which I Thought This Book Would Go:

What Actually Happened and Why I Lost Interest:

And here are the things I just did not understand at all:

Ok, so, it's obvious this went WAY over my head. Way way way over. I'm probably too inculturated in Western SciFi to be able to appreciate what I listened to. And, by the way, what I listened to was crap because, yet again, the narrator is some white dude who doesn't speak Chinese. Also, he made the Chinese tough-as-nails cop's voice alternate between a NYC beat cop accent and a Texan accent. It was bizarre. I did not enjoy that at all.

I've read several of the other five-star reviews here and I've yet to find any enlightenment on my misunderstandings. I'm just seeing a lot of people going nuts over how amazing this is and I can't understand, even from their glowing reviews, what they read that I didn't.

This is the first in a trilogy. I feel like I should listen to them all just to find out if any of my questions are answered but I'm not really into self-torture so probably, I'll pass.

    asia audiobook cults


887 reviews14.9k followers

January 6, 2018

In an afterword, Liu expresses his opinion that science fiction should not be used to make social commentary but should instead restrict itself to playing with ideas of science and technology. I was surprised to see that because Three Body had struck me (tentatively, since I know little about China) as an especially Chinese novel, with much to say about how societies should be organised. The portrait of an ‘authoritarian’ alien civilisation, where individuality is repressed in favour of hom*ogenous common benefit, seemed almost too obvious a comment on Communism, especially when juxtaposed, as it is here, with historical scenes of the Cultural Revolution.

Whether you accept his protestations or not is unlikely to affect your enjoyment of the novel, which blends historical tragedy with the kind of slow-burning first contact story that harks back to the golden age of the 1940s and '50s in the US. Perhaps the most fascinating scenes in the book, and certainly the eeriest, are those set within a virtual-reality computer game which is concerned with the practical implications of the three-body problem in physics; these chapters seem grand and bleak and impressively inhuman in scope.

Less successful, perhaps, are the interpersonal relationships and the motivations of the characters in general. The plot hinges on the assumption that, faced with a particular challenge to their scientific and existential ideas, vast numbers of people would deliberately opt for suicide, both personally and in terms of trying to destroy their entire species. This seemed a little infeasible to me, though perhaps it's just a more Chinese way of looking at things. Either way, it makes for a curious and unusual plot. (An interesting companion read might be Adam Roberts's Yellow Blue Tibia, which used first contact as a way of writing about Stalin's Russia.)

The translation, from (the unrelated) Ken Liu, is excellent on a sentence-by-sentence level, though apparently he rearranged some of the chapters for an English-speaking audience, which I can't say I approve of.

    china fiction sci-fi

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

1,880 reviews23k followers

September 27, 2018

This Hugo Award winning SF novel by Chinese author Liu Cixin is delightfully intelligent and complex, and I really appreciated the authentic Chinese characters in the story and the insights into China's history and culture. The novel is also a little slow and dry in parts, with a certain formality that (I would guess) echoes the original Chinese writing style. I also had some trouble keeping all of the characters straight in my head; most of the characters have Chinese names, and the names tended to blend together in my brain, partly due to my lack of familiarity with that language and partly because characterization isn’t really one of the strengths of this book.

It begins in the 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath. A respected professor is beaten to death by three young women who are Red Guards, and his astrophysicist daughter, Ye Wenjie, is eventually shipped off to a remote mountaintop where a government-sponsored group is secretly exploring the possibility of electronic communication with aliens. Eventually it actually works - but there's a clear possibility of danger to all of humanity. Ye Wenjie makes a fateful decision. We then jump forward some 40+ years, where the story picks up again with the fallout from that decision, though we're favored with a few more flashbacks to the sixties.

This novel is not going to be every reader's cuppa tea, but I think readers who like intricately plotted hard (VERY hard) SF novels should definitely give this series a try. I flailed and almost gave up when I hit some chapters that involve lengthy, detailed descriptions of a video game, a very odd role-playing game on an alien world (yet with human characters). But I powered through, and once all the pieces started fitting together, it got fascinating. I'm up for book #2!

Full review to come.



945 reviews

April 12, 2024

Loving the Netflix adaptation 🎥, maybe this is story is even better suited for the screen than the rendition in a book 📚
Addictive, gripping, filmic in scenes, big on ideas, but sloppy in execution and characterisation - 3.5 stars rounded down
Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. - The queen from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

Part 1
She could no longer feel grief. She was like a Geiger counter that had been subjected to too much radiation, no longer capable of giving any reaction, noiselessly displaying a reading of zero.
The Three-Body Problem starts with the ruthlessness of the cultural revolution, and I immediately felt I knew so little of this period, which intrigued me. These scenes, set in such a chaotic era, form the characters and much of the story of the book:
Now, faced with political cases like yours, all prosecutorial organs and courts would rather be too severe than too lax. This is because treating you too severely would just be a mistake in method, but treating you too laxly would be a mistake in political direction.

The speeches in part 1 about the relativity theory did feel a bit bizarre since it is a rather French Terror style setting they are placed in, and I found the writing sometimes a bit too obviously aiming for drama and emotional impact, but then at a breakneck pace. But still I wanted to read on and get at a deeper understanding of the story Liu Cixin was weaving. And basically those conflicting feelings applied for me to the whole book.

Part 2
Breakneck speed of storytelling and strange phenomena continue, culminating in a very strange chapter in a VR world (like a Civilization game on acid and then Chinese in setting).
The concepts are amazing, secret scientific societies, a gulf of freak suicides, a countdown appearing in eyesight.
But the execution lacks finesses. The characters are pushed around and exposed to extreme revelations and circ*mstances without an apparent need for reflection.
Also characters all are fully up to speed (for instance Da Shi saying: Play that game, while he has no way of knowing that the main character of this section discovered the aforementioned VR game), don’t seem to need to sleep and always know someone who knows someone to further their plans of complicated scientific checks in ridiculously short time frames.

The atmosphere in this section is very like Haruki Murakami in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and 1Q84 or Stephen King at his most imaginative in the The Dark Tower series.
In edgy coolness meets weirdness it also made me think of the Matrix movies and finally I had some
The Da Vinci Code vibes with all the Beijing highlights, including the Rem Koolhaas CCTV tower, the glass Beijing Planetarium and sleeping in a car at the Forbidden Palace.

The author focusses on the big tickets and not the development in between needed to get to the conclusion. For instance the VR game, the main character is just propelled in 5 sessions to the best player ever and uncovers so much which apparently no one ever before him did. All characters he meet are instrumental to the plot continuing, I mean his wife is never once mentioned after his first uncanny experiences, nor his regular work. The whole world building feels shaky because of this, not withstanding the gripping quality of some scenes (a living computer for instance) and ideas.

Part 3
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.
How is everyone taking crazy far reaching decisions based on one or two experiences was something I thought a lot while reading part 3.
There is an Anthem Ayn Rand vibes speech about the wicked nature of human civilization which was kind of cringeworthy to read.
But again there are beautiful scenes, like a hostage situation with mini nuclear bombs and the most cool application of nano fibers ever in the Panama Canal.
Technology and civilization as a kind of cancer eating up the natural environment was a fascinating, more philosophical concept coming back in this part.
And we finally get the main question from the book into focus: what happens to society when we are confronted with extraterrestrial life and a civilization more advanced than our own?

While reading on and on, addicted, it felt like I read a manga or anime in terms of sweeping statements and ultra high stakes, or a film like Pacific Rim.

And there is such a megacrazy idea, at the edges of scientific understanding, near the end of the book with the Sophons and the way human technological development could be fundamentally impeded. However I can’t imagine how a civilization capable of such dimensional manipulation of matter and all the possibilities it entails would still concern itself with anything mundane as conquest (or just focus their energy on fixing their own homeworld). Also that the light speed is still a barrier feels weird.
The nature of scientific progress (by the way, for a very interesting article in this respect I can warmly recommend: is also liberally taken as a plot device, why our development with exponentially increasing technology would be unique is an interesting but unexplained variance.
And finally the humanity and the bug analogy for the relationship is not that hopeful given how insect populations are in sharp decline in the last few decades.

The balance
I realize I sound a bit like a sourpuss, but I think this is a reflection of the quality of ideas Liu Cixin takes on. I just wanted the execution of the plot and depth of character to be on par with the extraordinary originality of the ideas. The sweeping view on science and humanity is very good and The Three Body Problem was definitely a engaging and entertaining read. I saw a lot of reviews saying that the The Dark Forest is even better than this first part, so I do plan to continue discovering Remembrance of Earth's Past.

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1… (2024)
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