REVIEW: Cixin Liu’s THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM

51kxQMvzMeL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Here is my normal approach to starred reviews.  I admit that this is probably more generous than many, but I’m not worried about it.  For every guy like me who hands five-star reviews out to a third of the books he reads, there will be someone else who reserves them for books that should win awards.  It balances out.

  • A five-star book is not only a book that I really enjoyed, but (this is critical) a book that I will evangelize and recommend to others.
  • A four-star book is one that I enjoyed, but not necessarily enough to be evangelical about it.
  • A three-star book is a book that I finished.

I usually don’t review two-star or one-star books, because most of the time I didn’t finish them.  I have to hate a book to finish it if I don’t like it; generally I finish it with horrified fascination as the overriding emotion.  Sometimes I like a book on some levels but abhor it on others; sometimes I just like looking at a train wreck.

I just gave The Three-Body Problem five stars on Goodreads, despite having some reservations about it, and I want to take a minute to explain why.  The book was originally written in Chinese and translated into English by Ken Liu, who I understand is of no relation to Cixin Liu.  And therein lies the first problem: there is no way to read this and not immediately recognize that it’s a translated work.  This is no slight on Liu, who is clear in the translator’s note (there’s a translator’s note) that preserving the Chinese character of the book was a priority, and the book isn’t hard to read, but I feel like the “this was obviously not written in English” character of the text is going to turn some people off.  This is especially clear in dialogue; English speakers simply don’t talk like the characters in this novel.

(See what I mean?  Not complaints, not flaws.  Reservations.)

The plot of the book is occasionally slightly impenetrable, particularly the first 20% or so, which require some background knowledge of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in order to properly appreciate– or, at least, I assume it’s required, since I don’t have it and found the first part a big of a slog.  Once the book jumps forward into… now?  Near future? I’m not sure– it becomes much easier going.  I finished the book in about a day and a half, so it couldn’t have been that rough.

The other thing?  The science. My favorite book of last year was Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I recommended enthusiastically to everyone, with the caveat that the book would involve math and chemistry and you should be prepared for that.  Half of the characters in The Three-Body Problem are physicists.  There’s a whole bit toward the end that is all about unfolding a proton from 11-dimensional space down to 2-dimensional space so that it can be turned into a supercomputer.  They fail to do it right twice.  That happens.

I am also not quite sure that Cixin Liu has ever played a computer game.  I won’t go into that particular gripe any more than that sentence, but there’s a lot of stuff going on with a VR game and it’s… weird.

But here’s the thing: this book?  It’s inventive as hell.  There are aliens.  They’re coming for us.  And they don’t get anywhere near us during the first book, which is part one of a trilogy.  And the whole thing is just as clever as hell in a whole lot of ways and I can’t wait to read the second book even though there were parts of it I don’t like and I’m going to have to be real careful about who I recommend it to.

So I’m calling that five stars.  Your mileage may vary, I suppose, but you should check the book out anyway.

Published by

Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

7 thoughts on “REVIEW: Cixin Liu’s THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM

  1. I am intrigued, by the Chinese-ness and the inventiveness and the physicists. I’ll give this one a shot. With reservations, as you and I seem to have opposite tastes: I enjoyed the absurdity of ‘Snowpiercer’ while ‘The Martian’ bored me silly. I only got about 80 pages in before deciding I had better things to read. I like your books, though, so you can’t be all wrong. 😉

    I’ve finished plenty of books I don’t like. I guess I’m an optimist; I keep hoping they’ll be worth it in the end (‘John Dies at the End,’ ‘Mists of Avalon’). Or I read things that seem good but turn out lame (‘The Golem and the Djinni’ – though it’s still well-written enough to get 3 stars). Or a story might be enjoyable enough to finish, but too poorly written to recommend (‘The Vesuvius Club’). My Goodreads account is full of one- and two-star ratings. Lately, though, I’ve been much more willing to set things aside; my TBR list far is too long to waste time on dull or annoying things. My rankings work like this:
    5-star: it’s amazing, magical, I love it. ‘Dune’ qualifies, and ‘The Night Circus,’ and most things by Neil Gaiman.
    4-star: I like it a lot. Good story, well written, good characters, good ending. ‘Skylights’ qualifies, lots of Laurie King and Terry Pratchett.
    3-star: I like it well enough but it’s not among my favorites
    2-star: I didn’t like it but it wasn’t all bad – someone else might like it. A lot of Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ series landed here but I still had to finish it.
    1-star: zero qualities to recommend

    Isn’t it fun having opinions? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I mostly liked it – it’s a great concept and really well-written – but the non-ending irritated me. I also thought she passed up a gorgeous opportunity to mess with gender stereotypes. A good book that leaves a bad aftertaste is almost worse than a book that’s bad from the start.

        I have a writing exercise/project plan to rewrite chunks of it with the roles reversed. I’m curious to see how it would work.

        Like

Comments are closed.