Friday, October 14, 2016

The Three Body Problem ~ Liu Cixin

**Warning – Spoilers!**

I love Science Fiction but I don’t read it very often – it’s so hard to find one that does not have those ‘Mad Max’ elements of silliness that really irritate me.  However, after Googling something inspiring to read in the vein of The Martian (which I absolutely loved) I came across a recommendation for the Chinese novelist Liu Cixin's The Three Body Problem.  The recommendation states it is a cross between The Martian and Contact, however it is nothing like these two novels. But, it is different and I enjoyed it so much that I have just started The Dark Forest being the second book in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy.

The Three Body Problem is set along several time lines.  It opens with the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, and a young women called Ye Wenjie who witnesses the murder of her father.  Her younger sister and Mother have joined the Red Guards and Ye Wenjie is imprisoned for something she has not done. All these events compound in causing her to lose faith in humanity.  When she is finally released from prison, being an Astrophysicist, she starts work at the secretive Red Coast Base (similar to S.E.T.I.).

In the present day Wang Miao, a nanomaterials specialist, is plagued by the image of a countdown.  What is this the countdown for?  He is directed to a scientist who plays the video game The Three Body Problem created by the mysterious E.T.O. She tells Wang to stop working on his latest project and it will stop. Wang has also been commissioned by the police to investigate the E.T.O.  He sees the name of the game on her PC and decides to check it out further.  It’s a very unusual game where the people of a planet called Trisolaris must endure chaotic eras in between stable eras.  The chaotic eras bring immense heat or biting cold.  The Trisolarans must dehydrate their bodies and have them stored in order to survive.  Each level of the game is a different civilization as it progresses through eons of time, and the game itself only appeals to a certain type of person.  When this person is identified by the E.T.O. they receive an invite to a 'meet-up' of the Earth-Trisolaran Organisation.

On the planet Trisolaris (named due to its three suns) a signal has been received from Earth.  The signal is received by a 'listener' who sends a message back advising Earth not to respond, if it does then the Trisolarans will be able to pin point its location and they will come and they will invade.  They will not be friendly.

Ye Wenjie receives this warning at the Red Coast Base and answers back that humanity has lost its way – please come.

It will take the Solarans 450 years to reach earth, and based on mankind’s ever rapid advances from Stone Age to Steam Age, from Steam Age to the Technological Age, and then to the Information Age, they fear that by the time they arrive mankind’s science will have far surpassed their own.  The Solarans create a supercomputer called a Sophon that can interrupt scientific research on Earth and send out false results, effectively bringing scientific progress to an end.

Back on Earth scientists are committing suicide.  All that they know, all laws of physics, no longer apply or make sense.  The now retired Ye Wenjie’s own daughter commits suicide and Wang visits Ye to see if she needs any help.  It is via Ye that he finds out about the Red Coast Base and that the Solarans are a reality.

I loved the weirdness of the video game, the discussions on evolution and man’s progression through time.  I even understood some of the physics (something I failed at miserably in high school, and what my own sister lectures in at University in the UK.)

What surprised me was the graphic account of Ye’s father’s murder during the Cultural Revolution.  Being a Chinese novel I would have thought that this may have been censored, but I'm so pleased it was not, as it gives a very authentic background to Ye Wenjie's coldness and detachment from humanity.

This is my first novel by a Chinese author, and I did struggle a bit remembering the names and who the characters were but you do get used to them.  I’m not sure how the translation stands up to the Chinese language, but I do know that I want to find out if mankind will survive the Solarans!!