Review: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

No, this is not the tale of an unwanted threesome, but rather a hard SF novel that also happens to be fairly bonkers. Imagine an alien invasion movie, but substitute probe-wielding green men for a race with the societal persona of a dried up and somewhat dickish university math professor. I mean, these guys literally dehydrate themselves as a means of protecting against the depredations of their planet’s three unpredictable suns. Next they’ll be complaining about who’s being given tenure these days. (practically anyone with an undergrad degree, apparently)

Anyway, first the bad:

The characterisation in this novel is often laughably weak. (things do get marginally better in the subsequent novels, but not by much) It feels like Liu doesn’t really care about his own creations, and he moves them through the plot with minimal regard for how actual humans would act in the situations they find themselves in.

Also, the plot feels ridiculous at times. But Eric, you might think upon reading this, your blog is called oddnovels for christ’s sake! You should eat ridiculous up with a giant spoon. And to this I would say no: I like odd and/or weird novels, but not ridiculous ones. For me, it’s important that a plot adhere to it’s own internal architecture, and I feel that Three Body’s doesn’t always do that. The core issue is that again, the characters are so thinly drawn that almost everything about them feels like a plot device. This lends a sense of falseness to a sequence of already far-fetched developments. It’s annoying.

And now on to the good:

This is a Chinese novel that has been translated into English (by Ken Liu, an excellent author in his own right) and is worth reading solely as a window into that country’s thriving sci-fi scene. The opening section, which takes place during China’s cultural revolution, was fascinating to me, as were some of the fundamental differences in mindset that permeate the book. It just feels different from western novels – in a good way.

And then there are the IDEAS. Holy shit, is this book full of cool concepts. (and they just keep on coming in the second and third instalments, which get progressively better in my opinion) The core conceit here pertains to the pursuit of science, and what would happen if it were taken from us. But that’s just the beginning, really. Throughout all three books, I consistently found myself pausing to let some new and awesome idea sink in. That doesn’t happen to me very often.

So in summation, Three Body is a must read if you like big ideas told from a fresh cultural viewpoint; but if you’re all about character, maybe not so much. I like to think of myself as a bit of both, but overall I really liked the whole series and would highly recommend that you pick it up.

Prose: C

Plot: B

Characterisation: D

Originality: A+

Weird factor: A-

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ODDNOVELS is a book review blog that I write just for the hell of it. If it's weird or wildly speculative, you will find it here.