If you’ve ever wondered what it would mean for the human race to come in contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem offers you a stunning read. The novel was originally published in China in 2006 and is newly translated by award-winning Chinese-American author Ken Liu and it is the first installment of a trilogy.
Cixin Liu in the style of golden-age science fiction authors like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke; takes the standard first-contact concept and turns it into something truly mind-blowing. The reader and protagonist are forced to confront philosophical conundrums that approach psychedelic, all while remaining scientifically grounded. The way the book’s alien race asserts its presence on Earth, for example, is terrifyingly realistic, especially given our current political climate, and like nothing I’ve ever read.
Fair warning, this is hard science fiction. It’s full of lengthy passages of technical exposition about the three-body problem, philosophy, artificial intelligence and quantum mechanics.
Where some hard science fiction falls short, the characters and story, Cixin stays strong with empathetic characters and a strong action/thriller backbone. The Three-Body Problem does start a bit slow, it takes awhile to untange who or what the focal points of the plot are, though some of this might be a westerner’s inability to keep Chinese names straight.