The Three Body Problem Review
Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1
114,345 words, 399 pages, 13h and 26 min to read.
Published by Tor Books
4.09 out of 5 on Goodreads
Our rating: 4 out of 5
Set to the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution in China, The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, mixes a lot of hard science with a vast tapestry of creative scientific ideas that truly made me stop and think. It’s a sci fi novel unlike anything else I have ever read.
What’s Bad About The Three Body Problem?
I’m going to start with the bad. This was far from perfect. I’m not sure if there were difficulties with the translation or the original text but I found some of the writing to be frankly boring. Some of it read like a text book that wasn’t necessary and slowed down the pace a bit too much for my liking. There were many times when I felt as though the characters were purely devices to shine a light on the creative scientific concepts, they felt like two-dimensional cardboard cutouts that were placed in specific circumstances to push the science along.
I also found all of the characters to be somewhat unrealistic but given that this was written by a Chinese author about Chinese characters, and I’m British, I’ll give it some leeway for the inevitable cultural differences. However, there were some very strange things many of the characters did, including a very creative mass murder, which no one seemed to be phased by in the slightest and then there was even a stand off with a potential weapon of mass destruction that the characters seemed no more bothered about than a slight misunderstanding with a stranger. It was moments like this that took me out of the story for the worse and really made me question how much consistency there was in the characters themselves.
I also found some of the plot devices somewhat contrived and unrealistic. A lot of this book felt very grounded (even with the wild science) but then it would occasionally add something that just didn’t quite work for me. Multiple of these end up being vital to the story but just never quite made me believe in them. What is it with people writing unbelievable video games?
What’s So Good About The Three Body Problem?
Having said all of that, the bad was completely outweighed by the good. This book made me feel a level of existential dread I have never quite felt from a novel before. (That’s a good thing in this case.) There are certain scenes where characters are completely at the mercy of the universe and I got an overwhelming feeling of helpless insignificance. A lot of this feeling of existential insignificance reminded me of the final scene of the movie Melancholia (2011), which I would recommend if you have not yet seen it. I think this feeling was brought on by scientific concepts that genuinely made me stop and think through the implications, in addition to potentially world ending stakes. One of these concepts, close to the beginning, smartly made me wonder if all of humanity’s understanding of the laws of physics are actually temporary and everything we, as a species, have learned will eventually change with time and become redundant. It was explained perfectly and for me, it was moments like that that made this book a little bit special. There was one of these concepts that turned out to be completely fictional but from the thorough and completely believable explanation I would absolutely have taken it to be real within the crazy quantum world if not for some research.
I also really liked the backdrop of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I knew very little about this before I began the book and with the help of notes throughout and the odd quick Google of certain parts, I felt like I actually got a fairly comprehensive overview of some parts of history I’m fairly ignorant about. This leads onto the actual story which spans many years and follows multiple characters. I won’t go into details but I truly believe this is best read with very little known about it. Even the official synopsis, in my opinion, gives away a vital part of the story that isn’t completely confirmed until half way through the book. But the plot takes you to some weird and wonderful places and a fairly satisfying end with a lot of the questions answered but everything left to play for in the next book, which I hear takes things even further. Very exciting.
Overall, if hard sci fi is something that you enjoy then I would definitely recommend giving this a go. The characters are a bit flat, the writing is sometimes a bit of a slog and weird things happen that I just didn’t buy, but none of that really matters with some of the crazy concepts that Cixin Liu manages to weave into a really great first book.
Let us know what you think of our review! If you’ve read The Three Body Problem we’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments below!
This review can also be found on Goodreads.