The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu, Ken Liu

"Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion..."

 

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There has been an enormous amount of buzz and accolades surrounding Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem. It has been nominated for numerous awards, including a 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Does it deserve all the hype? In some respects I can see why it has garnered so much praise. The science is fun, there are some interesting philosophical concepts, and the world-building is also interesting. However, that for me is where the praise ends. Where the book fails is in the basic fundamentals of what makes a good story: writing, characterization, pacing, and plot. Harsh, I know. 

 

The characters are flat, the writing is lifeless and choppy, the pacing is slow as molasses in some places, and some of the dialogue is downright terrible. There are instances where the author awkwardly uses dialogue to info dump:

"Professor Wang, we want to know if you've had any recent contacts with members of the Frontiers of Science," the young cop said.

 

"The Frontiers of Science is full of famous scholars,and very influential. Why can't I have contact with a legal international academic group?"

There are also weird instances where characters behave like stage actors, having side conversations with one another in order to provide the audience with info while other characters in the scene pretend not to listen. Strange and awkward.

 

Despite these problems, the story does start out interesting enough with the character of Ye Wenjie during the Chinese Revolution. However, it later jumps to the modern day, through the point of view character of Wang Miao, where its problems can no longer be ignored and the story fizzles. 

 

Perhaps it is unfair of me to heap such harsh criticism at the writing since this is a translation from the original Chinese. Maybe these issues do not appear in the original? I cannot be sure, and if someone has read the original I'd love to hear your thoughts. But, as it stands I can only go with the version I've read. Sorry, book. You had some interesting elements, but not enough to overlook the problems. 

 

Final Rating: 2.5 stars