Three Body Problem: A Book Review and Explanation

While I usually don’t go for Hard SF, a recent exemption to this was my reading of The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu. The book is a pretty slow-paced, literary sort of read that winds around through the heads of several Chinese government workers involved in a secret space project attempting to establish contact with aliens. Set during China’s Cultural Revolution, the book centers around two issues: a game designed to help solve the possibility of a tri-star solar system, the three-body problem, and the political and scientific hurtles the secret project faces in its efforts to meet ETs. The three body problem is essentially a gravitational dilemma, and physicists remain uncertain whether such a solar system could really exist given the complexity of gravitational fields, which pull the suns and plants that orbit in a variety of ways that is more complicated than it appears.

In tandem with this, there are three major forces in the book on cultural level: the scientists, the religionists, and ETs themselves. As I finished the novel, it occurred to me that Liu’s scientific dilemma with the three-body problem is in fact some sort of metaphor for these major groups in the book. Namely, the insoluble problem of tri-solar star system is analagous to three sets of beings getting along: the scientists, the religionists, and alien species, which might in fact be the most disparate and estranged of them all. It was an idea, and I think it makes sense of the book. I’d be interested to see how other people read the book out there. If this is the case then it would appear Liu is pessimistic about our chances with getting along with an alien culture.

Anyways, I’m heading back to social science fiction soon…


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