Updated: Dec 30, 2022
Liu, Cixin- The Three-Body Problem
A quote from The New Yorker on the cover of the 3rd book reads "[Liu's] writing evokes the thrill of exploration and the beauty of scale..." I don't usually pay much attention to quotes pulled for blurbs, but that one jumped out at me because the word scale kept coming to my mind while I read these books. Especially with the second and third books. Characters would hibernate and skip centuries, waking up to a new era. There were world-wide efforts to come up with plans and strategies. It was interesting to read about international powers trying to cooperate.
I was constantly impressed that these books were written in a way that I could keep up with them, both because of the size (the last one alone is 600 pages) and the complexity. With many names, places, and concepts that were foreign to me, I never felt lost for long. But at the same time, it didn't get bogged down in explanations. I can't understand anything -at all - about astrophysics, but the concepts that pertain to the plot were explained so well that I could understand just as much as I needed to understand to keep up.
I highly recommend reading the series before the Netflix movie comes out, if it ever does. I always like to read the book first, if possible, so that I can imagine everything by the book's explanations instead of picturing the movie. That's the only reason that I don't usually like movie tie-in book covers. I've been reading a little bit about the mini-series, but I don't know if it's done, or if they know when it will be done.
I'm going to pick on a few things in the book-by-book breakdown below (alliteration!) , but it's a fascinating book for anyone who is even a little interested in space. I'd also recommend it to people who like time travel books, because when a character goes to sleep in one era and wakes up in another, it feels like a time travel story.
Here are my notes about each book as I read them:
The Three-Body Problem (translated by Ken Liu)
This book is bonkers, and I loved it. It made physics seem interesting. As soon as they started talking about that, I thought, "oh no, this book is about to lose me, and I was so enjoying it." But, somehow, the author discussed all kinds of interesting concepts that I won't attempt to discuss myself, in a way that was absorbing and not confusing. It's a big book, and I ripped through it in about two and a half days (thanks, inclement weather!) I haven't picked up the sequel yet- the way the book ends actually felt satisfying enough that I feel like I could take the sequel or leave it, but I'm sure that I'll want to revisit this world someday. I have no idea of what happens in the rest of the trilogy. Actually, just writing this down makes me curious. I think I'll get it soon. Maybe as an audiobook. ** A bit spoiler-y here **There's too much plot and too many characters to get into it, but here's my take: mysterious videogame, possible cult, astrophysists, messages from beyond, why do they trust these aliens so much, oh no.
The Dark Forest (translated by Joel Martinsen; audio narration by P. J. Ochlan)
I'm definitely going to get the third book soon, but they're a big time commitment. The audiobook was 22 and a half hours! Also, when listening to this, I carried my phone around and couldn't make myself stop, so I need a break.
This has almost a whole new cast of characters than the first book. Only a few people from the first book show up, and it spans a long time. Characters can hibernate and wake up after literally centuries.
I liked the first book better, (***SPOILERS**)but that's partly because alot of what the main character in this one does is to imagine his dream woman, then when he is handed an enormous amount of power, he uses it to find someone in real life who's just like her, and I couldn't help but get sick of him for awhile. It kept describing her as innocent, naive, and childlike. It was gross. She wasn't a child, but she was alot younger than he was, and just, yuck. But other than that, I liked it. (***END SPOILERS***)
The Three-Body Problem game hardly comes into it, and I missed it, but that's OK. I don't know yet if this character will show up again in the last book; I'm going in to the end of the trilogy blind. I'm not even going to read the back cover of the book. I have read one and listened to another. I can't decide which I'll do for the third, but right now, I'm leaning towards getting it in print and scarfing it down over a weekend.
Death's End (translated by Ken Liu)
Everything that got on my nerves about the main female character in the last book was ramped up in this one. I guess it's because the main character is a woman, but she's so passive that she's in hibernation for almost the entire 400-plus-years-span of the book. She keeps falling into these situations in which she has to make impossible choices, and it turns out later that whatever the manly men were telling her to do was the right thing. It goes on and on about her maternal instinct. Ugh, if a man tries to make a moral choice, it isn't described as a paternal instinct. She was beautiful and young, and even though the book says clearly that she's smart and she shows herself to be brave, it doesn't really matter. She's always reacting to a man.
There, it's out of my system now, and I will go on to something that I did like- the characters in this book get to experience four-dimensional space, and two-dimensional space comes into it (being completely flat, but I won't go into that because of spoilers). It was fascinating.
(BIG SPOILER) The killing in this book is hard to read- one is a pretty straightforward genocide, but with an AI robot, but the other is a horrific sci-fi way to go. Sometimes sci-fi is almost too much of a mind-bender to be enjoyable, but these were gripping and they weren't, in my opinion, too sad to be able to enjoy them. (END SPOILER)
It's a 600 page chunk of a novel, and even though I've been complaining about it, if you got through the first two books, you should finish it.
Here is a link to the article, by Joshua Rothman, that the opening quote came from. It also covers some of Liu's other work.
And here's an NPR review, by Jason Heller, that I found while I was looking for the article.
I don't think I know anyone who has read these, so if anyone has would like to discuss, please leave a comment.