Monday, June 1, 2015
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The first part of a series which apparently is very popular in China. The story starts during the Cultural Revolution and ends in the near future. It tells a story of a science project, which was started in the middle of political turmoil and produced results which will shake the whole world decades later. I don’t believe that if I reveal that the main theme of the book is a contact with extraterrestrial civilization spoils too much. There has been a contact with extraterrestrials and it seems they won’t be friendly. The book is told large part by flashbacks and by just telling what has happened. The book really doesn’t follow the common writing advice “show, don’t tell”.
In the afterword, the translator states that he aimed to preserve the structure of language. That probably explains part of at places awkward writing. I pretty much disagree- I believe that the translator should aim to convey the plot and characters as smoothly as possible and not care about the linguistic structures of the original language. And this translator apparently also believes that the readers are morons and inserted copious amount of footnotes, which not only explain cultural details - most of which should be pretty clear from the circumstances and from the common knowledge of the Chinese history even a westerner with a normal education should have - but also some pretty basic scientific concepts. I was almost insulted by some of them. There also were some pretty bad problems with science, for example the scene where police was evaluating which of (all very small, too far too small for reasonable critical mass + triggering device) several bombs contained a real nuclear explosive with a scale was jaw-droppingly stupid. There were some other very stupid details: A character who specializes in nanotechnology states that the only form they are able to create from nanomaterial consists of a single filament. On the next page it turns out they have flat sheets of material - did the author manage to forget what he stated a few paragraphs earlier? Also, antimatter apparently exists in space in amounts usable for collection for propulsion? If there were such amounts of antimatter in interstellar space, there should be very common occurrences of matter -antimatter collisions with heavy radiation. And a virtual reality computer game, which is pretty crucial for the plot, apparently involves mostly only observing and it is so intriguing, that it induced people to betray everything, literally everything, - and is at the same time so complex that only the most intellectual people care to "play" it? Also, in China tree saplings grow to a forest in three years after planting?
I do have some suspicions of what kind of plot twist might explain some of the stupidities, but that Matrix-like twist would be a reader betrayal of all times and I don’t think the author will go there. But if everything in the book turns out to be a computer simulation it would explain many things. In spite of its’ flaws, the book was entertaining. But is it worth a Hugo – I am not entirely sure.