The Three-Body Problem

AuthorLin Cixin
FinishedApril 09, 2021
Rating3.9 / 5

Goodreads link

I enjoyed this book quite immensely. It was a very well done piece of science fiction. Very creatively imagined world, and I loved the setting of it within the Cultural Revolution. Premise: a physicist (Ye) who has been extremely disillusioned by the Cultural Revolution loses faith in humanity, reaches out to extra-terrestial life to help rebuild and destroy humanity. ("Our civilization is no longer capable of solving its own problems. We need your force to intervene" (276)). In the end we get a glimpse into the alien life (Trisolaris), and we see that they are as afraid of humans as humans are of them.

Pacing was quite slow in the first half of the book, and the second half was exponential growth. I really felt situated in the world. Climax: I'm sure it was supposed to be the wire-slicing of the boat, but honestly, the proton-slicing of the Trisolarian life was emotionally the highlight of the book. The thing that REALLY blew my mind — the proton unfolding, and etching an AI into the surface of the proton. That was really the coolest thing ever.

A question I wondered about: Why not use the intelligent sophons (the protons with circuits etched into them and AI loaded onto their OS) to fix the three body problem, or to shield one of the suns? Make a permanent stable era...

Note on Gender

I did enjoy that a lot of the astro-physicists WERE women. However, I did NOT like how in 3 Body Problem (the video game), all of the characters were dudes. John pointed out that it's "historical" ... but also the video game had a lot of anachronism... So if you're going to have anachronistic historical characters, and the video game is just supposed to be a mechanism to get more people interested in Three Body Problem, then maybe get more women in it. But oh well, I guess it's not the main focus of the book.

Unfortunate note: whenever female physicists were mentioned their physical descriptions were mentioned (i.e. slender, beautiful) but the same was not done for male physicists.

Also, when Ye Wenjie is living with the tribe in the Klingan Mountains, she is not seen as a woman but as a scientist and somehow these are separate. "They all treated Ye with great respect and were very polite toward her. She didn't pay much attention to this at first. But after a while, after observing how those men roughly beat their wives and flirted outrageously with the widows in the village, saying things that made her blush, she finally realized her precious their respect was" (293)

Beautiful Lines

  • "... the thoughts she could not voice dissolved into her blood, where they would stay with her for the rest of her life." (20)
  • "Does it represent the yearning for order, or the surrender to chaos?" (241)
  • "The strings clung to those who went outside, and as they walked, they dragged the lights behind them... " (363) (after proton unfolding into 1-dimension) "People thought they had disappeared, but pieces of the one-dimensional string would drift in the air of Trisolaris forever."
  • "Those objects, some as large as mountains, had almost no mass. They were like immense silver illusions; even a baby could have moved them easily" (369)
    • After proton unfolding into 3 dimensions
    • It's like Goldilocks - too little, too many
  • "The immense mirror that appeared over Trisolaris was the proton being unfolded, a geometric plane without any meaningful depth" (372)
  • "the reflections of the stars stretched and twisted as though they were melting. The deformation began at the edges of the mirror, but climbed up toward the center" (372)

Nice Lines

  • "Should philosophy guide experiments, or should experiments guide philosophy?" (17)
  • When Ye Wenjie is in the Great Khingan Mountains, cutting down trees, "She felt as though she were cleaning the corpse of a giant. Sometimes she even imagined the giant was her father." (23) - she sees her father as a giant figure in her life and on her career
  • Humans and destruction... Carson's book allowed Ye to see that "Both the ocean and the iceberg are made of the same material. That the iceberg seems separate is only because it is in a differnet form. In reality, it is but a part of the vast ocean." (27)
  • About Three Body
    • "... Three Body's designers worked to compress the information content to disguise a more complex reality, just like that seemingly empty photograph of the sky" (112)
  • Ruining science
    • "But the most effective technique remains disrupting your thoughts. When a scientist dies, another will take his place. But if his thoughts are confused, then science is over" (137)
  • Ye Wenjie telling Wang Miao:
    • "Everyone likes to reminisce, but no one wants to listen, and everyone feels annoyed when someone else tells a story" (150)
  • One way I interpreted Three Body Problem video game
    • Real life is Kafka-esque, weird shit happening, surreal
    • Three Body game is a way for Wang to escape life's problems to so live a technically interesting challenge
  • Wei Chang - I wonder if the author (Cixin Lu) based himself off of him, the math genius
    • "Then what about when you see geometric figures... In my mind there are no geometric figures. Everything turns into numbers." (191)
  • "Drawings of their orbits would fill a gallery with postmodern art, but that's not my goal. The real solution to the three-body problem is to build a mathematical model so that, given any initial configuration with known vectors, the model can predict all subsequent motion of the three-body problem." (199)
  • Three Body game is elitist?
    • "Three Body is intended for people in your class because the common crowd cannot appreciate its meaning and mood" (226)
  • Ye Wenjie living with the tribe after giving birth
    • "Leaving the mountains, Ye felt spring everywhere. The cold winter of the Cultural Revolution really was over." (296)
    • Cultural Rev is a winter lasting years. So, the way she imagines Trisolaris is winters that last years, and chaotic seasons... Weather seasons in Trisolaris is symbolic to the chaotic political seasons on earth.
  • 3 factions about 3 body problem on earth!! (adventists, redemptionist, survivors). 3 factions for 3 bodies.
    • the Redemptionists are like religions fanatics
    • so realistic that even intellectual elites are irrational about many things
    • "A civilization outside the human race would doubtlessly greatly attract the highly educated classes, and it was easy for them to develop many beautiful fantasies about such a civilization" (319)
  • In Trisolaris
    • "We have nothing in our lives and spirit except the fight for survival" (353)
    • "To permit the survival of the civilization as a whole, there is almost no respect for the individual... Trisolaran society exists under a state of extreme authoritarianism... For me, the most intolerable aspects are the spiritual monotony and dessication. ... We have no literature, no art, no pursuit of beauty and enjoyment. We cannot even speak of love... IS there meaning to such a life?" (353)
    • but if they have none of these things how do they have the concepts for these things?
    • are these human concepts?
    • Tie-in with the Cultural Revolution ... about survival, spiritual monotony, etc.
  • Trisolaris controls "the flow of information from the Earth to the populace, especially cultural information"
    • also they control what the Earth gets, using the protons
    • tie-in with cultural rev
  • Trisolaris can monitor Earth in real-time
  • "Is the technological gap between humans and Trisolarans greater than the one between locusts and humans?" (387)

Author's note

  • "I do not use my fiction as a disguised way to criticize the reality of the present. I feel that the greatest appeal of science fiction is the creation of numerous imaginary worlds outside of reality. I've always felt that the greatest and most beautiful stories in the history of humanity were not sung by wandering bards or written by playwrights and novelists, but told by science. The stories of science are far more magnificent, grand, involved, profound, thrilling, strange, terrifying, mysterious, even emotional, compared to the stories told by literature. Only, these wonderful stories are locked in cold equations that most do not know how to read. ... The creation myths of the various peoples and religions of the world pale when compared to the glory of the big bang..... Through the medium of science fiction, I seek only to create my own worlds using the power of imagination, and to make known the poetry of Nature in those worlds, to tell the romantic legends that have unfolded between Man and Universe" (393-394)

"Science fiction is a literature that belongs to all humankind. It portrays events of interest to all of humanity, and thus science fiction should be the literary genre most accessible to readers of different nations." (395)