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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, middle grade, and graphic novels, along with stray thoughts, links, and pictures.

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The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent
Kathryn Morrow, James K. Morrow

Review: The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu, Ken Liu

When this book started by shooting a woman, then hanging her body from a pike to use for target practice, freeze frame on her head shattering, I was pretty sure we'd get along. Surprisingly, while most of this book isn't gore, it was right up my alley. At least, for the first three quarters.


Near Future Hard SF. Not a lot of that going around, though Egan, Stephenson, and Gibson have all had a go. Egan's Zendegi the most obvious point of comparison as the title of the book is the title of the immersive VR game one POV character spends time in. But in place of a journalist, we have a scientist. Meaning both POV characters are scientists, separated by generational divide, working in very different times, capable of making very different decisions. 


This is a translation from Chinese, with occasional footnotes to explain historical references that may not be familiar, or to point out puns that don't translate. I honestly wish there had been about 10 times as many footnotes. They are fascinating. Book two is a different translator - I hope he will also include footnotes. 


The game is an MMORPG that involves mostly talking about astronomy and dying in global catastrophes. Historical figures from different times interact on a strange planet. As you know, Bob, we periodically dehydrate ourselves to survive chaotic periods. It's so odd and wonderful, I eventually took a picture of two pages and emailed them to a friend, as one does.


Meanwhile, in the real word, scientists are dying and the military is hoping one man, Wang, can help figure out why. The setting is China, but the issue is global. Dr. Wang doesn't so much investigate as wander from conversation to conversation looking for answers to an inexplicable phenomenon he observes. In between talking, there is some radio telescope porn and a cop who embodies the whole "ends justify means" philosophy. 


In a way, this is very much the comfortable scifi of my youth, with it's interesting concepts and lack of interest in character arcs. (srsly, Wang has a wife and kid who are introduced in a hectic scene where he figures out that a strange phenomenon is only occurring for him. after that, they rarely appear and he's far too busy with big ideas to think about them. even when he's home.) Ye Wenjie is the only character who grows over the hundreds of pages of talking, and that may just be an illusion caused by the sheer number of decades of her life we see. And to some extent, the conceptual spaces are interesting enough that it doesn't matter how flat the characters are. 


Except that it does. 


The last quarter of the book happens at an accelerated pace, which is why it started to lose me. With stuff happening instead of being discussed, I realized I have no real investment in these characters or this Earth. And, when we finally get to the section from the POV of the group causing all this trouble, they managed to somehow be even less interesting than the protagonist.


That being said, I am so looking forward to the rest of this series. I want to see what Liu Cixin does with some of the larger ideas he's put on the table here. 


I also want more footnotes.