Sunday, October 4, 2015

Staff Pick—The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

On Twitter, someone recently asked, “If you could drop everything to read one book right now, which would it be?” My answer is undoubtedly The Dark Forest, the second in Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Trilogy. Since finishing The Three-Body Problem two weeks ago, I’ve been hungry for the next book to get here, whetting my appetite by constantly recommending the first book to my sci-fi loving family and friends.

The Three-Body Problem is some of the most imaginative fiction I’ve ever read, so much so that I’ve had to think long and hard what plot details I can reveal in good conscience. Really, it would be much better if you would just take my word for it, check the book out right now, and discover its magic for yourself. But I understand if I haven’t convinced you yet.

The novel opens against the backdrop of China’s cultural revolution as Ye Wenjie watches militant student revolutionaries interrogate and kill her professor father. While the full impact of this formative experience remains unclear until near the end of the book, the immediate aftermath finds Wenjie searching for her place in a new China, unsure of who she is or whom to trust.

When an abrupt new chapter opens on Wenjie’s future, the book shifts into the present day, following the perspective of Wang Miao, a nanomaterials researcher caught up in the aftermath of a suicide spree among physicists. His research leads him into contact with an international government investigation, a cultish peer group called the Frontiers of Science, and a mysterious virtual reality game where players struggle to understand and defeat a world where our laws of physics appear to be moot.

The Three-Body Problem was recently awarded the Hugo award for best novel, as controversial and surprising a winner as it was deserving. Readers who already enjoy sci-fi should be completely at home in this excellent and unique book. On the other hand, I am reminded of why sci-fi can be viewed as a niche genre by outsiders. The Three-Body Problem was obviously thoroughly researched, but the saturation of scientific terms can be alienating to those without a scientific background. Personally, I was pleased to learn tidbits about both Chinese history and astrophysics, but I found myself turning to Wikipedia more than once while reading.

As I finish this blog post, The Dark Forest has a comparatively short wait list. Waste no time in adding your name, though I am bracing myself for a long wait in the aftermath: Death’s End, the trilogy’s final chapter, is not due for English release until April 2016.

If you’re looking for more engrossing science fiction books, but would like something a touch more accessible, try Andy Weir’s The Martian. I dare you not to read this book in a day, and as a special treat, the much-anticipated movie adaptation opens this weekend!

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