What Else Is Matt Reading? (#1): The Three-Body Problem

It’s been about a year and a half since I finished my PhD while working full time, and arguably the biggest change in my life since then has been the sudden availability of free time and the ability to read for pleasure.

With not much Chung Kuo news lately other than the slow but steady drip of publications of the re-cast series (and no personal contact with Mr. Wingrove since January of 2017), I’m going to write up and share some reflections and spoiler-free micro-reviews of some of the other (almost entirely sci-fi) books I’ve read recently, including comparisons to my favorite book series – Chung Kuo – where appropriate.

It’s fair to say that reading Chung Kuo prompted some interest in China, and I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time in Hong Kong and Shanghai. That’s why I was eager to read The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin.

Widely acclaimed as the first Asian novel to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and famously reviewed by Barack Obama as making his own problems seem small, The Three-Body Problem relates a future in which a group of humans conspire with the aliens of a dying planet to help them with an eventual invasion.

Despite its near-universal praise, I struggled to finish The Three-Body Problem. The characters are wooden, and I found it impossible to care about any of them. Much of the book is sprawling and unfocused depictions of a virtual reality game wrapping a half-hearted detective story. Whereas Chung Kuo excels in its worldbuilding and character development, both are sorely lacking here.

This book is the first in a trilogy (as well as the basis for both a Chinese film adaptation and upcoming Netflix series) and, needless to say, I did not continue the sequels.

Next up in “What Else Is Matt Reading” is The Wind-up Girl.

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1)The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

8 thoughts on “What Else Is Matt Reading? (#1): The Three-Body Problem”

  1. That book is waiting on my shelf. I was really looking forward to it, but then the author felt it necessary to make some rather shitty political statements regarding the forced internment of millions of Uyghurs, (I believe in an interview in the New Yorker), so my interested has faded to pay more money in his direction….

    1. I wasn’t aware of the author’s statement about Uyghurs but just looked it up. Not cool. If you do get around to reading it, I hope you have a better time than I did – tons of people do.

  2. The windup girl is decent – a solid modern sci-fi / dystopian tale. I rarely find novels or authors that compare to the greats of the past though, the last “new” author (say not writing 20+ years ago) I found that I loved was hugh howey and the wool series. I didn’t try the 3 body problem purely as I’ve always stayed away from translated books (thinking that how nuanced writing is, a translation can never quite be true to the original writers prose – although maybe that’s a load of crap I don’t know)

    1. It could definitely be a translation issue with Three-Body Problem. I found the wording to be pretty awkward throughout. Spoiler alert for my next post: I really liked The Windup Girl! And might have to add Wool to the queue, too; it looks really good.

        1. the series is amazing and gets better with every book that fleshes the world out more and more. Plus, Banks has a fantastic command of the English language, can be witty and funny, but also really brutal and devastating when necessary.

          The culture books are beyond amazing, and so was Banks. I have one left to read (the last one), I am waiting…to know I will read the last Culture book forever for the first time is a weird feeling.

          I am no fanboy of anyone, yet I come closest to be one to an author who died before I read his first book

  3. genuinely makes the case for having a fairly empty lead. I kept thinking during my read that I could imagine being in Wang’s shoes, pulling back the curtain on yet another mystery. It is genuinely impressive that Liu is able to pull off, at least for me, the sensation of feeling like you’re in on the mystery that would be lost with a stronger character. Conclusion? This novel doesn’t end with resolution, though you could conceivably just read this novel and come away with a complete story. Of course, there are two more novels in the series that will delve further into the impressive, exciting, and pessimistic world that Liu has created. I’m hoping for some better-developed characters, but will happily continue on if the subsequent books are as mentally stimulating as this. I’d suggest tackling this one if you are interested in a headier science-fiction story that eschews typical western plot, makes your brain twist and turn into weird shapes, and makes the case for more translated SFF. **The second book is better than the first! You can find my review of

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