The Three-Body Problem spans multiple decades and characters, but it zooms in on Ye Wenjie and Wang Miao, two scientists in the very near future. Wenjie is an astrophysicist, while Miao is a nanotech engineer, and he's been swept up in a virtual-reality, online video game called Three Body that's so deeply metaphysical, it's begun to resemble acult.
Either of these premises alone would be make for a rich SF novel, but Cixin Liu is only getting warmed up. By the time the book hits its peak, it's unveiled a conspiracy thatspans solar systems — one that not only threatens to alter the human race, but the very building blocks of physics that we've evolved to understand.
This hard SF is full of lovingly lengthy passages of technical exposition about everything from quantum mechanics to artificial intelligence. But Cixin Liu supports all of that brain twisting theory with empathetic characters and a strong action-thriller backbone.
For all its universal appeal, The Three-Body Problem is set against a specific backdrop, one that most English-language readers only know from a distance. Many of its major points hinge on the knowledge of Chinese history and culture — and while Ken Liu's translation is clear, tasteful, and lyrical, there's a lot of exposition to chew on. It's worth every ounce of effort. The book's well-earned suspense hinges on moral dilemmas thatresonate far beyond its nationality or even its heady, abstract physics.
At what point does science become dogma, and what point does that same dogma become religion? Cixin Liu doesn't pose that question so much as let it play out in a sweeping drama that risks the highest stakes imaginable. If The Three-Body Problem (and the next two books in the series, whose translations are in the works) helps bridgethe gap between Eastern and Western SF, it will have performed a great duty for the literary world.