The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem is an interesting book. It was originally written in Chinese and won a whole pile of awards, earning lots of interesting ratings. That was enough to get me to put it on my list for this year.

On the downside, I almost put the book down after the first 10%. It starts with historical backstory and even when the timeline advances to the present day, I still wasn’t particularly caught up in the story. I very rarely read books without at least some sort of fantastical element to them and even a decent chunk into this book, I wasn’t feeling it.

When I got to the first time we are introduced to the video game Three-Body within the book though, I was glad that I had kept reading. It’s an interesting concept all by itself. Essentially, the player is placed into a civilization of beings that live on a planet orbiting in a system with a trio of stars (although they don’t know this at first). Due to the inherent instability in such a system, each round of the game–representing the rise of an entire civilization–is short lived as the world freezes/burns/is torn apart. Honestly, I could almost see an entire story being told just as a collection of rounds in Three-Body, more fleshed out than they were in this book.

The other half of the middle section of the book is set in the real world, perhaps a bit into the future. Honestly, these sections weren’t as interesting to me. I never quite got to the point where I cared about any of the characters (even now, I’m not sure I could describe any of them particularly well). On top of that, the dialog often feels really strange, which I’m guessing is at least in part due to the translation between two fairly different languages/cultures.

Then, in the last chunk of the book, things really take a turn for the strange. I’d guessed the big twist about the Three-Body game, but the exact details seem a little unbelievable. Then, just when things are getting really strange but also interesting again… The novel ends. There’s a sequel, which I’m sure will continue the storyline just fine, but it annoys me somewhat when you have to read a second book in order for the first to feel complete.

Overall, I’d rate the introduction and very end 3 stars and the Three-Body sections a solid 5. Overall, that’s good enough for 4 stars in my opinion. I’ll probably read the sequel, but perhaps not immediately.

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