The Three Body Problem Review – Imaginative but lacks personality

The cover depicts Trisolaran.

The Three-Body Problem is the first book I’ve read by a Chinese author. It lived up to its hype… almost. It’s a wildly imaginative story backed by hard science. But it’s lacking emotional heft and lacks in-depth characterization.

Liu’s approach to aliens is vastly different. They’re technologically more advanced than us, yet they have their fair share of problems. The biggest one is the three suns in the sky that result in “Chaotic” and “Stable” eras. He places a lot of emphasis on this aspect of their civilization, only later fleshing out other characteristics. 

The humans, meanwhile, are a rather curious lot. Liu backgrounds the story during the Cultural Revolution, which leaves a massive mark on Ye, one of our protagonists. You come to understand her emotions (or lack thereof) as the story progresses and we bear witness to the cruel and callous nature of human politics. The first chapter on the Revolution was the best, delivering a strong emotional blow. Sadly, that’s not really kept up later in the book.

Da Shi is another interesting personality. He has more color and flavor, especially in the nihilistic way he deals with the world. However, he remains mostly in the background, serving more as comic relief than a serious contender. The other characters come across as wooden and unsympathetic. I understand they’re academics, but they’re people first, which is to say they lack developed personalities. It often left me confused about who was who, especially since they all sound alike. 

Liu focuses on social and class statuses. He also brings up religious and philosophical issues, comparing the former to science. Liu argues that humans will worship science if given the chance. Weirdly enough, science and religion are mixed together to “worship” the aliens.

This brings me to the book’s conceit: humans are the villains. I think this quote sums it up best:

Even if God were here, it wouldn’t do any good. The entire human race has reached the point where no one is listening to their prayers.

Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem

Some humans, disillusioned by humanity’s cruelty and indifference to the planet, believe the solution resides in the stars, in aliens. They know the aliens are coming to invade and destroy our planet. Yet, they fully support it, knowing full well the implications of what they’re doing.

A good villain establishes points that are difficult to disagree with. A good villain makes you think about your attitude. A good villain raises a good point.

Liu creates a good villain with depth and heart. It’s difficult to disagree with them, especially considering what humanity is doing now. But I found myself to not fully agree with them either. It’s an interesting paradox, one that made me think about my view on human existence. 

Yes, it’s a good book that will make you think. It’s also quite well-paced, maintaining its mystery throughout. The characterization could’ve been done better, though. Overall, it’s a compelling read, especially if you’re looking for something with an unconventional message. 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *