Chinese author Cixin Liu’s Hugo Award-winning THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM is certainly an intriguing piece of science fiction, rich in ideas if thin in plot and characterization. A mixed bag, though on the whole I quite enjoyed it as something bold and original.
The plot description is pretty simple. During China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project ends up communicating with an alien civilization on the brink of destruction. Forced to emigrate, this civilization decides to travel to Earth. During the long wait, factions form on Earth, some planning to welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as irredeemably corrupt, and others planning to resist.
At first, I thought this was an alien contact story set during the Cold War, with a Maoist China making first contact, but the Cultural Revolution only serves as the backdrop for the genesis story. The story soon jumps ahead in time to the present day to a new protagonist, a scientist struggling with a string of connected mysteries that lead him to the truth about the aliens.
Reading reviews, I noticed that some readers criticized the mostly tell and not show plot, wooden dialogue, and thin characterization, and I can’t argue with any of that. For example, the protagonist has a wife and son we meet near the beginning but pretty much never hear of again. Where the novel excels is in its ideas, sense of a scientific mystery, and beginnings in the what can only be called insanely turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution. These elements really grabbed me, and while I didn’t particularly care about the characters aside from perhaps the clever but obnoxious cop, I stayed glued to the page to see where all these crazy ideas were going to take me.
So overall, I’d call THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM a highly enjoyable and original piece of science fiction, particularly enjoyable for its density of intriguing, interconnected ideas.