The Red Union had been attacking the headquarters of the April Twenty-eight Brigade for two days.
–Cixin Liu (trans. Ken Liu) - The Three-Body Problem - c.2006, 2015
Remembrance of Earth’s Past : book 1
Translated by Ken Liu
Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
So says the Goodreads blurb, and yeah, I suppose it is true. It is certainly a better recap than I could give. Mine went all rambling and nonsensical.
I found this quite a difficult book to get to grips with. I could understand all the words and the sentences. But I couldn’t really make sense of what was going on with Wang Miao and all that physics and then a virtual reality game…
However I was still enjoying the read. Which, yes, sounds strange, but its true. Even mid way through the book, although I understood more of what was going on, there was such a lot of actual physics being discussed that I’d say I had a frown on my face while reading. But the final third just explodes and everything fits into place in a wonderful way. I have to say that this is a great book.
Okay, so Wang is a bit of a non-character, but I don’t think the reader is really supposed to identify with him all that much. He is the narrator, just there to introduce us to the story and the world. Ye Wenjie, who witnesses her father beaten to death in the opening, is a much stronger character, despite not getting even a quarter of the “on-screen” time. And, given her history and background, you can really understand why she makes the decisions she does. Show Spoiler ▼
It is a book all about humanity and the wrongs we do to one another, on an individual level and on a society-wide level. So much so that while it is hard sci-fi, there is plenty of science[ref]spoiler discussion of the science avail. over on tor.com[/ref] in it, I think that it works so well because of the “soft” sci-fi aspects. The science is there to provide the what-if and the story, but the sociological and historical aspects are just as important to everything.
I’ll admit to now knowing a whole lot about Chinese history. I’m familiar with it only in the broadest of terms, so while I have heard about the Cultural Revolution and its “re-education”, I know very little. This book brings all that to life in such a heart-breaking way. Knowing that things like that actually happened, and more, it really makes you empathise with the characters who are so disillusioned with humanity.
It also makes me wish I’d read A Silent Spring, maybe I’ll get around to it sometime soon. And I think that there is also a Silent Spring Revisited out as well? I’m not sure I’ll read any of the actual science books behind the “three-body problem” though.