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February 6, 2017 9:50 PM   Subscribe

A Brief Introduction to Chinese Science Fiction by Regina Kanyu Wang [Mithila Review] “Chinese science fiction has remained largely mysterious to the outside world until recently. In 2015, Liu Cixin (刘慈欣) [wiki] won the first Hugo Award for Asia with his novel The Three-Body Problem (《三体》) and in August 2016, Hao Jingfang (郝景芳) [wiki] won the second with her novelette Folding Beijing (《北京折叠》) — both translated by Ken Liu [wiki], a Hugo-winning Chinese-American author. Ken Liu’s multiple award-winning short story, “The Paper Menagerie,” [io9] (2012) explores the conflict between the narrator’s Chinese and American cultural identities. Now, as more and more Chinese science fiction is translated into English and other languages, it is the perfect time to explore its history.”

• The Rise of Chinese Sci-Fi by Carly O'Connell [Asia Times] [Part 1] [Part 2]
“It wasn’t until 2014, however, that Chinese-American author Ken Liu tackled its translation and the novel began garnering international recognition. The Three-Body Problem is an example of hard sci-fi, where fantasy is rooted in actual advanced scientific knowledge (the title refers to a physics phenomenon involving the gravitational forces of three celestial bodies). The novel opens with a scene from the Cultural Revolution and then flashes forward a couple decades to a time when the world’s leaders and militaries are faced with a mysterious virtual reality game and an impending alien invasion. Hapless nanomaterials scientist Wang Miao finds himself caught in the middle of it all. After decades of a one-way tunnel of Western sci-fi works into China, I believe American readers can benefit from a reversal of that flow. The novel introduces Western readers not only to the horrors and anxieties of the Cultural Revolution, but also to aspects of China’s more distant history, through cameos by the legendary Fuxi and historical Mozi in the virtual reality game.”
• Inside the World of Chinese science Fiction, with “Three Body Problem” translator Ken Liu [Quartz ] [Interview]
Quartz: When people outside of China are introduced to “Chinese sci-fi,” an initial reaction might be to ask, “What’s the difference between Chinese and Western sci-fi?” Is that a useful question?
Ken Liu: What tends to happen when people talk about Chinese sci-fi in the West is that there’s a lot of projection. We prefer to think of China as a dystopian world that is challenging American hegemony, so we would like to think that Chinese sci-fi is all either militaristic or dystopian. But that’s just not the reality of it. That’s just not how people in China think. To them, the West is the dominant force in the world, and they have to make do as a peripheral culture trying to reemerge from centuries of historical oppression and colonial dominance to take their place on the world stage. Trying to project our expectations and our desires onto the sci-fi being written in China now isn’t terribly helpful.
• The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu [TOR.com]
“The experience of Three Body caused science fiction writers and critics to re-evaluate Chinese science fiction and China. They realized that they had been ignoring changes in the thinking patterns of Chinese readers. As modernization accelerated its pace, the new generation of readers no longer confined their thoughts to the narrow present, as their parents did, but were interested in the future and the wide-open cosmos. The China of the present is a bit like America during science fiction’s Golden Age, when science and technology filled the future with wonder, presenting both great crises and grand opportunities. This was rich soil for the growth and flourishing of science fiction. Science fiction is a literature of possibilities. The universe we live in is also one of countless possibilities. For humanity, some universes are better than others, and Three Body shows the worst of all possible universes, a universe in which existence is as dark and harsh as one can imagine.”
• What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese? by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu [TOR.com]
“Contemporary Chinese science fiction writers form a community full of internal differences. These differences manifest themselves in age, region of origin, professional background, social class, ideology, cultural identity, aesthetics, and other areas. However, by carefully reading and parsing their work, I can still find aspects of commonality among them (myself included). Our stories are written primarily for a Chinese audience. The problems we care about and ponder are the problems facing all of us sharing this plot of land. These problems, in turn, are connected in a thousand complicated ways with the collective fate of all of humanity. In reading Western science fiction, Chinese readers discover the fears and hopes of Man, the modern Prometheus, for his destiny, which is also his own creation. Perhaps Western readers can also read Chinese science fiction and experience an alternative, Chinese modernity and be inspired to imagine an alternative future.”
• China's Arthur C. Clarke by Joshua Rothman [The New Yorker]
“American science fiction draws heavily on American culture, of course—the war for independence, the Wild West, film noir, sixties psychedelia—and so humanity’s imagined future often looks a lot like America’s past. For an American reader, one of the pleasures of reading Liu is that his stories draw on entirely different resources. Much of “The Three-Body Problem” is set during the Cultural Revolution. In “The Wages of Humanity,” visitors from space demand the redistribution of Earth’s wealth, and explain that runaway capitalism almost destroyed their civilization. In “Taking Care of Gods,” the hyper-advanced aliens who, billions of years ago, engineered life on Earth descend from their spaceships; they turn out to be little old men with canes and long, white beards. “We hope that you will feel a sense of filial duty towards your creators and take us in,” they say. I doubt that any Western sci-fi writer has so thoroughly explored the theme of filial piety.”
posted by Fizz (60 comments total) 117 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just picked up The Three-Body Problem based on a recent AskMe recommendation, and it's next in the pile. Previously I had only known Ted Chiang (who is, of course, American), and had never really given serious though to the idea of Chinese sci fi - but it's increasingly seeming like it's some of the best in the business. Anyway, this is a fabulous post, fizz!
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:55 PM on February 6


For anyone wanting a great introduction to Chinese SF, Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, it's well worth picking up. I'm about half way through and I wish this anthology was longer. So many wonderful writers. I'm glad that Ken Liu is pushing and promoting these writers to the west.
posted by Fizz at 9:57 PM on February 6 [9 favorites]


The greatest threat to the longterm growth and development of Chinese SF is the potential adoption of the shorthand term "ChiSciFi". Yipes.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:08 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Oh, this is great, thanks.

Thinking back, prior to the Three Body Problem, I realize that most of the science fiction I read that talked about China was actually from Western writers, and was likely problematic in some ways (The Hong Kong of The Diamond Age, for example, or China Mountain Zhang). They tend to be exoticizing of China in ways that the Three Body Problem was not.

I'll make an exception for Cordwainer Smith, who was not Chinese, but was in China for much of his life, was Sun Yat-sen's godson, and, at least as argued by this thesis, strongly influenced by traditional storytelling from China. I'd be interested in the opinions of others though.
posted by blahblahblah at 10:22 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


The Three-Body Problem was like nothing I'd ever read before. Highly recommended. DEHYDRATE!
posted by infinitewindow at 10:23 PM on February 6 [14 favorites]


Dark Forest and Death's End, the two follow ups to Three Body Problem were my Southern Hemisphere summer reading. Took about 18 hours and I then had to find something to read on the second day of the holiday.

Both highly recommended.
posted by andrewdoull at 11:22 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Great post and thanks for the recommendations Fizz, looking forward to Invisible Planets!
posted by Molesome at 4:01 AM on February 7


The greatest threat to the longterm growth and development of Chinese SF is the potential adoption of the shorthand term "ChiSciFi".

ScinoFi?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:27 AM on February 7 [8 favorites]


I demolished the Three Body Problem trilogy and then Invisible Planets after my girlfriend got them for me as gifts. She earned a lot of points for those purchases. Stunning stuff.
posted by knapah at 4:48 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I will have to dip into these some time. Currently I am reading Becky Chambers - Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I read A Closed and Common Orbit first, which I picked up because the subject matter looked almost identical to the Ancillary Series by Ann Leckie and I wanted to see what Becky Chambers did with it.

There must be more history to Chinese Sci Fi film than Stephen Chow's CJ7 (2008)
posted by asok at 5:09 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]




Amazon delivered The Three-Body Problem to my door just yesterday. I also got wind of it via MetaFilter, and it's been on my list for a while. I can't wait to dig in. But do I read all the links above first, and then the book? Or the other way around??? Either way, thanks for the post, Fizz.
posted by Kabanos at 5:35 AM on February 7


For those here who have read The Three-Body Problem: does the AV Club's review have any resonance with you?
posted by mushhushshu at 5:37 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I finished the Three-Body Problem trilogy just before Christmas and I'm having a tough time picking anything else up* to read. I can't stop thinking about this trilogy and I will pretty much just start reading it again.



* - Except comics. I've been reading the hell out of comics.
posted by NoMich at 6:02 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


For those here who have read The Three-Body Problem: does the AV Club's review have any resonance with you?

Only that it's a bit more focused on the technical than on character development. I found it a lot of fun to read though and as effbot notes, some of the review is particularly stupid.
posted by knapah at 6:08 AM on February 7


I felt the ways the characters think and feel and speak, feel authentically Chinese, because, well, it was written by a native, in Mandarin. I guess the translation style Ken picked helped preserve that?

It's actually kind of shocking to suddenly see someone of your culture appear in science fiction.

I mean, compare this to an attempt like Cho Chang in Harry Potter...
posted by xdvesper at 6:12 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I felt the ways the characters think and feel and speak, feel authentically Chinese, because, well, it was written by a native, in Mandarin. I guess the translation style Ken picked helped preserve that?

Is expository monologuing/fact-dumping more typical/less stilted in Mandarin than in English?
posted by acb at 6:23 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


For those here who have read The Three-Body Problem: does the AV Club's review have any resonance with you?

Not really. And I found the whole trilogy immensely fun to read.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:23 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I think the AV Club review undersells the strengths of the novel. 3-Body problem has many flaws, but it also has many interesting ideas, tech applications, and some visually beautiful scenes. You can read *my* full (and far more accurate) review here:
posted by Balna Watya at 6:24 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


I read this trilogy a few weeks ago and found it difficult to put down.
posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 6:44 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Where would I be in my life if we didn't have wonderful translation for Spanish (Borges, Marquez) and Italian (Eco, Calvino)?

How much am I missing out on SFF/strange fiction from around the world for a dearth of ready translation? Cixin Liu is only the tip of the Chinese-language iceberg, and I want to see a lot more.
posted by tclark at 6:49 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Superb.

Personally, I encountered 'The Three Body Problem' while convalescing in a hospital bed for a few months after a serious injury. [Ken Liu, translator. Narrated by Luke Daniels] It was such a delicious trip-- I definitely left the experience wanting to read a lot more Chinese sci-fi.

And not through the lens of 'Wow, look at this 'Orientalist/Exotic' take on sci-fi tropes' but that it was interesting, well considered, and decidedly modern. Usual disclaimers of reading a work in translation (see Borges upthread) apply.
posted by mrdaneri at 7:10 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


> There must be more history to Chinese Sci Fi film than Stephen Chow's CJ7 (2008)

Yeah, I found this post disappointing not for the links, which are great, but because it leaves the impression Chinese sf is less than a decade old. To provide some historical perspective, here's the relevant entry from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, tracing the history back over a century: "Chinese literature has a long tradition of the fantastic that prepared the way for, and leads up to, modern Chinese sf. Like modernism itself, the sf genre reached China through the unexpected route of Japanese contacts, in particular the foreign studies of the author Lu Xun (1881-1936)."

I too discovered The Three Body Problem via MeFi and gobbled it right up; I'm holding off on the sequels until I can afford to take the time to read them (and because once I've read them I won't have them to look forward to).
posted by languagehat at 7:25 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


For those here who have read The Three-Body Problem: does the AV Club's review have any resonance with you?

Kind of. Well, not the bits about it being difficult for Americans to understand, but I did find a lot of the prose and dialogue painfully clunky. The bit quoted in the review to illustrate this:
"Eventually, I lost all hope in the human race … Desperation turned me from a pacifist into an extremist. Also, probably because I donated so much money to the Organization, I became a core member"
is pretty typical. Maybe it's just as awkward in the original Chinese (I remember reading somewhere that it is) but that didn't make it any more fun to read.

Even so I did like the bits set in the past - the cultural revolution, Red Coast etc. The bits set in the present got sillier and sillier as the book went on and parts of it read like a bad parody of Western SF from 70 years ago, which may have been intentional but also didn't make it much fun to read.

I don't know. A lot of people seem to really like it, but it just didn't work for me.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:31 AM on February 7


... something else that didn't resonate with me about the AVClub's review is that it has a rather large, annoying spoiler in it, so anyone who hasn't read the book should probably stay away.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:36 AM on February 7


I finished reading The Three Body Problem (book 1) a few weeks ago, and it still stuck with me, but I am in that place where I am okay not knowing what comes next in the next two books, because it left me with a feeling of a world that I don't want removed by the writing you sometimes find due to trilogy-mechanics (I've never gone past Ancillary Justice for the same reason) -- if you've read all three, are the others as good?
posted by Mchelly at 7:44 AM on February 7


I can't speak for the sequels, but the dialog in TBP was almost unbearable (and I speak as someone with an extremely high tolerance for poor dialogue). That said, I'm inclined to blame Liu as much as anyone else -- Grace of Kings suffered from some of the same flaws.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:47 AM on February 7


My only complaint about the trilogy is that the plot's main developments in the third book felt rushed and not wholly motivated by the setup of the first two. Hm. I wonder where there's an analogy of an author whose work I really like whose endings tend to be oddly rushed or somewhat disjointed.... *cough*Stephenson*cough*

Liu is in influential company here. Both in the good and less-good senses.
posted by tclark at 8:07 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


The bit quoted in the review to illustrate this

That's not an actual quote from the book, though. Two different (minor, anonymous) characters, different chapters. The second part is from an inpromtu speech in front of a bunch of excited zealots.
posted by effbot at 8:10 AM on February 7


if you've read all three, are the others as good?

They're all a bit different from each other, with focus on different characters and problems. I enjoyed them all.

"Ye Wenjie was right" is the new "Magneto was right."
posted by asperity at 8:18 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


which is hilariously stupid

"Stupid" seems an excessively kind assessment.

There were parts of Three Body Problem that I wanted to be somewhat different from what they were--I was fascinated by the psychology that would lead someone to do [you know, big old spoiler], and the book tended to adumbrate that rather than develop it closely, in favor of the mechanics of accomplishing [big old spoiler]--but for what it was I quite enjoyed it.
posted by praemunire at 8:26 AM on February 7


That's not an actual quote from the book, though. Two different (minor, anonymous) characters, different chapters. The second part is from an inpromtu speech in front of a bunch of excited zealots.

Are there different editions? It's on page 253 of mine, although with slight differences in wording ("Eventually, I lost hope in the human race and joined the [...]. Desperation turned me from a pacifist into an extremist. Also, probably because I donated so much money to the Organization, I became a core member of the [...]" - minor spoilers removed). I have no idea how I found that so quickly. Anyway, I thought it was a pretty fair example of the way the book is written.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:28 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons I couldn't put The Three-Body Problem down was the fact that it was so foreign to me. My take on the psychology of everyone involved [SPOILERS]:
  1. Right off the bat, we see the civil war and resulting crackdown destroy the lives of anyone who steps out of line.
  2. Forty years later, people tend to keep their lives very conservative and prosaic due to strong mores and taboos from cultural and authoritarian sources.
  3. [SPOILERS] are completely radical, too radical even for the People's Republic at its most revolutionary.
  4. The characters have such a strong ingrained bias towards conformity that they explain things carefully and clunkily so the "authorities" (who are just as lost as they are) will not mistake their understanding for support. Even in the face of [SPOILER], they fear loss of status.
The exception to this is the detective character who seems to innately understand that societies are built on power, murder and great crimes. This is why he's basically the only person who talks and acts in the way Americans expect from their SF thrillers.

It's a hot, steaming take, written while I'm waiting for my shower to heat up, and this is literally the first novel I've read that was originally written in Chinese for Chinese audiences. Should we take this to Fanfare where we can dance freely with spoilers?
posted by infinitewindow at 8:43 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


If anyone like Chinese fantasy web novels, reddit actually has a big community that translated Chinese fantasy web novels into English. Quality may vary.
posted by Carius at 8:51 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


If anyone like Chinese fantasy web novels, reddit actually has a big community that translated Chinese fantasy web novels into English. Quality may vary.

I'm curious whether there is much in the way of occidentalism in Chinese popular fiction, with interestingly weird views of the exotic West. The one example I know of is Chako Paul City (previously), a supposed lesbian amazon metropolis in the forests of northern Sweden, which originated in a Chinese pulp story and became an urban legend, though surely there must be more outlandishly tall tales of “did you know that in America/England/Germany/the very end of Portugal/...”
posted by acb at 9:15 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


For all the Three Body fans here, here's a link to a fan tribute video named Water Drop that impressed a lot of people last year. (Official site; Zhihu review.)
posted by of strange foe at 9:18 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Carius, I learned about that reddit community from Weibo, the Chinese twitter, so it comes full circle...

Acb, Chinese fantasy web novels can be divided into two sub-genres - the traditional, and the 'occidental.' The latter kind is set in the 'West', characters have western names, and many worlds feels like WoW clones. You get kings and knights and magicians and priests etc. I remember one where the magic is music based, so imagine Bach being the most powerful wizard of the land, and the hero's quest is to become a court musician. In contrast, the traditional fantasy centers heavily on the quest for immortality, and instead of Hogwarthian magic schools, people train in Daoist temples up in the mountains. (No magic on plains, apparently.)
posted by of strange foe at 9:42 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I remember one where the magic is music based, so imagine Bach being the most powerful wizard of the land, and the hero's quest is to become a court musician.

Not trying to derail my own thread, but if anyone likes the idea of something like this, there's a really cool anime called ClassicaLoid that you should check out.
Two high school students, Kanae Otowa and Sōsuke Kagura, live in a rural town that is attempting to reinvigorate their town with music. Otowa and Kagura notice one day that abnormal versions of Beethoven and Mozart have appeared, known as "ClassicaLoids". The two ClassicaLoids play music they refer to as "Musik", which Otowa and Kagura soon discover is a power that causes stars to fall and giant robots to appear, turning every day henceforth bewildered. Subsequently, ClassicaLoid versions of Chopin, Bach, Schubert and other renowned composers also start to appear. The power that the ClassicaLoids hold and their origin remains a mystery that is yet to be discovered.
posted by Fizz at 9:45 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Otowa and Kagura notice one day that abnormal versions of Beethoven and Mozart have appeared, known as "ClassicaLoids".

Would this be a reference to Vocaloid, the singing-synthesis software that spawned a subgenre of uncanny-valley J-pop?
posted by acb at 9:49 AM on February 7


Kabanos: Amazon delivered The Three-Body Problem to my door just yesterday ... do I read all the links above first, and then the book? Or the other way around?

If you want my opinion: dive in first! If, like me, you're primarily familiar with American/UK SF, I think it's worth approaching it without the surrounding hype, and soaking in the strangeness, the foreign feel (best way I can find to express it, even if it's not quite right).

In response to a different comment: I read Ancillary Justice, enjoyed it enormously, waited a good long while, and then sucked down Sword and Mercy in one gulp. And I think it worked better that way, because the middle book was by far the weakest, as is so often the case - a lot of setup for the payoff in the last book. Justice is one of my favorite books (and I got a signed bookplate for it as a Quonsmas gift!) but the full trilogy also stands up well, too.

Likewise, I've read Three Body Problem, but I'm saving the second volume to read in one gulp with the third - unless some of you suggest otherwise.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:52 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


Would this be a reference to Vocaloid, the singing-synthesis software that spawned a subgenre of uncanny-valley J-pop?

Yeah, and there's also at least one episode with a ClassicaLoid who is also a Vocaloid. The whole thing is extremely silly fun and I mostly parcel it out to myself an episode at a time on Saturday mornings.
posted by asperity at 10:57 AM on February 7


Are there different editions? It's on page 253 of mine

No, you're right, I search bad. Someone says "I've lost hope in the human race [...]" a bit earlier, which confused me. So in context, the speaker is an Israeli addressing a crowd in Chinese. Given that, and what he's talking about, I don't really expect him to sound casual :-)
posted by effbot at 11:06 AM on February 7


For those of you that have read just the first book, my opinion is that the second book is the best. Once I understood Ye Wenjie's theory of cosmic sociology, it blew my mind*. It was at that point that I realized that this book was a slow roll out of an explanation of the theory. And man, what an explanation it is.

The third book was really good as well. It felt kind of disjointed from the first two as the story arc changed radically because of [spoiler] reasons, but there were some scenes of absolute brutality and some scenes of beauty that serve as explanation of the series as a whole.


* - I'm kind of a sci-fi n00b, so I was not familiar with the theory until this series.
posted by NoMich at 11:13 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


For all the Three Body fans here, here's a link to a fan tribute video named Water Drop that impressed a lot of people last year. (Official site; Zhihu review.)

I think we're able to make our own droplet now. This advancement tells me that there are no sophons here on earth. I think we're OK for now.
posted by NoMich at 11:15 AM on February 7


Likewise, I've read Three Body Problem, but I'm saving the second volume to read in one gulp with the third - unless some of you suggest otherwise.

I'd suggest otherwise, it's in part two the story gets really insane. I'd even go so far to say that the third book is somewhat optional.

(but it's still a lot of fun so you should read it if you liked the rest, but it's ok to take a break and read something else in between :-)

I was not familiar with the theory until this series.

The one in the second book? I don't think the theory existed in that form before this book. It makes a hell of a lot of sense, though; I'm happy we're not yet in a position to test it, because learning that it was true would suck :-D
posted by effbot at 11:58 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


effbot, from what I understand, if we're ever in a position to test it, that would mean the Dark Forest theory is already true and we're screwed either morally or existentially. Honestly, to me it seems self-evident.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:37 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


But that's what gets covered in book three and that makes the book necessary to the trilogy.
posted by NoMich at 12:49 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I loved all three volumes. I found the second a bit slow starting but great when it got going.

I would say it's solidly in the "hard SF" genre where science and ideas are more important than character and dialogue. If you don't like that or the sound of it, you probably won't like the book.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:53 PM on February 7


I also enjoyed the Three-Body Trilogy. But I want to point out that Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu is an AMAZING short story collection. Really, really, beautiful, and people should read it.
posted by daisystomper at 1:14 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the post, Fizz! I'll have to check som of these out.

So far, my only exposure ti Chinese skiffy to dater has been the fascinating 2002 film The Wesley's Mysterious File, which really must be seen to be believed.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 1:18 PM on February 7


It was mentioned in the main body of the post, but I now found a link: Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu. It's worth a read as she won a Hugo for this novella.
posted by Fizz at 1:59 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


I'm with the AV club in that the parts of Three Body that were most novel to me were around the cultural revolution and such. Many of the SFnal ideas in it didn't seem entirely new (take carbon fiber thread for example and see Ringworld..) and so it was natural while trying to read it to try to model out what Chinese SF might be like based on where the SFnal ideas in it map into western SF. That seems an essential part of the interest of the first book to many western readers.

(Also the three body problem is not the computationally infeasible problem that the book makes it out to be, which annoyed me at random intervals throughout the first book.)

The second book had a lot more unique ideas and from there the series turned from interesting antropological exercise into SF gold for me.

(And the dark forest idea is one solution to Fermi's paradox that tends to get bandied around, so it's not entirely new, but what a great presentation of it as a theory of cosmic sociology in the books!)
posted by joeyh at 9:29 PM on February 7


My take on the Three Body trilogy: the prose is often stilted, the characterization is extremely uneven, there are sections that drag, and the sociology is simplistic.

But there are also some incredible set pieces and fascinating ideas and the good parts zip along enough to overcome the weaknesses. The scope of the ideas in book 3 in particular is extraordinary. Combine that with the novelty of the Chinese viewpoint and I think it's well worth reading for Western sci-fi fans.
posted by nnethercote at 11:41 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


@of strange foe: Holy crap, that waterdrop video was GOOD.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:06 AM on February 8


the fucking sophon(s)
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:52 PM on February 8


I'm curious, to those of you criticizing the dialogue and characters, do you find it much different from classic hard sci-fi? The writing style reminds me of the original Foundation trilogy.
posted by mikek at 7:57 PM on February 8


Not very different at all! I think that was quite deliberate, and it was part of the reason I didn't like it very much (it was many years ago that I tried reading Foundation and I can't remember how many pages I managed to slog through, but it wasn't many).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:00 AM on February 9


I wish you hadn't told me that. I expect my new copy of The Three Body Problem to arrive any minute. I read the Foundation series when I was a teen uncritically consuming every SciFi book there was. Then I tried re-reading it as an adult. I think Imade it about 100 pages before the writing drove me off. I really hope you're wrong about TTBP.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:14 AM on February 9


Ah, sorry! But only parts of the book are really like that. It's worth reading for the other parts.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:33 AM on February 9


I attributed any stilted dialogue to the fact that the book was originally written in a language and in a culture that is nothing like our language and very different from our culture.
posted by NoMich at 7:23 AM on February 9


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