Publication year: 2014
Format: audiobook
Running time: 13 hours, 26 minute
Narrator: Luke Daniels
Publisher: Tor
English translation: Ken Liu

This is a book which IMHO is best read without knowing too much about what’s coming. In fact, I think that most reviews reveal too much about it and surprises aren’t surprising after that.

The book starts in 1980s China right after the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In character’s stories, it describes how people were affected and lives destroyed by the people in power. Specifically, professors and teachers of science were required to change their teachings when they could be inferred as “going against” the Communist ideal. Never mind that the actual physics of course work as they work regardless of what humans think. Ye Wenjie is a young astrophysicist when she sees her father, a physics professor, tortured to death in front of her eyes. Then she’s sent to a labor camp because she’s seen as dangerous to the new order. But then she’s taken to a secret outpost to work again in something close to her old work. This government project supposedly studies satellites but turns out to be quite different.

Ye Wenjie is a very wounded character, understandably. She has lost all faith in humanity in general and despairs in the labor camp when she’s forced to destroy irreplaceable nature. The only comfort she has comes from the work in the secret base and even that is unsatisfying when she’s an outsider.

However, most of the book is set in near future and in a virtual world called Three Body. A surprising number of scientists have killed themselves and the police ask Wang Maio to look into it. As a scientist, he has better chance of understanding why the other scientists are driven to suicide. He follows clues to a virtual world called Three Body where the sun is behaving oddly, causing unstable times when that part of the world is almost inhabitable. The only way the inhabitants can survive is because they can “dehydrate”; they can force all liquid out of their bodies and not require any food or water. The few still conscious ones are trying to find a way to predict the sun’s behavior so that their civilization can continue. Wang Maio becomes absorbed into the world and this three body problem.

Wang Maio who is a physicist working with nanomaterial. He uses the scientific method to find answers to his questions. He has a wife and son but they aren’t shown much in the book.

I found the various settings in the book very compelling. The world of Three Body is quite different from the real world but it takes aspects from the real world, incorporating both civilizations and famous people into the game. I also rather enjoyed the people behind the game.

This is thoughtful SF which has its roots firmly in the real past, namely the Chinese revolution and the way in which it shaped not just individual people but a whole nation. If you’re looking for rayguns and big fight scenes, you won’t find it here. But for readers looking for real science and puzzles to solve, the book can be a treat. However, it does have a lot of exposition and people telling their stories to each other.