I really hadn’t known what I was getting into with these books. I started listening to the Three-Body Problem audiobook last year, a short while before lockdown started. Writing this now, I’m about halfway through the final book in the trilogy, Death’s End.
The Three-Body Problem is a critical and unflinching exploration of humanity’s experience of hope, despair, and transformation when faced with the broader universe, its occupants, and its rules — with humanity itself questioning its roles as “protagonist.” Without giving too much away, the first book sees humanity’s new awareness of and attempts to deal with the Trisolarans, an extraterrestrial race that lives under constant threat of annihilation because of the unpredictable oscillations of its suns (hence the three-body problem).
The Trisolarans are more technically advanced than the Earth, but this is where (at least for me) the book distinguishes itself significantly. At each stage, Liu Cixin uses conflict and engagement with the existential as a mechanism to deeply explore the philosophical and political interfacing that helped bring about certain technical realities — or that emerge from their existence. Further, the book is continuously engaging with ideas of information theory and human behaviour, making some topics like deterrence to game theory accessible through compelling characters and a really unique writing style.
All told, I can’t recommend these books enough. They’re a big investment time-wise (especially the last one), but during a pretty tough year, they’ve been good companions in a time of crisis.