The Three Body Problem by Cixin Lui

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4 out of 5 stars

It’s taken me a while to get around to reading this novel – but I’m glad I did. It’s an old-fashioned, classic SF novel that’s been tremendously popular in China – winning a number of awards – and won the Hugo this year for best novel. It’s the first of a trilogy – Remembrances of Earth’s Past – (though I’m satisfied with the way this novel ended) and is set between the end of the Cultural Revolution in the Sixties through to the present day. After an opening section set at the trial of a physicist during the Cultural Revolution and following the subsequent career of his daughter, Ye  Wenjie, at a top-secret military base, the first half of the novel is a mystery in which the main character, Wang Miao, a nanomaterials researcher, investigates the deaths of scientists and becomes involved with the military.The storytelling is kept fresh through different forms of narratives used including recounts, interviews and reports. With the exception of Ye Wenjie, who is a compelling antagonist, other characters are thinly drawn and often fall into stereotypes.

There’s a great deal of hard science fiction and exploration of a civilisation – the Trisolarans – attempting to survive a chaotic three sun environment plus a devious plot involving protons to prevent human technological development.

I particularly enjoyed the parts of the novel set in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution – plus the ecological sub-text – and the impact these had on the motivations of characters like Ye Wenjie and Mike Evans (a billionaire Eco-communist of sorts). Less engaging was the final part of the plot which ended up being about alien invasion.

What’s also interesting is that the novel is incredibly critical of the Chinese regime during the Cultural Revolution. That surprised me a great deal.

Three-Body was a strong final read of this year and, at some point in 2016, I’ll read the second novel, The Dark Forest.

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