Capsule Reviews
A Strange and Amazing Book

A Strange and Amazing Book

During the pandemic, my friend Mike Starbird and I decided it might be fun to read some books and discuss them by phone. Mike loves to discuss just about anything, and in this case we decided to reread Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Robot series.

We were right. It was great fun. (You can read about our experience in this 2020 blog post.)

Mike and I discovered that science fiction lends itself to lively conversations, so I suggested The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu. It had won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel, and friends had encouraged me to try it.

What a strange and amazing book!

The story, named after a famous math conundrum that Mike knew all about and tried (without success) to explain to me, careens wildly from place to place, character to character, world to world, raising issues from global warming to virtual reality to interplanetary contact.

You may have noticed that the translator is listed on the cover. Ken Liu, besides translating this book, is one of the leading voices in a booming Chinese science fiction movement. (Here’s an excellent article about him from The New York Times Magazine.)

At first, I thought the book’s sudden jumps and non sequiturs were because of a poor translation, but after reading Liu’s thoughtful Translator’s Note, I realized those qualities were in the original manuscript, and in fact the translation was excellent.

I won’t try to explain what happens. I’ll just tell you that the story was thought-provoking and unlike anything I’ve read. If you enjoy it, you’ll be pleased to know it’s part of a trilogy, also called The Three-Body Problem. The other titles are The Dark Forest and Death’s End. It’s being made into a Netflix series.

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