I’ve been trying to write one post over the weekend and one post over the week, but failed to do so yesterday, so here’s a post in time for Monday morning and a promise of one later this week.
So I believe I mentioned I’ve been reading a lot lately at work, and I’m proud to say I’ve finished the Chinese sci-if trilogy I started in January! Feeling very accomplished and *dying* to talk about it, but unfortunately even some Chinese people find it a bit hard to parse and the English translation of the third book still isn’t out.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but if you’re not a fan of even minor spoilers and intend to read the books I suggest you stop reading now and just look at the pictures at the The end of the post. If you have no interest in reading the books, you should. Especially if you enjoy hardcore sci-fi with real science thrown in and deep philosophy and/or want a chance to learn about Chinese history and culture. The English translations are great I’m told, I was actually recommended the first book by an American friend. Still here? Okie dokie.
The series takes its name from the title of the first book, “The Three Body Problem,” *SPOILER* which as you might guess features prominently in the plot.*END*
If you’re not familiar with the problem, it’s a variant of the n-body problem where n is any number greater than 1. It refers to attempting to predict mathematically the behavior of n number of objects, usually heavenly bodies with respect to the gravitational forces they exert on each other and their motion at any given time. What’s had it vexing physicists for ages is that outside of a few simplistic specific solutions, any time n is greater than 2 it’s literally impossible to solve. At least so far.
The first book starts off slow, only picking up about halfway through, but is quite entertaining. In addition to the physics, a good portion of the book takes place in a flashback during the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s second fiasco wherein he attempted to retake power within the party by rallying the youth to take a stand against “counter-revolutionary ideals”. Schools were closed, everyone went to learn from peasants, and hundreds of thousands of individuals, mostly intellectuals, died from various causes, most famously “public struggles” which were group shamings of individuals deemed to be against the revolution that could easily turn into lynchings.
The book offers a very personal account of the era, and I suggest you do some reading of your own, as I only really started to understand what it was this semester (aided by this book).
Another portion takes place in a video game, which is a bit surreal, but provides one of my favorite scenes ever wherein one of the main characters logs in to find Newton and Liebniz fencing on the steps of a massive pyramid over who invented calculus. Newton wins and then he and the character request the use of 300,000 soldiers from the first emperor of China to make a primitive computer. Go figure.
The second books goes about 200 years into the future and mostly wraps ups the main story of the first book while raising some questions about the natural state of the universe. Not my favorite in the series, but the main character is very well developed and the plot is compelling.
*SPOILER* The author Liu Cixin could have stopped with the second book, but I’m glad he didn’t. The third book tramples the somewhat fairy tale ending of the second in favor of following some side characters parallel to the events of the first two books before moving past them into the far far future and eventually the end of the universe. Much wider in scope to say the least and a little tough to wrap your mind around.
I won’t say more, but is has some really really cool science in it (more theoretical) and some interesting questions. The ones I zeroed in on the most are “what is the price we are willing to pay to preserve human civilization and culture?” And “if the price we pay is too high will we still be human afterwards? And if that’s the case have we just preserved the culture of a dead species?” There’s some influence of Lovecraft and Hitchcock in that Liu relies on your own imagination to frighten you with his concept of how vast and dangerous the universe is and how tiny tiny we really are. “The monster in your mind is scarier than the monster on the screen” after all.
Lastly, the main character of the third book is a bit one-dimensional. That’s not my point though. My point is that in part of the story she is elected for a position and makes a decision while in that decision that could be said was not the right one. It causes a lot of death and practically all of humanity hates her for it, including herself. The interesting thing about this moment though is that afterwards several characters tell that she’s the only one who isn’t at fault for that decision. That because everyone knew she would act in that way and still chose her out of naïveté and fantasy, they are all to blame. Which when you think about it has *terrifying* implications for the November election.
Speaking of the election, I’m going to leave this very interesting article here my friend shared. Highly recommend. And just one picture, but puppy!