The Three Body Problem like all the best science fiction is multi-layered. It has a complex story which gradually weaves together a large set of characters across time as the story is told in a non-linear manner. It is also multi-layered in terms of genres:
- It is a space opera as rich as Asimov’s Foundation books, except it is the aliens who will be doing the interstellar travel. The Hari Sheldon like character on earth has dark motives
- It has a conspiracy at the heart of it that reminded me of James Bond novels and John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps
- It is the tail of of hard-bitten detective work as if Raymond Chandler had been in Beijing; complete with film noir levels of smoking and drinking
But most interesting of all is the mirror it offers on the modern China from the cultural revolution onwards. Liu is unflinching in his depiction of Cultural Revolution excesses. As China changes towards ethno-Han nationalism it will be interesting to see if Liu’s book is still as well received in his own country.
Like all good authors there are hints of the authors early life. In this case it is the crucial early events in the book, set in a rural part of Henan province during the cultural revolution. He has managed to spin the complex web of a story. The Three Body Problem is the first book in a trilogy – I am looking forward to reading The Dark Forest – the second book. More book reviews here.