THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu

This is an award-winning sci fi book by China’s most famous sci fi writer.  It was written in 2008 but not translated into English until 2014 by the excellent Ken Liu, no relation to the author.   It is the fourth most common surname in China.

Should you have forgotten your physics, I will be happy to refresh your memory.  In physics and classical mechanics, the three-body problem is the problem of taking an initial set of data that specifies the positions, masses, and velocities of three bodies for some particular point in time and then determining the motions of the three bodies, in accordance with Newton’s laws of motion and of universal gravitation which are the laws of classical mechanics.

Historically, the first specific three-body problem to receive extended study was the one involving the Moon, the Earth, and the Sun.  In an extended modern sense, a three-body problem is a class of problems in classical or quantum mechanics that model the motion of three particles.

Now, can we take this particular issue and make an interesting and exciting science fiction tale out of it?  Why yes, yes, we can.  Set in China, it starts off with the cultural revolution and a disgraced scientist who is beaten to death.  His daughter, an acclaimed scientist herself, is recruited from a labor camp to work at a top secret facility out in the boonies.  It’s massive telescope and radio tower and equipment are said to be for the war effort and to prevent further conflict.

Fast forward to the modern day and we meet Dr. Wang, another top scientist in his field, now recruited by the government via the police and military to help them with a strange situation.

It is basically the story of  the two scientists, Ye Wenjie, an engineer working in a top-secret military base during the 1970’s, and Wang Miao, a nanotechnologist in current day China. While events in current day China unfold for Wang, the story of Ye is told in alternate sections. The nature of the top-secret base is uncovered during the intricate story.

This is a dense, Byzantine plot, with switchbacks and a role-playing virtual reality game not making anything any easier to follow.  It is just chock full of physics.  Thank goodness it stops just short of giving us calculations and mathematical summations.  My physics is a little shaky.  OK.  A lot shaky, but while it helps to have a basic understanding of the physics, it is even more helpful to have a basic understanding of human nature.

We think that if we meet extraterrestrials, it will be all hi and welcome.  But what if it isn’t?  What if the safest thing is to remain silent, instead of looking for life in the great cosmos?  Because what if that life is looking for us…. for no good purposes?

It is all about trust, loyalty, curiosity, and wishful thinking.  And there are two more books in the series.

 

 

 

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