The Three Body Problem (2008) – Liu Cixin

Wang Miao and Ye Wenjie are the central characters in a vast cast in this epic Chinese novel that is the first in a trilogy, also known as The Three Body Problem.

Treating its subject matter with intelligence, and pouring on the science, the story takes us through the first steps of contact with an alien species, apparently for all the wrong reasons.

The story is set in China, beginning in the mid-60s during the Cultural Revolution, and we learn about the Red Coast project that is similar to SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) and is using a huge dish to listen for messages out amongst the stars, while occasionally transmitting greetings, in the vein of the Voyager probes that were sent out. When a message comes from a race we come to know as the Trisolarans, a disillusioned scientist, Ye Wenjie, sends one back, asking for their help, in order to punish man for our corruption of the planet.

She and others like her form a group, which in turn splinters, but they worship the idea of the Trisolarans coming to them, either to completely remove humanity from the planet, or to force us to live in balance with the planet. Either way, it makes it sound like they are definitely okay with humanity giving up its stewardship of Earth.

Wang Miao is another scientist, in the present, who gets caught up in events, slowly coming to realize that the things happening around the globe, a mass number of scientist deaths (via murder and suicide), a seemingly impossible manipulation of cosmic waves, and more are all the result of alien interaction.

As the government pulls its team together, we learn more about the history of Red Coast, Ye’s involvement with it, and how it all ties into a very intellectual VR game that people have been playing.

The story unfolds easily, taking its time, establishing its characters, and the mystery, which I greatly enjoyed. I was a little upset that none of the attempts for contact were seeking a brotherhood, or a mutual understanding, the characters are projecting, and longing for a savior of sorts, one that destroys or subjugates them.

Which, of course, is exactly what the Trisolarans have planned. Their own planetary orbit is unstable, causing their civilization to grow in fits and starts, so our planet, with its stable orbit, and lone sun, looks almost like a paradise to them. And thanks to Ye’s signal, they know where we are.

They’ve assembled their fleet, they’ve stoppered our science, they can study and learn everything about us, thanks to some proton quantum entanglement, and they are coming…

Smart, engaging, and a stellar read, this one is definitely not light science fiction or space opera, this is a fascinating tale, and it’s interesting to see a story of alien contact told through another perspective, not a Western one. And despite the fact that this post seems fairly spoiler heavy, you actually know most of this going into the story, it’s reading how it plays out that makes this one really enjoyable.

Book one in the series ends with the realization that not only are they coming, they see us as nothing better than bugs. They aren’t in contact with the group that first reached out to them, and worships them. They have one mission now claim the Earth for their own.

And they will be here in four hundred years…

I can’t wait to see how this plays out in the next volume of the tale, The Dark Forest.

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