This translated Chinese award-winning sci-fi came to my attention during my Diverse Own Voices Fantasy and Sci-fi and actually made it onto my list! I was interested in how Chinese worldview, culture and traditions would come through the sci-fi elements of the story. This is essentially the reasons I’m interested in an own voice diverse fantasy and sci-fi, to read other people views.
I borrowed this book from a friend who loved it! And now there is a line for this book from our other friends.
I grew up with translated fiction and never had any issues with it. However, since coming over to the UK and started reading a lot more English books, I have learned thing doesn’t always get translated correctly into English, which is a shame. I don’t think we have ever had this issue translating into Norwegian but I could be making things up. Obviously, not everything is easy to translate, but its still a shame that some books aren’t enjoyed as much because the translation is bad.
The Three-body Problem
by Cixin Lui
Synopsis by GoodReads
The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award-winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.
“Fans of hard SF will revel in this intricate and imaginative novel by one of China’s most celebrated genre writers. In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death.
“Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defence research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.
“Liu impressively succeeds in integrating complex topics—such as the field of frontier science, which attempts to define the limits of science’s ability to know nature—without slowing down the action or sacrificing characterization. His smooth handling of the disparate plot elements cleverly sets up the second volume of the trilogy.” —Publishers Weekly
insight into China
sci-fi written as mystery
My first thoughts were how well translated it was. My second thought was “oh this is science I can follow, great!”
Both these thoughts stayed with me for the whole book.
The book starts off with setting the historical scene starting at the Cultural Revolution in 1967 and the execution of reactive physicists. It then moves on to show how one event can affect the future for all humankind, but you don’t know what happened nor who did it before 2/3 through. The story spends most of its time figuring it out, its almost written like a mystery novel.
There is even a virtual reality online game involved but it’s for intellects, not just anyone.
This world is very much a version of your own. Explaining the difference will potentially spoil it so I won’t. However, I can say that there is a slight increase in scientific evolution (not much), and a whole bunch of luck.
As mentioned earlier, the book started off setting the political scene with the execution of scientists during the Cultural Revolution. We then follow the daughter (Ye) of said scientist as she tries to find her place in a world where she is not trusted. Head 40 years into the future and meet Wang who is a nanotech scientist in applied research. Wang gets roped into the investigation of a group of other scientists from all over the globe and into a virtual world.
There isn’t much world building needed in the beginning as this world is very close to our own. But what I really liked is the translator notes in the footer for events, people and culture which is not common knowledge outside China. This really helped me form a view of the world ad an understanding of the politics and setting culturally in this book. It also provided me with a somewhat better understanding of China. As the story progresses the world building ramps up but on a subconscious level and it was amazing to me how I suddenly knew stuff about this place that wasn’t spelt out. The writing of the world building, I felt, was truly something special.
It’s very science heavy, but if you are like me and like science then it’s not much of a problem. I managed to follow much of the science which is very physics heavy. Well, you should have known that by the title of the book, and if you did; well done you! pick this book up cause it’s totally for you!
There were a few points where I drifted out because you could have pages on pages explaining a research or a process, but I could still follow the science if I hadn’t drifted off.
We are introduced to a lot of people in the beginning (not “Russian literature”-many but more than a standard western book). However, the book as a list of characters in the very beginning so you can easily keep track. After getting into the story (after part 1, so 1/5th ish) I found it a lot easier to keep track of them as we mainly only follow Wang. It was only the first part that the story introduces a lot of people. Don’t fret.
The main character, Wang, is a nanotech professor and does applied research along with being a professor at University level. Wang gets dragged into a murder case which also uncovered a plot against humankind. I found Wang an easy-to-follow sort of character. I believed him and his actions.
I generally liked all the characters in this book, which normally I wouldn’t.
It’s China. What did you expect?
I can’t comment on the writing itself as I don’t know Chinese, I can only comment on the translation which I found very well done. It was smooth and flowing as if t was originally written in English. There is a translator acknowledgement at the end explaining the translators worries over the translation, which I found very interesting.
There are also translator notes in the footer for specific historical events or cultural references not commonly known, or that I didn’t know, which I really appreciated and loved. I learned a lot about Chinese history, mythology and culture from just reading those notes.
I found this book not as heavy as expected, and the translation to be a lot better than expected. It was a very good and interesting experience reading this Chinese sci-fi. The worldview and the view on humankind are fascinating, and I really enjoyed the authors note at the end where he elaborates on it.
I really enjoyed it!
I will definitely continue with the series and I have book 2 waiting for me 😁
Have you read this? What did you think?