Review, thoughts & detailed notes on Three Body series by Cixin Liu

  The Three-Body Problem
Narrated by: Luke Daniels
Length: 13 hrs and 26 mins
Release date: 11-11-14

 The Dark Forest
By: Cixin LiuJoel Martinsen – translator
Narrated by:  J. Ochlan
Length: 22 hrs and 36 mins
Release date: 08-11-15

Death’s End
By: Cixin LiuKen Liu – translator
Narrated by:  J. Ochlan
Length: 28 hrs and 51 mins
Release date: 09-20-16

 

 

1st thoughts

1st of all, this book series, holy shit, I was not expecting that level of dense science fiction, or even story telling in general.

The guy is a fantastic writer.  And to be honest I wasn’t really expecting that.  I was in a way, but also not in another. It’s the kind of book where Chinese friends have been telling me for ages that “you really should listen to this book”, and people that love science fiction have also being saying “this book is epic, it’s a must read” ; all the reviews on audible.com for instance are fantastic.

Yet… and this is important, people also say that about Oscar winning films. The point is, just because someone recommends them, or it has won a bunch of awards, it doesn’t neccesarily mean that YOU will think they’re good or that YOU will enjoy them.  And enjoying something has a lot to do with whether or not you find it good.

So, big question…did I enjoy the book?

Sort of.
It’s not a resounding yes, and it’s not a resounding no.

The big thing I got from this book was – There is good story telling & good science fiction coming out of China.

China….  I did not know that before.
I wouldn’t have presumed that good science fiction could have come out of China. There’s no real reason why it couldn’t have… I just didn’t assume there was a reason it could.

What is the book actually about?

I’m not going to rely on the publisher’s summary, because I wasn’t really interested when I 1st read it. and it CAN be an interesting book.

It’s a 3 part series.
1. The 3 Body Problem
2. The Dark Forrest
3. Death’s End

The 1st book starts off with the different nations around the world in a race to be the 1st one hoping to communicate with aliens. There’s a multitude of hopes fro each of the parties attempting it, the Chinese communist hope being that alien technology could help them beat their enemies, the Americans being rather naïve and simply wanting to reach out to know that we aren’t alone… and some people want aliens to wipe out humanity because they are so dissatisfied with human nature. (one of the main people being a Chinese physicist so embittered with the CCP rule that she now wants to destroy humanity.
A group of aliens known as the Tri-solarans reach out and the story then follows 2 factions, those that want to help the alien colonisers destroy humanity & those that want to protect humanity from them.

The 2nd book details how the 1 weakness of the Tri-solarans (the soon to be invading race, which is due to arrive in 400 years) is that they cannot keep things in their own mind.  That is they speak their mind to such an extent that there is no individual scheming, and therefore humans with the ability to only state what they want to state can effectively lie, scheme, and plan strategically for many contingencies to defeat an enemy. The Tri-solarans have sent a few floating orbs call ‘sophons’ (android floating spy devices) which will spy on the human race and try to figure out what they are planning to communicate back to the Tri-solarans, so they can be prepared for what the humans have in store for them.
The humans come up with the ‘wall-facer project’, which will empower 4 great strategic thinkers chosen by the UN to work towards thwarting the Tri-solarans plan to take over the world. Their aim is to maneoveur resources in such a way to provide defense or attack whilst keeping how everything will be implemented to themselves, thus working against the Tri-solarans only weakness. Their opposing faction working in league with the Tri-solarans are known as the Wall-breakers.  Their job is to figure out the heroes plan, state it out loud for the sophons (floating spy devices) to pick up, thus thwarting the plan.
The book mainly follows 1 wall facer known as Luoji. (literally ‘logic’ in Chinese) as he attempts to thwart the aliens invasion plans.

Book 3 – Deals with concepts such as dimensional rupturing, and an uneasy truce between the Tri-solarans and the human race. It mainly follows a lady called Chengxin who has been trusted with safe-guarding a powerful deterrent.

There is obviously much more to this story that listed out above, yet I don’t want to ruin any major parts, even in between the books that have fairly large revelations at the end of each of them.

Before you decide that this book is for you or not…. know what you’re getting into when you start this book series.

A few things to keep in mind if you’re considering this book:
It IS a dense science fiction book. – it has a lot of concepts that many wouldn’t understand
It definitely sounds like a showcase of writing prowess sometimes, which can get boring because you just want it to get to the point.
It IS a fantastic piece of writing regardless.
It DOES have a lot imagination.
The book IS slow, especially at the start, and you often wonder if it could do with a good bit of editing to make it more consumable.

Narration

The 1st book is narrated by Luke Daniels, who is the narrator who did the Off to be the Wizard books. It was very interesting to hear his voice again… it’s very strange hearing the voices of Phillip, Todd and some of the game characters from book 3 being replicated in a Chinese science fiction book.

The 2nd & 3rd books are narrated by P. J. Ochlan who has a fantastic range, can do a great many voices very well and can pronounced Chinese names correctly.  Its refreshing to hear Chinese names pronounced correctly, even with the tones, and I think this adds value as it acclimatises listeners to hear Chinese voices in the way they’re meant to be heard.

Style of writing

The style of writing… well, let me just say that at the start it …is…slow. It takes at least 12 chapters to begin to get interesting. At least 5 hours had to have passed before I was actually getting intrigued. For me that was ok, because Luke Daniels was the narrator for the 1st book, & I just like the sound of his voice.  But if it had been anyone else, I would have given up before chapter 12.

If I had to actually READ the book… I would definitely have given up.

There’s just so much intricate detail on absolutely everything.  In that way it reminds me a bit of the book series Hyperion. Again, absolutely fantastic writing & story telling… but you’re also wishing the guy would just get on with it.

Basically, its overly long.

There are many moments where a point raised early on, only comes to fruition at the end of the 2nd or 3rd book and you’re often left wondering… ‘why the hell was that important?’.  There’s other times where he goes into such intricate detail, yet the concept is actually never returned to. In other words there are tangents that LITERALLY don’t go anywhere. That… is not really good writing there. In fact, its just pointless writing.

There’s some sections called ‘An excerpt from a past outside of time’ Which have almost nothing to do with the story. That’s not really, true, but they are pretty much the authors notes on what’s going on in the story to give certain events context….which I can only presume he couldn’t figure out how to incorporate into the normal story.

There are some concepts that are incredibly interesting… and some not so much, some like separate alien cultures that have vastly superior technologies yet are also somehow a little dumb… that are really interesting and you’d love the author to go into more detail, but he just doesn’t…. and it leaves you feeling like you’ve missed out on something.

Not a lot happens in the books. It’s a weird one, but it reminds me of a TV drama that pulls out all the stops for the last 2 episodes to make sure they don’t get cancelled. Therefore it gets interesting at the end of book 1, and then interesting end of book 2.  And then to be fair book 3 is definitely more consistent in being interesting, but there’s still many things that don’t come to fruition and almost sounds like the author forgot what he was writing at some point. I want to say that the book is written well… but that’s not really true, there’s so many of those moments that don’t make a lot of sense, yet I can say that the story is decent despite of these errors. Although editing would do a lot for the story.

The whole story sounds like it was written from back to front. It’s very well done, but because you obviously read from front to back it feels a little disjointed at times, especially due to the scale of the book and the scale of the time periods… You’re never quite sure if something that’s mentioned will relate to anything else…Or if it will come to be relevant in the final hours of the book.

Timeline/ scale

The timeline/ scale is just insane.  It takes the listener from the 1950s to 18 million years in the future.  Yes you read that right. 18 million years in the future. That being said, a lot of that happens at the very end in 1 particular event, but still the important time scale spans around 250 years.

It discusses 1950’s Chinese politics, thinking & environment which led to the 1st message into space, then adaption of different foreign powers coming together and working as one to prepare for and combating future alien invaders.

One surprising thing is that even though it is written by a Chinese author, the story didn’t have an overwhelming Chinese bias like you think it might have. Yes, a lot of the main characters and the most cunning ones were Chinese, and a few things like ‘the greatest strategic thinkers being the tomes of the 3 kingdoms’ were mentioned. But, it was not as biased as it definitely could have been, like what you see coming from today’s modern China from news articles, public opinion etc.  The author is clearly a guy that’s incredibly well educated, well read in foreign materials as well as Chinese, objective and can think critically.  For that I was surprised, not because I know many Chinese writers, but only because most of the things that I see coming out of China are limited by censorship by the Chinese government.
This was not, and it was a pleasure to see.

Insights

You hear quite a few insights into Chinese culture, thinking, the antagonist feeling against the communist government (at least at the start of the 1st book) and then also strategy.  I really want to listen to the tales of the 3 kingdoms and the strategies laid out in there, because its referenced in the book that these are supposed to be the greatest strategic examples of all time.

Recommendation

It ….is… epic.  The story line is just insane.  It covers so much material, and its wanders all over the place.
It is also a dense science fiction book, and not many people are prepared to stick through those kind of books.

In that sense, I was recommended it by Chinese friends, as a ‘you should really listen to this kind of book’ kind of thing, and to be honest I’m glad I did.
However, its not a book I’ll be coming back to any time soon.

I AM really glad I took notes, and can read my notes any time I want if I want to discuss the series with someone later, but again.. it’s such an epic book…and its difficult reading / listening…that I’m not rushing back to it any time soon…or at all in fact.

Because of the fact that its dense science fiction, and it includes a lot of scientific theories, ideas, complex formulas, etc… its sometimes difficult to get through. For those that are not that into science fiction or like light science fiction only… then this book is NOT for you.

I would recommend it for those that are studying modern Chinese culture or are living in China and are actually trying to make the best of their life in China.  This provides great insight into a lot of Chinese thinking, and showcases a great writer.  It’s also something that you can talk about later with your Chinese friends. It’s that extra level of integration that you might have been looking for. If you like dense/ hard hitting science fiction, then this book is also for you.

If you reading/ listening to it just because you’ve been told ‘you should read this book’ yet it’s been sitting on your hard-drive for a while… then this book is not for you. If the plot summary doesn’t jump out at you straight away, then I’d give it a missed.
I’ve even talked about it with Chinese friends who have had this book on their hard drive for some time…much like that Oscar movie that people have been telling them to watch… and basically said.. it’s probably not for you.

The book was definitely interesting and regardless of how much I said it rambled from time to time above, I really DID enjoy it. That being said, it’d be great if there was an edited down version of it.

Notes

3 body problem

For the 1st book, Luke Daniels does the narration, it’s very strange hearing the voices of Phillip, Todd and some of the game characters from book 3 being replicated in a Chinese science fiction book.

It’s all about physics and then people saying that physics doesn’t exist or something

Now it’s about some game where they’re predicting the sun, and rehydrating bodies.

Well…supposedly about aliens…or that’s what I heard…. But I’m up to chapter 8 (out of 35) and so far it’s seems to be about studying physics during the cultural revolution, and then a game that seems complex….

At one point he literally reads out a long string of Morse code, to the point where you get insensitive to the word ‘long’.

“When they ridiculed me at first, it was only because I wasn’t explaining my theory to the right people”

Raises some good points against the CCP with regard to thinking about history etc.

Almost a metaphor replacing ‘science’ with history.

Up until chapter 12 it’s very slow. And seems to be all over the place, or rather…Setting the scene in a weird way.

Only at the end of chapter 12 do they kind of start to reveal the direction. (Each chapter is around 40 mins long)

Message to send to the aliens can be in Chinese and Esperanto.

Information to be sent can be about culture and the earth, but cannot give away earth’s coordinates in relation to the Milky Way.

“To know the truth you can’t just listen to one side of an argument.”

Spoiler. 3 body problem is actually 3 suns. Stable orbit is earth rotating around 1 of the suns, when it hasn’t got a stable orbit it’s chaotic.

Galileo’s voice is Todd’s voice from Off to be the Wizard

The Pope is Bishop Gauldrey.

Book 2 The Dark Forest

Sounds a lot like the writer is writing for an epic TV series or an amazing movie or something, jumping to different parts of the world in vastly different sceneries.  + Along different timelines.

This thing has a lot of potential for a TV series / epic movie series.

An hour in, the author references The Warring States book ‘Romance of the 3 Kingdoms’ to be the pinnacle of schemes and strategic manoeuvring.

Describes the formation of the Chinese space force.

Socialised technology distribution.

‘Floating City’ book. By a Chinese author. Is supposed to be a good one to read.
Sophie recommends the book by Ken Liu called Invisible Planets.

Explains Chinese tactics, She Qiang is explaining to Luo ji.

Hide, appear humble then wipe out enemy.

Me. I particularly like the character of Sheqiang. (Male detective)

“People who can appreciate natural beauty are naturally good people. Those that can’t see beauty are because they’re not good people.”

“Hatred is a treasure more valuable than gold or diamonds, and the weapon as keen as anything you can imagine.”

Isaac Asmiov author. Referenced.

Says human civilisation is only 5000 years.  Callback to the reference that Chinese people keep saying that they have the oldest continuous civilisation in the world. (Not true, but this statement is a reference to what the Chinese now say…which is propaganda)

Mocking people for retreating 100 paces when you’ve retreated 50 yourself.

Rey Diaz’s plan seeks to be absolutely insane.
Spoiler. Countermeasures too. Mutually assured self destruction model of strategy.

“Stood as shocked as wooden chickens”

Is that a Chinese idiom?

‘The human diary website.’ Sounds like an interesting concept. Sounds very similar to Facebook, but more telling of true stories rather than simply pictures, silly videos and gossip.

Me. Definitely explains 2 great powers coming together , benevolent or maleovent.

The chain of suspicion.

A more powerful party coming against a less powerful one.

War. Inevitable war.

Open fire straight away.

Fermi paradox. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox

-is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence and high probability estimates for the existence of extra-terrestrial civilisations. The basic points of the argument, made by physicists Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) and Michael H. Hart (born 1932), are:

-There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are similar to the Sun, and many of these stars are billions of years older than the Solar system.

-With high probability, some of these stars have Earth-like planets, and if the Earth is typical, some may have developed intelligent life.

-Some of these civilisations may have developed interstellar travel, a step the Earth is investigating now.

-Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the Milky Way galaxy could be completely traversed in a few million years.

It’s like the science fiction writer is getting the people used to the idea that they, as a civilisation, could be going to war against another party.

Still 11 dimensions (from book 1)

Xi Bai Po. Place that the Chinese commanded the largest army once upon a time.

Reveals quite a bit about war strategy, you’ve just got to have the perspective from the start to realise it.

Very heavy book, full of theorems, physics and detailed thinking about possibilities for future technology and how things could actually work.

Ie. The probe that’s like a perfect mirror. Like that way due to being absolute zero, all the atoms held in place will not move at all.

What is the moral of the story?

Don’t make contact with potential alien life?

For Luoji, I don’t understand how he was going to light the fire and give coordinates if they are blocking the sun? And then he specifies that the sun be unblocked. Surely he doesn’t have any leverage before that point.

The bomb spreading the space dust oil or whatever it was so others could trace where they were.

Deaths end

Narrators for the 2 & 3rd book are the same but different from Luke Daniels. They are a better fit for the book. A bit more range, and the accents are more appropriate for the many characters and the mood of the book.

Why does Chengxin want to send food for the brain that gets rocketed into space?
Seems that’s a poor justification to have an argument with Wade.

‘Except from a past outside of time.’

Weird stories that …Kind of link in.

Chapter 17. 14 mins

“What’s happens if you kill millions?
Those of you who have studied history will start to get hesitant.
That person is considered a great man.”
(Reference to Mao Ze dong in China being responsible for the deaths of millions of his own countrymen)

“If he killed a whole world, he would be considered a saviour.”

Chapter 18 midway through

Talks about the Hawks and the doves (the hard liners and the softer voices) Brought up as well in The 10 year marathon. A typical Chinese concept for hard-liners & soft conservative voices.

Talks about 798 art gallery in Beijing in chapter 19.

Discussion of such things as a ‘dead man’s switch.’

Me. A lot of stuff that I barely know if it’s possible or not. Just hanging onto the understanding because either the physics is so theoretical or sense…That I just don’t know.

It may just be sure sophistry, just sounds legit… But is actually not, and I wouldn’t know because I don’t have that background… Yet also, I hardly find interesting because in the same way, I don’t have that background understanding.

Chapter 28 gets interesting when Chengxin takes over the dead man’s switch and the droplets start their dive for earth. There’s quite a bit of suspense on what Chengxin will do.

There’s a lot where you think the author is just showing off his knowledge of the universe and the workings of the world. It’s very impressive to be sure, but it’s not really necessary to the story.

He goes in about all the eras of the world… To showcase how much history the world has seen, and then about all the eyes especially just on humans… It’s a very long winded way to showcase how much will be lost if the Earth is destroyed.

It’s just seems like a needless level of detail. Just way too much padding to express a simple point but to give that point so much weight.

It really does feel like a show off after a while, because it’s not just for this one thing…but for so many descriptions.

It’s the same reason why I can’t watch that TV show QI.  It’s just Stephen Fry showing, ‘oh look at me, I’m so clever.’

‘Excerpt from a passage outside of time.’

Can’t believe Chengxin failed at the sword-holder deterrence.

Chapter 31.

Chengxin realised that her biggest mistake was not looking at the problem from the perspective of the enemy.

(America needs to do this for China, look how China views the problem, and how China is dealing with the situation)

What was the quip about Australia?
“Have fun in Australia you bugs.”

Will let humans live in Australia apparently as a reserve.

And as 1/3rd of Mars.

4 billion people to live in Australia.

Interesting that the Tri-solarian Renaissance happened due to human thinking the arts and the social science.

Me. As an Australian person…I kind of object to 4 billion people being moved to Australia… When we currently stand at 24 million…And that seems inharmonious as it is.

Chengxin goes to live near Warburton in central Australia.

Why was that particular place chosen? Did the author visit that place previously and think that it was a nothing town? Is he showing off again?

Brings up and introduces Australia aboriginal history with Europeans then a bit of culture to some regard. (Aboriginal speaks in a white Australian accent for some reason) (Fraise was his name)

The way AA danced…Seems really disrespectful.

Me. Why didn’t they just push the button and then have to work together with the Tri-solarians to make sure they were prepared for anything that came? Instead it’s the threat of that. Seems weird. It’s still a ‘us vs them’ kind of plan, rather than an integration plan.

Apparently he gets the information on Australia from the movie AUSTRALIA with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman.

2.1 billion people now in Australia

Australia becomes the hegemon.

Kind of infers that New South Wales is the best place in Australia. How little he knows.

Wait, who is hunter? On some space ship.

Anti sword-holder of some kind.

What was going on with the thing about the magic woman? Does that ever come back? If it doesn’t what was the point of it in the first place?
Edit. The story never once comes back to this. It’s just a pointless piece of writing that could have been edited out. This is not the only example of this.

Into 4th dimensional space. The blobs that appear in the ship, an interesting story arc and I really like this part. And the discoveries that come along with it.

Handing over a small fish ecosystem from 3 dimensional space to 4 dimensional space, very interesting.

Yun Tou Ming comes back. (the brain that got rocketed towards the Tri-solaran planet)

The whole story sounds like it was written from back to front. It’s very well done, but because you obviously read from front to back it feels a little disjointed at times, especially due to the scale of the book and the scale of the time periods… You’re never quite sure if something that’s mentioned will relate to anything else…Or if it will come to be relevant in the final hours of the book.

The idea of telling fairy tales to conceal information which hide facts and intentions from the enemy is a very interesting concept. I’ve heard that Chinese officials actually do that in diplomatic speak to prevent the Americans and other ‘enemies’ from listening in and figuring out the meaning.

Tales of Yun Tian Ming

Me. God the 1st fairy tale. The bloody painter…With his stupid apologies. It just goes on and on.

A convoluted story to show off the writing prowess it seems. Which is formidable, but it’s difficult to see how it’s related to the story.

Lengthy story that must last for 20 mins, when the 3 stories were meant to last for 1 hour anyway…I find it hard to believe that this had enough time in the context of the story. (20 x 3= 60… However I think it’s much more than that in the context of the story) They actually seem to last for 1 hour of book listening time.

In the 2nd story he mentions ‘the story-less kingdom’.
Yet, that’s meant to be the land of Tri-solaris. Isn’t this a mistake?

From the fairy tales… How did they come to the conclusion of curvature flight? Something about the soap…But I’m not sure.

This hiding meaning in stories? What would be a good example if this in Chinese strategy?  The China dream book?

The narrator is very good.
The accents are really good. There’s a huge amount of range there.
Accents are very convincing.
The old world Norwegian accent is very convincing

The narrator also makes effort to pronounce the Chinese names correctly, which is nice as it gives English listeners practice at hearing actual Chinese pronunciation. Rather than the bastardised versions of it that they hear normally, like Tsingtao etc.

Event horizon, Schwartz child radius for black holes.

Most people won’t get a lot of this stuff.

What were the 3 questions AA asked the children?

In the bunker era it sounds like they reference the idea for mo-bike yet it was written in 2010. There were bikes available for everyone to use.

Hibernation, can leap-frog through time with this technology.

Talks about lowering the speed of light to develop faster than light travel.

The giant balance bird with giant wings?

Singer the destroyer of worlds. “The cleanser”
In chapter 66. Seemed like a simple mind.
The ‘star pluckers’ are the humans.
Talks about the ‘hiding gene’ and the ‘cleansing gene’.

Low entropy, high entropy.

Shroud themselves in slow fog is the hiding part.

Dual vector charge or something.

The falling leaf seems to return to its root.

Chengxin fucked up again by disallowing the production of light speed ships.

Yet both times she has been the one allowed to continue.

The black domain project.

How does the ship get 256 years ahead of where they just called from? How much faster than the speed of light are they traveling?
52 hours to travel 286 light years from the solar system to the DX star.

Planet Blue sounds like Namek from Dragon Ball Z

They meet Guan Yi Fan. (Male)

So this new place has curvature ships as well?

World 3 became a light tomb. Shrouded.

How did the breakaway settlements have light speed ships 200 years before the human galaxy?

Then stated that the ultimate ships approach the speed of light.

Guan Yi Fan talks about inter-stellar wars.

Dimensional strike = a sign of respect from a god-like civilisation to the human race or any other race.

Reduced light speed black holes and belts.

Death lines. Light speed inside is zero.

‘Zero homers’ wants to reset the universe back to 10 dimensions.

If they’re orbiting at light speed around planet blue, house do they remain in orbit?

Or is it ships turning rather than planetary gravity?
Surely if they’re travelling at light speed, this is way faster than the speed needed just to stay in orbit.  This would mean that they’d fly off from orbit as soon they go over the speed required for orbit.
I think the author has made a mistake here.

Charles Misner

Chapter 66 is very interesting, gives you a view into the creatures that are the destroyers of worlds who are apparently just sentient life quite a bit further down the developmental journey than humans.