Notes on Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem

I don’t like hard sci-fi. Possibly because it’s hard – for someone without a background in science – like me.

Why isn’t there a social science fiction? Or a philosophy fiction? Not in the sense that all literary fiction has to do with humanity and the unseen forces that swirl around it – but in the sense of hard social science fiction or philosophical fiction. Fiction that launches itself off from concepts that arose in academia or takes as one of its objectives the rigourous portrayal of a new theory.

Chinese history is a dark place. Maybe all history is a dark place but I guess this book has made it more vivid to me than any fiction around say Partition has managed. Which is probably my own fault for not seeking something out like that. Maybe this a strength of speculative fiction – that it takes you to places that were not on the itinerary.

Cixin Liu won the China Galaxy Science Fiction award nine times. What does that even.

The translator Ken Liu’s short story The Paper Menagerie was the first work of fiction to sweep the nebula, hugo and world fantasy awards. Sigh.

Physics is really sexy and also not sexy at all. The concepts of physics, the ideas that invoke wonder, they’re fascinating. Actual doing physics is a lot of numbers on a screen and I don’t even understand how they’re connected. I think the funnest parts of physics are the parts that we can share as lay-people. Also the project of visualizing the numbers on the screen, turning them into concepts that evoke wonder and fascination, that seems like a valuable project.

Three-Body Problem and/or Cixin Liu really believes that fundamental science research is important. Also math and computers.

There’s an author’s postscript for the American edition in which he states that humans can without a thought invade a new continent but turn sentimental when they look at the stars and imagine what noble races might exist out there. He thinks the opposite: The sentiment must be turned towards all people on earth and vigilance must be saved for what might come from outside our solar system.

Cool stuff that Cixin Liu mentions in the book include nanomaterials, nanocomputers (sub-particle artificial intelligence), quantum entanglement, space elevators, cosmic microwave background radiation, the shooter and the farmer thought experiments, Silent Spring, the three-body problem (obviously), Kardashev civilizations, logic gates, motherboard architecture, Peter Singer and neutron bombs.