Friday, October 14, 2016

Three Body Problem

Luke Daniels read Three Body Problem to me during my daily commute, and he is an excellent narrator.  I'd have taken physical notes on his performance if I wasn't busy driving, texting, and eating, all at the same time.  (I kid.)  As it was, I did take a lot of mental notes on ways to improve my own performances.

The title itself is one of the few Puppy-related works available for download from my local public library - I use Overdrive to pick and save titles - so it's only natural that it wound up in my queue.

This is a very strange book.  It's one of those books that nobody ever talks about, they just tell you it's great and that you should read it.  You won't understand why until you read it yourself, and then you'll be one of us.

There are a few things that I can say about it that won't ruin anything.  It starts with a young girl watching her father murdered by the Red Guards during Mao's Great Leap Forward.  My son listened to the first two chapters with me, and I was grateful for a chance to show him how socialism and communism really operate.  It took longer to get through the first few chapters because we paused the audio to review how China got to the point that mobs of college students could violently assault their college professors with no repercussions.  He got half-way through the observation that such a thing could never happen here before he remembered such things already happen here. 

That may have been the most chilling part of the book for him.  Even more so than the slow burn reveal of the main antagonist of the book.  He also was surprised that a science-fiction novel would spend so much time talking about the past, and it was only later - much later - that it became clear how the opening third of the book drives the action for the remainder of the book.

Cixin Liu has a gift for making likable characters that are irredeemably evil and good characters who are hard to like.  Sorting out which is which is half the mystery of the book.  A few of the mysteries are easy to solve right out of the gate, but even those are fun to watch unfold.

The last two chapters get really weird.  Like, end of 2001: A Space Odyssey: The Motion Picture weird.  The shift is gradual enough that you don't notice until things have already gone completely trippy, and soon enough the narrative circles back around to explain the import of the weirdness.

The book, the narrative, and the characters, are all so complicated, it's hard to know who to root for through most of it.  That kills a lot of the emotional punch that the book otherwise have had, and it's only Cixin's gift for characters and mystery that kept me plugging through to the cliff-hanger ending.

Although not the best book published in 2015, it certainly stands head and shoulders above some other Hugo Award winning novels I've read over the years.  It's well worth a read (or a listen), and the less you know about it going in, the better your experience will be.

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