The Three Body Problem took me forever to finish but I always enjoyed my time reading it. Because it’s hard science fiction, long and translated from Chinese, the book itself is dense. Every page takes time to get through and skimming will only hinder any understanding or enjoyment the book provides.
The first chapter starts in China during the sixties and I realized how little of China’s history I know. We follow cultural revolutions, scientific movements and political restrictions, most of which were new to me. I think I might have to pick up a history book next. The rest of the story is told in the modern day, as we follow scientist Wang Miao as he tries to understand visions that keep appearing as a countdown in his photographs.
The Three Body Problem takes its time getting to the main plot of the story. By that, I mean, it takes until the last fourth of the book to reveal what’s really happening. If the back of the cover didn’t tell me what this series was, I would have been fairly surprised by the change in direction.
For a long time, the book seems focused on these visions Wang Miao keeps seeing. Then, it’s more focused on this weird video game that shares its title with the book. The game, which doesn’t seem like something I would ever want to play, deals with players trying to solve an alien planet’s predicament of having three suns. See, you can’t really predict seasons, and most seasons are either freezing or scorching, so civilization can’t really grow. It’s a game that only a few brilliant players invest time into and there might be a bit of The Last Starfighter going on behind the scenes.
And that’s the book. Reading about Wang Miao’s gaming sessions, his visions and the scientific history of 1960s China. The mystery isn’t really handled like a mystery, the plot doesn’t really move along at a quick pace. By the time the reader and the characters know what’s really going on, there’s more behind us than ahead.
But, as I said at the beginning, I always enjoyed myself while reading the book. It’s dense, yes, but it’s never dry. I didn’t understand everything, especially near the end when the books got into particle physics. Michael Crichton always wrote in a way that made me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much helium in a balloon!” Liu Cixin writes in a way that makes me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much…wait, no. How many protons are in that much helium? What’s the quantum integrity of a common balloon? Wait, what exactly is particle physics? I dont…I don’t get it!”
And it’s still enjoyable! I don’t understand it all, but it’s not necessary to have a physicis degree to follow the plot. It’s also interesting to be reading this type of book written from a completely different perspective than I’m used to finding. Views on culture, science and extraterrestrial life never totally line up with what I’m used to, even if it’s just a different way of experience the same facts. It really is fascinating to see how different American science fiction can be from other countries, but also how strong the similarities can end up. Science is science in any language but it’s how we interact with it that create such different cultures. The Three Body Problem, which won Best Novel in the 2015 Hugo Awards, is a heavy read, but a fascinating one.
I did not like this book. I know I’m in the minority here. That’s fine. I hope, if you read it, you loved The Fifth Season. But, I did not love the book. I just wanted it to end.
I wanted to like this book, though! I was excited to read it. I finally finished the last book I had to read for work and book clubs and ect, and The Fifth Season was the first “just for me” book I’ve read in a while. Unfortunately, very early on, I knew I wasn’t enjoying it. But, since it’s a Hugo winner, I wanted to finish the whole thing and nothing is worse than not wanting to read the next eighty percent of a book.
I didn’t care about the three protagonists or about their connection to each other. I figured out how they were related very early on and I don’t mean that as a brag. I have to believe author N.K. Jemisin meant for the reader to know. I suppose, I most liked the child Damaya but her story ends before the others. Actually, I think the stories are told the way they are because doing so the normal way would have proven to be too dull and unfocused for even those that enjoyed this novel.
I didn’t like the world, either. I found it boring, despite how well it was thought out. Again, I’m in the minority here. Going to Goodreads, there’s nothing but five star reviews of this book, with people singing Jemisin’s praises. People did like the world here. They did like the characters. It makes me think I’m doing something wrong, actually. Like, maybe, I don’t know how to read words anymore?
A big issue, for me, was the lack of plot. I never felt like there was momentum to the story or any goal trying to be achieved. Too be fair, I don’t think Jemisin meant for this to be a plot heavy book. I think this book is character study and world tour. But, again, I didn’t care for either. Maybe, if there was a villain for me to invest in or plot to follow, I would have become more interested. It was not be.
While reading The Fifth Season, I kept thinking of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. Both Mistborn and The Fifth Season take pride in their world building, elemental magic and no nonsense characters. But, Mistborn had a plot and it’s characters were likable. There was a sense of purpose. The Fifth Season‘s purpose seems to be about being the most poetic fantasy book of it’s time. Unfortunately, I hate poetry.
I must sound like the worst type of reader in the world. But, I can’t lie. This book felt like a waste of my time and I don’t want to read the sequel. I was distressed to learn that I’m going to have to if I want to keep up with Hugo winners. There was a mercy back when Ancillary Justice‘s sequel didn’t win but now my hands are tied. I did like the second Mistborn book more than the first, so maybe there’s hope for me now. But, I won’t hold my breath. Jemisin’s style is too repetitive, too meandering for my taste. I just hope my next “just for me” book is a good time because between this and work, reading is starting to feel like a slog.