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Three-Body Problem (Liu) [Jun. 25th, 2015|11:09 am]
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I read Three-Body Problem over maybe a week or two, and every evening I would have a different opinion. First I wasn't sure what to think, then I loved it, then I got suspicious of it, then I almost metaphorically threw it across the room, then I decided I liked it after all, and now... I'm not sure what to think.

Part of the issue is that as I was reading it, I had a really hard time slotting this into subgenre, which apparently my brain has a need to do. I don't know how much of that is because of cultural clashes. At the beginning, I thought it was retro Golden-Age science-heavy SF, with a big dash of historical grounding (yay!). I still think the beginning was the most powerful, with scientific thinking and the Cultural Revolution yoked together. (Not-really-a-spoiler: they don't mix very well, and indeed set up the tragedy of the rest of the book's primary character arc.)

Somewhere in the middle, I started thinking, oh, no, it's more like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- I mean, with a lot more physics and a lot less rape and women throwing themselves at middle-aged men (really no romance at all, in fact), but the feel of that kind of plot-twist-heavy thriller with interesting ideas (sometimes strangely executed) and a veneer of philosophy but not much in the way of characterization or Earth-worldbuilding. Or Michael Crichton, perhaps that's a better analogy. Science Thriller in feel, though with thrilling physics replacing thrilling adventure scenes, if that makes any sense.

Then we got to the proton computers, and I flipped to thinking of it as science fantasy (along the lines of Fringe's view of "science," say, but without Fringe's stellar characterization acting or terrible Entanglement of Love), because, what. I liked this quote by Chaos Horizon:

Lastly, Liu freely moves from realism to allegory in ways that likely challenge his reading audience. While some of the scientific sections are sound, others are deliberately exaggerated. Near the end, there’s a bravura sequence where an alien civilization “unravels” a proton from 11 dimensions to 1, 2, and 3 dimensions, and then inscribes some sort of computer on that seemingly miniscule space. It’s one of the most fascinating pieces of bullshit I’ve read in years, but it is bullshit nonetheless. This is SF that isn’t afraid to break from realism, and I think Liu uses that break from reality to profound effect.

It's a science romance, not in the sense of a personal intimate relationship but rather in the older sense of a fantastic adventure, and even in the sense of seeing science itself as romantic. (Cixin Liu confirms, in the Afterword, that he has something of a romance with science going on, although here I am kind of using it in the courtly love sort of sense.)

Now that I've read the whole thing, I feel it's sort of a combination of Science Fantasy and Science Thriller, with the latter the dominant paradigm. (Again, where the science part is much more prominent than the thriller part -- there's actually very little in the way of action, unless you count the online game.) (The online game! It was so cute! It... made no sense whatsoever. I don't even play multiplayer online games and I could tell it was completely nonsensical as a multiplayer online game. In my head I had actually decided it was single-player and kept getting weirded out when characters referred to it as multiplayer.)

And I thought we had escaped this! I was waiting for it, waiting for it, and it didn't happen, and then right at the end when I thought I was home free it did happen: the book tried to use quantum entanglement to posit faster-than-light communication. This is what my actual degree is in and NOOOOO. (I have some sympathy for it being such a prevalent interpretation by non-physicists that it's hard to avoid -- but still, would it be so hard to get an actual physics beta?)

And the ending was just... umm... So there's this claim that science has been hobbled by the proton computer, and then they explain why: because the proton computer is so all-powerful that it can Do Miracles. So it's not really clear why the Trisolarians can't use the computer to, y'know, do miracles for themselves rather than use them in their plan to conquer Earth, but whatever. The part I had more problems with is where messing with particle accelerator experiments would halt scientific development, or even high-energy physics. Science and scientists... don't... work like that. (I should note that [personal profile] seekingferret argues here that perhaps severely restricted science/scientists do work like that, which is a nuanced and interesting reading of the text but which is not the way I can engage with it, unless it had been a far more explicit connection, because global science is supposed to be halted, not just Chinese science.)

I really, really liked Ye Wenjie's arc -- the way that her history informed her choices and her point of view and the ways in which she deceived herself was heartbreaking.

There's been a lot of criticism of Wang Miao having zero characterization. I don't think he's supposed to have character, really? I mean, it would obviously be a better book if he did, but he's really just the eyes through which we see the events of the novel and Ye Wenjie's arc, and as such is supposed to be Everyman, or at least Everyscientist.

I think I'm going to rank this below No Award, but I'm not sure. I think what it's trying to do is more Hugo-worthy than Goblin Emperor (which I did think was the better book) or Ancillary Sword, but I'm not sure. (AS, of course, is a big wild card (in terms of my response to it) until the third book comes out.) In conclusion: I have no idea what I'm going to do about the novel section of the Hugos this year, except presumably leaving the Kevin J. Anderson off entirely. (I can't even say that for sure, having read all of three sentences of it, but signs point to yes.)