Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu Rothdas book review RSS
3.5 Stars

An interesting sci-fi novel that has bright spots and smart ideas, but that ultimately fails to rise to greatness.

First though, some disclaimers. The novel was originally written in Chinese, before being translated to English, before being read to me by a rather un-inspired audio book reader. The reader voiced the main character a bit like Kevin McDonald does his nerdier characters, e.g. Kids in the Hall. And then when the aliens show up, they all get re-treads of the human voices, including the Kevin McDonald voice. So the book had to pass through a few lossy encodings, and that might the reason the it did not grab me like it did the Hugo committee.

The basic setup of the book is a reverse _A Deepness in the Sky_ situation. There are aliens, the aliens are at an advanced but not god-like level of tech, and the aliens are manipulating the technological and social development of earth through the subtle use of their technology. This is neat! Also neat is the alien home-system, which has three suns and gives rise to the title of the book. The three suns provide some of the alien psychology and also the most apocalyptic and visually stunning parts of the story. There are numerous other clever bits of the story which make it clear that the writer is technically skilled and intelligent and grounded in the concepts of computing and astronomy and quantum mechanics, and is not just throwing around tech-concepts around the way that J.J. Abrams would. Another potentially interesting aspect is the way that the Cultural Revolution was mixed into the history of the book, though this might have even more resonance with Chinese readers. Oh! And there is a neat scene with carbon fiber, and another neat scene of the intersection of the Communist Party bureaucracy and SETI, and so on.

Based off the above, there were points in the book where I was ready to fall in love with the author. This promise kept being betrayed though by stretches of mediocre plot or writing. The characters were frequently wooden, and often just served as card-board cut-outs to move the story to the appropriate place. One glaring instance of this was with the main character when you find out he is married and has a kid. His family is only in a single scene for one particular technical reason, and then they play absolutely no role in his emotions, character, or plot for the rest of the book. It was profoundly weird when you find out about his surprise family, and equally weird when the family is forgotten about for the rest of the novel. There were also issues with the aliens, who turn out to be dis-appointingly un-alien. More generally, the book has this consistent problem where it will have a neat idea but then fail to develop it or think about its ramifications. So there are aliens who should have been truly different, but instead are just like humans with a flat affect. Or the aliens are trying to manipulate human scientific development, but they really only have one trick, and it is not a particularly sensible trick. Or the alien's colonization efforts in general, which seem to be going about things all wrong by trying to colonize an already inhabited planet. Or with the basic setup of the book, where there is a lot of potential interesting ambiguity about the alien's motives, but in the end it just turns out to be a bog-standard invasion. Anyway, Three-Body is not a bad book, but it is not the coming of the next Iain M Banks either.