What if everything we know about physics is wrong?
The book opens during the bloody Chinese Cultural Revolution where academics are murdered for being part of the ruling, corrupt bourgeoisie. Similarly, the revolutionaries are also horrifically killed, their mutilated bodies serving as warnings to others. Student Ye Wenjie watches as her brainwashed revolutionary mother calls for the brutal, public execution of her physicist father and is stunned into silence and a quiet determination to make the world a better place. Later, young and naïve, she is set up as a subversive after a copy of call-to-environmental-action book Silent Spring is found under her pillow. She is sent to work on a secret military project on the mountain side where trees are dying around the site.
From this opening, the book skips forward several decades to a series of unexplained suicides of brilliant scientists – one of whom includes Ye Wenjie's adult daughter Yang Dong. This issue pulls in nanotech engineer Wang Miao, who reluctantly, but quickly, becomes embroiled in something bigger than a crime case – one that seems to rest on a mysterious computer game, The 3Body Problem.
The three-body problem is the actual science that underpins the book: this is concerned with the orbits of a planet, its satellite, and a star, and the effect that a physical force (gravity) has on the velocity and movement of these bodies. This is translated into a popular, complex virtual reality game that has garnered a cult following across the world. Those who complete the seemingly impossible first level are invited to secret meetings with others who have mastered the game. Wang Miao is drawn into this group, spending hours on perfecting his technique, although remaining a sceptical player.
However, the purpose of the game is darker than it seems as Wang Miao discovers during his immersion into the game. He is thrust into a shady conspiracy where he is unsure who to trust and no one is what, or who, they seem; from ageing scientist Ye Wenjie with her turbulant, tragic past, to plain-talking, idiosyncratic “tough, no nonsense” cop Da Shi. Mirroring the opening of the novel, factions have begun to form and Wang Miao has to choose which side he is on.
The novel is ambitious – culturally, geographically, and temporally – and it posits questions on scientific and spiritual dogma while preparing the ground for an event that will change the world. It's a stunning, high-concept, rollercoaster of a novel which offers an intriguing Eastern perspective and a truly 21st century take on immersive virtual reality games.
Nominated for the Nebula Award in 2014 and winner of 'Best Novel' in this year's prestigious Hugo Awards, The Three Body Problem is the first book in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy. The Dark Forest - the second translated book - is out now, and the third – Death's End – is out early next year with a film due to be released in July 2016. This is a trilogy which, like Asimov's Foundation epic, looks set to quickly become an essential science fiction classic.
THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM / AUTHOR: CIXIN LIU / TRANSLATOR: KEN LIU / PUBLISHER: HEAD OF ZEUS / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 3RD