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The Three Body Problem Book Review - Lunchtime Lit with Mel Carriere

Mel Carriere is an earthbound writer/mailman, who fancies himself a child of the cosmos. But most agree that only his head is lost in space.

Blame China - Announces our curtain occupant of the oval office, in response to every crisis foreign and domestic, but sometimes the President is right.  The Chinese did send out the call that provoked the Trisolarian invasion of Three Body Problem.

Blame China - Announces our curtain occupant of the oval office, in response to every crisis foreign and domestic, but sometimes the President is right. The Chinese did send out the call that provoked the Trisolarian invasion of Three Body Problem.

Reviewed by Executive Order

When a President, even a former President, says "Mel you gotta read this book," you get off your duff and do your patriotic duty. You forget about your personal party politics and get busy flipping pages, respecting the office, not the man, not checking whether the blinds in the oval office are blue or red.

But not even a President can make you like a book. Your single body may have to obey an executive decree, but the inside of your mind is still a sovereign nation, governed by its own Constitution, which you enact. Inside your head you are President for life. It may be a third world, Banana Republic s-hole up there, but within the borders of your cranium you are King, or Queen. Therefore, you are allowed to like or dislike what you want, and issue your own executive orders, even if they are completely arbitrary and don't make any sense. You can cover the windows with whatever color curtains you desire, however gaudy they may be.

So it was that I started reading The Three Body Problem, by Chinese author Cixin Liu. Yeah try pronouncing that one, right? The novel came highly recommended by former President Barack Obama, who I am starting to like better these days. All the same, I went into it thinking Geez Mr. President when do you have any time to read? Do you even get a half hour lunch break, like me, where you can lose yourself in other solar systems where their problems are not your problems?

About this book Obama said "... just wildly imaginative, really interesting. It wasn’t so much sort of character studies as it was just this sweeping...The scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty — not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade. [Laughter]."

My reaction to The Three Body Problem sort of kept in line with that of former President Barack Obama. I started off just sort of numbly turning pages, wondering why I had allowed him to force feed this bill upon my house of legislation. But by the end, I had to admit that sometimes you have to surrender your sovereignty for the good of all mankind. By the end I was thoroughly locked into the erratic orbit of Trisolaris, a world illuminated, or sometimes not illuminated, by its trio of fickle suns. Dammit the President was right.

In this review, Mel grapples with the three-book problem.

In this review, Mel grapples with the three-book problem.

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Lunchtime Lit books are read only on Mel's half hour postal lunch break. He has been known to simultaneously read another book at home as well, whose orbit around the other he can predict, with a little math help from his children. But he has never successfully solved how to juggle a third book, a phenomenon known in literary circles as the three book problem.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap * **

BookPagesWord CountDate StartedDate FinishedLunchtimes Consumed

A Suitable Boy

1,349

591,552

6/29/2019

12/10/2019

103

Death Is A Lonely Business

276

79,200

12/12/2019

1/15/2020

17

Origin

632

158,050

1/16/2020

2/26/2020

25

The Casual Vacancy

503

162,152

2/27/2020

4/13/2020

30

Thy Tears Might Cease

592

207,375

4/14/2020

6/26/2020

41

Every Man Dies Alone

500

194,500

6/27/2020

8/20/2020

29

The Three Body Problem

390

118,450

8/22/2020

10/1/2020

21

*Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

**Twenty-six other titles, with a total estimated word count of 5,680,655 and 872 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

Three Body Problems

Right out of the gate, Cixin Liu's The Three Body Problem does not appear to be a challenging read for a snooty, serious reader. This I pretend to be as I philosophically stroke my now-masked beard beneath my lunchtime tree. Yes, although it was originally written in Chinese it also comes in an English translation, but it is English with a heavy Chinese accent. The language style made me think of a host of cultural stereotypes that are wildly inappropriate, outside of the internationally recognized territory of my own skull.

The book seemed written on a third grade level, and my own educational experience went slightly past that. My thoroughly English-programmed brain had trouble keeping track of the characters, most of whose surnames end in -ing or -ang. You can't keep score at home unless you put numbers on the jerseys of all the -ings and -angs.

I guess that's what Obama was hinting at when he noted the novel's lack of character development, but he can't say what I said without provoking an international incident. So I'll say it for him. Heck, I made it to the end of the book, and I still am not sure who is who. But such is part of its appeal. The farther I got into the dangerously unpredictable universe of The Three Body Problem, the more I realized that the story is not about individual characters at all. The main character is the human race, pitted against those pesky Trisolarians, who would stamp us out like bugs.

Two different worlds beneath the same star - American President  Obama and Chinese author Cixin Liu make friends.

Two different worlds beneath the same star - American President Obama and Chinese author Cixin Liu make friends.

Three Body Synopsis for Your Synapses

Okay, I get it, a lot of you out there don't like so-called science fiction at all, and you cling to your disdain for the genre with a fanaticism that borders on the non-scientific, treading into the religious. I'm not much of a sci-fi geek myself, but I will give any good book a whirl, especially if a President gives it the executive endorsement. So far Trump hasn't given any novels his presidential approval, or I would read those too, in the spirit of bipartisanship.

The Three Body Problem presents a very unique, imaginative scenario that would appeal to any thinking bug who can wriggle past the first one hundred pages or so. The name of the novel itself encapsulates the book's theme, which is the three body problem in orbital mechanics, something astronomers have been trying to solve for centuries. They've been puzzling over this ever since the apple fell on Newton's sleepy head, and woke him up. Encyclopedia Britannica defines the phenomena as:

Three-body problem, in astronomy, the problem of determining the motion of three celestial bodies moving under no influence other than that of their mutual gravitation. No general solution of this problem (or the more general problem involving more than three bodies) is possible.

So here we have a planet that orbits not one, not two, but three different suns. Despite the head-scratching astronomical conditions under which they live, the inhabitants of Trisolaris, as the place is appropriately known, have managed to develop an advanced technology. Yet even with their superior knowledge of mathematics, these beings have been unable to predict the celestial orientation of their severe mother stars. Unlike on Earth, the "suns" do not rise and set according to any pattern. Sometimes all three are in the sky at once, searing the face of their world. At other times there are extended periods of no suns at all, resulting in a frigid, uninhabitable planetary surface. But the Trisolarians have evolved the ability to dehydrate themselves during these "chaotic eras," to literally go into cold storage and wait for living conditions to improve.

In spite of having adapted to their cruel reality, the three body problem is a problem the Trisolarians would prefer not to have. On Trisolaris it really sucks trying to plan ahead, knowing that your kid's birthday party could get literally burned out, if all three suns happen to make a simultaneous appearance on that day. Or maybe their version of the Super Bowl gets put on ice, if the three suns all make themselves scarce for the occasion. Not only are parties and picnics ruined, but civilizations have been destroyed by the chaotic conditions.

Therefore, when the Trisolarians receive a radio signal from their closest neighbor in space, they seize the opportunity. They learn that the beautiful blue planet Earth, fueled by one lonely sun illuminating the heavens, has a beautifully predictable pattern of sunrises and sunsets. The Trisolarian Interstellar fleet is immediately dispatched to subdue and colonize our world. But of course, the "bugs" that reside there must be handicapped first, by suppressing the human race's currently inferior but rapidly advancing technology. The question is - can the Trisolarians reach the Earth before we get smart enough to fight them off?

The unpredictable pattern of the three body problem in orbital mechanics.  Looks like it was drawn by the Spirograph I had  when I was a kid.

The unpredictable pattern of the three body problem in orbital mechanics. Looks like it was drawn by the Spirograph I had when I was a kid.

Alpha, Beta, Proxima Centauri - A Real Three Body Problem?

Caution - although it makes for some fine, though non-poetic reading, The Three Body Problem does exercise some poetic license where science is concerned. The three suns that bedevil the Trisolarians are loosely based on our own sun's closest neighbors, Alpha, Beta and Proxima Centauri, approximately four light years from our backyard. This configuration is indeed a triple star system, but the very tiny latter sphere orbits the other two at such a vast distance it as if they were one mass, not two. The arrangement does not really constitute a three body problem, but let's cut Cixin Liu some slack. It makes for hella good theater, even better because Proxima Centauri does have an Earth-size planet orbiting it. Could this be the home of those beleaguered, planet-grubbing Trisolarians?

The arrangement  of Alpha, Beta, and Proxima Centauri does not really constitute a three body problem, but let's cut Cixin Liu some slack. It makes for hella good theater,

The arrangement of Alpha, Beta, and Proxima Centauri does not really constitute a three body problem, but let's cut Cixin Liu some slack. It makes for hella good theater,

Three Body Adaptation Lost In Space?

The proximity of the Alpha Centauri system has piqued the imaginations of film-makers for decades. Heck, in astronomical terms, the triple-star system is only a stone's throw away. If you could only accelerate to the speed of light, you could get there in four years. This would be good for slowing the pace of the gray hairs enveloping my head, because while people back on Earth would age four years, I would only get older by two weeks, according to smart people who have done the math. But it would be bad for my bulging waistline, I'm afraid, because at the speed of light my mass would swell to infinity. There's always some annoying trade-off.

Nevertheless, in spite of the difficult travel arrangements involved, Hollywood hasn't stopped trying to find a way to get to Alpha Centauri. The most famous quest for our next door neighbor was 1965's Lost in Space, with the flailing arms of its cheesy robot crying out Danger Will Robinson! Yeah the special effects were horrible, but the science was good enough to catapult the Robinson family toward the Centauris.

To try to compensate for the Robinson's failure, a Netflix adaptation of The Three Body Problem is reportedly launching toward our interstellar neighbor, though the production has encountered problems that go beyond the scope of complicated orbital mechanics. The producers of Game of Thrones were working on the problem of bringing the Trisolarian invasion to the small screen, but the launch of the battle fleet has been held up by petty politics. A presidential decree might get you to read the book, but is it good enough to transform the story from words to pictures?

The problem is that author Cixin Liu is Chinese, not American, and he does not answer to our President, or American lawmakers in general. He seems to have some ideas that certain Americans find un-American.

In a 2019 article in The New Yorker, Liu came out in support of the Chinese government's persecution of the Uyghur Muslims, about a million of which have been interned in "reeducation camps." In that interview, the author echoed the Chinese party line that these people have been responsible for acts of terrorism. Certainly regrettable, to make a million suffer for the sins of a few, but our own government recently imposed a Muslim travel ban, so I say let ye without sin cast the first stone.

The stone-throwers were out in force nonetheless, casting multiple objects into space without regard for their orbital patterns. A cabal of five US Senators denounced the proposed Netflix series, expressing “significant concerns with Netflix’s decision to do business with an individual who is parroting dangerous CCP propaganda”.

Any time a writer makes good for his or herself, he or she is vilified for not cheerleading for the correct side. When I reviewed Red Sorghum, I pointed out that its author Mo Yan was called a "patsy," and a "prostitute" for not calling for the release of Chinese political prisoners in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. A guy or gal can't just be a storyteller, but has to subscribe to the correct political agenda as well.

What I am about to say might be a novel idea for Americans who believe that all novel writers, and everyone in general, wants to live in the good old USA. But maybe, just maybe, Mo Yan and Cixin Liu are both happy living in China. Living in China has certain complications for a writer. The Chinese government does not have a stellar record on free speech issues, so maybe sometimes they have to say certain things, or not say them, to keep the censors off their backs.

The good news for fans who don't blame Cixin Liu for the atrocities, but merely respect the lightyears-wide breadth of his imagination, is that Netflix is resisting the interference of these senators. The media giant responded "Netflix judges individual projects on their merits. We do not agree with his (Cixin Liu's) comments, which are entirely unrelated to his book or this Netflix show."

A even more troubling development toward the production of the Three-Body adaptation is that its producer was recently poisoned. Could the imperialistic Trisolarians be engaging in Putin-esque assassination methods, to prepare the way?

Can a writer like Cixin Liu just be a storyteller, without having to subscribe to the correct political opinions?

Can a writer like Cixin Liu just be a storyteller, without having to subscribe to the correct political opinions?

Three-Body Trilogy?

But who has time to binge watch any potential three or more bodies that Netflix Mission Control might launch toward the orbit of Alpha Centauri, especially while working torrid twelve hour days during the postal political and Christmas mail seasons? Of course, binge watching is as easy as touching your phone screen these days, but I still have a paper fetish. I get my jollies from the feel and smell of books.

Therefore, I think I am going to binge read the rest of the trilogy. Not so much binge, but nibble upon at at my leisure, if I get any. Yes, Cixin Liu wrote two sequels to The Three Body Problem, these being The Dark Forest and Death's End. The appearance of these books raises an interesting constitutional law question. Perhaps the president has the authority to shove one geeky book down your gagging craw, but can he make you read an entire trilogy? I'll leave that question for any legal scholars out there.

As for me, although at first they had to constrain me in a high chair and promise me cookies for dessert to read part one, I am now an eager victim, a willing captive in the Stockholm Syndrome of the Three Body Problem. I already started The Dark Forest, but it won't be a Lunchtime Lit feature. My clunking postal space capsule only has so many orbits left in it. It can't make light speed anymore, although some of my busybody customers swear I'm trying. So you will have to get your reviews from other sources or wait for the TV show, if Netflix will continue to defy those meddling Senators and light that candle off the launch pad.

Comments

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 05, 2021:

James, Lunchtime Lit is my only review home, crudely constructed out of a cardboard box. My half hour lunch is practically all the reading I do, which is a shame.

I really appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 05, 2021:

Road Monkey I think you would like it. It is slow in spots, there are times I wanted to move on, but then it takes very riveting twists and turns. Thanks for dropping in!

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on January 05, 2021:

I'm like Bill. It wouldn't cross my mind to read this book if I hadn't read your review. Do you review with Amazon, Goodreads or somewhere else beyond lunch time lit?

RoadMonkey on January 05, 2021:

I used to read nothing but science fiction years ago and I still love a good SF book. This one sounds interesting.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 05, 2021:

Thank you Davika. As usual, you are so kind to drop in with your wonderful words of encouragement. I have fun writing these reviews, and I missed being away for awhile.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 05, 2021:

Mel Carriere You are good at this review writing and well intended. I know that from all your reviews written there is always a good note left behind to let us know of a good book.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 04, 2021:

Thank you John. This book actually starts with a bang, then fizzles a while, then cranks up again. But altogether a brilliant concept.

Our old crony Billybuc suggested I write about why I moved to Colorado. That might be a good idea, because the Golden State exodus is a growing trend. I know on your upside down map down under California and Colorado look about a centimeter apart, but it was about a 1200 mile move for me. Pretty daunting.

I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 04, 2021:

Thank you for reading Pamela. The adjustment has been bumpy. I started off by totaling my car, a real bummer. Although I don't mind the cold at all, walking and driving on ice and snow can be challenging. I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 04, 2021:

Thanks Eric, you make me blush from your flattery. You can probably see the glow of it even from across the Rockies, an even much more formidable barrier than the mere lake that separated our respective abodes in the past.

Northern Coloradians are very friendly, but I get the feeling they are not appreciative of the Cali invasion, because we bring our hippy ideas with us. I had to total my car to get rid of my California plates. Not a good start.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 04, 2021:

Mel, good to have you back. I have missed you and the series. Hopefully the move to Colorado went smoothly and you have settled in to the new home and work.

This was a very interesting and entertaining review. Would I read the book, I am not sure. If I happened to stumble across it, probably. Though if I am not engaged in the first chapter often set the book aside, maybe to give a try another day or to gather cobwebs and be forgotten. I anything Chinese a little unpalatable at the present time, but I do have a liking for some sci fi and fantasy, so let’s see.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 04, 2021:

I do appreciate your review of this book, but it is not on that I would choose to read.

I am glad to see you back writing on Hubpages again. I hope you are adjusting to your new home in Colorado. Thank you for this book review, Mel.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 04, 2021:

Good tidings my old friend. So good to read your wonderful style of writing which all by itself is a genre I adore. Ok, the press of life does not give me the time to read it all in one sitting but I will be back and know you have made one coot happier for day.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 04, 2021:

Thank you Bill. There have been some unexpected speed bumps, but we are trying to get over the 14,000 foot hurdles.

I appreciate you dropping in.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 04, 2021:

Never in a million years would I think to read that book, if it weren't for this review. Now it's on my list.

I hope your move to Colorado went well, and you are adjusting to the Rocky Mountain High! Happy New Year, my friend!

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