Cixin Liu 2014. The Three-Body Problem. Translated by Ken Liu. Kindle Edition. Also New York: Tor Books. 400 pp.

Cracking good science fiction.

This hugely enjoyable and rewarding novel is launched by the main characters who are mostly survivors of the social upheaval and personal tragedies of the Cultural Revolution. There are enough of them, and they have seen so much cruelty that they are more than ready to throw in their lot with an alien civilisation instead. And it just so happens that a Chinese project has made contact with an alien civilisation, Trisolaris. Interestingly, there are dissidents on Trisolaris too, and they too are disenchanted with their own species. So both Earth and Trisolaris have anti- and pro-contact factions. The power play between the Earth-based factions dominate the novel.

The main story-telling devices are born out of physics and technology, as in all hard science fiction: immensely strong and thin nannofibres; the sun as an amplifier, enabling communication on an inter-stellar scale; the clever use of the three-body problem in physics; and the even more clever use of a sophisticated virtual reality computer game which is not only a screening test for potential members of the pro-Trisolaris society, but also paints a view of the world of Trisolaris (which is a tough place to live due to the chaotic interactions they are subject to in their two-sun solar system). Fortunately Cixin Liu and his translator don’t write sentences as long as that.

The main characters are just well-enough drawn to become memorable by the end of the novel, but especially Shi Qiang who is a a hard-bitten policeman/security expert who could have been modelled on Ian Rankin’s Rebus. I hope they get the right actor for him in the Chinese-language film that is apparently due for release in 2017.