The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu

“The Universe consists of non-simultaneously apprehended events” – Buckminster Fuller
three-body-cover
There is this one particular scene where author explains how a 2D surface when unfolded contains more surface area for adsorption than its higher dimensional 3D form, with the example of a cigarette filter. Having given this analogy, Liu later cleverly segues into unfolding of proton which according to him is of 11 dimensions. This is the beauty of Three Body Problem, everything you require to pelt along the plot is right in front, kindling your scientific mind, like a Christopher Nolan movie.

I consider 三体 of a dimension higher than my usual perception, proper unfolding of which requires general understanding of engineering, physics, etiology, Chinese history, so on and so forth. Many allegories and references might have been lost in translation for English readers, who like me conclude the internecine civil unrest in China by a single red word – communism. Initial Red army prosecution of Zhetai for his reactionary ideas to the plight of Galelio or Brno, Red coast base for covert cold war weaponry, initial extremist transmissions for blind espousals, racial and communal fascism for officious government, scrupulous research for reservation of education, Trisolarian chaotic eras for Earth’s prime extinction events, ETC for religious invocation , miracles and religion in general were a few that caught my eye.
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As for the characters, though not coterminous, they were well developed for their roles, given proper background for their actions, allowing a character pov, from the Physicists Ye Wenjie, Nano research engineer Wang Miao to the arrogant Police officer Da Shi. The joy of discovering post convection zone reflectivity of Sun by Wenjie and the explanation of same was some of the finest science description I’ve ever encountered. Absolutely loved how they kept the mystery of Trisolarians till the end, though it was constantly teased through game plot of three body. Similarly the unfolding of Proton and the reaction of microcosmos on its first encounter with a higher dimension were highly thought provoking, bating the significance of our existence in the vastness of universe. And author was careful in keeping the Trisolarians on technologically comparable scale with their limitations rather than making them a highly Type 3 civilization.

I would advice a blind read, without any peek into the plot for the book cleverly holds back info, like the first Red Coast base did with Ye Wenjie.Perhaps the most science-y hard sci fi I have read till now, well written and translated, where it was way easier to consider the flummoxing science as something scholarly advanced than carefully crafted fiction. And Liu was considerate enough to give it a layman treatment where even the seemingly unintentional data dumps were secretly training readers for the intricacy of the plot that followed.

High quality of this book make me suspect a vastly unexplored sci fi scene from mainland China, which like Trisolarians, if could, would proton print these words to my retina.

“You are bugs”

Mindsawp by Robert Sheckley

mindswap

Books like these are the reason I read.
Mindswap evoked a familiar, Lem or Douglas Adams feel, but this is one rare weird sci fi gem with a combination of meta realism and humour so unique of its own.

Marvin Flynn, a casual vacationer from hinterlands of Earth with innate small-town conservatism goes all wanderlust and decides to see the vastness of cosmos at minimal disposal of funds. He then Mindswaps with one Martian, a logically unsettling, but cheap process that allows individuals to swap minds with people light years away in mutual consent. Mindswap is basically Bester’s Jaunting without the body or a docile version of Matrix’s Agent Smith bodyswap or maybe little bloody Third Birthday possession.

But Marvin had to let go of the Martian body and swap along a series of near sorry situations all long the universe in bodies of various intelligent species, thanks to an Intergalactic body snatching criminal called Kraggosh. Meanwhile a stumblebum intergalactic detective ‘Urdrof’ with implacable will and utter self confidence is hunting Kraggosh, hoping Marvins body would break his protracted bad luck series of 158 lost cases so far.

“You forget that I am a detective,’ Urdorf said, smiling faintly. ‘I may have my troubles in finding criminals, but I have never experienced the slightest difficulty in finding victims”.

Marvin adventures includes talking eggs, poetic alien hermit who converse in sing-song fashion, intergalactic daily wage contract, Don Quixote references and acid trip reality benders. Previously referred Quixote fandom goes full swing in later chapters with totally absurd unnecessary anew characters fighting for chivalrous bullshit. It had me going ‘why is he telling us all this’ to ‘are these some printing errors’ to an eventually graduated emotion – ‘awesome’. Marvin – Kraggosh Twistedland boss battle so reminded me of the rotomodante slow motion fights I had with bro wen we were kids. Total high dope laugh out loud fun stuff.

f4ceb0002584f9dc49bbfaea267In terms of eloquence and adroitness, Scheckley’s humour is comparable to Lovecrafts horror. Tweaking Scheckleys own words, It was typical of books of this genre to overdo the youthful slang, thus losing any comic effect except the amazingly unintentional, but not this one. In fact Marvin Flynn is a cross of Arthur Dent and Gully Foyle, on the docile side, two puny Terra citizens lost in vastness of Cosmos.

 

 

This book is worth the reads and re reads and re re reads, not just for the laughs but for the deepness it cleverly hides.