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The Three-Body Problem
By Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Discussed May 2016

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  1. Did you finish the book? Did you like it?
  2. What did you think of the book’s writing style, as a translation, and in its own right?
  3. What did you think of the characters? Did you find them engaging? Interesting?
  4. What did you think of the way women were portrayed in the book?
  5. The Three-Body Problem is essentially a classic sci-fi contact story, but with distinctly Chinese characteristics, such as, most obviously, the backstory. What did you think of how it told this story? What did you think of its distinctly Chinese elements?
  6. As befits a book named after a puzzle in a subfield of physics, much of the work covers a lot of scientific and technical concepts. Did you feel like you understood the scientific and technical discussions in the book? Did you think the book’s technicality made the work better or worse?
  7. The themes of religion, science, dogma, and polarization repeatedly parallel and intersect each other throughout the work. Scientists commit suicide when their commandments are disproved, and their loyalties become divided between Earthers and Trisolarans. What do you think of the book’s discussion of these themes? What do you think that discussion concluded, and do you agree with those conclusions?
  8. The Three-Body Problem is one of several recent sci-fi works that think about extraterrestrial life and interstellar exploration/colonization as distractions from improving life on Earth at best, and as existential threats to human civilization at worst. What do you think of this trend (if you even agree that it exists). Is it temporary, or more permanent? Do you agree with the realist message to be fearful of the stars? The environmentalist message to focus on maintaining Earth? Do you think people (or you yourself) would pledge allegiance to an extraterrestrial force like the Trisolarians?
  9. The book frankly covers the Cultural Revolution and other political and politicized issues that were deeply taboo for many decades in China, and is also one of the most popular pieces of science fiction in the country. What does the book and its messages mean for China? For your perception of the country?
  10. Are you interested in reading The Three-Body Problem’s two sequels, The Dark Forest and Death’s End? Are you interested in reading other Chinese science fiction? Other translated international works?
  11. The Three-Body Problem and its sequels were fan-translated long before their publication (six years for 3BP), and similar gaps have existed in SF/fantasy for other prominent works (Harry Potter). Given clear demand, what can be done to encourage the translation and publication of works across international boundaries? How can barriers to international publication be combatted?

Cast of Characters

The Ye Family

  • Ye Zhetai (叶哲泰) - Physicist, professor at Tsinghua University, killed during a struggle session
  • Shao Lin (绍琳) - Physicist, Ye Zhetai’s wife
  • Ye Wenjie (叶文洁) - Astrophysicist, daughter of Ye Zhetai, first person to establish contact with the Trisolarans, later spiritual leader of ETO
  • Ye Wenxue (叶文雪) - Ye Wenjie’s sister, a Tsinghua High School student and a zealous Red Guard, killed during factional violence

Red Coast Base (Time of the Cultural Revolution)

  • Lei Zhicheng (雷志成) - Political commissar at Red Coast Base, who recruited Wenjie, later murdered by Wenjie
  • Yang Weining (杨卫宁) - Chief engineer at Red Coast Base, once a student of Ye Zhetai, later Ye Wenjie's husband, murdered by Wenjie

The Present

  • Wang Miao (汪淼) - Nanomaterials researcher
  • Yang Dong (杨冬) - String theorist and daughter of Ye Wenjie and Yang Weining, later committed suicide
  • Ding Yi (丁仪) - Theoretical physicist, Yang Dong’s boyfriend
  • Shi Qiang (史强) - Police detective and counter-terrorism specialist, nicknamed "Big Shi" (大史)
  • Chang Weisi (常伟思) - Major-general of the People’s Liberation Army
  • Shen Yufei (申玉菲) - Japanese-Chinese physicist and member of the Frontiers of Science
  • Wei Cheng (魏成) - Math prodigy and recluse, Shen Yufei’s husband
  • Pan Han (潘寒) - Biologist, friend/acquaintance of Shen Yufei and Wei Cheng, and member of the Frontiers of Science
  • Sha Ruishan (沙瑞山) - Astronomer, one of Ye Wenjie’s students
  • Mike Evans (麦克·伊文斯) - Scion of an oil magnate, main source of funding of the ETO
  • Colonel Stanton (斯坦顿) - Officer of U.S. Marine Corps, commander of Operation Guzheng
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