San Francisco, California

The Three Body Problem

Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem is one of the strangest things I’ve ever read. It’s a sci-fi novel set during the throes of the Cultural Revolution and focuses on a Chinese researcher who makes contact with an alien civilization. It’s the sort of topic that’s been partly written about to death, however! Liu’s book is altogether different because it makes sci-fi truly weird again.

I really don’t want to describe too much of it because it’ll spoil the show but I’m more than happy to spoil the postscript where Liu describes his early fascination with the Dong Fang Hong I, China’s first space satellite, and how he saw it trail across the sky as a child:

…I realized that I had a special talent: scales and existences that far exceeded the bounds of human sensory perception—both macro and micro— and that seemed to be only abstract numbers to others, could take on concrete forms in my mind. I could touch them and feel them, much like others could touch and feel trees and rocks. Even today, when references to the 15-billion-light-year radius of the universe and “strings” many orders of magnitude smaller than quarks have numbed most people, the concepts of a light-year or a nanometer can still produce lively, grand pictures in my mind and arouse in me an ineffable, religious feeling of awe and shock.

There’s so many fascinating scenes in the book that detail potential scientific breakthroughs in how we see the world; from computers that can fit into photons called sophons, to bouncing radio waves off the sun in order to make it flash in the night sky like an extrastellar lighthouse.

If sci-fi stuff is of even the slightest interest to you then I would recommend The Three Body Problem in a heartbeat.