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  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

144: Thoughts on the novel, The Three-Body Problem

blue book cover with a pyramid beneath a mechanical clock-like shape
The Three-Body Problem book cover

Howdy! About a week ago, I saw a preview for a Netflix show called 3 Body Problem, and when it mentioned that the story came from a novel with (nearly) the same title, that was a world-wide phenomenon when it was released, I immediately picked up the book. I'm at 90% completion now, and intend to finish reading it tonight. Without yet knowing the ending, I have very mixed feelings.

The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin, is sci-fi, but the first half reads more like a murder mystery with the occasional sprinkle of scientific innovation slightly surpassing that of contemporary reality. There are events that would appear supernatural in another genre, which are intriguing enough to make up for the excruciatingly slow pacing of other areas.

One common piece of advice for writers is that readers can always tell. The reader knows when the author is skipping over something they don't want to write, when they're avoiding inventing a complicated explanation the story calls for. The reader knows when corners are cut, and as authors, we aren't supposed to let them down. Which seems sound, but every now and again, I run across a chapter where the author has gone to the opposite extreme, wherein they've over-explained an uninteresting scene or concept. A great example comes from REAMDE by Neal Stephenson, wherein he spends multiple pages detailing how pilots plan their routes. While yes, at the time his fictional pilot was taking a route that wouldn't have been intuitive to the average reader otherwise, more brevity would have been appreciated.

And I have that same critique for every single scientific or mathematical concept being explored and explained in this novel because there are many, and none are concise. I get it. Yes, the average reader didn't go to school for physics so explanations are in order, but maybe it isn't necessary to spend three pages describing how an organic computer circuit would work. I enjoy reading sci-fi. I loved Ender's Game, and have read the majority of that series, both on Ender's & Bean's side, and even a couple of the prequels and a short story or two. I may have gone to school for design but I can handle, and even enjoy, consuming the occasional scientific pontification. But these long technical spiels kill the pacing, in a book where, already, entire chapters are devoted to progressing in a video game, that, initially, has no obvious stakes with regards to the overarching plot.

It's not until the 50% point that the story begins to feel more sci-fi than like a murder-mystery. Without having looked, I'm assuming this novel is the first of a series, because there is no way the plot will be effectively tied up in the 10% I have left to read, especially given the timeline presented in the novel.

My husband is also reading The Three-Body Problem and his major complaint is that the author doesn't trust the reader to make connections. Aside from the long-winded bouts of scientific theorizing throughout, the author leans into describing what various characters are like, and why, rather than showing, through their actions. Some paragraphs are unnecessarily repetitive because a simple idea is being expressed multiple times with slightly different wording. Much of the dialogue is overly formal, explanatory, and feels unnatural, though that may be cultural.

I'm not the best judge of whether the concepts explored in the novel are interesting. Because to me, they're mostly not. As for the story itself, it's been fine so far. I wish the book spent less time focusing on a virtual world, but those moments that, at first glance, seemed more magical than scientific, held my interest up to my current point.

It's possible that I missed something, but I'm pretty sure there is one glaring plot-hole regarding why one set of characters are set on taking something of value from another set of characters, when to my knowledge, there are many unclaimed similar objects of value elsewhere, and the act of taking will incite enormous conflict. When I finish the book, I'll pop around fan pages to see if this was explicitly stated anywhere, but to me, it comes off as unnatural, unbelievable behavior. It feels like this whole story was an excuse for the author to share theories regarding potential directions technological innovation could or should take, and to illustrate the illogical thinking behind those leading the Chinese Communist Revolution. To Liu Cixin's credit though, there are efforts to express why such an extreme political reaction occurred in the first place.

The book is smartly written but that's not the same thing as being entertaining, which it sort-ve is and isn't? Thus far, I'd give it 3 stars, but maybe the ending will wow me. Hopefully.

Thanks for stopping by! I drop another blog post every Monday. Toodles!


Howdy! This past week I edited more of Soul Walker, my paranormal women's fiction novel wherein Evelyn Cragen confronts the ultimate question of, "Who am I? My memories or my soul?" because, while her body retains the first, it's not her soul, but another, at the helm.

I also have been reading The Three-Body Problem, as stated above. Next up, I'm going to read Saturnalia by Stephanie Feldman. No idea what it's about but the cover is interesting, and the reviews on the back mention it being apocalyptic and magical, which sounds like my jam.

Five days ago I painted an Easter themed Furby that came out very cute! I'm calling it "Runt" because the Furby is holding the smallest egg. This was based off a collage that I made from magazine scraps. I'll probably knock out another gouache painting or woodburning this week. I'm finally well stocked on frames and wood discs again.

gouache painting of a purple  furby sitting on painted eggs

Thanks for stopping by! I drop another newsletter every Monday! Toodles!

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