The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin (2008)

I’m a sucker for big ideas.

Go ahead, book, blow my mind. Bring it on. Melt my preconceptions of the universe in a firey hot crucible and reforge everything I think I know about your topic into something new and interesting.

That’s definitely not the default position of many people who read. Reading is a comforting thing. Reading is an escape, and to most (I would argue) that escape is best when it is to somewhere exotic but relatable, far away but with echoes of the familiar.

I read The Three Body Problem a few years ago and the first of this trilogy was off in another galaxy, weird, unsettling, and confusing. Couple that with me reading the English translation of a Chinese novel, and… “we’re not in Kansas anymore!”

My approach for 2021 is to pick up new (to me) books or books that I think deserve a second attempt (because they are big and complex and I stumbled through them the first go) and add them to my reading list. I want to read twenty-one novels for twenty-twenty-one, and having just finished Dune (my goal of completing it before New Years Eve) I skipped ahead a few days and started NOVEL.2021.01, a book about politics, science, intergalactic communications, far-flung technologies, and our place and status as participants in the universe.

My latest attempt at Dune was a success, in that I completed the novel and after my third… fourth… maybe even fifth attempt at that tome, the story got some traction in my brain. I don’t want to come across as simple, but I think many people are fearful of admitting that complex tales often take multiple passes through our minds. I read it when I was in my teens and it was incomprehensibly full of big ideas laced together with subtle wordplay. I tried again a decade later and could not relate it to anything worth measuring in my own life, and skimmed through with a shrug. I gave it more a respectable attempt about five years ago and as I wrote in my previous READING post it gained some clarity of focus as I rounded through the second part and finished the third. This time, I paged along the story and clung to the clues and complexities. Perhaps it is arrogant to claim that I “got it” but I see the beauty of that tale now, the story of distant-future political strife, the blossoming of a religious fanatacism from the power struggle play of haughty people, the role of scarce resources and interpretation of science against the forces of the universe, economics, and history, all of it dancing across a sand-swept stage where life fragile and cheap, and mouring loss is an elitist’s extravagance.

So, onto something equally heavy?

As I wrap up this terrible, no good, very bad year I decided to read a Chinese science ficiton novel, translated into English (because my second language skills are limited). And in so much as the world is a web of interrelated ideas, The Three-Body Problem begins with a tone of precient recounting of history. The cultural revolution in the 1960s, the execution of a university professor by a crowd, stoning him in the street for teaching scientific ideas that don’t conform to the extremist perception of proper thought, and fanaticism inadvertantly creating a character that will go on to do extraordinary things to shape the future history of humanity.

I don’t see a morality parallel here at all. /s

On a side note, as I dive into 2021 I have this plan to write more here. I have an ever-sharpening distaste for the social media platforms that have played a role in the past couple years of socio-poltical strife faced by the world. The Internet is being parcelled into chunks and sold to the highest bidder at a cost we’re just beginning to comprehend. It’s more important now than ever for people with the means and ability to build places where something that is not part of a massive platform can still exist in the cracks between. No matter how small.

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